Faithfulness; October 4, 2020

Psalm 145:13 The Lord is faithful to all His promises
and loving toward all He has made.

I was attracted to this part of the Psalm, but when I went to type in the Japanese it was missing! Then I looked at the footnotes and found that this section is found in one manuscript of the Masoretic Text, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Syriac, and the Septuagint, but not in most manuscripts of the Masoretic text. That is all the stranger because this is one of the many acrostic Psalms, with each verse starting with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and not having this part leaves a gap. I’m grateful that we have multiple sources by which to confirm the text, but it’s very sad to have evidence that much Scripture copying was essentially mindless, without thought and contemplation of what was being written. Coupled with the content here, that tells me that God is faithful but man is not, and that’s something we need to remember. People will disappoint us, in one way or another, always. We disappoint ourselves! It is genuinely refreshing when people do keep their promises and don’t disappoint us, but we need to remember our own weaknesses when that doesn’t happen. That’s why we need to be constant and consistent in our dependence on God. As Jesus said so very clearly, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) One of the great hymns of the faith is Great Is Thy Faithfulness. God’s faithfulness is in often stark contrast to human unfaithfulness, so we’ve got to stay fixed on the Rock of our salvation.

In teaching Medical English to Japanese, when I get to the word “confidence” I tell my students I don’t like the Japanese equivalent. That’s because it’s written with the characters for “self” and “belief.” In other words, believing in yourself. I tell them I don’t do that, because I’ll always disappoint myself. Instead I believe in God, and He gives me assurance to keep going in spite of my weaknesses. Pride has been a major pitfall for me all my life. God has gifted me in many areas, and I have been tempted to rely on the gift instead of on the Giver. That doesn’t work! However, dealing with my own unfaithfulness and unreliability has given me more empathy for those around me, making it easier for me to forgive them. After all, God has forgiven me much more! I am eternally grateful that I serve a totally faithful God.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the person who came by yesterday to ask forgiveness of Cathy and me for an incident now several years in the past. We had simply moved on, praying for her occasionally when we thought of her, but her life was largely wrecked by the attitudes that brought on the incident. I do pray that what was said and done here yesterday would enable her to listen to You instead of to the devil, and that she would be able to forgive herself, accepting Your forgiveness, so that she may be set free indeed, for her blessing and the blessing of all those around her, and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Family of God; October 3, 2020

Psalms 119:63 I am a friend to all who fear you,
to all who follow your precepts.

It is remarkable the level of instant connection that is available between people who mutually fear/love God and seek to be obedient to Him. This is something that non-believers notice and are amazed at. However, it’s a natural outgrowth of the fact that we are all part of the same family, children of one Father. I have completely lost track of how many people have told me their church family is much closer to them than their physical family. As David said, “God sets the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:6) It is sadly true that church membership isn’t a guarantee of spiritual kinship, because some people are just “paper Christians,” in it for any number of reasons other than genuine repentance and faith. A cloak of piety has been used in many scams, so we unfortunately need to be careful. However, that doesn’t change the fundamental reality of the fellowship we have in Christ. As Bill Gaither wrote, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God!”

I have experienced this literally all over the world. I remember some years ago attending a conference in Hong Kong and running into a couple of Russians. They got all excited that I could say yes, no, and thank you in Russian, but that was the extent of it, and their English wasn’t much better. However, we knew we were brothers in Christ, and that was wonderful. We currently have a missionary family from Taiwan attending our church twice a month. They’ve been here less than a year and are having a bit of a rough time with their language study, but we still have sweet fellowship with them. (Their 6th grade son is already doing very well in Japanese.) At the same time, there are American English teachers in town who avoid us like the plague because they are explicitly not Christian, and they don’t want anything to do with us, to the puzzlement of some Japanese. I don’t turn down any divine appointments, and when circumstances bring us into contact with such people I seek to let the love and grace of the Lord flow through me to them, but they are certainly not in the category of family. It comes down to needing to let the Holy Spirit show me who does and who doesn’t fear God and seek to follow Him. If I will be faithful, He will be more than faithful, and I will never lack for family.

Father, thank You indeed for the fellowship that is in Your family. I pray that I would be increasingly effective in drawing even more people in, so that they in turn may draw more, for a massive harvest in Your kingdom, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Freedom; October 2, 2020

Psalm 119:32 I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free.

I don’t know the Hebrew, but I like both the NIV and the Japanese translations of this verse! The first half is identical, and it too is significant. Running isn’t a halfhearted endeavor! Our obedience should be complete, not holding anything back. It’s the second half where the translations branch, and I like them both. The NIV brings to mind Paul’s statement: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) wholehearted obedience to God is inseparable from genuine freedom, in either direction. People who seek freedom by rebelling against God are badly deceived by the devil. At the same time, we can’t fully obey God without the liberty of the Holy Spirit. When we are going through the motions without our hearts being in it, that’s not true obedience, and it’s not pleasing to God. Then we have the Japanese translation which is, “You have enlarged my heart/ made my heart broad.” The Japanese expression of “a broad heart” is closely related to the English idea of a broad mind, and it means open and able to accept new people and new things. Of course, there’s the joke that has some real truth to it: “He’s so open minded his brains fall out.” This doesn’t mean to be accepting of things that are in violation of God’s commands, particularly when it follows the first half of this verse. Rather, it means accepting people who might not be obedient to God, because how else will their eyes be opened? Also, it means accepting new situations and new revelation that we might never have anticipated. We speak of “putting God in a box,” as something not to do, but what we are actually doing is putting ourselves in boxes, walling ourselves off from God’s blessings. That won’t happen if we are running in obedience to our Lord.

This of course applies as much to me as it does to anyone. I too have deliberately disobeyed God, thinking I was being “free” but not realizing I was binding myself. There is no greater freedom than flowing with the Spirit of God! Getting out of the hospital I am very appreciative of the freedom to do things, but I am quite aware of the reality that physical freedom is minor compared with spiritual freedom. There’s an originally Japanese chorus that I have translated to say, “Jesus Christ has set my spirit free, so I will praise His name with all that is in me.” I am deeply aware of, and deeply grateful for, the freedom I have in Christ. As has been said, faith in the cross of Christ liberates us from the penalty for sin (past action), the power of sin (present reality), and the presence of sin (future hope). That liberty is what I seek to share with all who will receive it.

Father, thank You again for the privilege of sharing with those men in the hospital. I pray that what they saw in me would give them a hunger for You, so that they may receive Your grace for themselves and live with You eternally, for Your pleasure and glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Difficulty; October 1, 2020

Psalm 116:10 I believed; therefore I said, “I am greatly afflicted.”

I definitely prefer the Japanese translation of this verse, which the NIV gives as a footnote: “I believed even when I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted.’” Acknowledging difficulty doesn’t preclude faith! We don’t know the author of this Psalm, much less what difficulty he had experienced, but it is obvious that he thought he might well not survive the experience, and it is also obvious that he was fully committed to God. Verse 15 is the most famous line in this Psalm: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” That doesn’t mean it is something He desires, it means it is something He takes very seriously. Suffering and death are part of the human condition on this fallen earth, but they aren’t the end of the story, nor the most important part. Our time on this earth is an opportunity to discover our Creator and come into a right relationship with Him, and then to turn around and help others do the same. It is when we do that, that we come into the category of “saints” mentioned in verse 15. I find I am very frequently telling people that God doesn’t pick on us; He only allows suffering in our lives to cause us to recognize that we can’t go it alone and so reach out to Him. Jesus put it this way: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Acknowledging that we’re having a tough time of it isn’t the same as turning our back on God. Jesus said rather bluntly that apart from Him we can do nothing, (John 15:5) but as Paul discovered, we can do everything we are called on to do when we are abiding in Christ. (Philippians 4:13) History, and not just the Bible, is filled with examples of people who were indeed overcomers, even all the way to martyrdom. In His messages to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus repeatedly uses the phrase, “he who overcomes.” It is when we honestly acknowledge our troubles and commit them to God that we indeed overcome, and that is a blessing indeed.

As I have indicated repeatedly, I don’t consider my current situation of having had a basal cell carcinoma removed, and then had a skin graft to patch the hole left behind, to have been a major trouble. It has certainly intruded on my schedule and it is costing me some money, but here in the hospital I see many people in much more serious and/or painful situations. I have had some marvelous opportunities to share the reality of a living Savior with four other patients, as well as generally spread “the aroma of Christ,” and that has certainly been worth what I have had to endure. That’s not at all to say I’m not delighted to be getting out of the hospital today! However, it is to say that I am once again reminded that God’s plans are always higher than ours, (Isaiah 55:8-9) and they are always good. (Jeremiah 29:11) Difficulties are never an excuse not to believe!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the four men with whom I have had the privilege of sharing my experience of You and Your salvation. I do pray that Your words through me would continue to work in their hearts and minds, drawing them to seek you and repent and believe for their salvation. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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No Fear; September 30, 2020

Psalm 112:7-8 He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.

This whole Psalm is a listing of the blessings that accrue to a person who “fears the Lord, who takes great delight in His commands.” (verse 1) Like many other Psalms it is an acrostic poem, with each succeeding line starting with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, so in some ways it could be seen as a collection of truisms, things that you might take for granted. Even so, the Psalms that were created in that pattern often have powerful statements of truth. Back in the days before printing, memory was relied on a great deal more than today, and such patterns were very helpful in that. These two verses deal with the topic of fear, which is relevant to any day and age. Today people are afraid of COVID-19, political upheaval, climate catastrophe, and any of a number of other things. The answer to them all is just as it says here, fearing God more and above anything else and delighting to be obedient to Him. It is amazing how properly fearing God cancels every other fear! The first one listed here is a fear of bad news. It isn’t unusual that people in the middle of a normal life will be afraid of bad news, even if it never comes. However, if we really trust God, it doesn’t matter what news comes. The second fear mentioned here deals with enemies. Right now it does seem that many people are badly deceived by the devil and are following his directions. When we have a correct view of God, we will rest secure in the knowledge that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) Fear tears us down before anything bad actually happens! That’s why the Bible says so many times not to be anxious. When our priorities are right, we literally have nothing to be afraid of. (John 16:33-34)

This is something I have been almost amused to realize over the past few weeks. When I have told people about having surgery for a basal cell carcinoma and then needing a skin graft after that, they have reacted with seeming shock and even fear, yet I have felt no fear myself. I know that injections of local anesthesia can be quite painful, but I have had very little fear of them. The idea of cutting out a plug of my scalp and then filling the hole with a plug from my lower abdomen has seemed to horrify some people, but I have been quite unshaken by the idea, and I am quite grateful. I know that there will be things in my life that will be quite unpleasant at the moment, but I know that my God is more than able to deal with them, and that is enough. My fear certainly won’t make it any easier! My focus is to be on God, in full gratitude and obedience, and leave everything up to Him.

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for this experience I’ve been having of no fear when others seem to be afraid for me. Help me be effective in sharing the good news of Your power and love with all, including those who have made the initial steps of faith. May we all learn to trust You fully and fear nothing the devil or the world can throw at us, delighting to be in Christ. (John 16:33) Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Fear of the Lord; September 29, 2020

Psalms 111:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
To him belongs eternal praise.

The first line of this verse is justly famous, and is echoed in Proverbs 9:10. The second line has a very interesting difference in the Japanese, as compared to the NIV. Intending to be easier to understand, I’m sure, the NIV translators inserted “his precepts,” whereas the Japanese, (following the Hebrew, I’m sure) simply has, “All who perform this gain good understanding.” We have trouble understanding “performing” the fear of the Lord, but it’s certainly worth taking the time to let the Holy Spirit illuminate our heart. The fear of the Lord is far more than a set of rules, which the NIV seems to limit it to. Rather, it’s an attitude that should control our whole life. This isn’t a “quaking in your boots” sort of fear, but rather a deep awareness that God is GOD; He is absolute in every way. When we really grasp that in the depth of our being, it changes how we see and respond to every element of our lives. The reason the wording here is important is that this isn’t something theoretical or academic, it is the most practical and “real” thing possible. When we fail to fear the Lord we tend to make ourselves the standard by which we measure everything else, and that leads to more problems than I could list. When we do fear the Lord, we understand that He is absolute righteousness and holiness and love, and that changes absolutely everything. There is a strong move in the world today to deny absolute truth. People say, “Whatever works for you,” and want you to let them do whatever they want to do. When we try to insist on absolute truth, we are quickly accused of being judgmental, discriminatory, and a whole raft of other things. All of that comes from a fundamental rebellion against God, and we need to recognize it as such. Right now there is uproar in the US because of the nomination to the Supreme Court of someone who demonstrably lives by this verse. With great horror she is accused of being a Committed Christian! All who know her personally, however, of whatever political persuasion, testify of her deep, consistent wisdom and understanding, just as this verse promises. We all need to emulate her!

This is very close to home for me. I have long loved Proverbs 3:5-6, precisely because I have a strong tendency to lean on my own understanding. I have learned that I have to be comfortable with not knowing everything! I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that God, knowing the end from the beginning, always has the best idea in each and every situation. I don’t like uncertainty, but that’s how I grow in faith. Being obedient when I don’t know the specific outcome can be hard at times, but that’s what the fear of the Lord is all about. When I entered the hospital on the 23rd of September I didn’t know I wouldn’t get out until the 1st of October, but God did, and He has done good things each day. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but He does, and I’m to be at peace with that. As He told me years ago, I’m to rest, relax, and rejoice, letting Him be God and delighting to serve Him however He directs.

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for giving me the message for Sunday while I have plenty of time to work on the outline. I do ask for guidance and anointing in that, and in every moment of today, that I may be Your instrument, delighting You as I delight in You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Gratitude; September 28, 2020

Psalm 103:2 Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

This Psalm is a litany of the benefits of following God. I like the way the Japanese puts it here: “Don’t forget a single one of the good things He has done.” It’s entirely appropriate that many songs have been made by putting parts of this Psalm to music. That David would write a Psalm like this is ample evidence that he was indeed “a man after God’s own heart.” (Acts 13:22) If we truly internalize what this Psalm says and, as this verse says, not forget any of it, then our lives will overflow with gratitude toward such a gracious God, and in the process gain the peace and joy that all of mankind desires, but so few find. It is sadly true that one of the signs we are in the Last Days is, as Paul said, that people are so ungrateful. (2 Timothy 3:2) The vast majority of the turmoil in the US right now would be eliminated if people had even a little grasp of how good they have it. I was quite struck by a video made for Prager University recently by a young immigrant from Cameroon, West Africa, in which she took down the whole narrative of how Blacks are “oppressed” in America, saying that as a demonstrably “African American” she loved America and its equal opportunities. And of course it’s not just a racial issue. Many of those rioting are actually well-to-do Whites, incensed that anything would fail to be as they desire. They are ample proof that academic degrees are no sign of actual intelligence, much less common sense. When we forget the good things God has done for us, everything falls apart. Appreciation and gratitude are indeed the keys to genuine happiness, and rejecting them is a guarantee of misery.

I have been incredibly blessed all my life, even though there have been many times when I have failed to recognize it. I’m part of a Facebook group of Missionary Kids, and the contrasts among them are striking. Some are deeply wounded, even embittered, by their cross-cultural upbringing, and some are deeply grateful. Experiences are certainly varied, especially in the area of parenting, but even among those who suffered from poor parenting there are those who wouldn’t trade their multicultural background for anything, delighting to be freed from the tunnel vision that afflicts so many people. I have had my moments of lashing out emotionally at perceived lack of acceptance, by Americans and Japanese, but that has driven me to find my grounding in Christ, and that is a blessing beyond price. As Paul said, our citizenship is in heaven! (Philippians 3:20) My income level has never been high, but God has met our needs so bountifully that some people think we are wealthy! As I encounter “bumps in the road,” such as my current hospitalization, I need to keep remembering that it’s part of the human condition, and keep rejoicing in Christ my Savior. (John 16:33)

Father, thank You for this reminder. I will be thrilled when I’m given the OK to go home, but in the mean time, I am to rest, relax, and rejoice in You. Thank You for the opportunity to witness to the man in the bed opposite me yesterday. I pray that what You said through me would continue to work in his heart and bring him to repentance and faith, for his salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Attitude; September 27, 2020

Psalm 86:11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.

This prayer of David is one of the most fundamental in the whole Bible. It expresses the necessary attitude of anyone who would seek God in truth. It isn’t asking for material goods or similar blessings, but rather for things internal to the one praying. It is expressing a commitment to obedience, which is sadly lacking in so many people who claim to be “spiritual.” It recognizes the many distractions and temptations that beset us all, essentially all of the time. How often do we pray to be able to fear the Lord? Not very often, I’m sure. Just as America is terribly divided right now, even well-intentioned people often have divided hearts, being pulled one way or the other, unable to focus on their Creator and His plan for their life. This prayer is the appropriate response to that condition, and as such is one we should all pray regularly. The good news is that God does teach us His way, if we have ears to hear Him and hearts committed to obedience. In our human weakness we often fail in that obedience, so it is marvelous news that repentance does work and forgiveness is available, but we’ve got to be humble enough to acknowledge our sins and errors. That’s where fearing the name of the Lord comes in. Like little children, we need to know that Daddy has the power and the authority to discipline us. That’s why children who are undisciplined are so much to be pitied: they are being severely handicapped, not only in their lives on this earth but also in their prospects for eternity.

Again, this applies as much to me as it does to anyone. I grew up with the enormous advantage of parents who indeed loved God and were committed to obeying Him, and I naturally loved Him from an early age myself. However, my obedience was certainly spotty! I wasn’t a “wild one,” but my heart was pulled after a lot of things, and I was double-minded much of the time. My biggest problem was that I made myself, my own judgment, the standard, instead of seeking what God had to say on any given subject. That left me thinking I was “a fine Christian,” while allowing my heart to get further and further from Him. I was already a married father when God tapped me on the shoulder and showed me a mirror to see, for just a moment, the state of my own heart. That was absolutely devastating to my pride, and that’s a very good thing indeed. I need to keep seeking Him just as this verse says all the days of my physical life, so that I may have the assurance and joy of eternal life with Him.

Father, thank You for this reminder. After all these years it would be nice not to need such reminders, but I know my weaknesses, and I’m grateful. I pray that You would use me to guide more and more people into the attitude expressed in this verse, so that Your house may be full indeed, for Your pleasure and glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Focus; September 26, 2020

Psalm 77:11-12 I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

We don’t always get instant responses to our prayers. Actually, instant responses are more the exception than the rule. So what then? Asaph knew the answer to that, and he shares it with us. When we don’t see, hear, or feel God right now, the thing to do is remember all the times He has revealed Himself in the past, both to us personally and in the Bible, not to mention the countless believers in between. Our problem is most often that we lack perspective, whereas God sees the end from the beginning, and as Peter pointed out, His perspective on time is quite different from ours. (2 Peter 3:8-9) Where the NIV says “consider all Your mighty deeds,” the Japanese says, “think quietly about Your works.” We aren’t to let ourselves get all worked up about what is happening or not happening, in a panic because we aren’t in control. We need to remember that if we were in control, we’d make an absolute mess of things! This is very much in line with the hymn, Count Your Blessings. Being raised in church has innumerable advantages, and if you are so blessed, that’s one of the blessings you should count!

I’ve experienced this many, many times. Yesterday, at the request of one of my daughters, I took a “personality inventory” quiz, and I think it showed me as having a high degree of gratitude. It should have, at any rate! That has stood me in very good stead in my current hospitalization. I honestly don’t think I have anything to complain about! That’s not to say that I don’t see areas for improvement, but I am very aware that I get better than I deserve. It was a shock to be told that I might be in here for up to two weeks, rather than the one I was first told, but that too is in God’s hands and my being anxious about it won’t change a thing. My skin donation site is healing very well, so there’s every reason to expect the receptor site is doing the same. Even so, I will be relieved when the stitched-on bandage is removed to be able to confirm that! Cathy is having a rougher time than I am, having to deal with everything “outside” by herself, and I certainly pray for her. We both need to remember that God’s indeed got it all in control, and we have nothing to worry about.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Cathy’s got a very full schedule for today, and I’ve got very little. Help us both rest, relax, and rejoice in You, delighting in Your grace toward us, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Evangelism; September 25, 2020

Psalm 67:1-2 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.

It is refreshing to have such a “Great Commission” Psalm! The request for blessing is to be expected, but for the reason to be so clearly stated as world evangelism makes this stand out. We have the image of the Jews as being completely focused on themselves, but this Psalm gives the lie to that – and it isn’t even by David! In the same way there are Jews today who, though not openly Messianic, are very friendly toward Christians. Just yesterday I read an article by a rabbi who was pleading with Christians to stand up and defend the life of faith against the atheistic attacks that are so prevalent today, and I have been aware of the ministry of Dennis Prager for some time, as he seeks to defend America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. This isn’t in any way to say that the New Testament, that “most Jewish of books,” in any way says that Jews don’t need to repent and believe for salvation, but it is to say that people who actively seek to follow the God of Abraham have a lot in common. There are Jews who actively, even vehemently deny that Jesus is the Messiah, but God loves all His children, and He wants them all to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4) It hardly pleases Him that there are so many who claim to love Him and yet are satisfied if just “they and theirs” are saved. We all need to remember that His blessings for us are to let all mankind know of Him, so that they may repent, believe, and receive eternal life.

Growing up in a missionary family, this is ingrained in my bones. For the past 39 years I also have sought to share the knowledge of God and His salvation with the Japanese people, and I expect to keep doing so for as long as I am on this earth. There are times when people see how I am blessed but fail to understand the reason for that blessing. I seek to help them see that everything they admire in me is because of Christ, and as such is equally available to them, but they for the most part see me as “other,” and don’t grasp that we are equally created by God. Right now I am in the hospital, which is a special opportunity to share Christ in attitude and action, as well as in words. My first night, the man in the bed opposite me was an 87-year old who was here just overnight for cataract surgery. I’m not at all sure he was aware at first that I was Caucasian, because of his cataracts, and he certainly seemed to “take a shine” to me. I listened to him sympathetically as he talked of all his woes, and in the process he mentioned that there had been “amen people” around him even in his youth. Considering that he lived through WWII, that says a lot! I didn’t recite the “Four Spiritual Laws” tract to him, but I did talk about how we all go through a lot, but if we will turn our hearts to God in gratitude for His blessings, rather than focusing on the unpleasant stuff, that our lives will be much happier. As he was leaving yesterday morning he kept asking me to come see him, but when the only directions he gave me were the name of a bus stop and the type of store near it, it will take direct divine guidance for me to find him! Even so, I was very aware that God loves him as much as He does me, even though our lives could hardly be more different. I indeed want God’s salvation known everywhere!

Father, thank You for this reminder of why I’m here, in Omura and on this earth. Help me be more and more effective in sharing the Gospel so that as many as will may receive it and be saved, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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