Repentance; May 29, 2020

2 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

This is a very famous verse, but one difference between the English and the Japanese jumped out at me just now. Where every English translation I am aware of says, “who are called by my name,” the Japanese says, “who call on my name.” That actually makes a huge difference, because it eliminates a point of pride. We like to say, “See, we are the people of God. We are Christians.” However, there is much less “pride of position” in the statement that “We are people who seek God.” That said, this verse is still a call to repentance. It is significant that it is specifically in reference to what we today would call “natural disasters,” with drought and locusts mentioned in the verse before this. Today we bend over backwards to avoid saying, or to even deny explicitly, that any natural disaster is the result of sin, but that is hardly the Biblical position. Even the Church is bound by “political correctness,” not calling a spade a spade in the effort to offend no one. Frankly, some people make it their business to be offended, and some people need to be offended. They are sometimes the same people! About 40 years ago Rock Church in Virginia Beach spearheaded a movement calling America to repentance based on this verse, but few people paid much if any attention. This verse was brought out again after the 9/11 terror attacks, and it’s come up again recently with the pandemic. The problem in every case has been that there’s been very little genuine repentance. A vital element of repentance is mentioned right here: “turn from their wicked ways.” If there is no change in behavior, there’s been no real repentance. For example, there was a spike in church attendance after 9/11, but it soon died down. Today with the pandemic, people are asking for “a return to normal,” when many things about “normal” were and are in violation of God’s Word. It is significant that the President, who has needed a great deal of repentance himself, is spearheading the effort to make genuine changes from a governmental perspective. He is certainly no more perfect than anyone else, but he at least is honest about it. I think that’s one reason he is so often accused of lying, by those who have no real interest in God’s truth. That said, national repentance must involve the government, but it’s also got to go down to the individual citizens. Each person is individually accountable to God, and we must never forget that.

I talk often about the time God called me to account directly, showing me a mirror, spiritually speaking, to see myself. I don’t speak so often about the time He rebuked me most strongly through one of His human servants. Cornelius Iida, upon retiring from a distinguished career as an interpreter for US presidents, chose to return to the land of his birth in order to share the Gospel, and we had the privilege of meeting him and his wife. Not long after they came to Nagasaki, Cathy and I decided to go spend four months in Seattle to support our younger daughter in getting settled in college there, and I asked Cornelius if they would live in our house and pastor the church for that interval. At first they were very open to the idea, but then something I said revealed my heart, and Cornelius called me to account, saying that my priorities were reversed and I was treating the church like a hobby, and he would have nothing to do with that. It was a painful shock, but he was quite right. I won’t go into all the details, but our time in the Seattle area was one of various lifestyle changes. It wasn’t easy, either for us or for the church, but when we returned to Omura I openly declared that I was a pastor, doing various other things for financial support, rather than being a teacher or whatever who happened to lead a church on the side. God doesn’t play games with repentance, and I must never do so either.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for Cornelius Iida and his faithfulness to You, refusing to take the “easy way out” of not offending me. May I too love people enough to risk offending them and their not liking me, in order that I may possibly call them to repentance. May my repentance be instant and real, each time You point out sin in my life, so that nothing will interfere with my obedient fellowship with You. Thank You. Praise God!

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Miracles; May 28, 2020

2 Kings 20:6 “‘I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.'”

We often forget that the blessings we receive aren’t because of us. It is true that Hezekiah’s tearful repentance opened the door for this blessing, but the foundation was God’s own character and the promises He had made to David. The story in general is remembered most for the supernatural evidence God gave Hezekiah that he would be healed. Lots of mental and verbal gymnastics have been done to try to explain it! It seems there was a stairway that was used as something of a sundial (the Japanese calls it that, rather than a stairway), and God apparently altered the rotation of the earth to the point that “sun time” was reversed to a degree. That bothers genuine scientists as much as a resurrection! However, it’s a demonstration that nothing is impossible for God. This is the second record of God doing something of the sort, the first being when “the sun stood still” for Joshua. (Joshua 10:12-14) Some people try to explain that as “psychological time dilation,” but here, a specific, physical indicator is referenced. We aren’t to ask for celestial miracles casually, but we need to remember that God can do them when He chooses! The point is, God does whatever is necessary to advance His plans, and since we are included in His plans, we get to go along for the ride. But as I said, we are not to think that God will violate the rules He set down for the universe just because we are so wonderful. No, it happens because of His plans that are based on His character.

I’ve seen a few miracles, but nothing as spectacular as this. I’ve got to remember that even small miracles aren’t because of me, even if I’ve been instrumental in them, but because of God’s character, His grace and love and mercy. When I first came to Omura I kept expecting God to do a resurrection or something of the sort through me, to confirm the truth of what He was saying through me. That never happened, but it’s still certainly possible. However my focus is not to be on such things, but on the Lord Himself, so that I will be attentive to listen to Him and be fully obedient. If that results in miracles, then praise the Lord, but I am never to worship miracles or encourage others to do so. I am to be fully submitted and obedient to my Lord so that whatever He wants to do in and through me may happen on His schedule, for His glory alone. If God had resurrected someone through me back when I was asking for such things, the focus would have come on me and I would have been ruined, at the very least. I am to know that God is genuinely omnipotent, but relate to that on the basis of my obedience and nothing else.

Father, thank You for this reminder. You have given this church a vision that is humanly impossible, but nothing is impossible for You. I ask You to bring that vision to pass, for the salvation of many and for Your glory alone. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Receiving God’s Blessings; May 27, 2020

2 Kings 5:11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.”

How often we specify how God is to bless us, and accept nothing else! This story is quite well known, particularly because it plays so well in Sunday School, with a little girl playing prominently in the beginning of it, but I really don’t think we learn the main lesson from it. We do this sort of thing all the time, building up scenarios in our mind of what we want to happen, and then asking God to bring it about. Jesus, as usual, had it right when He prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) It wasn’t that Naaman wasn’t willing to do things to gain his healing, it’s just that he saw himself as the center of the show – as we all tend to do. The fact that Elisha didn’t even come out of his house, but just sent word as to what Naaman was to do, hurt his pride. After all, he was an important general! We need to realize that our value comes from God, and is not generated by anything we do and are on our own. We need to remember that we are indeed but dust – and be able to laugh at the joke about butt dust – but that God loved us so much anyway that He sent His Son to die for us to redeem us to Himself. We aren’t to take ourselves so seriously, but rejoice that God loves us so incredibly and trust Him to give us what we need, in the way and at the time that we need it. We are told to ask, seek, and knock, (Matthew 7:7-8) but we need to do so with humble hearts, or we won’t recognize God’s provision when it comes.

I’ve tripped up in this area numbers of times, and as a pastor I am constantly dealing with people who are hung up on it. Human nature hasn’t changed since the days of Elisha and Naaman! At times I am tempted to put people down for their blindness in this area, but then I remember my own track record. I am to keep my own focus on God, for how can I expect others to do so if I’m not doing it? Patience is a major issue, but I’m not to confuse patience and passivity. There can be a fine line between being submitted to God and being passive. At times, God tells us to be very active! That can be a real issue for me personally. There are numbers of things that I want to be different in my life, and I feel God wants them to be different as well, but I’ve got to be willing to do whatever God says in order to make the necessary changes. Things like exercise for health, or tackling the clutter in my study. I am to remember that everything good comes from God, but I am to be active in receiving it, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this Word. Right now my schedule isn’t crowded. Help me recognize Your plans for each moment and follow them, just as You had me preach this past Sunday, so that I may be Your agent for Your will being done, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Healing; May 26, 2020

2 Kings 2:21-22 Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.'” And the water has remained wholesome to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.

This is one of the few (if any) references to pollution in the whole Bible. We don’t know what the pollutant was, but from the evidence it may have been a heavy metal of some sort. There are also various other possibilities of mineral pollution. In any case, the water was certainly unhealthy to consume. The point is, God cares, and through Elisha He did something about it. When the salt was thrown into the spring, the proclamation was, “No longer will this cause death or miscarriage.” (The NIV says “make the land unproductive,” but the Japanese, in line with the Hebrew, says, “cause miscarriages.”) Such effects of water pollution are well documented even today. Just ask the people of Flint, Michigan! We don’t often think of healing in terms of things like water, but God is interested in getting at the source of the problem. Someone with cancer might need to be healed of an unforgiving spirit! Also, we don’t think of things like water pollution as something to be prayed about. That’s our big mistake. There is no aspect of our lives that God doesn’t care about. Jesus said that the Father even counts the hairs on our head! (Matthew 10:30) That should be a considerable comfort to someone with alopecia or even male-pattern baldness. We are back to the whole issue of faith and trust. Sometimes God’s solution to our problem involves our specific action, and we have to be willing to take that action. Throwing salt into a spring seems simple enough, but what if it is forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply, or doing something that terrifies us? We need to be open to whatever God says about our issue, and that requires both trust and humility. We are prone to demand that God fix our situation in the way we prescribe, and that’s seldom the best way. There is no telling how many blessings we miss that way. We need to believe that first of all, God really cares, and second, He will never allow anything in our life that He can’t use for good. (Romans 8:28) On that basis, we need to be open and obedient to whatever He says we are to do about it, and trust Him with the results.

I’ve run into various situations where God’s solution wasn’t what I had imagined, but His solution has always been very good indeed. I deal constantly with people who want God to fix their situation, but they want Him to do it their way. Speaking the truth in love, I try to tell them that their attitude is what is blocking God’s solution to the problem, but we humans can be very stubborn! I am not to give up on them, any more than God gave up on me, but keep lifting them up in prayer, speaking into their lives as God gives opportunity, and seeking to open their eyes to God and to themselves. I’ll never forget when God showed me a mirror! I can’t do that in someone else’s heart, but I can be available if God wants to use me for that purpose.

Father, thank You for the many different kinds of healing You have worked in my heart and life over the years. I’ve certainly had physical healing, but that has been the least of it! Help me be an open channel of Your healing grace and love to every person, every situation I’m involved in, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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A Supernatural God; May 25, 2020

1 Samuel 6:1-2 When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”

This whole story is fascinating in a number of respects. In chapter 4, the Israelites treated the ark like a good luck charm, thinking it would bring them victory despite their not being in obedience to God, and as a result it was captured. Then the Philistines who captured it had a number of calamities, some obviously supernatural, and they wanted to get rid of it. And here we have the Philistine rulers consulting pagan priests and fortunetellers. What strikes me about this is that these people gave the rulers accurate advice. They were not serving the true God, but the words they spoke were true. This reminds me of the fortunetelling slave girl who followed Paul and Silas proclaiming, accurately enough, that “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (Acts 16:17) Just because someone is giving accurate facts doesn’t mean they are following the One who is Truth. (John 14:6) The devil will use anything he can to trap people, even accurate information! What these people in the story suggested to the rulers is also fascinating, because it required that God intervene supernaturally to cause animals to do something they would never do on their own. That reminds me of the lions who didn’t eat Daniel. (Daniel 6:21-22) In our “modern” era we forget that God is by definition supernatural, that is, above and greater than the natural world, and many people completely discount the stories like this one, not to mention the many miracles recorded in the New Testament. One of many problems with that attitude is that it totally deprives us of the very idea of a Savior. If we discount the supernatural, we are left with having to save ourselves, and that is pretty pathetic. We are to apply ourselves and make good use of what we have available, but we quickly discover there are very real limits to that, and without God we have no hope. We have an innate awareness of this, which is why there is no culture without a religion of some sort, but many atheists try to placate that inner urge by essentially worshiping “science,” which is really just worshiping man. Everything works better when created beings realize and accept that they are just that, and turn their hearts to their Creator.

It’s a good thing I was raised in a home where the awareness of God was a given, because even so, I managed to go pretty far in conceit and essentially worshiping human potential. I’m still a big fan of scientific discoveries and accomplishments of all sorts. I’m pretty hyped about the Space-X launch this week! However, over the years God has taught me, both in moments of revelation and over time, that He is still God, very much supernatural, and indeed, “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) I have learned that absolutely everything we are able to do is solely the result of God’s grace, whether we use it for good or not. He didn’t have to give us inquiring minds that could search out things, but He did. I am to be a good steward of everything He has placed in my hands and remember that it is all because of Him, so that His supernatural purposes may be accomplished, even in and through me, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all You did yesterday, both in the service and for our anniversary. Thank You that the streaming of the service is gaining a good audience. I pray that Your plans would indeed be fulfilled, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Unity; May 24, 2020

Joshua 5:13-14 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

This extremely dramatic scene is justly famous, but we mustn’t lose sight of the meaning for the drama. Like Joshua, we want to know if people, and even God, are “on our side.” However, the question we need to be asking is whether we are on God’s side, agreeing with Him. Human beings have a strong penchant for taking sides, for being at odds with one another. That is certainly evident in the US right now, with the nation badly divided. Paul said that sometimes divisions are necessary simply to show who is right, (1 Corinthians 11:19) but in general he pushed hard for unity. However, that unity must come because we together agree with God, rather than forcing others to agree with us. It’s not at all that there aren’t right and wrong, black and white, but rather that we must recognize what God says those are, instead of trying to decide them on our own. That’s why so many people are trying to discount and or twist the Bible, because they don’t agree with the standards and principles laid down in it, and they want their opinion to be the standard. It doesn’t work that way! We are to seek the unity of the Spirit, (Ephesians 4:3) submitting our own ideas and wills to Him and genuinely allowing Jesus to be Lord in every detail of our lives. Two people who are following the same Lord will have a high degree of unity in the things that matter, whatever differences they might have.

I have long been disturbed by Christians who seemed more loyal to their denomination than they were to Christ. That’s one of the biggest reasons we are an independent non-denominational church. However, we have brothers and sisters in a wide variety of denominations. Any time we get it straight that we are part of one army and stop worrying about who outranks whom, we start recognizing and listening to our Commander. That applies to every level of human interaction. Marriage is particularly on my mind, since today is our 51st wedding anniversary. God has laid out order in the home, as expressed in Ephesians 5:21-33, but if husband and wife are to have true unity they must both be submitted to the same Lord, in order to be one in Him. There are a lot of protests about “headship” and “submission,” but they all miss the point of mutual submission to Christ. It’s not a matter of who’s “right” or who’s “wrong,” but rather of whether we submit together to Christ. As I point out to couples, it’s harder to love your spouse as Christ loved the Church than it is to submit to them! I am to seek unity, with my wife and with others, on the basis of agreeing with Jesus, rather than them agreeing with me.

Father, this is an issue in every life, I think. Help me not run around accusing others, but rather focus in on hearing and obeying You myself. Thank You for the helper suitable for me that You gave me 51 years ago. May the unity we display draw others into unity with You, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Words of Life; May 23, 2020

Deuteronomy 32:45-47 When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you–they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

Moses said this sort of thing more than once to the people he led out of Egypt. They were the very definition of a motley crew, used to multiple pagan gods and very little personal responsibility, since they were slaves and had to do as they were told. Moses wanted to give up on them multiple times, and even God threatened to do so one time, in order to make Moses realize just what that would mean. (Exodus 32:9-10) The Holy Spirit was not yet given as an indwelling Presence, so all Moses could do was give the people God’s words, and he certainly did that. The first half of verse 47 is very important: “They are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” This is true of the whole Bible, and there is a well-loved hymn that says, “Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life.” Sadly, people have tried to twist those words in various ways down through the centuries. Modern scholarship has made for more accurate translations, but some people have misused those tools to make the Bible say what they want it to, instead of what God has said. When that happens, it ceases being words of life! God’s words are of utmost importance, since He spoke the universe into existence. (Genesis 1, Isaiah 55:10-11) We are likewise cautioned many times in the Bible to be careful of what we speak, because our words, too, are to be words of life. We of course do not have the creative power of God, but we can speak out what He is saying, bringing blessing, healing, growth, and provision. When we can do that, why would we speak hurt and futility? (James 3:9-10) We need to be people of God’s words, His Word, for blessing and for His glory.

I have always been a person of words, but they certainly haven’t always been God’s words of life! From at least my teenage years I used words as a weapon, since I had been hurt by the words of others and I wanted retribution. I don’t remember specific examples, but I do remember the attitude. When I was preparing to enter college my father acknowledged my gift for words, but cautioned me that even when words are used as a scalpel, they must never be contaminated with anger or envy or the like, but rather ultimately bring healing. In the years since he wrote those words I have tried to abide by them, with varying success, but it continues to be a goal of mine. I have a strong awareness of what an incredible privilege it is to speak God’s words after Him, and I desire that my words would indeed be a fountain of life in Christ, for the salvation of many and for His glory alone.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me indeed keep my mouth and my fingers in full submission to You, so that the words that come forth from them may Yours indeed, with all that means, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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