September 24, 2016

Habakkuk 2:1-3 I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Then the Lord replied:

“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come and will not delay.”

When you pray to the living Lord, you would do well to expect an answer, as Habakkuk did in verse 1. We are very prone to entreat the Lord for guidance, encouragement, revelation or what have you, and then turn away if we don’t get what we’re looking for in the way we expect it within a very limited time. We also have the problem of not paying attention and listening to Him in the first place. The first time I ever heard the Lord speak to me in what might as well have been an audible voice, I had been praying non-stop, begging Him to give me an answer. (At this point I don’t even remember what I was praying about.) When I paused for a breath, He said with perfect clarity, “Well then, shut up.” I was shocked into silence, but then I had to laugh. Whatever I had been asking Him about wasn’t as important as the lesson that I had better be listening. We say we serve a living God, but we seldom act like we ourselves really believe it. A very big part of faith is simply expecting God to answer. It’s not wise to try to dictate the content of the answer, or the timing. We are all too likely to specify both! The second half of faith is acting on the reply we receive, and not just feeling satisfied because we got an answer. James said that’s deceiving ourselves. (James 1:22)

It was at least three separate times the Lord gave verses 2-3 to me and to Shinsei no Sato. The second of those times, the person delivering the Word said, “Nobody gives a message from Habakkuk, but here it is!” The times after that we weren’t nearly as surprised! I feel the Lord has placed this passage in the Bible-reading sequence at this point precisely because we have been looking at our ministry of the past 35 years, and particularly its status right now, and wondering what real good we have done. Actually, the Lord gave me the answer to that through my own mouth as I was talking with someone at the conference a couple of days ago, when I said that we don’t know the extended consequences of what we do, either good or bad. We can look at people in the Bible and see how their actions have echoed through the centuries, but we can’t really get that same perspective on ourselves. I’ve got to trust God to fulfill what He has said, through the Bible and to me personally, whether that fulfillment is within my physical lifetime or not. He has said that we will see every street corner filled with people who are praising God because of us. Even if that’s at our funeral, or even at some memorial further down the road, I’ve got to trust Him with it, because I certainly can’t make it happen on my own.

Father, being on a trip like this causes us to examine all sorts of things and perhaps see them differently. Thank You. The process isn’t necessarily easy or even pleasant, but it’s valuable. (Hebrews 12:11) Help me learn from each thing You allow me to experience, not complaining or rebelling but trusting You to use everything for my good and for Your glory. (Romans 8:28) Thank You. Praise God!

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September 23, 2016

Habakkuk 1:13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrong.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

This is a question that every honest believer has asked in some form at least once, and probably several times. God’s grace and mercy are at times more mysterious than His judgments! The answer keeps coming back to what the Lord told Isaiah: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) In the human world there is something called “The Law of Unintended Consequences.” We don’t, we can’t, know every effect of an action. God, on the other hand, does know that, and this is why He never makes any mistakes, whatever they might look like to us. You could say that God took an enormous gamble in giving mankind free will, but that would only be from our perspective. Actually, He knew the mess that would ensue, and He knew what He would have to do to fix it all. This is why the Bible says Jesus was the Lamb chosen before the creation of the world to be our atonement. (1 Peter 1:19-20) Being anchored in time ourselves, we really can’t imagine what it is like for God, who is outside of time because He created everything, and even physicists will tell you that time can’t exist without matter. God allows things in the short term because of what effects and ripples they will have down throughout eternity. For example, no one grows, learns, and matures without encountering and overcoming difficulty. We don’t enjoy it at the time, but the results are good. (Hebrews 12:11) That’s why Jesus could say, with absolute assurance, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Rather than complaining, either about our own struggles or about how evil people seem to succeed, we need to submit fully to God on every level, trusting Him to be both perfectly powerful and perfectly good. That doesn’t mean we aren’t to be active in opposing evil; our learning to do that is one of the biggest reasons He allows evil. However, we are to be grateful even for the struggle, trusting that God will indeed use everything for good, and for His glory. (Romans 8:28)

I can express this truth without hesitation and know it is truth indeed, but that doesn’t mean that complaints don’t crop up in my heart! I am to operate in the truth I know, not insisting I know more than God says I need to and not trying to be in control. I am to submit my will to His, exercising the authority God gave mankind over the created universe (Genesis 1:28) and especially the authority that is mine in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord, (John 14:13, etc.) but I am not to try to take over for God. As has been said, if God is my co-pilot, then I need to change seats!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You also for having made clear to me that at the moment, many things are not as You would like them to be. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, submitting to You on every level so that Your Name may be hallowed and Your kingdom come as Your will is done in and through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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September 22, 2016

Habakkuk 1:11 “…guilty men, whose own strength is their god.”

This snippet of description is astounding, really. For one thing, it is a marvelous use of words, painting a vivid description with a minimum of effort. We all know of people like that, and we probably know some personally. There are all kinds of strength, and all of them are worshiped sometimes by some people. That automatically makes those people guilty, because they are guilty of idolatry at the very least. However, far more amazing than the literary turn of phrase here is the fact that these were the people God was going to use for His purposes! Now THAT is mind-boggling! We usually think of God using holy people who are committed to Him, but here we have the opposite. This is the sort of thing that shows us that God’s ways are higher than ours, and His thoughts than ours. (Isaiah 55:9-10) The whole point is, God can use anything or anyone to do what He desires, even if it seems impossible to us. Our place is not to limit God by our limited perspective, and especially not refuse to be used by Him because we are “unworthy.” The Babylonians were hardly worthy!

I can name some people I know personally who fit the description in this verse, and frankly, both major candidates for the US presidency would seem to fit. (I think politicians are quite prone to this, because they tend to worship their own political power.) However, to be honest, I have fit this description myself, when I have effectively worshiped the intellect God gave me. We all run the risk! That said, that doesn’t eliminate me from being used by God, it just changes how much benefit I get out of it. If I want any benefit from it, then I indeed need to be consciously submitted to Him. I indeed want to be His agent so that His Name may be hallowed and His kingdom come, so listening obediently to Him needs to be my first priority. I don’t want to force Him to use me in spite of myself, I want Him to delight to use me, because that will be the greatest blessing for me and the greatest glory for Him.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for this trip we’ve started, and for how You have guided and blessed already. I pray that I would indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You throughout the trip, because that will keep me in greatest availability to You, for the greatest blessing of the greatest number of people, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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September 21, 2016

Micah 7:18 Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.

Once again we are reminded of the polytheistic environment of both the Old and the New Testaments. Americans are so used to a monotheistic world view that they don’t relate very well. Japanese on the other hand are so used to polytheism that the Biblical insistence on salvation in Christ alone seems offensive to many. However under the surface, many Americans are offended by the insistence on Christ alone. That’s behind a lot of the “tolerance” push we see on every side. It doesn’t take much thought to see the devil’s hand behind all of that. He doesn’t care who or what we worship, just so long as it isn’t the true God. He is motivated by jealousy, and wants to deprive God of the worship that is rightfully God’s alone. With that awareness, we need to examine just what it is we trust and depend on, to see if it measures up to the Biblical picture of God. Things don’t have to have the trappings of religion to be idolatry. I read many comments on the Internet that disparage Christianity, most often by taking various Scripture passages out of context. You need the whole Bible to get an accurate picture. The thing that seems to offend them the most is the insistence on the holiness of God. They don’t want to be held to that standard! However, God’s grace and mercy have meaning only in the framework of understanding that He is so perfectly holy that the smallest sin completely disqualifies us from eternity with Him. We have to have a glimpse of God’s holiness to understand that we are sinners, and what that means. Isaiah’s vision of God, so marvelously recorded in Isaiah 6, is a good illustration. When we get a glimpse of God we understand that we are totally unworthy, apart from His sovereign act of atoning grace. Once we have that understanding, we will apply ourselves to communicate the good news of God’s grace to as many people as possible, with joy at participating in God’s salvation.

This is of course the central focus of my life at this point, as a missionary pastor. However, it’s taken me a long time to get here! I am not to put others down who don’t yet have that clarity of purpose, but always speak the truth in love and seek to set a good example. I am to proclaim in word and deed that there is no other object of worship and devotion that even begins to approach the Lord I love, so that as many as will may discover and receive Him for themselves, for their salvation and His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I don’t know what encounters You have in store for me in the month ahead as I’ll be traveling. I pray that I would be available as Your agent at all times, whether I’m expecting it or not, so that people may be touched by Your grace and know that You alone are Lord, to repent and believe for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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September 20, 2016

Jonah 4:9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”

This is a remarkably clear illustration of the effect of anger. Unresolved anger is lethal. Directed outward, it leads to murder. Directed inward, it leads to suicide. My good friends Don and Katie Fortune, among others, have taught well on a Biblical approach/response to anger. In Ephesians 4:26 Paul quotes Psalm 4:4 when he says, “In your anger do not sin.” Other translations express that as, “Be angry, and do not sin.” Anger is a very natural emotion, and feeling it, as feeling any other emotion, is not sin. The problem is what we do with it, again just as it is with any emotion. If we let any emotion draw us away from God, our response to that emotion is sinful. If we let that emotion cause us to cry out to God and draw nearer to Him, then it has fulfilled the purpose for which God placed it in the human soul. In dealing with anger, Paul gives some excellent advice: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” In other words, don’t go to bed angry. We tend to think we can sleep off anger, but what we are doing is letting it migrate to the subconscious, where it just piles up and makes it easier and easier for us to get angry about other things. “Sleeping off” anger is one of the worst things you can do with it! The solution to anger ultimately is trusting God, that He is on our side and He will deal with whatever injustice it is we are reacting to. Sometimes God wants to use our anger to motivate us to get things done. Jesus was pretty ticked when He cleared the merchants out of the temple! We have every reason to be angry at the devil and what He does, but we must be careful not to misdirect that anger to those who are being deceived and used by him. When our anger is at things people do to us (which probably covers the vast majority of anger) the proper response is to realize and remember how much God has forgiven us, and then choose to forgive the one offending us. Jesus did that when He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

I frankly don’t like to get angry. When I’m angry, it makes me angry that I’m angry! Precisely because I’m usually pretty calm and affable, when I’m angry it can be scary to those around me. I don’t like that, and it benefits no one most of the time. I can remember a couple of times when teaching that it has been valuable, however, because it scared the daylights out of misbehaving students! Even so, I had to deal with the emotion after that and yield it to God, forgiving those directly responsible. I am very blessed to have had the opportunity to interpret for the Fortunes when they were teaching on anger! I deal with angry people all the time, but much of the time their anger is not expressed outwardly. Japanese culture is good at teaching suppression! Often in counseling I have to lead the person to recognize and acknowledge their anger before they can deal with it. Especially with Christians, I need to make it very clear that emotions themselves are not sin; just feeling a certain way doesn’t place you outside of God’s grace. I need both to teach and to practice that all emotions are gifts from God, and are to be returned to Him, one way or another, in gratitude and praise.

Father, the stresses of getting ready for our first visit to the US in three years leave me with very little emotional margin. Being “journey proud” woke me up at 2:30 this morning! Keep me from letting that cause me to strike out at those around me, Cathy or anyone else. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, both receiving and transmitting Your grace in abundance, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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September 19, 2016

Jonah 3:10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

This verse is forgotten in a lot of discussion of prophecy. Moses’ statement notwithstanding, (Deuteronomy 18:22) a prophecy not being fulfilled doesn’t necessarily mean that it wasn’t genuine. God often gives prophecies that are conditional, that is, “This will happen unless this happens.” Just as we tend to ignore the conditions in promises of blessing, we tend to ignore the conditions in warnings. Both are very foolish. If the people of Nineveh, who could rightly be called the precursors of ISIS for their brutality, could mend their ways and so avert the prophesied judgment of God, then surely we can too! Right now America is in a very dangerous place, having spit in God’s face in numbers of ways. “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) The operative word there is “IF.” Many people seem to take that as a call to prayer, but they leave out the phrase, “turn from their wicked ways.” They want God’s blessings for just going through the motions, without making any real lifestyle changes. Repentance isn’t just saying you’re sorry, it’s changing to do something else. The sad reality is that the lifestyles of the majority of American Christians are virtually indistinguishable from those of non-believers. It really calls into question the faith, or at least the love for God, of those Christians.

The difficulty for me here is the temptation to pride, and that is one of the deadliest of sins. Just because I see this issue and try to live a Biblical lifestyle doesn’t mean that I always succeed, or that even if I do, that I am of any greater value than someone who doesn’t even try. I am privileged to speak the Word of the Lord, but if I am not obeying it myself, I have no personal benefit. As I preached not long ago, I am to love God enough to obey Him explicitly, and I am to love my neighbor enough to apply myself fully to drawing them into a right relationship with their Creator. Everything else is secondary. I am not to ignore the conditions expressed in any promise of God, either positive or negative, but approach God and His Word in all humility, to believe enough to act.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all that You did in the two services yesterday. I do pray that the ordination of Takahiro Kobayashi will be a positive step toward the fulfillment of the vision that You have given for this city, of it again being the foremost Christian city in the nation. May we all renew our commitment to You, as he has affirmed his commitment, so that together we may be and do all that You desire and intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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September 18, 2016

Jonah 2:1-2 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:
“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me
From the depths of the grave I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

I think it is safe to say that no one who might ever read this has had occasion to pray from within the belly of a fish (or whale, as seems likely). However, there are many other situations that seem just as impossible to escape, at least while we’re in the middle of them. It is interesting that this story, that is dismissed as fiction even by many “theologians,” is an explicit foreshadowing of Jesus’ time in death, between the cross and the resurrection. His circumstances were even worse, bled to death and then pierced through the heart with a spear. The point is, no circumstances are beyond God’s reach, and we need to remember that. At the same time, we need to yield ourselves to God and His plans, not thinking that we know what is best for us. After all, God has prepared eternity in heaven for us, so any suffering we endure on this earth is insignificant in comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:17) Sometimes our suffering can be so great, in our experience of the moment, that all we can get out is a cry of “Jesus!” (Incidentally, that is one reason the devil encourages such phrases as “O my God,” because it cheapens them and makes people less likely to use them when they are genuinely appropriate.) The thing is, God hears every sincere prayer, and suffering can certainly strip away insincerity! We are never to forget that He is there, and listening.

The only time I can remember saying, “O my God,” (other than as a line in a praise song) was when I watched on live TV as the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I have had times that seemed dark and/or painful to me, but nothing to compare with what I see others going through. As I write, I have a friend whose body is riddled with cancer, and she is striving to keep her focus on Jesus. I cannot really speak to that, other than to assure her that Jesus is real and He really is Lord. She is understandably most concerned about her children, but God is able to meet their needs as well. I am never to belittle anyone’s suffering, but neither am I to encourage them to wallow in it. I am to “weep with those who weep,” (Romans 12:15) but I am always to point them to Jesus. When my wife has Parkinson’s Disease, the devil tries to steal my joy with all sorts of imagined scenarios. They are indeed possible, but I know even now that God is real and is more than able to carry us through whatever lies ahead. We have a major trip starting this week, and there are concerns as to what could happen on it. There too, I am to be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present my requests to God, and then choose to receive the supernatural peace and joy that He has prepared for me in Christ. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Father, thank You for this reminder. The pressures of the moment can be overwhelming at times! Help me, help us, indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, even in the middle of all that is going on, so that we may receive and participate in Your perfect plans, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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