November 24, 2014

1 Peter 2:16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.

This verse is the perfect answer to libertarianism. We are indeed created by God to be free, but so many who stress that turn right around and make themselves slaves to sin, rather than to God. Paul dealt with this issue in depth in Romans; this verse is just one more example of the remarkable unanimity of the Bible. The thing is, we are slaves to whomever we obey. (Romans 6:16) Most of the people I have known who were adamant about “personal liberty” used that liberty to drink, do drugs, or whatever. When our focus is on liberty rather than on the One who created us and gave us freedom, then we lay ourselves open to all sorts of deceptions of the devil, who is out only to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10)

Having graduated from college in 1969, I am very familiar with hippie culture and the roots of libertarianism. I am no fan of big government by any means, but I have seen many, many lives ruined in the pursuit of “liberty.” “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” was quite the mantra back in the day, and chaos on several levels was the result. I am very aware that “you can’t legislate morality,” but you can have laws that encourage moral behavior rather than the opposite. I am at times tempted to despair, or at least give up, on America, because evil takes so many faces. However, God has reminded me repeatedly that He is still God, and whether America survives or not is not the issue. Living in Japan perhaps makes this easier for me than for some who are in the thick of the current turmoil in America, but my focus has got to be on God’s kingdom and His righteousness, (Matthew 6:33) not just so that my physical needs will be met but so that I won’t lose my way in all the confusion. I am to walk free and lead others to do the same: free from all the devices and traps of the devil, in the liberty that only comes from the Spirit of God. (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Father, thank You for this reminder. I am frankly very tired of politics, but there seems to be no escaping it these days. I ask for wisdom and patient endurance. May I recognize what You are doing and participate willingly, not pursuing a human agenda but walking in obedient submission to You. May my words and actions bring light and clarity and not darkness and confusion. Once again I am back to praying the Lord’s Prayer: may Your Name be hallowed and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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November 23, 2014

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

A few months ago I preached on mutuality, titling it “One Another,” and I feel sure I used this verse. However, preaching on something isn’t the same as living it out! God created mankind to need each other, just as God Himself is Trinity. We are to take personal responsibility for our actions, not blaming others for the way we are, but at the same time realize that we need each other, and act accordingly. God deals with us as individuals and as groups, and we need to recognize and fulfill our place in both scenarios. This particular verse talks about confession and prayer. Those are both intensely personal activities, yet they are never in isolation. We are to confess our sins first to God, as John wrote so memorably in 1 John 1:9. However, when our sins directly involve others, we need to confess to them as well. Also, there is a powerful element of accountability in confessing sins to people whom we can see and who can see us. (God can of course see us, but until we are before the throne we can’t see Him with our natural eyes.) Likewise, it is often easier to pray in faith for someone else than it is to do so for yourself. For one thing, we are less uncertain of our own motives. It is much easier to to grasp how big God is when our focus is off of ourselves, because we are painfully aware of our own limitations. And we have the assurance here, born out by 2000 years of Church history, that such prayer brings healing. We don’t often see what would be called a medical miracle, though it does happen with far more frequency than most expect, but we do see healing, always. That healing might even be in the one praying! God does work in and through prayer, often in ways we don’t anticipate. James reminds us of the power inherent in the prayer of a righteous person. That opens up the whole area of what is righteousness, but we have to come back to the bedrock reality that our righteousness is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:30) When our faith is in Him and our repentance is up to date, we are righteous, and we can and should pray with great boldness. If we would do that more, we’d see a lot more of God’s hand at work!

This of course applies to me. It’s not much use for me personally if I preach to others and fail to apply that same truth in my own life. I have found that an “accountability partner” can be very helpful indeed in overcoming various sins. I am not to go around trumpeting my failures, but I am to be brutally honest about them to those who are close to me. I pray a great deal for others, but I am also very aware of my need for others to pray for me, just as Paul was. (Ephesians 6:19, etc.) I will not raise up a praying people, which I earnestly desire to do, without spending time in prayer myself, in public and in private. I want all the members of this church to understand and appropriate the righteousness that is theirs in Christ, so that we may rise up as a mighty army in His kingdom, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I am all too prone to be distracted by the minor bumps in the road. Thank You for what You are going to do here today. May every word and every act be as You desire and direct by Your Spirit, so that we may be transformed more and more into the likeness of of Christ, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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November 22, 2014

James 3:17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

Well! That’s a pretty high standard! If this were applied to the awarding of doctorate degrees, I don’t think there would be very many given out. However, that’s the whole point: an academic degree is for knowledge, but this is talking about wisdom. Also, we need to notice that this is specifically about wisdom “from above.” This kind of wisdom isn’t achieved, it’s received. True wisdom is humble, because it knows that it doesn’t know. Much damage is done by people who think, or at least insist, that they know much more than they do. It’s not at all that we can’t know things; God in His grace has given us inquiring minds and the ability to learn. However, when knowledge is not paired with wisdom, all hell breaks loose, sometimes literally. After all, Eve was tempted to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is the perennial test and temptation of the scientist. Each major breakthrough has presented possibilities for good and for evil, and many have lacked the wisdom called for. In the 20th Century the big issue was atomic energy, and at present the fields of genetic engineering and artificial intelligence come to mind. If every scientist, not to mention people in every other field, sought and received wisdom from God, the world would be a better place indeed.

I come from a very academic background. My father and both grandfathers all had doctorates, and their wives were college graduates. I have past and present university professors all over my family tree. That puts me in a good position to observe the difference between knowledge and wisdom, because some of those people have been very foolish! All that aside, the issue for me is choosing wisdom consistently. I love to learn, to acquire knowledge, but I see that there are some things it’s better not to know. I need wisdom from God to direct me into the right paths of knowledge, particularly in this information age where so much is available through the Internet. I also need His wisdom to discern when the information that is presented is wrong, because there’s a lot of that going on. Like Paul, I need to make knowing Christ my highest priority. (Philippians 3:10) I really like the Youth With A Mission motto: “To know Christ and make Him known.” I even borrowed that as part of our church Vision Statement. If that is the focus of my knowledge, then I will receive the wisdom I need as well.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I need this sort of thing pretty regularly! Help me indeed operate in Your wisdom and not think that I have any of my own worth having, so that I will do Your will in Your way, producing Your results for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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November 21, 2014

James 2:26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Martin Luther, having rediscovered salvation by grace through faith, considered James to be “a book of straw,” but it has always been something of a favorite of mine. It certainly isn’t “politically correct!” Luther was dealing with a situation where many believed you could buy your way into heaven, in a time when many Church officials were totally corrupt. That of course is a terrible situation, but “ivory tower” Christians aren’t much better. I don’t think James disagreed in the least with Paul’s affirmation that we are saved by grace through faith, (Ephesians 2:8-10) but he wasn’t about to let people weasel out of living an active Christian life by claiming they had faith. As has been said, in the debate between faith and “works,” real faith works. That’s precisely what this verse says. The process of Christian maturity is getting our lives in line with what we believe. The danger comes in our remarkable ability to deceive ourselves, which James famously mentions in James 1:22. Any time we hear God’s Word we need to be active in analyzing how it applies to our daily lives, and then follow through in applying it. That’s why I’m so appreciative of Wayne Cordeiro’s SOAP system of personal devotions, which I’ve followed for several years now. The A in that acronym stands for Application. Any time we read the Bible we need to let our guard down to allow the Holy Spirit to show us areas where we need to repent, as well as encourage us and give us wisdom in living as Christ’s representatives. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

As steeped in the Bible as I am, it is a constant consideration for me as to whether I am applying what I know, rather than just having it in my head. I’m quite an expert at deceiving myself! I want my faith to be fully alive and active, and I want to impart such faith to as many as will receive it. In the upcoming Christmas season there is real danger of being numb to the extremely familiar, and I have got to be on my guard. I need to remember that most of the people around me don’t really know the story, and certainly not all it means to them. I am to share with them how God’s love, His “faith in mankind,” if you will, was expressed through the action of Christ coming to earth as a baby in a manger. There is never a disconnect between faith and works for God! If I believe the truth of the Bible, then I will act to communicate it to others.

Father, thank You for the incredible privilege of acting as Your representative. Help me never let that slide, but open up more and more fully for Your Spirit to act freely in and through me, so that Your will may be done for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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November 20, 2014

James 1:25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

I quote verse 22 with considerable frequency, but this verse fleshes that out and gives more understanding in a positive way. The implication from this verse is that looking into the Word/Law is a frequent, regular thing. That’s why the NIV says “continues to do this,” where the Greek is more, “doesn’t depart from it.” Simply reading the Bible without thinking about it doesn’t do a whole lot of good. There are places in the world where a printed Bible is very hard to come by, or even illegal, but a person in such a country can think over what they have heard, allowing it to sink into them. The Japanese translation of this verse says that such a person will actually do things, and the NIV and the Japanese agree that in the doing, such a person will be blessed. Many people want the blessings of God, but you don’t get them to their full extent by considering the Bible to be a coffee table decoration or shelf filler, or even a Sunday accessory. I keep coming back to the truth that the Bible is the most practical book in the world, because it applies to all mankind over every category: gender, race, age, social position, economic status, or whatever. It is only when we grasp that and choose to apply the Word to our daily lives that we discover its true riches and step into the flow of God’s grace.

Yesterday I had the great joy of hearing that a man to whom I’ve ministered for several years has said that he wants a Christian funeral, indicating that he has chosen to follow Christ. That was followed by a Chinese woman asking how to become a Christian, because she wanted to do so. Her Japanese is limited and her English even more so, so I told her to pray in Chinese, and God would hear and understand and give her new birth in Christ. I look forward to seeing her again on Sunday! We were able to get a Chinese Bible for her, and if she is still uncertain on Sunday I will give her a list of references to read, identifying books of the Bible by their sequence, since I don’t know the Chinese names for them. I don’t have the wisdom, but God does! As I assist with “birthing” new Christians, I also need to keep helping those who’ve been around a while keep growing in their nutritional intake, spiritually speaking. This verse needs to be understood and applied by all, so that together we may walk in all that God intends for us.

Father, thank You indeed for yesterday and all it held. It is a truly joyous thing to be involved in spiritual birth. It is also deeply satisfying and encouraging for someone to whom I’ve been ministering to accept what You’ve been offering him through me. I ask for many more such births, and I ask You to use me to nurture and shepherd the flock as You know they need. Father, I’m back to praying that Your Name be hallowed and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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November 19, 2014

Hebrews 13:15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.

40 years ago this verse seemed to pop up everywhere, as the Charismatic Movement was trying to shake the Church out of its rut, but it’s been quite a few years since I’ve heard it quoted. Back then, any song with less than three verses that was less than 100 years old was dismissed in many circles as a “chorus,” good only for informal settings that didn’t qualify as a “real church service.” Thankfully that’s not the case today, though the pendulum has swung so much that in some churches they haven’t sung anything with theological depth in years. However, the point of the writer is not musical style but lifestyle. After all, Gregorian chants were still in the far future back then! What he is saying is that our mouths should continually be giving God thanks and praise for everything. Sometimes that really is a sacrifice, as we choose to praise Him when our bodies are in pain or our hearts are breaking or whatever. However, most of the time it really isn’t so difficult, but we simply fail to do it. This isn’t to be glib cliches; words alone don’t cut it. Rather, this is a matter of heart attitude that is expressed verbally. I’m reminded of how many men seem to have great difficulty being verbally affectionate to their wife and children. It is demonstrably true that expressing such things out loud cements them internally as well. Just as witnessing to others grows our own faith, so praising God deepens our appreciation of Him. God is more than worthy of all our devotion and obedience, and when we choose to praise Him we are far more likely to give them to Him.

In my own life I have discovered that praising God is one of the best antidotes to temptation there is. Rather than, “I’ve got to resist this temptation,” simply saying, “God, You are so wonderful,” will often make the devil flee. That’s exactly what James was talking about when he said, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7) Truly praising God involves submitting yourself to Him, so there you have it. As I tell people fairly frequently, God doesn’t need our praise, but we certainly need to praise Him!

Father, thank You for this reminder. It is so basic that I forget it sometimes. Help me be a praiser indeed, drawing other to praise You with me, so that our hearts may be open to allow You to work in and through us for our blessing and the blessing of many others, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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November 18, 2014

Hebrews 12:12-13 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees! “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

The first 11 verses of chapter 12 are dearly loved, and I have written and preached on them more times than I can remember. However, I’m not sure I’ve ever written or preached on these two verses, and they too are powerful. They bring to mind Isaiah 42:3, quoted about Jesus in Matthew 12:20. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out .” The point is, God is not about “the survival of the fittest.” rather, He “chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29) We are all too prone to “shoot the wounded,” as the saying goes. Some people twist this around as an excuse not to confront sin, but that’s like putting a band-aid on cancer. The Bible doesn’t tell us to ignore problems, but rather to reach out a helping hand. Too often the devil deceives us into disqualifying ourselves, encouraging us to focus on real or imagined weaknesses instead of on our all-powerful Lord who can overcome them. These two verses are a logical continuation from verse two, that tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus. If we will do that, we will indeed be strengthened and find that our way has become straight and level.

These verses have come into sharper focus since my wife has developed Parkinson’s Disease. As is well known, that is a disease that attacks all sorts of motor functions, but she is putting up quite a fight! In fact, unless she is particularly tired, people generally don’t notice her tremor, even. However, she goes to physical therapy two times a week and is very careful what shoes she wears. Sometimes getting dressed in the morning can be quite a struggle for her. She seeks, and receives, wisdom as to what to do and how to do it, and is far more accomplishful than many who face far fewer obstacles. She is an inspiration! As I seek to help her, strengthening her and making her path easier as best I can, I need to remember that I need to do the same for those with emotional and spiritual handicaps. I am not to condemn them or “hit them over the head with a Bible,” but come alongside them, lending a hand and encouraging them, so that they may recognize and appropriate the provision and strength that are theirs in Christ. After all, God’s strength is made perfect in weakness! (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Father, thank You for this reminder, particularly on Cathy’s birthday. She has a very full schedule, most of it focused on others rather than herself, which is so typical. I pray that I would be the support she needs and deserves, doing all I can to make this a happy day, leading to many, many more. Thank You. Praise God!

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