May 24, 2016

Psalm 102:12-13 But you, O Lord, sit enthroned for ever;
your renown endures through all generations.
You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favor to her

Even the introduction to this Psalm says that it is “A prayer of an afflicted man,” but he has the right idea: be honest about his situation, and then shift the focus to God. We generally get so focused on our problems that we can’t see God at all! The other side of that is some “name it and claim it” people who are so afraid of “making a negative confession” that they can’t even talk straight about what they are facing. God’s big enough to handle it, whatever it is! We have a hard time striking the right balance between a pity party and La La Land. I think a good part of that comes from feeling like we have to be in control, and that’s a mistake whatever form it takes. We are responsible for repentance and humility; God supplies the rest. Even faith is a gift, (Ephesians 2:9) so we aren’t to beat ourselves up over it, but choose to receive what God offers. Often He doesn’t give for very far in the future, but He will always give everything we need for the moment. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” If we’re worried about tomorrow’s supply, we won’t enjoy, or perhaps even recognize, today’s supply.

This is something I’ve been learning over the years, but it’s been in the Bible all along. As Paul said, “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) That’s most often quoted from the King James: “Tribulation worketh patience,” but the point is true: we don’t know what we can handle until we’ve been through it. I often remember Andrae Crouch’s song, Through It All, that deals with this issue so beautifully. Today is my 47th wedding anniversary, If I had known 47 years ago everything that would be involved in “in sickness and in health,” I might have blanched, but I think I would still have gone through with it. There have been many invitations to pity parties along the way, but thankfully we haven’t stayed at any of them very long, and today we recognize how enormously blessed we are. Right now it looks like there are some exciting things on the horizon, but God will get us through those, too. The point is to stay focused on Him, resting, relaxing, and rejoicing in Him, so that He may be glorified as His will is accomplished on His schedule.

Father, thank You for Your incredible grace and faithfulness. Help us communicate that more and more effectively to more and more people, so that they too may repent and receive Your gift of faith, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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May 23, 2016

Psalm 90:12 Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Several things about this Psalm are very interesting. In the first place, it’s the only one we have that claims to be by Moses. That in itself makes it somewhat amusing that verse 10 says human lifespan is 80 years, when Moses didn’t start leading the Israelites out of Egypt until he was 80, and he died at 120. However, he did have the insight to realize, as verse 4 says, that time is largely irrelevant to God, since He is the Creator of it all. That makes this verse all the more poignant. It’s not that we need to know exactly how long we will live; it’s really better that we don’t. Rather, it is important to realize that our time here is limited, and so make the best use of however much time we have. That actually is part of the “fear of the Lord” that is mentioned so many times in the Bible. I’m reminded of an article I read yesterday about how Maine cuts off welfare payments after 5 years, and what a good impact that has made on the citizens and the state as a whole. When people understand they don’t have forever, they get off their duff and do something! That’s a lesson we all need to learn. The devil and the world never tire of offering us distractions, so if we aren’t careful, we waste the time, abilities, energy, and everything else the Lord has provided. There is a tremendous difference between a long life and a life well lived. This isn’t a matter of “accomplishments,” as the world looks at it, but of fulfilling the purpose for which we were created. That is, learning to walk in intimate fellowship with our Creator and acting as His instrument, His representative to those around us. God always gives us enough time to accomplish that, if we will make it our goal and our focus.

This is an area where I still have plenty of room to grow. I am quite susceptible to distractions! I have another book in the works, but I think of it in fits and starts, and often not at all. I need to let God set my priorities, and I know already that means less Internet time! I work with people of all ages and have buried several, and so I know that sometimes we are given notice that our time is short, and sometimes not. I’ve already outlived my father by several years, which should be reason enough for me to make the best use of each day. I’ve never been much at setting goals, but I need to have the goal each day of using that day as God intends and not wasting it, so that all of God’s plans for me may be fulfilled on His schedule, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this strong reminder. Help me pay attention and not let things slide! May I be driven, not in fear but in love, for You and for Your children, Your Creation, so that, submitted to You, I may resist the devil’s efforts to get me off track, however successful they might have been in the past. Thank You. Praise God!

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May 22, 2016

Psalm 88:1, 18 O Lord, the God who saves me,
day and night I cry out before you.
You have taken my companions and loved ones from me;
the darkness is my closest friend.

This is the prayer of a seriously depressed person. Details are sketchy, but he may have lost family and friends in some sort of disaster. It’s not comfortable to read! That said, Heman the Ezrahite (the purported author) had one thing definitely right, and that was presenting his ravaged soul to God. His prayer is to “God of my salvation,” which makes it personal rather than general. I would be very confident that God did answer Heman, even if it was not in the way that he thought he wanted as he was praying this. God doesn’t want us to dress up what’s going on inside us when we come to Him, He wants us to be honest, and Heman was doing that. Too often we think our thoughts and feelings are “inappropriate” to express to God. The only thing that is inappropriate is pride. If we know that He is our only hope, and that He is love, then go for it. He is never surprised or shocked by anything we say, even if a bystander might be surprised or shocked to hear it come from our lips. Actually. I’ve been surprised at some of the things the Holy Spirit has spoken through me in prayer! If we have the attitude of humble dependence on God, there are no restrictions as to what and how we pray.

This is something I try to get across to people, but many of them have real trouble receiving it. They think prayers should be “pretty,” or at least “skillful,” and don’t think they are capable of praying well. The only skill involved in prayer is opening your heart to God! As I keep remembering, I was raised in a family that considered prayer as natural as breathing, but few people have had that blessing. Because I am so comfortable with prayer, people think I am “skillful,” and so feel intimidated. That’s unfortunate. I am never to put anyone down for what or how they pray, but rather encourage them to pray. We have the promise of the Holy Spirit to help us when we don’t know what or how to pray, (Romans 8:26) so we need to take Him up on it and just cut loose.

Father, I believe You want this church to be a praying people, but I can’t make that happen in my strength or power. Thank You that our midweek prayer meeting has grown from three to four people. May more be added! I ask that You embolden each of the believers to trust You enough to pray about everything, all the time. May we grow in fellowship and obedience to You by taking full advantage of the privilege of prayer, to be and do all that You desire and intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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May 21, 2016

Psalm 86:11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.

Having a divided heart is a perennial problem for mankind. We speak of “being of two minds” about something, which is another way of saying the same thing. Many people are plagued by indecision to the point of missing out on things. We speak of that with the proverb, “He who hesitates is lost.” What is different about David’s prayer here is his motivation: he wants to know God’s truth in order to walk in it with appropriate reverence. These days we tend to delegate decisions to machines/electronic systems. Stories abound of people who have gotten into real trouble by blindly following the advice of their GPS, for example. Seeking God and His path for our lives has always been a good idea, but it’s never been more important than today. Society (with the strong encouragement of the devil) pushes us toward immorality and generally ignoring God, or even spitting in His face. Sadly, that can look pretty attractive to our flesh. We need to be purposeful in choosing God and His way. Since that is expressed pretty clearly in the Bible, such an attitude starts by taking time to read the Bible daily, making it a genuine priority. It is no fluke that Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Having the clear standard of Scripture in our heart and mind is the best insurance against going the wrong way when temptations try to pull us off track. However, we aren’t going to do that unless we grasp the reality that actions have consequences, and particularly, eternal consequences. That’s what the fear of the Lord is all about. We need to understand on the deepest level that we make it out alive only with God, and not in rebellion against Him.

This has been the struggle of my life, as it is for every human being, and that struggle will continue until I am before God’s throne. If I didn’t know the grace of God, I would have given up a long time ago! As I wrote that, the TV show Game of Thrones came to mind. I’ve never seen it, but its presence is inescapable in contemporary media. It strikes me that the title is deliberate, because the devil wants us to think that he has a throne that is equal to God’s, though he has no throne at all. From what I hear, the TV show revels in all that is dark and polluted about mankind, and yet it has enormous viewership. How sad! I am to be aware that these things exist, but not be pulled away by them. I am to walk in God’s truth, not as an intellectual exercise but in practical reality, so that I won’t deceive myself. Likewise, I am to encourage others to seek God as David did, so that we may walk in God’s way together.

Father, thank You for this reminder. The onslaughts of the enemy are unrelenting. Keep me from thinking I can stand against them on my own. Rather, help me depend on You fully, submitting to You so that I may resist the devil and experience Your victory, for Your glory. (James 4:7) Thank You. Praise God!

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May 20, 2016

Psalm 84:4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

This Psalm is a sweet one indeed, with several parts of it having been set to music even in recent years. It’s not by David or some other king, but by an anonymous Levite, a descendant of Korah. That makes it all the more approachable, as something that applies to any believer. As a Levite, the author was in the temple a great deal more than the average person, and he was deeply appreciative of that fact. Today we aren’t limited to a physical temple, but have the possibility of worship/fellowship with God anywhere and everywhere, by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The question then becomes, how much do we value that privilege and make use of it? This verse gives a strong clue. It is indeed a blessed thing to live in God’s house, in His presence, but a characteristic of those who do so is that they are always praising God. If you think God is far away, try praising Him! I like how the ESV and some other translations render Psalm 22:3. “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” It also gives as an alternate reading, “Dwelling in the praises of Israel.” If you want to enter God’s house, and not just go to a building, you need to do so with a heart of praise. As long as we are focused on I-my-me-mine, we aren’t going to be in God’s house, wherever we are physically! God is not stingy with His presence, but we have to get our focus off of ourselves in order to receive it.

I am in the decidedly unique position of living in the church building, which even the Levite didn’t do. That makes it all the more important that I focus on praising God, because otherwise familiarity indeed breeds contempt. When all the little mundane details of my life take place here, it takes a conscious choice to focus on God. However, when I make that choice, I find He is present indeed, in this building or out of it. I have some sweet times of fellowship when I am out walking, for example, as I “count my blessings” and sing to Him (generally just in my heart, but sometimes out loud). What I want the believers to understand is that He is just as available to them, and this building, though a blessing, is hardly essential. I want them to understand that, as Paul said, they themselves are God’s temple, (1 Corinthians 6:19) and let His praise fill that temple, as Jack Hayford put to music so beautifully.

Father, I believe You are in the process of doing some wonderful things in this church. May we indeed grow to be the praying, praising manifestation of the Body of Christ that You intend for us to be, so that the gates of hell may indeed be shattered before us (Matthew 16:18) and multitudes be set free, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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May 19, 2016

Psalm 80:8 You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.

Up to now I have largely overlooked this Psalm, and I dare say I have a lot of company in that. Previously, the only thing I had underlined was the refrain asking for restoration, repeated in verses 3, 7, and 19. However, as I read it just now, it struck me that this verse, and the extended simile that follows, ties in with what Jesus said in the Upper Room about Him being the vine and us being the branches. (John 15:1-9) It also links to Matthew 2:15, which quotes Hosea 11:1. “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matthew 2:15) Actually, “Out of Egypt” is a phrase that occurs many times in the Old Testament, so that by itself would hardly be surprising. It is the matter of Jesus using the vine simile that really speaks to me. As He said, if the branches don’t remain firmly and fully connected to the vine, the main trunk, then they wither and die, and certainly produce no fruit. We may think the Church is being ravaged by outside forces, but we need to examine our connection to the Vine. Sadly, there are many churches today that are Christian in name only, because they have chosen things that have cut them off from Christ. Legalism is indeed a scourge, and love is truly the fulfillment of the Law, (Romans 13:10) but we are to love God first, and Jesus said clearly that if we love Him we will obey him. (John 14:15) Claiming that “all loves are the same” is spitting in the face of God. God chose Greek for writing the New Testament for a number of good reasons, and the distinctions among different types of love is one of those. If anyone places eros on the level of agape they are badly deceived, at the very least. If the Church wants to flourish, which it should, it needs to return to its roots, quite literally.

There are some issues on which it is easy for me to point fingers, but I must be careful of my own connection to the Vine. It is only as His life flows through me that I am able to produce the fruit that He and I desire. Conventional terminology makes me an assistant shepherd, (that’s what “pastor” means) and that’s certainly Biblical, but I could also be called an assistant gardener. I need to do all I can to see to it that this church is rooted in the Word of God, with plenty of the water of the Spirit, standing guard against infections and predators, strengthening the trellis to relieve strain. I cannot make fruit happen even in my own life, much less in anyone else’, but I can encourage the conditions that make for fruitfulness, and stay faithful to the Lord of the harvest. (Luke 10:2)

Father, thank You for this Word. I feel like You give me so much! Help me share it effectively, building up believers and churches as You desire, so that Your Church may indeed produce all the fruit that You desire and intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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May 18, 2016

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 should be a prayer of every Church leader, and of every believer, actually. When we stumble we affect not just ourselves, but also everyone who is watching us. We shouldn’t be paranoid, but we should be intentional in our imitation of Jesus so that those who see us may be drawn to Him, and not driven away. Mohandas Gandhi once said something like, “I would become a Christian if I ever met one.” That actually was hypocritical, because it was overlooking his own imperfections, but the point is still real. If Christians would live out the faith they proclaim, more people would join them because they’d have no excuse not to. None of us are perfect on this earth, but we need to walk in genuine, active humility and obedience so that we will keep growing more and more like Christ, and not serve as anyone’s excuse not to come to Him.

I am very aware that I am watched, but I should be even more aware that God knows everything about me. If I will walk in consistent obedience, then it won’t be a problem no matter who sees me. Things like pride and insensitivity still trip me up, and they can indeed be ugly. I am reminded of how Japan has seemed to copy the bad things about the US rather than the good. There are things in my life that I would be very happy for people to imitate, because I know they draw me closer to God and they would do the same for others, but it seems like people don’t pick up on those so quickly! However, though I can’t control how others respond to me, I am responsible for how I respond to God, so I need to keep pressing into Him in all faithfulness and humility.

Father, thank You for the magnificent pastors meeting yesterday. I feel like it was the best we’ve ever had. We had full attendance, and the conversation was substantive and spiritual. You are indeed growing us into a band of brothers to shepherd Your flock here in Omura. May we all be strengthened as examples to our respective flocks and to the city as a whole, so that all who seek You, whether they know You yet or not, may be drawn into Your family in truth, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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