Information; February 23, 2018

Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

God isn’t stingy with information, but He knows what we need to know and what we don’t, and one of the primary things we need to know is to depend on Him. That’s why He told Jeremiah to call out to Him. In current society we are inundated with information, but much of it is inconsequential to our lives. As a result, we can get dulled to taking in new information, even when it is very important to us. Sometimes God wants to tell us things that our human intellect can’t handle. The Japanese here says, “great things beyond understand­ing,” but the traditional English “unsearchable” seems to click today. That is, you can’t Google it! As He 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) Paul was very aware of this himself when he spoke of God’s power on our behalf. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21) We need to maintain the awareness that God’s plans are greater than anything we could come up with, and then keep seeking Him to know as much of those plans as is necessary for us.

I have long been something of a “knowledge junkie,” absorbing all the information I could just for the fun of it, which also tended to make me an insufferable know-it-all. I have matured (somewhat!) to realize that there is far more that I don’t know than I do, and that is as it should be. However, I still like to know, and that has forced me to grow in faith. After all, not knowing means I have to trust God. I will never forget the time I was pleading with God to speak to me, praying non-stop, when He took advantage of my pause for breath and said, “Well then, shut up.” I am to obey His words to Jeremiah, but I am also to be at peace with not knowing, if that is what is best for God’s plans to be fulfilled. Sometimes if we know too much, we get in the way. I am to use what I know as fodder for prayer, entrusting each situation to God and submitting my will to His, so that His name may be acknowledged as holy and His kingdom come as His will is done, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You that Your plans are indeed perfect. Help me trust You enough to flow with Your Spirit according to Your plan so that I may participate fully in all that You are doing, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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

Choices; February 22, 2018

Jeremiah 32:39 “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.”

Fearing God is a strange thing. If we fail to understand that He is omnipotent and holy and we are neither, then we are far more likely to run off and do our own thing to our own destruction. However, if God is just a scary “Being” to us we will never draw close to Him in the fellowship for which we were created. Part of the difficulty in this issue is linguistic, because there are many places in the Old Testament, like here, that couple fearing God with His blessings, so the meaning of the original word must not be identical to the English (or Japanese) term. Not being fluent in ancient Hebrew, I can’t speak to that! That said, where the NIV says “singleness of heart and action,” the Japanese says, “one heart and one way.” That brings to mind Jesus’ famous statement: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Many places in the Bible speak of being “double-minded,” and we’ve all experienced times of indecision between two or more choices. Part of this is a matter of choice. God offers us one heart and one way, but we have to choose to accept them. That’s why Jesus spoke of the wide and narrow gates in Matthew 7:13-14. If we had no choice in the matter, there would have been no point in His bringing it up. Many people, both religious and secular, take a deterministic view of life, feeling that we are no more than products of our circumstances. However, that flies in the face of most of the Bible. Even secularists sometimes have to back off of that position. Just yesterday I was reading an article that was saying “We have to accept chaos.” In other words, chance happens and choices are real. Coming back to the question of fearing God, if we fail to fear/respect/love Him, we will have no firm basis for all the choices we have to make in life, and we will lose the very meaning of our existence.

I really went all over the map with that! I guess that shows how much we are in need of the “single heart and single way” that God offers us. I am at least as much in danger of wrong choices as anyone else, and I’ve made more than a few in my life. I need to indeed seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, (Matthew 6:33) not just so that physical needs will be met but especially so that I won’t wander away from my Lord, distracted by all sorts of things. I have received grace upon grace, but I must never take any of it for granted, rather living my life in grateful obedience. That is the heart and the way that He has prepared for me.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all that yesterday held, and all that You have prepared for today. Help me seek and follow Your way step by step, with one heart, to do Your will on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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

God’s Grace; February 21, 2018

Jeremiah 31:14 “I will satisfy the priests with abundance,
and my people will be filled with my bounty,”
declares the Lord.

Sometimes the more literal Japanese translation is interesting. In this case, it says, “I will satisfy the souls of the priests with marrow, and my people will be filled with my grace.” We don’t currently have the association of cracking bones open to eat the marrow with luxury, but many cultures have considered it that way. The Japanese word for grace also carries the general meaning of blessing, so it’s not so surprising when reading this in Japanese, but when put back over into English it is somewhat striking. The message of salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) is actually found throughout the Bible, but isn’t so explicit until the New Testament. Again, the Japanese phrase is literally, “be filled and have enough.” That is one of the amazing things about God’s grace: there’s always enough. I have long loved the hymn, Grace Greater than our Sin. Because I couldn’t find a Japanese translation I did my own, and we sing it fairly frequently in this church. God’s grace isn’t about giving permission for sin, but rather providing redemption when we confess and repent of our sin. “Hyper grace” does violence to God’s holiness, but if we repent of our sin, God’s grace is always enough.

I am certainly as much in need of God’s grace as anyone, and I rejoice to proclaim that grace to others. My life, though not that of a millionaire, would certainly be considered luxurious by much of the world’s population today. I have no complaints about God! Like Paul, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13) I haven’t had much experience in being hungry because food wasn’t available, and I have long said that given the quality of Cathy’s cooking, it’s a miracle I’m not the size of a sumo wrestler! I have found that God’s unmerited blessings are indeed amazing and always enough, and I’m deeply grateful.

Father, thank You for your grace. Words fail me to express either its magnificence or my gratitude. It’s pretty unusual for me to be at a loss for words! Help me respond to Your grace more and more fully, being the obedient son that You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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

Drawing Close to God; February 20, 2018

Jeremiah 30:21 “‘Who is he who will devote himself
to be close to me?’
declares the Lord.”

This verse is talking about leaders, but to me this line is a challenge to every believer. Where the NIV says “devote himself,” the Japanese says, “bet his life.” That is the sort of attitude that says, “I’m going to draw close to God even if it kills me.” Another way to say it would be, “You can kill me if you like, but I’m going to draw close to God.” God honors that sort of attitude! Too much of the time we act as though God were incidental to our lives, rather than being the foundation and the reason for our existence. I forget who it was who said, “The world has not yet seen what God can do with someone who is totally devoted to Him.” If we are honest, we have to admit that our devotion tends to be on-again-off-again. That’s part of the human condition, but we need the foundational commitment to Jesus as Lord or the rest of life becomes largely meaningless.

I have certainly had ups and downs in the level of my commitment. There was a period of several years when we didn’t have regular prayer support for our ministry in Omura, and frankly, my focus went completely off. It was like the church was a hobby I had, rather than being the real reason I was here. The Lord used a stern word of correction through a brother in Christ, and then a temporary change of circumstances, to bring me back into focus. I am very grateful. I am very aware of my own weaknesses, and know that apart from the grace of God I am capable of being the most despicable of men. That’s one of many reasons I start each day before the Lord, seeking to hear Him through His Word and giving Him my thanks and praise. In a sense I suppose that is “betting my life,” because we measure life in terms of time, and it takes time to do this. These days the devil does all he can to keep us as busy as possible so that we won’t feel we can make time for God. He wants us to forget that our every moment is a gift from God! At this point in my life it is easier to remember that, because I’ve already outlived my father by more than five years. However, it’s true for every human being, and I need to help others realize it as well. We lose so much when we place God somewhere down the list of our priorities. I need to speak on this from the pulpit, but I also need to model it in daily living and walk alongside people in working it out in their lives.

Father, thank You for this message! Help me lay it out as You intend so that it will come through clearly, getting past and through all the barriers the enemy throws up, setting my hearers free from the lies of the enemy to live as Your intend, for their great blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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

Punishment; February 19, 2018

Jeremiah 30:11 “I will discipline you but only with justice;
I will not let you go entirely unpunished.”

God is too good a father not to punish when it is needed. He doesn’t punish any of us as severely as we deserve, but a lack of punishment leads to exactly the sort of societal breakdown we see today. Failure to punish is a major part of the “father wound” so many people bear today. (Father wound is generally defined as the emotional scars that come from fathers being absent, either physically or emotionally.) A totally indulgent father does not have happy, emotionally balanced children. This is a truth too many parents fail to grasp. They may not have been disciplined in their own childhood, and/or they may have been deceived by pop psychology that claims physical punishment, particularly, “damages” children. Much of that got going with the writing of Dr. Benjamin Spock, now a generation or more ago. Not long before he died Dr. Spock himself retracted much of what he had written, saying that he had done a great disservice to society, but by then it was too late. It is interesting, and often tragic, that a failure to understand appropriate discipline/punishment can lead to abuse of various sorts. Ideally, we need to punish but not in anger, helping people, adults as well as children, recognize the just consequences of their actions.

My parents were no more perfect than I was as a parent, but I don’t think they did too bad a job, with me at any rate. I do remember a few spankings, but perhaps not quite as many as I deserved! I touch on this subject regularly in marriage counseling, because parenting is often a source of friction between couples. I point out that boundaries are essential for our emotional stability, and that a child who fails to be sure of their boundaries is also going to be unsure they are loved. I generally use one of my grandsons as an example, because his mother has used a lot of wisdom in raising him. Children don’t understand logic, but they do understand pain! Certainly not excessive pain, or anything to the point of physical damage, but Proverbs is very true: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24) Physical affection is also called for, but a failure to discipline in childhood bears disastrous consequences later. My heart often aches for families I see struggling with this issue, but all I can do is speak the truth in love as the Lord gives me opportunity.

Father, as I see my physical and spiritual children and grandchildren I am often reminded of Your grace and patience toward me. Thank You for the punishment You have given me, as well as the comfort. Help me not complain at Your discipline, but know that it is an expression of Your love. Thank You. Praise God!

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

Close to God; February 18, 2018

Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

God’s timing is very interesting, and perfect. I had no idea what I would be preaching on today when I made up this Scripture list, and I wasn’t thinking about what today’s passage was when I was preparing the sermon notes, but I’m preaching on Intimacy with God, and the song I chose for after the message is based on this verse. The thing is, God knows everything about us in advance, not that He’s micromanaging, but simply that He knows. Paul used the term “predestined” to apply to that, (Romans 8:29-30 and elsewhere) but that seems to be in contradiction to human free will. If we are totally predestined to do this, that, or the other, then we logically have no responsibility or guilt for doing it. The problem is one of human language and human intellect. Quantum physics deals with this sort of difficulty, but not too many people understand that either! We tend to over-think God, not because He’s simple, but because He’s beyond our intellect in the first place. That’s why Jesus said that we have to be like little children, accepting that there are things we can’t explain and being at peace with that. (Matthew 18:3) I’m not sure which theologian it was, perhaps Barth, but one of the great theologians of the 20th Century was asked what was the greatest truth he had found. He replied, “Jesus loves me. This I know for the Bible tells me so.” He had realized that Jesus’ words were true, and he had to accept God’s love as a little child. And all of that brings us back to this verse. If we as little children seek our Father, He’s going to let us find Him, to our mutual delight. As long as we think God is unknowable or impossibly distant, we aren’t going to seek Him. The Bible is full of the message that God is always right there, if we we will simply turn to Him.

I have had times in my life when God has seemed distant, but they have mercifully been few and brief. I actually have little empathy for those who are experiencing a “dark night of the soul,” though I do feel sorry for them. I do know believers who have come through such times greatly strengthened, but I’m very grateful not to have been taken down such a path myself. As a pastor and simply as a believer, I want everyone to realize how close God is to them, and turn and acknowledge Him as Lord, for their salvation and His glory. However, amazingly few really do that. Why that is, remains one of the most painful elements of my life. I want people to know the truth of God’s love and grace and so be set free from the devil’s traps, but if they refuse, I can’t force them.

Father, this is the struggle of my ministry, and my life. You have told me to rest, relax, and rejoice, but sometimes that gets difficult! Help me indeed yield each individual, along with myself, to You, and simply choose obedience to You as my own path, praying for others but leaving them in Your omnipotent hands. I ask Your grace and mercy on us all, so that as many as will may be saved, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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

Knowing God; February 17, 2018

Jeremiah 24:7 “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.”

Here we have a statement of God’s provision that is predicated on a change of heart. God provides a heart to know Him to those who repent and turn to Him. Recently a US TV personality, who claims to be a Christian, said that claiming Jesus speaks to you is a sign of mental illness. That proves she doesn’t have a relationship with Him based on repentance. The people described here included such notables as Daniel, who is a shining example of someone who indeed knew God on a very personal level. As a group, they experienced considerable hardship and shame, being hauled off to Babylon as prisoners, but God knew the experience would have the very desirable result of causing them to turn fully to Him. It has been said, very accurately I feel, that God is far more interested in our character than our comfort. Many people, secular as well as religious, have pointed out that everyone goes through difficulties, so the defining issue is not what we experience, but how we respond to it. This batch of exiles responded rightly, and God rewarded them.

I have said quite a few times that I don’t feel like my road has been as rough as those some people have to travel, but looking back, I see that outside observers might have been thankful they didn’t have to go through what I was experiencing! However, for most of my life I have had a rock-solid assurance that God loves me, and that has enabled me to get through it all, probably with a good bit more peace and joy than the average person. When knowing God and responding rightly to Him is my highest priority, I know I’ve got no worries about anything else. (Matthew 6:33) There are many unknowns in my life even today, but the hymn based on 2 Timothy 1:12 expresses my life very well. At this point the fourth verse of this hymn is particularly applicable: “I know not when my Lord may come, at night or noonday fair, nor if I’ll walk the vale with Him, or meet Him in the air.” Knowing God personally, as Paul told Timothy and as the Lord said to Jeremiah, makes all the other questions secondary. As a pastor, I want everyone in my care to have that assurance. As a child of God, I want everyone on earth to have the relationship with Him that I do.

Father, thank You for Your grace toward me. Help me share Your love and grace effectively, so that more and more people may indeed seek and find You, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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