Seeking God; September 18, 2022

Psalm 105:2-4 Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.

When we don’t have a grasp of who God is, of His infinite power and grace, then we aren’t likely to seek Him. That’s one of many reasons to read the Bible, to learn of His interactions with mankind down through the centuries. We can have a theoretical concept of Him as Creator, but until we know of how he has been personal with individuals and nations we aren’t likely to seek Him on a personal level ourselves. There’s a Japanese expression in the second half of verse two that says a lot to me. Where the NIV says “tell of all His wonderful acts,” the Japanese says, “let your thoughts be dyed (colored) with His wonderful acts.” The image of letting what God has done set the tone for our thoughts seems very appropriate to me. We think about all sorts of things, naturally enough, but if we focus on God and all He has done, that awareness is going to impact our every other thought. However, that isn’t likely to happen unless we choose it. Some thoughts are involuntary, certainly, but most are not. We choose where we let our minds wander! I’m reminded of D. L. Moody’s response to the young man who protested to him that it was impossible to keep from having “impure” thoughts. “You can’t keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building nests in your hair.” The “nests” we want are thoughts of God in all His purity, goodness and love. Immediate circumstances can definitely distract us from that, so we need to choose consistently to keep that our focus, so that it will indeed color all our other thoughts. When that happens, we can indeed rejoice in all circumstances!

I’m preaching to myself here! All sorts of thoughts assail my mind and heart. With my wife’s health issues, it’s easy to get off on a trail of “what ifs,” but that benefits no one and nothing. God has been incredibly gracious and faithful to us over the years, and He will continue to be so, so I am to reject every thought otherwise. Regardless of the immediate circumstances, God’s plans are good, to give us hope and a future, not only for this life but for eternity. (Jeremiah 29:11) I have commented numbers of times in the past that if I didn’t have faith, I would simply despair. That hasn’t changed! However, I do have faith, I do have a personal relationship with my Creator, I have committed myself to Jesus Christ my Lord, so I can rejoice whatever is going on. A Psychology professor who teaches with me has commented that I’m “a happy person.” I’d say he’s right, and it’s all by the grace of God.

Father, thank You indeed for Your amazing grace. May my thoughts be ever more colored by Your thoughts, Your Spirit, so that every part of my life may reflect You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Singing; September 17, 2022

Psalm 104:33-34 I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the Lord.

The thoughts expressed here aren’t unique to this Psalm, but this is certainly a beautiful expression of them. Considering that the whole book is a collection of poems/lyrics, it’s hardly surprising that there are many references to singing to God. Also, since the focus is on God, there are multiple references to our thoughts being in line with His, most notably in Psalm 19:14, by David. Truth this important certainly bears repeating! Thinking of God should be a joyful thing, and it easily is for those who have a right relationship with Him, but the flip side of that should be true as well: when we are happy, we should think of God and give Him thanks. When we let that percolate through our mind and heart, that is indeed meditation that is pleasing to God!

I could well say that this is the theme of my life. I can’t imagine a life without music and I look forward to heaven, where everything sings to God, as reported by my wife and others who have been and come back. Allowing the songs of the Kingdom to run through my heart and mind is a powerful shield against temptation and an equally powerful antidote to depression. It’s an excellent way to keep my thoughts in line with God, because the world and the devil, not to mention my own appetites, work to pull me away. Just yesterday my wife sent me a link to a quote from John Calvin, of all people. “The music must not turn the church into an audience enjoying the music but into a congregation singing the Lord’s praises in His presence.” I am very grateful that “church music” has been participatory for me all my life. I have heard musically “perfect” performances by people who did not walk with God, but singing or playing from the heart is a very different proposition. As I am reminded with increasing frequency, my voice is not what it was when I was younger, but I pray that my heart is more in tune with the One to whom I sing. I’m sure that songs to God will continue to be part of me as long as I am in this body, and then throughout eternity!

Father, thank You indeed for the privilege of singing to You. I pray that I would never be limited to performance, whether I’m singing by myself or before a large group, but would be worshiping indeed, leading all who hear to worship as well, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Full-Time Faith; September 16, 2022

Psalm 100:1-2 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.

When I have the whole Psalm pretty well memorized in two languages, it can be difficult to focus on a verse or two to hear what the Lord wants to say to me right now! That said, two differences between the NIV and the Japanese speak to me at the moment. The first is where the NIV says “Worship the Lord,” the Japanese says “serve the Lord,” as actually several English translations do. What I’m hearing is that our lives are to be worship, that our very existence is to serve God. After all, He wouldn’t have created us if we didn’t have a purpose in His sight. Far too many people think just going to church on Sundays is serving God, when He wants our whole lives. That ties into the second difference that strikes me, and that is that the Japanese indicates continuous action when it comes to singing joyfully to the Lord. That grammatical construction is repeated twice in verse four as well, indicating continuous thanks and continuous praise. Most of us remember to thank God sporadically and praise Him occasionally. For most people, OMG is just a casual figure of speech or texting! Europe is referred to as a “post-Christian” culture, and America is certainly on the brink. It is sad that it has taken a radically leftist administration to wake up a significant number of believers to what is going on. However, if we will indeed wake up and realize that living with, for, and in Christ is a 24/7/365 deal, then it is not too late. After all, nothing is too difficult for God! (Jeremiah 32:27)

This is something I have had an inkling of since childhood, because of my parents’ example, but I wish I could say I have lived by it more consistently. Even logically, when God is infinite and we are finite, we can’t escape Him, actually existing within Him, so to speak, as Paul quoted a Greek poet as saying. (Acts 17:28) I need to maintain my focus on Him so that I won’t lag in my thanks, praise, and joy. Right now we’re having some real challenges in that area because of Cathy’s pain, but our immediate circumstances don’t change His eternal power, love, and grace. Today I’ll be taking Cathy around to three different medical appointments, and I need to be her “prayer backup” throughout the day. By God’s grace I can do that, and I need to thank and praise Him for the opportunity. I would far rather be doing this than be in mourning!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You that last night was a bit better than the previous two for Cathy, at any rate. We still have a few days to go before she checks into the hospital, and even then we have no guarantee the procedure will do anything lasting for her pain, but we do have You, and that’s enough. Help us rest, relax, and rejoice in You, whatever our senses or our minds are telling us, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Trusting God’s Salvation; September 15, 2022

Psalm 98:2 The Lord has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.

God does work in hidden ways we cannot see, but He also works in ways that should be obvious to the whole world. The problem is, much of the world still stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that it’s God at work. The current situation in Ukraine is a case in point. The whole world is shocked at how Ukraine is driving the Russians out of their territory, but they attribute it entirely to the equipment and training provided by Western nations to Ukraine and to the poor condition of the Russian military, and take no account of the prayers of believers around the world. There are many, many other examples, starting with the very existence of the State of Israel, but many people are stubbornly blind. It can at times be very difficult to maintain faith in God’s salvation, in His righteousness, and I’m not just talking about the macro scale of wars and nations. Personal trials are if anything even more difficult to handle in our own strength. The point is to choose to believe, to remember the many wonderful things God has done in the past and trust that He will do them again, effectively speaking. God hardly ever does exactly the same thing twice, but He does work His salvation and demonstrate His righteousness again and again in countless ways. The blacker things look, the more we need to fix the eyes of our heart on Jesus, in whom is no darkness at all. (Hebrews 12:2, 1 John 1:5) We cannot dictate His timing, nor even understand it at times, but we can trust that He will do what is right.

I am in the middle of training in this. Yesterday my wife and I went to be seen by the surgeon who did the two surgeries on her back, in a city that is over an hour from here by car. The upshot was that she is now scheduled to have him insert a catheter next Wednesday into her spinal canal through her coccyx and essentially vacuum out detritus around her spinal cord, relieving the pressure on her nerves that has given her such pain. She also received a new medication she hasn’t tried before, in hopes that it would help with the pain for the next week. Unfortunately, she still had such pain in the night that she has had very little sleep, and her crying out from her pain has reduced my sleep as well (though I have nothing to complain about compared to her). We want God’s salvation to be manifested! I have long been very aware of Jesus’ statement that “In this world you will have trouble,” but I need to remember the whole quote: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The pain my wife is experiencing tries to take away our peace, but God’s plan is for us to have His peace and joy whatever is going on in and around us.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I really didn’t know what I was going to write from such a joyful Psalm when I was certainly feeling less than joyful! Help us both release each moment to You and rest, relax, and rejoice, just as You have told me to do, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Light; September 14, 2022

Psalm 97:11-12 Light is shed upon the righteous
and joy on the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous,
and praise his holy name.

The turn of phrase in the Japanese grabbed my attention as I read just now. It says, “Light is planted like seed for the sake of the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.” That “planted like seed” is an image we don’t usually think of when it comes to light. Joy seems a little more possible, but light? As I think about it, a seed has great potential that isn’t immediately obvious. Sometimes God’s light in us seems like no big deal, until the moment comes when it is revealed in glory. The challenge of faith is to trust that the light we have been given will be manifested at the right time in the right way. It is by faith that the righteous can rejoice in the Lord and give thanks to His holy name, as it says in verse 12. It is when the way seems darkest that we are most challenged, but God is more than up to the task. His light is infinite, even when we don’t perceive it. Sometimes He has to give us a direct revelation for us to recognize the light He has already provided. As David said, “In your light we see light.” (Psalm 36:9) When things look dark, we need to ask the Lord to open our eyes to recognize the light He has already provided, perhaps hiding like a little seed in our heart.

I’m thankful to have this image pointed out to me. There have been times when things have seemed very dark, but everything is light in the Lord. Today we will be going to see Cathy’s orthopedic surgeon in hopes of dealing with the pain that is robbing her of sleep and a number of other things. The current situation could seem pretty dark, so we need to keep our hearts in the light, whatever is happening physically. I don’t understand how the procedure he mentioned on our last visit would deal with the issue, but at this point we’re ready to try just about anything. Cathy has no desire to go on opioids, since we know people who became addicted under just such circumstances, but we need to be open to whatever God has provided. As she has commented, her issues are certainly difficult, but they aren’t generally fatal, and we have two friends who are confronted with potentially fatal cancers right now. We need to “walk in the light as He is in the light,” (1 John 1:7) not for our own sake alone but for that of all who observe us, so that many may be brought to repentance and faith for their salvation.

Father, thank You for this image of light as seed. May I not only nurture the light You have planted in me, but be effective in planting your light in others as well, for their blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Evangelism; September 13, 2022

Psalm 96:3-5 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.

This Psalm includes the evangelistic imperative and at the same time declares that Yahweh alone is the Creator. We have no idea who wrote it, but it is certainly magnificent. I’m not sure how many times it’s been set to music in various arrangements! This passage certainly blows holes in the “coexist” mantra that has been pushed for many years now. I like the way the Japanese expresses it. Where the NIV says, “The gods of the nations are idols,” the Japanese says they are “worthless/futile/without meaning.” Idols are indeed that, but political correctness seldom lets us be that blunt. It is only kindness and mercy to let someone know their gods are that, if that is indeed the case. Today that is thought of as rude and nothing else, because to be honest, those who hold that position don’t have any assurance that their own religion is true. That’s what leads to Unitarianism, claiming that all religions/gods are essentially the same. It is shocking to see polls that show how many “Christians” aren’t assured that Jesus is the only way to salvation. If He’s not, then He’s a liar! (John 14:6) Those who have genuinely encountered Him aren’t so wishy-washy. When we know “the Lord who made the heavens,” it would be very odd for us not to seek to let others know Him too. That isn’t “cultural imperialism” or anything else negative, it is the greatest generosity and good will.

When I am a missionary pastor, I’m obviously pretty convinced that Jesus is the only way to salvation, but I have known of even missionaries who have been seduced by humanistic philosophy, letting intellectual pride get in the way of their own personal relationship with their Creator. Humility is the only basis for such a relationship! I am painfully aware of that, having walked in absurd pride myself, and I am deeply grateful to the Lord for calling me to account. As God told Jeremiah, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24) My attitude in evangelism isn’t to be boastful, but rather one of humble gratitude for the grace that allows me to know my Creator. After all, that grace is available to anyone who will accept it.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I pray that it would give me fresh boldness, not fearing that people might dislike me, but rather desiring that they know You, and receive Your salvation by repentance and faith. The vast majority of the people around me don’t know You, and You’re less happy about that than I am. I ask for wisdom and boldness to make full use of every opportunity You give me, so that as many as possible may be brought from darkness to light, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Emotions; September 12, 2022

Psalm 95:10-11 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.”
So I declared on oath in my anger,
“They shall never enter my rest.”

This Psalm starts with joyful praise that is often sung in churches even today, but it ends on a very solemn note that is quoted repeatedly in Hebrews 3:7-15. It is very good and appropriate to rejoice in praising God, but we must not let feelings be a substitute for obedience. Emotion is a wonderful gift from God, but we must not seek it for its own sake, but rather seek God Himself. When we are close to Him, we will have plenty of the emotion we enjoy. Unscrupulous people have often used religious emotion to manipulate others, but we are not to fear emotions themselves. Josephus reported that Jesus had the reputation of being quite emotional, and that is borne out by the Gospel record. However, we aren’t to let the emotions themselves be in control. For example, love is generally closely associated with emotion, but Jesus said clearly, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) Obedience isn’t emotional, and at times is in direct contradiction to how we are feeling. Emotion is subjective, centered on the person feeling it, whereas obedience is objective, centered on the one giving the command. Perhaps the ultimate example of that was Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, where His emotion was so intense as to rupture some of His capillaries, making blood mix with His sweat, but He still chose obedience to His Father for the sake of our salvation. (Luke 22:44) The theme for our readings at this point is The Joy of the Lord, but we must not let the devil hijack our joy and twist us away from obedience.

This naturally applies to me. Being fully human and not suffering any emotional handicap, I have felt and feel the full range of emotions, and I am grateful. I have seen and understand that a failure to feel emotion is pathological, and also that emotions are often delayed, hitting after what would be considered the trigger for them. That last fact is often a blessing, allowing us to function in times of emergency without being disabled by overwhelming emotion. I’ve experienced some of that myself. As a minister I am often involved in the emotions of others. I am not to try to manipulate those emotions, but I am to seek to point people to God who is above all our emotions. I am to keep my own obedience primary, ahead of whatever my emotions might be, and seek to help others do likewise. In direct relation to this passage, the Lord has told me personally to rest, relax, and rejoice. Failure to do so is being disobedient! I am not to allow circumstances, present or potential, to distract me from being obedient to my Lord.

Father, thank You for this clear, timely reminder. This morning we will be going to the orthopedic surgeon to discuss treatment options for Cathy’s pain, and frankly, there’s a lot of emotion involved. Help us both hear You clearly and be fully obedient, whether that obedience agrees with whatever the doctor says or not. Thank You that Your plans for us are good, whatever they take us through. (Jeremiah 29:11) Help us rest in that assurance and be at peace, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Accountability; September 11, 2022

Psalm 94:9 Does he who implanted the ear not hear?
Does he who formed the eye not see?

This supremely logical verse is precisely why many people try to deny the existence of a Creator. They jump through all sorts of hoops of illogic to try to avoid accountability. This Psalm as a whole certainly brings to mind the political situation in the US at this point. The righteous (or relatively so) bear some responsibility, because they have been lax in standing in God’s standards and His truth, but there is still hope. As it says in verse 15, “Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it.” (Psalm 94:15) That is certainly a day to look forward to! In the mean­time, those who know God’s standards and seek to follow them need to make their voice be heard. In America they have the great privilege of participating in government, and they need to make full use of that privilege. However, they need to do so with the heart of Christ, who both drove the merchants out of the temple and said to the woman caught in adultery, “Go, and sin no more.”

This is a challenge for me as well. In this Information Age I am far more aware of what is going on all around the world than I ever could have been years ago, and in many cases it’s not a pretty picture at all. I feel anger rising in me all too frequently as I read of politicians and murderers (sometimes the same people) and all sorts of deeds that spit in the face of God. I am to pray for God’s will to be done in each situation, and I am to seek God for what He wants me to do each moment. I have started the process for Cathy and me to be able to vote in the November election, and I am to follow through promptly with that. I contribute regularly to those who support the persecuted Church, and to those who disseminate truth to counter all the lies. However, on the most basic level I am to strive to keep my communication with my Lord open, to walk in fellowship with Him, doing what He says to do and speaking what He tells me, regardless of the consequences to me, so that He alone may be acknowledged as holy and His rule and reign be established as His will is done, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for this Psalm that points out that the hearts of men are essentially unchanged going back to Eden. Help me walk in Your grace at all times, receiving it for myself and extending it to those around me, not weakly but with Your power, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Age; September 10, 2022

Psalms 92:14-15 They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

The first two verses of this Psalm are ingrained in my heart as a song, but when I’m less than a week from my 74th birthday, these two verses jump out at me! There is no such thing as “retiring” from being a child of God! There are certainly specific occupations from which retirement is appropriate, but the definition of “old” has certainly changed with advances in medicine and technology. Queen Elizabeth performed her duties magnificently all the way up to two days before her death at 96! Two specific things are mentioned here about the “senior years” of righteous people: they will bear fruit, and they will proclaim the goodness of God. Sometimes senior adults fail to see how they can keep bearing fruit, and that is sad. When we visited my mother’s sister-in-law, at a point when she was blind and largely bedridden, she complained to me about God not going ahead and taking her home. In the course of the conversation she told us about one of her grandsons who had almost divorced, but she had prayed for them and the marriage had been restored. I had the joy of pointing out to her that she was bearing fruit! I have always maintained that the fact that any of us is alive on earth means that God has something He wants us to do, however young or old we are. Some people exclude themselves, in their own minds, from serving God because they are “too young.” Paul spoke strongly to Timothy about that. (1 Timothy 4:12) Others, like my aunt, feel like they are too old to accomplish anything. God can use anyone, and He delights to do so. Particularly in a time when many educational institutions are poisoning the minds of young people, old people have an essential role to play, proclaiming the righteousness of God in the face of a flood of lying filth.

As I said, this is very personal for me at this point in my life. I just started a new semester at the nursing school where I teach, and the teacher who introduced me to the class (a former student of mine) told them that I was “unchanged” from when I taught her! That was a stretch, but I do feel like I have experienced the reality of this passage. Just this past Sunday, in some fellowship after the service, I was saying some things about retirement and my successor, whoever that might be. I got an instant chorus of people denying that inevitability! Actually, as I told them, I’m not going to shut up about God until I stop breathing, but at the same time I’m not to get in the way of younger people stepping up and exercising and growing in the gifts God has given them. So far I have had at least three people I thought would be my successor, and they have all gone off to do other things. I am actually honored at how many people have gone into full-time ministry, but they haven’t stuck around to do it here! I am to keep myself available for however the Lord wants to use me, but not insist that he use me either. My fruit, and my reward, are in His hands, subject to His timing alone.

Father, thank You for this very timely Word. You already had me speaking on Faithfulness tomorrow, and then we got the news of Queen Elizabeth. With Cathy’s current health issues it’s possible I will need to pull back from other activities to take care of her. I ask for clear guidance and for the wisdom to follow it accurately, so that in all things Your will may be done on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Mortality; September 9, 2022

Psalm 90:12 Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

This Psalm is unique in being the only one attributed to Moses, and as such is perhaps worthy of special attention. It is amusing that he famously speaks of human lifespan as 70 or 80 years (verse 10) when he himself lived to 120. It is particularly poignant to read that this morning, when the top news item is the passing of Queen Elizabeth at 96. All of that, including the news item, points up the importance of the prayer in this verse. None of us know how long we will live, and we will lack wisdom until we come to terms with our own mortality and choose to spend our days in right relationship to our Creator, from Whom we came and to Whom we return. I think that’s what it means when it says, “number our days,” since we don’t know how many we will have. Many parents try to shield their children from the reality of death, even avoiding having pets because most pets have short lifespans, and they don’t want their children to grieve. That is terribly misguided, because death is indeed part of life, and failure to recognize that leaves us foolish indeed. I once watched a video of someone talking to young people about HIV, I think it was, and he said, “No orgasm is worth your life.” Failure to recognize our mortality can cause us to take all sorts of stupid risks. The flip side of that is people who live in such fear of death that they never really live, focusing on avoiding all possible risks. Wisdom lies in recognizing not only our mortality but also where our life comes from in the first place, and living each day in obedient gratitude toward the One who gave it to us.

This is pointed for me because in two weeks I will have outlived my father by 10 years, since he died about a week after his 64th birthday. The news about Queen Elizabeth comes at a point when I have a friend with terminal cancer and an 85-year-old church member recently was running a high fever, and her son came by to discuss the eventuality of her passing. I have lost count of how many funerals I have conducted, and for how many people I was present at their passing. I am instantly recognized at the city crematorium! I have certainly learned the difference between the death of a believer and that of an unbeliever. For believers, I have conducted some genuinely joyful funerals! We get so tied up in physical life that we lose sight of the reality that 100 years, even, is essentially insignificant on the scale of eternity. I personally would not want to be stuck in this body for eternity! I am personally to rest, and revel in, the eternal life I have by grace through faith in Christ, and I am to use my days, however many I am given, to draw others to that life as well. As Jesus assured us, in this life we will have trouble, (John 16:33) but it is an opportunity to learn of God and His love for us, and choose to follow Jesus as Lord, with everything that means.

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for Your perfect timing for everything. Thank You that I have my first class today with a new group of nursing students. I pray that my every interaction with them would point them to Christ. They too will rub shoulders with death in the course of their careers. May they indeed learn to number their days aright and commit themselves to their Creator, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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