Acknowledging God; October 11, 2017

Psalm 24:1-2 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.

David starts this Psalm by stating God’s right of creation over everything. That is precisely the thing that “atheists” are trying to avoid. If they didn’t believe He exists, what difference would it make if some people were foolish enough to believe in Him? However, in their hearts they know He does exist, and they don’t want to submit to Him. That’s why other people proclaiming Him and choosing to submit to Him make them so uncomfortable. Truth be told, many people who claim to believe in Him don’t act like they understand that since He created them, they are His property. That is another thing that David understood. As he wrote in verse 6, we receive His best when we seek Him, and not otherwise. The most active idolatry in the “developed world” today is the worship of man. We act like man can do anything, and forget Jesus’ statement that “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

I was blessed to be raised in a home with a strongly Biblical world view, and I don’t think I’ve strayed very far from it. I have been tempted to do so by the conceit of intellect, but God has graciously kept me from going over the edge. Ministering in Japan, I find that a perhaps surprising majority of people are willing to concede that God exists, even though they practice conflicting non-Christian religions, but they seem to have great difficulty making the connection between the fact of God and their daily lives. From what I read and hear, much of America is headed that direction. I cannot force anyone to “wake up and smell the coffee,” but I can demonstrate what walking with Jesus looks like, and I can speak the truth in love. If I will do that, I will be available for God to touch people through me to open their eyes and draw them to Himself. At the recent Cockayne Syndrome Network gathering I was able to tell the group why we have done all we have done to establish the group and bless them, and to say that I want to take all of them with me to heaven. Beyond that, I can only pray that their hearts would be softened by the Holy Spirit using what He said through me, and through others who have doubtless touched them, so that they would repent and believe for their salvation.

Father, I have the constant, unrelenting desire that everyone I encounter would come to You in faith and love, but I can’t make it happen. I offer myself as an instrument of Your grace and mercy, however You want to use me, so that as many as possible would indeed come from darkness to light, from death to life, for their eternal salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Present-Tense Faith; October 10, 2017

Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

Even this most familiar of all the Psalms deserves further meditation. There is a minor difference in tense between the Japanese and the English in this first verse. Where the NIV says, “I shall not be in want,” the Japanese says, “I have no lack.” In other words, it is speaking of a present-tense situation. It is indeed faith to say, “God is going to provide everything I need.” However, it is a somewhat different level of faith to say, “God has already provided everything I need, whether I see it or not.” I think this sort of faith is what Jesus was talking about when He said, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24) Mark recorded the recollections of Peter, and Peter certainly experienced what faith was all about! We have trouble grasping that God is outside of time, so everything is “now” to Him. That is objective reality, even when our subjective experience seems different. Faith can bridge the gap between those, and when it does, it is glorious indeed.

God has been training me in faith over the past 60 years, but He sees me as already what I will be (in my experience). In other words, He sees me as perfect in Christ, and that is glorious indeed. My task is to trust Him with that, not getting hung up on my own mistakes and failures but rejoicing over what He has already declared to be in Christ. Like Paul, my declaration is “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12) I may see a small balance in my bank book, but I am to rejoice in God’s “riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) I may see all sorts of circumstances that would tear me down, but I am to rejoice that my God says, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5) Life on this earth feels like a tension between “now” and “not yet,” but by faith I can live in the eternal “now,” even when physically I may be in the “not yet.”

Father, this is a glorious truth. I do and I don’t grasp it. There’s an illustration for you! Help me walk more and more in Your “now,” not yielding anything to the devil, so that Your kingdom may indeed be manifested in and through me, on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Eternal Blessings; October 9, 2017

Psalm 21:6 Surely you have granted him eternal blessings
and made him glad with the joy of your presence.

This Psalm says it is “Of David,” but the way it is written seems more like it was written about him than by him. However, there are many examples of people writing about themselves in the 3rd person, so this could be one of those. In either case, this statement could be made about any child of God. The devil does all he can to keep us from realizing that God’s blessings are indeed eternal, because the better we grasp that, the less we are tempted by the strictly temporal things of the world. We also have trouble focusing on God enough to grasp and appreciate the joy of simply being in His presence. We see many cartoons of heaven with people running around on the top of clouds with wings and halos, doing things like carrying harps or playing ring toss with their halos, but all of those miss the biggest point of heaven, which is simply the joy of being in God’s presence with absolutely nothing to get in the way. Now that is an eternal blessing! We use the expression, “heaven on earth,” but hardly ever accurately. True heaven on earth is when we are so aware of God that everything else fades to insignificance and we are filled with such joy that it can’t be expressed in words. We aren’t built to experience that continuously here on earth, but even a taste of it makes anyone hungry for heaven!

I have gotten whispers of that joy many times in anointed worship services, and that’s one reason I’m delighted to worship with other believers. However, my most intense experience of it was in a small prayer meeting of four people. (Incidentally, they were an American Catholic priest, a German Catholic priest, a Japanese Pentecostal pastor, and myself.) I think we had been singing a praise/worship song together (in Japanese) but my memory of that is blurred by the intensity of what happened. I felt such joy at the presence of the Lord that I literally told Him that if He wanted to keep using me here He’d better back off, because one more drop and I would be translated out of this plane into heaven, because my physical body couldn’t take it. That was certainly an unforgettable experience, and it has given me a hunger for heaven that makes me almost disappointed that I’ve already outlived my father by five years! That’s not at all to say I’m suicidal; I’ve been there, and this is nothing at all like that. However, the end of my physical life is something I look forward to, rather than dread. I delight in being used by God here and now, and like Paul, I am confident that He will keep me here for a while longer because He has work for me to do. (Philippians 1:21-26) I can’t give anyone such an assurance by my words, but I pray that those to whom I minister would receive it directly from God. I need to seek to make our worship services conducive to God manifesting His presence, and people being open to experience it. When that happens, we won’t be able to keep people away!

Father, thank You for this clear reminder. I pray especially that those with me in church leadership would catch this vision so that our worship would be more and more what You intend it to be, for our eternal blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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What We Rely On; October 8, 2017

Psalm 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

I have loved a song that arranged from verses 6-8 for a long time, and have translated it into Japanese so that we could sing it in our services. However, just now I noticed that the Japanese translation of this verse itself says “boast” rather than “trust.” There is a difference, but they are related. We do tend to talk about what we’re relying on, but talking about something doesn’t always mean genuine trust. In any case, it makes a huge difference what we are trusting in, and sometimes we don’t actually realize it ourselves until that thing is taken away. I have long thought that was a major reason God allows events in our lives that entail what we see as major loss: to show us we were relying on something other than Him. That’s not being mean, but rather kind, because what we rely on makes a huge difference in our lives in the ways that count. Jesus told us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” because as He then went on to say, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20-21) An expression that indicates what we rely on is, “our go-to thing.” In other words, if we have a need, that’s what we rely on. If we go to God every time we have a need, then we will indeed go to Him when we leave this earth, that is, die. If not, then our destination can be distressingly different! God is indeed the only one who can meet all our needs, so relying on Him is actually the most logical course in any case.

Personally, I have relied on all sorts of things throughout my life, but God is the only one that has never let me down. For me personally, a major temptation has been to rely on the gifts and abilities God has given me, rather than rely on God who gave them to me. That can look like the same thing to an outside observer, but I can assure you they are very different. One is pride, and the other is grateful humility. Humility is better every time! I have also relied on other people. Good people can indeed be trustworthy, and we need to aim to be so ourselves, but even the best people are ultimately weak and limited, whereas God is neither of those things. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been disappointed in people, but never has God let me down. I have also trusted in physical items, such as cars and computers. Sometimes that has worked out, but I don’t really have to say that sometimes it hasn’t. I tend to enjoy technology, but my trust has always got to be in God.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It is nice to be able to use things without worrying about whether they will fail me, but keep me from relying on anything ahead of You. Help me remember that is idolatry! Forgive me for the many times I have failed in that area, and keep me focused on You until the day I am in Your presence for all eternity, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Words and Thoughts; October 7, 2017

Psalm 19:14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

This Psalm, and especially the last eight verses of it, are dearly loved by many, and for good reason. David was certainly an anointed prophet/poet. As a wordsmith, this verse could be said to be at the foundation of his life. His words have indeed blessed countless numbers of people down through the centuries, but they arose from the thoughts of his heart. This is what Jesus was talking about when He said, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:18-19) David later got caught on this very issue with Bathsheba, and that was not good at all. What we say is of great importance, but the condition of the heart that generates those words is of even greater importance.

I am a wordsmith myself, so this is very close to home. As a pastor, a counselor, and a school teacher, you could say that I make my living with words. My words have lasting value only to the degree they come from the heart of God. That might seem a strange thing to say in terms of my teaching Medical English, but even there my words and attitude need to reflect the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16) This morning we leave for the annual meeting of the Japan Cockayne Syndrome Network. Cathy and I are pretty central to the meeting, even though we weren’t involved in the planning nor are we responsible for running it, because Cathy founded it over 20 years ago as a support group for families of children with this fatal genetic problem. Every word we say will be received as having at least double the weight of things said by others. Cathy will be speaking, and I interpreting, at the session this evening, and I will be leading the memorial service on Monday for the children who have died. Our words need to be pleasing to God first, and only then to the people with whom we are speaking. If we will allow the Holy Spirit to use us, people will not only be comforted and encouraged, but will be drawn to faith themselves. At this point there is only one other Christian couple in the group, but there are others we feel are close to commitment. We can’t force anything, but we must hold ourselves fully available for God to express His love and grace through us, for the salvation of many and for His glory.

Father, thank You for the privilege of being Your mouthpiece. I do pray this prayer of David, and ask that You help me be more faithful in it than David was, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Humility; October 6, 2017

Psalm 18:35 You give me your shield of victory,
and your right hand sustains me;
you stoop down to make me great.

This verse first hit me between the eyes the first time I read through the Bible in the NIV translation, back in 1979, I think it was. This whole passage is a beautiful litany of David’s experience of God’s protection and provision, but this verse takes the cake for me. The Japanese translates it as, “Your humility has made me big.” The idea of God being humble is mind-blowing for me. However, logical analysis says that it takes great humility for the almighty Creator to deal with such insignificant elements of His creation as we are. A missionary friend recently sent me a link to a video presentation on the Hubble telescope, and how it has enabled us to understand far more of the vastness of the universe that we ever could have imagined before. All of that, God spoke into being, and yet He cares about us. Absolutely amazing! We have no greatness apart from the value that God assigns to us, but what value that is. Exactly how valuable is shown through the incarnation and cross of Jesus Christ. That was the ultimate humility, the ultimate “stooping down.” Paul expressed that beautifully to the Philippians. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8) That is the humility of God, that calls forth our total gratitude, obedience, and devotion.

The danger for me is in being so familiar with this truth that it becomes old hat to me. I must not let that happen. I need to be filled each day with the wonder of God’s incredible grace toward me. “You stoop down to make me great. Wow!” I have dedicated my life to telling others about God’s gracious humility, but I can’t make them believe it by my powers of logic and persuasion. Rather, I am to share the Good News in all love and humility myself, in imitation of God’s love and humility, so that the Holy Spirit may take my words and actions to open the eyes and hearts of those to whom I minister. If I will do that, people will be saved, the devil will be defeated, and God will be glorified.

Father, the vastness of it all threatens to overwhelm me at times. Thank You that You are bigger than everything, and yet you care about me. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in that assurance, just as You have told me to do, so that all of Your purposes for me may be fulfilled, on Your schedule and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Lordship of Christ; October 5, 2017

Psalm 16:2 I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”

This Psalm, and especially verse 6, was a favorite of my father and grandfather before me. On top of that, Peter quoted verses 8-11 at Pentecost (Acts 2:25-28). Accordingly, all but two verses of this Psalm are underlined in my Bible. However, right now it’s this verse that strikes me. This verse is a confession of faith, and a good one. It’s extremely simple, but it has the most important element of Lordship. Sadly, there are people who recite the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Westminster Creed, or some other grand confession of faith who have never made Jesus Lord of their lives, and by New Testament standards, that excludes them from the family of God. (Romans 10:9-10) The Lordship of Christ isn’t some trivial thing, or even something to be aspired to by “super Christians,” it’s at the very foundation of salvation. David didn’t know directly of Jesus or the cross, but he was committed to follow God, even though he did so imperfectly, as we all do. The other half of this confession of faith is likewise important, even if not quite as essential. Even if we count God as our greatest good, we tend to hold a lot of other things in our hearts as “good” as well. If we aren’t careful, those “goods” can become “gods,” and we’re in deep trouble. That’s not to say that family and the like aren’t good, it’s to say that we need to recognize that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) As came out a couple of days ago, priorities determine our lives. If this confession of David is at the foundation, we will have good lives indeed.

I was incredibly blessed to be raised in a home where this confession was true. That protected me to a large extent from materialism and a number of other traps of the devil, though I stubbornly managed to get into some of them anyway. I didn’t come around personally to a full commitment to Christ’s Lordship until I was an adult, though I was baptized at seven. Spiritual pride blinded me to how I was making choices without seeking God and considering Him first. As a pastor I see so many people who get into all sorts of needless problems by making exactly the same mistake. If Jesus is Lord, then we will seek His will at every turn. If we recognize that He is the source of all good in our lives, then we will live in grateful obedience to Him. So many of the vital issues in life are simply expressed, but not so simply carried out! I am not to look down on people who struggle, but speak the truth to them in love, so that they may receive the faith and strength God offers them so freely (Isaiah 40:31) and come into His full salvation.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I feel like You keep calling me back to basics, and that’s a good thing. I listen to various teachers expounding on various issues, and some of them are very good. Help me, and them, not be distracted by peripherals, but stay true to Your core truth, without adding to it, so that as many people as possible may be liberated from the traps of the enemy to come into Your kingdom indeed, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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