Renouncing Idolatry; February 14, 2018

Jeremiah 16:19-20 O Lord, my strength and my fortress,
my refuge in time of distress,
to you the nations will come
from the ends of the earth and say,
“Our fathers possessed nothing but false gods,
worthless idols that did them no good.
Do men make their own gods?
Yes, but they are not gods!”

This passage should be an enormous encouragement to any missionary who ministers in an actively pagan country. That said, people today in “Christian” countries create gods as well. Probably the biggest “idols” are Pleasure and Man. The devil has used those two ever since the Garden of Eden. Both of them are originally good, since God created them, but when they become objects of worship they become horrible lies. Pleasure as an idol is obvious all around us, with things like opioids and pornography. The pleasure there is strictly on the surface, and quickly rots the soul. Man as an idol is somewhat more subtle, but only by a little bit. We quite accurately use the term, idol, in speaking of entertainers who seek and receive adulation from their fans. Another face of that is simply thinking that man is or has the answer to everything. The foolishness of that becomes obvious with a quick look at history to see how many times “scientific consensus” has turned out to be completely wrong. We are experts at making “gods” of anything and everything! The good news is, this passage says that people will wake up to what they have been doing and repent of it. That is good news indeed!

Though the idolatry of all sorts around me is easy for me to recognize, I’ve got to be careful I don’t overlook those same tendencies in myself. I am to be grateful for the various pleasures in my life, but not seek them for their own sake. Likewise, I am to be grateful for the various abilities the Lord has given me, but not rely on them apart from the One who gave them to me. In terms of my ministry, the average Japanese has no personal faith in the idols that surround them, but they are trapped by tradition and feel that renouncing such gods would be disloyal to their ancestors, and loyalty is one of the highest values in Japanese society. We have had people tell us flat out that they can’t become Christians because when they die, they’re supposed to go to be with their ancestors, even if their ancestors are in hell. That’s a heartbreaking bondage! I am not to give up, but keep speaking the truth in love and praying that the Holy Spirit will take the words He speaks through me to shatter the lies that bind people, so that their eyes may be opened just as this passage says, for their salvation.

Father, thank You for having Jeremiah write this. Thank You for being God, whatever things look like right around me. Thank You for those who have renounced the gods of their ancestors – and their ancestors as gods – to turn to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I pray that You would give each one courage and anointing to share the Gospel with those around them, far more effectively than I ever could when I am seen as an outsider. May there indeed be a mighty harvest for Your kingdom in this nation, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Intimacy with God; February 13, 2018

Jeremiah 11:5 “‘Then I will fulfill the oath I swore to your forefathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey’—the land you possess today.”
I answered, “Amen, Lord.”

One of the interesting characteristics of Jeremiah’s ministry was his frank conversations with God. Time and time again we see him hearing God clearly and responding, just as we would in a conversation with someone we can see. That level of intimacy is something God wants with each of His children, but we tend to draw back from it for various reasons. In the first place, it requires a simple but rock-solid faith that God both exists and He cares – and is listening to us. We all fall short at times on one or more of those points! The next point is that our sinful nature doesn’t want to be accountable to God, so we try to hide from Him. That’s futile by definition, but we do it anyway. Intimacy with God requires the courage to let Him shine His light into every corner of our being, which is a major reason so few people strive for it. (John 3:19-21) The reason churches have so many baptized non-Christians in them is that we have forgotten repentance. Jesus didn’t just say, “Believe,” He said, “Repent and believe.” (Mark 1:15) Without repentance, an awareness and confession of our need for salvation and our utter inability to save ourselves, we aren’t born again as God’s children. Some people are born again in a very dramatic, “Damascus road” sort of experience, and for some it is more gradual, but repentance is essential for all.

Thinking about it, I have a lot in common with Jeremiah. That’s not to say I would like his ministry of pronouncing judgment, however! Like him, I come from a “priestly” family. (Jeremiah 1:1) My parents were missionaries, my paternal grandfather was a pastor, and my maternal grandfather was a seminary professor. Like him, I don’t think I ever doubted that God existed or that He cared. I remember going to my parents at age seven, expressing my decision to be baptized, but I had professed love for Jesus at least two years prior to that. The problem was, I don’t know how much awareness of sin I really had. My mother was baptized at five, but she shared with me (of course many years later) what she had done that gave her a sharp awareness that she was a sinner. It was after I was already a father myself that the Lord showed me the state of my heart, and I repented indeed. I won’t say that I wasn’t saved before that, but I can say without hesitation that I have been saved ever since! The Lord has given me a desire for intimacy with Him that still has its ups and downs, but it has become perhaps the major driving force in my life. I wish I acted like it more consistently! As a pastor, I desire intimacy with God for each of the believers in my care, and indeed for each of the people I encounter. I can’t force anyone to accept it, but I can at least let them know it is available, and how to receive it.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me continue to grow in intimacy with You and in effectiveness in drawing others likewise into intimacy with You, for our salvation and Your pleasure and glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Jeremiah; February 12, 2018

Jeremiah 7:8 “But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.”

It’s hard to get a very encouraging Word out of the first half of the book of Jeremiah! He was the very opposite of politically correct, calling spades spades and exposing the moral corruption that surrounded him. When the Lord called and commissioned him He was sure to tell him, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” (Jeremiah 1:8) Jeremiah got into a lot of hot water for his faithfulness to speak what the Lord told him, and tradition indicates he was eventually stoned to death in Egypt by the very people he was trying to draw back to God. That might not seem like he was “rescued,” as God had promised him, but his reward in heaven was surely magnificent. He was faithful to speak true words, whether they were well received or not, the very opposite of the words he was warning people about in this verse. Recently many people have been claiming a “right” not to be offended, when such an attitude would limit them to the worthless words Jeremiah is talking about here. We aren’t to offend needlessly, but we aren’t to draw back from speaking the truth in love out of a fear of giving offense. In his general instructions for how to live as a believer, Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16) To admonish is to speak a word of correction or warning. That’s exactly what Jeremiah did, and we need to do so as well.

I am really preaching to myself here! I tend to avoid confrontation as much as possible, and that trait has gotten me into a lot of unnecessary trouble in the past. I am not to value “interpersonal harmony,” as I see it, over faithfulness to God. Perhaps in that way I am being very Japanese, because they value social harmony very highly. In the process they tend to quash individuality, so I need to remember all the problems that produces. I am to seek my acceptance and security in God alone, not rejecting people but not fearing them or their opinions either. That’s much easier to say than to do! However, I must remember one of Jesus’ sterner warnings; “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37) I must be careful not to speak worthless words, but rather the truth of God in love.

Father, You have allowed me to speak Your Word a great deal, and I am deeply grateful. Help me speak only what You would have me say, and everything You would have me say, not only in the pulpit but all the time. May Your words through me accomplish everything for which You send them indeed, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. (Isaiah 55:10-11) Thank You. Praise God!

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Following God; February 11, 2018

Jeremiah 5:30-31 “A horrible and shocking thing
has happened in the land:
The prophets prophesy lies,
the priests rule by their own authority,
and my people love it this way.
But what will you do in the end?”

This passage was chosen for the theme of “God’s Provision” on the basis of verse 25, which talks about our sins blocking God’s provision, but this really stands out to me as I read it just now. Political government is always going to be less than perfect, but we should be able to count on Church leaders to seek God’s truth and proclaim it. When that is not the case, the nation is certainly in trouble. The biggest problem comes when the people in the pews don’t notice, or even applaud deviant leaders. It isn’t often that God asks rhetorical questions like He does here: “But what will you do in the end?” I am interested to see that the Japanese translates that exactly the same way, so there’s no question of the meaning. As comes out again and again throughout the Bible, our choices and actions have consequences, and sometimes those aren’t desirable at all. We are brought back to God’s famous statement to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” In America, the political travesty of the previous administration, that has recently been starting to be exposed, has served to wake up a sizable percentage of the population to the reality that things were not as they should be, but the problems didn’t originate in the political realm. The Church has veered off course, and not just in America, because people in the pews have gone for politically correct platitudes, instead of standing on and insisting on the Word of God. However, one of the best parts of the Gospel, what makes it really Good News, is that repentance is possible, and brings forgiveness. If, as God told Solomon, we seek His face and turn from our wicked ways, then He will indeed heal our land, and that will be very good indeed.

I certainly have to examine myself on this issue. After all, I am in church leadership myself! I must be very careful to proclaim “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” as they say in a court of law. I am not to go off on my own in any way, but steep myself in the Bible and even then ask God at every turn. I am not to draw back from what God directs, no matter how difficult the path may seem to me. After all, He is the one who controls the outcome, so my job is simply to trust and obey.

Father, I didn’t expect this Word this morning. Help me indeed not draw back from anything You direct, fearing You alone, and neither the opinions of men nor my own weaknesses. Help me hear accurately what You are saying, proclaim it faithfully, and obey You fully, so that Your will may be done on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Shepherds; February 10, 2018

Jeremiah 3:15 “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.”

We sometimes forget that “pastor” means “shepherd.” This verse calls to mind Paul’s famous words to the Ephesians: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13) Good leaders are gifts from God. However, that doesn’t mean every leader fits that category. Sadly, some operate apart from God and His Spirit, and the results are all too predictable. The world, looking on from outside, may not be able to tell the difference immediately, but over time it becomes obvious to everyone. It’s interesting that where the NIV in this verse says “lead you,” the Japanese says “raise you,” as in raising children. Too many Church leaders look on their work simply as a job, when Paul spoke of childbirth in connection with those he led. (Galatians 4:19) You can’t get more personal and connected than that! Pastors do need knowledge, whether it’s from formal education or simply “bedside Bible college,” but knowledge alone doesn’t cut it. That’s where understanding comes in. It’s somewhat like the difference between IQ and common sense. Some people are more gifted in one than the other, but God is the ultimate supply for both, so those in leadership need to seek Him in all humility. (James 1:5)

I’ve been blessed in the knowledge department, but sometimes understanding has been harder to come by! For many years I complained about my lack of “pastoral gifting,” when God had clearly put me in a position where I had that responsibility, but I’ve had to repent of that. Just because Bible knowledge came easily to me didn’t mean I had a right to expect everything else to be easy too! I delight to spend time with God in His Word, and it is pure joy to share those insights with others who have ears to hear, but dealing with rebellious sheep is a different matter! However, sheep need a shepherd, and I’m delegated. I am to seek God for the understanding I need, along with the patience and simple endurance that are called for. I am not to be surprised at any difficulty, but rather know that God has allowed it to grow me and those in my care into what He desires us to be. It is hard for me to understand emotionally that “truth dumps” seldom work; I’ve got to walk alongside people and show them how to apply the truth I’ve shared with them. That’s hard work! However, I can’t back away from it if I am to fulfill the purposes for which God created and called me. My calling isn’t for my sake, but for the sake of those to whom I minister, and for God’s glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I certainly need such from time to time. Help me indeed shepherd the flock, raising them as You desire and intend, that Your house may be filled with Your children, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Fulfillment of Prophecy; February 9, 2018

Isaiah 66:8 Who has ever heard of such a thing?
Who has ever seen such things?
Can a country be born in a day
or a nation be brought forth in a moment?
Yet no sooner is Zion in labor
than she gives birth to her children.

This is a prophecy that has been fulfilled, yet there are still many who try to deny that fact. 70 years ago the modern nation of Israel was indeed birthed in a day, to the consternation of all who hate her and the amazed delight of all who love her. The fact that Biblical prophecy is still being fulfilled in Israel and among the Jews should silence those who espouse “replacement theology,” (saying the Church has replaced the Jews in God’s plan, so they have no more place in it) but unfortunately it doesn’t. At the same time, the fulfillment of such prophecies should encourage the faith of all who are committed to Christ, because they are demonstrations of the validity of the prophecies that are not yet fulfilled, specifically of Christ’s return. It’s no accident that evangelical and particularly Pentecostal Christians are generally Israel’s strongest supporters! It is dangerous to get fixated on specific timelines, because they are almost certainly mistaken, but it is not at all wrong to be looking forward to the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. Saying that, we do need to remember that not all of those promises are “sweetness and light.” Just a few verses after this it says, “For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the Lord.” (Isaiah 66:16) We are to be assured that God is totally faithful, but remember that His best doesn’t necessarily follow our scenario.

I have long taken pride in having been born the same year as Israel, though a few months after her “birthday.” I have never been there physically, but rejoice to be part of Zion spiritually. In thinking about this prophecy and its fulfillment, I need to be assured that indeed, nothing is impossible for God. As much as I encourage others to have faith, I too get fixated on temporal things, especially when they don’t turn out as I had imagined. I’ve got to remember that no matter how bleak things might look at a given moment, God can turn them around completely so fast as to make my head spin. I honestly believe such a time is upon us right now. God is going to bring in people and resources to this church in ways we can’t imagine, and many will know that He is God indeed. I needn’t worry about my “legacy,” because that is in His hands. From my perspective there are many unknowns, but there are none from His. I am to be at peace with that, and rest, relax, and rejoice in my Lord.

Father, thank You for this very wonderful encouragement. Thank You for Your perfect plans, and for incorporating me into them. Help me fulfill the part You have for me in them, so that Your purposes may indeed be fulfilled on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Lifespan; February 8, 2018

Isaiah 65:20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
he who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere youth;
he who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.”

It’s interesting that we are approaching the condition prophesied here simply by medical means. In Japan, the average life expectancy for men is currently 81, and for women it’s 87. The thing to notice there is the word, average. It is common to run into people in their 90s, and centenarians aren’t unusual. The flip side of that is the huge advances in neonatal care, so that infants who live just a few days are indeed rare. However, that’s in a nation that almost totally ignores the God of the Bible, so what is the meaning? The thing is, living to a hundred doesn’t hold much weight if your destination is eternal destruction in hell. Our time on Earth is simply to give us the opportunity to discover and come into right relationship with our Creator, so that we may spend eternity with Him. Very few people actually live with that perspective, because as Paul said, “the god of this age has blinded them.” (2 Corinthians 4:4) As Jesus pointed out, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:25) We measure our lives in time, but life in Christ is eternal, and so infinite. 100 years is no big deal for someone in Christ!

As I am now pushing 70, this is an issue that comes to mind fairly often. The thought of disposing of all the stuff I’ve accumulated is both pressing and depressing. I would much rather focus on how to be productive with each day, but leaving things for others to dispose of is both unkind and irresponsible. I continue to be concerned for my spiritual legacy, desiring to pour into others what has been poured into me. The thing is, all I really bring to the table is faithfulness, because the wisdom and strength have to come from God. I am to approach each day with anticipation and joy, knowing that God has given it to me and that His plans are good. I would have little problem passing things on to someone else, but the thought of simply disposing of things, with no one to receive them, gets me down. I still have a lot of room to grow spiritually! I’ve got to remember that Philippians 1:6, which I often quote to young people, is just as true for me: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Father, thank You for all You are doing in, around, and through me. Thank You for the various things I got done yesterday that had been bothering me. I have a largely open schedule for the next two months. Help me not fritter it away, much less retreat into doing nothing, but rather use each day as You intend, so that however long You keep me on this earth, every bit of it will be spent doing Your will for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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