God’s Instruments; July 23, 2017

2 Kings 4:30 But the child’s mother said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So he got up and followed her.

This story illustrates something that is very common, but which has bothered me somewhat. The woman early on recognized that Elisha was a man of God (verse 9) but over time, as she saw God work through him, she conflated him with God. That is to say, her faith was in Elisha as much as it was in God. That seems to me very risky. Human vessels are imperfect, however much God might use them. Paul put it this way: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) When you forget that your leader is just a clay pot, you are asking for trouble. What’s even more dangerous is when the leader himself forgets that he’s just a clay pot. When that happens, people are bound to be badly hurt. Examples such as Billy Graham are unfortunately rare. He is one servant of God who has never betrayed his commission. It would be easy to list several others who have not been so faithful. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. One of the central pillars in that was the priesthood of the believer. That is, every believer has direct access to God through Jesus Christ, so we are not dependent on going through any merely human intermediary, for salvation or for anything else. When we fixate on a human vessel we are forgetting that vital principle, and lose a great deal in the process.

This has bothered me especially because of how some people have fixated on me. I don’t think that trumpeting my failures would be helpful, for a variety of reasons, but I must seek to point people to God at all times, assuring them that He loves them as much as He does me. One danger in this is that it feeds the ego. If I start to believe what some people say to/about me, I’m in real trouble! The flip side of that is when people don’t believe I’ve heard from God and close their ears to what He says to them through me. That isn’t as dangerous for me, but it can bring loss in various ways, to the individual and to the church. Today we are having a called business meeting to talk about the purchase of the land next door and building an elder-care facility on it. I obviously haven’t been fully effective in communicating what God has shown us over the years, but today is an opportunity to set some of that straight. This is indeed a vision God has grown over 19 years, but it has seemed like a pipe dream until the past year, and the pace has really picked up over the past few months. That makes it seem very sudden to some people. The biggest shock to most of them is the large sums of money involved. They haven’t lived through previous “impossible” projects the way I have, so I am to be gentle but firm in expressing God’s faithfulness. If they are fixated on me, of course they will run in terror from all the bad possibilities. If they are fixed on God, then they will rejoice that He is choosing to use us for His glory. I am to speak and act in all humility, but also in conviction and assurance of what God has been showing us, so that together we may treat His name as holy and welcome His kingdom as His will is done in and through us for His glory.

Father, thank You for this Word. I do pray for each member of this church, that they will receive faith as a gift from You and rejoice to be part of what You are doing, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Receiving God’s Supply; July 22, 2017

2 Kings 4:3 Elisha said, “Go round and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.”

It has always been interesting to me that Elijah is considered the “greater” prophet, but there are far more miracles of various sorts recorded for Elisha. It’s possible that’s because Elijah largely acted alone, so we only know what he told someone else about his activities. Elisha, on the other hand, was associated with a “company of prophets,” so he had a number of people paying close attention to what he did. In any case, this particular incident is well known. In my family we’ve used the expression, “widow’s cruse of [whatever]” when anything was lasting a lot longer than expected. The point is, God’s supply doesn’t run out. However, in this particular instance, the widow and her sons were actively involved in receiving that supply. Not only did the widow have to keep pouring oil, she and her sons had to go around asking for jars into which to pour the oil. God uses various methods of supplying our needs, some of them more seemingly miraculous than others, but it is rare indeed that we are to be passive about it all. At the very least, we are to be active stewards of whatever He provides, so that it will be put to the purposes He intends for it. In this particular instance the widow had to sell the oil she was given, in order to have the funds to pay her debts and then to support her sons. Had she just rejoiced at all the oil in the house and not gone out and sold it, the miracle would have been meaningless.

This is certainly a timely reminder for me! We are facing a project that is huge, considering the size of this church. People have promised finances, but at this point we don’t know how much they will give. We do know that however much it is, it won’t be enough for the total project. I need to be active in asking for contributions, but I need to know whom to ask, and how. It’s not easy to ask for money, particularly when most of the wealthy people I know aren’t Christians. However, as the Lord has pointed out to me recently, He can use this to draw them to Himself, and the eternal life they would receive is worth far more than any financial contribution they might make. I woke very early this morning and my mind kicked into “worry mode,” attacking my faith and my peace. That was just an indication of the spiritual warfare in which we are involved. I am not to be foolish, but I must remember that God is never at a loss for supply, whether it be money, personnel, or anything else. My task is to do whatever He indicates to receive that supply, as well as be faithful as a steward of whatever He does supply, just like the widow in this story.

Father, thank You for Your perfect timing. You knew what would happen when, at the point You had me select this passage in creating this month’s Scripture List. Help me receive and operate in Your truth, and not just preach it to others. I ask for clear guidance for each moment of today, not just to be fully prepared for tomorrow but so that I won’t miss anything You have for today, for Your will to be done on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Speaking for God; July 21, 2017

1 Kings 22:14 But Micaiah said, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.”

Micaiah proved he was a true prophet right here. This whole chapter gives very interesting insight into prophets and prophecy. The other 400 or so “prophets” were opportunists, political operatives who used “prophecy” to curry favor with power, and/or for political ends. They remind me a lot of the global warming/climate change alarmists today, who continue to spout their predictions even when proven wrong again and again. In contrast, Micaiah doesn’t claim to be omniscient, but he does profess to listen carefully to God. Every believer should be that way, whether they have a specifically prophetic calling or not. Sadly, too much of what goes on in churches resembles the antics of the 400 “prophets,” rather than humility and obedience toward God. Sermons are crafted with the tools of public speaking to advance human plans, rather than being expressions of what God is saying to His children. We cannot judge such things by human standards, but rather use the Bible as the standard and ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate it, and us, so that we may hear what God is saying.

This is of course extremely applicable to me. I have been used in prophecy many times over the years, but more importantly, each time I stand in a pulpit I seek and desire to transmit faithfully what God is saying, just like Micaiah. I do prepare outlines and I do seek to be an effective speaker, paying attention to Mark Conner’s points on “Preaching to Change Lives,” but if it isn’t God’s message to begin with, all of that is “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1) I start each message confessing that if what I speak is just my own words it will be of no value, and asking God to use me to speak to those listening. I have heard too many sermons that didn’t follow that principle – some from my own mouth! God certainly talks to His people, but if I speak my own thoughts and claim they are God’s, I’m in deep trouble. Sometimes God does speak through me when I haven’t expected it, but feeling self-important or going around saying “Thus sayeth the Lord” is the height of foolishness. I am to expect God to speak through me and be grateful when He does, but never try to leverage that to my own ends. My end stinks!

Father, thank You for a sense of humor. Thank You for Your overflowing grace in so many areas. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice, just as You have told me, keeping myself available to You at all times and in all ways, so that Your name may be recognized as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Our Image of God; July 20, 2017

1 Kings 20:28 The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.’ ”

Modern people, and particularly those from traditionally Christian countries, have trouble grasping just what was going on here. Ahab had won the earlier battle through superior tactics, directed by God through a prophet. Whether the Arameans knew about the prophet or not, they attributed their loss to the God of the Israelites, rather than to their poor tactics. They had a theology that seems laughable to us today, of strictly local gods, and God wanted to teach them, and the Israelites, how wrong that was. We may laugh at this today, but often enough our own theology isn’t much better. We mentally put God into various boxes, deciding what He can or can’t do, forgetting that He is GOD, the LORD, Creator of heaven and earth. As He had Gabriel tell Mary, nothing is impossible for Him. (Luke 1:37) He is quite literally infinite. Being finite ourselves, we have enormous difficulty wrapping our minds around that reality. We aren’t so much better than the Arameans who thought He was just God of the hills. We need to let Him reveal Himself to us, not requiring that He do some fresh miracle, but simply grasping how much He has already done. The most miraculous thing isn’t really what He has done so much as that He has done it for us. His love, that caused Him to send His Son as our Savior, is the most miraculous thing of all. That is what we most need to believe and appropriate. With that as a foundation, everything else fades to being merely incidental.

God is in the process of doing something that seems big and miraculous in/for/through this church. I’ve got to remember, and to keep reminding the believers, that this is small change compared to what He has already done for us in Christ. We all need to let Him grow our image of Him, because it will never be as big as He is. I am to teach both how incredibly big and great He is and how intimately, fiercely, He loves us. We are not to presume on Him, but we are not to think for a moment that anything is difficult for Him. Our job is humble, faithful, joyful, obedience. Two Japanese expressions come to mind: waiting in hope, and listening to obey. Both are extremely Biblical concepts, and reassure me that God didn’t leave Japan and the Japanese out of His plan of salvation, whatever their track record has been to this point.

Father, thank You for the marvelous day yesterday. There were so many encouraging things! Thank You for what You told me a few years ago, to rest, relax, and rejoice. I’m still growing in doing that! Help me not just teach others, but allow You to stretch my heart and mind as well, so that I may be an ever more available, responsive channel of Your grace, blessing, and power, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Boasting; July 19, 2017

1 Kings 20:11 The king of Israel answered, “Tell him: ‘One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.’ ”

Now that’s a snappy comeback! It was obviously a proverb of the day, but it’s true enough even today. We hear a lot of people boasting about what they are going to do, but that’s nowhere as impressive as someone who calmly recounts what they have done. “Advance boasting” is used as psychological warfare, trying to intimidate opponents. It is often part of what is called “trash talk,” insults and put-downs of opponents. The flip side of that is to bolster the courage of the one speaking. However, talking big often betrays a coward behind the bluff. It is certainly a risky maneuver. For the Christian, we are to hold to what God said. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

One time in my life an empty boast stood me in good stead. I was an 11th grader in Tennessee, having spent most of my life in Japan, and I was fresh meat for bullies. One bully in particular really bothered me, so one day I called him over privately and said, “You know I come from Japan. Well, I know karate, and if I happen to kill you it would be bad for both of us.” He never bothered me again! In fact, I had never studied karate and only knew a few kata (moves) from observation, but I think God gave me wisdom for that occasion. That was certainly an exception to the rule we’re talking about! Far more often, I have gotten myself into trouble by boasting about things I hadn’t done yet, or even things I claimed to have done that weren’t true. I am a perverse bundle of pride and insecurity, and I have demonstrated that more times than I like to think about. I would have done far better to obey God’s words to Jeremiah. Right now we are faced with huge challenges. My focus, both in my words and in my inmost thoughts, must be on my Lord who is more than able to deal with those challenges, because the minute I think or say that I can solve them on my own, I’m in deep trouble. The less I think I can do it, the more I can have assurance that He can and will do it through me.

Father, thank You for this reminder and encouragement. Thank You for the various things You’ve brought me through to this point to teach me to trust You. May I not trust in myself, but be active in my obedience to You, so that Your wisdom may be manifested at every turn to accomplish Your will for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Encouragement; July 18, 2017

1 Kings 19:18 “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”

This is an enormously encouraging passage for many pastors, especially those who are distressed by the general state of society. Elijah had every reason to fear for his life as he ran from Jezebel, so there is a definite irony in his asking to die in verse 4. Jezebel would have been happy to grant that request! However, every Church leader has reason to be depressed at times. God’s answer to Elijah was to give him specific tasks to do and tell him who would be his successor in ministry. Knowing that ministry isn’t going to stop with you can be very comforting! Then he says this, letting Elijah know that not everyone in Israel had abandoned Yahweh. That too is enormously comforting. The people who spit in God’s face are very visible, because many of them try to be, but we must not overlook those who genuinely seek God. There are countless reasons why we might overlook them, but God doesn’t miss even one. The discouraged pastor needs to ask first for ears to hear God and then for eyes to see those whom God has reserved for Himself. God is never defeated, whatever things look like, and neither are those who are in Him. (Romans 8:37)

This is certainly applicable to me, as I’m sure it is to every minister in Japan. The “rate of return” for ministry in Japan is the lowest in the world, from statistics I have seen. I can certainly believe it! However, things aren’t necessarily as they seem to human eyes. Just the other day I was talking with someone who had been attending a good-sized church in the Tokyo area, and they said that they thought the majority of the people in their age group at church had told no one at their job that they were Christians. They feared the social repercussions of being “different” from their peers, forgetting Jesus’ very strong words on the subject: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26) That’s pretty severe! I perhaps need to contact the pastor of that church (who is a friend) and let him know what I heard. I also need to encourage the believers here to “let their lights shine,” (Matthew 5:15-16) not fearing people’s opinions but taking their personal worth from God, so that they may lead others into the light of life.

Father, You know what’s going on in and around me better than I do. Thank You for reminding me of that fact just now. Help me rest, relax, and rejoice in You, just as You have told me, so that my light may be bright and draw many to You, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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God’s Supply of Strength; July 17, 2017

1 Kings 18:46 The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

This was another miracle, but not being as dramatic as the immediately previous “power encounter” it doesn’t get as much press (though I have seen a photograph of an oil painting someone did of it). We occasionally get news reports of people doing seemingly impossible things for a brief time, like lifting a car off of someone, but this was a sustained event. I don’t know how far it is from Carmel to Jezreel, but it was surely more than a few hundred yards. Even if Ahab’s chariot was moving slowly, this was a sustained effort at pretty remarkable speed. Frankly, I don’t know why Elijah would have gone to Jezreel at this point, because the following events show that it was dangerous territory for him. The whole point to me is simply that God provides the strength and endurance we need to accomplish whatever He indicates we are to do. Sometimes we really need to be reminded of that! God told Paul that His grace is sufficient for us, (2 Corinthians 12:9) but when difficulties loom over us we can have trouble believing it. Peter points out that faith is worth more than Gold, (1 Peter 1:7) so God allows us to get into situations that stretch our faith and deepen it. As has been said, He is far more interested in our character than our comfort.

I don’t enjoy being forced to grow any more than other people do, but I have seen good results when I have stopped protesting what God intends for my blessing. My immediate situation is hardly one I would have chosen, but it has caused me to pray a good bit more than I had been doing. That’s good! I don’t know what the hours, days, weeks and years ahead hold, but I do know that God loves me and His plans for me are good. (Jeremiah 29:11) I need to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to Him and do exactly what He says, whether it makes any sense to me at the moment or not. It would be especially shocking if He told me to run the way Elijah did, since I’ve never been a runner, but if He says to do it, I need to be obedient. The tasks that seem to be ahead are much less physical but no less difficult. I am not to draw back at any point, but as Paul said, I am to press on, keeping my eyes on the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Father, thank You for the assurance that You will get me through everything, whether it feels like a kick in the stomach, a slog through mud, or stepping off of a cliff. Thank You that there are no surprises for You, so all I have to do is follow You. Thank You for what You have done in this week in the city gallery. I frankly don’t know what that is, since attendance has been sparse, but You have allowed me to speak Your truth to a few people. I pray that this last day, including taking everything down, would go smoothly and we would be accurate representatives of Christ, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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