Opposition; May 22, 2020

Numbers 12:1-2 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.

This is a very interesting story that in some ways is surprising that it was recorded. The parenthetical comment about Moses’ humility in the next verse may be the reason for the story being included, but since Moses himself was the author, verse three at least is clearly the insertion of a later copier/editor. That said, it is a very human story, and shows yet again that God works with imperfect people. Miriam is clearly the instigator in this incident, which is why the Lord’s judgment fell on her. She was the one who had led the nation in praising God after the crossing of the Red Sea, and she is called a prophetess there. (Exodus 15:20-21) She was used to hearing from God, but she let it go to her head, in contrast to her brother Moses. It is possible that she took credit, in her own thinking at least, for Moses’ successes, since she was involved in his being adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh as an infant. (Exodus 2:1-10) She obviously also harbored racial prejudice, and was upset that Moses had married a black woman. (Cush was the southern Nile region, currently Sudan.) She was also devious, roping Aaron into her vendetta and talking behind Moses’ back. All of that said, God used her, even though He disciplined her severely, and Miriam is a rightly beloved name among Jews and Christians alike. The whole incident is an illustration of the reality that opposition can come from anywhere. As Jesus said, quoting Micah 7:6, “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:36) Part of Moses’ humility was a deep awareness that God was leading him, so he wasn’t to be swayed by opposition, even when it was very close to home.

I have thankfully never faced opposition from within my own family, but I have faced it from people whom I considered to be close to me. Just yesterday I read an article in Ministry Today talking about leadership, and how a pastor will often face opposition from the very people he had been counting on to support him. I’ve tasted that! I must be careful not to become bitter or cynical, but like Moses, remember that we are all in God’s hands and have to answer to Him. I in no way wish Miriam’s fate on anyone, any more than Moses desired it for her. I am to pray God’s grace and mercy for all, knowing that we are all dependent on Him.

Father, thank You for this reading coming right after yesterday’s article. I certainly had no idea of that when I was choosing the readings last month! Thank You for indeed knowing the end from the beginning. Help me rest, relax, and rejoice in You more and more, so that You may receive all the glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Stewardship of Our Bodies; May 21, 2020

Exodus 15:26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”

This isn’t conditional love, but it’s a conditional blessing. The people of those days had no idea of hygiene and nutrition, and many of the rules God would give them after this dealt with those issues, even though they had no actual understanding of them. That said, the last line of this verse is justly famous because it expresses an existential reality: all healing comes from God, whether natural biological factors are involved or not. Right now the world is in an uproar because of the pandemic, but the principles expressed in this verse are still valid. We are to live by God’s rules, which include good nutrition and faithful stewardship of our bodies, and we are to protect the weak and vulnerable. When the overwhelming majority of fatalities from the pandemic are of people with preexisting conditions, the majority of which are lifestyle related, this should come into focus. That said, God is the God of mercy and grace, and healing comes from Him. If we have a preexisting condition that we brought on ourselves, such as obesity and concomitant diabetes, then repentance is certainly called for. We tend to think of obesity strictly in terms of appearance (hence the term, body shaming) when it is actually a matter of stewardship. Then there is the matter of protecting the weak and vulnerable. Advanced age is to be commended, but it qualifies as a “preexisting condition” when it comes to COVID-19. Many of the deaths in that category came from officials failing to protect the weak and vulnerable, which is a very clear Biblical principle. The thing is, we all die sometime of something, but we aren’t to short-circuit God’s plans for us by failing in obedient stewardship, of ourselves or of others.

I have been quite aware of this for a long time, since my father died at 64 of heart issues that might have been avoided with exercise and dietary caution. However, my mother died at 72 of cancer, and there was nothing in her lifestyle that might have predicted that. I say that my father might have lived longer, but at the same time he was totally committed to the Lord, and God saved him from having to retire from Japan at 65 (which he dreaded). I personally have no fears of COVID-19 at all, because I am in very good health, even though I’m 71, and I have great assurance that I will stick around for as long as the Lord has work for me to do. My biggest concern about being infected is that given my lung capacity and my circle of activity, I would likely become a “super-spreader,” and I certainly don’t want that. I am to be appropriately cautious, but in no way live in fear. I am to proclaim the grace and mercy of the God who alone provides healing, whether He uses doctors in the process or not.

Father, thank You for this timely reminder. Thank You that the restrictions have been lifted for this part of Japan. Help me not be impatient, but be an example to others in my stewardship and thoughtfulness, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Invitation; May 20, 2020

Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

This invitation might seem cryptic and mysterious to some, but to those with spiritual sensitivity it is absolutely glorious. The reference to the Church as the bride of Christ isn’t unique to Revelation, or even to John. Paul used that figure in his famous discussion of marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33. With that said, this makes it very clear that everyone who knows the Gospel should be active in communicating the Gospel to others. If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, He will be calling people to life in Christ. If we are genuinely part of the Church, the Body of Christ and the bride of Christ, we will be calling people to life in Him. To break it down even further, if we have genuinely heard God’s invitation ourselves, we are to be sharing that invitation with others. All it takes to come is recognition of need. This particular passage doesn’t mention repentance, but that is included in the recognition of need and the ability to act on it. Verse 15 mentions the sort of people who won’t accept this invitation, but it is extended to them as well. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) Accepting God’s invitation doesn’t depend on what you have been, it depends on what you want to become. We can’t force anyone to accept that invitation, but we are compelled to extend it. Again as Paul said, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” (2 Corinthians 5:14) “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20) The better we understand what God has done for us in Christ, the more eager we will be to share God’s invitation with others.

As someone with Teacher gifting, I am not a natural evangelist. It was when I abruptly realized that I was sharing the Gospel with a total stranger that I knew God had indeed baptized me with His spirit, just as He had promised. Though I am not a natural evangelist, by the grace of God I am a supernatural evangelist! It is indeed the Spirit saying, “Come” through my lips, my words. That requires my permission and cooperation; if I stay in my comfort zone, it won’t happen. However, I have learned that even as a Teacher, there is no greater joy than extending God’s invitation and having someone accept it. At the same time, I have learned over the years that there is no way I can force anyone to accept that invitation. If they just go through the motions, to be polite or from some other motive, it can do more harm than good. I’ve got to cover everything in prayer. However, if I don’t extend the invitation, it is certain they won’t accept it! I am to give the Holy Spirit full permission to speak and act through me, whenever and however He chooses, because He alone knows who is ready to receive and act on God’s invitation.

Father, thank You for this clear reminder. I ask for wisdom and anointing to act on it, so that many may be brought from death to life, from darkness to light, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Spiritual Warfare; May 19, 2020

Revelation 20:9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.

When I first read through today’s passage I wondered how it had been included in the readings on Love, and then I looked back and saw this verse. What I realized at that point was that God loving us doesn’t mean we won’t get into tight spots, it just means that the outcome will be good. We tend to get into a panic when things don’t look good, but that’s because we aren’t looking at the right things. God always looks good! 2000 years of Church history tell us that believers can be martyred, sometimes in horrible ways, but their eternal outcome is glorious. When that is the case, why do we get uptight about what are essentially minor irritations? This isn’t at all to say that we are to seek suffering or that we are to ignore injustice. Far from it. We are to be agents of God’s kingdom here on earth, and He is always righteous and just. However, even in the middle of that battle we are to be at peace, knowing that the final outcome will be excellent indeed. Right now on many fronts there are pitched battles, some physical, some political, and all spiritual. We aren’t to draw back from any fight into which the Lord sends us, but we aren’t to be anxious about anything. Right now a lot of the dirty tricks of the enemy are being exposed and we are to rejoice, but at the same time not be vindictive or self-righteous. We are to pray for one another, even when our own battle seems to be demanding all our attention. I am reminded of the saying, and the little ditty that was made from it, around 50 years ago: “I read the back of the Book, and we win.” That is the ultimate message of Revelation, and especially now, when we seem to be in the middle of it, we need to remember that.

I was in the US Army in 1970-72, and I have been aware of spiritual warfare ever since not long after that. I was in spiritual warfare before that, but I didn’t recognize it! The intensity has varied, as it does for everyone, and outcomes haven’t always been as I would have liked. I am reminded of when Elisha prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened, so that he could see the heavenly forces arrayed to protect him. (2 Kings 6:17) I am not to be distracted by my immediate circumstances, but neither am I to ignore them. Rather, I am to proclaim God’s victory over them, and trust Him for how that is going to work out. It is entirely possible that the forces of evil will think they have won, at times, but I know what the final outcome is. I am not to be lax and let the enemy blindside me, but even when that seems to happen I am to remember that in Christ I am more than a conqueror. (Romans 8:37)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for yesterday and all it held. Thank You for all that You are doing around the world. These are exciting times, and they can be intense. Help me remember to rest, relax, and rejoice, just as You have told me, to that You may be glorified as Your will is done, even in and through me. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Priorities; May 18, 2020

Revelation 12:11 They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.

These readings were chosen on the basis of the word “love,” searching for them with English Bible software, but the Japanese doesn’t use the word “love” here at all. The word used in Japanese is hard to translate into English, but rather than say, “They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death,” it says. “They did not consider their lives something they would regret losing, all the way to death.” I don’t think that changes the meaning, but it shows the danger of depending on words in one language when you’re preaching in another. There was a discussion of that issue just yesterday in a Facebook group for Missionary Kids. The point of the passage here is a matter of priorities. The believers mentioned in the verse experienced victory precisely because they weren’t focused on victory, but upon their Lord. Everything, even to physical life itself, paled to insignificance in comparison to knowing their Lord, the Lamb of God. It’s exactly as Paul expressed: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” (Philippians 3:8-9) We would do well to make that attitude our goal! When we get caught up in temporal victories and losses, we lose sight of the ultimate victory that has already been won for us by Christ on the cross. That’s what it means to overcome “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [our] testimony.” Our testimony is that Jesus died for us, He rose again, and He is our Lord! When that is our consistent testimony, then our victory is likewise consistent. When we allow things of this world to take precedence in our hearts and lives, then we experience defeats.

Of course, this applies to me as much as it does to anyone else. I’m as prone as anyone to being distracted by things of this world. Like Paul, I need to focus in on knowing Christ, in ever-greater depth and breadth. With Him as my first priority, and really my only priority, I really don’t have to worry about anything else at all. I’m back to Jesus’ instructions to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) If I am doing that fully, then I will hear His instructions as to how to spend my time on this earth, and He will enable me to follow those instructions. The problem is, I don’t yet do that fully! I’ve got to walk in humility, recognizing my weaknesses and receiving His help, both directly and through those around me. Only then will my testimony be consistent and clear.

Father, thank You for this Word. I’m told I didn’t do too well at this yesterday. Help me do better today. Thank You for what You have on the schedule for today. May I be Your agent in every detail, whether the particular activity seems “spiritual” or not, so that Your will may be done on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Hearing God; May 17, 2020

Revelation 3:22 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

This verse is extremely familiar to me because I use it as part of my regular faith declarations. The declaration in question goes, “By the grace of God, each day I am more accurately hearing and obeying the Holy Spirit, for it is written, ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” Reading it again just now, I see that the Greek specifies even one ear. (Japanese pays little attention to plurals, since it requires special words to indicate plural.) This strikes me as similar to someone saying “I have half a mind to …” In other words, it’s “If you have even one ear, then listen up!” We are quite adept at being willfully deaf – and blind, for that matter. God says things to us and shows us things, and we choose not to pay any attention. I’m reminded of the people (it happens repeatedly) who drive around barriers and signs that say, “Bridge Out,” and get themselves into deep (literally) trouble, or even killed. God genuinely wants the very best for us, so everything He says to us is for our benefit, but like rebellious 2-year-olds we stick our fingers in our ears and do our own thing, complaining that “God is mean to us.” How foolish! This verse wraps up Jesus’ words to a church that seems very familiar to a lot of us in the developed world, words of caution to those who are self-satisfied. The recent economic shutdown is a reminder of how quickly things can change. The only true stability is in God, the Rock of Ages, and if we are to maintain anything good we’ve got to listen to Him.

As I am frequently reminded, really hearing God means not just recognizing words, but taking them into my heart to do them. That’s why my faith declaration says, “hearing and obeying.” I have long felt James 1:22 was written especially for me! Knowing the Bible intellectually, no matter how well, is not the same as actually hearing God. I think I could hold my own in most theological arguments, but that doesn’t mean much if I’m not living the Word out in my daily life. I am quick to speak the Word, which isn’t bad, but I had better be even more consistent in doing the Word, living in obedience to everything the Holy Spirit has spoken to me.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s very familiar territory! Keep me from letting familiarity breed contempt, because that will shut my spiritual eyes and ears for sure. With age, my physical eyes and ears aren’t what they once were, but that doesn’t matter so much. Help me indeed hear and obey You accurately in every detail, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Standards; May 16, 2020

Revelation 3:8 “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

I wonder how many congregations down through the centuries have been encouraged by these words? Jesus has just made clear that when He does something it is irreversible, and here he is proclaiming an open door. The Japanese says “gate” rather than “door,” as in castle gates and the like, something larger and grander than a simple door, and certainly far greater than the “garden gate” an English speaker might think of. We tend to judge ourselves and each other by the world’s standards, and that is inaccurate at best. Recently I read the tragic news of the suicide of a “megachurch” pastor. That sort of thing certainly exposes the emptiness of the world’s standards! Like the church in Philadelphia, we need to be good stewards of whatever we have been given, even if it doesn’t seem like much. Even Jesus called it “little strength!” Rather than complain about what we don’t have, we need to be grateful for what we do have, and at the very least, that is knowledge of the Son of God, and God’s plan of salvation. That actually is glorious riches that the world simply does not possess! We aren’t to draw back from any task the Lord gives us, no matter how big, but neither are we to claim or attempt things simply to make us feel or look big. We are to “keep [his] word and not deny [his] name.”

This is a very comforting reminder for me. God is the judge of how big our influence has been over the years, but the fact remains that our current Sunday attendance is around 10. I am not to focus on negatives, but rather be faithful to share Christ as He gives me opportunity, going through doors He opens and not banging my head on doors He doesn’t open. The Emergency Declaration has just been rescinded for Omura, which means that life should soon be getting more normal, but I am not to assume that things will be “as they always have been.” Rather, I am to pursue the inroads we have recently been given with the various neighbors, drawing them in as the Holy Spirit touches their hearts. I am not to wear myself out with humanistic labor, but neither am I to hold back anything at all when God says to act. I have been given a message on Gratitude for tomorrow, and indeed, many people are grateful for the improving conditions. As God draws people in, I am to relate to them as He directs, so that they may be brought to repentance, faith, and discipleship, for His glory.

Father, thank You indeed for all that You are doing. Thank You that my level of strength or ability is no gauge of what You can do through me. Help me be totally submitted and obedient to You, so that all of Your plans for me and for this church, this city and this nation may be fulfilled, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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