Language; August 12, 2019

Psalm 61:4 I long to dwell in your tent for ever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.

I think every believer has moments when this is the primary cry of their heart. We get more than tired of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and just want to be comforted in God’s presence. It isn’t necessarily suicidal, but just being tired of putting up with all the junk. We don’t have any description of God that specifically involves wings, but four times in his Psalms David uses the expression, “the shadow of Your wings,” talking to God, and it has been a dearly loved poetic image ever since. Isaiah mentions an owl caring for its young in the shadow of its wings, (Isaiah 34:15) and Jesus very famously used the image as He wept over Jerusalem. (Luke 13:14) For anyone who’s been around birds very much, it’s a very natural and beautiful image. It’s not that David, or even Jesus, was saying that God has feathers! The Bible has many poetic images, and being too literal can get us confused. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit to show us what He meant when He had people write the words we read today. Who better to interpret a book than the Author?

Having written poetry since childhood, the poetic images in the Bible seem very natural to me. Actually, since I wrote my first poem after I had read through the Bible for the first time, the influence probably went the other direction! I have a deep love of language, and at the same time I am sharply aware of its limitations. I am grateful to be bilingual, because some things are easier to say in one language than another. However, I think poetry can sometimes transcend all of that. It takes a lot of words to explain “in the shadow of Your wings,” for example. I need to let the Holy Spirit use whatever words or images are necessary to get God’s truth through to me, and I in turn need to let Him guide me in what I use to express that truth to others. I love to play with words, and I think that’s fine. Sometimes that produces laughter and sometimes groans, but my highest goal with words should be opening people’s hearts to God’s love and truth, whatever shape that takes.

Father, thank You for language. Thank You for reminding me at that moment that You spoke the universe into existence. May I speak Your words so that they may have their full effect, (Isaiah 55:10-11) bringing people into Your light and life for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Advance Praise; August 11, 2019

Psalm 59:16-17 But I will sing of your strength,
in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble.
O my Strength, I sing praise to you;
you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.

The first part of this Psalm reminds me of a novel I read about a mercenary assassin. David seemed to have several of them after him, and they weren’t just in it for the money. It’s interesting that from verse 11 he asks God not to kill them, but rather use them to teach others not to follow their example. In contrast to the fate he wishes on those who seek to kill him, David speaks here of the assurance he has because of his faith in God. There’s no question that he was a musician, singing praise to God. He not only looks forward to singing after God has rescued him, he sings in anticipation as well. I think just about everyone finds it easy to praise God once a crisis is over, but not so many praise Him in anticipation of what He is going to do. That’s where real faith comes in. I once read the testimony of someone who was smuggling Bibles into the Soviet Union. They entered a room at the border with a row of tables across the middle, with customs agents ready to inspect everyone’s bags. He was very nervous about what might happen to him because of his suitcase full of Bibles, but the customs agent opened the suitcase, acted like he didn’t even see the Bibles, closed it, and said the person was free to enter the country. Picking up his suitcase he was rejoicing, but then he heard the Lord say to him, “You are rejoicing on the wrong side of the table.” In other words, God wanted him to trust Him enough to rejoice before he saw what God was going to do. That’s what David is doing here, and we would do well to follow his example.

Well this certainly applies to me! I remember how struck I was when I read the testimony I just mentioned, and I have sought to be that way myself. I haven’t always succeeded! However, I have experienced God’s faithfulness and power so many times that it is definitely easier to praise Him in dark moments than it once was. I just read of an elderly couple in the US who died by murder-suicide because they didn’t have money for medical issues they both had. That’s not how I am to be! Frankly, my wife’s current medical issues are serious, and I’ve already outlived my father by almost seven years, but I know God’s plans for us are magnificent, whatever we go through on the way there. I am to rest, relax, and rejoice in Him, praising Him even when – and especially when – I don’t see His purpose in my immediate situation.

Father, thank You for Your overflowing grace toward me. Help me walk in full assurance of Your grace and love, leading others as well to lift their eyes off of themselves and their immediate circumstances and praise You in faith and trust, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Sin and Salvation; August 10, 2019

Psalm 57:6 They spread a net for my feet—
I was bowed down in distress.
They dug a pit in my path—
but they have fallen into it themselves.

I can imagine David’s delight at being able to write this. There is something deeply satisfying about the tricks of evil people rebounding to their destruction. When that happens we like to pretend that “we knew it all along,” but David is honest enough to say that things really got to him before they turned around. We have a lot of trouble really trusting God when He says, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” (Deuteronomy 32:35) Paul reminds us of this in Romans 12:19, but we tend to feel it’s up to us and get all hopeless, or else we try to take things into our own hands and really make a mess of it all. We need to get it through our heads and hearts that nobody gets away with anything, period. The scary thing is, that applies to us, too! That’s why the cross and resurrection of Christ are such incredibly good news. However, they don’t sound like such good news to someone who doesn’t acknowledge their own sins and realize that they have earned hell. That’s a major reason evangelism is so tough in Japan, because it’s a shame culture rather than a sin culture. Children are told, “Don’t do that because people will laugh at you,” rather than, “Don’t do that because it’s wrong.” The word that is used for “sin” is generally synonymous with “crime,” so the general population has great difficulty seeing themselves as sinners. We all like to justify ourselves and feel we are in the right about everything, but true salvation comes when we let go of that and cast ourselves on God’s grace and mercy, knowing that Jesus died for our sins specifically, and not just in some general way. That’s why the Bible talks so much about humility: it is pride that keeps us from confessing our sins to God and receiving His forgiveness.

My massive encounter with God was all about pride. I had blinded myself to my own sin, just like the Bible says: “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.” (Psalm 36:2) God loved me enough to break through that pride, and I couldn’t be more grateful. However, He has given me the commission to communicate the Gospel to the Japanese, and as I said, they don’t have a clear grasp of what sin is all about. That’s why American evangelistic techniques simply don’t work. They can seem to be great at first, until you discover that people are agreeing with you simply to be agreeable, and not because of any fundamental change in their heart. I am not to give up, but rather keep speaking the truth in love, allowing the Holy Spirit to use me to lay the foundation for genuine repentance and salvation. I know I’m not up to the task, but the Holy Spirit is, and I am to rejoice in that.

Father, thank You for allowing me to be a disciple, and for the disciples You have raised up and are raising up through me. I pray that we would continue to grow as Your children, Your representatives, so that this nation may see You through us and repent and believe, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Speaking Righteousness; August 9, 2019

Psalm 52:3 You love evil rather than good,
falsehood rather than speaking the truth.

Here’s another verse I’m sure I’ve never written on before! We don’t really like reading the Bible’s descriptions of evil people, but they too can be very instructive. When we encounter people who fit those descriptions, we know to steer clear of them as much as possible. The preface to this Psalm indicates exactly who it is talking about. The details of that story are found in 1 Samuel 21 and 22, and it is a nasty story indeed. The thing is, we are marked by what we love, just as we will spend eternity with the one we serve. Hebrews 1:9 quotes Psalm 45:7 as referring to Jesus, saying, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” That’s the exact reverse of this description of Doeg the Edomite. I don’t think there’s any question which we should emulate! It’s interesting that the Japanese for this verse says, “speaking righteousness,” rather than “speaking the truth.” There is a difference between simply speaking fact and speaking righteousness. Righteousness admonishes and builds up, going beyond simply giving information. We have all encountered people who seemed to delight in cutting other people down with their words. That is not speaking righteousness, even if the words happen to be true! I think this is closely related to something Jesus said that concerns me personally: “But 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) Ouch! We need to examine our hearts and our words to see what we love, and if the Holy Spirit says so, repent.

I had no idea where this was going when I started writing, but now I know. I have always been a person of words, and I have used words as weapons more times than I could count. Sometimes my words have hurt people without my intending it, but sometimes it has been intentional. Often I speak more than necessary, delighting in the sound of my own voice. That too is not speaking righteousness. I need to be an instrument of blessing, using the tools God has given me to do His work and nothing less. It was recognized early on that I had a gift for words, but what I do with that gift is what matters. I will reflect what and whom I love, so my focus needs to be on loving Jesus more and more. His every word was righteousness, and that needs to be my goal as well.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the day yesterday, and all You enabled us to do in it. Thank You for Your plans for today. I pray that I would recognize Your plans and follow them, not drawing back for any reason, so that Your will may be done on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Redemption; August 8, 2019

Psalm 51:10-11 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Psalm 51 is unique in several ways. In the first place it is the public record of a very horrendous sin, as detailed in 2 Samuel 11. It is highly unusual in the literature of the time to find negative things recorded about famous leaders. (Some things recorded seem horrible to us, but to them they were boasting.) On top of that, this is the personal repentance of the guilty party, which he himself allowed to be included in the public record. That takes both courage and humility. David had courage from a young age, but humility grew over the years. Even from his youth he realized that it was God who enabled him to overcome ferocious enemies, but humility was not always in evidence. Here he is brought down to zero, and acknowledges that God alone is holy and pure. From that position he makes this request. Recognizing that his heart is not pure, he asks God to make a new one for him. He remembers, accurately enough, that in the past his spirit had been pretty unshakable, so he asks God to renew that since he is certainly shaken as he writes. He then makes his most fundamental request, to be allowed fellowship with God by the Holy Spirit. Having written so many anointed Psalms, it is clear that David was quite familiar with the Holy Spirit, and knew what it was to just rest in God’s presence. That was something he certainly didn’t want to lose. This Psalm teaches us a lot about who David was, and how we also need to repent when the Holy Spirit shines light on our sins.

My life-shaking moment of repentance wasn’t over adultery and murder, but it was no less life-changing. I have gone back to it time and time again in my mind and heart, recognizing my ability to deceive myself and seeking God’s guidance and protection to keep me from that. As I deal with others as a pastor, no sin really shocks me, though it does sadden me. I realize that God’s grace is not only big enough for me, it’s big enough for them, too. I seek to help people understand that God is stronger than their weakness, so He can cleanse and use them whatever they have done with themselves up to this point. God can indeed create a pure heart where there was none before! This is in no way to excuse sin or to allow people to wallow in it. Paul dealt with that lie in Romans 6:1-4. I am to call a spade a spade and not run from confrontation, but I must do so in love, knowing to the depths of my being that I am as much in need of the grace of God as anyone.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Every last one of us is a story of redemption, of Your taking someone who had no right to live and making them alive through Your Son. May I be an effective carrier of that glorious Gospel to more and more people, for a lasting harvest in Your kingdom and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Jerusalem; August 7, 2019

Psalm 48:8 As we have heard,
so have we seen
in the city of the Lord Almighty,
in the city of our God:
God makes her secure for ever.

The first part of this Psalm has been pleasantly set to music, and the whole thing is a meditation on Jerusalem, in particular its relationship to God. Back when it was written, Jerusalem and the temple within it was almost a substitute for God Himself, it was such a strong symbol. However, that unintentional idolatry was destroyed when the Babylonians destroyed both the city walls and the temple itself. The walls and the temple were rebuilt in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, and then the temple was again rebuilt by Herod, who was an evil man and wasn’t even Jewish. By that time the association of the temple with God Himself was so weakened that the Court of the Gentiles was used as a bustling market, and Jesus expressed God’s feelings about that. (Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17) After that, in AD 70, the Romans again destroyed the temple. I think it is significant that the famous “Wailing Wall” is part of the temple of Solomon, rather than either of the later temples. Right now, of course, the Temple Mount itself is occupied by a mosque, but continuing archaeology in the area around it confirms the Biblical and historical account to a remarkable degree. Jerusalem continues to have massive symbolism, as the New Testament, and especially Revelation, testifies. That said, we must never descend into the idolatry of conflating the city with God, or even the purposes of God. The city is certainly involved in those purposes, yes, but we are never to place the city above God Himself, as some seem in danger of doing.

I have never been to geographic Israel, though I have been part of spiritual Israel for many years. I would dearly love to go, but the Lord hasn’t opened the way for that yet. At the very least, I know I will be in the New Jerusalem spoken of in Revelation. I have long taken pride at having been born in 1948, the same year as the modern nation of Israel, and it was an unexpected joy and honor to be adopted by the Messianic fellowship when I was in seminary. It floored them that I knew some Hebrew folk songs better than they did! I do believe in and pray for a massive ingathering of Jews before the Lord’s return, and in no way do I think the Church has somehow “replaced” Israel in God’s plan. However, I don’t think God loves Gentiles less than He loves Jews, and my particular calling is to the Japanese people. I am to continue to strive to bring as many of them as possible with me to the Heavenly Jerusalem, for the glory of God.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me flow with Your Spirit on Your schedule, whatever that means. I would love to visit geographic Israel, but I leave that in Your hands. Thank You for my place in Your kingdom that exceeds all geographic boundaries. May I be Your ambassador to all I encounter, for Your glory. (2 Corinthians 5:20) Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Universal Love; August 6, 2019

Psalm 47:1-2 Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
How awesome is the Lord Most High,
the great King over all the earth!

From beginning to end, this Psalm proclaims that it’s not just Israel that belongs to God, even though verses three and four mention the special treatment Israel has received. Actually the whole Bible proclaims this, from Genesis 1:1 on. From Genesis 12 we have the story of Abraham, but a careful reading makes it clear that Abraham and his descendants were to be God’s messengers to the whole world, not just some “Club Med” that delighted in being better than everybody else. God’s universal love was forgotten by Israel throughout its history, and it is forgotten by many in the Church today. God’s choice of Israel was in no way negated by the Gospel, but there are sadly some who use false “Replacement Theology” to justify antisemitism. As John so rightly points out, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:20-21) And we’ve got to realize that our “brother” may not look like us or talk like us. Anyone who does not have a heart for the nations does not have a heart for God.

Raised in a missionary family, this has been ingrained in me from birth. As a Caucasian in Japan, I have been on the receiving end of discrimination, and at the same time I have seen plenty of Americans – even missionaries – who thought they were “better” than the Japanese. I have learned that if you think God’s love for someone else in any way diminishes His love for you, or that His love for you in any way keeps Him from loving others, you have the wrong god. I have learned that our ability to receive God’s love and all its benefits is governed by the obedience that comes from faith, so that’s why I have dedicated myself to give the opportunity for faith to as many people as possible. It is heartbreaking to see people choose things that shut them off from God. I need to remember that it is just as heartbreaking for God, and offer myself as His instrument to correct that situation for as many people as possible.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I am continually amazed at our human capacity to be nearsighted and self-centered. Help me have Your heart, so that as many as will may be delivered from the lies of the enemy, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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