Praise and Worship; January 15, 2019

Revelation 15:3-4 and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb:
“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the ages.
Who will not fear you, O Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

It has always struck me as amusing that the tune to which this has been set is Pearly Shells, by Hawaiian singer Don Ho. I guess that just goes to show that any musical style can be used to praise God! That aside, this is an illustration of the reality that praise and worship are the highest privileges of the saints. Those who decline to praise and worship God now are excluding themselves from the ranks of the redeemed, because such refusal is a statement that we think we don’t need redemption. That’s why Jesus said more than once, in more than one way, that He didn’t come to save the self-righteous, but those who acknowledged their need. (Luke 5:31-32; 19:10) When you know how much you need salvation, the awareness that God loves you so much that He gave His Son to provide that salvation is going to provoke praise and worship! The Church has always praised and worshiped God, and it is widely acknowledged that all Western music has its roots in the songs of the Church. That’s not to say that you have to use music to praise God, but it certainly helps! Certainly some people are more musical than others by gifting, but it has been demonstrated that only an extremely small fraction of people are medically tone deaf, unable to distinguish different pitch. From that, it becomes evident that the biggest differences come from exposure and training. Some are indeed more gifted than others, but you don’t have to have perfect pitch to praise God. Different people will gravitate to different musical styles for various reasons – even Hawaiian – but all may be offered to God as a sacrifice of praise. (Hebrews 13:15) Failing to do so is our loss on many levels.

I was enormously blessed to be raised in a musical family of faith. A strong and pleasant memory is of gathering around the piano and just singing through the hymn book. (That’s why I could read music before I could read the words.) That said, my experience of praise and worship took off when I was exposed to the Charismatic Movement in the ’70s, and I continue to delight in it. Yesterday was the Kyushu Revival Conference in Fukuoka. Usually that’s a 3-day affair, requiring hotel accommodations for those coming from a distance, as we do, but this year the usual venue wasn’t available, and the committee opted for a 1-day conference at a large (for Japan) church. (I was thrilled to discover after we got there that, though the name has changed, it is a church that was pioneered by my father.) As a day trip, it was much easier for more people to attend, and three of our members joined Cathy and me. In the afternoon the speaker had a ministry time of praying personally for those who requested it. I don’t usually approve of prayer lines limited to one “pray-er,” but God had His purposes in having it that way yesterday. With easily 200 people in line it took a couple of hours, and a pastor who is gifted in music and has a heart for worship led us in singing and praying the whole time. It was marvelous! I think that factor probably accomplished more in the hearts and lives of the participants than anything else. As a pastor I desire that all of the believers discover the incredible privilege of praise and worship, and enter into it wholeheartedly, for their great blessing and the glory of God.

Father, thank You for yesterday, and for those who went with us. You are working on so many levels! May we indeed be transformed into the people of praise that You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Trouble; January 14, 2019

Revelation 11:7 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.

Whatever else you say about Revelation, I think you will concede that some pretty bad things can turn out to be part of God’s plan. As has come out already with the discussion of the angel with “one foot on the sea and the other on the land” much of the language is allegorical and/or figurative. Even so, there’s a lot of rough stuff, and it doesn’t just happen to the “bad guys.” These two witnesses at first come across like super heroes, with flame coming out of their mouths, but then it says here the beast defeats and kills them. There is a very strong echo of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion here. Like Jesus experienced the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, things might seem to be going very well indeed, but then it seems like everything falls apart. I think we can agree that every moment of Jesus’ life on this earth was foreknown by God and used as part of His plan of salvation. That’s exactly why Jesus told the disciples, and through them us, that “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Even what looks like complete defeat, as is described here, can be turned around for our blessing and God’s glory. (Romans 8:28) Jesus said His encouraging words to us before He was scourged and crucified. In other words, He didn’t yet have what we would call proof that His words were true. From our current perspective we can see that they were, but there was a lot of faith involved. That’s precisely what is called for in all who follow Him today. We need to trust that He is both omnipotent and perfectly good and loving, which is precisely what some people insist He could not be. Many years ago I wrote a note in the margin of my Bible at Psalm 91:9-10, which reads, “If you make the Most High your dwelling— even the Lord, who is my refuge— then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.” My note says, “Whatever it looks like, it isn’t disaster.” When rough stuff happens, and it will, we need to keep trusting God and look forward to His resolution to the situation, even if it isn’t in this life.

It’s very interesting that God has spoken this to me at this point, when yesterday included unplanned ministry that involved situations that grieved us in the past. We still don’t know how anything will turn out, except that we know that God, and His plans, are always good. I am reminded of my friend who dropped dead of a heart attack very unexpectedly on New Year’s Eve. Right now his wife is in great need of this assurance! Right now the widow of another friend, who died after a battle of several years with cancer, is discovering that God is indeed able to meet all her needs in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19) I am to assure others of this truth, as well as keep it firmly fixed in my own heart and mind. If I will do that, people will indeed want to know the reason for the hope that I have. (1 Peter 3:15)

Father, thank You for this encouraging Word. Thank You for all You did yesterday, and for involving us in it. I pray that as we go to the meeting in Fukuoka today that every moment would be exactly as You intend, accomplishing Your purposes not only in the hearts and lives of those involved, but in the spiritual realm as well, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Prophecy; January 13, 2019

Revelation 10:11 Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”

Various things in Revelation let us know that the specific things described are not literal. In this chapter, the angel planting one foot on the sea and the other on the land (verse 2) makes that clear, because by normal physics that would mean his right foot would have to be some kind of boat or raft. There are also things like shifting scale, since this angel was huge, yet he held in his hand a scroll small enough for John to eat it. (That of course brings to mind Ezekiel likewise being told to eat a scroll he was given, in Ezekiel 3:1-3. There too the scroll is described as “sweet as honey.”) However, the point of all of this is to communicate God’s truths in ways that will make people really think about them, which is what this verse talks about. Jesus used parables for much the same reason. (Matthew 13:10-13) Often we reject things we are told straight out, but if they are expressed in a way that makes us think them over, we can get to the place where we really accept them as truth. The point for John was to be faithful in speaking as he was told, without saying things otherwise. (verse 4) Valid prophecy still takes place today, and there is also false prophecy, as there has been throughout history. The point for the individual believer is to seek and receive the help of the Holy Spirit in sorting it all out and responding as God intends. Peter gave us some words on valid prophecy: “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21) We need to let the Holy Spirit illuminate our hearts and minds, both as we read the Bible and as we hear and read modern prophets. That said, it’s vital to remember that no genuine prophecy is going to contradict the Bible, but rather agree with it. That’s one reason we can be sure that date-setting prophecies of end times are false, since Jesus explicitly said such things aren’t for us to know. (Acts 1:7)

I have been used in prophecy numbers of times, but never in such wide-ranging terms. I have experienced the flow of the Holy Spirit, even being surprised at the words that came out of my own mouth, but I have also experienced continuing to speak when the Spirit had stopped. That’s horrible! At a point after that experience, one time I was prophesying in the congregation during worship and the words stopped mid-sentence. I closed my mouth, and someone on the other side of the room picked it up without the slightest break, making it very clear that it was indeed the Holy Spirit speaking, using two different individuals. I have also experienced interpreting for someone (English to Japanese) and having people say afterwards that it was like hearing one person speak through two mouths. Sometimes interpreting is hard work, but that was a delight! The point for me on a day-to-day basis is to keep myself available for God’s use however He wants to use me, in words or actions, but not try to launch out on my own. I have neither wisdom nor strength for that, but God can and does use very imperfect human vessels for His glory. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Father, thank You for this reminder. I do seek to allow You to speak through me at all times, particularly on Sunday mornings, but sometimes I do better at it than at others. Thank You for the message You’ve given me for this morning. I ask that You enable me to transmit what You are saying with Your words, not distorting it in any way but allowing You to work Your will in all our hearts and lives, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Differences; January 12, 2019

Revelation 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

I don’t see how any true believer could read from this verse through the end of the chapter without wanting to shout, hallelujah! Verses 10 and 12 have been wonderfully set to music, and can be powerful indeed in corporate worship. The comforting message of verses 15-17 is marvelous indeed. However, it is this verse that is the greatest joy to anyone with a heart for world missions, because it says that no people-group will be left out of heaven. We are so prone to what is currently being called “identity politics,” creating groups in exclusion of each other, largely so that we can feel superior about our group, however we define it. Some separate by race, others by income level, and recently a lot of fuss is made about gender. On top of that we add political affiliation and even more factors, and we get the mess that we see today. It’s not that there are no differences among people, it’s that we see different distinctions than God does. In His eyes, the only differences that count are faith and obedience. Paul put it very clearly: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) It has been said that 11 AM on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, but that is certainly not God’s vision of the Church. It is not wrong to worship in what could be called “kinship groups” of various sorts, but we must not stop there. Every group brings its own flavor, its own gifts, before the throne of God. The important point is focusing on Christ in worship in Spirit and in truth. If we will do that, everything else will fall into place.

Growing up as a Caucasian in Japan, not to mention as a missionary kid attending a US military dependents school, I have been aware of differences all my life. I have been most blessed when those differences have evaporated in genuine worship. The closest I have come to heaven on this earth was in a small prayer meeting of four men: a German Jesuit priest, an American Augustinian friar, a Japanese Pentecostal pastor, and myself. We had been singing to the Lord, in Japanese as I recall, and the level of joy in me rose to the point that, in my heart, I literally told the Lord He would have to back off if He had any more work for me to do on earth, because my body couldn’t take any more joy! That is how I imagine this scene before the Throne, because there we won’t have any physical limitations to the joy of worship and communion with our Lord. I have loved fellowship with believers of all descriptions. When I preached in a Black church in Ohio, I didn’t want to stop! People of many national backgrounds have been members of this church over the years. God made each one of us unique, but I have learned that is to teach us the difference between unity and uniformity. We are to delight in our differences, supporting one another, because we have unity in Christ.

Father, thank You for all You have taught me about this over the years. Thank You for the assurance that some, even many, of those to whom I have ministered will join me before Your throne. Help me be increasingly effective in adding to that number for as long as You keep me here, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Judgment; January 11, 2019

Rev 6:16-17 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

I would venture to say that this isn’t anyone’s favorite Scripture passage. We don’t like to think of the world, of God, or of ourselves this way! The Bible has many, many references to God’s judgment, but we block it out of our minds and insist, “A loving God wouldn’t do that.” God’s love can’t be separated from His holiness and power. I am constantly confronted – in myself and in others – with the human tendency to imagine God in light of us, as though He were no more than a great big, powerful person. That is understandable, since we are both created in His image (Genesis 1:27) and finite, in sharp contrast to His infinity. However, it presents many problems. When we attribute merely human characteristics to God we make Him, in our imaginations, less than He really is, and so less able to save us. That is both unfortunate and ironic. We want to make Him more approachable, but in the process we make Him into an empty idol. God is alive and real and greater than we have words to describe. He is everything we could ever need, and yet He is essentially indescribable. That such a Creator God would care so much about His creation as to send His Son to die in our place to enable us to come to Him in faith is the greatest scandal possible, really beyond our imagination. We can’t grasp the magnificence of it if we also fail to realize that our attitudes and actions deserve a scene such as these verses describe. We can’t grasp the greatness of God’s grace unless we accept how utterly essential it is to us. The only defense against Judgment is abiding in Jesus Christ by faith.

I don’t really like to think about this any more than anyone else does. I do long for Christ’s return, but at the same time I want Him to delay so that as many as possible may have the opportunity to repent and believe for their salvation. People wanting to be buried in a landslide is a horrible picture indeed! The irony there is that even that will not shield anyone or anything from God. I’m not to go trying to “scare people into heaven,” but I must not hide His holiness or sugar coat His judgment. I am far more comfortable proclaiming the love and mercy of God, but they mean very little if we fail to grasp the alternative. The greatest revival in American history was the Great Awakening, shortly before the Revolutionary War, triggered by a sermon by Jonathan Edwards titled, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. I’ve never preached such a sermon. I need to be willing to say and do anything my Lord asks of me, not fearing the reaction of men, because He is more than worthy of my total devotion.

Father, thank You for the incredible privilege of proclaiming Your Word, week by week and day by day. Help me be fully obedient to that Word myself, not deceiving myself, (James 1:22) so that as many as possible may be spared from Your judgment because of repentance and faith. Thank You. Praise God!

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Discipline; January 10, 2019

Revelation 3:19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

Verse 20 is very famous, depicted in paintings and quoted in songs and evangelistic materials. However, this verse is generally overlooked, because we don’t like the idea of rebuke and discipline! That Jesus said this to John certainly backs up Hebrews 12:4-11, which in turn quotes Proverbs 3:11-12. We want a permissive God who overlooks our “peccadilloes” and lets us do whatever we like. That’s certainly not the God of the Bible! He wants a Bride, holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27) We have a lot of trouble associating discipline with love, but the Bible and good parenting are certainly in agreement in that area. As the Hebrews passage points out, we taste human parenting, most of us from both sides, as children and then as parents, so we need to extrapolate that to understand that God is indeed the perfect Father. Many people feel that the message to the church in Laodicea is the most severe of the seven, but we must not overlook the fact that even this verse says “those whom I love.” The fact that we are imperfect and go astray doesn’t make God stop loving us. The fact that He corrects us, sometimes strongly, doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us. The thing is, the devil loves to accuse us, (that’s what his name means) so we need to learn to distinguish between his accusations and our Father’s corrections. The devil immediately goes from specific sins to blanket statements, saying we’re always wrong or we are simply no good. God, on the other hand, is specific about how we need to change. The biggest problem with the Laodiceans was that they were complacent, satisfied with the status quo to the point that they were nauseating to God. (verses 15-16) That’s why here He tells them to be earnest. The Japanese clicks a bit better than the English in this verse, because the term for “earnest” is literally, “hot heart.” That is the perfect correction for the lukewarmness that had been pointed out.

I have experienced this multiple times. When I was steeped in spiritual pride, God showed me a spiritual mirror so that I could see how dirty I had become. When I had lost the focus of my ministry, He sent someone to give me a strong word that I was treating the church like a hobby instead of my calling. When I was so busy demanding that He answer my questions that I couldn’t really hear Him, He told me to shut up. Right now seems a very confusing time, with many things going on at once, and I have no idea how it will all turn out. I need to receive this as discipline for my tendency to want to be in control, to have all the answers. I am forced to acknowledge that I can control nothing but myself, and I’m not very good at that. Before God, there is absolutely no room for pride of any sort. I need to be comfortable with that, resting, relaxing, and rejoicing in Him just as He has told me to do, recognizing the task at hand and doing it with my whole heart as unto Him. It’s the recognizing part that often gives me the most trouble, but He is growing and guiding me, and I need to be gratefully obedient.

Father, thank You for this Word, and for all that You are doing in me and in this church. I really have no wisdom in myself, so help me listen to You accurately and follow You completely, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Open Doors; January 9, 2019

Revelation 3:8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Every small, weak church would like this to be them! As came out a few days ago, the majority of the world’s churches aren’t very big, regardless of the impression secular media try to give. It’s interesting. On the one hand they try to portray the Church as this huge, threatening thing that is trying to control everything and squeeze all the fun out of life, and on the other hand they try to present it as something inconsequential that can safely be ignored. Of course, neither of those is at all a true picture, because they originate from the liar, the enemy of every human being whether we recognize it or not. There are big churches that are true to Christ and pleasing to Him, but size isn’t the issue; faithfulness is. We tend to become jealous of churches that seem “successful” to us, rather than seeking God as to what He wants us doing on a day-to-day basis. Just yesterday I saw a headline something like, “Church with many healing miracles sees explosive growth.” I didn’t stop to read the article. We are to rejoice when God does things like that, but not think God loves them more than He loves us. We are indeed to examine ourselves and see if there is anything in us that hinders the flow of the Spirit, but not be so introspective that we fail to make full use of the opportunities God gives us. (Ephesians 5:16, Colossians 4:5) God delights to give open doors to His children, as it says here. That’s another way of expressing what Jesus said in our Verse for the Year, Luke 12:32, where He talks about giving us the kingdom. It may seem like every door is closed, but if our focus is on Him rather than on our circumstances, we will discover that more doors are open than we had imagined.

Talk about a Word directly to me! The past two years have seen two major projects seem to fall through completely. Neither is impossible even now, but in my humanity I don’t see how. I need to focus on faithfulness, doing the task at hand as my sacrifice of praise to my Lord. (Colossians 3:17) I need to seek to recognize the opportunities He gives me so that I won’t miss any of the doors He is opening. At the same time, I’m not to go banging my head on closed doors. I have a tendency to get distracted, failing to follow through with things I know to do, for any of a number of reasons. None of those reasons are valid! Seeking first God’s kingdom applies to every decision of my life, every priority, every time allocation. If I will focus fully on my Lord and His kingdom, I will have no lack of open doors.

Father thank You for this Word. I certainly needed it! I do see lots of potential, but I have no wisdom in how to follow through. I see that You could be opening a door for ministry to children, but I have never felt proficient at such. At the same time, children tend to like me! Show me who is to participate in the ministry with me, what form it is to take, and when we are to start. Likewise, You are directing me to renew prayer walking, as of this morning. Help me be led fully by Your Spirit in that, so that demonic strongholds may be shattered and many set free. May indeed Your name be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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