October 20, 2014

2 Corinthians 6:10 Having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

This concludes a pretty remarkable list of the seemingly incongruent nature of Christian living. When we don’t operate by this world’s standards, the world can’t figure us out. That’s why our lives have to be demonstrations of the grace of God, because otherwise, that grace is simply unbelievable. If we allow the world to shape our thinking about what is desirable, we won’t recognize the incredible riches that are ours in Christ. That’s what Jesus was talking about when He said, “In this world you will have trouble. But rejoice, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Those who are in Christ can indeed rejoice, regardless of their circumstances, because they are “seated with Him in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 2:6) That’s something the world cannot imagine, and will decry as total delusion. When we limit our view to what our minds can understand, we cut ourselves off from the unimaginable riches of God in Christ. It’s not at all that God wants us to “disconnect our minds.” The hippie movement was the devil’s counterfeit of the Church, with “turn on, tune in, drop out” as the mantra, using drugs to imitate the work of the Holy Spirit. The fallout from that is evident all around us, because “free love” very quickly became “free sex,” and the result of that is essentially in your face all the time. God wants us to apply our minds to seek Him, and allow Him to show us “great and unsearchable things [we] do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3) When our minds and hearts are fixed on Him, then the troubles of this world recede to minor importance, and we are able to rejoice in His incredible grace and goodness.

I find I am at a loss for words to express adequately all that is poured out on us in Christ. That’s unusual for me, because I’m very seldom at a loss for words! However, I am all too prone to allow temporal things to distract me from the eternal riches that are mine. That should give me real empathy for those to whom I minister, most of whom haven’t tasted as much of the Lord as I have. I know I don’t have sufficient wisdom to communicate it all, because it’s got to be revealed by the Holy Spirit. However, I can be available as His instrument, His tool, to get through to people. I just can’t “make it happen” in my own strength. I need to be sure first that my own relationship with God is right, so that I am a demonstration of the truth I am seeking to share, and then I need to let the Holy Spirit have full reign so that I speak/write His words and not just my own. My own words have no real power, but His words created the universe!

Father, thank You for Your overwhelming grace and love. Help me be an unpolluted channel for You to pour that grace and love through me to as many as will receive it. May I apply every gift You have placed in me to that purpose, not getting in the way but being fully available all the time, so that as many as will may come into full, right relationship with You, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 19, 2014

2 Corinthians 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So many live strictly for themselves, and they are incalculably poorer for it. One reason being in love or being a parent feels so good is that it causes you to focus outward, breaking the self-centeredness. However, living for your spouse or for your children has many limitations, because they are just as imperfect and mortal as you are. In fact, people who live that way are generally totally devastated when that other individual is taken away. That’s particularly true with death, but it also applies at times to divorce or even to “empty nest syndrome,” where the children grow up and leave home. The only one who is truly worthy to be lived for is Christ, because He died for us and rose again and is eternal, just as Paul says here. In living for Him we may and probably will give ourselves to others, in marriage, parenting, or some other form of sacrificial service, but those are just expressions of our fundamental commitment to Christ. When we have that attitude we will still mourn when a loved one is taken from us but not at all in the same way, because we were not living for the loved one but for Christ. Those who have not experienced this have trouble imagining how it could be, but there are countless people who can testify that it is very real indeed. Those with eyes to see and hearts to understand recognize the emptiness of living only for yourself. We are surrounded by examples! Paul is here giving us the perfect, and indeed only real, solution.

I’ve done more than enough living for myself, but from childhood I have known that Jesus loved me enough to die for me, and that has made a huge difference in my life. Even though I was not very intentional in following Christ at the time, I feel sure that it was the love of Christ that enabled me to commit to my wife as I did in a very short time, and that commitment has held ever since 1969. At the same time, I am faced with the statistical probability that she will precede me to heaven, given her considerable list of medical problems. (Actually, she has been and come back once, so she and I both know it will be wonderful for her when she gets to stay.) The thought of losing her is not at all a pleasant one for me, but I am not living for her, I am living for Christ, and He will never, can never, be taken from me. To the degree that I am genuinely living for Him, I will have peace, joy, and fruitfulness, and that is what I desire.

Father, I didn’t expect to write on this, but thank You. Help me indeed live for Christ who died for me, being crucified with Him just as Paul said in Galatians 2:20. May the life of Christ in me draw many more to You, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 18, 2014

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Anyone who is in Christ because they have been born again by faith reflects His glory, which is wonderful in itself. We do need to remember that it’s not our own glory but His, however. When we start thinking it’s our own glory – and I’ve seen it happen – we get into real trouble, because as He said so clearly through Isaiah, God does not give His glory to others. (Isaiah 42:8) That’s why it’s all the more remarkable that He lets us reflect His glory. Jesus was the perfect representation of the Father, (Colossians 1:15) which is to say, a perfectly undistorted reflection. Thus, when we are transformed into the likeness of Christ, we present fewer and fewer distortions as we reflect His glory. If that seems desirable, the next question is, how? Paul answers that here as well: it’s the work of the Holy Spirit. The more we yield ourselves to the work of the Spirit, bearing His fruit, (Galatians 5:22-23) the more He transforms us into the likeness of Christ. And no, that doesn’t mean we all get long hair and a beard! This is not talking about externals, but about our very nature. From the moment we are born again we receive the nature of Christ, and spiritual growth is the process of that nature supplanting our fleshly nature. That’s certainly something to look forward to!

This is something I thankfully see in myself, and I have seen it in many others. As a pastor, I seek to help others believe that it is possible for them, because sadly, many struggle in that area. They are very aware of their own imperfections and they don’t see how they could reflect the glory of God. There are two parts to my task here. The first is to help them lift their eyes off of themselves, because so many are like armadillos or pangolins, so self-absorbed in their fears that they are rolled up into a ball and unable to do anything. Along with that, I need to help them open up to the work of the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to do the “remodeling” they need for the transformation Paul is talking about. Actually, rather than separate tasks, these are two sides to the same coin, because one won’t happen without the other. I need to recognize what the Lord has done and is continuing to do in me, so that I may encourage that in others. At the same time, I must remember that the work is far from complete in me, any more than it was in Paul. (Philippians 3:12) I too must open up more and more to the work of the Holy Spirit, taking my eyes off of myself, so that He will be free to do the Father’s will in and through me.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the things You’ve been allowing me to go through recently to make further corrections. That hasn’t always felt good at the moment, but I know Your results are always good. Help me be the encouraging mentor You want me to be to those in my care, so that together we may indeed reflect Your glory, drawing many to salvation. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 17, 2014

1 Corinthians 6:13 “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

This whole passage, from verse 9 on, is under vigorous attack today. The saying that Paul quotes about the stomach and food seems completely modern, because it references genitals and sex, and it is no longer politically correct to imply that there should be any restraints on sexual activity. Even medically speaking, if husbands and wives have their first-ever sexual encounter with each other and then remain faithful to each other for life, STIs (they want to call them “sexually transmitted infections” now, because “diseases” seems condemnatory somehow) would disappear from the planet. And that doesn’t begin to take into account the emotional and psychological damage brought about by casual sex. Paul is very even-handed here, making no distinction between heterosexual immorality and homosexual immorality. The point is, immorality is ultimately destructive on every level, however exciting or physically enjoyable it might be at the moment. Our bodies were created by God for our responsible use and His glory. Anything else is destructive to us and to those around us, and is sin against our Creator.

It would be nice if I could say I had never strayed from the Biblical guidelines, but that would not be honest. However, the Lord has been remarkably faithful in protecting me in spite of myself, giving me a wife who has been suited to me in every way at the ripe old age of 20. I shudder to think how I might have gone had He not done so. However, I deal with people all the time who do not seem to have the same hedge of protection as I have had. I am not to be holier-than- thou toward them, but neither am I to gloss over the clear Biblical statements on the issue. As a pastor and counselor I am dealing with human weakness all the time, my own and that of others. I don’t have sufficient wisdom for the task but God does, and He will supply all I need if I will depend on Him. (James 1:5)

Father thank You for this reminder. As I tell couples in premarital counseling, society today is saturated with sex, and the pressures are unrelenting. Help me not only stand firm myself but also be a strength, guide and encouragement to others, so that the devices of the devil may be overcome and people set free to live as You intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 16, 2014

1 Cor 1:30-31 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Human pride and boasting are really amazing. God does give assorted abilities to people, and some of those are quite remarkable. With those abilities, people do all sorts of things, some of them quite praise-worthy, at least in our eyes. However, the moment we forget that it is God who has made all of it possible, we lose most of the benefit. It is at times laughable to see people trying to leave God out of the equation, but it is also quite sad. Paul, to his blessing and ours, realized that all he had came from God and was to go back to God in obedience and praise. However, he didn’t have an easy road to get to that settled understanding. As a star pupil of Gamaliel, he was quite full of himself and was quite active in persecuting the early Church, until God quite literally knocked him off of his high horse. (Acts 9) One of the chief things he had to learn in the next few years after that was humility, and God arranged the necessary circumstances for that. Before he died, he had come to the place where he could say that everything apart from knowing Christ was junk, when compared to the glory of fellowship with the Son of God. (Philippians 3:7-11) The more we cling to this, that, or the other point of pride, the less we are able to receive the true riches that are found in Christ Jesus alone.

I have fought with pride all my life. It seems like I was blessed with everything but athletic ability, and in retrospect it is amazing to me that I was so conceited about things that I had received. Gratitude is appropriate, but not pride. One of the most convicting verses in the whole Bible for me is Luke 12:48. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” I have abilities in a wide variety of areas, and what have I done with them? God is my judge, but to me it feels like, not much. I have an IQ of something over 150, but it was very liberating when God really got through to me, not so many years ago, that He’s smart and I’m not. There is far, far more that I don’t know than I do know, and far, far more that I can’t do than I can, but God has no such limitations. When and if I am totally yielded and obedient to Him, He can do remarkable things through me. When I’m trying to be in control, wielding instead of submitting the gifts He has given me, I make a total mess of things. As He told me a few years ago, I need to rest, relax, and rejoice. Only then will I fulfill the role He has for me in His kingdom, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. As you know, I woke up this morning and was unable to go back to sleep because of all the negative things running through my mind. I’ve still got lots of room to grow in trusting You and releasing things to You. Thank You for all You allow me to experience to help me along that path. May I be fully available to You, held back neither by pride nor by unbelief, so that all of Your purposes for me may be fulfilled for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 15, 2014

Romans 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Once again we are reminded that whereas Christ died for each individual, He didn’t do so for us to be self-centered and isolated. The Body of Christ is a community, an organism, and we are all interrelated with one another. We are to seek peace, that is, to minimize friction and conflict, and we are to help one another grow spiritually. (That’s what “edification” means. In some churches, with church dinners and the like, it seems like they help one another grow fat!) The tension comes when spiritual growth calls for confrontation. That feels like a violation of “seeking peace,” but in reality it isn’t, because unconfronted problems fester and grow. We are to love one another enough to say and do even the hard things, but always in love. True community isn’t easy, but it’s certainly worth it. We live in an increasingly narcissistic, self-centered society, and that directly contradicts true community. The other day I was at Universal Studios Japan, and I couldn’t count all the people taking “selfies,” even having a special pole to hold their phone at a good distance and angle for the purpose. Narcissism never leads to either happiness or spiritual growth. We speak of “selflessness” as though it were an impossibly high and noble thing, when in reality we don’t really aim for it. It is when we realize how selfless Jesus was for us that we become able to give ourselves for others, and so taste the joy that He knew. (Hebrews 12:2)

In marriage counseling I always bring up the truth that when we are focused on our own happiness, that happiness becomes ever more ephemeral, but when we focus on the happiness of our partner, our own happiness become ever more solid and real. That is of course the most intimate of all human relationships, but the same principle applies to some extent to all our interactions. I have always despised conflict, and still tend to run from it, but that is seldom the route to spiritual growth and real peace. The difficulty lies in expressing what needs to be said in a way that will be received as love, rather than an attack. That’s where relationship-building comes in. If my actions and attitudes have demonstrated love consistently, then even strong words will be received as love. If that foundation isn’t there, then even mild correction can produce a violent reaction. I’ve had it happen! I need to love people enough to do whatever is necessary for their good, so that the Body of Christ may be built up.

Father, thank You for the various opportunities You give me as Your agent of blessing, in word and in deed. Thank You for the opportunities I know I’ll have today. Help me make full use of them as You intend, so that my brothers and sisters may be built up as the disciples that You created them to be, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 14, 2014

Romans 10:14-15 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

This is a justly famous exposition of the logic of evangelism, yet many Christians exclude themselves from the sequence at one point or another. For most, the biggest problem is that they don’t understand that they have been sent. However, the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) that Jesus delivered before His ascension was not just to those present, but to all believers. Many people relegate that to missionaries and the like, but Jesus made no such distinction. When He was talking with the 11 disciples, Jesus specified starting in Jerusalem, that is, right where they were, before expanding the field to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) There are Christians who grasp that much, at least intellectually, but they receive it only as a guilt trip, thinking themselves unqualified for the task. Well, big secret: nobody’s qualified in their own strength, but God’s Holy Spirit is available to all who will receive Him. (again, Acts 1:8) When we think we have to make people believe, we have every reason to give up before we start. Our job is simply to present the message as clearly and winningly as possible, to give people the opportunity to believe. You could paraphrase what Paul said here as, “How can people believe if they don’t have the opportunity?” Those who make themselves available to God as carriers of His good news are to be commended indeed. I find it interesting that the Japanese renders the quote from Isaiah 52:7 as, “How splendid are the feet of those who communicate good news.” We don’t have to be pretty to be splendid!

This is of course a call I have answered, as a pastor in Japan, but it is my earnest desire that as many others as possible accept the call as well. Relatively few are called as pastors, where they are or in some distant place, but all are called to be witnesses. Some exclude themselves on the basis of verbal gifts, but you don’t have to have a silver tongue to be an effective witness. The most important thing is congruity between what you say and what you do. Some exclude themselves at precisely that point, citing their imperfections, but none of us are perfect. Actually, the desire to be a better representative of Jesus is one of the best motives for living closer to Him! Japan is certainly not the easiest place to communicate the Gospel, but Jesus didn’t say, “Go to the easy places,” He said, “Go to the ends of the earth.” I am never to give up, but remember that He can use even me to tell others about Him, so that they may have the opportunity to believe.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the opportunities You’ve given me to share Your truth over the past few days. May I be available and responsive all the time, so that I may indeed make the most of every opportunity, (Ephesians 5:16) so that as many as possible may believe and be saved, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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