Expecting Great Things of God; April 20, 2018

Zechariah 8:6 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?” declares the Lord Almighty.

We forget that God is never surprised. Actually, I touched on that in the message this past Sunday. God sees the end from the beginning, so nothing can surprise Him. However, this is talking about more than surprise. The “marvelous” in the NIV captures it pretty well, I think. God isn’t impressed with what He does. That may seem like a strange thing to say, but we often manage to impress ourselves, either well or poorly. We think, “Man! What a stupid thing to do!” or sometimes, “I really pulled that off.” However, God is omnipotent and He knows it, since He’s also omniscient. Sometimes He is kind enough to remind us of that gently. This church’s Verse for the Year is one such incident, when He tells Jeremiah, “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) This verse is another example. God isn’t blown out of the water by fulfilled prophecy! We would do much better to expect God to be true to His Word and ordering our lives accordingly. Right now numbers of things seem to be pointing to End Times, but the average person in the street, or even in the pew, seems oblivious. We aren’t to be anxious about it, or even go around trying to figure out where we are on the timeline (as though we could grasp God’s timeline!) but rather focus on being faithful, just as Jesus said. (Luke 12:42-46)

I still remember once when I was in a prayer time with one of the people in this church, over 20 years ago, and the Lord spoke through me to say, “Don’t be amazed at what amazes others. Expect great things of Me.” I don’t always remember that in practical terms. That is to say, I get frustrated at what is going on around me and I want to withdraw into a hole somewhere, forgetting that God is more than able to turn everything around 180 degrees, and He might do it at any moment. The difficulty is in my making emotional demands on the Lord, wanting things to be a certain way at a certain time and getting frustrated when that isn’t how they turn out. I am to expect great things of Him, but not demand that those things fit my timetable or even my definition of “great things.” I am to know without question that things are going to turn out as God has said in the Bible, and not be anxious about the details in the mean time.

Father, thank You for this reminder. The past two days have been filled with unexpected things, not necessarily pleasant, and today’s schedule has been greatly affected as a result. This is more training in resting, relaxing, and rejoicing in You, just as You have told me to do! Thank You. Help me now hear You clearly as to what You want to say through me on Sunday. May I indeed do Your will on Your schedule each moment of today, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Repentance; April 19, 2918

Zechariah 3:3-4 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.”

This is actually a good picture of what happens to everyone who comes to Christ in repentance and faith. Our sins are taken away and we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. There’s a line in the hymn, The Solid Rock that says, “Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.” That’s very Biblical! So many people think they have to clean themselves up before they can come to God, when really all it takes is the decision that they want to be clean. That’s not an idle decision, however; it involves being willing to discard everything apart from Christ Himself. A sad number of people want to hang onto this, that, or the other of their old life, and so don’t enter fully into what God has prepared for them in Christ. Sometimes the devil tries to fool us in that area, though. Reiko Uehara was a nightclub singer when she came to Christ, and at first she discarded music itself in her desire to cling to Christ. However, she came to realize that God had gifted her in that area for His glory, and she became a Christian singer with a blessed ministry. That said, her motivation was spot on: nothing is more important than Christ, and He will supply all we need.

When I was raised in a strongly Christian home and was baptized at seven, I didn’t have time to create associations like Reiko did, but that didn’t mean I didn’t sin, by any means. Repentance is just as important for me as for someone involved in things everyone would condemn. The point for me is that I’ve got to let God choose my clothes, to go with the image in this passage. When I try to do things on my own, I get filthy! Seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33) is a daily, continuous activity. My “outfit for the day” is always to be Christ Himself. (Galatians 3:27) Anything else is far less than the best. I’ve always enjoyed dressing well, thinking about colors and being appropriate for the occasion, though I have never been a slave to fashion. Physical clothing is of very minor importance, but being dressed in Christ is essential.

Father, thank You for all You have provided for Your children in Christ. Help me receive it all in repentance and faith, leading others to do the same, so that all the devil’s schemes may be defeated and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Focusing on the Spiritual; April 18, 2018

Haggai 2:5 “This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”

The people here were understandably discouraged, because they were confronted daily with ruins that either needed to be rebuilt or simply disposed of. God’s answer was to point them from the material to the spiritual, whether they recognized that from what Haggai said or not. They were fixated on their physical surroundings, but God is here reminding them that His Spirit is unchanged; He hasn’t been demolished. This is an important thing for every believer to remember. We are naturally affected by our physical environment, but that is all the more reason to focus in on God and remember that He is greater than it all. (1 John 4:4) The NIV says, “My Spirit remains among you,” but the Japanese says, “My Spirit works among you.” Either way, if we are properly sensitive to the Holy Spirit we will rejoice in our circumstances, rather than being controlled by them.

This is extremely applicable to this church right now. Humanly speaking there are many things that could be discouraging, but God hasn’t changed. Each one of us in the church is growing according to God’s plan. Accordingly, the church as a whole is going to grow in His timing, again according to His plan. The thing for us to do is lift our eyes to Him, not ignoring the physical but not being controlled by it. We are to remember that His plans for us haven’t changed, nor has He changed. We are changing, but then, we need to change! As the returned exiles transformed ruins into something for God’s glory, even so God is going to transform us into what He intended in the first place.

Father, thank You for this Word. Sometimes I do better than at other times at keeping my eyes on You. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, joyfully anticipating what You are going to do in and through us, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Having Enough; April 17, 2018

Haggai 1:5-6 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

There are always two factors in abundance: income and outgo. If you have a lot coming in but even more going out, you’re in the red regardless of how much is coming in. We see this often in sports figures and entertainers who seem to be living the high life until their popularity wanes, and then suddenly they’re broke, and often deeply in debt. On the other hand, there are others who don’t have much income but who always seem to have enough to help someone out in a pinch. Just as there are the two conditions, there are two things that govern which direction a person goes. The first is, of course, common sense. That can go out the window with sudden income, such as winning a lottery or even coming into an inheritance. It is often amazing how uncommon “common sense” is! Just a day or so ago I read of someone who won a big lottery and was wise enough to start off by hiring a financial adviser. The second, and actually more important, thing that governs our financial situation is spiritual: where are our priorities? That’s what the Lord is dealing with here. Much of our lives are actually not under our control. We don’t control the weather, for example, and that has a massive impact on an agricultural economy, such as in Haggai’s day. We need to listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” If our priorities are lined up with God, He takes care of everything, finances included. That’s not at all to say we’re to throw common sense out the window; prioritizing God is the most sensible thing anyone could do. However, it is to say that we aren’t to go by the world’s idea of common sense. If God says to meet someone else’ need, for example, then do it, even of it depletes your own supply. If we worry about ourselves and ignore God, we will find ourselves in exactly the situation described in this verse.

This has certainly been my experience. We have never had much income, as the world looks at it, but our needs have always been met. I haven’t needed to pay any income tax for many years, either to Japan or America, simply because my income didn’t exceed the standard deductions. However, our lives are financially comfortable. Part of that is that we don’t use money for what might be called vices, but a big factor is that things just seem to last longer. I have clothing I’ve been wearing for over 20 years, and it still looks good! I compare that to some people who have more coming in than I do and yet who never seem to have enough, and my heart aches for them. I am not to brag, but I shouldn’t hesitate to testify to God’s goodness, and speak the truth in love. I’m also not to take God’s grace toward me lightly or for granted, but actively seek His kingdom and His righteousness in all my decisions, no matter how insignificant they might seem. God is my supply, not the government or my employer or even my abilities, and I must never forget that.

Father, thank You indeed for Your abundance. Help me be the steward You want me to be, so that everything You place in my hands – or my bank account – may be used as You intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Delight; April 16, 2018

Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”

I learned a different translation of this verse set to music many years ago, but had no memory of where it was found. The image of God delighting over/in His people is not unique to Zephaniah. Jesus famously said that the Father delights to give us the kingdom. (Luke 12:32) The Westminster Creed says that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” but the Bible says the enjoyment is to be mutual. After all, why would God create mankind if He couldn’t enjoy us? It is significant that the Westminster Creed says that, particularly because it comes out of the Calvinist tradition that is famous for long faces. Even a cursory Bible study on the terms “joy” and “enjoy” will keep you going for a long time. God created us for His delight, and He wants us to delight in Him. That’s why the devil tries so hard to get us to delight in other things and ignore God. That’s also why Jesus told us to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. (Matthew 6:33) As long as we are fixated on material things, to enjoy and delight in them, we will never be satisfied for long. It is only when we focus fully on God that we find full and eternal joy and satisfaction.

There are many things that delight me. I delight in cameras and computers, and find any good tool remarkably satisfying. I love a good book, and there are many foods that please me a great deal. For 49 years I have delighted in my wife, and she adds a level of meaning to my life that nothing else can touch. However, all of these things are secondary to, and predicated on, the One who created me, saved me, commissioned me, and called me to Himself. The minute I delight in something other than God over and ahead of Him, I am guilty of idolatry. That is exactly what the devil tries to get me to do. Every once in a while he succeeds, so I’ve got to be on my guard and keep my repentance up to date. This isn’t slavish legalism; that is the opposite of genuine delight. I need to understand, on the deepest level, that God is greater and better than everything else put together, and order my life accordingly. As a pastor, I seek to bring others to that position as well, with varying success. The devil is very good at distractions! He doesn’t care if they are pleasant things or unpleasant thing, so long as they take our focus off of God. I can’t force anyone to focus on God any more than someone could have forced me to do so years ago, but I can encourage and model and speak the truth in love, so that the Holy Spirit may draw people as only He can.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for choosing to delight in me. Help me always choose to delight in You, demonstrating my love for You with full obedience, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Glory of the Lord; April 15, 2018

Habakkuk 2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

This is a very famous verse, but what is shocking is the context. I had no memory that it was is the middle of a passage judging an unjust ruler! The imagery couldn’t be more clear. Since the ocean is water, then by definition it is “covered with water.” That means that the earth will be the glory of the Lord. However, when that is revealed, those who have been in rebellion against the Lord, such as the unjust ruler, won’t be happy about it at all! Actually, that point is made in just about every prophecy of the End Times in the whole Bible. The 2nd Coming of Christ will be terror itself for those who have denied Him. We encounter this verse, in songs and otherwise, mostly as a word of comfort, but complacency is very dangerous. Much of organized Christianity today would have a very hard time of it if Christ were to show up today! Human organizations devolve into political structures and power trips, and those are the antithesis of the Church of Jesus Christ. “The glory of the Lord” means His holiness and power, and nothing man-made can stand in the face of that. We need to so live that His return will indeed be joy for us, but that means repenting now, while there is opportunity for forgiveness.

This of course applies to me as much as it does to anyone. I cannot presume, or even “rest on my laurels,” but must rather keep pressing in for more of Christ. Like Paul, I need to be “Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I [need to] press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) I have never wanted to be a “hellfire and brimstone” preacher, but failing to warn people is certainly not loving. I need God’s wisdom and the Holy Spirit’s anointing to present the message in ways it will be received, but I must never give up trying. The vast majority of the people around me are not in the position of rejoicing at Christ’s appearing at all. I must not be satisfied with my own salvation, but rather seek constantly to draw others into the Kingdom. Ministering in Japan can produce resignation and fatalism, and I am not immune. I need to let the Lord give me a fresh infusion of His Spirit, His presence, so that I may be active as His agent to draw people to repentance and faith, for their salvation and His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder as we’ll be having a business meeting today that will essentially be starting over as a church. We are back to the numbers we had 34 years ago, and humanly that is very disheartening. Help me fix my eyes on You and encourage the others to do likewise, just as Jehoshaphat did (2 Chronicles 20) so that Your plans, and Yours alone, may be fulfilled in and through us, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Conceit; April 14, 2018

Habakkuk 2:4 “See, he is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous will live by his faith —”

Because verses 2 and 3 were given to this church repeatedly years ago, I have tended to skip over this verse, even though the second half, echoed by Paul in Romans 1:17, was a major part of the foundation for the Protestant Reformation. I think it has been the first half that has thrown me off, but just now I looked back at verses 12-17 of chapter 1, and see that God is talking about the wicked person/people Habakkuk was complaining about. Whether this is just talking about the Babylonian emperor or also someone closer to home is perhaps open to question. However, the point is that there are indeed evil people in the world that do all sorts of bad stuff, but the way to get through all that stuff is to trust God. The description of the evil man is remarkably applicable to any number of people around us all the time. The Japanese renders it as, “See, his heart is conceited, and is not straight.” Conceit blinds us to how twisted we are. Pride/conceit is at the foundation of all sin, because it says that we know better than God, and don’t need Him. That is of course the height of stupidity, but as I just said, conceit blinds us. In contrast, genuine faith requires humility. If we believe that God created the universe and created us in it, then we will understand how utterly powerless we are on our own. Actually, the more astronomers and physicists and the like discover about the physical universe, the more humble we should be! Sadly, that isn’t always the case, and even some of those scientists are deceived into thinking the physical is all there is, which leads them into feeling they are the pinnacle of it all, and that is the very definition of hubris, extreme conceit. For our hearts to be right and not bent (referencing the Japanese translation here) we must be humble before God and seek to follow Him. That is indeed the path of life.

Despite growing up surrounded by faith and immersed in the Bible, I struggled with conceit a great deal. God in His grace gave me a high IQ and a number of other gifts and abilities, but I allowed those to lead me astray rather than submit and commit them to Him. I understand too well scientists who do horrible things simply because they can. I shudder to think of what I could have become had God in His mercy not hemmed me in. A major chunk of that mercy was in His providing a helper suitable for me at a young age. Maybe most people don’t need to get married at 20, but I did! She has been my guide and partner for 49 years now, both encouraging me and holding me in check, keeping me from going completely off the rails. As I tell couples in premarital counseling, I couldn’t even calculate the number of times she’s saved me, in one way or another. She has been a good antidote to conceit! We are still faced with many challenges, because life is like that, but as this verse says, we will live by faith.

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for Your absolutely amazing grace. Help us indeed keep our eyes on You, in grateful obedience, 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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