March 27, 2015

Psalm 28:7 The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to him in song.

This particular thought is so common in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms, that we tend to overlook it. However, it’s popular for a reason, and that is that the Lord is indeed a strength and shield to those who depend on Him, and it is entirely appropriate to sing praise to Him in thanks for all He does. Sadly, “familiarity breeds contempt” is a truth and not just a proverb. When we fail to depend on God we don’t experience Him as our strength and shield. When we ignore Him and at the same time take His protection for granted, we get all in a huff over receiving the consequences of our actions, and think He is unreliable or even imaginary. How foolish! It is when our hearts genuinely depend on Him, rather than us going through religious motions, that we discover Him to be all that the Bible, and generations of saints who have gone before us, have said He is. The result is salvation indeed. When we experience Him like that on a personal level, it’s the most natural thing in the world to sing praise and thanks to Him, because it just wells up in our hearts. I don’t think this is a matter of musical ability, but simply heart attitude.

Since I grew up in a home that was filled with faith and music, this goes without saying for me. However, I find that even people who are distinctly non-musical, when they encounter Christ personally, are deeply moved to joy by praise and worship in song. There is power in music, and it is no accident that Western music originated in the Church. The devil doesn’t want to let God receive the glory He deserves, so he does all he can to pollute music and turn it to ungodly ends. It takes no spiritual sensitivity to realize that! We however have the privilege of returning music to its rightful use, praising God and building people up. I have been associated with music a great deal throughout my life, and expect to continue in that as long as I am here. It is a joy and an anticipation to hear my wife and others report that in heaven, even the rocks, the trees, and the grass sing praise to God! I am to use the musical gifts I’ve been given to point people to God, keeping my own focus on Him in gratitude and obedience.

Father, thank You indeed for music, and for the absolute faithfulness You demonstrate to those who depend on You. I ask for Your special anointing this Sunday as we have a music-and-Scripture-only service for Palm Sunday. Thank You for guiding Cathy in preparing the music part. I ask for clear guidance in which Scriptures to use at which point, so that everyone may be led to worship You in spirit and in truth, in ever-deepening commitment, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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March 26, 2015

Psalm 27:8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.

I have a real dilemma when it comes to writing on one verse of this Psalm, because it is so rich. However, this verse strikes me yet again this morning, so here goes. Even in English it is powerful to me, speaking of the longing for God that is certainly in my heart. However, the Japanese gives even a touch more insight. At first glance it causes a bit of a double-take, because it says, “My heart says in Your place, ‘Long for Me’” I think David was experiencing the reality of prophecy, recognizing that thoughts in his mind and heart did not originate with himself, but with God. Frankly, this is not something a lot of people are comfortable with. However, all sorts of voices come to us, and that is why we need discernment. If we expect God to speak to us we are far more likely to recognize it when He does, but we must also recognize that the devil speaks to us as well, and firmly resist him. Familiarity with the Bible is a major safeguard in discerning where ideas come from, because the Holy Spirit is not going to contradict what He caused to be written in the first place! Also, God is not going to say things to us that drive us from Him, and the devil is not going to tell is to draw closer to God. The Holy Spirit will put His finger on specific sins and tell us to repent, but the devil will issue blanket condemnation and tell us we are no good and might as well give up. One of the trickiest areas is that the Holy Spirit will tell us, “God can do that through you,” where the devil will tell us “You can do that on your own.” To a third person they might look like the same thing, but the motivation is entirely different. Someone who is really listening to God will probably have great assurance that might even look brash or foolhardy, but they won’t be relying on their own ability but God’s. Conversely, someone who is deceived by the devil will be self-confident, not listening to God or really anyone else. We need to learn what God sounds like, and listen to Him.

Going back to David’s experience, many times I have heard God speak to me through my own voice, either in a sermon or in specific prophecy. Sometimes I have been virtually knocked off my feet by it! In recent years I haven’t been involved in conscious prophecy very much, and I feel the Lord wants to revive that in me. I haven’t been used much in predictive prophecy, but rather in admonishing and encouraging. That can be delightful, especially the encouraging! I need to keep myself available and not quench or suppress what the Lord wants to say through me, especially not out of fear of what the response might be. The response will not always be what I would like, any more than Jesus always got a good response, but I’m not to fear that. Rather, I am to love people enough to communicate what God is saying to them, even if they reject the messenger. That can be a hard choice to make, but obedience to God is always the best course.

Father, thank You for this Word. I can think of several people who need “course correction” right now, not to mention the countless numbers of people who need to repent and believe in the first place. Keep me from spouting off out of my own mind, but keep me also from holding back when You want to speak to someone through me. May I be effective because of my obedience, so that Your Name may be hallowed and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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March 25, 2015

Psalm 26:8 I love the house where you live, O Lord,
the place where your glory dwells.

I was not actively aware of this verse until a missionary friend had it put on T-shirts for his church. Both the Hebrew and the Greek terms that are generally translated as “church” mean “assembly,” so the focus is on the people rather than the building, but this verse is obviously focused on a location. However, the definition of that location is important. It doesn’t specify “the place with a steeple,” or any other architectural distinction. Of course in David’s time the tabernacle was still in use, so it was a matter of fabric with wooden supports. No, David’s focus is on the presence of the Lord, and we would do well to apply that same yardstick. There are some magnificent church buildings that are currently little if anything more than museums. It is possible the Lord manifested His presence there in the past, but that has become a distant memory, or even forgotten entirely. Various anti-Christian governments have taken it on themselves to destroy church buildings, and that is going on even today. However they, and the Christians whom they are persecuting, would do well to remember that God’s Church is not a building, and He will manifest Himself where hearts are open and responsive to Him. That same truth needs to be remembered by those who take great pride in their buildings. As Jesus said about Herod’s temple, “not one stone will be left on another.” (Mark 13:2) God very graciously manifests Himself in specific locations where people worship Him in spirit and in truth, but He is not limited to or by those locations. We need to be focused on being His temple ourselves. (1 Corinthians 3:17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16)

As a pastor who has been blessed with a congregation and a building, this is of great relevance to me. The building is paid for and we are making good progress in paying for the land the building stands on, but the church, that is, the believers here, are already paid for by the blood of the Lamb. I am to be a good steward of the building, but my focus needs to be on welcoming God’s presence by His Spirit. I have seen people be touched just by walking into the building, but I have particularly seen people touched when we start worshiping God together here. I need to seek to make the Lord welcome in my own heart and life first, and then as a pastor, seek to make Him welcome in this assembly. I have no real power on my own, so I had better be focused on allowing Him to manifest His power!

Father, this is a truth I have known for a long time, yet I let it slip out of focus too often. Help me welcome You indeed, worshiping You with all I am, so that all the believers may be led to do likewise, for You to be free to do all that You desire to do, in and through us, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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March 24, 2015

Psalm 25:8-9 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.

God doesn’t just go, “You’re bad. ZAP!” Rather, He very graciously lets us know where we are wrong and guides us toward the right. However, we tend very stubbornly to cling to our sins and claim that He is being mean to us for not letting us do whatever we want. How foolish! The key to getting God’s best is humility. The term used here is often translated “poor,” but I think the NIV gets it right this time. If we have the good sense to know that we aren’t right, God is, then He will lead us and teach us with amazing patience and gentleness. It is when we get headstrong and rebellious that we get ourselves into all sorts of messes. God has provided redemption for all mankind through the cross of His Son Jesus, but unless we are humble enough to know that there is no other way we can be saved, it does us no good. We tend to like “self-help religions,” where we can feel good about following certain rules and get “guilty pleasure” out of overlooking others, but that’s not really how the world works. We are so far removed from God’s holiness that it is only when we release ourselves to Him, to be washed in the blood of the Lamb of God and filled with His Spirit, that we are able to walk in the good and right path that He has prepared for us. The thing is, that is exactly what He wants to enable us to do. We get it wrong, again and again and again, but if we are humble enough to repent and turn to Him, then He will clean us up and set us on the right path all over again. (1 John 1:9)

This is certainly the story of my life! An outside observer might not recognize all the ways I’ve blown it, but God is the ultimate insider, and He knows how much He’s had to forgive and clean up. If I think I can look down on anyone, I’ve got a real memory problem! I am to extend to others the patient grace and strong love that have been shown to me, not overlooking sin but calling people to repentance, assuring them that forgiveness is not only possible, it’s available for the asking. However, I will never be effective in that by my own wisdom and strength, but only by God acting through me, so here too I’ve got to maintain grateful humility before Him.

Father, thank You for the privilege of ministering to others in Your Name. I am constantly aware of my own inability, but You use me in spite of myself. Help me be increasingly sensitive and obedient to You, so that Your will may be done in and through me more and more consistently, for Your pleasure and glory and the blessing of many. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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March 23, 2015

Psalm 9:13-14 O Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!
Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,
that I may declare your praises
in the gates of the Daughter of Zion
and there rejoice in your salvation.

These two verses have some interesting points. In the first place, the reason to ask God for His mercy is so that we may declare His praise. Praise to God isn’t an obligation, like a tax, it is a recognition that everything good comes from Him. (James 1:17) Rather than an obligation, it is a privilege to be able to express our praise to God. It’s not at all that He needs it, to stroke His ego or otherwise, but that we need to keep our thinking straight about who His is and who we are. Another interesting thing is the literary contrast of “the gates of death” and “the gates of the Daughter of Zion.” This is in line with the contrast presented throughout the Bible that God’s kingdom is life and light and everything apart from Him is death and darkness. The thought is hardly unique to this passage, but the point is important. It is interesting to me that where the NIV says, “See how my enemies persecute me,” the Japanese says, “See my troubles that come from those who hate me.” We tend to think of persecution in broad terms, particularly for religious or ethnic reasons, but to me the way it’s put in the Japanese is a little more personal, because people hate for all sorts of reasons. Whatever the reason and however it’s described, hatred is never easy to deal with. That’s why we, like David, need to turn to God whenever we find that people hate us for any reason.

I don’t know that I’ve dealt with hatred all that much. I’ve been blessed! However, I have dealt with people who have been envious of me or have disliked me for any number of reasons. Occasionally such people have deliberately tried to do me harm, but such incidents have been relatively minor. In my experience, the emotional trauma of words spoken and attitudes taken has been the biggest issue, but that’s not to say it’s been pleasant. In any case, my attitude has got to be to turn to and depend on God, expressing His love even to those who are mean to me whatever form it takes. (Matthew 5:43-45) If I will do that, I will have plenty of reason and opportunity to give Him praise in the assembly of those who love Him.

Father, thank You for Your protection over the years. I’m sure I know only the smallest fraction of all that You have protected me from. In these days I am bombarded with news of people who are enduring far worse than I ever have, inflicted by those with a wide variety of labels who are rebelling against You and hate those who love You. I ask Your mercy indeed for those who are suffering because of hatred, and pray that Your Name may be hallowed and Your kingdom come as Your perfect will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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March 22, 2015

Psalm 6:8-9 Away from me, all you who do evil,
for the Lord has heard my weeping.
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
the Lord accepts my prayer.

Here we have clear evidence that the Lord spoke to David just as He does to us today. There is no indication that David heard specific words from God, but he had an inner assurance that God had heard him and God’s salvation was in effect. This kind of thing drives some people up the wall. They say, “But how can you know?” The only answer is, you just do. Conversely, some people don’t recognize God is speaking to them precisely because He often doesn’t use words, and they have a mental image of some of the interplay between God and, say, Jeremiah. It’s not that God never talks with people like that, it’s that things such as David experienced are much more common. We tend to romanticize prophecy in much the same way, expecting it to be in thunderous “Thus sayeth the Lord” terms, when it is much more likely to be in normal, everyday language, so much so that we might not recognize that it was prophecy, particularly in terms of the person through whom it came. The best and easiest way to hear from God consistently and accurately is to be as familiar as possible with the Bible, reading it frequently and regularly, because He will bring passages to life in our hearts as we read, making them intensely personal. Also, when we are familiar with the Bible we have a yardstick by which to judge every other word, because God will never contradict Himself, and there are plenty of lying spirits that will try to fool us into thinking they speak for God.

I had the tremendous advantage of being firmly grounded in the Bible before I ever got exposed to the idea of God speaking actively to us today. As a matter of fact, though I had been taught little or nothing about the Holy Spirit, when I read such books as 9 O’clock in the Morning and They Speak with Other Tongues they immediately “clicked” as describing Biblical things. Their emphasis on the specific gift of tongues did distract me a bit, but I knew the phenomena they described were not un-Biblical. In the years since then I have been used in prophecy many times, and I don’t know that I’ve ever used the words, “Thus sayeth.” On at least one occasion I was asked, slightly later, “Did you know you were prophesying?” My response was that I knew I was speaking God’s truth. I have heard God speak most often as a sense in my heart, as with David in this passage, or as His “quickening” Scripture to me as I read, or bringing it to mind even when I didn’t have a Bible open. On only two occasions has He used specific words without a human intermediary, and both were entirely unexpected. I don’t think I heard Him with my physical ears, but it was as clear as if I had. I don’t talk about those very much, because they are certainly the exception, and demanding that God speak to us that way closes our ears to the many other ways He speaks to us. I am to keep my spiritual ears open, staying in the Word so that I won’t be led astray by lying voices, and I am to keep an obedient heart. If I just hear and don’t obey, it does me no good! (James 1:22) I am to be faithful to allow Him to speak through me to others, not just in such formal settings as sermons but in every interaction. True fellowship involves communication, and I am to be open in all ways to fellowship with my Lord.

Father, thank You for Your grace in speaking to Your children, and to me specifically. I certainly haven’t done anything to deserve it! Use me to generate an expectation of hearing from You in each of the believers, so that they may progress into ever-deepening fellowship with You. May we rejoice together to be Your children indeed, letting You speak through us to each other and walking in full obedience to You, for Your satisfaction, pleasure, and glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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March 21, 2015

Psalm 5:3 In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation.

This verse is not unreasonably used fairly often in support of the practice of morning devotions. There really is a lot to be said for the practice. I’m not aware of anywhere the Bible commands it, but David obviously did it, and we have record that Jesus did it on at least several occasions. Jeremiah, in the middle of his grief at the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, still recognized that God’s grace and mercy are “new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) Even so, the regular practice of morning devotions seems to be increasingly rare, as the pace of modern life convinces people they are too busy for that sort of thing. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth! The thing is, starting each day with God prepares you for whatever the day holds as nothing else ever could. In many ways it’s like eating breakfast: lots of people skip it, yet study after study confirms its importance. Both physical and spiritual breakfast require getting up in time to do them before other things start happening, but we also require sufficient sleep, so that means getting to bed long enough before you need to get up, and that’s where the choices really kick in. The devil is adept at tempting us with all sorts of entertainment, and in this information age there is literally no end to all the stuff we could watch or do. With the Internet and video recorders, you could spend 24 hours a day watching stuff, and go insane or even die from lack of sleep. (Look it up. It’s possible.) We have to choose to value time with God over whatever it is we want to watch the night before. It’s not that the programming is necessarily bad (though there is some really bad stuff out there) but that if it takes precedence over taking time with God, it becomes idolatry.

Having seen my parents’ example, I remember attempting to start a habit of morning devotions in college, but it lasted less than a week. I didn’t really get into it until I got past the point of, “This is something I’m supposed to do,” to the place of, “This is something I really need.” I honestly don’t remember exactly when that was, but it was definitely after the Lord brought me to real repentance as a young adult, when I was already a husband and father. At this point it’s gone on long enough that it’s been years since I’ve skipped a day, even with flying across the International Date Line. Especially when traveling, some days are harder than others to get quiet before the Lord and listen to what He’s saying, and those days leave me with a hunger for more. To me, morning devotions are an opportunity to present myself afresh to the Lord to be used in His plans. It is a time to get direction from Him before the busyness of the day sets in, and to affirm that He is my first and highest – really my only – priority. I wish I could say that attitude is maintained all day every day, but that’s another area where I still have room to grow. I can say that morning devotions are a highlight of my life, day after day after day.

Father, thank you that Your mercies are indeed new every morning. Thank You for giving me a schedule at this point in my life where taking the time is relatively easy. I pray for the members of this church, particularly, that You would give them wisdom and willpower to make the time to start each day with You. Until they really try it they don’t know how wonderful it can be! Give them a hunger for You that will cut through all the junk and enable them to see themselves and see You, to choose to walk in fellowship with You consistently, for their incalculable blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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