Servant of God; September 20, 2019

Psalm 119:125 I am your servant; give me discernment
that I may understand your statutes.

This should be the declaration and prayer of every Christian. We delight, rightly enough, in being children of God, (John 1:12-13) but we tend to act like spoiled brats rather than the obedient, responsible children any parent would be proud of. Reading through the Bible, there are few if any more glorious titles than “Servant of God!” It is something every believer should aspire to. That said, a servant needs instructions, and we can be very dense. As Paul said, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) When we read God’s Instruction Manual, otherwise known as the Bible, we need the guidance and explanation of the Author, the Holy Spirit. The Psalmist here didn’t seem to know much about the Spirit, but it is through the Spirit that we receive the enlightenment he sought. When we desire to be filled with the Spirit so that we will be more accurate and immediate in obeying God, He delights to answer our prayers! Again quoting Paul, “Our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6) On our own, we will blow every assignment given to us. It is when we submit ourselves to God and His Spirit that we are enabled to live and act as His servants indeed.

This is something I am convinced of more and more as time goes on. I have had some notable failures trying to do things on my own! However, I have also seen the glory of God manifested through my obedience to Him. As God made clear to me several years ago now, He’s smart and I’m not. When I try to figure things out on my own, I miss the mark by a wide margin. (And “missing the mark” is one of the Biblical definitions for sin.) It is only when I am listening humbly to Him that I get things right. I genuinely desire to be His servant, doing His will exactly as He desires, but my flesh is very adept at getting in the way. Again as He has told me, I need to rest, relax, and rejoice, knowing that my striving isn’t going to get the job done. Rather, I am to listen carefully and respond immediately, whether I know the why of it or not. That in turn will open me up ever more fully to the flow of the Spirit through me, in a glorious cycle, and that is the desire of my heart.

Father, thank You for this clear reminder. Thank You for the message You’re building in my heart for Sunday. I pray that I would indeed deliver it as You intend, so that Your Word may do its full work in the hearts and lives of all who hear, for their deliverance and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Relating to God’s Word; September 19, 2019

Psalm 119:99-100 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.

This sounds a bit like boasting, but it expresses some important truth: how we relate to God’s Word makes all the difference in the world. When we think God’s thoughts after Him (which is the implication of the way the Japanese translates verse 99) we indeed have insight (enlightenment) as to what is really going on. Many studies have shown that age indeed brings wisdom, because of a greater reservoir of experience on which to base decisions, but if those experiences aren’t based on obedience to God, they don’t bring true wisdom. It comes back to what James said: if we don’t put God’s Word into action, we’re just deceiving ourselves. (James 1:22) Actually, this passage explains a lot of what is going on in the US today. It is the fruit of the active pursuit of removing the Bible and prayer from public schools. It’s not that America was ever perfectly moral, but the Bible was always the standard against which everything was judged. Some people (inspired by the devil) didn’t like that, so they sought to remove the standard in order to make themselves feel better about their disobedience to God. They were all too successful, and the current level of public discourse is the result. Everything from incredibly stupid political schemes to senseless cruelty and killing dominates the news, and it’s tragic. The “teachers” and “elders” of today are all too often spouting drivel, because they aren’t grounded in the Word of God.

As I am often reminded, my own strong background in the Bible means nothing if I don’t put it into practice. If I preach to others and fail to walk in obedience myself, it is meaningless hypocrisy. I need to let the Word percolate through me, exposing the lies of the enemy with which I too am bombarded, and rejecting those lies as soon as I recognize them. I am not to be legalistic or judgmental; those too are deceptions of the enemy. However, I am to speak the truth in love at all times to all people, allowing the Holy Spirit to use me in drawing them to repentance and faith, never thinking for a moment that I need that truth any less than they do.

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for the insight as to what is going on in the US at this point. Help me trust You totally and keep myself available as Your instrument, so that Your will may be done in and through me for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Pastoral Ministry; September 18, 2019

Psalm 119:79 May those who fear you turn to me,
those who understand your statutes.

This sounds like the cry of a pastor to me, particularly when the Japanese says, “return,” rather than simply, “turn.” Every church loses people, and it can be pretty painful. Sometimes, people’s departure can be a relief. However, for the most part there is sadness involved, if there is any sort of real pastoral relationship established. However, the Psalmist is pretty specific as to which people he wants back! Those who fear God and understand His statutes are a benefit to any church, and a blessing to the pastor.

I can certainly identify with this one! Since 1984, when we first started using the name, Shinsei no Sato Christian Church, I have baptized over 50 people and we have had many more associated with the church who were Christians when they got here. However, current Sunday morning attendance is around 10. Many of those people moved away because of work, and some have died, and a few were never really born again, but there are also those who are painful to remember. What I’ve got to remember is that from first to last it’s Christ’s church, and I belong to it rather than it belonging to me. I am to be a faithful disciple myself, and seek to raise up other faithful disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) as witnesses to the power and grace of God, (Acts 1:8) but leave everything in God’s hands. There are many with whom I will probably be reunited only before the throne in heaven, and I’ve got to be at peace with that. In the meantime, praying this prayer with the Psalmist isn’t a bad thing!

Father, thank You for knowing my heart, both when I am following You and when I am off on my own tangent. Help me stay on track, so that nothing will get in the way of what You want to do in and through me for Your glory, whoever else is involved “on the ground” or not. Thank You. Praise God!

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Procrastination; September 17, 2019

Psalm 119:60 I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.

The NIV expresses this as a promise, “I will,” and the Japanese expresses it as a done deal, “I have.” With this particular content, that’s a huge difference! Procrastination is something that apparently everyone struggles with at times. Recently my Internet feeds have presented me with several articles and even books on the subject. I know my father lamented his own tendency to procrastination, and yet he was an enormously accomplished individual who hardly ever took a vacation. The whole matter of time management seems to be on our minds. Yesterday, I think it was, I saw the title of an article that said something like, “Time Management is Ruining Us,” but I didn’t read it. We are all aware, to differing degrees at different times, of the truism that we can’t stop time, and once past it can’t be reclaimed. That’s simply a fact of life, so the issue becomes what we do with our time, and that’s where the struggle comes in. The problem is, we don’t evaluate our own use of time very accurately. Some things we pass over are actually very important, and some things we stress are actually of very little consequence. The wisest course is without question to listen for what God is saying and be quick to obey Him, as the Psalmist says here. Procrastination with some things can even be advantageous, but never when it comes to obeying God.

I am at times sharply aware that I let things slide and essentially waste time, but then at other times I am reminded of what the Lord has told me personally: rest, relax, rejoice. Thinking back, one of the best things about my training in the Army (I was drafted in 1970) was that I had next to no responsibility for my use of time; everything was decided for me. It wasn’t necessarily the best use of my time, but I had no say in the matter, and frankly, that was often much easier than having a lot of “free time.” These days I guess I could be called “semi-retired,” since I am still working but most of my time is rather unstructured. My recent time in the hospital was in a way a flashback to my time in the Army, because everything was decided externally to me. The thing is, I am accountable to God for how I use every moment of my life. I am not to be paranoid about it, but I am to give my life for Christ, on a moment-by-moment basis. At times I think that martyrdom would be a much easier way to do it! I am reminded that the sons of Zebedee both “drank the cup that Jesus drank,” (Matthew 20:20-23) but James did it the easy way, with a sword to the neck, while John was the only one of the 12 apostles to die a natural death. I personally think he had it much harder! I have always felt a great affinity to John, so I guess I have no room to complain about having to be in this for the long haul!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me indeed be quick, and not delay in obeying You. May I not be anxious about it, but may I be a good steward of the time and opportunities You give me, so that Your will may be done in and through me on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Boundaries; September 16, 2019

Psalm 119:45 I will walk about in freedom,
for I have sought out your precepts.

This verse expresses a truth that many people have trouble grasping, because the devil and our flesh regularly say the opposite: God’s rules aren’t restrictive, they lead us into genuine freedom. John put it this way: “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:3-5) In talking to parents I always tell them that human beings need boundaries for emotional and other stability, so one of their biggest issues in dealing with their children is in setting, and gradually expanding, those boundaries. With children, some boundaries are age-specific, but some should be life-long, and the children will be much happier when those are properly ingrained. God, as the perfect Father, knows exactly what boundaries we need. Sometimes He places boundaries on us that we don’t understand at the time, like when He wouldn’t let Paul and company go into Bithynia for evangelism. (Acts 16:6-7) In that case, the mystery was soon solved when God made it clear they were to cross over into Macedonia, and so take the Gospel to Europe. Sometimes we don’t know the whys of how God leads us, but as the old Southern Gospel song says, “we will understand it better by and by.” In any case, real freedom, from all the traps and diversions of the devil, comes only with faith that is obedient to God. (Romans 6:15-23)

I have certainly experienced this. By the time they got around to me, their 4th child, my parents had a lot of wisdom. I certainly had boundaries, but I don’t remember chafing because I felt they were unreasonable. In one area in particular they bent over backwards not to place limits on me. When I wanted to try to do something, I can’t remember a single time they said, “That’s beyond you; you aren’t up to it.” They did tell me when things were out of bounds for one reason or another, and they did tell me to be careful, but I was never forbidden to do anything that was neither immoral nor illegal. As a result, I have a range of abilities and skills that sometimes amazes others. I feel God is the same way. He is always encouraging us to expand our abilities in various areas, even when doing so seems difficult or risky. At the same time, He knows what is harmful to us and to others, and he “lays down the law,” literally, about those things. As a pastor I am often in the position of speaking for God about various things. I must never do so out of my own mind, but only express what God has said and is saying. I am to help people recognize God’s boundaries for their lives, without placing any merely human limitations on them.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for yesterday and all it held. I don’t remember the last time my birthday fell on a Sunday! Thank You for the good service, and for the outpouring of love in so many ways. Going to the emergency room due to concerns over my surgical incision isn’t something I would have chosen, but thank You for the good report, and that they ended up not charging me the usual emergency room surcharge. I was rather overwhelmed by all the well-wishers on Facebook! Thank You for all You have planned for today. Help me recognize Your boundaries and rejoice to walk freely within them, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Lord’s Day; September 15, 2019

Psalm 118:24 This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Several sections of this Psalm have been set to music in the past 50 years, to the point that I can’t read it without singing, at least in my heart. On top of that, Jesus quoted verses 22-23 as referring directly to Himself. (Matthew 21:42) There is much to like about this Psalm! What causes me to write about this verse is that Cathy has already chosen the chorus made from it to sing as the first song in today’s worship service. We haven’t discussed it, but I feel sure she did so because today happens to be my birthday. The thing is, every day is created by the Lord, because He created the material universe and in the process, time itself. That said, there are indeed special days in our experience. In context here, this is talking about the verses Jesus quoted about Himself, saying that Christ being exalted is something to get really happy about. (Incidentally, the Japanese translation, rather than saying “made,” says “gained,” as in making money or gaining advantage of some sort.) God’s purposes are being fulfilled every day of our lives, but we will rejoice only to the degree we are aware of that. Sometimes we can see it with our eyes, which makes it very easy to rejoice, but sometimes we can’t see it in the moment, and then real faith is required to rejoice. When we are totally convinced that Christ is the capstone, the cornerstone of our life, that He is indeed in control and His plans will be fulfilled, then we can rejoice and be thankful whatever is going on in our immediate circumstances.

I am certainly in the middle of training in this. Yesterday marked a week since I got out of the hospital, but when I checked it last night, my navel had pus, and the hole through which the laparoscope was inserted does not seem to be closed. Tomorrow is a national holiday in Japan, so I am faced with the question of whether to go to the emergency room or simply to be careful, treating the area myself until my appointment on Thursday. The thing is, whatever the case, I can and should choose to trust God and rejoice, knowing that He’s got it all in control. After all, He made sure I had a good supply of exactly the right size adhesive bandages to cover the area, and we hardly ever have call for ones that big! (They are left over from a visit by our grandsons.) I have high hopes for what God has planned for today, and I need to trust Him enough to receive and rejoice in all of it.

Father, thank You for all the training You provide. Thank You for the message You’ve given me for this morning about faith in the middle of trials. You often give me practicums on the messages You speak through me! May I receive each moment of today with gratitude and praise. Today marks 71 years since I took my first breath. For however many more years You have planned for me here, may I be fully submitted and obedient to You, doing Your will on Your schedule for Your glory, with great joy. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Trust; September 14, 2019

Psalm 118:8-9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.

This is an extremely practical statement of fact/bit of advice. We tend to trust in/depend on people in any number of ways, and not all of that is bad. A child raised in an environment where they have no one they can depend on and trust is going to have a very difficult life indeed, if they even make it out of childhood. However, it’s an unpleasant reality that human beings are imperfect, without exception. We fail each other, and we fail ourselves. Depending exclusively on people will ultimately lead to disappointment, at the very least. However, there is One who is absolutely dependable! When we make God our refuge in the storms of life, we can have stability and peace no matter who fails us or how. Right now America is in political turmoil, and that is minor compared to what is going on in Hong Kong and elsewhere. We are to pray for our leaders, (1 Timothy 2:1-2) but our trust and dependence must be in God, rather than on such people. God can and does raise up people to fit certain circumstances, but no matter how grateful we might be for what they do, we must never forget that they are as fallible as we are. Dr. Martin Luther King was mightily used by God, yet he certainly was not without character flaws. Off hand, the person against whom I am aware of no accusation at all would be Billy Graham, but he maintained the life he did precisely because of his awareness of his own human weaknesses. His rule of never being alone with a woman other than his wife was a huge help to him, for example. As the Psalmist says here, it is better to take refuge in God than to trust anyone or anything else.

This certainly applies to me, as it does to everyone. I have failed myself and others more times than I could count, and I have doubtless done so in many more ways than I am even aware of. After 50 years of marriage Cathy and I have an extremely high level of trust in each other, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still disappoint ourselves and each other. As a pastor I am to seek to be trustworthy, certainly, but I have let people down many times, and have wounded them with thoughtless words and actions. I have spoken too strongly at times, and I have failed to speak out of a distaste for confrontation, when that was what was needed. I am sharply aware of my own weaknesses and failures! However, God has never failed me, and He never will. I am a very imperfect vessel, but Christ has called me as His witness, (Acts 1:8) and I am to rejoice in allowing Him to use me, imperfect as I am.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for my recent surgery to remind me of my physical limitations. Today marks a week since I got out of the hospital, and I am still quite aware that my recovery isn’t yet complete. Help me have patience with my own body, taking refuge in You rather than trusting in myself, so that Your will may be done in and through me on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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