November 28, 2015

Psalm 91:9-10 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.

The first time I used the NIV translation for reading through the Bible, I wrote in the margin at this point, “Whatever it looks like, it isn’t disaster.” Jesus made it clear that as long as we are in this world we will have troubles. (John 16:33) The point then is not to bemoan the troubles, but to rejoice in our Savior who has already conquered the world with all its troubles, including death, just as He told us to. The more we focus on the troubles, the more peace and joy they will steal from us. This is concrete, objective fact, but it is hard to follow through with at times. These “tents” we inhabit (2 Corinthians 5:4, 2 Peter 1:13) wear out, and the various rips and tears and stains can be quite problematical at times. It has been rightly said that growing old isn’t for wimps! However, the tent analogy is much like Paul’s “earthen pot” analogy in 2 Corinthians 4:7, because the contents are far more important than the container. We are not the same thing as our bodies, though we experience a great deal of identity with them as long as we in habit them, and we are eternal, of enough value that God sent His Son to redeem us. On top of that, we have the Holy Spirit within us to keep us company, and He is God Himself! Whatever is happening on the outside, we need to let what is on the inside shine through. All the cracks in the pot or tears in the tent actually make that easier, because they take the attention off of the container and place it on the contents. Sometimes God needs to cut a hole in our tent to let His glory shine through! When that happens, it certainly isn’t disaster, whatever it might feel like at the moment.

Talk about timely! I was commenting to Cathy last night that God must have something really big planned, because the spiritual conflict feels very intense at the moment. Cathy and I are both having “tent problems” right now, and the devil wants to distract us with those so that we won’t be available for what God wants to do through us. As I prayed last night, I need to let the Lord show me how to submit to Him on every level in full obedience, so that I will then be able to resist the devil so that he will flee from me. (James 4:7) I am very aware of my human weaknesses at this point, so I need to remember that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness, and praise Him for His all-sufficient grace. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Father, thank You for this time of further training. Help me not “kick against the goads,” (Acts 26:14) but move and grow as You desire and intend, allowing Your kingdom to come as Your will is done in and through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

November 27, 2015

Psalm 56:3-4 When I am afraid,
I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me?

This is an extremely important little passage for living a happy, successful life. We have to face the fact that there are things that make us afraid. Fear is a natural response. The capacity for it is given to us by God, not only to fear Him but also to keep us out of danger. However, misapplied, fear can paralyze us and steal all our joy and initiative. Here David expresses the key: trusting God. It has been well said that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather moving forward in spite of fear. Trusting God is ultimately a choice. He has given us countless reasons to trust Him, but we still have to go ahead and do it. These days, with international terrorists, burgeoning national debt, politicians whose sanity seems in doubt, and more and more, there is no end of fodder for fear, and that doesn’t even start in on more personal issues like health. David here says, “What can man do to me?” but it could equally be expressed, “What can life or the world do to me?” When we have eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord, nothing that could happen to us on this earth is of lasting consequence, even death. We mourn “a life cut short,” but if that person is in Christ it’s no big deal for them, though the grief of those left behind is very real. Countless hymns have been written on the theme of trusting God, and rightly so. We need all the help we can get to make the consistent choice to trust God, because it’s not just a done-once-and it’s-over thing. However, it does get easier with practice!

I’ve certainly been given plenty of reason and plenty of practice in trusting God, but I still have to make the deliberate choice to do so, often daily. I am as human as anyone else, but as a pastor I grieve for people who struggle with the choice to trust. Fear can make a horrible mess of things! I know from painful experience that my words alone cannot impart trust, but they can be useful to the Holy Spirit in doing so. Life is a journey, as many have said. Trusting God gives us the signposts we need, but fear makes us blind to them. As long as our eyes are on ourselves and our circumstances, we won’t see those signposts. When our hearts are lifted to God, they become very clear.

Father, this is an issue that is a major part of my ministry because it’s a major part of life. Help me not only choose to trust You myself, but also encourage and assist others in doing so as well. May we indeed submit to You and resist the devil, (James 4:7) allowing You to destroy his strongholds in our hearts, (1 John 3:8) so that we may walk in the peace and joy that You intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

Posted in Uncategorized, Christian | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

November 26, 2015

Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

I was really taken off guard by the Japanese translation of this verse. The traditional English translation sounds all pious and worshipful, but the Japanese simply says, “Stop that!” Seeing that, for the first time I really looked at the context of the verse ahead of it, and it certainly seems to be talking about making war. International conflict is very much on everyone’s minds these days, and in the current context it is more clear than ever that war is fundamentally a spiritual matter. Jesus said that wars would exist until His return, (Matthew 24:6) but this verse strikes me as what He might say upon His return. As General Sherman so famously declared, war is hell, and that is the antithesis of the Kingdom of God which we are to seek. (Matthew 6:33) That said, war is too often thrust upon us, as is happening right now. Running from war, and particularly trying to avoid it by capitulation, is not a viable option. Those who pray the Lord’s Prayer in honesty and sincerity must stand for Biblical truth, even when that invites conflict with those who oppose it. It is sadly true that in the context of war, even those on the side of truth are all too easily pulled into things that are of the devil, and that must be guarded against as much as possible. However, passivity is not the answer. Recent history has shown that inaction can produce worse results down the line than appropriate action, even when that action is distasteful.

I received a draft notice during the Vietnam War, and during basic training I wrote, and performed in a talent show, a poem that almost got me a court martial, it was so anti-war. I still have no love of killing, naturally enough, and I realize that many of the complex motives in war are ungodly, but I have come to the position that there is such a thing as a just war. Many of my brothers and sisters in Christ might dispute that, and I try not to get into arguments. I certainly pray that Christ will return and all wars will cease, but Revelation seems to indicate that until that moment, the pace is actually going to pick up. As Jesus said, I’m not to let that disturb me, but pray and work that His will may be done on every level, from the macro to the micro, for His glory.

Father, the world is certainly far too complicated for me to figure it all out. Thank You that I don’t have to. Help me walk in faithful, humble obedience to You, bringing with me into Your kingdom as many as will accept Your grace and mercy, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

November 25, 2015

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

Once again we have a passage where the Japanese seems much richer than the English. Rendered in English, the Japanese says, “Wait in hope/wait expectantly,” rather than simply “wait.” This occurs many times throughout the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, and I really wonder why the English translations seem so sterile. Waiting can be unbearable without hope. If we don’t have an expectation of something better in the future, the present can become unbearable indeed. This is why the hope of eternity is so important. We have no guarantee of how things will turn out in our lives on this earth, but when by faith we have assurance of eternity in Christ, then the present becomes bearable. When our hopes are simply for temporal things they are easily dashed, but when our hope is anchored in Christ, it is unshakable.

I am very much in need of this Psalm as a whole right now, and particularly this verse. However, I am reminded of a person who follows my blog who is a quadraplegic. I don’t begin to have the temporal struggles she has! God is perfectly faithful, and His grace is sufficient for us all. When I fix my hopes and expectations on people and events, that is shaky ground indeed. People will disappoint, and things will not turn out as planned. As a pastor I am constantly telling other to take their eyes off of themselves and their circumstances and fix them on Jesus. I need to take my own advice! After all, like Paul, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12) I have every reason to wait expectantly for Him.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for times of depleting my own resources so that I am forced to depend directly on You. As I said in the pastors meeting yesterday, this will probably be the most fruitful Christmas yet, precisely because we all seem so burned out. I ask You to infuse all of Your shepherds in this city with expectant hope, so that we won’t just be going through the motions but will let Your Spirit flow through us in grace and power, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

November 24, 2015

Psalm 3:5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

The preface to this Psalm says it was written when David was fleeing from his son Absalom. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be in fear for your life from your own child. David’s brain probably would not shut up, with self-recriminations, what-if scenarios and the like. That’s why this verse is significant. Quite possibly David was dealing with insomnia, and he was reminding himself of the fundamental truth expressed here. Babies may have trouble sleeping for various reasons, but over-thinking their lives isn’t one of them. Someone who is genuinely resting in their position as a child of God can indeed “sleep like a baby.” It is when we get all “adult” and think we are in charge of our own lives that insomnia kicks in. How well we sleep can actually be a good indicator of our trust level, physical considerations aside. Physical pain, digestive upset and the like can certainly interfere with good sleep, but even then, the more we trust God, the better we are able to deal with those things. This is what Paul was talking about when he wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) A mind and heart filled with the peace of God will sleep well!

I have certainly had my struggles with insomnia at times, so I am preaching to myself. I generally have to be exhausted to fall asleep immediately, though interestingly, naps are an exception. I choose to trust God but my mind still runs, often in circles. This is an area where I still have plenty of room for growth! I have learned, however, that the best way to get the rest I need is not to be anxious about whether or not I am sleeping, but rather focus on thankfulness and praise. Singing/praying out loud is of course counter-productive, but letting grateful prayers and songs of thanks and praise play over in my mind is far and away the best thing I have found for the purpose. Trying to work up faith and trust, as an abstract activity, really doesn’t cut it, but choosing to focus on thanks and praise does the job nicely, just as Paul said.

Father, I’ve had a good bit of practice in this recently. Thank You. Thank You that Your Word is true, and You are absolutely faithful. Help me walk in obedient trust every waking, and sleeping, moment, so that all of Your purposes for me may be accomplished, on Your schedule and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

November 23, 2015

2 Chronicles 32:7-8 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

Hezekiah was one of Judah’s good kings, and the reason why is found in the last verse of the previous chapter: “In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.” (2 Chronicles 31:21) It was because of the relationship that he had developed with God through seeking Him actively that he was able to make such a confident declaration to his people. What we have here is a very true statement, but not one to be made lightly. I always remember that the German army, even in WWII, had “Gott mit Uns,” God with Us, on their belt buckles, even though they were serving Hitler. We cannot presume on God, or on some encounter we may have had with Him in the past, if we are not walking with Him, pressing into Him, on a daily basis. He is absolutely faithful, but He calls on us to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. (Matthew 6:33) We have numbers of Scriptures that echo what Hezekiah said here, perhaps most notably 1 John 4:4. “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” However, Jesus stressed that we are to remain in Him and allow Him to remain in us through His Word. (John 15:4-7) If we aren’t walking in humble, obedient fellowship with Him, then words like Hezekiah’s are empty boasts.

This is certainly appropriate for me. I may be a “professional Christian,” but if I’m not walking in humble obedience, feeding on His Word and letting it have its full work in me, then letters before or after my name mean nothing. However, I do seek His kingdom and His righteousness, so the attacks of the enemy should not shake me. We have my wife’s health situation which isn’t fully cleared up yet, though she is out of the hospital, and yesterday my right ear went on strike. The devil would like to rattle me with such things, but I need to keep pressing in for more of God, allowing Him to use even the tricks of the devil for good and blessing. The more I am focused on the negatives, the more victory I am handing the enemy, and he doesn’t deserve any of it.

Father, thank You for the response of the man whose wife was killed by terrorists in Paris recently, refusing them the victory of his hatred. Help me do no less, but trust You fully in all things, resting, relaxing, and rejoicing in You whatever is going on in or around me, so that all of Your plans involving me may be fulfilled, on Your schedule and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

November 22, 2015

2 Chronicles 20:20 “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.”

I chose this verse reading the English, but then I noticed the difference in the Japanese. Where the NIV says, “you will be upheld,” the Japanese says, “and display faithfulness/loyalty.” Where the NIV says, “you will be successful,” the Japanese says, “gain victory.” Not knowing Hebrew I can’t say definitively which is more accurate, but past experience indicates the Japanese is a very faithful translation. In any case, the differences are something to think about. However it’s translated, this exhortation by the king is very significant. It puts the focus on God, and it shows a willingness to hear from God through someone who was not previously known as a prophet. I hope the Levite who was used by God at this time didn’t develop a swelled head and think he was somebody big after this! Jehoshaphat’s words here are good advice for all the ages. Faith in God is the foundation of genuine success in every area, and faith in His messengers can help us get specific instructions as we need them. In a sense, this whole incident has a rather “New Testament” feel about it, because God spoke through a rather ordinary person. As Paul tells us, we are to examine prophecies, and not swallow them whole just because somebody says “Thus sayeth the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 14:29) Likewise, personality cults are very dangerous, especially in the Church. However, when we have the confirmation of the Holy Spirit in us that someone has spoken the Word of the Lord to us, we need to accept that and act on it. Ego should not be allowed to get in the way, either on the part of someone speaking a prophecy or on the part of those hearing it. If our hearts are tuned obediently to God and to those who faithfully speak His Word, we will indeed have success/victory.

I am often in a position of speaking the Word of the Lord to people, though it is seldom in a “prophetic” setting. I must never let that go to my head, but at the same time I must not draw back from it or think God isn’t using me. It breaks my heart sometimes when people decline to receive the Word and fail to come into God’s salvation, and it is frustrating, even if not necessarily heartbreaking, when those who are saved decline to walk out of the devil’s traps, even when the Lord speaks the way clearly to them through me. I am not to take it personally, but continue to speak the truth in love, extending to others the grace that has been poured out on me. And I must be very careful that I don’t for a moment think that I am exempt from anything the Lord speaks through me, just because I’m the one whose mouth is moving!

Father, You are remarkably faithful to speak through me, even at times when I’m not personally aware of it. I pray that Your Word would have its full work in and through me, accomplishing that for which You send it, (Isaiah 55:10-11) for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment