February 11, 2016

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve preached from The Upper Room Discourse, much less the number of times I’ve written on it in my devotions. It always blesses me! This particular verse is read or quoted at a high percentage of funerals, but it has far broader application than that. All sorts of things work to “trouble” (the Japanese says, “make noisy and confused”) our hearts. Jesus tells us to have none of that. He points out that He is giving us His peace. Often we don’t recognize but a fraction of what He has provided, and so we fail to appropriate it. Jesus is saying here, “I’m giving you My peace, so don’t settle for anything less.” We apply the standards of the world to everything, and what He gives us just doesn’t fit. We need to open the eyes of our hearts to see the incredible riches He has poured out on us, not simply to recognize and appropriate those riches but to live lives of gratitude and praise appropriate to His grace.

I have certainly been going through a training period for appropriating the peace of Christ, with my wife’s brain surgery. I definitely slept better last night because she came through it very well, without damage to her cognitive or sensory functions. However, I need to apply the peace of Christ far more broadly than that. The political situation in the US has made my heart “noisy and confused” many times, and that is completely unnecessary. The worldwide mess of Islam has likewise troubled me. However, regardless of the issue, no matter how big or how personal, I need to remember that God is bigger, God is stronger, and He isn’t going to leave things as they are. It was over 20 years ago now that I was lying in bed, not actively praying but just thinking, “There are so many things I wish were different.” Suddenly I heard in my spirit, so clearly I might have thought it was a physical voice, “How do you think I feel?” I knew in that moment that the mess we live through isn’t because God wants things that way, but because He wants children who turn to Him of their own volition, who love Him because they want to and not because they have to. I also had deep assurance that, just as the Bible tells us, in the end, we win. I need to remember those two points all the time so that I won’t let go of the peace Christ provides, but rather let it flow through me to those around me who are so in need of it.

Father, thank You yet again for Your amazing grace. Thank You indeed for Cathy’s highly successful surgery. I do ask for rapid recovery from that, and for freedom from any unnecessary pain. Thank You also that my cold seems to have passed the peak. Keep me even now from giving it to anyone else, and from letting it keep me from doing anything You would have me do. Help me walk in faith, trust, and obedience at all times in all ways, so that people will recognize that You are holy and so that Your kingdom will come as Your will is done in and through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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February 10, 2016

John 12:16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.

Very often we don’t understand things as they are happening, but as the old Southern Gospel song says, “We will understand it better bye and bye.” The disciples were in the middle of fulfilling dramatic Messianic prophecy, and yet they didn’t realize it. The thing is, they didn’t have to understand it at that point, and if they had, they possibly would have tried to manipulate things to make them conform to their interpretation of the prophecy. I think that’s a big reason to be glad we don’t know what’s happening while it’s happening. However, it was doubtless a huge encouragement to them after Jesus’ resurrection for things to fall into place in their understanding. Right now it seems highly probably that we are somewhere within the events depicted in John’s Revelation, but I think it is God’s grace that we don’t know exactly where. The point is to walk in the assurance that nothing surprises God, however shocked we might be, and that in the end, those who are in Christ are more than conquerors. (Romans 8:37) Whether it is world events or our own personal lives or anything in between, we need to stand firm against our impulse to take control (which doesn’t work anyway) and pray sincerely, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done.” Even Jesus had to do that in the Garden of Gethsemane, so we need to follow His example.

This is spot on for me right now. My wife’s brain surgery is to start at 9:10 this morning. I found out from my daughters yesterday that she has been talking to them about a distorted memory she has of when my mother had a brain tumor removed (that turned out to be metastatic lung cancer). Before she died my mother indeed had considerable memory loss, including forgetting that she had grand children, but my wife remembers it as the result of the surgery, when actually it was later, when she was in hospice care with multiplying tumors. (We were in Japan and she was in the US at the time, so we only had reports from my siblings to go on.) At any rate, my wife has a real fear of that happening to her with this surgery, even though the brain surgeon assured us that was highly unlikely. The idea of part of your brain being cut out really is scary! I have no anticipation of major complications, but the point is, even if they happen, God is still God, and His plans are loving and good. I need to rest in that assurance, and strive to help her do likewise.

Father, I have every reason to believe that, as the brain surgeon said to us early on, this surgery will be less traumatic to her system than the back surgery she had in the late fall, but that doesn’t change the psychological impact of having your head cut open. I ask You to pour Your Spirit, the Comforter, onto and into her, so that she will be able to release herself, her family, and everything else into Your hands and experience Your peace and joy, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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February 9, 2016

John 3:20 “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Guilt is an interesting thing. There is a huge difference between being guilty and feeling guilty. I think the primary factor in that difference is responsibility/accountability. We don’t like to feel guilty so we deny responsibility and refuse to be accountable to God. That is what Jesus is talking about here. The opposite attitude is expressed in John’s first letter: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Our feelings don’t determine our guilt or innocence; that is objective fact. However, as I have heard quoted quite a bit over the past year, facts are stubborn things. Whether we did something or not doesn’t change, regardless of how much we might deny it, and also regardless of why we might have done it or not done it. God indeed sees our hearts, and something that is innocuous for one person might be sin for another. That can make it all rather complicated, but Paul had the right attitude. “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Corinthians 4:3-4) However, that takes a high degree of trust in God. Failure to come to God in repentance is a clear sign that we don’t trust Him to forgive us: we have swallowed the devil’s lie that God is vindictive. When we understand the magnitude of what Jesus did on the cross, rather than trying to hide from God, like the people Jesus was talking about here, we will run to Him to allow Him to clean us up and make us all that He created us to be.

This is something I have experienced repeatedly. I remember a particular “besetting sin” that I couldn’t seem to shake, but then the Lord got through to me through Peter: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is short-sighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Peter 1:8-9) It was only when I grasped that I really was forgiven that I was able to let go of the sin and not repeat it. I learned that the only real cure for guilt is faith in the cross of Christ. As a pastor I try to get this truth across to people, but as usual, I do so with varying success. Shame is a huge factor in Japanese society, and people allow embarrassment at things that aren’t even sin to keep them from fellowship with the Body of Christ. I obviously have no wisdom or ability to overcome that on my own, so that’s all the more reason to be fully submitted to God, leaving control in His hands and not trying to “grab the wheel,” so to speak. If I will submit to Him, He will even use me to bless others and draw them to His full salvation.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for this time of training in keeping my hands off the wheel. May I indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, submitting fully to You so that I may stand firmly against all the junk the devil tries to throw at me, and do Your will on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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February 8, 2016

Luke 12:25-26 “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

The Japanese word for “worry” is literally, “distributing the heart.” In some contexts it is a very good thing, as in caring intensely for someone, and it is used that way in a very famous statement by Peter: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) However, worrying about various things really wears us thin, as expressions in various languages acknowledge. Jesus’ point here applies to that. It is demonstrably true that the stress of anxiety actually shortens lives, rather than lengthen them. The expression, “I was worried half to death,” isn’t just quaint, it has some truth to it. Several years ago the Lord spoke three words to my heart, and I’ve been seeking to apply them ever since. Those words? Rest. Relax. Rejoice. He has made it clear to me that this isn’t a passive attitude; I am to be an active, faithful steward of my body and my time. However, anxiety isn’t part of the mix at all.

As a pastor I strive to impart this truth to others, but I’ve had decidedly mixed success. I’m not to be anxious about it (!) but continue to speak the truth in love. Right now I’m in a high-level practicum on this very point, since my wife enters the hospital today for brain surgery on the 10th. The list of possible complications is frankly daunting, but our being anxious about it isn’t going to change the outcome. The Lord has provided an excellent medical facility and team, but more than that, He has shown us over the years that He is to be trusted. We don’t know what we will go through on the way, and it is almost certainly better that we don’t, but we do know that He will take us through it all to His blessings on the other side. How we respond to this will be a powerful testimony to all who observe us, to show them what faith in God can do.

Father, thank You for this further opportunity to grow in faith and trust. I would personally rather I be the one having to go through the surgery, etc., but over the years it’s mostly been Cathy. I pray that You would pour Your peace into her particularly, but also into me and our daughters, and to the many who are concerned for her. May Your perfect will be done in every detail, so that we won’t miss a single blessing and so that You may receive all the glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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February 7, 2016

Luke 12:6-7 “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

This is a well-known passage, yet in practical terms we often forget it. It seems improbable to us that we, even, would be of much concern to God, but here Jesus is assuring us that even sparrows are not forgotten. To emphasize that, Jesus made the very famous statement about the hairs on our heads. One of my seminary professors, who wore a toupee, had a bumper sticker that quoted verse 7 and then added, “and of your wig, too!” I personally think a sense of humor is an important part of how we are created in the image of God, because it is a powerful tool for coping with the vagaries of life. That said, we all have a tendency not to trust God’s loving concern for us. We need Peter’s instructions to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) Actually, David said it first: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm 55:22) We tend to know that in the abstract, but fail to trust it when push comes to shove. What a loss! The Bible is loaded with instructions not to be anxious, but we struggle with that because we want to be in control, and as long as we are in control, things go badly. That’s an almost universal point of weakness, and the devil attacks us at that point with great frequency and sometimes great ferocity. The only sure defense is to choose to submit to God and abide in Christ, and from that position to resist the devil. (James 4:7)

As I have been writing, this is a time of fairly intense training on this very point. Friday we had a conference with the brain surgeon, and he very kindly and clearly explained everything – in English, no less! That was certainly a gesture of considerable kindness on his part. He did explain all the potential complications, naturally, but assured us that he had been the chief surgeon for five such surgeries in the past year and assistant surgeon for another six, and that he didn’t anticipate major problems. However, he was not cocky, but spoke from calm experience. That was a blessing! At this point one of my biggest concerns is the throat disturbance I’m feeling, because I know that a respiratory infection can be quite dangerous with general anesthesia, and I certainly don’t want Cathy to have that risk factor. I also want to be able to visit her in ICU after the surgery! That said, all I can do is trust God and exercise common sense. This passage is a good reminder of that. God doesn’t leave our faith as theoretical; He tests and grows it with all sorts of things. I am not to rebel or despair at this practicum, but rather rejoice that He loves and trusts us this much, and leave it all in His hands.

Father, thank You for this very timely reminder. Help me release each thing to You, moment by moment, so that I won’t mess things up for myself or for anyone else. I ask You to guide and enable me in every detail so that Your will may be accomplished in it all, on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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February 6, 2016

Luke 5:10-11 Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

I think it’s important to consider why Jesus dealt with fear here. Peter had just confessed his sinfulness in verse 8, but why did he do that? I think it was not only the amazing catch of fish they had just had, demonstrating that Jesus had supernatural power, it was also Jesus’ general attitude: He carried the presence of God with him. In the presence of divine power, Peter was convicted of his own sin. I have read of people being convicted of sin simply by being in the presence of such people as Smith Wigglesworth. If it happens with such people, certainly it could happen with the Son of God! When we are aware of our own sinfulness, fear is an entirely appropriate response. Without such an awareness we can have no real appreciation for the grace of God, because we have no grasp of how desperately we need it. However, when we are honest and humble before Him, that makes us available to be cleansed and used by Him in and for His kingdom. Peter, as well as James and John, indeed became a mighty “fisher of men,” drawing multiplied thousands into the kingdom by direct ministry, and by extension and by writing, incalculable multitudes. God doesn’t demand academic credentials, a pedigree, or remarkable abilities. Those aren’t bad in themselves, but sometimes they actually can get in the way of being fully available to God, because we tend to be proud of them and/or depend on them, rather than on God Himself. It is very significant that these three men, who became the inner circle of the 12 apostles, left everything to follow Jesus. That actually is a natural consequence of the conviction of sin that they had experienced, but so often we fall short, preferring the material things we have to intimacy with God. Nate Saint said it very well: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” We need to follow Peter, James, John, and Nate’s example and release everything to God in order to fulfill His plans for us.

This is of course convicting to me, as it should be to every human being. Am I genuinely aware of my own sinfulness? Do I really hold everything loosely, so that God may do with it as He pleases? Do I fully appreciate the grace of God? These are questions I need to let the Holy Spirit ask me whenever and however He chooses. I have demonstrated a considerable ability to deceive myself, so I know better than to trust my own judgment and opinion of myself. I know I am a child of God by His grace, so I need to keep growing in grace, allowing Him to transform me into the likeness of Christ Jesus my Lord, for His glory. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for Your grace! I do desire to be fully submitted to You, as a child pleasing his Father. Help me recognize the many traps and schemes of the devil to avoid and stand against them, so that I may be fully useful to You, drawing many into Your kingdom as they are liberated by Your truth through me, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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February 5, 2016

Mark 4:40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

By this point in His ministry Jesus had a reasonable expectation of faith from His disciples, but faith hadn’t kicked in to the degree He was hoping. The disciples had already seen various miracles and they had lived with Jesus and watched His lifestyle, but they hadn’t really connected the dots, so to speak. Jesus Himself had to adjust His expectations, exercising patience. That should keep us from being too hard on ourselves, but we still need to ask ourselves the questions Jesus asks here: “Why are we so frightened? Why is our faith weak?” Faith is a gift from God, (Ephesians 2:8-9) but we have to choose to receive it. We have to take in God’s Word and let it operate fully in us. (Romans 10:17) When we panic, we shut out everything but our senses and our emotions, and logic simply does not operate in our minds and hearts. When we know our Creator, and Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, logic dictates that “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39) When we have that assurance in the core of our being, why would we be afraid of anything?

This is very applicable to me right now, as my wife will be having an MRI this morning preparatory to brain surgery scheduled for next Wednesday. For the most part I do have “peace that passes human understanding,” (Philippians 4:7) to the amazement of many of our friends, but that doesn’t mean the devil has given up on me! I’ve got to maintain the choice to trust God. I would be delighted if the MRI this morning shows a drastic reduction in the tumor, negating the need for surgery, but my peace and even joy are not to be dependent on that. God is faithful even in the middle of the storm. He has blessed us with an excellent medical facility five minutes from our home, with a highly skilled surgeon who is acknowledged by his peers. I don’t know what the future holds, but as the song says, “I know who holds the future, and I know who holds my hand.” I am to be the support my wife and daughters need in this time, not in my own strength, which is entirely negligible, but in God’s strength and grace, which are more than up to the task.

Father, thank You for all You have done already in this situation. Thank You that our younger daughter arrived safely yesterday, and that she’ll be able to pick up her sister at the airport this morning while her mother and I are at the hospital. Thank You for the fairly relaxed day yesterday, and for the good fellowship we had. Thank You that we can have assurance of Your presence and love, not only throughout today but throughout our lives. Help each of us receive and appropriate that assurance, to be and do what You have planned for us, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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