Hidden Christians; June 10, 2018

Mark 13:13 “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Having just been on Ikitsuki Island, Nagasaki Prefecture, this sounds very real indeed. Ikitsuki is noted for “Hidden Christians,” those who became as “invisible” as possible during the persecutions of the Edo Period, particularly so because some of those did not go back to the Catholic Church when freedom of religion was established, but maintained their separate practices. There is a very nice museum on the island which records both the fishing/whaling that continues to be the major pillar of the local economy and the legacy of the Hidden Christians. We went through the museum with a young man from our church, and his comment about the modern Hidden Christians was that their practices seemed very Buddhist. I had to agree with him. Actually, they incorporate not only Buddhist but also Shinto/shamanistic practices, to the point that I understand why they felt they were no longer the same religion as Catholics. The problem was that they didn’t have the Bible left to them in a form they could read, so all they had to go on were memories of Latin mass, which they understood very little. As is touched on in the book/movie Silence, they fixated on objects, such as little crosses made of straw or sticks tied together, or even cut out of paper. They disguised Mary and the Christ Child as the goddess Kwannon, the goddess of mercy, holding a baby, either in paintings or statuettes, and those became objects of worship. As the young man from our church noted, they became very object-centered, rather than having a personal relationship with a living Lord. Whether they, or their modern descendants, are saved or not is God’s business. At first glance, it currently seems to be a different religion indeed, but then we have this verse. Many indeed were martyred, refusing to give up their faith. There is a small uninhabited island between the islands of Ikitsuki and Hirado that was used as an execution ground. It is said that the whole island was painted red with the blood of those killed, and today they collect their “holy water” from an unfailing spring on that island, to be used in baptisms and the like. Faith takes many forms, and God is the Judge.

I am regularly challenged by the martyrs of Japan. This is the first time I have known about the practices of the current Hidden Christians. I know from Church history that we have a tendency to gravitate to the physical, rather than continuing to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) I have had people insist they wanted a cross, some sort of talisman, on which to fix their faith. I find that very sad, and don’t know well how to respond. I come away from the past two days with a renewed conviction of the importance of the Word, of people reading the Bible and applying it, rather than going by liturgy or tradition. I realize that I too am at risk of fixating on forms, rather than on true worship in Spirit and in truth. As a pastor, I seek to have people focus on Jesus, rather than on me. That doesn’t mean I’m to shy away from being an example, but it does mean I’ve got to be clear that anything good they see in me is because of Him, and He is just as available to them as He is to me. We don’t face active persecution, but the temptations and pressures are no less real. Only a personal relationship with a living Lord will really carry us through.

Father, thank You for helping me digest what I’ve learned over the past two days. Thank You that the message You’ve given me for today is on digesting the Word! We expect very light attendance today for various reasons. Help me indeed focus on the unseen rather than the seen, so that You will be free to do in and through me all that You desire to do, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Money; June 9, 2018

Mark 12:44 “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

It was no accident that Jesus did/said this right after he gave such a strong warning about the teachers of the law in verses 38-40. The contrast between them and this devoted widow couldn’t be greater. This certainly brings to mind the “evangelist” who recently grabbed attention by insisting that God wanted him to have an even better private jet (his third). I have no question which category he falls in, and the idea makes me shudder. It is incredible that people would use the Gospel as a ticket to wealth and luxury, but the problem existed even in the 1st Century. That doesn’t make it any less serious! This sort of thing is why Jesus had more to say about money than He did about heaven and hell put together! The root issue is stated in the Sermon on the Mount: “You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) When we make things of this world our goal, even physical life, we lose sight of the things of eternity. It would take a long time to list all the Scriptures that speak to that. God wants the very best for us, but we have to trust Him enough to make Him our first priority.

This of course applies to me, particularly since, in terms of occupation, I am a teacher of the law! A look at my bank account might indicate that I’m more in the company of the widow, but that doesn’t necessarily prove anything. Poor people can be just as obsessed with money as rich people, if not more. I am reminded frequently of Matthew 6:33, even when I’m not quoting it to others. I’ve got to be intentional in seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness, rather than anything of this world. When it gets complicated is when it involves things like the size of my congregation or the programs of my church. It’s easy to conflate those with “God’s kingdom and His righteousness,” but they aren’t necessarily the same. If I want my church to grow, that’s not the same as wanting God’s kingdom to grow. I’ve got to be careful I don’t cooperate with the devil’s deceptions, deceiving myself and others.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Right now I’m in a place noted for “hidden Christians” from the time of great persecution in Japan. There were very many martyrs here, who loved You more than they loved even physical life. May I learn from their faith, not being blinded by the things of this world but clinging to Christ alone, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Walking in the Spirit; June 8, 2018

Mark 9:12-13 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.”

I find this passage to be evidence that while Jesus was truly the preexistent Son of God, a coequal member of the Trinity, He was indeed fully human, and as such there were things He struggled with. Moses and Elijah appeared to Him, and the Father spoke to Him out of the cloud, precisely to strengthen and reassure His very human nature to prepare Him for the cross. He operated fully in the Holy Spirit, which is why He had frequent Words of Knowledge about people, such as Nathanael. (John 1:48) However, in choosing to be born as a human baby, He was choosing to take on our human limitations. That’s why we don’t have any reliable record of His performing miracles before the Holy Spirit came on Him at His baptism. (Mark 1:10) I think He even struggled with the idea that John the Baptist was Elijah, restoring all things, when John had been beheaded. Moses and Elijah helped Him accept what His human mind couldn’t understand, so that He could get through the Garden of Gethsemane and all that followed. I don’t think we appreciate the humanity of Jesus sufficiently. That’s why we balk at His statement that “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) We fail to believe that the same Holy Spirit is available to us, if we will yield ourselves to Him in faith.

I don’t remember learning much about the Holy Spirit before 1973 or so, when I was encouraged to read books like 9 O’clock in the Morning and The Holy Spirit and You. I immediately recognized that much of what I was reading was Scriptural, and I started seeking to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, but those books were so focused on the gift of tongues being the definitive evidence of the baptism that I was effectively seeking the gift rather than the Giver, and nothing happened. It was months later before a friend encouraged me to trust God enough not to place conditions (such as tongues) on God, and I was able to receive in faith. However, the evidence that something happened wasn’t any feeling or “manifestation gift,” but the fact that I was telling a total stranger about Jesus, and I realized Acts 1:8 was indeed true. In the months and years that followed I have experienced everything mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 at least once, and most of them several times. That said, I still have plenty of room to grow in being a consistently open conduit for the Holy Spirit. I don’t think I’ve come to the point of “greater things” yet by any means! I am to keep pressing in to my Lord, not trying to dictate to Him but rather seeking to hear and obey Him accurately and fully, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me indeed abide in Your Son by the power of Your Spirit, so that Your grace and power may be manifested in and through me for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Humanism; June 7, 2018

Mark 8:33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Since Mark is the record of Peter’s memories, we know that this was branded in Peter’s brain, especially after his later denying he knew Jesus. (Mark 14:66-72) This actually should be very instructive to us. Peter had no awareness of playing into Satan’s hand here, until Jesus said so. Rather, he thought he was being protective and kind toward Jesus. This shows the danger of depending on the human perspective. As the Lord so memorably told Isaiah, His thoughts aren’t the same as ours, or His ways our ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) This is a frequent problem in human society. It’s only in Church circles that “humanism” and “humanistic” are seen as bad in any way. I think that’s because our general point of reference isn’t God, but animals, and “”human” is seen as better than “animal.” However, having a reference point lower than yourself doesn’t encourage you to be and do better things. In contrast, Jesus tells us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) That will be aspiring for as long as we are in these bodies!

The Japanese have really latched onto “humanism” as a good thing, with their love of appropriating (and often misappropriating) foreign words. There’s even a “Human” bus company! I have even been rebuked by a Japanese pastor when I tried to express that God might have a different view of a particular situation than the one the media was taking. Having been in this position far too much myself, I can see that humanism is a form of idolatry, making man the arbiter of right and wrong rather than God. That is precisely why Jesus had to rebuke Peter. Contrary to popular imagination, the devil doesn’t come to us with red skin, horns, and a pitchfork, but rather as the most reasonable of friends. Jesus’ words to Peter doubtless came across like a slap to the face, but sometimes we need that to wake us up to what is going on. I am seldom that direct, because I fear making people not like me, when I should be afraid of their following the devil to destruction. I seek to help others see things from God’s perspective, but I often need help myself! All of this calls for more wisdom than I have, but I have the assurance that God has all the wisdom I need. (James 1:5)

Father, help me indeed see things from Your perspective, not allowing my flesh, society around me, or the devil himself deceive me. That happens far too often! May I be a pure vessel of Your perfect love, that doesn’t spoil people but rather seeks Your very best for them, whatever that looks like to human eyes. Thank You. Praise God!

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Acceptance; June 6, 2018

Mark 6:4-6 Jesus said to them, “Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.

This is a prime example of familiarity breeding contempt, to the great loss of those being contemptuous. Because Jesus had grown up there, they pigeon-holed him as “that carpenter.” Knowing His family, they thought they knew everything about Him. Probably the most painful thing was that His own siblings didn’t accept Him as anything other than their big brother. That said, though, it is striking to me that this records that “He couldn’t do any miracles except heal a few people.” Today we call healing even one person a miracle! Even so, this was a painful experience for Jesus. Fresh out of raising a girl from the dead and having someone be healed by just touching His clothing, He wanted these people He grew up with, whom He really cared about, to share in the Father’s grace through Him. That they refused that grace was a painful shock to Him.

I can certainly identify with Jesus here. I have been used in prophecy, deliverance, and healing many times in various places, but not right here in my own church. I genuinely care about the people of this city, and particularly of this church, but they don’t see past my humanity to expect anything from God through me. I am certainly human, and focusing on Christ to let more of Him show through is a daily exercise, but I do know that I’m not a “mere human,” as Paul talked about to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 3:4) I know that “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature, (Romans 7:18) but I also know that Christ lives in me and that is glorious indeed. (Colossians 1:27) In a sense I am caught between two conflicting desires. From childhood I have had a hunger to be accepted as “one of the group,” particularly growing up as a Caucasian in Japan while being a Missionary Kid at a military dependents school. I felt like I didn’t fit anywhere! However, that hunger runs counter to people expecting anything special from me. Thinking about it, Paul experienced wide variations in how he was received, with people around Ephesus being healed simply by touching things he had used, (Acts 19:12) but other people finding him very unimpressive. (2 Corinthians 10:10) I am not to try to demand that people receive me a particular way (it wouldn’t work, anyway) but rather find my identity in Christ and allow Him to use me however He desires, for His glory alone.

Father, thank You for this reminder. The wound of rejection has been very slow to heal, because it keeps getting reopened! As the song says, help me indeed place my trust, and find my identity, in Christ alone. Thank You that You have accepted me and continue to accept me, even though You know all my faults better than anyone. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, just as You have told me to do, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Abiding in Faith; June 5, 2018

Mark 5:36 Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

The Gospel of Mark is widely agreed to be Peter’s recollection of events, essentially dictated to Mark. It was the earliest of the Gospels, and was used as a source by both Matthew and Luke. As such, various little details have a ring of authenticity, including the fact that Jesus spoke to the little girl in Aramaic, rather than in either Hebrew or Greek. In this verse, I like how the Japanese translates it better than any English translation I can recall. The Japanese says, “Overhearing what they were saying, Jesus….” What the men said was addressed to Jairus. Jesus didn’t ignore it, but precisely because He heard it, He told Jairus to believe. This verse is the basis for the song, Only Believe, which we’ve sung here many times. Here too, the Japanese has a slight difference in nuance, saying, “be believing.” Faith isn’t a momentary thing, but rather a state of mind, of being. In our weakness we tend to believe one moment and doubt the next, so Jesus is saying to reject our doubting fears and abide in faith. Just as Jairus was rewarded for his faith, so too our faith will be rewarded, even if we don’t see that reward with our physical eyes. Hebrews 11 gives many examples of people who walked in faith, but then wraps up with what many would consider a rather disturbing statement: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40) Like Jairus, sometimes we do see results, and even spectacular ones, but our faith must not be predicated on such results. Rather, we need to trust that in God’s hands, the ultimate outcome will be more glorious than we could imagine, and rest in peace in that assurance.

The past year and more has been fairly intense training in faith. Things haven’t turned out so far as I had rather intensely desired, but I am receiving more and more peace that things are going to be very good indeed. Many of the mechanisms by which God is going to work His perfect plan are still a total mystery to me, but that should hardly be surprising. My place is to trust and obey, listening actively for what the Lord is saying to me day by day and being quick to follow through with whatever He indicates He wants me to do. My mind still tends to dwell on things like finances, but I have told many people over the years, finances are never an issue for God, since He created everything in the first place. I am not to focus on the means, but rather on the task at hand, to do it faithfully. We are receiving good advice and guidance in the process of creating an album of music to help people who are suicidal. There will be expenses involved, but that’s not at all what we are to focus on. We are total newbies at this, but God is indeed guiding step by step, and we’ve just got to tag along, not being passive but actively doing what He shows us. The same may be said for every element of our lives!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help us indeed exercise the faith You’ve already given us so that it may grow strong and robust, accomplishing all that You desire for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Faith; June 4, 2018

Mark 5:27-29 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

Here we have the record of the faith that Jesus praised in verse 34. Like the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-10) she was convinced of Jesus’ power and authority, and she acted on that conviction. Too often we say we believe, but then don’t act like we believe. I’m reminded of a story that happened in the American West. It was a farming area, and they were in deep trouble from a prolonged drought. A meeting was called at a local church to pray for rain, and many farmers and their families gathered. However, only one little girl took her umbrella! When the drought did indeed break, the pastor rightly said that it was because of the faith of that little girl. Sometimes faith seems to fly in the face of common sense. God doesn’t want us to throw our minds out the window, but He does want us to realize that He is above and greater than “the natural order” that we perceive around us. That’s what miracles are all about. We can’t dictate to God how He’s going to do anything, but we can trust that since He loves us enough to send His Son to die for us, (John 3:16) and nothing is too difficult for Him, (Jeremiah 32:27) He’s got something really good in mind for us. It’s amazing sometimes how much trouble we have grasping that simple, basic truth. This woman had not been passive but had done all she knew to deal with her situation, but when that didn’t do the job, she realized that Jesus could do it, and the rest is history, recorded for our instruction.

I teach others about faith and encourage them to trust God, but I don’t always act in faith myself. I’m grateful to say that my faith has indeed grown over the years, as God has shown Himself faithful more times and in more ways than I could count. However, I’m not completely free from anxiety. Future events aren’t so hard for me to entrust to God, but when things happen like a Microsoft update completely messing up my computer system, I am still prone to “lose it,” at least for a little while. Life would be easier, both for me and for Cathy, if I didn’t do that! I am quick to notice what seems like paranoia in others, but my own level of trust isn’t what it could be. I need to be like the “weaned child” David spoke of. (Psalm 131:2) That is the path of fullest peace and joy.

Father, thank You for giving me every reason to trust You totally. Help me follow through and do it! Help me indeed encourage those around me to trust You as well, not berating them for their lack of faith but speaking the truth to them in love, so that the deep-rooted lies of the devil may be dug out completely, leaving rich soil for an abundant harvest in Your kingdom, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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