Depression; December 2, 2021

Psalm 42:8 By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me–
a prayer to the God of my life.

Depression is a strange thing. Its origins can be complex, involving both physical factors and circumstantial ones. The Psalmist here doesn’t fully understand his own depression, because it seems to stem from physical ailment that causes those around him to say that God has abandoned him, even while within himself he knows that God’s love (the Japanese says grace) is still poured out on him. That’s why he repeatedly reminds himself to put his hope in God. (verses 5 and 11, as well as 43:5, which was probably part of the same Psalm originally) All of this points to the reality that we are pretty well constantly under attack from the enemy of our souls, the devil. He is always out to steal, kill, and destroy, (John 10:10) and his prime targets are our peace and joy. We need to be aware of that, and, as James said, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) Too often we make excuses for the devil, instead of resisting him! Submission to God needs to be the fundamental attitude of our life, from which everything else comes. On that foundation we can then call the devil the liar that he is, and choose to stand firmly in the flow of God’s love and grace over and through us. As Peter said, we’ve got to “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:8-9) Whatever we’re going through, someone else is going through the same or worse, but that doesn’t mean God’s love and grace have failed in the least. It is when we keep our eyes on Jesus and stay rooted in Him that we walk in the victory that He has provided for us. (John 16:33, Hebrews 12:2)

This is very timely because the attacks have picked up, as they always seem to at this time of year. Somewhat to my own surprise, my emotional mood went down yesterday when I got chilled doing work on our outdoor manger scene, and particularly with difficulties getting the timer set for the spotlight on that. Then this morning I woke up with a sinus headache. In spite of that, I woke up with the hymn, Morning has Broken, in my mind and heart. Year-end busyness and stress attack me every year, and I should be used to it by now! This is a time of multiplied opportunities to share the Gospel, and that is why the intensity of the battle picks up. I am to remember God’s love and grace at all times and keep my hope in Him, whatever seems to be going on around me, so that His rule and reign may be established as His will is done in, through, and by me, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You also that this too will pass. Help me remember that any troubles I might have are indeed “light and momentary,” (2 Corinthians 4:17) and rest, relax, and rejoice in You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Political Persecution; December 1, 2021

Psalm 35:18 I will give you thanks in the great assembly;
among throngs of people I will praise you.

This Psalm seems very contemporary, because it describes political persecution. The fact that David endured so much of it shows that human nature really hasn’t changed! That should hopefully be an example for righteous politicians today. Certainly no one is perfect, and since politicians are on display all the time, their faults are often very obvious. However, there are those who honestly seek the good of the people and the nation, and not just their own political power. Those are the ones who most often seem to come under attack! That said, David’s response here, picked up again at the last of the Psalm, needs to be the attitude of everyone who comes under attack, politician or not. It’s interesting that where the NIV says, “among throngs of people,” the Japanese says, “among strong people.” I certainly don’t have the Hebrew to say which is more accurate! In any case, the point is that David is committing himself to give God the glory for his deliverance, whatever form that deliverance might take. Someone whose heart is right before God isn’t going to be seeking glory for himself, but will acknowledge that all true power and purity reside in God.

I consider myself very fortunate never to have come under the sort of attack David was experiencing here, and I’m also very thankful not to have been called as a politician! That said, I have faced baseless accusations at times – and I’ve also been rightly corrected at times! I need to walk in humility and assurance, never thinking that I have all the answers or that I am perfect in any way, but also knowing that God has both gifted and taught me in various ways, and I am to be a good steward of all that He has provided. I realize that He has given me standing in various circles, academic, social, and religious, and I am to use that as an opportunity to thank and praise Him, particularly as an example to those who are watching me. In a couple of weeks I will be speaking to one of the biggest groups I have ever addressed, and I realize I am getting anxious about it, concerned as to whether I will be able to deliver what God wants me to say accurately. I need to remember that on my own, no I can’t, but that He can do it through me. It is a very unfamiliar feeling to be concerned about public speaking, because I generally do it very freely. This is probably a good thing, because it is the opposite of the pride that has hobbled me so much over the years. I’m back to needing to rest, relax, and rejoice in Him, That doesn’t mean taking things for granted; my active cooperation is required. I am to be diligent and faithful, but at the same time remember that the results are entirely in His hands.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It doesn’t seem very related to the political persecution David experienced, but it’s what I needed to hear. Thank You for Your faithfulness to speak to me, whether it’s what I’m expecting or not. Help me indeed “speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long,” as David said in verse 28, for Your glory alone. Thank You. Praise God!

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Sorrow to Joy; November 30, 2021

Psalm 30:4-5 Sing to the Lord, you saints of his;
praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may remain for a night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.

This is a justly famous passage, and the last part of it is certainly the most famous part of this Psalm, but I can’t read the last two verses of the Psalm without singing them, at least in my mind! Those verses are actually an amplification of this part, because they both talk about how God takes us from sad times to joyful ones. That transition is very much part of the human experience, and is referred to many times in the Bible. Even in the Upper Room Discourse Jesus told his disciples, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22) Right after that He put a point on it and said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Sorrow is very much part of the human condition, but the good news is that it isn’t permanent, if we will put our trust in God. When bad times come the devil tries all he can to convince us that they are permanent, but he’s a liar as always. For those who have entrusted themselves to the grace of God in Christ, Paul’s words are spot on: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Depression is real, and sometimes has chemical or other physical roots, but the answer is always, even then, to focus on God and entrust ourselves to Him.

Interestingly, it seems like the subject of depression has come up several times recently. I was reacting to various circumstances and feeling pretty stressed out (not unusual for me at this time of year) and God has had to remind me of some things He has had me say to others many times. God’s truth doesn’t do me much good if I always think it’s for the other guy! As I was saying to someone just yesterday, James 1:22 was written for me! We actually have a beautiful piece of framed needlework on our bedroom wall, quoting the last part of verse five, sent to us by a close friend of my wife. At the time we received it, I was in such a funk that I actually resented it! However, the devil’s lies are always exposed eventually, and it is God’s truth that His plans for us are good, to give us a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) Whatever comes my way, however devastating it might seem in the moment, I’ve got to remember God’s character, His grace and love, and rest, relax, and rejoice in Him.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all You allow me to go through. Computer issues had me in a real turmoil yesterday morning, but the day still ended very well, and Your good plans for me are proceeding. Help me truly keep my focus on You, not being distracted by all the mess that gets thrown at me, so that the devil’s schemes may be defeated and Your rule and reign established, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Hearing from God; November 29, 2021

Psalm 28:6 Praise be to the Lord,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.

It’s interesting to be struck by a verse that I had not underlined before! What strikes me is the shift, from pleading to be heard in verse one to this complete assurance. The editors put a gap between verse four and verse five, and indeed it’s possible that David wrote the first half and then some time later wrote the second, after God had acted on his behalf. I think rather that verse five is what David heard in his heart the Lord say about his enemies, and that is what flipped his mood. That understanding gives me great peace! God does speak to our hearts, and the awareness that He has spoken to us changes everything. We actually have an innate hunger to hear from Him, our heavenly Father, but the devil does all he can to distract us from that. That’s why John wrote, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15) That is exactly what David experienced as he was writing this Psalm. That’s why we need to be tuned always to listen to God, and not to just keep “bombarding heaven’s gates,” as someone once put it.

I’ve written about it before, but I’ll never forget the first time God spoke to me so clearly that it might as well have been an audible voice. I happened to be driving, and as I often do, I was praying as I drove. I had a particular issue on my heart, and I was pleading with God to speak to me what His will was about it. When I paused for breath, I heard very clearly, “Well then, shut up.” I was totally shocked, but then I had to laugh at my own foolishness. I had been getting in the way of the answer to the very thing I was praying! I don’t remember the issue I was praying about, but I will never forget what God taught me about being quiet enough to listen to Him. The literary term for hearing from God is epiphany, and I have seen it tossed around with no reference to God at all. I think that’s very foolish, and very unfortunate. I need to give God the glory for what He speaks to me, not pretending that I “discerned” it by my “great intellect and understanding.” He did give me a high IQ, but that’s led me astray more times than I could count. I’ve got to be quiet and humble before Him, listening to Him and not interjecting my opinion. I am to be honest with Him, and with myself, about how I feel and what I would like, but He alone is to be Lord in my life. If God said it, that settles it, whether I believe it or want it, humanly speaking, or not.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I do ask for discernment, because the devil throws his lies at me with great cunning. Help me indeed hear what You are saying to me, just as David often did, and not turn you off, so to speak, as David unfortunately also did. May I not only hear you, may I also do everything You tell me to, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Justice; November 28, 2021

Psalm 7:9 O righteous God,
who searches minds and hearts,
bring to an end the violence of the wicked
and make the righteous secure.

This is a prayer a lot of people pray these days, I think. The whole Psalm is a plea for justice, and brings to mind the recent case where a young man was legally hounded for having defended himself, but was finally declared not guilty of all charges. God does that for us too, when our hearts are stayed on Him. The world is a mess, as usual, and if we focus on an individual wrong, or even a collection of wrongs, it is the most natural thing in the world to become negative and depressed. We need to remember, as David did, that God indeed “searches minds and hearts.” He knows not only what people do, but why they do those things. That’s why we can trust His justice. That’s not at all to say that we aren’t to strive for justice on the human scale, but rather that we are to rest in the assurance that even those who seem to get away with evil don’t, in the final analysis. I’m reminded of a case in the American Southwest, where a man who had committed a particularly heinous murder escaped into the desert, only to be found dead from dehydration several days later. The lawman who found his body wrote on the report, “Remanded to a higher court.” We are to be instruments of righteousness and at times justice, but we must remember that we are all subject to the judgment of the Creator of the universe.

Like most people, I have a tendency to justify myself and my actions, and that can get dangerous. My pride and self-righteousness just about sank me totally at one point! As I deal with sinners all around me, I’ve got to remember that I too am a sinner, just as Paul did. (1 Timothy 1:15-16) The evil and injustice in the world can get me very stirred up at times, but I’ve got to remember that “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:20) I’ve also got to remember that “For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’” (Hebrews 10:30) I am to stand up for righteousness and justice, but at the same time not think that it all depends on me. I couldn’t begin to carry that load! I’ve got to release each situation, whether it involves me directly or not, to the Lord, trusting Him to work His justice, mercy, and grace, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. There’s certainly a lot of injustice on display in the world today! Thank You for telling me directly over 20 years ago that You’re not happy with a lot of what’s going on. Help me rest, relax, and rejoice, just as You told me to, so that I may be useful to You and not get in Your way, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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A Man of God; November 27, 2021

Nehemiah 12:24 And the leaders of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua son of Kadmiel, and their associates, who stood opposite them to give praise and thanksgiving, one section responding to the other, as prescribed by David the man of God.

It really struck me that here, as well as in verse 36, the descriptor for David is not as king, the man who unified the nation and established it as a secure regional power, but as “the man of God.” I can think of no higher honor. David was a deeply flawed individual, as are we all, but even after horrendous sin he repented and clung to God. He didn’t build a physical temple, but he prescribed and provided for worship, and it was for that that he was best remembered. His Psalms are justly loved and honored to this day, and they express both his humanity and his submission to God, because they are at times almost shockingly prophetic. The various events of his life, from his youth all the way to his old age, are certainly worth study and contemplation. We need to learn both how to emulate his good points and also how to avoid the traps that snared him so badly. His home life was a mess, as displayed in how his children turned out, but that was par for the course in those days. The Bible is unique in the literature of the day in that it records even its heroes as they were, “warts and all,” as Cromwell told the artist who was painting his portrait to do. David was certainly one of those heroes, and we must not let his negatives overshadow his remarkable positives.

As the son of a man who was greatly honored, even venerated, in some circles, I am very aware of what a mixed bag every human being is. I think it is very much to his credit that my father is best remembered much as David was: a man of God. His tombstone bears the inscription, “To do the will of Him who sent me.” He didn’t do it perfectly, as none of us do, but he did it with remarkable faithfulness. I can aspire to nothing higher. I am frequently reminded of my own failings. Just last night I went to bed not happy with myself, because I had failed to do several things that I felt were my responsibility. As a consequence, I woke up at 3:30 this morning, unable to sleep because of those things hanging over me. There’s no substitute for simply getting things done! Today and every day I am to be open and sensitive to my Lord, hearing what He has for me and following His schedule, not allowing the multitude of distractions deter me from full obedience, so that His will may be done for His glory.

Father, thank You for the various things I did get done yesterday, and that You will enable me to accomplish all I need to today. Help me discern Your priorities for each moment, not allowing the next thing to distract me from what needs to be done now. One one level that doesn’t seem related to David, but it is very much part of being a man of God, and that is what I desire to be, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Faithfulness; November 26, 2021

Ezra 3:11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:
“He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.”
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.

The people were right to rejoice at beginning to rebuild the temple, but the record shows that the work lagged badly before it was finally completed. This is a very common pattern in just about every human endeavor. We get all enthused over new projects, but get bogged down in the slog of completing them. This applies specifically to ourselves as well. We want to lose weight, for example, and are all fired up about a new diet, but before we know it we’re tired of it, and in no time our overweight has returned. Learning a musical instrument takes time and lots of persistence – and ear plugs for those in the neighborhood! We are quick to make promises of all sorts, but when they become difficult or even inconvenient to fulfill, those promises tend to dissolve. It has always struck me that in Jesus’ parable of the talents, the words of approval for the good servants were, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (emphasis added, Matthew 25:21, 23) The Bible has a lot to say about faithfulness. One of the most encouraging things Paul wrote was, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) Conversely, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13) We are confronted with our own lack of faithfulness all too often, but our salvation lies in the absolute faithfulness of God.

I’m certainly talking to myself here! In the Motivational Gifts teaching developed by Don and Katie Fortune, one of the negatives of Teacher gifting is listed as the tendency to start things and not complete them. That’s me in spades! That’s one of many reasons I’m totally convinced of the absolute necessity of the grace of God. I’ve stuck it out here in Omura for 40 years now, but I’m not sure if that’s faithfulness so much as it is inertia! I have given up on more things than I could count, and I’m deeply grateful that God hasn’t given up on me. Were the roles reversed, I would have given up on me a long time ago! In addition to the verse from Philippians 1 that I’ve already quoted, I take comfort in something Paul wrote right after that: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) I know that He’s steering me right, and I just need to keep listening and following, not in my own strength but in the strength He provides.

Father, thank You indeed for Your faithfulness. Thank You that my insignificant faithfulness doesn’t really matter. Help me indeed follow through in everything You have assigned to me, in spite of myself at times, so that Your purposes may be accomplished on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Divine Order; November 25, 2021

2 Chronicles 31:4 He ordered the people living in Jerusalem to give the portion due the priests and Levites so they could devote themselves to the Law of the Lord.

King Hezekiah recognized that the priests and Levites needed their physical needs met, or they wouldn’t be very focused on the activities prescribed for them in the Torah. There are countries today, such as Germany, where clergy receive a salary from the government. That money obviously comes from the people through taxation, but that is very different from what happened here. In governmental systems overhead is often huge, because bureaucracies always tend toward bloat. Also, when something is a tax, it instantly ceases to be an offering. Hezekiah did order the people to give, but the following verses indicate that they gave willingly and in abundance, and I think a major part of that was that they were giving directly to the priests and Levites. There was no IRS to demand compliance! I think the same principle applies to charity and social welfare. America and many other countries have huge social welfare systems, that at least in America breed dependency on the government, which is what many politicians want. Human systems are often very different from divine order, and we suffer for them. It ultimately comes down to what Jesus said: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) When Hezekiah’s main concern was the Law of the Lord, everything fell into place.

This applies to me very directly, because I’ve been a self-supporting independent missionary for 40 years. In all that time I’ve never received as much from the church as I’ve given to it in offerings, and I’ve not had any mission board or other external support. There have been times when money seemed tight, but God has met our needs beautifully. That said, there have also been times when I was much more focused on my activities for which I was paid than on the work of ministry in the church. I won’t soon forget the spiritual emptiness that produces! I seek to teach this congregation about tithing and stewardship in general, but the numbers are small and over the years we’ve had very few who could have been called wealthy. I’m not to deprive the people of the joy of giving, but I certainly don’t want them to feel that I’m “after their money.” It can get complicated at times! All of us need to follow Jesus’ instructions and keep our focus on God’s kingdom and His righteousness. If we will do that, we will have the joy of participating in what He is doing, as part of His infinite supply, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for how You have been so beautifully faithful over the years. I’ve had to learn some hard lessons in the process, but that was for my good. Help me indeed focus on the part You have for me to play in Your kingdom, operating in Your righteousness, and leave everything else up to You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Timing; November 24, 2021

2 Chronicles 29:36 Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was done so quickly.

Sometimes God’s plans seem to take forever, as Peter was responding to in his famous statement about God’s time frame. (2 Peter 3:8) However, Peter had experienced some pretty sudden works of God as well, as his statement includes, and that’s what Hezekiah and crew were experiencing here. At this time of year we’re likely to remember a particular example: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” (Luke 2:13-14 KJV) We never know how God’s time frame is going to mesh with ours. Often enough, we don’t recognize it until after it’s happened! Subjective time and objective time are very different. That is famously clear in the time perspectives of little children as compared to senior adults. For a little child, it seems like Christmas takes forever to arrive, where for a senior adult it’s more like, “My word! Christmas again already?” Tolerance for delayed gratification is a well known sign of maturity, but the flip side of that can be inertia and procrastination. True spiritual maturity lies in letting God set the schedule and then following it with joy, whether it seems fast or slow.

I’m definitely in the senior adult end of that scale at this point, and I have to keep prodding myself to keep moving. We’ve been in Omura now for fully 40 years, yet it seems like just the other day when we were a young family with our children in local schools. The thing is, God isn’t through with us, and we are still on His timeline. As I have written several times recently, we’ve been feeling that God is going to change things around before long, and when it happens, it may be sudden indeed. I need to be careful to keep my focus on the Lord so as not to miss His timing. Distractions abound! It would be very easy for me to zone out with books and the Internet all day every day, but that is clearly not what the Lord has in mind. The pace of my schedule through the end of the year is going to get pretty hectic, so I need to take each moment at a time, focusing on the task at hand and getting it done as a good, faithful steward. After all, that’s what the Lord asks of me, and I can have no higher reward than to hear Him say, “Well done.”

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for what You enabled me to get done yesterday. Thank You for Your schedule for today. I pray that I would be the support Cathy needs in what is on her plate for today, and that together we would be able to rest, relax, and rejoice in You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Faith; November 23, 2021

2 Chronicles 20:20 Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.”

Jehoshaphat’s advice to his people was excellent, and the Japanese puts even more of a point on it. Where the NIV says, “Have faith in the Lord,” the Japanese says, “Believe and show faithfulness.” We tend to make faith an ephemeral thing, just a feeling, but Jehoshaphat is calling for concrete, observable action. James goes on at length about the necessity of demonstrating faith with action, and I think that’s what Jehoshaphat is talking about here. I have loved this chapter for as long as I can remember, precisely because Jehoshaphat himself, as well as the people, did exactly what he says here, acting on the basis of an unexpected prophecy by someone who is otherwise not recorded as a prophet (verses 14-17) but which rang totally true in their hearts, as “illogical” as it might have seemed. That obedience brought them a victory so astounding that the surrounding nations, that had been ready to pounce on them, were shocked into docility. (verses 29-30) Faith that is just words doesn’t produce the results we desire! The flip side of this is that the devil is a liar, and he loves to appear as “an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14) We need to be sure we are listening to the Holy Spirit, and not some lying spirit! I was reading just yesterday of someone whose father, many years ago, had abandoned the iron lung that was keeping him alive, in faith that God would heal him, and died in short order. The person who had encouraged him to do so was shown to be a false prophet. The person who was reporting this was very damaged in her faith, and had trouble trusting God for anything after that. The man himself doubtless went to be with the Lord and so was healed in that sense, but his family was devastated. Occasionally God does tell us to step out in faith when it looks like we’re stepping off of a cliff, much as happened with Jehoshaphat and crew, but we need to be sure what we’ve heard and from whom, so that He alone may be glorified.

I’ve not had anything as dramatic as this story, but I’ve had various exercises in faith. Sometimes things have turned out as I hoped and expected, and sometimes not. The times when they didn’t have included many factors. Sometimes it was that others involved didn’t have faith. It would have done no good if Jehoshaphat himself had been the only one fully trusting God here! Sometimes things not turning out as I expected have been part of God preparing me for something greater. I have had to learn that God’s plans are best, period, whether He uses me directly in them or not. That’s not always been easy to accept! Dramatic victories are lots of fun, but I need to look forward to the ultimate victory when God makes all things new, and be at peace whatever is going on at the moment.

Father, thank You for this reminder. You are doing all sorts of things all around me, and I am eager to see what You are going to do next. Help me be fully yielded to You, trusting You in practical terms and being faithful in all things, so that Your purposes may be fulfilled on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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