October 24, 2014

Galatians 3:5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

What comes to mind as I read this is how many churches today have never seen a miracle, or at least one they recognized, and there is little or no evidence of the Holy Spirit being present. This is not a matter of denominations, it’s a matter of hearing with faith. Too many today take the Bible as a book of fairy tales, and certainly don’t seek to apply it in their daily living. At the time Paul wrote this very little of the New Testament had been written, so they were operating on oral testimonies backed up with Old Testament prophecies. That’s why the emphasis here is on hearing. Today we have the whole Bible in almost more forms than you could count, and yet people don’t take the Word in and really believe it to put it into practice. Paul was really having to get on the Galatians because they were becoming legalistic, but at least they had the Spirit and the miracles in the first place! The Church today needs to wake up and examine itself, shake off empty forms and get back to believing and living out the Word of God.

I have to include myself in that, because this church has seen very few miracles, at least that the world would acknowledge. We are seeing the fruit of the Spirit that Paul talks about later in Galatians, but we have plenty of room to grow in all areas. As Paul said in Romans 10:17, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. As pastor, I must be both careful and bold to speak the Word in love, in season and out of season, not failing to speak because I doubt the reception will be good but trusting God to use His Word to produce His results. That applies to speaking both to non-believers and to believers, because all need to grow in faith so that they may receive all that God has prepared for them in Christ.

Father, thank You for the opportunities You gave Cathy and me yesterday to share Christ at some length with people. Thank you that both those people are hungry. I pray that they would not delay to open their hearts to be born again, and I pray that there would be many more to follow them. I pray also for the believers who are already in the church, that their eyes would be lifted from themselves and their circumstances and fixed on You, so that they may believe and trust You enough to allow You to do in and through them all that You have planned, for their blessing and for the growth of the Body of Christ, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 23, 2014

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This verse is so totally familiar that I almost didn’t write on it, but it is familiar for an excellent reason: it is extremely powerful. Anyone who gets the truth of this verse worked into their spirit and soul is immune to any attack of the devil. After all, anyone who has died is immune to any and all temptation. Pain is also irrelevant. We inhabit our bodies for a while, and for that interval we are subject to all sorts of things. However, when we are in Christ the hold of our flesh over us is loosened, and we can walk in what He has accomplished for us. That’s not to say that the influence of the flesh is totally gone, it’s that we are no longer bound by it. Paul used this image of death in a good way in Romans 6:11, where he tells us to “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Sometimes that takes a lot of faith. If we are focused on our faith, we will find that we never have enough. If we focus on the One in whom we believe, we find that His grace is indeed sufficient for us. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I am in the middle of an unexpected practicum in this, having thrown my back out somehow yesterday. Pain can be quite a distraction! However, as I told my wife, this gives me a rather intense empathy with the pain she has every day with her Parkinson’s Disease. I am reminded that the origin of the word, “excruciating,” is “to be crucified.” As I go through this, I need to remember that I am already crucified with Christ, as this verse says, so these temporal distractions are just that, temporary, and I don’t have to pay them so much attention. That is indeed easier said than done at times. My respect for my wife, and for others who live with chronic pain, is going up steadily! Rather than focus on the pain part of it, I need to focus on the living part of it, as she obviously does. As a pastor, I am constantly dealing with people who are focused on their emotional pain. That is just as debilitating as physical pain, if not more so. There too the cross of Christ is effective, when received and applied by faith. I need to teach people the truth of the old hymn, “Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe.” I need to let this verse be fully operative in me so that it may in turn be operative in others.

Father, thank You for this Word, and for the circumstances that made me open to receive it. I ask for wisdom in receiving Your healing, but even more I ask that You enable me to retain the spiritual lesson You’re giving me, so that as I become a more perfect expression of Christ, more and more people would be drawn to faith, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 22, 2014

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

People tend to have one of two faith problems with this verse, and then there is a third, more subtle problem they have with it. The first problem is the obvious one, of really believing that God is able to make everything abound to us. We see God through such a human filter that we don’t really believe He is omnipotent. Humanism is generally at fault here, because it is so focused on mankind that anything impossible for a person is seen as impossible, period. Then there are the people who believe God could do anything, but they just can’t bring themselves to believe He would do what they need. This is again focused on the human end of the transaction, failing to understand that grace is really what the dictionary says it is: unmerited favor. This attitude places God higher than the first one, but it still doesn’t place Him high enough, and so is unbelief. The third, more subtle problem is the failure to grasp that God supplies what He does so that we may abound in good works. This is the attitude that sees God as Santa, giving us stuff strictly for our own pleasure and enjoyment. Ultimately, it’s the most self-centered of all. God’s provision always has a purpose, or really multiple purposes, and only one of those is for us to feel good. God delights to bless His children, just as any good parent does, but He knows better than anyone that spoiling children is not kind, it’s cruel, because a spoiled person becomes blind to anyone and anything other than what they want. When our focus is on using God’s provision to do His will for His glory, then we discover that there are no limits to that provision at all.

This is something I have known intellectually for some time, but it is still working its way through me emotionally and otherwise. I have seen God’s provision in some remarkable ways, but I have had to learn that it is on His schedule, and the more demanding I become, the more worn out I am, to no effect. There are certainly things I would like to see right now that aren’t in evidence yet, but I’ve got to trust God and His timing. At the same time, I’ve got to keep myself obedient and responsive to Him, not thinking or acting like anything belongs to me, including my own physical body, but recognizing that it all belongs to Him, and I am simply a steward, and as Paul pointed out, it is required of stewards that they be faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:2) After all, God is certainly faithful!

Father, thank You for this reminder. With pension funds coming in now there’s the temptation to focus on the financial, and that is a real trap. Help me focus on Your purpose for Your provision, not just materially but in every way. May I be a good steward of the truth and insight You provide, sharing it with whom You intend in the ways You intend. May I be a good steward of the comfort and encouragement You provide, lifting others out of the pits they find themselves in so that they too may rejoice in You. May I be a good steward of the time You give me, accomplishing Your will on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 21, 2014

2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

This is the key to a holy lifestyle: not trying to earn good stuff from God but responding to what He has already provided, not only to be able to receive that provision but in deep gratitude. The devil, the world, and people who are steeped in the world are continually trying to get us to compromise. However, as Paul said in Romans 12:2, we are not to be conformed to this world, compromising to get along, which is the “politically correct” thing to do. Actually, the “politically correct” crowd wants you to throw all your convictions out the window! As Peter pointed out, they are surprised when you won’t do so. (1 Peter 4:4) Christians in the world are definitely swimming against the current. That’s why it’s so important that we gather as like-minded believers, both to encourage one another and to worship our common Lord. Those in the world don’t know the Lord, and that’s the whole problem. 80 some years ago my mother was at a party of Christians, and one seminary student had brought a girl who was not a Christian. After the party she said, “I would never have dreamed I could have so much fun without drinking!” That’s the point: the world knows nothing of the things in Christ, and so they insist those things are all illusions, when they are the ones walking in deception.

This is, of course, something I have lived with all my life, as does everyone, from one angle or another. Thankfully I never much cared for the taste of beer, nor was I the social animal to get involved in wild parties. To be honest, there were times when I was envious of those who did that sort of thing, but I am now very thankful for the Lord’s protection. I find that not fitting in but being envious of those who do is a very common thing among Christian young people, and I need wisdom in encouraging them. Particularly in Japan, where there are so few Christians, it is hard for them to be part of a Christian peer group, and that can be lonely indeed. I need to remember my own youth to have empathy and be open to the Holy Spirit to have wisdom, so that the devices of the devil may be defeated on every front, for their blessing and the glory of God.

Father, thank You for the opportunities You give me to speak into so many different lives. May I not spout off from my own head but rather speak Your truth in Your love, so that people may be liberated from the lies of the devil to walk in the glorious victory that You intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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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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