December 8, 2016

Luke 1:18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.”

It struck me as I read just now how Zechariah’s focus was off. Gabriel was telling him things about how his son would live and what he would do, and Zechariah was stuck on whether it could happen in the first place. I think we are often like that. God tells us something and we get all hung up on how or even whether it could happen, when God wants us to be preparing for when it does. Gabriel had to give Zechariah a fairly severe lesson before he got straightened out. At the same time, we are not to be presumptive, taking our pipe dreams as a Word from the Lord. It’s not often the Lord tells us stuff as clearly as this, and we need discernment and humility as we seek to follow God. That said, we have no reason to be anxious, because we can rest in the assurance that God’s plans for us are good, and He will bring them to pass. (Jeremiah 29:11)

The past month has been intensive training in this. It’s been less than a week since we had the blow of being told the land next to the church was to be sold to a developer, and then the next day we heard that someone could come up with the money for us to buy it. As it turned out, that person’s pockets weren’t as deep as we had thought, (and he thought we had much more on hand than we did) so our excitement was dashed. However, in the process we grew in faith, in surrendering our dream of a group home to the Lord. If that is to materialize we still need to come up with the money by the end of the year, but we have far more peace about it all, whether the funds come in or not. That actually is good training, because the church vision is for Omura to again be the foremost Christian city in Japan, which it was 450 years ago. Humanly speaking that is clearly impossible, even more so than our coming up with $275,000 in the next three weeks, but God wants us to be preparing for when it does happen. Compared to that, this congregation having a group home or not is hardly a bump in the road. I still believe that having such Christian institutions would fit in very well with the greater vision, but the most important point is in a massive increase in the number of genuine disciples in this city. Quite a few people have indicated strong interest in attending our Christmas services here, and that is where my focus should be. Money and land are entirely secondary! Just as Jesus said, if I will focus on His kingdom and His righteousness everything I need will be supplied, and I am to trust Him with knowing just what my need is.

Father, thank You for this clarifying Word. Thank You for the various things You’ve enabled us to do this week, and for what is on the schedule for today. Help us be faithful moment by moment, not being paralyzed by what we think is coming up but leaving it all in Your hands, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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December 7, 2016

Jeremiah 33:16 “‘In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
The Lord Our Righteousness.'”

Time and time again the Bible points out that human righteousness is worthless before God, (Isaiah 64:6) but He supplies all the righteousness we need if we accept it by faith. That is a central part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul said, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30) Every other religion has people striving to be accepted by God in one way or another, with no genuine assurance of salvation, but genuine Christianity says that God counts us as acceptable if we will believe and trust in His perfect Son. That is the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy of “The Lord our Righteousness.” That doesn’t mean at all that our behavior doesn’t matter. Paul went on at length about that in Romans and elsewhere. We are to respond to the love, grace, and forgiveness of God with loving obedience. Jesus said without equivocation, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” (John 14:23) That doesn’t leave any wiggle room! Our focus is not to be on going through the right motions, but on loving Jesus more and accepting His full work in our hearts and lives.

This is a major issue in Japan, because the Japanese are such hard workers the message of salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) seems illogical and even wrong to them. That’s why there are more Jehovah’s Witnesses in Japan than there are evangelical Christians: they take to the idea of working for your salvation. As I minister I’ve got to let the Holy Spirit tear down that barrier, because it’s for sure I can’t do it on my own. I am to rejoice in the righteousness of God that is mine in Christ and continue to press in to love Him more, not simply for my own sake but as an example to all who are watching me, so that they too may accept the free gift of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:23)

Father, thank You for this reminder. The days are full, and not just with things that delight us. Help me remember Your grace, love, and power at all times, never despairing but always allowing You to use me as an instrument of grace and love. May Your righteousness be manifested in all Your children, not just for their blessing but also to draw many more into Your family, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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December 6, 2016

Isaiah 60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”

It is not unusual for people to take this passage individually, and it is true that the pronouns are singular, but I think the context leans heavily toward a corporate interpretation of Israel/the Church. (Putting it that way does NOT mean I subscribe to “Replacement Theology!”) When we read the Bible as a textbook for personal aggrandizement we are misreading it badly. God does care about us individually, and we are individually responsible before Him, and He does pour out abundant individual blessings, but when we lose sight of the Bride of Christ we get totally off track. That is particularly true when it comes to such things as spiritual gifts, but actually it applies to everything the Lord gives us; they are not for the individual recipient alone. Even such things as the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) make life much more pleasant for those around us. When we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) we are focused on Him and not on ourselves, and that brings blessings not only to us but to everyone around us.

I talk so much about self-centeredness not leading to happiness that even I get tired of it! However, the reason I talk about it so much is that there is so much of it around. We all have a very stubborn tendency that way. Recent studies have shown that small children have a distinct tendency toward altruism, wanting to help adults when they perceive the adults have need. A TV program just this past week was demonstrating that children will put their toys away happily if you ask them to show you where the toys go, rather than simply command them to put the toys away. As a pastor I need to do better about asking people to help, rather than berating them (or simply feeling resentful) for their not volunteering. The Lord has blessed me in many ways and it is a joy to use those blessings to bless others, but I must not deprive them of the opportunity to use their own gifts. As adults too often we have been taught to “look out for number one,” so I have to work into it gradually, not overwhelming people with what they might see as demands. Once again I don’t have sufficient wisdom in myself, so I’ve got to depend on the Holy Spirit. However, He is totally dependable!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Various things recently have fit in exactly with this truth. May I flow with Your Spirit to do Your will on Your schedule, for the blessing of many. I know I will be blessed in the process. Thank You. Praise God!

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December 5, 2016

Isaiah 40:9 You who bring good tidings to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

The Good News of the Messiah is not to be spoken in a whisper! The Japanese here says, “Raise your voice to the limit of your strength.” That’s pretty loud! I really can’t read this passage without hearing Handel’s music in my head and heart. He was one who was obedient to this passage! Every year at Christmas the world gets pretty noisy (actually, it’s noisy much of the time) but only a small fraction of the noise is the Good News of the Messiah. We are bombarded with songs about reindeer and snow and Santa and the like, and some of them even manage to be sexually suggestive. We hear comparatively little, “Here is your God.” That is sad indeed, but believers don’t have to take it lying down. The world would have far less junk in it if believers weren’t so tolerant of the junk, failing to see how it distracts from the true “reason for the season.” A song I’ve heard for the first time this year is “It’s All About the Cross.” That’s the true reason for the season, the message that we need to be communicating. Here in Japan there’s no time of year that it’s easier to do public evangelism. Japan has a tendency to adopt foreign things that seem attractive for one reason or another while failing to grasp any more than the surface of whatever it is. Christmas is a perfect example of that. The general public thinks Christmas is all about fir trees and “Christmas cake” and a funny man in a red suit. KFC has sold the idea that a bucket of fried chicken is an America Christmas tradition! In the middle of all that noise, believers have to be pretty loud to be heard at all! At the same time, they must not be deceived into thinking they have to adopt the same tactics as the world. We have “the real deal,” and all the other stuff is counterfeit. We must speak the truth in love, but we must never be afraid or ashamed to proclaim that truth. We cannot force anyone to accept it, but we can make it as accessible as possible.

I have been so burned out by all the general noise of commercialized Christmas that I have wanted to chuck the whole thing, ignoring it altogether. That’s not the right response! I must not let the extreme familiarity breed extreme contempt. In recent years the busyness of the season has generated a rising level of resentment, and that is not good at all. I need to rejoice, both in the fundamental message of the Messiah and in this opportunity to communicate that message. The combination of my resentment and my general weakness when it comes to advance planning has delayed our having materials ready to distribute in the neighborhood inviting people to our Christmas programs. That’s not good! The joint interdenominational City Christmas is this next Sunday, and I’m in charge! That I haven’t gotten any publicity material out for my own congregation certainly isn’t good. I need to make full use of this opportunity (Ephesians 5:16) to “lift my voice,” so that more may hear and perhaps respond, for their salvation and God’s glory.

Father, thank You for this Word. Thank You that I at least have the song booklets for the City Christmas printed. Help me get posters and fliers prepared today, not putting things off further, so that more people may indeed know the reason for the season, and receive the Messiah into their own hearts and lives, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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December 4, 2016

Isaiah 9:2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

This was first written in the context of Israel, but it applies to all mankind. Light is closely connected to hope. We speak of “the light at the end of the tunnel” (and make jokes about it turning out to be an oncoming train) when we talk about hope in difficult situations. All mankind lives under the shadow of death, courtesy of Adam and Eve. The fear of death is probably the most universal of all fears. At the time Isaiah spoke/wrote this he probably had only the vaguest idea of Jesus’ victory over death, if he had any inkling of it at all. However, he did have a clear revelation that God was going to send the Messiah, and that was glorious enough. It is interesting to me how almost invariably the prophets of the Old Testament spoke/wrote more than they knew; their words had implications far beyond what they could imagine. Isaiah is a prime example of this. He wrote so much about the Messiah that some people have called his book “The Gospel of Isaiah,” yet he himself did not see any of it in the flesh, and tradition tells us he died by being sawed in two. There is no question he received a glorious reward in heaven! The words he was faithful to record have given hope and light and life to countless people down through the centuries, even when their surroundings seemed completely dark.

This verse is marvelously appropriate to us in our current situation. Just a few hours after I wrote yesterday’s post, we attended a local Gideon’s International luncheon. (They give one every year to thank area pastors for their cooperation and give a report of their activities to the pastors.) I asked permission to share a prayer request, and told the group about the situation with the land next to the church here. I had no expectation that they would do anything but pray, and I was touched when the MC immediately asked one of the pastors to pray for our situation right there on the spot. Late yesterday afternoon one of the Gideons with whom we are particularly friendly came by to ask how much money we had on hand, and said that he and his wife were prepared to make up the difference. It hadn’t crossed my mind how wealthy they might be, or that anyone at the luncheon would have the funds available to do such a thing. To say that we were blown away is an understatement! We were indeed walking in darkness, but we had chosen to fix our eyes on the light of Christ, and He answered beyond our dreams. I am certainly looking forward to contacting the landowner, since he laughed when I told him over the phone that nothing was impossible for God.

Father, You have again demonstrated that You are God. This isn’t the kind of miracle I have been thinking about when I have prayed for miracles to confirm the Word that You speak through me, but it is going to impact a lot of people anyway. I do pray that every detail may fall into place exactly as You intend, so that You may receive all the glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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December 3, 2016

Psalm 89:26-27 He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father,
my God, the Rock my Savior.’
I will also appoint him my firstborn,
the most exalted of the kings of the earth.

This passage was considered Messianic even in Jesus’ day, though they didn’t understand or accept how it applied to Him. Their concept was entirely temporal and material, when God’s plans are eternal. We today fall short when we fail to grasp that the eternal encompasses the temporal and material as well, because it is infinite. We have the whole Revelation to John to assure us that Jesus will indeed return as King, and we must not forget that. Our difficulty is in perspective, because we can only see from “ground level,” so to speak. Sometimes God gives us a “drone’s eye view” of what is going on, but even then our field of view and our perception of detail is limited. When God gives a vision it will be fulfilled, but we can’t specify the timing or the details. This is where faith comes in. We have to trust Him with it all, and know that He is faithful and true.

I am preaching to myself right now because I am in a crisis of faith and vision. From the time we started building this church building 18 years ago we have been praying for the land next door. Earlier this year someone came forward saying they wanted to give the money to be able to buy the land, but their money wouldn’t be available until this coming September. We have been making various preparations, but in a phone call to the current landowner last night, he said that he and his siblings are in the final stages of a contract to sell the land to a developer, with the formal signing expected in January. We have been planning to build a group home on the land, and everything has seemed to be lining up for that. I know full well that money is never a problem for God, but the amount and the time frame are a severe test of my faith. (Last night the landowner said the developer will pay him $275,000, as opposed to the $240,000 price he had told us before.) I need to release this to God, just as He had me release my dreams to Him in 1981. At that point I had two dreams, one of returning to Japan as a missionary and the other of again supporting my family as a photographer. When the plans we had been making to return to Japan fell through completely I was devastated, and as I was out for a walk I was praying, “Lord, I believe You gave me these two dreams. I give them back to you. Do with them, and with me, as You desire.” In less than a month I was back in Japan, and was quickly given a job offer that allowed me to send for Cathy and our daughters, and I’ve been here ever since. The photography side, however, did not materialize, though God has allowed me to use photography in various ways. I need to release the matter of the land, and the group home we are planning to build on it, as completely to God as I did back in 1981. I don’t know whether this will prove to be a “return to Japan” item or a “professional photography” item, but the release, and trust, have to be complete.

Father, thank You for this experience. Thank You also that my assistant pastor just quoted my own words back to me about trials being for our benefit, before he knew anything about the land situa­tion. I do choose to release the land and the group home to You. Do with them, and with us, as You know is best, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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December 2, 2016

Deuteronomy 18:19-20 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”

Speaking for God is scary business! There are those who seek to prophesy for the sake of the attention it brings them, but this should really give such people pause. We do need to remember that there is a distinction between Old Testament prophets and those under the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant, Paul urges all believers to prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1, 5) However, that doesn’t mean we are to casually start tacking “Thus sayeth the Lord” onto what we say. That is exactly what God is saying here NOT to do. Anyone who has received God’s Spirit is capable of hearing and speaking out what God is saying, and that is the fundamental definition of Biblical prophecy. However, no one should speak out of their own imagination and claim it’s God speaking. Sadly, that’s not unusual. I remember one time in particular when I was at some Charismatic meeting and members of the ministry team were doing “personal prophecy” at the end of the service. The person who spoke over me apparently wrote me off for one reason or another, and what he said was so negative that had I taken it to heart, I would never have tried to do anything for the Lord. It was something along the lines of, “You will do little things to help others.” I’m not averse to doing little things and I ‘m certainly happy to help others, but I’m not going to place any limits on whatever He wants to do through me. (Incidentally, it was a very few months later that I arrived in Japan as a missionary.) As God said through Moses here, if we claim to speak for God, we’d better be listening carefully.

I have been used in prophecy many times over the years, though that is not my primary gifting or calling. However, in my teaching and preaching I desire, and do my utmost, to speak out what God is saying, and that actually fits the definition of prophecy. I have had the experience of speaking out what I was hearing God saying, but He stopped talking and I didn’t. That’s a horrible feeling, and I pray it never happens again. Not long after that experience I was in a service and started speaking out what was in my spirit, but when I felt the flow stop I stopped, even though it was in the middle of a sentence. At that moment, someone on the other side of the room picked it up without the least hesitation, and there was no question it was the Holy Spirit speaking one message through two people. I also remember one time I was interpreting into Japanese for an Indian brother at a meeting in Nagasaki City. To be honest, I found his accent a little hard to understand, but there was a powerful flow, and afterward someone commented that it was like seeing/hearing one person speaking through two mouths. That was glorious! I desire to be an available mouthpiece for God, but I must always remember that the message is His, not mine, and seek to stay out of His way. I know that my personality and experience will color what I say, because that is true of the Biblical writers. However, I must not let that color block out or distort what God is saying.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It fits in with what You spoke to me not long ago about spiritual gifts in this church. Help me indeed speak what You want said, when and how You want to say it, so that individuals and the church as a whole may be encouraged, strengthened, and guided in the way You have planned, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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