Waiting in Hope; December 6, 2019

Hosea 12:6 But you must return to your God;
maintain love and justice,
and wait for your God always.

This is yet another of the many passages that seem they would be better translated as “wait in hope,” or “wait expectantly.” That is a standard expression in Japanese, and it would seem to be so in Hebrew as well, but it doesn’t seem to be in the vocabulary of translators into English. Just waiting is passive, which is one reason it’s so hard to do. Waiting in hope is far better! Hope is very closely related to faith, whereas waiting by itself can be resigned or even despairing. When we are being called to return to God and maintain love and justice, faith would certainly seem to be essential. “Maintaining love and justice” is emblematic of the things we should be doing as we wait, and to be done right, they require faith in the God who is perfect love and justice. Those who insist that there is no God discover that there is no basis, no fundamental reason or even framework, for either love or justice without Him. That is the fundamental paradox of atheism. Recently a rather prominent atheist conceded that the world would be a much nicer place with more Christians in it! When we return to God in faith, we receive His strength to become more like Him, and that is good for everyone and everything.

This phrase by itself makes it a good thing to be bilingual! Every language has things that are easier to say in it than they are in other languages, and often, things that are essentially impossible to say in other languages. Yesterday I watched a video of a beautiful praise song being sung in more languages than I could keep track of, alternating lines and sometimes even simultaneously. (It was particularly interesting to hear one section being sung in Mandarin and Cantonese at the same time. They use the same written system, but they are distinctly different languages.) The whole point was taken from Revelation 7:9, where it talks about the “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language” standing before God’s throne and singing His praises. That’s another thing to look forward to in heaven: knowing and understanding every language ever given to mankind! That simply adds to the hope that I have, which makes it far easier to wait for my God. The more assurance I have that He is omnipotent and He loves me, the easier it is to wait for His timing. That’s not at all to say I don’t get anxious at times, because I do, but at least I realize how silly such anxiety is. I see examples all the time of God’s perfect timing, even when I do so by realizing I have missed it! Yesterday a couple was quite late for marriage counseling. I got rather irritated with them, when actually God was making time for me to make a phone call I needed to make. However, I didn’t remember that phone call until I was in the shower last night! Waiting isn’t to be passive, it is to be done in obedience to God. Often enough His plan for that time is prayer, or meditation on Scripture, but He always has a plan, and I need to seek it consistently.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me make that phone call at Your right time, and not be anxious about it. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, just as You have told me to do, so that all of Your purposes for me may be fulfilled on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Fathering; December 5, 2019

Hosea 11:3 “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.”

Hosea really shows us the heart of God, and that heart hasn’t changed. This is a beautiful picture of our loving heavenly Father, and as a father myself I can really relate. I didn’t get angry when my daughters fell down and skinned their knees, I cleaned them up and disinfected their scrapes and comforted them. God does exactly that sort of thing with us, but the problem comes when we fail to recognize what He is doing. We cry when the washing hurts and the disinfectant stings, and sometimes even think God is being mean to us. How foolish! We are certainly no less dependent on God than a toddler is on their parents. We need to realize that, accept it, and give Him the gratitude, praise, and obedience that He is due.

Just writing this brings back many memories of my own children, along with the awareness that they aren’t perfect yet, any more than I am. There are times when I want to hug them and make everything right, but geographic and emotional separation makes that difficult. I have to release them to our mutual heavenly Father, while praying for them and staying available for whatever contact they desire. After all, they haven’t treated me as badly as Israel did Yahweh! Physically much closer to home, I have numbers of spiritual children, and the situation is actually much the same. As long as they are willing, I am to take them by the hand (metaphorically speaking) and help them learn to walk well on the often rocky road in front of them. I am to be God’s agent in washing and disinfecting their cuts and skins and scrapes, even when I have been the one who inadvertently hurt them. That can be difficult! I am to be a channel of God’s love surrounding them, so that they may be healed from the inside out. I certainly can’t do that on my own, but if I am available, God can and will use me to do that for them, and for His glory.

Father, I feel like my spiritual parenting has left a lot to be desired over the years. Thank You for Your patience with me. Looking back I can see many failures, both with my physical children and my spiritual children. Help me not keep accusing myself over those failures – or accept the devil’s accusations. Help me keep growing as the father You want me to be, so that my children of all sorts may be as You want them to be, for their blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Sowing and Reaping; December 4, 2019

Hosea 10:12 Sow for yourselves righteousness,
reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
and showers righteousness on you.

Here’s another verse that has been delightfully set to music in Japanese, though not totally verbatim in this case. (It may have been done from a different translation than the one I use.) Setting Scripture to music makes it very easy to remember, as opposed to rote memorization, and is a very good way to “hide it in our heart.” (Psalm 119:11) The message of this verse is that there is stuff we are to be doing as we seek God and wait for Him. The image presented will really click for anyone who’s been involved in agriculture, but that’s an increasingly small percentage of the population, at least in countries like the US and Japan. Ground that hasn’t been plowed can often get a hard crust on it, and seeds sown on it directly just lie there for the birds to eat. Seeds the birds aren’t interested in, like weeds, sometimes do very well! For the ground to welcome desirable seeds, it has to be broken up, or plowed. That can be hard work! These days we use machinery to do it, for the most part, but that has been a very recent development. There are places in the world today that literally use pointed sticks to poke holes in the ground for planting seeds, and hand labor has been the rule for most of history. The important thing then becomes, what seed to plant. Since this is obviously an allegory for the human soul, we need to do all we can to avoid planting envy, anger, pride, and a host of other undesirables. Rather, we are told to plant righteousness. That is defined most simply as doing the right thing. It’s amazing how often we violate our own conscience! If we pursue the idea of “the right thing,” we quickly come to the idea of doing whatever God has told us. Some people claim they’ve never heard God, but the Bible is widely available and we have a very high level of literacy. Ignorance is no excuse! The good news is that if we sow righteousness, we get to reap unfailing love, and who doesn’t want that? It’s interesting to realize that whereas the implication is that we reap God’s unfailing love, it is also true that the more we walk in what God has said to us, the more we are able to love others unconditionally ourselves. We become channels of unfailing love! The thing is, on our own we have great difficulty doing the right thing with any consistency, so that’s why we need to seek the Lord, to receive His righteousness. Thankfully, we have a marvelous promise that has been proved true countless times: “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12-13) When we come to Him in humility and truth, He indeed showers righteousness on us.

This year we had a real garden for the first time since settling in Omura, and it’s been very educational. We were eating eggplant from it right up to the end of November, and we still have some late-sprouting beets that look promising. That said, we still have a lot of gravel to get out of the soil, and it will need to be well plowed again before spring planting season. This year has certainly taught me about weeds! As a pastor, I see spiritual weeds in the lives of essentially everyone. Those are all the things that distract us from the righteousness that God intends and provides for us. I’ve learned that the longer you wait to deal with a weed, the harder it is to get out, and that applies both in horticulture and spiritually. I need to ask the Holy Spirit to help me recognize weeds in my own heart and get rid of them promptly, so that I may bear the abundant fruit that God intends for His glory. (John 15:5, 8)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the joy of eating produce from our own garden. May I indeed bear abundantly for You, for Your pleasure and glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Leaving Hypocrisy; December 3, 2019

Hosea 6:3 “Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”

I have loved this verse ever since encountering the Japanese translation I use set to music verbatim. I promptly translated that into English (since no English translation of the Bible fits the meter of the song) and we’ve been singing it in this church ever since. However, there’s a real irony to that, because this verse expresses what the people were saying without getting their hearts right with God. The words themselves are all right and pious, but a close examination reveals that in this case, they were a “give to get” sort of thing. To use a Latin expression that has been in the news a lot recently, they were intended as a quid pro quo. God wanted more than words, He wanted follow-through. The dangerous thing is that sometimes we even fool ourselves, saying all the right things without actually doing them, as James pointed out. (James 1:22) When God expresses to the people what He really wants, He uses the same terminology they did, of acknowledging Him. (verse 6) We can say it without doing it! The Bible has countless expressions of the truth that God wants our hearts first. If He has those, our actions will follow. We get that backwards and try to “earn points” with God by our actions, without really giving Him our hearts. What a tragedy! We try to reform people, and even ourselves, from the outside in, but God knows it has to be the other way around. It’s not at all that our actions don’t matter. Jesus was very clear on that, asking, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) He hit the nail on the head when He said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) James also talked about faith expressing itself in actions. (James 2:14-26) What further complicates things is that occasionally, repeated actions can lead to faith. However, that is certainly the exception. God wants us to start by repenting of our rebellion and giving Him our heart. Then and only then will we express our love for Him by the obedience that He seeks.

When we talk about acknowledging God, Proverbs 3:5-6 immediately comes to mind: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” I have loved that passage for a long time, precisely because I have a strong tendency to “lean on my own understanding.” I have come to the conclusion that we are all hypocrites to some degree, and spiritual growth is the process of being liberated from that. It is not at all wrong for me to sing today’s verse, but I must be careful that I am indeed pressing in to acknowledge my Lord, and not just saying the words and going my own way. Since I’ve been in church literally since before I was born, I know all the right words to say. I must not be deceived by that, but seek to worship God always in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)

Father, thank You for this powerful reminder. Thank You that I do know what is right, even though that leaves me with no excuse when I fail to follow through. Help me say the right things and do the right things because I am indeed fundamentally right with You, for the blessing of those around me and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Church Leadership; December 2, 2019

Hosea 4:6 “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
I also will ignore your children.”

Leadership, and specifically Church leadership, carries a lot of responsibility. Like James said, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1) We tend to like titles and authority, but ignore the responsibility that goes with them. This of course isn’t limited to the Church. A Christian song of several years ago said, “Tired of the men who make the laws and break them any time they please.” Just about everyone can identify with that line! However, it is much more serious when it’s in the Church, because the human leadership is charged with nurturing God’s people, and that is a heavy responsibility indeed. Church leadership is charged with listening to God and communicating what they hear to the people. However, that calls for consistent faithfulness, and that can seem like hard work. Those in leadership must be careful to listen to, and put into practice, the sermons they preach. Their words will not transmit genuine spiritual knowledge if they haven’t gone through the heart of the preacher before they come through his or her mouth.

As a pastor myself, my heartfelt desire is for each believer to learn to listen to God themselves, to have a regular devotional time when they allow God to speak into their heart life, but that desire must not be a cop-out from speaking the Word of the Lord myself. I have been given Teacher gifting, but if my words come across as pronouncements, that won’t be very effective teaching, because what I say won’t be absorbed and applied. As I have been learning through the Coaching movement, I need to come alongside people and encourage them to recognize truth for themselves. That’s when it starts to make a real difference in their lives. I realized a long time ago that things that seem entirely obvious to me can seem like deep revelation to others. However, they won’t receive such truths if I stand over them and say, effectively, “I’m giving you deep revelation, so listen up.” Like Jesus did in His parables, I need to connect God’s truth to people’s daily lives, or it will remain theoretical to them and not something to be lived out. I am to be faithful to transmit knowledge of God and His kingdom, but I must do so in ways that people can receive.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Yesterday’s message seemed almost shallow to me as I prepared it, but there was a dear lady here who needed it that way. Help me meet people where they are, not leaving them there but not placing any preconditions on them either, so that they may indeed receive Your truth and be set free, (John 8:32) for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Last Days; December 1, 2019

Hosea 3:5 Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.

This is a marvelously encouraging verse to anyone involved in ministry to the Jews! It also seems very appropriate for the first Sunday in Advent, since Jesus is the Messiah of the line of David that this verse speaks of. When the Jews as a people were restored to their land by Cyrus the Persian, it was not as an independent nation but as an element of the Persian Empire. When Israel was restored as an independent nation in 1948, it was not as a kingdom but as a democracy. However, in these days more and more Jews are indeed seeking out Yeshua ha Messiach and receiving the blessing of eternal salvation. That is truly another sign that we are in the Last Days, to go with the many that are all around us. We cannot make things happen on our own or impose our schedule on God, but it doesn’t hurt to recognize the signs He gives us, and we certainly need to be available for however He wants to use us. In this Advent season we do well to look forward to His return as King, offering ourselves as His disciples and representatives, for His glory.

I’m preaching to myself here! My message for this morning is titled Advent, considering what this season is and why, and I certainly need to include this element. I have long felt that Christ would return within my natural lifespan, but I recognize that countless believers have felt that for the past 2000 years, and I certainly make no demands on my Lord. At the same time, I couldn’t begin to count how many people are convinced that we are in the Last Days. Recently as I was interpreting for a pastor from Brazil, she said something about “Since we are in the Last Days….” She wasn’t trying to convince anyone, she was just stating the obvious, and she’s a lot younger than I am! That’s not to say that I’m not to prepare for my wife and for this church should the Lord decide to take me home individually, but it is to say that my priorities need to reflect an awareness that everything material is going to pass away. In any case, I can be pretty confident I won’t be around for more than another 30 years at the outside! I am to use the time I have been given to serve my Lord however He directs, allowing His love to flow through me to draw others into His family, His kingdom. I desire that their number be great, but that is not something for me to decide. My ultimate goal is to be fully in sync with my Lord, totally open and responsive to Him, so that His purposes may be accomplished in and through me for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for the confirmation of this morning’s message. May I deliver it in the power of Your Spirit, so that Your Word may accomplish everything for which You send it, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Trusting God’s Solutions; November 30, 2019

Hosea 2:23 “I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one. ‘
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’;
and they will say, ‘You are my God.'”

Here we have the resolution to the names Hosea gave his children, and it is a beautiful picture of God’s grace. Thankfully, the NIV gives footnotes so that we can know that “Jezreel,” the name of the oldest child, means “God Plants,” and “Not Loved” and “Not My People” are the names of the other two children. God sometimes does/allows things that at the time might seem downright cruel, but over time we can see God’s gracious purpose in it all. There’s an old Southern Gospel song that expresses this very well, called “By and By.” It talks about the trials we go through and how confusing they can be, but keeps coming back to the assertion, “We will understand it better by and by.” Sometimes we hear the expression “3-dimensional chess.” Well, God is “playing chess” with essentially infinite dimensions, and He alone can do that. When we try to figure it out, we blow a fuse. That’s where faith comes in, the choice to trust God even when we have no idea what’s going on. Just yesterday I was talking and praying with a missionary friend from Hong Kong. The situation there is very concerning, and even the non-Christians understand that the actions of the Chinese government have a lot to do with persecuting Christians. As I said to my friend, it would be a lot easier to deal with it all if we had any idea how long it would last, but we don’t have any idea, so we have to trust God and seek to be obedient. As bad as the situation in Hong Kong is, there are other places that are even worse. We cannot know what will happen in the short term, or even what would seem from the human perspective to be the long term, but we can know with absolute certainty that Christ will triumph in the end, and those who are in Him will triumph with Him. When we have that assurance we can endure anything!

I have experienced various trials over the years, and some of them I can look back on and understand a good bit of what God was doing in allowing them. Some of them, I still don’t understand. However, I do have the growing assurance that God never makes any mistakes, regardless of how many mistakes I or those around me make. I still get tied in knots over some very temporary things, but at least I know how foolish that is! My human pride wants to know what’s going on all the time, but I’m coming to realize that it doesn’t matter that I don’t. Whatever the situation, I need to be looking forward with gratitude and praise toward whatever God is going to bring out of it all, because I know it will be glorious.

Father, I can say that, but You know better than I do that I’m not fully there yet. Thank You for not giving up on me. Help me not give up on myself, or on those around me. Thank You for the spiritual growth I do see in various people, including myself. May I indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, just as You told me to do, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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