Delayed Gratification; July 19, 2018

John 11:5-6 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

This is a very important, instructive incident in the life and ministry of Jesus, and we are very blessed that John recorded it. These two verses should be engraved on the heart of every believer. We tend to accuse God of not loving us when unpleasant things happen, but this passage directly contradicts that. John is very explicit that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and it would be foolish indeed to doubt the quality of that love. Actually, verse 15 indicates that Jesus’ actions were also out of His love for His disciples. As a refrigerator magnet I’ve seen expresses it, “Everything God does is love, even when we don’t perceive it.” In this particular instance, it was precisely because Jesus loved the three siblings that He delayed responding to their very real need. We have a lot of trouble wrapping our minds around that! Jesus knew that a resurrection would be a far greater blessing than a healing, particularly because it would purify and strengthen the faith of the two sisters. This is where trust comes in. We want our answers NOW, but even secular psychologists tell us that acceptance of delayed gratification is one of the prime indicators of emotional maturity. Actually, the flip side of that is true as well. Awareness of negative consequences down the road is far more of a deterrent for a mature person than for an immature one. If everything were instant, hardly any of us would grow in any way other than physically. God knows what we really need, in contrast to what we think or feel we need, and in love He provides it for us. When our faith grows to accept that, we receive peace and joy that most of the world knows nothing about.

Yesterday was a minor practicum in this. Cathy and I were at the hospital eight hours for her cataract surgery that took less than an hour. Most of the wait was before they took her to the operating room, because a previous patient’s surgery took longer than expected, but some of it was unexplained. Particularly because the delay took us through lunchtime, it felt even longer than it was! However, the surgery itself went very well, and we spent much of the waiting time in prayer for various friends. The end result was blessing in various ways, some of which we may never recognize, but we trust God that they are real. We have learned that God loves us too much to spoil us, and we need to rejoice in the assurance of that love.

Father, thank You for yesterday and all it held. Thank You for today, and all You have planned for us in it as well. Help us indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, taking one step at a time, so that all of Your plans for us may be fulfilled on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Repentance and Salvation; July 18, 2018

John 10:27-28 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”

What an enormously comforting Scripture! However, it can make you wonder how many “false sheep” there are out there. One of the earliest and most fundamental definitions of “Christian” is very simply, “Christ follower.” There are sadly many people who follow religious tradition but don’t personally know Christ, much less follow Him. The benefits to following Christ are literally eternal, as He says here, but the “initiation” is by repentance, and we don’t like to do that. In a socially Christian nation, far too many people are baptized simply because it’s the thing to do, without any personal awareness of being a sinner in need of salvation. That is true even in groups that don’t practice infant baptism, but obviously it happens more easily in groups that do. The good news for such people that repentance is still possible, the moment they open their heart to recognize their need and God’s supply. There’s no telling how many “almost Christians” there are! For those who do follow Christ, and thus qualify as His sheep indeed, the challenge is to let people know the offer of salvation is open to them as well, without skipping over the essential step of repentance and faith. (Mark 1:15) If we will do that, the flock will continue to grow, to the joy and glory of our Shepherd.

I have someone who has indicated he wants to be baptized, probably within the next month, but I haven’t confirmed his repentance. I’ve got to do that! I have baptized some people in the past who said the right words, but then didn’t show any real evidence of following Christ afterwards. I don’t want that! In contrast, last night I attended the wake of a woman I met 37 years ago. Since before I met her she had failing kidneys, and endured dialysis for over 30 years. However, her trademark was her smile, which came from her assurance of salvation. I found out last night that she was saved through the nurses at Kyoto Baptist Hospital, where she was first treated as a single young woman. It was a joy last night to know that her husband and daughter also follow Christ, and the peace and even joy that were evident in them both, and particularly her daughter, were a clear testimony of the reality of this passage. I too need to rejoice in the assurance that no one can snatch me out of the hand of my Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the assurance with which we can go to Cathy’s cataract surgery this morning, even though we’ve heard some anxiety-inducing things recently about such surgery. I do ask for wisdom and skill on the part of the medical staff, but most of all I ask for Your complete presence and protection, so that Your will and Yours alone may be accomplished, for our blessing and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Jesus vs. the Devil; July 17, 2018

John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

I think it would be impossible to overstate the importance of the 1st half of John 10. This characterization of the devil is something we need to keep in mind when viewing the world around us, and we also need to remember how Jesus contrasted Himself with the devil. The devil is a master of temptation, appealing to anything at all to get us to deviate from wholehearted devotion to our Creator. However, anything that pulls us away from the God who loves us means loss for us, whatever it looks like in the short term. It is well recognized that the devil uses physical pleasure to tempt us, but sometimes he even uses our higher impulses, like a desire for justice. Many “social justice warriors” today are bringing loss to themselves and to those around them, and even to the very people they claim to fight for, by letting the devil deceive them as to what the situation really is, and thus, what is really just and right. In contrast, Jesus came to make our lives more abundant, in the ways that really count instead of by the standards of this world. It hardly takes much depth of perception to realize how empty the lives are of many of those who are admired by the world and overflow with material things. A life that is centered on Jesus, walking with Him, is abundant beyond the imagination of anyone who rejects the Gospel. The devil lies to us, to the point that much of the world views Christianity as restrictive, keeping us from the “fun stuff,” when in fact the Bible is simply warning us about the poisons and the cliff edges that abound in this life. Keeping this verse firmly in mind can go a long way toward protecting us from the devil’s deceptions.

I quote this verse frequently, because I’ve tasted its reality. I have had non-Christians bring their friends to meet me because “I enjoy living.” At the same time, I have allowed the devil to steal peace and joy from me by being anxious about any of a number of things. I teach God’s truth, but I need to be reminded of it myself! A verse I quote even more often than this one is John 16:33. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I have found that peace and joy come by the conscious choice to trust God, rather than the world or even my senses or intellect. God is totally, absolutely, trustworthy, but the devil does everything he can to keep me and others from believing that. I am to submit to God and resist the devil, as James tells us. (James 4:7)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Recently the enemy has been trying to steal my peace and joy with various little things. Help me see through his tricks and receive the abundance that You have prepared for me in every area that matters, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Flow of the Spirit; July 16, 2018

John 7:37-38 On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

This is a very famous passage for an excellent reason: it is the promise of the Holy Spirit to all who will believe. John clarifies that in the following verse, but I want to focus on what Jesus said. In the first place, He said it in a loud voice in a very public setting, and not even in a house of worship. In other words, this promise isn’t limited to a select few, to some sort of inner circle. Jesus’ words reinforce that. He didn’t say, “If any righteous person,” He said, “If anyone.” I’m reminded of what one evangelist reported Jesus said to him: “You catch ’em, I’ll clean ’em.” The only prerequisite Jesus mentions is thirst, that is, perceived need. We miss out on a lot of God’s blessings because we don’t recognize we need them. I think that is perhaps the major reason God allows all sorts of trials into our lives: to teach us how much we need Him. The devil would love to make our lives a living hell, but God never allows more than we can stand, if we will trust Him (1 Corinthians 10:13). Another thing that stands out to me in this is the quantity. The NIV tones it down slightly to “streams,” but the Japanese sticks with “rivers.” That’s not limited! John the Baptist specifically said that God gives the Spirit without limit. (John 3:34) We see what a life empowered by the unlimited flow of the Spirit looks like in Jesus. If we take John’s explanation of this declaration by Jesus along with what Jesus said to the disciples just before His crucifixion, (John 14:12) we realize that our lives should look a lot more like Jesus than they do today. We back off from that sort of promise, giving all sorts of excuses, but none of them hold water, if you’ll pardon the pun. By making excuses, we are rejecting God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, whom He wants to pour through us for His glory.

Wow and ouch! I certainly didn’t expect to receive such a strong Word this morning. Just yesterday in the message the Lord reminded me that it’s not just the gift of tongues that requires the will of the speaker, but also prophecy. I have bemoaned the fact that I have spoken very few prophecies in this church, when I am used that way often enough in other settings, but the Lord pointed out that it’s been because I’ve been afraid of offending people I will continue to deal with on a daily basis. At a meeting off somewhere, I might never see that person again, so I’m free to speak whatever the Lord puts on my heart. Here, I’ll have to deal with their questions and their follow-through in relation to whatever the Lord says. I must not fear man! The supply is unlimited, but if I turn off the spigot, nothing will flow. I do need to be very careful I don’t speak out of my own mind and imagination, but I have blocked blessings from people out of being afraid those blessings wouldn’t be received as blessings. I am to be fearless in my obedience so that God may use me freely, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this opportunity for repentance. Help me follow through in consistent obedience, and not deceive myself by just saying yes, yes, without acting. Keep me from any sense of self-importance, but rather help me stay fixed on You, so that I may be fully available to do whatever You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Attitude; July 15, 2018

John 7:17 “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”

Sometimes attitude is everything. Those who choose (or desire) to do God’s will recognize fairly easily what He is saying to them, but those who have their hearts set on going their own way are “as deaf as a stump,” to use an old colloquial phrase. As Jesus said right after this in verse 19, no one is perfectly obedient to God. However, if our honest desire is to obey Him, He will help us in that, speaking to us in a wide variety of ways to guide and encourage us as we need it. Not long ago a public figure in the US was derided by some for saying they had heard something from God. The attitude was that even if you were so foolish as to believe in God, it was delusional to the point of mental illness to think He talks to you. Such an attitude will indeed make you as deaf as a stump! From Genesis through Revelation the Bible tells us that God speaks to us and He desires that we listen, for our own good. The ways He uses range from a burning bush (Exodus 3) to a donkey (Numbers 22) to a still, small voice, (1 Kings 19) so we’d better be listening!

I couldn’t count how many times I’ve had people tell me they wanted to receive God’s guidance, when actually they already knew what He wanted them to do but didn’t want to do it. It can even be amusing sometimes that they don’t realize how obvious the situation is. It all boils down to attitude, a humble recognition that God knows far better than we do what is best for us, and faith that He desires the very best. If that is our attitude, we will recognize what He is saying to us. Joy Dawson taught that we need to “die” to the issue at hand. That is, a dead person has no preferences, and we need to release whatever the issue is completely to God. That’s not always easy, as I know full well from my own experience. We can want something so strongly that we can’t grasp, much less accept, that God might have something even better for us. As a pastor I often counsel others, but I’ve got to be submitted to God myself or my counseling will miss the mark. I regularly speak the Word, from the pulpit and otherwise, but if I’m not listening to it as God speaking to me, I stray from the path and lose the benefit for myself. I desire that every believer in this church have a vital, growing, intimate relationship with Jesus as Savior and Lord, but if my focus is on their “performance,” I will lose the vitality of my own relationship with Him.

Father, thank You for speaking to us so faithfully. Help me, help each of us, hear You clearly and follow You fully, so that Your perfect will may be done in and through us, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Word of God; July 14, 2018

John 6:68-69 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter had been paying attention! It took more than some difficult teaching to scare him off. Jesus had just said (verse 63) that His words were spirit and life, and Peter knew in the depth of his being that was true. A major problem today is that many church members aren’t totally convinced of this. Since about a hundred years ago it has seemed “smart” and erudite to question the veracity of the Bible in various ways. Advances in archaeology and the like had turned up differing manuscripts that called into question what was the most authentic version (even though the over-all thrust of the content wasn’t changed significantly). Textual analysis showed that editors were probably involved, and it became all the rage to consider the Bible as literature, rather than as the Word of God. The devil was certainly delighted with that! As a result, far too many churches today pick and choose what they want to follow, carving loopholes for whatever their favorite sin might be. How tragic! We need to be like Peter, knowing that nowhere else will we find the words of life. As a man said to me after attending a Bible class for a year, “This book wasn’t created just by people, and if God caused it to be written, then I’d better believe it!”

As I am frequently reminded, I grew up immersed in the Bible, and am deeply grateful. I’m from a very scholarly family, with my father and my maternal grandfather both teaching Biblical Greek, so the assorted textual and translation issues were something I was aware of, even as a teenager. However, that didn’t detract from the conviction that this Book was (and is) God speaking to us through human instruments. I too can recognize different literary styles among the different writers, but there is an amazing unity of truth across the whole Bible. Growing up in Japan, difficulties of translation were understood far better than they would be in any monolingual household. As a result, I have always been interested in new translations, particularly since I don’t personally handle either Greek or Hebrew. That said, my desire is always to hear what my Lord is saying to me through the printed page. Comparing different translation often helps with that, and in my case, I compare the English with the Japanese, and sometimes differing translations in each language. I recognize that each writer/translator has their own style and even bias, but God is greater than all of that, and He can and does speak to me through it all. I’ve got to keep in focus that these are the words of eternal life, just as Peter said, and so seek both to live by them and to communicate them to others, so that they too may gain eternal life.

Father, thank You for the Bible. It is nothing short of miraculous that it exists as it does, but then, that’s who You are! Help me use it as You intend in every respect, so that Your Word may indeed accomplish that for which You send it, (Isaiah 55:11) for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Sovereignty of God; July 13, 2018

John 6:44-45 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.”

This puts a different slant on evangelism. There are many things in the Bible we can’t sort out by human intellect, and the conflict between free will and the sovereignty of God is certainly one of them. If free will were not genuine, we would bear no responsibility for sin, because we would only be acting as we were programmed to do. However, if God were not sovereign, He wouldn’t be God. Just yesterday I watched a video of a child prodigy neatly proving from the laws of physics that there had to be a Creator, flatly refuting the arguments of Steven Hawking, among others. We are faced with having to trust that such a Creator is benevolent, but if He weren’t benevolent toward His creatures, why would He have created us in the first place? The Bible states in many places and in many ways that God wants “everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) As Paul pointed out, “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:9-15) In other words, as Jesus said, no one can come to Him except the Father draw him, but we are to be instruments in that process, or it will never come to completion. We can save no one, but we are not to rest until all have had the opportunity to respond to the Father’s call.

This is my conflict in a nutshell. I have been called and sent to present the Gospel in Japan, the one nation on earth that has the absolutely lowest rate of return on time, resources, and personnel invested in evangelism. I cannot give up, because that would be denying the Lord who commissioned me, and besides, He has given me a love for the Japanese people that I believe mirrors His own, and I earnestly desire their salvation. Humanly speaking it borders on the impossible to apply myself fully and at the same time release everything into God’s hands. I feel I am constantly failing on one side or the other of that. My comfort lies in two things Paul wrote to the Philippians. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) I can’t do it – I don’t even know how – but God can be trusted, both with me and with the task He has assigned to me.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for telling me years ago to rest, relax, and rejoice in You. I struggle with that! Thank You for all that is on the schedule for the next week. Just thinking about it is overwhelming. Help me take it one step at a time, allowing You to work Your will in and through me in each detail, for the blessing of everyone involved and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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