July 3, 2015

Job 17:15 “Where then is my hope?
Who can see any hope for me?”

Hope is as necessary as food, and almost as necessary as air. There are countless examples of people who were in extreme circumstances but made it through on the strength of hope, while others in much less severe circumstances perished. Many people today echo Job’s cry here, wanting to know where their hope is, who can find hope for them. When life is easy the presence or absence of a deep hope is not so apparent. It’s when push comes to shove that the difference becomes obvious. That’s perhaps the major reason times of persecution are generally times of growth for the Church, because the attitude and actions of someone with an eternal hope can be striking indeed. America is entering a period of legal justification for persecution of faith. However, it is precisely those people who are willing to sacrifice their job in order to remain true to their God who have the kind of hope that the rest of the world lacks. The ancient Romans said of the Christians, “They really know how to love each other and how to die.” They knew “how to die” because they had hope that physical death wasn’t the end, and that their eternal reward would be so great as to make them forget whatever suffering they might experience on the way. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) Up to this point Christian faith has been the “easy road” in America, with general admiration and few if any negatives. That is changing, and fast. The epithets hurled at those who refuse to budge from Biblical principles are downright amazing at times. This could well be God’s mercy, because this will clean out those who have not acknowledged and repented of their own sins and submitted to Jesus Christ as Lord. As Peter said, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.” (1 Peter 4:17) The result will be “a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:27)

I had not thought of my own hope as being so striking, but recently a psychology professor who teaches with me has been talking about how he enjoys meeting me each week because I am always so upbeat. I’ve known him now for over 30 years, so he knows it’s not just a fluke! Apparently he finds my hope very attractive, so as Peter said, I need to explain my hope in simple, respectful, attractive terms. (1 Peter 3:15) My wife has similar opportunities. People are greatly impressed and attracted to her because of her cheerful, hopeful outlook despite numerous and hardly insignificant health challenges. We need God’s wisdom to draw in the nets that He has built through our lives over the years, so that the many, many people we have impacted would be drawn to clear-cut repentance and faith, for their salvation and the glory of God.

Father, Wednesday night You had me pray very boldly about a multiplication of the people in this church, and I believe You’re starting to show me how that is going to happen. We still can’t do it in our own wisdom and strength, but You can use us, so that is our prayer. This church alone hardly makes a dent in Your plans for this city and this nation, but we aren’t left out. I pray for all the believers to take hold of the hope they have in Christ and live it out, so that many would be drawn into Your family, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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July 2. 2015

Job 14:14-17 If a man dies, will he live again?
All the days of my hard service
I will wait for my renewal to come.
You will call and I will answer you;
you will long for the creature your hands have made.
Surely then you will count my steps
but not keep track of my sin.
My offences will be sealed up in a bag;
you will cover over my sin.

It is amazing to me that this depth of insight into God’s salvation would have been recorded so long before Jesus, or even Isaiah. Some scholars say that Job predates Moses, which would make this all the more astounding. Verse 14 has a difficulty in translation which the NIV renders as “renewal,” with a footnote of the alternative “release,” but the Japanese renders that sentence as, “I will wait until the one who takes my place will come.” Jesus came to take our place on the cross, enabling us to rise from the dead because our sins have been taken away. To me, this passage says exactly that, and I am amazed. God has indeed been speaking His truth into the hearts of mankind ever since the Garden of Eden, but relatively few have heard him correctly and even fewer have been fully obedient. Paul speaks of how all creation proclaims God, (Romans 1:20) and Psalm 19 is an extended statement by David on that theme. I have been familiar with those passages for a long time, but that such a specific statement of salvation would be in such an old text blows my mind.

As much as I tell others about the omnipotence and omniscience of God, even I forget it sometimes, practically speaking. I exhort others to see the greatness of God and expect great things of Him, and yet I fail to do so myself. The irony is extreme. I need to listen to my own sermons! God isn’t my lackey, to do whatever I want, but indeed nothing is impossible for Him. (Luke 1:37) I know those words and on some level I believe them, but my faith has a lot of room for growth! Last night the Lord had me pray for something that on the face of it seems impossible, but I must not dismiss it, because God who revealed His plan of salvation in Job can reveal His salvation to the hearts of the people of Omura. We are seeing the tremendous favor and good will that we have been given with so many, many people, and God is more than able to convert that to repentance and faith for salvation. I am not to give up on anyone, but advance boldly against the gates of hell and tear them down to release the captives. (Matthew 16:18, Luke 4:18-19)

Father, years ago You told me not to be amazed at what amazed others, but to expect great things of You. Thank You for renewing that in me right now. Help me be active in my obedience, knowing that the plans and the power come from You, for a massive harvest in Your kingdom, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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July 1, 2015

Job 13:5, 7 If only you would be altogether silent!
For you, that would be wisdom.
Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf?
Will you speak deceitfully for him?

My first response to verse 5 was, what a delicious put-down! However, particularly in the light of verse 7, I realized that it can be literal truth. I’m reminded of the secular proverb, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Particularly for religious professionals, the temptation to pontificate can be overwhelming, but often it is just that: a temptation from the devil. When we rattle on out of our own heads rather than humbly communicating what God is saying we do exactly what verse 7 says, speaking falsehood and deception in God’s Name. Nothing could be more dangerous. Recently the Pope has made pronouncements that are perhaps sincere, but are humanistic to the point of damaging the office. That’s simply the most visible example; lesser figures do the same with depressing frequency. In the Old Testament there are several places that denounce false prophets who claimed to speak for God but were most interested in personal profit. There are countless examples of that sort of thing today, and as Jesus said, they can be distinguished by their fruit. (Matthew 7:15-29) Even the best of us need to learn when to be quiet, because saying anything would be speaking for ourselves and not for God.

I have had more than one experience of delivering prophecy when God stopped talking and I didn’t. What a horrible feeling! Having had such an experience just previously, I was delivering a Word in a service quite a few years ago when I felt the flow stop, so I did. Immediately, with no pause whatsoever, another person on the other side of the room picked it up and completed the prophecy. That was a powerful lesson to me! I honestly don’t remember the content of the prophecy, but the experience itself was what the Lord wanted me personally to understand. I am not to speak out of my own head and pretend it’s God! That’s not to say I can’t have personal opinions or that I am never to share them, but it is to say I am to be very careful how I say anything, lest I be doing what verse 7 says. Last night in telephone counseling I was quiet for so long that the person on the other end of the line stopped to confirm I was still there, but if I had said what I was thinking, it would have destroyed our relationship. Sometimes I recognize that being silent is the wisest thing! I am to rejoice to be God’s mouthpiece and keep myself available for that purpose, but not push myself forward and never tack God’s Name onto my opinions.

Father, thank You for this Word. It rather surprised me! Help me indeed be silent when I should, as well as speak when You want me to, so that Your Word may accomplish that for which You send it (Isaiah 55:11) and my words not get in the way, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God.

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June 30, 2015

Jude 1:20-21 But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

I have heard verse 20 used many times as instructions to pray in tongues, but I think that misses the focus. I personally happen to be somewhat in the position of Paul that he expressed in 1 Corinthians 14:18, but I think that focusing on that here misses the overall point, which is essentially the same as Philippians 2:12, which says that we are to “work out our salvation.” I happened to preach on “Progressive Salvation” on June 21st, and this would have been a good Scripture to use. The thing is, as Jesus explained so clearly in the Parable of the Talents, (Matthew 25) we are responsible for what we do with what we are given, be that time, ability, financial resources, or whatever. Here Jude is focusing on faith and the love of God. We are responsible for what we do with those, too! We are to seek to grow in faith, choosing to trust God when the devil tempts us to deny Him, and we are to choose to abide in the love of God. How do we do that? Jesus stated it very clearly: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:9-10) As any parent of a 2-year-old will tell you, obedience is a choice. We can see that in children, but as adults we tend to forget it for ourselves. Actually, that’s choosing not to obey, just as a little child whose favorite word is “NO!” God wants us to grow, as good stewards of all that He has provided for us. That happens only by His grace, mercy and power, but it happens a lot more and a lot faster if doing so is our conscious choice.

This is certainly something I can confirm from personal experience! I’ve learned the hard way that thinking you’re already mature is no way to grow, and that thinking you’ve got everything together is no way to receive God’s supply. I am indeed to rest, relax, and rejoice in Him, as He told me to, but at the same time I am to be applying everything I have toward getting closer to Him, to being more available, more transparent, more useful. That’s part of the paradox of the Gospel (which was my sermon title on the 7th). I’ve been given the privilege of teaching others, and I must not take it lightly. I must not forget that “We who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1) I am to teach and encourage each believer to recognize what they have been given and apply it fully, for their own benefit and the benefit of those around them and for God’s glory.

Father, You know better than I do that I’ve not been the best steward of all that You have poured out on me over the years. Help me continue to grow in every area so that I may be a child fully pleasing to You, for Your glory indeed. Thank You. Praise God!

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June 29, 2015

2 John 1:4 It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.

The more I think about this verse the more I am struck by it. The word that jumps out at me is “some.” I would expect John to express joy if all of her children were walking in the truth, but he rejoices even over some. (Whether the “chosen lady” is an individual or a code word for a church is open to debate, but it seems evident that this is talking about more than just biological children.) Sometimes the sheer numbers of people who don’t walk in the truth as God has commanded can be overwhelming, but John chooses to rejoice over those who do. There’s a powerful lesson here. If we focus on the negatives we will lose sight of the power and grace of God, and will see the devil as bigger and stronger than he is. Right now the world is in quite a mess, and that mess has come home to America in a way and to a degree that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. The mess is not to be ignored, much less accepted as normal or right, but our focus needs to be on what God is doing. Sometimes things need to get dark for the light to be seen more clearly. Some people are waking up and discarding the compromises that have robbed them of fellowship with God and His children. Some people are taking stands and proclaiming God’s truth in love in the face of all the lies. Some people are living as the people of God, and that is reason to rejoice.

Just yesterday a fellow American Christian living in Japan sent us an email that said, simply, “I fear for your grandchildren.” Humanly speaking there’s plenty of reason for that. I earnestly desire that they fit in the category John was talking about, and I desire that they not have unnecessary trials and temptations. I can pray for them, but direct input into their lives is limited to say the least. My prayers for them should not be anxious, but rather filled with the assurance of knowing to Whom I am praying, trusting Him to take care of them. My concerns are certainly not limited to my biological descendants. Those in this church are at least to some degree my spiritual children, and I have many more who are geographically separated from us. I need to pray for all of them the same way I do for my biological children and grandchildren, not trusting them to do the right thing so much as I trust God to guide and protect them. I am to pray that their number increase, but I am not to be discouraged at how few they seem to be at this point. As I wrote my friend last night, God is still God, and He is faithful.

Father, thank You for this Word this morning. I needed it! I pray that You would help me see beyond the negatives that surround me and indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, allowing You to do through me all the good things that You have prepared in advance for me to do, (Ephesians 2:10) for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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June 28, 2015

1 Peter 3:17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

This is a very interesting statement, because it accepts, very calmly and without making a fuss about it, that we are going to suffer. It brings to mind Jesus’ statement in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble, but rejoice! For I have overcome the world.” Peter was present at the time Jesus said that, and I’m sure his life in the interval had confirmed the reality of it. Today we seem focused on avoiding suffering to the point of absurdity, and doubtless miss a lot of joy, satisfaction, and accomplishment in the process. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that suffering is supposed to be fun, but in many places we are assured that suffering can bring results that are worth the trouble. Two come immediately to mind: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71) What we’ve got to remember is that God isn’t mean; He doesn’t pick on us. The devil frequently tries to make us think that is how God is, but the devil’s certainly a liar. From our perspective we often may not see the purpose in whatever suffering we are experiencing, but as the old Southern Gospel song says, “We will understand it better by and by.” What Peter is saying, phrased in modern terms, is, “Get over it! Life includes suffering, so don’t use it as an excuse to do evil.” This certainly isn’t an excuse to seek out suffering. An American going to a Muslim country and then denouncing Mohammed in public is almost certainly not being obedient to God. However, such a person actively demonstrating the love of Christ might still be at high risk of suffering, but would be much more likely to be in the will of God.

There have been Christians down through the centuries who have actively sought martyrdom, but I think that is a sad, self-centered aberration. However, seeking to avoid suffering at all cost is even worse! I have known both types of Christians, and the zeal of the former is easier to channel and correct than the spiritual lethargy of the latter. Spiritual courage is following God regardless of the immediate consequences, knowing that the long-term rewards will be more than worth it. That is what I am to aspire to. America has just entered a time of much greater risk for true believers than at any point since its founding, with the supreme court “discovering” a “right” that is in direct violation of God’s Word, not to mention common sense and even biology. It is sad to feel blessed not to live in America! I am to pray for God’s plans to be fulfilled, even if they involve suffering for His children – and mine! I am to pray that God’s family would stand strong in the face of evil and proclaim the truth in love, just as Franklin Graham is doing with great faithfulness. And certainly I am not to despair, but remember that God is still God, even when the road ahead seems dark.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I wasn’t thinking of the Supreme Court decision when I started writing, so thank You for pointing it out. Help me lead this congregation well, not in conflict avoidance but in bold obedience to You, regardless of circumstances or risk of any sort, so that all of Your plans for us may be fulfilled, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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June 27, 2015

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

This verse is so familiar I almost didn’t write on it, but the truths in it are so glorious and so deep that they bear a lot of repeating. The very first thing this touches on is one of the great mysteries of existence, and that is God’s choosing. Stuck as we are in the flow of time, we can’t even imagine, really, what it’s like for God who is outside of time and perceiving it perfectly all at once. Free will is real, but God already knows how we will choose, and so He makes His choice. The people to whom Peter were writing were a decidedly mixed bag of assorted nationalities from all social levels and backgrounds – just like the Church is today. You could hardly have called them “a people,” but that is exactly what Peter does here. He then heaps on some remarkable descriptives, and we need to realize that these apply just as much to believers today as they did back then. We are royalty, exercising the authority of God. We are priests, interceding between God and man. We are holy. We are God’s personal possession. Wow! We tend to forget the wonder of that, if we ever really believe it in the first place. However, we must remember that all of this is for a purpose, and if we deviate from that purpose we are off course at best. That purpose is to declare the marvelous works of God to all who will listen. Sadly, few Christians actually do that, and those who do are often considered “fanatics.” If that is fanatical, then every Christian on the face of the earth is called to be a fanatic! This is not saying that every Christian is to be a “full-time evangelist.” Rather, it is saying that we are to be giving God the credit for what He has done, most especially in our lives. Talking about the good things he has done for others isn’t bad and can be quite enjoyable, but we need to recognize and talk about what He has done for us. Actually, it is an interesting reality that telling someone else expands and cements our own appreciation and understanding of the grace of God.

My life has certainly been an illustration of the grace and mercy of God. I do seek to tell others, and it is sad to me that the majority either think I am bragging or that God must love me more than He loves them. Neither is true! They too can join the ranks of God’s chosen by their own choice. Expressed in human words that seems paradoxical, but it is glorious reality. As a pastor I desire that everyone in this church understand and fulfill the purpose for which they were created and chosen. In my experience and understanding, we were created for fellowship with our Creator and we were chosen to be His agents and representatives, declaring His works not only to our fellow human beings but also to the “principalities and powers,” (Ephesians 3:10) though we have very little grasp of that dimension. I am to be faithful in my own obedience and I am to call all believers to do the same. There can be no greater joy, blessing, satisfaction, peace, what have you, than fulfilling the purpose of our existence.

Father, thank You for this reminder. This verse is familiar for a reason! Help me live it out consistently, building up the Body of Christ for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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