God’s Provision; November 19, 2020

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

This passage as a whole has been misused by so many “evangelists” that it’s almost sickening to me, but discarding it would be even more tragic. “God loves a cheerful giver” was one of the first bits of Scripture I was encouraged to memorize as a small child, but we need to remember that when Paul wrote this he wasn’t seeking funds for his own ministry, but to take to Jerusalem to help the Church there. The passage as a whole was written to overcome the poverty mentality that very many people have. It is when we really trust that God can and will supply all our genuine needs that we are able to open our hearts and our hands and let His supply flow through us, instead of trying to hang onto every bit we can grab. This verse is one of many that point out the purpose of God’s provision: that we would abound in every good work. It’s like nutrition: if you keep taking in calories without expending them in exercise, you’ll just get fat. God doesn’t want us to go hungry, but if we aren’t doing what He intends with what He has provided, He’s liable to “put us on a diet,” so to speak. The problem is, when we focus on the need instead of on God who is our supply, we’re very likely to get anxious. This is exactly what Jesus taught so memorably on in Matthew 6. It is when we focus on God and His kingdom, that is, His authority and power, and His righteousness, which is to say, doing what He says is right, that we can have no anxiety whatsoever about His supply, because He is certainly going to “bankroll” what He wants done.

This is something I’ve known since childhood, but at the same time it is something I am still learning. I’ve discovered how much better my cash flow is when I tithe, for example, but I don’t exactly run around handing out money. As God provides – and He provides abundantly – I need to ask Him what He wants done with it, whether “it” is finances or anything else. Stewardship applies to absolutely everything. I didn’t speak any of it into existence; it still belongs to the One who did. I need to focus on what He wants done with what belongs to Him. If I will do that, I will never lack for resources of any kind.

Father, thank You for this reminder, particularly as both Cathy and I and the church have had major expenses, either just past or coming up. Thank You that the water heater work is completed, and that the tree pruning is scheduled. I pray that the repairs to the church automatic door would likewise be scheduled soon, so that we will be properly welcoming for the Advent season. May we indeed focus on what You want us to do, rather than on what we think we have, so that You will be free to do through us all that You want to do, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Giving; November 18, 2020

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

When you think about it, there is no greater possible wealth than being part of the Godhead, having created and possessing all things. However, Jesus indeed set all of that aside to come down to our level and be born as a human baby. He did that precisely to supply eternal life to us, making us heirs of the universe with Him. (Romans 8:16-17) We know that Mary and Joseph weren’t well-off, because after Jesus was born their sacrifice of purification was the one prescribed for poor people. (Luke 2:24, Leviticus 12:8) Paul wrote memorably about Jesus’ sacrifice in Philippians 2:5-11. When we really grasp that, any giving we might do fades to total insignificance. That’s not at all to say that our giving is unimportant. We are commanded to give a tenth of our income as a reminder to us of where it all comes from in the first place, and we have the privilege of participating in God’s “supply chain,” so to speak, to others, both to the Church and to individuals. That’s what giving is all about. Sadly, some teachers have descended to the level of hucksters, bilking well-meaning people for their own material wealth. They fall into the category of people Paul talked about in 1 Timothy 6:3-5, and will receive fitting punishment when they stand before the Lord. We need to steer clear of that and rejoice to give in all purity, knowing that our Source of supply will never run out.

To be honest, I’ve never been very much of a giver. I have given a tithe faithfully for many years, but not so much beyond that. My inbox is bombarded constantly with requests for money, some of them from very good and reputable organizations, but I tune virtually all of them out instantly. It is sad to become calloused, and I do pray about what the Lord would have me do. I do contribute regularly to a rather unknown orphanage in Cambodia that is run by a Japanese friend, but the amount is not significant. God has been more than gracious to me, and I don’t know what the barrier is to my giving more. I think the answer is indeed, meditating on what God has done for me and asking Him what He would have me do.

Father, thank You for this reminder. You’ve recently enabled me to set up a contribution system on my blog, but that is for people giving to me and this ministry. Help me understand where and how You want me to give, so that You may be glorified as Your plans are fulfilled. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Miracle of Grace; November 17, 2020

2 Corinthians 6:1 As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.

This is a very interesting, and potentially very tragic, entreaty. It assumes a reality that far too many people don’t want to admit is possible: that God’s grace can do us no good. Jesus indeed died for the sins of all mankind, but if we don’t believe that and respond to it in repentance, it does us no good. The devil frequently tells people that “A loving God wouldn’t send people to hell,” ignoring the reality that we are headed for hell in the first place, and God’s grace is an unearned intervention. Some people go through the motions of accepting Jesus as Lord, but then turn around and act as though they deserved salvation in the first place, so it’s no big deal. That is actually denying the reality of the cross. There literally could be no bigger deal than the Son of God taking your sins on Himself and dying in your place. Grasping that should shift our focus from the material to the spiritual, from the temporal to the eternal, just as yesterday’s reading said. When we fail to make that shift we miss out on so much, even if our faith itself might be sufficient for salvation. We are not to think we are judges of who is saved and who isn’t, but we are to avoid what my grandfather called “easy believism.” By that he meant the common practice of someone going through the motions of saying pious words and getting wet, without any real repentance and heart change. He also called that “into bliss and out of blister,” referring to the whole “ticket to heaven” mentality. Far too many people are “like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.” (Hebrews 12:16) We tend to value the things and pleasures of this world far too much, putting ourselves in danger of missing out on what is far more valuable.

I can hardly say I’ve never been there, when I think about this issue. I think of myself as an instrument of God’s grace, seeking to share the Gospel with all who will receive it, but I too am tempted by all sorts of things that have no eternal value. I must not be someone who fails to live by what I teach! My message will be effective only if I am putting it into practice myself. I desire indeed to be a “fellow-worker with God,” to whatever degree He allows His power to operate through me, but for that to happen I’ve got to realize, on the deepest level, that I couldn’t begin to deserve that. I need to live in continuous awareness of the miracle that is God’s grace, in the full obedience that comes from gratitude.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all You are doing in, around, and through me. Help me stay submitted and available at all times, useful and pleasing to You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Seen and Unseen; November 16, 2020

2 Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I would imagine a lot of people are trying to comfort themselves with this Scripture at this point. Frankly, things are not looking good in America, with an increasing probability that people are going to get away with an illegal, unfair election. However, The legal challenges aren’t over, and God is still God. There were numbers of prophecies, by prophets with highly respectable track records, of a second pro-life, pro-religious freedom administration, and nothing is impossible for God. It is quite possible that those very prophecies caused some people to relax their spiritual warfare against the forces of darkness. Be that as it may, God is still God and His Word is still true. The point is for believers to keep believing, not in politicians but in Jesus Christ the Lord. People are saying, “The conflict is about to get very personal,” but it should have been personal all along. Each genuine Christian should have been active in prayer and witness, submitting to God and resisting the devil, (James 4:7) all along, but many, if not most, have not been. Conservatives bemoan the love the Left has for Big Government, but then turn around and seek to avoid their own personal responsibility. Each must personally give account to God for their stewardship of the resources and opportunities that have been placed at their disposal. (Romans 14:12) We tend to think of stewardship in terms of money, but it applies to far more than that. Yesterday I spoke from Romans 12:1 about how everything in our life should be an expression of worship to God, and this connects perfectly with that. When we are indeed looking at the unseen, eternal things, then our stewardship of everything else will be far closer to what it should be.

I am of course speaking to myself here, just as I was preaching to myself yesterday. I quote verse 17 fairly frequently, and verse 16 certainly applies to me, particularly at my age. With that understanding, I should be applying this verse intentionally more and more. In some ways that is ironic, since as a photographer I am quite focused on what I see, but even my photography is focused on capturing the ephemeral, the scenes that a moment later do not exist. I need to apply that more broadly, aligning my value structure with the unseen spiritual world, rather than being mired in the physical. That’s not to say that I’m to neglect my stewardship of the physical as well, but it is to say that I’m not to hang onto it, either in possessions or in circumstances. That is the way of genuine peace and overcoming.

Father, thank You for this strong reminder. Thank You for the deep conversations I’m able to have with my daughter who is visiting. I pray that throughout her time here, the three of us would see and receive the invisible blessings You have for us, growing and shaping us more and more into the likeness of Your Son, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Plans; November 15, 2020

2 Corinthians 1:17 When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?

Changes of plans are always awkward. This can be particularly awkward when the one announcing the plans is seen as a leader, a man of God. It is in a way comforting that even Paul was confronted with this problem. Those who were disappointed, emotionally hurt by the change, accused him of being flighty and unreliable, and that stung. It’s also comforting to know that even Paul wasn’t impervious to such criticism! In other places he fully acknowledges his weakness and imperfection, but here he shifts the focus to God, essentially pointing out that it doesn’t matter how we change, or even fail, because God is totally faithful. We are indeed to plan, and do so carefully and prayerfully, but we must always be open to changes in those plans. Sometimes it is the planning process itself that God wants of us, along with the willingness to let Him be Lord and change those plans. However, we must never use that as an excuse for changing plans casually. We do need to recognize that our plans never affect only us; other people are involved. It is often in our interactions with those other people that God works most deeply, and we need to be aware of that.

I don’t have a very good track record in the area of planning. I tend to take things as they come, and my failure to plan has been a real weakness. However, I do seek God’s will in the plans I make, whether others recognize that or not. A major problem has been in failing to include others in the planning process, so that those involved fail to own the plan and participate. A major example was in our plans just a few years ago to build a senior care center on the land next to the church building. Bureaucratic red tape was the biggest specific obstacle, but God could have worked His miracles there, I think, if I had talked more with the church members from the beginning and brought them along with me. God did show Himself mighty in all of that, providing a line of credit that I certainly hadn’t anticipated, but the church members weren’t brought along so that they would have the faith to believe that the whole project was possible. It was painful to me and painful to them, and people left the church as a result. I must not let the experience keep me from planning big things, but rather teach me to bring others along with me in the process. In the final analysis, the people are more important than the plans.

Father, thank You for this somewhat painful reminder. Help me keep growing as You desire and intend, so that Your plans, for me, for this church, for this city and nation, may be fulfilled on Your schedule and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Comfort; November 14, 2020

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

This is is a central part of God’s economy that I mention to others often. God’s provision is abundant, but it is rarely if ever just for the immediate recipient. It’s not that the immediate recipient isn’t blessed. Far from it. However, those blessings are to be passed on to others, like the ever-expanding ring of ripples when a stone is dropped into still water. In the physical world, entropy and gravity soon still the ripples, but in God’s economy, sometimes later ripples seem even bigger than the first! That’s because the true source isn’t the triggering event, but rather God Himself, and He can “add energy,” so to speak, at any point along the line. As an excellent example, by Paul writing the letters that are included in the New Testament, the things that God did for him have been multiplied in countless believers down through the centuries. We need to recognize God’s grace toward us with full gratitude, and at the same time be open to however He might want to express that grace through us to others. The specific example Paul mentions here is comfort. This isn’t as in “being comfortable,” physically or otherwise, as our modern, luxurious society would have us think. Rather, it is in recovering from all the junk the world and the devil throw at us. As Jesus told us explicitly, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) When we’ve been hit with some of that stuff, we need to be comforted. However, God’s supply of comfort is unlimited, and He often uses people to spread it around. We need to recognize that and volunteer to be a “spreader,” and not just a receiver.

This is something I think I recognized very early on. As someone with Teacher gifting I’m rather prone to give lectures, but those are rarely comforting! I need to keep learning how to come alongside those who are hurting and simply be there for them, expressing God’s love and grace through simple presence far more than words. Just as God has encouraged me many times through many people, I need to let Him do the same through me, even though that isn’t my primary gifting. He has gifted me with words, so I need to be faithful to use words not just to convey information but, more importantly, to convey God’s gracious love and comfort to all who need it – and that includes everyone! Frankly, my words aren’t always comforting. There are times when love needs to be firm, but quite apart from that, at times my words are needlessly hurtful, causing a need for comfort rather than supplying comfort. I need to keep growing, allowing the Holy Spirit to mold me into the image of Christ my Lord, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this clear reminder. It seems my words, or my expression of them, were hurtful a few times even just yesterday. Help me gain Your sensitivity, recognizing what is needed when, and allowing You to supply it through me, for the blessing of all around me and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Amazing Grace; November 13, 2020

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

What a marvelous explanation of grace! I think that to the day he was martyred Paul was sharply aware that he had been a persecutor of the Church, as he brings up in the verse before this. He knew full well that he didn’t deserve to be called, sent, and used by God, but at the same time he couldn’t deny that had happened. It’s not surprising that the book of Acts deals so much with the activities of Paul. Not only was Luke evidently won to the Lord through Paul, Paul was perhaps the most widely active of all the Church leaders of the day, just as he says here. However, he takes no personal credit for that, stating flatly that it was all God’s grace. What a marvelous example! We are so prone either not to do what God is saying to do, or else trying to take credit for what God has done through us. Paul did neither of those things, and half of the New Testament is part of the result!

I have fallen in both those areas, both failing to be obedient and trying to take credit for what has gotten done. By God’s grace I think I do better now, but at times I’m a slow learner! At 72, the world says I’m supposed to be retired, but I don’t think that’s in my contract. At any rate, I hope I never stop serving God! I really don’t know what all God has planned for me, but I’m still praying and working toward the vision God has given us of Omura again being the foremost Christian city in Japan. That is still quite obviously a humanly impossible thing, but nothing is impossible for God, and I want to stay available to Him. In the mean time there are lots of shorter-term tasks and goals and I don’t want to miss any of them. The end of the year is always a frantic time, to the point that I essentially dread Christmas, and that attitude is hardly good. I need to remember that it is indeed God’s grace that has brought me safe thus far, and that same grace will get me through everything ahead, just as John Newton so famously wrote.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s such a basic issue that at times I overlook it. Keep me from procrastinating on the things that I know are to be done. Rather, help me recognize which tasks are on Your schedule for me and do them promptly, and recognize which things are simply distractions, to decline them. Thank You that Ann is arriving today. May the three weeks she will be here be truly blessed in every way that You intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Church; November 12, 2020

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

The Japanese is much more clear than the English that the “you” throughout this passage is plural. Later Paul speaks of our bodies as “temples of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 6:19) specifically in connection with sexual immorality, but here he is talking about the Church, which includes the local congregation. It is sadly not unusual for people, for various reasons, to disrupt or even destroy a local congregation. Paul says clearly that such people are inviting total destruction on themselves. The local congregation is God’s plan to nurture and train His children. It is to be effectively a nursery, a hospital, and a sheltered workshop, raising up believers to be warriors in the army of God, people who will accurately and effectively represent Christ to the world at large. That sort of thing rarely if ever happens in isolation; we need each other. That’s why local churches are so important. No two churches are identical, and no church is perfect. I well remember one of my seminary professors saying, “Stop looking for the perfect church. Even if you find it, it will stop being perfect the moment you become a part of it.” That is too true! Precisely because there are no perfect individuals, there is no perfect congregation, and we need to accept that. Each congregation has a different personality, so to speak, and different strengths and weaknesses. We are to seek God for where He wants us to be planted, and then we are to strive to be His instrument in building and strengthening that congregation. Far too many Christians are passive, consumers rather than participants. God is not pleased with that! When God destroys those who destroy churches, it follows that He builds up those who build up churches. That certainly seems more desirable to me!

I am in a relatively unique position in this, as the founding pastor of this congregation, all the way back in 1984. Its weaknesses can certainly be blamed on me, in large part at any rate. Over the years I have grown, and I believe the church has grown, even though that growth has rarely been in numbers. Our Sunday morning attendance has seldom topped 30 that I can remember, and is currently around a third of that, but we have sent out people to the ends of the earth, literally, including some who are in full-time ministry. I have sought to ground people in the Word, encouraging them to be open to being filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit, and some have accepted that challenge. I feel my responsibility is not just to this congregation but to this city, and I have sought to build up the other congregations as well. God is my judge, but my prayer is indeed for the fulfillment of our church vision of Omura again becoming the foremost Christian city in the nation, as it was 450 years ago, for the glory of God.

Father, thank You for Your plans, and for including me in them. May I indeed be fully useful to You in building Your Church, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Rest, Relax, Rejoice; November 11, 2020

1 Corinthians 1:8-9 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

I think every sincere Christian has moments when they worry about their own ability to remain true to Christ, to hang in there until the end. That’s hardly surprising when society around us is such a mess. Here Paul is speaking to that directly. Frankly, the church in Corinth was a mess as well, with factionalism and even immorality, so it’s particularly significant that Paul wrote this to them. The focus, as always, is on God’s faithfulness rather than on our inability. I really like the word order in the NIV here, because it makes that focus very clear. It’s not so common that I prefer the NIV to the Japanese! This fits in perfectly with something the Lord had me preach on December 5, 2010: Rest, Relax, Rejoice. That’s something I understand in theory, but I sometimes have a hard time applying in practice. There is just so much to be uptight about! That’s certainly the case today, with the turmoil over the US election. When everything falls apart, as it seems to be in the process of doing, we’ve got to remember that not only does God have a Plan of the Ages (my grandfather’s term) that will bring it all out right in the end, He also has each believer firmly in hand, so we have no reason for personal anxiety either. When we have that settled in our heart and mind, we can indeed rest, relax, and rejoice.

Looking back over the past few weeks of my devotions, it’s clear that I’m going through yet another period of intensive training in this area. However, God is indeed faithful! Yesterday I woke up at 3:30 and was unable to go back to sleep because of everything on my mind. Last night I realized that every one of those issues had been resolved during the day, and this morning I slept until 6, when we usually get up around 5. Maybe I’m learning something! I know full well that God is still God whatever happens in America, or in Japan. I need to be faithful in the tasks specifically assigned to me, including prayer, and leave everything else – and specifically the results of what He has me do – in His hands. One of the things yesterday was making the very large payment for our new water heater, and the church has two fairly large-ticket items coming up as well. God is still Yahweh Yireh, the Lord our Provider, as He has demonstrated time and time again in the past. I am to recognize the overwhelming magnificence of His grace toward me, and us, and rejoice!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You also for showing me how to check on exactly when it was that you said this to me. It’s been a large item in my awareness ever since. Help me keep growing in applying it! Thank You. Praise God!

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Resisting Evil; November 10, 2020

Romans 16:18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

Sadly, this is a phenomenon we see all too often today. It is ironic, but honest people are often the most easy to deceive, because they don’t imagine that someone is trying to deceive them. This is precisely what Jesus was warning against when He told us, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) We ourselves are to be totally straightforward and honest, but we must not assume that others will be the same. The current election is certainly a case in point. As Bill Whittle has said, with the exception of legitimate, requested absentee ballots, we are to the point of needing not only photo ID but also indelible ink to mark the index finger (or whatever) of each person who has voted. As Paul says here, being naive can get you into real trouble. He says in the next verse, “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” Paul mentions both the motive and the tools of devious people: their appetites, and smooth, flattering words. The whole “sexual revolution,” going back to the ’60s, is clearly a glorification of appetite, and the wholesale acceptance and support of abortion, even infanticide, is the logical result. You can call it “a slippery slope,” or “the camel getting his nose in the tent,” or whatever, but the current situation didn’t happen overnight. The Church has been effectively asleep at the wheel, failing to stand for Biblical principles, a Biblical world view, because frankly, too often that was lacking even within the Church. I believe the legal challenges to all the election irregularities will prevail this time, but this has been a crescendo building for a long time. We must be innocent but not naive, standing for truth and speaking it in love. That is certainly not politically correct, but frankly, political correctness has been one of the major tools used by the enemy, because it directly goes against honest communication.

This is obviously something I am pretty worked up over. I pray that more of God’s people would be so as well! I do need to rest, relax, and rejoice in the assurance that God is still God, but that doesn’t mean being lazy, and/or turning a blind eye to evil. Government isn’t sovereign, but rather is a reflection of the people governed. We need to pray and work for righteous government, but we also have to work for righteousness on the personal level as well. We can’t change others, much less legislate righteousness, but we can keep ourselves in obedient submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve got to walk the fine line of active trust, not condoning or overlooking evil, but not letting my heart be troubled, either. That’s not something I can do in my own wisdom and strength! I am to seek God’s guidance at every turn, knowing that He is indeed sovereign, and He delights in those who fear Him.

Father, thank You for this strong reminder. Thank You for the missionary from Hong Kong who wants to contribute to President Trump’s legal defense fund. That is a clear indication of the magnitude of the current situation. I pray that Your children would indeed wake up and resist the devil, not just in the current crisis but in their daily lives, bringing the revival that America so desperately needs. Thank You. Praise God!

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