Relating to the Bible; August 4, 2017

2 Kings 22:8 Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it.

It seems incredible to us that the Law of Moses would have gotten misplaced in the temple of the Lord, but that shows how far the nation had fallen spiritually. One factor was that books in general were rare and valuable, because each one had to be hand-copied, but that should have ensured that the scroll be kept in a safe place of honor. Actually, it’s possible that it was, but people had just forgotten that it was there. That’s actually the case in many American households today. They have a Bible or two on the shelf, or even on the coffee table, but it becomes part of the décor and is never opened and consulted. That brings to mind a question my seminary professor grandfather regularly asked his students: how big is your Bible? They would naturally protest, “Why Dr. Carver, it’s at least as big as yours, or maybe a little bigger.” He would respond, “I’m not talking about what’s in your hand, but what’s in your heart.” With electronic versions available for smart phones, today it’s possible to have a Bible with you constantly, but if you aren’t taking it into your heart to do it, it does you no good. I have read a statistic that a majority of pastors, even, never read the Bible except to prepare sermons. In such cases, it’s highly probable the sermons aren’t much good! From the time of Moses onward, people of God stressed that God’s Word is to be in our hearts and mouths. (Deuteronomy 30:14) If we aren’t taking it in and digesting it to do it, to make it part of ourselves, then we are only deceiving ourselves. (James 1:22) In today’s passage, the people and even the priests had been going through the motions of temple worship and the like, but with no grasp of the meaning of what they were doing or what lay behind it. Today there are many people who go to church strictly as an obligation, with no personal relationship to the Lord they say they worship. That’s the very definition of meaningless religion.

As a pastor, this is a matter of great importance, even urgency, for me. I have considerable knowledge of the Bible, but if I’m not living it out I’m deceiving myself. I desire that the believers be faithful, but if they’re faithful to the church without being faithful to God the other six days of the week, it’s meaningless. I prefer the term, believers, to calling them members, but if their faith is in an organization rather than in a Savior, it again is meaningless. My challenge is to lead each one to discover how much God loves them individually, and then to respond to that in loving obedience. I strive to get as much of the Word into them as possible, but chewing, swallowing, and digesting are their responsibility. I certainly can’t force them to do any of that, so I am to pray for them that their hearts may be open to the Holy Spirit who will do those things in them. After all, He’s the Author of the Bible, so who better to interpret it to us in ways we can understand and apply?

Father, thank You for this Word, and for clarifying what I am to speak on this Sunday. It’s interesting that preaching less often makes it harder to prepare messages. Help me indeed transmit what You speak to me so that nothing will stop the flow, but many be blessed, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Zeal of God; August 3, 2017

2 Kings 19:31 The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

“Zeal” is expressed in Japanese as “hot heart.” There are real risks to thinking of God anthropomorphically, as though He had a physical body like ours, but we have difficulty thinking of Him any other way. God doesn’t have a heart in the sense of a blood-pumping organ, but in another way he is all heart, because He is love. (1 John 4:8) One of the things about God that is so remarkable to human intellect is that He cares. After all, why would the Creator of the entire universe care about such insignificant beings as we are? There are mysteries of time and dimension that cannot be explained even by string theory, which to our intellect makes God unknowable, but from His side He has revealed Himself to us in various ways and given us the gift of faith by which we may know Him. Insisting on being able to figure everything out is pride, and that drives us farther from Him. That’s why Jesus said that we have to come as little children before we can see, much less enter, the kingdom of heaven. (Luke 18:16-17) Like little children, we need to trust Daddy. That’s not to say that we are to turn off the brains God has given us. That’s a frequent accusation made against those who live by faith and not by sight, (2 Corinthians 5:7) and some people do seem to use “faith” as an excuse to throw common sense out the window. We are to exercise all the gifts God has given us, intellectual and otherwise, but we must remember that they are ultimately not enough. We have to choose to trust that God’s “hot heart” is going to accomplish everything necessary for our salvation.

We are certainly in a time of training in faith and trust. Had yesterday’s conference taken place a year ago, we would not be embarked on our current project. As it is, we are being reminded not to trust in any human instrument but in God alone. In a number of ways we are feeling around in the dark, but as it says in a song by my friend Chu Kosaka, “Jesus is the Light; He’s shining in the darkness, and you know that He’ll lead you.” It’s not that we aren’t to plan, but that we are to submit our plans to Him and be at peace with whatever changes He makes. The more that we are aware that we are unable, the more we are to rejoice that He is more than able. He has made it clear in various ways that this is His plan, and we are to be faithful in our obedience so that all of His purposes for His plan may be fulfilled.

Father, thank You for making it clear that You, and no human individual, are our supply. Help us trust Your “hot heart” to accomplish all that You intend, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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God-centered Prayer; August 2, 2017

2 Kings 19:19 “Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.”

Somewhere in the centuries from David to Hezekiah, monotheism took root. David certainly had a grasp of it, but it was in a very polytheistic context. Hezekiah has just said that it was no wonder the Assyrians were able to destroy the gods of other countries because they were “only wood and stone, fashioned by men’s hands.” (verse 18) Here he’s asking God for deliverance, not for the sake of Judah but to demonstrate that God is who He really is. It’s no wonder God delighted to answer that prayer! Even today we get far better results when we pray because of who God is, rather than because of what we happen to want. Self-centered prayer is extremely common. I don’t think it’s bad, but I think it’s the lowest level of prayer. We grow spiritually when we pray for others on the basis of who God is, and not just to make ourselves look good. It does feel very good when God grants what we ask for, but if we treat that like a merit badge, we lose the real benefit. Hezekiah gives us an example of what God-centered prayer looks like, and we do well to emulate it.

I am often asked to pray in public situations, precisely because prayer is as natural to me as breathing. However, any time I take pride in that, my prayer ceases to be genuine. Jesus had strong words for those who pray to be seen and heard by people. (Matthew 6:5-6) I am not to hesitate to pray in the presence of others, because I often experience people being blessed by the words that come from my mouth, but my focus must be on God, first and foremost, even more than on the situation about which I am praying. Like Hezekiah, my concern should be that people would know God for who He is and so give Him the love and glory He alone deserves. If I am focused on what I want out of the situation, my prayer is blunted at the very least.

Father, I am often brought back to how Jesus taught us to pray. I do ask that Your name be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done perfectly, in every part of my life, in every part of this church, and throughout the world, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Naysayers; August 1, 2017

2 Kings 18:30 “Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.'”

Those who come against people who are following God will even use the name of the Lord in their attacks. Earlier this commander had claimed specifically that the Lord had told him to destroy Judah. (verse 25) That shouldn’t be surprising, when the devil quoted Scripture in his temptation of Jesus. (Luke 4:9-11) This calls for discernment, certainly, but we should neither be conceited nor despairing. Conceit would lead us to insist that only we can hear from God, (when in fact, God will sometimes speak to us through our enemies) while despair would lead us to think we can’t be sure of anything at all, and cut us off from any stability. We are to be aware of God’s many promises of guidance, supply, and everything else we need, and focus on Him in assurance and peace. Frankly, that’s much easier said than done! We are always in the process of spiritual growth; none of us can claim to have arrived. However, like Paul we are to act on what we know from where we are, (Philippians 3:12-14) allowing God to grow us as we choose to follow Him.

This is certainly where we are right now. Those who have spoken against our current plans aren’t our enemies as such, they just have grave reservations about the validity of those plans. I need to hear and act on their concerns without letting their negativity pull the whole thing apart. This is indeed a project that is beyond us, far outside of my experience and expertise, certainly. That’s actually part of my assurance that this is God’s idea, because only He can bring it about. I need to be methodical and not haphazard, checking things off rather than just assuming they will happen. I need to seek out those who have relevant knowledge and experience, but at the same time listen to them through the filter of faith, rather than simply swallowing what they say. The flip side of that is that there are numbers of people who are cheering us on, but they don’t have knowledge or experience either. As I said to begin with, this calls for discernment, so I’ve got to ask God for that. As the song says, “He didn’t bring us this far to leave us.”

Father, thank You for all You continue to do in, around, and through us. Help me not neglect the fruit of the Spirit (which the devil tries to tell us are little things) because of being preoccupied with what needs to be done. Help me remember that the only things I can take with me to heaven are souls, and so focus on drawing as many as possible into Your family, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Idolatrous Traditions; July 31, 2017

2 Kings 18:4 He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)

We don’t know Hezekiah’s history before he became king, except that he didn’t ascend to the throne until he was 25. Perhaps that gave him a little more maturity than some of his predecessors. In any case, he was dedicated to the Lord rather than to tradition, and that is something we certainly need to emulate even today. Verse 5 says he trusted the Lord and verse 6 says he obeyed all the laws of Moses, so he certainly didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. However, it took a lot of courage to destroy the bronze snake Moses had made, in addition to destroying all the other objects of folk religion that were leading the people astray. In some ways that would be equivalent to attacking the liberal agenda today, that has led so many people away from the principles on which America was founded. That should give an indication of the level of resistance Hezekiah probably encountered. Genuinely following God takes courage, sometimes toward enemies but sometimes toward the people you are leading. The matter of the bronze snake stands out here. There were doubtless logical, pious protests against its destruction, but Hezekiah recognized that it was an object that had come to be worshiped, and that by definition made it an idol. I preached not long ago on “Idols of the Heart,” and I don’t need to repeat that here. We are all too prone to let things, be they objects, people, or traditions, usurp the place in our hearts and minds that belongs only to God. Hezekiah was right on.

It’s interesting that this is coming up again right now. I need to be careful that the land next to the church isn’t an idol in my own thinking, since we have desired it for 19 years now. I need to be careful that the approval of people isn’t a higher priority in my heart than the approval of God. I need to be alert to anything that pulls my heart, my devotion, away from God, especially those things that seem admirable or even pious in themselves. For example, my daily devotional time is meaningful only as it connects me to my Lord. When it becomes a goal in and of itself, it is impinging on “idol” territory. I want my life and this church to be dedicated to Christ alone, and not be distracted by anything else.

Father, You know me better than I know myself. You know my genuine priorities better than I do. Keep me dedicated to You and Your kingdom and righteousness, not pulled away by anything else. May we as a church walk in total obedience, allowing You to use us however You please, drawing many into Your kingdom for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Who or What You Follow; July 30, 2017

2 Kings 17:15 They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.

This one part of this one verse speaks volumes, not only about the 10 Northern tribes but about the human condition in general. The Bible warns us in many places about the dangers of association. We end up being like those we choose to associate with. This passage is talking about spiritual association, which we often don’t even think about. The devil would have us believe that all religions are the same, but even logically speaking that’s not true. In the past year a famous British atheist has angered his atheist friends by coming out and declaring that the only real answer to the horrors of militant Islam is genuine Christianity. He claims to believe in no god, but even he can see that it makes a huge difference what God you choose to follow. Actually this doesn’t apply just to formal religion. Hedonists are exposed for the emptiness of their pursuit of pleasure, and financially greedy people bring spiritual ruin on themselves. (1 Timothy 6:10) It all comes back to the reality that our choices have consequences. Free will is genuine, even though God sees the end from the beginning and so knows what choices we are going to make. Some people insist that we are not free, since if we weren’t free we would bear no responsibility for our actions, but that is a lie of the devil to persuade us to make wrong choices. God has given us the Bible to help us understand what the right choices are, and to understand the consequences of wrong choices, as this passage does. The logical choice is obviously to follow God’s Word!

I am an illustration of the truth that simply having the Bible, and even knowing the Bible, doesn’t guarantee that we follow the Bible. I have been steeped in the Bible since before my birth, and first read through it by the age of 10. However, at various times in my life I have chosen to do things that a genuinely objective observer would recognize immediately were in violation of the Bible. By God’s grace He has enabled me to repent and return to Him, but I can attest from personal experience to the truth of this passage. As I strive to follow Christ (which is the opposite of what this passage is talking about) I also seek to draw others with me in following Him. I don’t want to be worthless, and I don’t want those around me to be worthless either. So many people have a poor self-image, but if they follow the One, who alone is worth more than everything else put together, they understand the value He has assigned to them.

Father, I am faced with this constantly. Help me indeed draw others to follow Christ as I follow Him myself, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Getting Things Done; July 29, 2017

2 Kings 12:6 But by the twenty-third year of King Joash the priests still had not repaired the temple.

This is a very interesting and practical story about how to get things done. The priests felt the temple was their property, so they should be in charge of the repair. However, they weren’t craftsmen, they were priests, and either through corruption or simple incompetence, the work never got done, regardless of how much money was thrown at the problem. That situation is still very common today, in churches, companies, and especially government. In this story, once the funds were properly directed to those who knew how to get the job done, they followed through faithfully. Verse 13 indicates that previously the funds had been used for peripheral things that pleased the priests, rather than the more fundamental things that needed to be given priority. That shows that in any organization there needs to be a clear vision, both of goals and how to get there. Without such a vision, very little forward progress is made.

This certainly applies to me! I have had difficulties with this issue for most of my ministry. Our ultimate vision, of Omura again being the foremost Christian city in the nation, is magnificent and worthy, but at the same time it is nebulous. I haven’t had much success in bringing that down in practical terms to what we are to do right now. Our current project of creating an elder-care facility is much more concrete, and actually is right in line with our vision, because a Christian city will have many such Christian institutions. We have members who are struggling to grasp that the kingdom of God is more than churches, so they can’t see how the elder-care facility will help this local church. I need to help them understand both that it will indeed help this church and that the kingdom of God involves all of society, so this would be worth doing even if it didn’t help the church directly. That said, we need to be very careful that the funds involved go to those who know what needs to be done and will be honest in follow-through. (verse 15) God will supply, but we are responsible as stewards.

Father, thank You for all that You are doing, both around us and in us. May we learn the lessons You have for us, however You give them to us, so that we will grow as faithful servants, children who are pleasing to our Father. Thank You. Praise God!

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