Sin and Repentance; November 14, 2019

Isaiah 66:3-4 “They have chosen their own ways,
and their souls delight in their abominations;
so I also will choose harsh treatment for them
and will bring upon them what they dread.
For when I called, no one answered,
when I spoke, no one listened.
They did evil in my sight
and chose what displeases me.”

This sounds remarkably close to home! It certainly sounds like a description of much of society today. Very few people make decisions based on “What does God want?” It’s all based on what seems pleasurable to the individual, and not even on what seems good to them. “Good” itself is defined almost entirely in terms of self, with pleasure, finances, and influence being esteemed. Isaiah and several other prophets made it very clear that such an attitude brings judgment beyond our worst fears. Regardless of how things play out on earth, each person will have to stand before God, and all excuses will be peeled away. (Hebrews 9:27) That’s why the cross of Christ is so absolutely vital, for indeed, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We all fit into this description in Isaiah at times! That’s why Jesus’ message wasn’t just, “Believe,” but “Repent and believe.” (Mark 1:15) James had some very blunt things to say about belief that isn’t coupled with repentance. (James 2:19) If we fail to let go of our sin, our faith doesn’t mean much. Even Jesus was clear on this point. (Luke 6:46) Repenting of sin means choosing to let go of it and seeking God’s will instead. Any church that teaches, you don’t have to change, is preaching a false gospel. God accepts us as we are, just as the hymn says, “Just as I Am.” However, He doesn’t leave us as we are. Repentance means giving Him full permission to change us however He chooses, because He is the standard for what is right, and not our flesh or feelings.

This certainly applies to me. Having been a missionary pastor for well over 30 years, some people have trouble imagining that about me, but I am as much in need of the grace of God as anyone else. It was a great victory for me when I realized that when I focus on the sin I have committed, I’m all the more likely to do it again. When I realize and accept that God’s forgiveness is real and focus on Him, I am truly set free from the sin. I deal with people all the time who are caught in a cycle of sin and have accepted the devil’s blanket condemnation of them. As with everything else he says, that’s a lie from the pit of hell! The Good News, the Gospel, is that God has made forgiveness and salvation available through Jesus Christ, so every chain of sin is broken for those who receive Him as Lord in repentance and faith. My task and my privilege is to communicate that Gospel to as many as will receive it, for their salvation and God’s glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. You know the specific people who came to mind as I wrote that. I ask Your grace and mercy for them and Your anointing for me, that I may speak Your truth in love to set them free from all the lies they have swallowed, for their salvation indeed. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Identity; November 13, 2019

Isaiah 63:16 But you are our Father,
though Abraham does not know us
or Israel acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our Father,
our Redeemer from of old is your name.

This verse would seem to be one of particular impact to Japanese, because they are very concerned with belonging. For over a generation the “returnees problem” has been an issue, because once a Japanese person has lived overseas for a length of time, particularly as a young person, they can have real problems feeling accepted and actually being accepted upon their return. That even becomes a legal issue at times. When I first applied for permanent residency in Japan (the equivalent of a US “green card”) I was rejected out of hand, not because I didn’t have work and income to demonstrate I was a productive member of society, but because, teaching at three different schools, my income from my visa sponsoring school was less than half of the total. The question was, “Where do you belong?” That actually is a weak translation. “What are you part of?” might be a little closer. I had to have two more years of depending on just the one school before my application was approved. The irony is that then I became free to work as much or as little as I chose, and my status at the original sponsoring school has been part-time ever since. All of that is minor compared to the issue of whether we belong to God. The thing is, whether human groups or institutions acknowledge and accept us or not, God is still our Creator, and when we find our identity in Him we are secure. We all find our identity in various ways, but the most fundamental of all is being a child of God. When we have that worked into our hearts and minds so that we live it out in our daily lives, nothing can shake us badly or for long.

As a Third Culture Kid (someone raised in a different culture from their parents, so that they synthesize a “third culture” for themselves) I have had the issue of identity / belonging all my life. I have been American but not American, Japanese but not Japanese, and at times the stress has been severe. That said, I wouldn’t trade it for anything! I understand, and take comfort in, Paul’s statement that “Our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20) As a pastor in Japan, I find that a major obstacle to evangelism is people’s fear that if they become Christians they will cease to belong to their Buddhist/Shinto families, or even become less Japanese, since religious practices are ingrained in Japanese culture. I need the wisdom and anointing of the Holy Spirit to help them grasp that belonging to and being in right relationship with their Father outweighs all of that. They are at least far less likely to be legally disinherited from their families that was the case a generation or two ago, but ostracism is still a very real possibility. I am not to downplay that, but seek to help them see that their eternal status is the most important. It is glorious indeed when families get saved, so that they make the transition together. We have one family in this church that started with one person being a believer, and then another, and another, and another. I pray for many more such families, and even for whole families to believe at once, like the Philippian jailer and his household. (Acts 16:29-34) I can’t make it happen, but God can!

Father, thank You for this Word this morning. I do indeed pray for people to find their identity in Christ, to know that their heavenly citizenship is more important than any other. I pray that this church would be filled with disciples indeed, even as You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God as Dirt; November 12, 2019

Isaiah 61:11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise
spring up before all nations.

In such a dearly-loved chapter as this I was again at a loss for what part of it to focus on, but then the Lord spoke a fresh revelation to me from this verse. I had never thought about it before, but the imagery here is very clear. Since seeds sprout when they are in the soil, it is when we are in the Lord that we produce righteousness and praise. God is comparing Himself to dirt! Actually, this should be a very comforting thought for every believer. It isn’t that we have to produce righteousness and praise on our own, it’s that we simply have to abide in God. We get all tied in knots about what we think we have to do to be pleasing to God, when what He asks of us is to rest, relax, and rejoice in Him. When we do that we will indeed do all sorts of things under His direction, but it isn’t a matter of our striving. Like seeds in the soil, we need to be willing to die to self. Jesus pointed that out very explicitly. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24) Our ultimate fruitfulness comes as we die to self and abide in the eternal life that only God can give.

As I am reminded frequently, my father wrote his doctoral dissertation on the New Testament use of In Christ, along with related expressions. He told me personally that though he did that research and wrote that dissertation, he didn’t really understand what it was to be in Christ until he had an encounter with the Holy Spirit over a year after he had arrived in Japan, PhD in hand. I find it fascinating that the idea isn’t limited to the New Testament, but is expressed here as well. (Just another reason to call this book, “The Gospel according to Isaiah.”) Like so many around me, I too have struggled with trying to “be good,” when what I needed to do was focus on being in God. We are so prone to look at God’s rules as demands on us, when actually they are guides to help us avoid the traps of the devil and abide in all that God has prepared for us. I’m not a very good judge of my own righteousness, but even I can tell whether or not I am praising God. I need to keep watch over that, and when the praise dies down, I need to check my alignment, whether I am pressing in to rest, relax, and rejoice in my Lord.

Father, thank You for this reminder. This is a really good message to share with the believers! Help me do so by Your Spirit, not working it up but allowing You to flow it through me. Thank You for the privilege of interpreting yesterday for the sister from Brazil, and for giving me understanding of her non-native English. Thank You for what she shared about how You have been working to grow her group in Brazil, and for how that could be applied right here. Help me indeed apply all that You teach me so that I won’t deceive myself, but rather be the son and servant that You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Death; November 11, 2019

Isaiah 57:1-2 The righteous perish,
and no one ponders it in his heart;
devout men are taken away,
and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil.
Those who walk uprightly
enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.

This is a truth that few people really grasp. A specific example of this is found in 1 Kings 14, where the young son of King Jeroboam dies, and the prophet Ahijah says about him, “All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only one belonging to Jeroboam who will be buried, because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has found anything good.” (1 Kings 14:13) In other words, he wasn’t being punished by death, he was being rewarded! We fear death, when sometimes it is the best thing that can happen to someone. Among those who have had what are called “near-death experiences,” my wife is hardly unique in strongly looking forward to going back to heaven! It’s not at all that she has a “death wish,” but rather that she has seen that what lies beyond is so much better than what she goes through here. I feel that Billy Graham was specifically spared from seeing the political turmoil that is going on in the US right now, since he was a “pastor to presidents” for so many years. That’s not at all to say that death is always a reward. It all depends on where you are headed after death! The point is to so live on this earth that God will be delighted to have you with Him for eternity. When we are indeed walking with Him in this life, we have no reason whatsoever to be anxious about how long we will be here, because we will continue walking with Him over there. Sometimes we get really tired of all the junk we go through here, but we need to remember that when we respond properly, it just makes us more fit for heaven, and that’s something to be glad about.

I have always felt that the Lord taking my father home at age 64 was a special reward for him, keeping him from having to retire from the mission field, which he had really been dreading, Right now I’ve passed that age by over 7 years, and I recognize that each day means the Lord has something more for me to do here. I am not to shy away from that, but eagerly seek out God’s plans for me so that I may be an open channel of His grace and blessings to those around me. Having seen how rough my father’s death was on my mother, I do all I can to stay healthy for the sake of my wife. For me, going to heaven will be a total delight, but if she’s left behind, it will mean a mountain of headaches and heartaches for her, and I’d like to spare her that. I’d certainly like to keep her with me for as long as possible, but I have no anxiety whatsoever about our destination for either of us. That will certainly be a grand reunion with so many who have gone before!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for yesterday and all it held. Thank You for the way You are working on so many levels, and for allowing me to be part of that. I pray that every moment You give me on this earth will be spent exactly as You desire, so that Your will may be done on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Salvation for the Nations; November 10, 2019

Isaiah 56:6-7 “And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to serve him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to worship him,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant–
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”

This is a marvelous promise that Jesus Himself quoted when He drove the merchants out of the Court of the Gentiles of the temple in Jerusalem. (Matthew 21:12-13) It is vitally important for every Gentile believer, because we aren’t physical descendants of Abraham, but rather heirs by faith. (Romans 4:11-17) However, we would do well not to take this lightly at all. Today there are some who espouse what they call “Replacement Theology,” saying that the Church has completely replaced physical Israel in God’s plan, but that is just an excuse for antisemitism, and is a lie of the devil. This passage gives the conditions under which Gentiles will be accepted, and it is certainly a call to total commitment. “Cultural Christians” would hardly qualify! We tend to delight in the promises of God and revel in His grace, but overlook the context of those promises and take His grace for granted. How foolish! Imagining God to be like Santa Claus, we fail to fear Him, and so lose all pretense of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10) We need to keep the door of the Church open for all who will come in truth, as this passage describes, but we must not think that salvation is “into bliss and out of blister,” as my grandfather used to say. Those who would follow God as His children need to follow indeed, and not go off however they please.

I have always had a strong antipathy to legalism, but I must not let that dull me to the reality that I serve a holy God who is more than worthy of total devotion. I spent far too much of my life in pride, thinking I had somehow earned God’s blessings! I am the product of generations of people who were committed to God, but that is certainly nothing I could choose, or somehow bring about after the fact. Just as Paul made it clear that physical descendants of Abraham need to commit to Jesus Christ in faith even as Gentiles do, (Romans 10:1-4) my pedigree in no way excuses me from total commitment to my Lord. I am as much in need of the grace of God as someone who has lived their life in total ignorance of God, but His salvation is equally available to us both. I must remember that evangelism is indeed “one beggar telling another where to find bread.” My goal is indeed that God’s house would be a house of prayer for all nations.

Father, thank You for this reminder. You continue to give me fresh challenges in sharing Your Gospel. Help me not shy away from any of them, but make the most of every opportunity, just as Paul said, (Colossians 4:5) so that as many as will may repent and believe, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Invitation; November 9, 2019

Isaiah 55:6-7 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

I am in real trouble when it comes to choosing just part of Isaiah 55! Much of it has been set to music, and I can’t read it without that music flowing through my heart and mind. The truth in this chapter is worthy of a lifetime of meditation! The invitation expressed here displays God’s heart marvelously, so much so that we tend to feel it’s too good to be true. However, it is amazingly, gloriously true! These two verses express not only the depth of God’s mercy, but also the need for repentance. These days – and actually throughout history – some people have misread God’s grace and mercy to mean that they can “come to Him” and still keep living however they were before. That’s a lie from the pit of hell. Jesus’ message, at its most fundamental, is expressed in the first chapter of Mark. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) The invitation is to repent and believe, not just believe and receive. When we believe we do receive, but if we don’t repent, we haven’t really believed. Isaiah makes it clear that repentance means leaving things behind, both actions and the thoughts that underlie them. We can’t pick up the good stuff God has for us without putting down the bad stuff we’ve been carrying. There are things of which we want to be free, but we have to let go of them to gain our freedom. Monkeys can be caught by putting something they want into a jar with a narrow mouth, and then firmly anchoring the jar to something. The monkey will put its hand in to grasp what they want, but their fist is too big to come back through the mouth of the jar, and they are caught. We have to let go to be free.

This is something I have experienced myself, and as a pastor I see it in others all the time. Japanese often want to “follow Christ” without letting go of the religious traditions of their ancestors. Some groups have compromised with that, but that can be a slippery slope indeed. I am to keep proclaiming, “come,” but not fail to say, “forsake”. It is only those who have repented who can receive God’s full salvation and walk as His disciples, His agents. I too am tempted by numbers, to cut corners to get more people into the building, but doing so wouldn’t actually save anyone and would totally destroy my ministry. I am not to allow the traditions of men to be barriers to people coming to Christ, but I must never stray from the grace and holiness of God.

Father, thank You for this reminder. You know who has come most recently to “be saved” without wanting to let go of the lies of the devil. I ask Your grace and mercy for them, and especially the courage to let go. They have gone far in their pursuit of a lie, and it will take a clear act of Your Holy Spirit to enable them to renounce that, but nothing is impossible for You. I ask You to guide my interactions with them, and with everyone, so that Your invitation may go out undistorted, bringing many to light and life, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Conflict; November 8, 2019

Isaiah 54:17 “No weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.

There are places in the Bible that seem to promise us lack of conflict, but I think there are linguistic issues with most of those. I’m no Hebrew scholar, but Japanese uses different words for “inner peace” and “lack of war.” From John 16:33 and many other passages, I feel God offers us inner peace even in the middle of all-out battle. However, as with so many of God’s promises, we have to receive it by faith, and that isn’t easy at times. This particular passage is for just such moments. We need to remember that regardless of our physical circumstances, we are secure in the love of God. (Romans 8:35-39) Whether the attacks are physical or spiritual, regardless of the short-term outcome, those attacks will utterly fail on the eternal scale against the child of God. That doesn’t mean we aren’t to be on our guard. Peter described the devil as a roaring lion, (1 Peter 5:8) and in Ephesians 6 Paul went into length in describing the armor and weapons that God has provided for us. We are indeed in a pitched battle, but we need to remember who ultimately wins. That is indeed the message of the Revelation to John. About 40 years ago there was a chorus that said, “We win, we win. Hallelujah, we win! I read the back of the book, and we win!” Peter and Paul were both martyred, but they were still glorious winners in Christ. We need to rest in the assurance that God is as powerful for us as He was for them.

I have had, and still have, conflicts of various sorts, but God has shown, and continues to show, Himself to be totally faithful and reliable. I’ve not been on a military battlefield (even though I was in the Army in 1970-72) but all sorts of weapons have been formed against me in many different ways. I have been shaken and wounded, but the ultimate outcome has been good. As a pastor I find that essentially everyone around me is in a battle of some sort. The most dangerous thing is when they don’t realize it, or when they’ve already given up. My job is to speak God’s truth to them in love, coming alongside them to listen and hold them up, extending my shield their direction to deflect some of what comes at them. I can’t protect them from everything, nor would it be good if I could. They need to learn to stand in Christ themselves, taking on His armor and wielding the Word and prayer as He intends, and I am to be their “drill instructor” to that end. I well remember my drill instructors in the Army, who had been through hell in Vietnam and sought to teach us how to survive under such circumstances. I am to proclaim God’s victory, and at the same time teach His people how to fight. I don’t have the wisdom to do that, but He does, and He can do it through me.

Father, thank You for this powerful reminder. This is another message I want to communicate to the believers! Help me know what You want said this coming Sunday so that I will be focused and not scattered, allowing Your Word to flow through me to accomplish that for which You send it, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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