Unrecognized Victories

The team of assassins was mere seconds behind him as he desperately fled for his life. He felt the cords of death entangling him, and his imminent doom overwhelmed him like a crushing wave. He saw the whites of their eyes and his pounding heart was about to explode in his chest. He cried out to Almighty God, “Help me!”

Seemingly out of nowhere, a majestic silhouette split the sky, mounted on wings of angels. Shots like bolts of lightning obliterated the team of executioners as the glowing figure snatched him up and carried him to safety.

This probably reads like a scene from a paperback action novel, but it’s actually the account in Psalm 18 of David being miraculously rescued by God (some artistic license taken (^_^)). David describes for us this dramatic event when King Saul was hunting him down with a battalion of soldiers, trying to kill him. Please read the full account in Psalm 18; it IS truly amazing. He also recounts the incredible strength the Lord gave him in the midst of his dire circumstances. He says, “He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”(Psalm 18:33-34 NIV)

I doubt that many of us have someone hunting us down to try to kill us, nor do we sense any need to be able to bend bows of bronze; I know I don’t. But still, I sense the Lord telling us through King David’s account that His promises and provision of strength, protection, and victory in battle are what we need even today, in what might seem paltry and mundane. We all have victories that need to be won, don’t we? Even if they’re not the stuff that would ever make it into paperback novels. For me, they could be filling out reports, taking care of paperwork, and clearing off unsorted piles on my desk. Those are the things that cause me to cry out to Almighty God, “Help me!” Well, maybe not “cry out.” And we all have areas where we are most easily tempted or provoked to sin, and for those we certainly need God’s strength, protection, and victory. As I reread the drama of Psalm 18, I realize that whether there is drama or not, the Lord fully understands my circumstances and wants me to have victory. Even if those victories are unimpressive to anyone else, or totally unrecognized by anyone else, to my loving Lord, they are significant.

May you see the Lord split the sky, mounted on wings of angels to obliterate the foxes in your vineyard- the viruses that crash the operating system which is your life. And may you see strength and power from Him for victories, whether recognized by anyone else or not.


The Stink and the Sea

First, the “stink.” Yesterday’s work included setting up a base station in the tsunami zone for future relief teams. We put up a supply shed and had to anchor it down to withstand typhoons and other strong winds. Digging a hole to pour concrete for the anchor, we hit a piece of sheet metal and worked to pry it up. That unleashed an awful, putrid stench, and we didn’t even want to guess what the cause might be. But that’s not at all uncommon in relief work, so we groaned, made contorted-faced expressions, and continued on.

Next, the “sea.” I’ve grown up and lived around the ocean for many years, and love the smell of ocean spray, especially on brisk mornings. After a hard day of mixing and pouring concrete, putting up the supply shed, and other preparations, we headed off to a public bath, since the housing camp where we roll out our sleeping bags has no shower. We sat in a hot spring overlooking the ocean where the waves would break against the rocky shore and billow up a nice ocean spray. As I closed my eyes and drank in the fresh scent of the ocean, I enjoyed an invigorating “ahhhhhhh” moment where I completely forgot that I had just come from being muddy, sweaty, and constantly catching whiffs of a wretched stink. I just thoroughly savored the sea mist.

In that moment, the Lord brought to my mind that following Jesus is like living with the “stink” and the “sea.” Jesus had to put up with “stink”- opponents lying about Him, falsely accusing Him, and even trying to kill Him. But He endured that, knowing it was just part of life, living in a cursed and sinful world, a world that needed the touch of God. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NASB)

After Jesus endured the “stink,” He then experienced the extreme joy set before Him- lives changed forever, touched by God, thriving in God’s Kingdom, as well as His Father’s complete pleasure in His beloved Son.

As we follow Jesus, we have to put up with “stink” as well, don’t we? Since Jesus had “stink,” of course we who follow Him will also have “stink,” and it comes in all kinds of forms.

May you set your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, and be energized and strengthened to fully endure whatever “stink” you have before you. And having endured that “stink,” may you relax in a hot spring and drink in the invigorating scent of a fresh, sea breeze. May you have the extreme joy of seeing people around you touched by God and thriving in His Kingdom, and through that, know that your Heavenly Father is completely pleased with you, His beloved child.

What Just Happened?!

The first time it happened was eighteen years ago when we departed from Honolulu Airport on December 31st, crossed the International Date Line, and landed in Tokyo on January 2nd. New Years Day fell through a black hole. Three days ago, on March 30th, it happened again. We departed from Anchorage Airport, flew over the International Date Line, and landed in Tokyo last night, Monday night, April 1st. This time it was Easter Sunday that went completely stealth!  I’m sure you too have had important days somehow slip through under the radar.
As I reflect on the events of the past days, the Lord reminds me that we just passed the anniversary of one of the three most significant days in the history of man (sakabaka-1’s opinion, ymmv): 1) the day man was created; 2) the day man sinned and brought about death; and 3) not Easter, but Good Friday, when Jesus died for us and paid the penalty that sin incurred. It’s so easy for us to let this day and it’s monumental significance slip right by us. There are no lights, carols, or presents like Christmas. There are no brightly colored eggs like Easter. But if there were only one day or one event that we could look to to see the incomparable love that God has for us, it would be when Jesus gave His life for us that we could live.
Let’s not let this slip by us, but consider the following. Throughout the history of man, God has provided us with ample means of responding to His love so we could stay connected to Him. He gave us a perfect garden and world; we chose to love the stuff in it rather than the Creator. He gave us His law to show us how to respond to Him in love; we rejected it and went after other gods. Finally, He gave us what was most dear to Him, something that we could all understand as the most painful loss a father could have- His uniquely begotten Son. The epitome of true love is to give up what you value most for the sake of another. This is what God did for us when He gave up His Son to die for us.
This, of course, is not new news to anyone who grew up with any church background. In fact, because we’ve heard it so many times, it’s easy to get numbed to the awesomeness of its reality. Let’s think again, first of the deep love that Jesus has for us. In the garden as He prays to His Father, He is in such deep anguish that the corpuscles in His skin burst, and His blood flows out like sweat. What caused this anguish? Surely He contemplates the devoted love He has for His Father, for the One Who said of Him, “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased (Matt. 3:17).” What Jesus has awaiting Him is to go from beloved, well-pleased Son, which He certainly treasures deeply, to becoming abhorrent sin (2 Cor. 5:21) which His Father could not even look upon. Yet He gave this up so that you and I would not have to be entrapped in sin, cast away by the Father for all of eternity.
Let’s also consider the deep love the Father has for us. He knows if He wills for His Son to suffer and become sin, He will have to abandon and forsake Him (Mk. 15:34), and sentence Him to death. Yet out of His love for us, He wills it to happen so that we would not have to be abandoned, forsaken, and sentenced to eternal destruction.
This is the incomparable love God has for us that is especially remembered on Good Friday, a love that doesn’t wait for us to first clean up our act, but comes to us without condition. May you fully accept this love without any payment, but just a simple, “Thank you, God; I accept.” And may you never have a day slip by you when at least at one point or another you remember that you are deeply loved by the Father, and by His Son, the Lord Jesus.

Drafting God

If you’ve ever ridden or watched a cycling team time trial, you can probably appreciate the compulsion those riders have for aerodynamics.  It’s where the cycling team wears skinsuits and helmets that make them look like they’re rocketeers, and they ride in a line at speeds over 50 kph within inches of each others’ back tires.  This is to draft each other and reduce wind resistance.  It can be a little unnerving when you follow someone that closely and at that speed, because one wrong move on their part- if they pick a bad path, or turn or hit their brakes suddenly,  it can send you down to the pavement in a second.  I won’t do it unless I totally trust the rider in front of me.
This time trial team was the image the Lord brought to my mind as I read Psalm 16:8: “I have set the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  If God is before us and we are  following Him closely, it is as though we are drafting God.  He is the One choosing the path and doing the hard work of breaking the wind.  Our job is to stay close, tucked in right behind Him, and not lose the connection.
When you watch a time trial team that’s really good, it’s a beautiful sight to behold.  They move together as one, snaking through the course with a seamless fluidity of motion.  No breaks; no gaps.  That is what I envision King David meant when he said, “I set the Lord CONTINUALLY before me.”  In all circumstances, God was his leader.  So even though David was king, he was first a follower.
May you also have that seamless, fluidity of motion connected to the Lord as you set Him before you in all things, following right at His wheel.  No gaps; no breaks.  Trusting the path He chooses; trusting that He doesn’t make wrong moves that would cause you to go down.  Then as King David stated with such confidence, because He is at the head, you will not be shaken.

World’s Greatest Athlete

Any discussion about the world’s greatest anything is like a discussion about the world’s most delicious fruit (which are Thai papayas by the way (^_^) ), it will ultimately be comparing apples and oranges. For me, it’s a guy named Ueli Steck, who most people have probably never even heard of. I won’t bother listing all of his accolades, but I’ll just give one example of what Ueli’s done. He’s regarded as the world’s foremost mountaineer and rock climber. For example, the previous world record for the fastest solo ascent of the Eiger’s North Face by another climber was 4 hours and 40 minutes. Ueli decided he would do it in 2 hours and 47 minutes, in the winter, with no ropes or aids. The climbs he does and the speed at which he does them are truly inhuman. What I admire about Ueli is his commitment to intense training for whatever ascent he endeavors to attempt. Without it, he couldn’t do the climbs that he does, and probably wouldn’t still be alive today.

This is something I would love to emulate, even in the measly cycling events that I enter. What the Lord has impressed on me through the example of Ueli is the importance of training, of practice. Without it, you are not ready for what lies ahead.

For those who are followers of Jesus, there is an epic event in our future that isn’t an ascent of anything on earth, but an ascent to the heavenly Mountain of God! It is dwelling in the direct presence of the King of kings and serving Him. Psalm 15 tells us about the training and practice necessary for that: “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? (v.1 NIV)” “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. (v. 2 NASB)” I like the phrase, “works righteousness.” Training and practice are hard work, but in our present culture where enticements of ease and comfort are the aphrodisiac of media marketing, people pay good money to avoid work. The hard work of righteousness, or that which pleases God, is one of the training regimes that prepares us for serving the Lord on His Holy Mountain. Please see the following verses of Psalm 15 for the rest of the training protocols; they’re awesome disciplines to build into our lives. This epic “event” that we have coming, of course, will not finish in 2 hours and 40 minutes, but will continue for eternity. May we all be ready!

May you find joy in the hard work and sweat that comes from practice, and by doing so, experience the promise in verse 5: “He who does these things will never be shaken.”

The Two-Cup Code

In a recent relief trip to the tsunami zone, the Lord had me learn an important lesson, a sort of “secret code” to connecting with the local culture of northeast Japan. The leader of a temporary housing camp was taking me around to meet various people in the “zone,” and one of the ladies, the leader’s aunt, invited me to take a break from my busy schedule and sit at her kotatsu (low table in a tatami room) while she poured me a cup of hot green tea. She shared with me accounts of what happened the day of the tsunami, how life has been for her family, and a number of other aspects of life in that area, and then offered me a refill on my tea. I expressed my appreciation for the delicious green tea but told her one cup was plenty, and that I had a very full schedule that day. Wrong answer. In typical non-confrontational Japanese style, she had her niece, the camp leader tell me that you must always drink at least two cups of green tea when you sit down to talk with someone from Tohoku. Drinking only one cup communicates, “I’m too busy, and getting the things done on my “To Do” list is more important than spending time with you. Drinking two or more cups communicates, “I want to get to know you better.” Ah yes, very thankful for the cultural lesson.
The Lord used this lesson to tell me that He is always ready to have “two cups” or more with me. Can we even begin to fathom the immensity of the fact that the God of the universe, Who takes care of the needs of over 6 billion people simultaneously, is ready and waiting to take a break and have “two cups” of tea with us; that whatever concerns we have on our hearts are more important to Him than His “To Do” list?! …and how long must that be?? He says, “Call to Me, and I will answer you. I will tell you great and mighty things that you do not know.” (Jer. 33:3). May you find “two-cup” time to spend with your Father and hear of great and mighty things, things you did not know. May you also find “two-cup” time to spend with special people, that you might become kindred spirits.

Connecting Heart to Heart

Deep friendships can be pretty amazing. When we connect with special people heart to heart, our relationships can really be full of life, vibrant, dynamic, and growing; relationships where we can also truly relax, let down our guard, and know there is mutual trust. When we think of these special people, we feel like we belong to them and they belong to us. With them we know we can share what we call in Japan, our “hon-ne”, the true resonance of our hearts. Great blessings, yes?
When we read that God made us in His image, we realize that we were created by the God Who invented intimate, dynamic, loving relationships, because that is what He is all about. Like so many other awesome truths of God, He uses what is familiar to us in daily life to give us a clue to what is real in spiritual life with Him. He blessed me today with what He said through the prophet Hosea, ““So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth.” (Hosea 6:3). I especially like the last part- “He will come to us like the spring rain.” In the special friendships we have on this earth, we delight in knowing our friends more and more and are blessed when we do. In the same way, may you “press on to know Him” and be super-blessed by Him coming to you like the spring rain, and may you truly connect with Him heart to heart.

An Uncanny Peace

If you’ve done any international travel, I’m sure you know how difficult it can sometimes be to get over jet lag, yes?  The trip before this one, it took me a week; then I returned home.  This current trip, my second night in, I slept 9 hours and now am pretty much adjusted.  Ahhhhh, nice!  There’s just something blissful about being able to sleep when you might not have normally expected to.  Calm and peace; yes!
Through this, the Lord has brought to my mind the uncanny calm and peace that comes from truly trusting in Him, in the fact that He has power over ALL things and loves us infinitely.  We can see this perfectly in the example of Peter.  King Herod was persecuting the early church, seized Peter’s close friend, James, beheaded him, saw it pleased the people, so went ahead and grabbed Peter as well.  He locked him in prison with two chains, between two guards, and made plans to execute him in the same way the next morning (Acts 12:1-6).  Let’s put ourselves in Peter’s shoes.  Can’t you just feel the tension, anxiety, and anguish that must have filled his being?  Yet he slept (v.6).  How is it that Peter had the calm and peace to be able to sleep, locked with two chains, between two guards, having his close friend just beheaded, knowing he’s scheduled to be next come morning?  This is where we see the peace that comes from fully trusting the Lord, His power, His love, and His promises.
Jesus had given Peter a word of prophecy that he would not die till after he had grown old, old to the point that he would need to rely on others to dress him (Jn. 21:18).  So even though, from any human perspective, Peter was soon to be beheaded in the same manner as his compatriot, he trusted completely in the word his Lord Jesus had given him and had the calm and peace to sleep.  We see afterwards that God miraculously freed Peter from his chains, guards, and imprisonment through an angel (Acts 12:7 and following).
The Lord has given us many promises as well.  To those who love God, He has promised to cause all things to work together for good, so that He can make us more and more like His Son Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29)… and dozens more like this.  Even though we probably aren’t scheduled to be beheaded tomorrow, our lives can be filled with uncertainty, yes?  In all of our hopes and desires, how much of it is God’s perfect will and desire for us?  What will the future bring?  May you follow in the example of Peter and entrust your days and years ahead to the Almighty, all-loving Father, and His perfect will.  May you say to the Father, “Lord, You lead the way, and please give me ears to hear and faith to obey.”… and through that, may you gain that uncanny peace, calm, and confidence, trusting that what your Father has planned for you is ultimately the best!

The Greatest Joy of a Father

Around the restaurant table were a very recent believer, two who were veterans in the faith, two who are not yet in God’s kingdom, and myself. The subject of conversation was the dynamic relationship we can have with God, hearing His voice daily, communing with Him, step by step being led by Him. One of the “not yets,” Mrs. Field (English translation), says to me, “I just try to keep a positive attitude, and if things get difficult, I try to gather up strength within me and be strong.” What the Lord led me to share with her was that of course it’s great to try to keep a positive attitude and to have inner strength. But there’s a “next level” that we can reach, and that’s realizing that we have a Creator Who not only created us, but loves us and desires to relate to us. In His infinite wisdom, He has chosen to explain our relationship to Him as a “parent-child” relationship, which of course every human being can understand.
Thinking back on that conversation, the Lord now brings to mind what the apostle John said towards the end of his life, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4). This must also echo the heart of our Father whose greatest joy is to see us, His children walking in the truth. This Father of ours has not merely created us and then left us alone as orphans to well up positive attitudes and inner strength on our own, but by His infinite love for us, not only gave His Son Jesus to die for us, but with Jesus, gives us ALL things without reserve… so that we can walk in the truth (Rom. 8:32). Is this not awesome?! As you seek to commune with your Father daily, hearing His voice with your heart, being led by Him step by step, may you have eyes to see the “ALL things without reserve” that He gives you. May you thoroughly enjoy all these “presents” and the rich life in the truth that they bring.

Unlikely Role Models

I was especially moved by a quote I read the other day.  “People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.  If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.  For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” – Mother Teresa.  I especially love the last part, “In the end, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.”  It is so easy to be influenced and even manipulated by concern over what others think about us, isn’t it?  In times of confidence, we might think, “Not me.  I stand firm in my faith.  I live by God’s Word.”  But we must not forget that even the foremost of Jesus’ own disciples, one who was in Jesus’ inner circle, one whom Jesus personally groomed and coached day in and day out for three years said, “I would die before denying you, Lord!”  What happened when he was surrounded by skeptics and hostiles?  His fears took over, his concerns were for what those around him thought and not what God thought, and he denied his Lord.  None of us are immune, are we?
In all of the accounts when Jesus commended people, what did He most commend them for?  Did He say things like, “Wow, I have not seen anyone this talented in all of Israel.”  Or, “I have not seen anyone this smart in all of Israel.”  Those would be the world’s standards for what is desirable- talent, intellect, physical attractiveness, dynamism, etc.  Yet, what is of highest esteem in Jesus’ eyes is simple faith- not being afraid of what others might think, but making what God thinks our highest priority.  The role models we have are an unlikely crew- an old widow so poor she could barely give an offering of more than a penny, a blind beggar who was chastised to back off and shut up, a government official too humble to even ask Jesus to enter his home, a woman with menstrual bleeding that wouldn’t stop; not necessarily who we would nominate for our Spiritual All-Star Team, is it?  But they all knew.  It’s between me and God.  It was never between  me and everyone else who might be looking, judging, and criticizing.  Or on the other hand, it was never about gaining recognition or acclamation from others.  It is about hearing, with the ears of our hearts, our Lord saying, “Well done; you heard Me and obeyed.”  Every one of these unlikely role models was highly esteemed by our Lord Jesus!  May the Lord give you faith to block out all the unnecessary periphery, any fears you might have, and then fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, and have the joy of following Him unrestrained.