Panic and Depression; August 19, 2019

Psalm 77:12 I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.

We don’t know what situation the Psalmist was encountering, but the first nine verses indicate it was severe enough to get him pretty depressed. His turning point comes in verse ten, when he decides to get objective about his situation, and then this verse specifies more detail as to how he will go about it. Both panic and depression come from a failure to look to God. Panic comes when we focus on our external circumstances, and depression comes when we focus on our internal resources. In a lot of situations those are both very logical responses, but neither is very productive. What enables us to make headway out of whatever our situation might be is to focus on the One who is never at a loss for what to do, has the power to do anything at all, and who loves us enough to have sent His Son to die in our place so that we might have eternal life. The Psalmist didn’t know that last part, but he did know all that God had done for the people of Israel, and that was enough. The Japanese translation of this verse includes an interesting detail: “I will think quietly about Your works.” It can be very hard to get our hearts quiet in a crisis! The first nine verses indicate the Psalmist’s heart was far from quiet to this point! However, this comes back to a truth that is found throughout the Bible: life is a matter of choices. Things happen to everyone, as Jesus famously reminded us. (John 16:33) The outcome depends to a great extent on how we respond to those things. The Psalmist made the choice to stop responding based on himself, and start responding based on God. That is the wisest thing anyone can do.

This is a very good reminder to me, because it certainly represents my experience. I have had times of panic and times of depression, and I am still tempted to both of those responses at times. However, I have experienced God’s faithfulness more than I could possibly express, and when I get quiet enough to think about that, gratitude and faith replace the panic and depression. Frankly, there is no end to the stream of “stuff” I’m in the middle of. The more I focus on the “stuff” and my personal ability to deal with it, the more agitated I get. It is when I choose to be objective and focus on God that peace comes, and often the wisdom and/or guidance as to how to deal with the “stuff.” Right now health issues and computer issues and the sudden death of an acquaintance are all at hand. I find that Psalm 73:25-26 comes to mind frequently: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” As long as I have that focus, I can get through anything.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You that the photo show ends today, and we can get back to a more normal schedule. Thank You that Cathy and I will each be able to visit our respective doctors after we take down the show. I ask for Your strength, physical and emotional, for all we will be doing today, and I thank You for it in advance. May we indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Class Action Prayer; August 18, 2019

Psalm 70:4 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation always say,
“Let God be exalted!”

David was in another tough spot here, but he knew better than to make his petition totally self-centered. He asks God to meet his need so that all who seek Him may rejoice. You could call this something of a “class action prayer!” We too would do well to remember that what we ask of God never affects just us; other people are always involved. Our minds, our hearts, are simply not big enough to grasp all the implications of everything we ask of God, but He doesn’t miss anything. That’s why we indeed need to pray according to the guidelines Jesus gave us. We need to start with acknowledging who God is: the perfectly holy Creator who, in His incredible grace, has given us the privilege of praying to Him. Then we need to pray that His sovereignty, His rule, would extend over everything, accomplishing what He desires as perfectly on this earth as it does before His throne in heaven. Then we are free to pray that our needs be met, but we need to let Him show us the difference between our genuine needs and what our flesh might desire. We need to recognize our sinful imperfection, and as a consequence, forgive those who have sinned against us. That can be a big issue! God loves the other person as much as He loves us, so in recognizing His grace toward us, we need to extend it to others. And in asking for protection from evil, we again need to recognize that others need that protection as much as we do. Individual, personal prayer is a vital part of every area of our lives, but we must remember that we aren’t the only people God cares about.

I’m as prone to self-centered prayer as anyone, so I’m talking to myself. The more things pile up for me, the less I’m able to see and care about the issues others face. As I pray honestly about my own situation, I need to include others as well. I do pray the Lord’s Prayer fairly often, expanding it in various ways, but I’m not to think that corrects my self-centered tendencies completely. I teach others about intercession, praying for others, but I don’t do enough of it myself. I need to take a cue from David and include others every time I pray. My own father, in a letter he wrote to the family before the heart surgery from which he woke up in heaven, pointed out that God’s will for each of us fits in perfectly with His will for everyone else. I’ve got to be willing to be the cog that turns the gear in someone else’ life to bring them the blessing they need.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I’ve had a number of things pile up for me recently, but this morning You were reminding me that those around me have issues as well, and often more severe ones at that. I do ask Your grace for us all, that we may all give You the praise and obedience that You alone deserve, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Sacrifice of Praise; August 17, 2019

Psalm 69:30-31 I will praise God’s name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox,
more than a bull with its horns and hoofs.

This is a clear statement of what the writer of Hebrews calls “the sacrifice of praise.” (Hebrews 13:15) Music doesn’t have to be involved, but it frankly makes it much easier. We have no idea when God first gave the gift of music to mankind, because musical notation came along much later. There are actually many forms of musical notation that survive even today. They are certainly niche items at this point, such as the way music is written for the shakuhachi, the Japanese vertical flute, including indications not only for which note to play but also how to make the sound “wobble,” but they give us hints as to how music might have been written thousands of years ago. I would love to hear how David sang his Psalms, but I’ll have to wait for heaven for that! The important thing, which we do have through the lyrics that are left to us, is the focus on God. Sometimes that focus isn’t easy to achieve, and requires a very definite act of the will. In the verse ahead of this David says, “I am in pain and distress.” That’s why it’s a sacrifice of praise. When we’re feeling good and blessed, praise is no sacrifice at all! The sacrifice of praise is powerful indeed. Over 50 years ago I knew a man who was born and raised in Hiroshima. He was a young teenager in the closing days of WWII, and had been sent out of the city to do agricultural day work because food was in short supply, saving his life when the atomic bomb was dropped. He managed to walk back to the city after the bomb, and with difficulty located where his home had been, and he realized that none of his family could have survived. He wandered the city in a daze, thinking not about whether to commit suicide, but how to commit suicide, since he could see no hope whatsoever for himself. As he walked he heard singing, and in great amazement that anyone could sing in such devastation he found a damaged but still standing church, and people inside were holding a service. Long story short, they told him about the hope they had in Christ, and he too believed. At the point that I knew him, he was a deeply joyful, jovial even, administrator of a Christian school. He died of leukemia, almost certainly as a result of his radiation exposure, but there was a smile on his face even in the middle of his suffering. He had indeed learned the sacrifice of praise.

I have been blessed to know many of God’s saints, like the man I just mentioned. I could tell stories about them all day! I have learned, as they did, the incredible blessing of praising God. As I started my devotional time this morning my mind was greatly distracted, so I stopped everything and just sang to God. That did the trick! Right now there are many distractions because the spiritual warfare is pretty intense, but there are many blessings as well. Yesterday at the gallery show the Lord brought many people with whom we could share the love of God in various ways, and I have assurance that He will continue to do that through the remaining time. I am to choose to praise Him continually, in my heart even when not vocally, trusting that His plans are always for my blessing and His glory.

Father, thank You for this strong reminder. All sorts of things are pressing on us at this point. As I tell others all the time, help me keep my eyes on You rather than on the issues, and give You the sacrifice of praise regardless of what is going on in the natural, so that Your name may be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Influence; August 16, 2019

Psalm 69:6 May those who hope in you
not be disgraced because of me,
O Lord, the Lord Almighty;
may those who seek you
not be put to shame because of me,
O God of Israel.

This is a prayer that needs to be taught in every seminary in the world! Actually every believer, but especially every church leader, needs to have this attitude. The thing is, our attitudes and actions don’t affect just us. Every time a known Christian trips up, other Christians feel the pain in some way. That’s not to take too much responsibility on us; the Church has survived some pretty spectacular failures over the past 2000 years. However, every last one of us needs to be concerned as to how our lives are going to impact others. We don’t deal in abstract concepts very well, so just being good/faithful for the sake of being good doesn’t resonate too effectively. However, understanding that our actions influence others should motivate us. Sadly, we tend to be so self-centered that we don’t realize our impact, or if we realize it, we might not even care. That is downright tragic. We need to pray this prayer of David so that everyone will be blessed and God will be glorified.

This certainly applies to me! I’m about to hit 38 years of living in Omura. Many people know me, and many more know of me. My prayer is that what they know may draw them to repentance and faith, and not be an excuse for them to walk away. Cathy and I have hit our golden wedding anniversary, and I have assurance that seeing us has indeed given people hope for their own marriage, and caused some young people to desire to be married. Cathy’s many medical trials have been a powerful witness to many as they have seen how she has made it through them. Just yesterday someone told her, “My god doesn’t do stuff like that!” She is a testimony of God’s faithfulness. In this year’s photo show, that will end at 2 pm on the 19th, we have included small pictures of the two of us and our family over the past 50 years. Quite a few people have been more interested in those than in the large, “artwork” photographs that take up the majority of the wall space. I am beyond grateful that we don’t have shameful incidents to record in those pictures, but they all speak of God’s faithfulness.

Father, thank You indeed for Your faithfulness. I continue to pray along with David that my life would draw people to You and not drive them away, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Witnessing; August 15, 2019

Psalm 66:16 Come and listen, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.

In reading this Psalm just now it strikes me that the Psalmist isn’t just talking about good stuff God has done. From verse 10 he talks about how God has tested him, but verse 12 says, “We went through fire and water, but You brought us to a place of abundance.” In other words, he is praising God for the hard times as well as the good. That is real faith. Our testimony isn’t to be sugar coated, but rather honest, even to the point of being gritty. “It was rough, but I’m not the same person I was when I started, and God is good,” is a testimony more people need to hear! Too many people today have been raised to expect everything to be good all the time, and when life isn’t like that, they break down and have a fit. Raising children like that is, frankly, child abuse. I’ve heard some stories recently that tested my credulity, that any parent would be that misguided, but those stories are sadly true. Life isn’t like that, and our testimonies of God’s love and faithfulness need to be honest above all. After all, even Jesus told us clearly, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Testimonies that leave out the trouble are nothing more than fantasies.

I have had my troubles along the way, and I have them now, but the balance is overwhelmingly in favor of blessing. It’s easy to overlook the trouble when I am so aware of the blessing, but if I focus on the trouble, I forget the blessing! I am totally in agreement with Paul when he said, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) This is a lesson I’ve had to learn over the years. I’m in the middle of a computer problem right now that would have been devastating a few years ago, but my feeling right now is that this too will pass, however much inconvenience is involved in the process. I can’t say I enjoy trouble – I’m no masochist – but I’ve learned to take heart like Jesus said, because in Him I am more than a conqueror. (Romans 8:37) When I share the Gospel with others I am not to hide anything, but focus on the love of God above all.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the opportunities for witness You’re giving us in the photo show. I pray that many would be drawn to You through hearing of Your faithfulness to us over the past 50 years, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Practical Faith; August 14, 2019

Psalm 63:3-4 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.

When we sing this verse we forget that when David wrote it he had multiple real threats on his life. In the first place, Saul and his army were actively out to kill David! In hiding from them, David was in a place where death from dehydration was a very real possibility, and possibly even death from hunger. And that doesn’t mention the snakes and other potentially deadly animals in the area. This Psalm wasn’t just pretty words when David composed it! We tend to romanticize the Bible when we read it, forgetting that it’s about real people facing real situations, and they couldn’t see the outcome of their situation the way we can, since we have the whole book. David’s faith was practical, grown in the struggles he had as a young shepherd boy battling wild animals to protect his sheep. That faith was being tested and grown in this period when he was being chased around by Saul. He didn’t know how long he would live, but he made the conscious choice to praise God for however long that was. We may not have as many active threats to our life as David did, but we can make the same choice he did, and we are much better off if we do.

I don’t have any active threats to my life that I’m aware of, but I’ve already lived almost seven years longer than my father did, and I have no guarantee of tomorrow. However, like my father, I have a guarantee of eternity! David’s understanding of life after death was sketchy at best, but I have the whole Bible in my heart and mind, not to mention the fact that my wife has been to heaven and come back to report on it! Like David, I have discovered the joy of praising my God, who is more than worthy of all praise and worship. I have learned that praising God is actually very effective spiritual warfare, because it acknowledges Him as the only one with ultimate power. When we praise God, we remind the devil that he is a defeated foe, and he hates that! It is precisely when my flesh feels least like praising God that I have the most need to do so. Asaph nailed it: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.” (Psalm 73:26)

Father, thank You for this reminder. All sorts of things are going on around me, but none of them are of any importance compared to You. Help me remember that in practical terms, giving You the sacrifice of praise and obedience, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Rest; August 13, 2019

Psalm 62:1 My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.

This verse is echoed in verse five, just changing “hope” for “salvation.” However, the Japanese translation puts a very different slant on them both. It says, “My soul is quiet, just waiting expectantly for God.” That’s all the more striking to me because it was the word, rest, that drew my attention to this in the first place. Right now I feel like I could happily go back to bed for an hour or two! There is actually a deep truth in those seemingly conflicting translations. We won’t really rest until we shut up and let God be God. As the rest of the Psalm proclaims, David had learned from experience that God alone was dependable, and people in particular were unreliable and treacherous. That’s something we do well to remember! Every one of us has been disappointed by people, and we have disappointed others. We have all run into people who, like it says in verse four, bless with their mouths while cursing in their hearts, and we need to be on guard against doing such ourselves. God alone is totally honest, and He can’t deceive Himself. (There’s a philosophical question of whether there is anything an omnipotent God can’t do, but actually there are a handful, and self-deception is one of those.) We need to trust Him enough to shut up and wait for Him to speak and do what He alone knows is best. We have to come to terms with the reality that we simply don’t know, much less have the power to enforce, what is best. Only then can we have the rest our souls need and desire.

Every time this subject comes up I go back to what the Lord told me personally several years ago: rest, relax, rejoice. He has given me many lessons in that since then! I have a photo show starting today, running through the 19th. We set up yesterday, with some details left for this morning, and things went much more smoothly than they have some years. (This is an annual event.) All the same, I was exhausted by the time we got home, as well as dehydrated. Every day for the next week I will be constrained by the gallery schedule, being there to answer visitors’ questions, hopefully selling a few pictures, and most desirably, sharing Christ with those who seem open to such. Having to be there, and waiting through times when no one comes in, are emotionally tiring. I need to be waiting expectantly for whatever God has planned, trusting that He will use me to draw people to Himself in this week, for His glory.

Father, thank You for Your patience in teaching me that I can indeed do nothing apart from You. (John 15:5) Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, today and throughout this week, looking forward with anticipation to whatever You have planned, for the sake of the Body of Christ and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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