Victory; March 17, 2018

Daniel 7:18 “‘But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it for ever—yes, for ever and ever.'”

Daniel was shown a lot in various visions. It troubled him, and he had a lot of questions. However, this verse expresses the end of the matter. You could summarize the message of the visions both in Daniel and in Revelation as, “It’s going to be a mess, but in the end, we win.” Verse 21 of this chapter specifically says that sometimes the forces of evil will win in their battle against God’s children, but that is strictly temporary. That can be pretty hard to keep in focus when we’re in the middle of a defeat! Jesus made one of His most encouraging promises just before He was seized, tortured, and crucified: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The tense there is important. He was about to suffer unspeakable agony and the disciples were going to abandon Him, but He still said, “I have overcome the world.” We have trouble grasping the reality that God, being outside of time, is aware of everything at once. We can’t do that! However, from God’s perspective, His victory, and ours, is already a done deal. We are called to be faithful in the flow of time (and in the use of time) but we need to realize that God is above and beyond all of that, and He loves us. It is that last fact that should be our anchor in all the storms we experience.

The past couple of years have been quite a roller coaster emotionally, so I have needed to remind myself of all of this. Sometimes I have done better at that than at other times! I was recently encouraged by a brother in the Lord that God’s plans are indeed better than what I might have chosen. I know that intellectually, but my emotions don’t always keep up. It’s easy to look back over my life and see how true that has been, but the pressures of the moment are always a fresh challenge to my faith. Today we will be having a memorial service for a sister who went through a lot in her time on this earth, but she stuck with Jesus, and I’m sure her welcome in heaven was glorious. Her family is not Christian, so this is an opportunity to let them see what she was all about, and be drawn to follow her example. One of the reasons God allows junk into our lives is to show the world how His children deal with such stuff, so that they too may repent and believe. I am not to complain about what I go through, but rather praise God that He is indeed going to use it for my good and to draw others to Himself. (Romans 8:28)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for inviting me onto the winning team. Help me remember my position in Christ at all times and live accordingly, so that my defeats may be transformed into Your victories, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Unconditional Devotion; March 16, 2018

Daniel 6:10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.

The story of Daniel and the lions’ den is justly famous, and familiar to everyone who went to Sunday School as a child. Even so, most people have essentially forgotten it, and especially the example Daniel set for all who claim to follow the God of the Bible. Daniel was without question diplomatic, able to navigate difficult situations through well-chosen words, but that didn’t mean he compromised his values. He literally valued devotion to God above his own life, as he demonstrated here. Though God miraculously preserved his life, he here demonstrated the heart of a true martyr. At the time he didn’t know what God would do, but devotion to God was still his first priority. We tend to be conditional in our obedience, trying to bargain with God to get what we want from Him, but Daniel wasn’t that way at all. We would see far more miracles if we followed his example, but following God to try to get a miracle isn’t what he did at all. I have seen people turn away from God when things didn’t turn out the way they wanted them to, in the process ignoring the fact that they turned out better than they had reason to expect them to. Conditional obedience and devotion aren’t real, and they aren’t what God desires.

I have certainly been tested in this area. Many things in my life haven’t turned out as I desired or planned, but God has been incredibly gracious through it all. At one point I was lying in bed, not consciously praying but just thinking about things, and I thought, “There are so many things I wish were different.” Suddenly, as clearly as if I heard it with my physical ears, I heard God say, “How do you think I feel?” I knew in that instant that God isn’t happy with what mankind has done with the gift of free will, but His “final answer” is going to straighten it all out. As has been said about the Book of Revelation, “I read the back of the book, and we win!” Bumps in the road along the way can seem catastrophic at the time, but they re ultimately no more than bumps in the road. I have experienced this reality many times, but I still get tied in knots over things that are going on. I need to walk out the truth God has already spoken to my heart through His Word, and so walk in His peace for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder, particularly on top of the encouragement You gave me through the coaching session yesterday. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, accepting each thing You allow into my life with gratitude and praise, whatever it looks like to my flesh, so that all of Your purposes for me may be fulfilled, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Pride and Gifting; March 15, 2018

Daniel 4:37 “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

This whole passage from verse 28 on, and especially from verse 34 on, is remarkable in the extreme, and in sharp contrast to other court records of various nations of the time. It’s only parallel is in other books of the Old Testament. Frankly, negative or less-than-complimentary things simply weren’t said, much less recorded, about royalty in most of the nations of the day. That this frank record, and even personal confession, of one of the greatest emperors of human history was made and preserved in this form is without parallel outside of the Bible. Theologians of a century or more ago used this passage as an illustration of their position that the Bible was largely fiction, but more recent research has shown that there was indeed a 7-year hiatus in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, during which the empire was run by a regent who was not a relative. My personal conviction is that regent was none other than Daniel himself, because who else would have both preserved the empire and handed it back to Nebuchadnezzar when his sanity was restored? In any case, the point of the story being in the Bible is exactly what is said in this verse: God is able to humble anyone who walks in pride. Not everyone experiences it in this life, but there is certainly no room for personal pride before the judgment seat of God! King David of course experienced this in a painful way in relation to Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, and his confession is recorded as Psalm 51. We see pride manifested by public figures all the time, but we need to remember that the truth stated in this verse applies to everyone. Humility before God is always the best course.

As I am reminded frequently, pride has been a snare to me all my life, as I really think it is to just about everyone. The answer isn’t self-hatred or denying genuine gifts and ability, but rather recognizing that everything we have is from God, and He can take it back just as easily as He gave it, as Job recognized. (Job 1:21) I am to recognize both that everything I have is from God and that He has gifted everyone else, too, though He gifts no two people in exactly the same way. I am to recognize and honor and thank God for the gifts He has given to others, no less than for the gifts He has given to me. As a pastor, one of my tasks is to help people understand that God has gifted them and how He has gifted them, so that those gifts may be used as He intends to build up the Body of Christ. (Ephesians 2:10, 4:12) I am to honor God by honoring His children, helping them understand how much He loves them.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the book I read this week that helped me understand some of my mistakes as a pastor to this point. Thank You that I’ll be having a coaching session this afternoon to help me know how to deal with those issues. Help me go into that in full humility, allowing You to transform me as You know I need it, so that this church may be healed to be and do all that You intend, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Wisdom; March 14, 2018

Daniel 2:30 “As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.”

God’s acts always have a purpose. We tend to use the term, acts of God, for natural disasters, with the implication that they are without meaning. That’s an extreme misuse of language. God indeed created the natural universe, so in that sense everything that happens in it could be said to be something He has done, but He doesn’t pick on anyone. We would do much better to understand that God deliberately does all sorts of things, but they are always with the purpose of drawing people to Himself and otherwise blessing them. Here, Daniel is rightly deflecting the attention away from himself and giving God all the glory. I find it amusing that in so doing he is demonstrating that he is indeed wiser than other people, even though he explicitly denies it! However, his wisdom is of the kind mentioned in Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10) He is a perfect example of what James talked about. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5) He knew from the start that he had no ability to pull the king’s dream from his subconscious and explain it to him, but he also knew the One who indeed could do that, so he asked God, and God acted. That’s the kind of wisdom that is available to us all.

I have had a struggle with wisdom. I was blessed with a high IQ, but I didn’t always distinguish between being smart and being wise. Countless “geniuses” down through history have done very unwise things. It is interesting and often sad to read about such people. An example I recently read about was the German scientist who invented the method that is still used to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere to make fertilizer, thereby saving millions of lives from starvation. His other claim to fame is that he was also the chief architect of the use of poison gas in warfare, which the Germans started in WWI. That was unwise indeed! Looking back over my own life, I see that apart from the grace of God I could easily have been an extremely horrible person. I need to seek God for what He wants me to do with what He has placed in my hands, whether it is tangible, such as finances, or intangible, such as an ability or even a dream. Doing that would be exercising wisdom. As a child I was in the last of the pack when it came to sports, and I took refuge in my intellect. (Textbook definition of a nerd, right?) I would use words as weapons, cutting people down because I felt inferior myself. That’s certainly not wise! I have had to learn that I am indeed accountable for every word I speak, (Matthew 12:36) and submit my mouth, along with everything else, to God. I desire to be wise by the definition in Proverbs, for the glory of God.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for yesterday and all it held. Thank You for the two times of speaking for You that I was aware of, drawing people to You and standing against the lies of the enemy. I pray that every word that comes from my mouth – or through my fingers – would accomplish exactly what You intend, (Isaiah 55:10-11) drawing people to Yourself and destroying the works of the devil, (1 John 3:8) for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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God’s Plans; March 13, 2018

Daniel 2:11, 19 “What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men.”
During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven.

I get a kick out of the way God had the “wise men” of Babylon set up His credentials, and Daniel’s, in the process of this story. By their own admission, Nebuchadnezzar’s demand could be met only by divinity, so they certified Daniel as a true prophet in advance of his functioning that way. This is just one example of what God told Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) Precisely because He sees the end from the beginning, God doesn’t do things the way we would. He caused the king to make a very unreasonable demand (probably because he couldn’t remember his dream distinctly, but just knew that it was really awesome) and then went from there to discredit the false prophets in the king’s court and certify Daniel. That’s absolutely brilliant when we look at it now, but at the time it was terrifying to those who had to experience the threat of death from an absolute monarch. This should teach us to trust God and wait in hope, just as God again instructed Isaiah, (Isaiah 40:30-31) resting assured that He has a better idea, and His plans are always for our good. (Jeremiah 29:11)

I have experienced God’s surprising plans many times, but that doesn’t mean my faith is perfect by any means. As much as I have tasted God’s faithfulness and goodness, I still get anxious at times, even though I’m not dealing with a sentence of death like Daniel was. God has made His power, grace, and love very obvious to me more times than I could count, so I have no excuse. He has even told me personally to rest, relax, and rejoice, so I should certainly be living in the “perfect peace” that both Isaiah (Isaiah 26:3) and Paul (Philippians 4:6-7) talk about. I do enjoy that most of the time, but I prove my human frailty much more often than I would like. I guess I just need to rejoice that God is still growing me!

Father, sometimes I look back at myself and just have to shake my head. Thank You for putting up with my foolishness. Help me walk in all that You have poured out on and into me, so that it may pour through me unhindered, blessing many and drawing them to You, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Abilities; March 12, 2018

Daniel 1:17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

The biggest point of this verse to me is that abilities are gifts from God. We are accountable for them and need to develop and use them as He intends, but they are from Him and not something we are to take personal pride in. In the example here, “strength and wisdom to understand literature” (as the Japanese puts it) actually implies a lot of studying, which many people would consider very hard work. The Biblical record is that these four young men were indeed faithful, choosing obedience to God over meat and wine (verse 8 and following) and generally applying themselves diligently to the tasks presented to them. As a result they rose quickly in the bureaucracy where they served, arousing jealousy in some of those around them to the point of danger to their lives, as the next few chapters record. The point of the story, however, is that they took what God gave them and applied it fully, staying focused on God in the process. I’m sure each of them was welcomed into heaven with the ultimate accolade: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This has been an issue for me all my life. God has blessed me with a variety of abilities that sometimes surprises even me. My parents never told me I was incapable of anything, but rather encouraged me to try whatever came to mind (with appropriate cautions, of course). So many things came easily to me that I was slow to learn due diligence, applying myself even when I didn’t feel like it. The result has been a widely checkered work history with few if any major accomplishments, which makes me wonder if I have really made the use God intended of each of those abilities. Focus, planning, and goal setting have been my weakest areas. I am definitely not a “type A” personality! That has been a major problem in my ministry. With not setting goals, other than things like building a building or buying land, I have failed to project a vision sufficiently for the believers. By doing such a variety of things myself, I have failed to involve others in the ministry and give them a sense of participation and being needed. Just yesterday I was talking with someone in the church about how, at almost 70, I need to let others take on various of the responsibilities of the operation of the church, and the matter came up of who could do them? Technical/electronic things are easy for me, preaching is a joy, and I’m bilingual. I feel somewhat like I’m in a “Catch 22” sort of situation. I want to make full use of the abilities God has given me, but I also need to train others and equip them to do the work of ministry, just as it says in Ephesians 4:11-13. Since last year I have been exposed to teaching in coaching, as taught by Benjamin Wong of Hong Kong. That is gradually building, and my prayer is that I will indeed learn how to be a coach who walks alongside others to enable them to be and do all that God intends for them, and not simply be focused on what I am doing. I talk all the time about how being self-centered never leads to true happiness, and yet I find I’m stuck in it myself!

Father, thank You for not giving up on me. Help me keep pressing in to You, growing and changing as You intend, drawing others into full fellowship with You, for the sake of the Body of Christ and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Influence; March 11, 2018

Ezekiel 47:8 He said to me, “This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh.”

This whole vision of the water flowing from the temple has inspired multiple songs and even the name of an indigenous Japanese denomination. Many people have connected it to the “living water” that Jesus spoke of to the Samaritan woman at the well. (John 4:13-14) Much can be said and has been said about it, but this one detail strikes me just now. Usually when a river flows into the sea it quickly becomes brackish (salty) even when current can still be detected, completely overwhelmed by the difference in volume. The few natural exceptions are the greatest rivers in the world, most notably the Amazon. The volume of water there is so great that fresh water can be drawn from the surface of the ocean even out of sight of land. However, that is quite an exception. This verse is all the more dramatic because the “Sea” in question is the Dead Sea, which has such a concentration of salt that it is famously impossible to sink in it. This verse is obviously talking about something quite different from simple dilution. The point is that this water is completely dominant, influencing rather than being influenced, and therein lies the lesson. God intends for His children to transform the world, when all too often they are indistinguishable from the world. Rather than influencing we are influenced, and that is sad indeed. Paul famously talked about this in Romans 12. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2) The water in Ezekiel’s vision didn’t “conform” to the water of the Dead Sea, it transformed it. That’s how Christ’s disciples are to be to the society in which we live.

This of course applies to me as much as it does to anyone. I have the natural impulse to fit in, to be “one of the crowd,” and I’ve got to be on my guard. In a sense it is an advantage that I grew up as an American in Japan, never completely fitting in anywhere, because that was training in nonconformity. However, that experience generated if anything a sharper desire to fit in, which can be dangerous. I’m not to be different simply for the sake of being different, but certainly not conform for the sake of conforming. That can be a difficult line to walk! The key is to be so full of the Holy Spirit that He overwhelms the spirit of the world around me, just as the waters of the Amazon do for hundreds of miles from shore. I am to recognize that I am a carrier of living water, just as Jesus said. (John 7:38-39) I am not to be proud, but grateful, allowing all who so desire to drink, so that they too may be born again.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I see so much brackish and salty water all around me. Rather than focusing on that, help me so focus on You that the pure water of Your Spirit may flow through me unhindered, not only for my sake but for the sake of all I encounter, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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