Prophets and Prophecy; December 2, 2017

Deuteronomy 18:15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.

I think the reason this verse is widely seen as Messianic is that many of the Jews of Jesus’ day thought it was. (John 6:14, 7:40) However, there seem to be a number of problems to that, especially the fact that there have been so many genuine prophets over the years. The biggest thing in favor of it being Messianic is exactly the fact that the case here is singular. However, the Messiah would certainly not say anything that wasn’t true, or in the name of other gods, and those are the tests mentioned in the following verses. The point of the passage as a whole seems to be the difference between Biblical prophecy and sorcery or divination, mentioned in the previous verse. Sorcery and divination are both efforts by people to control things in the spirit realm, whereas Biblical prophecy is God speaking through people. Paul encourages us to prophesy, (1 Corinthians 14:1) but the emphasis is on God and what He wants to say, rather than on people controlling other people – and attempting to control God. Sadly, too much of that latter, counterfeit “prophecy” goes on today, even in the Church. Ever since Pentecost we have had the huge advantage of the Holy Spirit to let us know whether a message is from God or not, but we have to be in tune with Him to hear Him correctly. In New Testament terms, a person can speak a genuine Word from God and then try to pass their own thinking off as something God is saying, and that is dangerous indeed. Humility and commitment are called for in everyone.

I have been used in prophecy many times over the years, though my office is not that of Prophet. (Ephesians 4:11) I have experienced a few times (definitely a few times too many) continuing to talk when the Holy Spirit stopped talking. That feels horrible, and the results are never good. One time, after I had experienced that and didn’t want to repeat it, I was giving a Word in a church service and it seemed like the Holy Spirit stopped in the middle of a sentence, so I shut up. Someone on the other side of the sanctuary picked it up without missing a beat, and it was obvious that it was the Holy Spirit speaking through people. To be honest, I don’t remember what the Word was, but the experience itself was very valuable. I have also experienced interpreting for a brother from India in a large meeting, and people afterward said that it was like hearing one Person speaking through two mouths. I cannot control how God is going to use me, and I don’t want to try. However, I can and should hold myself available for whatever He wants to say or do through me, whenever or however He wants to do so.

Father, thank You for the privilege of being Your agent in various ways. Help me encourage the believers to expect You to use them as well, so that together we may demonstrate Christ to the people of this city, drawing them to repentance and faith, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Good and Evil; December 1, 2017

Genesis 3:5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

It’s fascinating that the devil’s temptation in the Garden of Eden is still operative today. The desire to know is part of how we are created, and as such is a good thing. However, Adam and Eve didn’t need to know the difference between good and evil. They knew God, and that was enough. In a sense we know good only in the context of evil, so that is why the two are paired. That’s why a search for good that is divorced from God will always result in evil. That seems paradoxical, but it is operative in the world today. Those who profess not to need God always wind up espousing things that are harmful to mankind, all the while proclaiming things like “social justice” and “save the planet.” Genuine social justice is certainly a desirable goal, but it is possible only in the context of God’s justice as expressed in the Bible. Likewise, we are to be good stewards of the world in which we live, but leaving God out of the picture totally distorts our perspective and priorities. In other words, nice-sounding goals become tools for personal power. People who deny the existence of God sometimes say things like, “I know evil when I see it,” but they still espouse things like abortion and euthanasia and sexual relationships that destroy the family. They are sadly deceived. As has been pointed out many times in recent years, the only firm basis for morality is the awareness of accountability to God. The devil was here tempting Eve to violate that accountability, and she took the bait, as did Adam when she offered it to him. The root of this temptation is pride/ambition, to “be like God” by our own actions, when He has provided for us to be transformed into the likeness of His Son. (Romans 8:29)

Pride has been a major pitfall for me all of my life. Looking back, I can see that it would have been possible for me to have developed into a serial killer, had God not graciously guided me. The root of such a thing would have been seeing myself as superior, so other people wouldn’t have the “right” to oppose me. I have heard the voice of the devil far more than I want to! Actually, he tempts us all, but the only way to defeat him is to choose God. Just trying to choose good, without seeking God’s will, leaves me open to all sorts of deception, just as it did for Eve. That’s why James’ admonition is so true: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) If I try to set my own standards of good and evil, rather than submitting to God, I have surrendered to the devil, whether I realize it or not.

Father, thank You for this reminder of Your incredible grace toward me. Help me seek You as the standard for every decision, every value judgment, in full and joyful submission to You, so that I may indeed resist the devil and see him flee, from me and from those to whom I minister, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Singing to God; November 30, 2017

Psalm 135:3 Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;
sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.

The differences in translation between the NIV and the Japanese aren’t drastic, but they’re very interesting. In the first place, the NIV translation committee decided as a matter of principle to translate, rather than transliterate, the Hebrew expression that is traditionally rendered as “hallelujah.” It’s notable that Japan has far less Christian background than the US, but the Japanese committee still chose to go with the transliteration. Personally, I like that. The second difference is in focus. The NIV says to praise God’s name because doing so is pleasant, but the Japanese says to do so because His name is so beautiful. In other words, the NIV focuses on man, but the Japanese focuses on God. It does indeed feel good on many levels to sing praise to God, but that in itself isn’t sufficient motive. Spiritual maturity will go past that to praise God simply because He is so totally worthy of all praise. As the song, Days of Elijah, points out, praising God has in a sense been rediscovered in the past 100 years, with a further boost in the past 50 years. That’s a good thing, but the tricky thing is that the Jesus Movement coincided with the hippie/psychedelic movement, and the mantra of the latter was, “If it feels good, do it.” Nothing could be more man-centered than that! As a result, far too much of our “praise and worship” even today is based on feelings rather than on the Spirit of God. If we will walk in obedience based on the character and Word of God, then we will reap incredible blessings. However, if we focus on the blessings rather than on Who it is we serve, we will be building houses of straw. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)

I grew up in a musical family, and a favorite memory is of gathering around the piano singing through the hymnal, so when I was introduced to the Charismatic Movement in the ’70s, praise and worship came very naturally. However, I have found that my most intense moments of worship have come when I initially didn’t feel like it, singing because of God rather than because of me. That’s not at all to say that I don’t sing for joy and delight, but I need to be careful I don’t shift focus from the One to whom I’m singing to how much I enjoy singing. I see that difference in some Christian musicians, when the difference between performance (no matter how expert) and worship can be very obvious, but I don’t always stay on the right side of that line myself. Excellence in whatever we do to serve God is a good thing, and we are all called on to perfect our craft, whatever it is, but our focus has got to stay on God rather than on technique.

Father, this is a real issue at this time of year because most Christmas songs are so familiar that we tune out the very lyrics we are singing. The theology in some traditional carols is pretty questionable! I’m responsible for the music for the City Christmas. Help me choose what You want sung, to draw all present into genuine praise and worship of You for the incredible gift of Your Son, so that those who don’t yet know You may repent and believe, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Blessings in Christ; November 29, 2017

Psalm 132:13-16 For the Lord has chosen Zion,
he has desired it for his dwelling:
“This is my resting place for ever and ever;
here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it—
I will bless her with abundant provisions;
her poor will I satisfy with food.
I will clothe her priests with salvation,
and her saints shall ever sing for joy.

Verses 13-16 were set to music several years ago, and I can’t read this without that song going through my mind, but that’s not a bad thing. The Psalmist was writing about Zion, the City of God, but the New Testament makes it clear, in Revelation and elsewhere, that the Church is the New Jerusalem. (No, I do NOT subscribe to “Replacement Theology.” The physical descendants of Abraham have not been cut out of His plan, and the current nation of Israel is of great importance, but salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone.) That makes this promise applicable to believers today. It is particularly interesting when we consider the doctrine of the Priesthood of the Believer, proclaimed by Martin Luther 500 years ago but still not fully implemented. Looking at it that way, this passage fits perfectly with something Paul said: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27) For the first time, “clothed with salvation” makes sense, because “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Everything God has for us comes through Jesus Christ, because Jesus was and is His chosen method of relating to mankind, who alienated, and continue to alienate, themselves from Him by sin. Any time we feel we are lacking anything, the solution is to draw closer to God through Christ. Singing for joy sounds pretty good to me!

This of course applies to me as much as it does to any believer, and I am just as much in need of remembering it. This church is in the middle of experiencing God’s provision, but when we can’t see the next step, the temptation can be to panic. There are naturally many unknowns ahead of us, but that’s where faith comes in. We need to learn to rest in the assurance that God’s plans are good, and draw closer to Him to discover just what those plans are. In the world’s eyes we certainly qualify as “poor,” so this passage says we’ll have enough. As Peter said, we are kings and priests, (1 Peter 2:9) so we are clothed with Christ who is Salvation. The New Testament is clear throughout that believers are saints, so we are to sing for joy even when we don’t see the next step, because we have faith that God already has it laid out.

Father, thank You for this clear, encouraging Word. Thank You that I can share it at the prayer meeting in a few minutes. I pray for a fresh infusion of faith for each of us, so that we won’t allow the devil to steal our peace and joy with anxiety as we wait in hope for Your plans to be revealed. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Sleep; November 28, 2017

Psalm 127:1-2 Unless the Lord builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

This is a justly famous passage, but it isn’t remembered nearly often enough. It’s not that we are to be lazy, but when we think and feel that everything depends on us, much less that we can accomplish anything on our own, we get into all sorts of trouble. Having assurance that God will help us is a wonderful thing that is expressed many places in the Bible, such as Psalm 108:13, but we’ve got to remember that the power is with Him and not with us. It is significant that this passage talks about sleep. The Japanese goes with the translation that is given as a footnote in the NIV, of God providing things for us as we sleep, but the NIV as it stands indicates that God is the cure for insomnia. In either case, the point is clear that losing sleep from anxiety is pointless. God is incredibly faithful, and He can certainly be trusted.

This is extremely pertinent to us right now. Not only are we involved in a major project, purchasing land and planning for an elder-care facility, we are also inundated with the various events of the season. Emotional and physical exhaustion are real issues. This passage tells us, “Chill. God’s got it under control.” I need to remember that, sometimes on a moment-by-moment basis. Right now I’m out of town at an overnight conference, but many things await my return. I’m not to miss out on any of the blessings God has for me in this conference by being anxious about what I need to do at home. Some of the issues simply require doing things, but some don’t have immediately obvious solutions. I’m not to be anxious about any of it, but rejoice that God isn’t surprised by anything, and He’s already got the solutions prepared. Years ago He told me to rest, relax, rejoice. I happen to be in an advanced class in exactly that right now, but by His grace I’ll get a passing grade!

Father, thank You for the very good input I’m getting at this conference. Thank You also for the very nice business hotel with just the right amenities, and for the good night’s sleep. Help me flow with Your Spirit in every detail today, for the blessing of those around me and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Law; November 27, 2017

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have they who love your law,
and nothing can make them stumble.

When we think about God’s supply we generally think about material things, but here the Psalmist brings out that God supplies peace as well. Peace can be in short supply! Not only is it lacking on the geopolitical stage, it is especially lacking in many hearts. That said, God’s peace isn’t automatic. The condition mentioned here is loving God’s law. Even many Christians don’t actually love God’s law. They might love the idea of salvation, but they don’t love the idea of going by His rules as a response to His salvation. It’s not that God is stingy with His peace, it’s just that peace is a natural outflow of a right relationship with Him, and you aren’t going to have that if you are in rebellion against Him. We tend to forget what John said: “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) We tend to be so rebellious that we think any commands are burdensome, not realizing that every one of God’s commands are simply to keep us out of trouble. There are people who would do almost anything to have real peace, but at the same time they ignore God’s laws. They are simply deceiving themselves, and that never ends well.

I have had my moments of feeling low on peace, which gives me all the more assurance that this verse is spot on. In general, however, people have tended to be envious of the peace they perceive in me. That brings me to what Peter said: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15 (ANIV) If I am demonstrating God’s peace, that will give me opportunities to share the Gospel with others, as they notice that peace and desire it for themselves.

Father, thank You for Your peace, and for the knowledge of You and Your love and grace that gives it to me. Help me indeed love all that You tell me, through Your Word and otherwise, so that I may not stumble but walk in all that You intend for me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Word; November 26, 2017

Psalm 119:130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.

The Japanese rendering of this verse seems much more picturesque than the NIV: “When the door of Your Word opens, light shines in, giving understanding (satori, enlightenment) to the simple (those without discernment). The point is that God gives us a lot by His Word. Actually, when you consider that He created the universe by speaking it into being, (Genesis 1) you can say that He gives us everything by His Word. That’s why it’s so significant that the Roman Centurion simply asked for a word (Luke 7:7) For a while quite a few years ago the favorite quote among Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians was, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” However, looking at the Bible as a whole, if God said it, that settles it, period, whether I believe it or not. My faith has a big impact on how much I enjoy what God said, but it doesn’t change the truth of it. That’s why we need to keep taking in God’s Word: not so that we can use it to manipulate circumstances, but so that it can change us to be more of what God intends us to be. To be honest, we all fit into the category of “the simple” in this verse. We need God’s word to shine into our darkness and let us see things as they really are. Otherwise, we have no real hope of getting things straight.

Right now I’m in a bit of a dark corner myself. I wouldn’t call it a pit, but I certainly feel in need of light! Physical and especially emotional exhaustion have taken their toll, which leaves me with little enthusiasm for much of anything. When I have a packed schedule ahead of me, starting with today, that’s a problem! I need to rest in the truth I know. “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6:34) “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) I know all those Scriptures to be true, so I need to let them operate in me fully to give me the light I need right now, trusting that I will have the light I will need tomorrow when it is tomorrow, and not demand that light right now. I know that in myself I am incapable of handling it all, but I also know that God is more than capable of handling it, even through me, if I will allow Him to do so.

Father, I tend to have this issue every year around this time, but this year’s challenges are different. Thinking about it, though, they aren’t worse, because Cathy hasn’t been hospitalized like she has been in the past. This year I am especially struck with the futility of things, and the flood of consumerism doesn’t help my mood. Help me do each think I need to do, not in my own wisdom and strength but in Yours, trusting that You will enable me to do so, so that I may be an open channel of Your grace and blessing to those around me rather than a drag and an obstacle, which is what I feel like emotionally. Help me indeed do it all through Christ who strengthens me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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