September 20, 2014

John 16:12-13 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

I love it that God knows what we can take, and He acts accordingly. As David said, “He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) This applies even to the conviction that the Holy Spirit provides, that Jesus has just been talking about. If He were to show us everything unholy about us all at once, we literally could not endure it. That’s why He shows us things by His priorities, and why we should not try to do His work for Him in relation to other people. When we do it, it comes across as condemnation. When He does it, it is pure love, calling for repentance so that we may be better. As God made so very clear to Ezekiel, when He tells us to warn someone to repent, we had better do it. (Ezekiel 33:7-9) However, we aren’t to run around faultfinding! The name, Satan, means “accuser,” and that’s exactly what the devil does. If we try to do the Holy Spirit’s work for Him, we wind up doing the devil’s work instead! As I tell people regularly in all sorts of counseling situations, the Holy Spirit never issues blanket condemnations, ie. “You’re no good.” When that’s what we’re hearing in our hearts and minds, we can be sure it’s the devil. The Holy Spirit is a Gentleman, and He is always specific. In my own very dramatic encounter, in which I fell to my knees and cried out, “My Lord and my God,” really all He showed me was my spiritual pride. That was enough! In the years since then He has showed me many more things, and the quicker I have repented of them, the quicker they have cleared up. We don’t have to be afraid, because God will only do in and to us what He has made us capable of dealing with.

As a pastor, this is something I have to be very aware of, and very careful I don’t mess up. I am indeed a watchman as Ezekiel was, but even so I must not spout warnings out of my own imagination; I must speak only what the Lord tells me to. I started to write, what the Lord shows me, but sometimes He shows me things I’m only to pray about at that point, and not confront the individual involved. However, when He tells me to speak I’m not to fear confrontation. That’s a hard one for me! I must be fully available and willing as God’s agent and messenger, but at the same time get myself out of the way as much as possible. Sometimes He has said through me things that have shocked me that I said them, but the results have been good. At other times I have jumped the gun in what and how I have spoken to people, and the results have not been good. I am to operate in humility, love, and assurance, not forgetting to receive for myself the warnings I speak to others.

Father, thank You for the ministry of Your Spirit. Thank You for the sweet fellowship that He makes possible, with You and with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank You that He indeed leads us into Your truth, as fast as we can absorb it. Help me be faithful to receive and act on that truth, as well as transmit it undistorted, to build up the Body of Christ for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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September 19, 2014

Luke 23:46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Everything about the cross was intentional on Jesus’ part. That’s something we have a hard time wrapping our minds around. Jesus was in no sense suicidal, but He made the conscious choice to sacrifice Himself for our sins. I saw something just yesterday that said many are denying the doctrine of Jesus’ sacrificial atonement for sin. My immediate reaction was, then on what are they basing salvation? We don’t want to acknowledge the sinfulness of sin, how horrible it is and how worthy of destruction. God is absolutely holy, and anything that is less than holy is destroyed by even close proximity, let alone contact. It’s like matter and antimatter, only in that case both are destroyed on contact, whereas with God and the unholy, only the unholy is destroyed. Jesus, perfectly holy, took that destruction on Himself by choice, so that we might receive His righteousness by faith. When we fail to grasp that, all sorts of things are deficient. In the first place, we lack gratitude for our salvation and so have reduced motivation for obedience. In the second place, we tend to take God’s grace lightly, and fail to repent truly of the sins we continue to commit. And in the third place, we become unlikely to share Christ with those who do not yet know Him, because we don’t know how wonderful He is. Every believer needs to pray and seek for a better, deeper understanding of the cross, because it is our access point to all that God has prepared for us in Christ Jesus.

This is something I have known intellectually for a long time, yet I know I have only scratched the surface. I too need a better, deeper revelation of the cross and what Jesus did for me there. I have dedicated my life to sharing Christ, but that is too small a response. As a pastor I long to impart an understanding of the cross to every believer in this church, but only the Holy Spirit can do that. However, He can use me in the process, and I need to keep myself available. Robert Culpepper, the missionary who was my father’s prayer partner and who preached my ordination sermon, wrote a book, Interpreting the Atonement. I’m sure I have a copy, but I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read it through. My response to the cross isn’t to be academic, though my mind does need to be involved, but rather with my spirit and my life. As the song says, “All that I have, all that I am, all I will ever be cannot repay this love-debt I owe. I surrender to Thee.”

Father that is my prayer and my commitment. Help me communicate the magnificence, the wonder, of the cross even as You reveal it to me, so that You may have a people who are prepared and committed, as Your children and Your representatives, so do Your will for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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September 18, 2014

Luke 18:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:

It strikes me that this is a very necessary counterpoint to the story of the lost sheep in yesterday’s reading. In the story of the lost sheep, Jesus referred to those who don’t need to repent. Here, he is speaking of someone who judges himself as not needing to repent. The whole point is one of humility, which comes out not only in the explanation of this parable in verse 14, but also in what Jesus said about receiving the kingdom of God like a little child in verse 17. We are never to ignore sins, much less commit them, in order to have something of which to repent, but neither are we to be confident of our own righteousness, as Jesus says here. Paul hit the right balance in 1 Corinthians 4:4. “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” We are never to let sin fester; as soon as we become aware of it we are to repent. However, we are also not to assume that because we aren’t aware of anything, there’s nothing there. Our righteousness is never sufficient, as Isaiah noted. (Isaiah 64:6) As the old hymn says it so beautifully, “My hope is build on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…. Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.” The difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector was whether they were aware of their sin. The righteousness of Christ is available to us by faith, but we will accept it only when and if we realize we need it.

This has been huge in my life. I committed myself to Jesus as a boy of seven but drifted off into spiritual conceit over the years, until the Lord tapped me on the shoulder, figuratively speaking, and showed me a mirror. I was devastated at how despicable I was, and have never gotten away from that awareness that I am totally dependent on the righteousness of Christ. My mother once shared with me how she was baptized at age five after coming to a clear awareness that she had committed sin, without anyone else knowing about it, and knowing she needed the cleansing blood of Jesus. Now that is exceptional! As a pastor I am to be careful that I don’t bring people into the church (baptize them) because it feels good, to them or to me, but because they have recognized and repented of their sinfulness and committed to Jesus Christ as Lord. At the same time I am not to turn people away because their understanding isn’t sufficiently “mature.” That would exclude people like my own mother!

Father, thank You that Your grace is sufficient, even for such a one as I am. Thank You that You are wise and I’m not. Help me see people with Your eyes, to know when they are ready for harvest so that I won’t do them and the church harm by being off in timing. May I be an effective tool in Your hands to bring people into Your family indeed, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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September 17, 2014

Luke 15:7 “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

To a certain degree this makes me feel less guilty for taking things for granted, because it seems like heaven does the same thing! We do get used to how things are, however that happens to be, so it is changes that impact us. It’s not at all that heaven isn’t glad about those who are already saved, but there is special joy when another is added. The major point, however, is that each individual is of great concern and value. We tend to burn out when the numbers get too big, but that never happens with God. We can’t wrap our minds around it when hundreds and thousands of people are persecuted for their faith, for example, but when we know about one woman who refuses to discard her faith even when forced to give birth while chained to a prison floor, we are moved. Jesus was here proclaiming the value of the individual. When we have that understanding, we will be committed to drawing people individually to Christ. Mass evangelism is seldom effective, and when it is effective, most of that is because of personal contacts made by individuals. The vast majority of those who are saved in large meetings came to the meeting because of a personal invitation, and their hearts were open because of having seen someone they knew demonstrate the life of Christ. Individuals are important not only to be saved, but to be involved in the process of others being saved.

This is something I have understood for a long time, but I have had great difficulty getting across to others. People automatically exclude or disqualify themselves when it comes to personal evangelism. They are convinced that God could never use them to save anyone. That’s believing that their weaknesses are more powerful than God! We want evangelism to be easy, for people to pour into the church, but it very seldom happens that way. God uses the process of evangelism not only to draw more people into His family, but also to grow and mature those who are involved in the drawing. I have been impacted, in some way changed for the better, every time I have been involved in someone committing to Jesus as Lord. I need to help the believers understand that God wants to do the same thing in them, and that He’s more than capable of doing so. We want to be “fully prepared” for the task, but I need to help people understand they are never fully prepared but God always is, so our focus needs to be on Him and not on ourselves.

Father, I keep coming back to that last point. I too am entirely too self-centered. Thank You for not giving up on me. Help me love people individually with Your love, not just treating them as an anonymous mass. May I be fully yielded to You so that You may use me without hindrance, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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September 16, 2014

Luke 14:11 “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Sometimes Jesus’ teaching just seems like common sense, but that just shows how uncommon common sense is! It also explains why you get a lot of parallel teaching in various moral religions. Buddhism and Confucianism, for example, have plenty of good teachings in them. However they, and every other religion apart from Christianity, lack a Savior. There are those who try to separate the moral teaching of the Bible from the Person of Jesus Christ, but that removes the foundation for the morality. Human conscience itself is a testimony to our Creator, but unless we acknowledge that Creator, we are on shaky ground indeed. As numbers of people have pointed out, one logical extension of atheism is a total negation of morality. If we are nothing more than collections of atoms/molecules/cells, then there is no basis for saying that one action is better than another, other than survival itself. The only reason someone would seriously espouse such a philosophy is if they are trying to avoid accountability to their Creator, and that is a logical fallacy if ever there was one. If all we had was accountability, however, life would be fearful indeed, because we all slip up countless times. The unique, the crowning feature of Christian faith is that God provided the ultimate “escape clause,” so to speak, by sending His Son to take the penalty for our sin. John nailed it in his first letter as he talked about sin, confession, and forgiveness, wrapping it up by saying, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2 )

This is of course why I am in Japan, to tell people about this incredible plan of God to reconcile the world to Himself. (2 Corinthians 5:19) It is senseless of approach the Japanese on the basis of moral teaching, because they have plenty of it. The average Japanese is probably more polite than the average American. Jesus’ teaching on humbling yourself, as in this verse, is already ingrained in Japanese culture. However, Japanese culture doesn’t have a Savior, and there is no one on the face of the earth who doesn’t need one. As I have been reminded several times recently, I didn’t come to Omura to teach a religion, I came to introduce the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve got to keep that in focus, living a moral life certainly, but not inviting people to become Christians on the basis of morality, but rather on the sole foundation of Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me have renewed focus and anointing as I share Christ with those around me, so that as many as will may open their hearts to receive Your full salvation, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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September 15, 2014

Luke 1:74-75 “to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

The ideas in these two verses are so interconnected that for grammatical reasons the Japanese blends them, putting both verse numbers at the beginning of the passage. Here Zechariah is expressing the goal of God in fulfilling His promise to Abraham. We would do well to pay close attention. God’s intent is that we serve Him. As has come out recently because of an absurd statement by a prominent Christian personality, it’s not about us, it’s about God. He loves us incredibly, but sometimes we drift into thinking He’s around to serve us, rather than us Him. We then need to remember that our service is to be holy and righteous. In other words, we can’t serve God by, or while, wallowing in the muck of the world. We live in that environment, but Jesus said that those who believe in Him are not of it, (John 17:14-16) and Paul cautioned us not to compromise with the world. (Romans 12:2) Those who insist they love and serve God, and at the same time insist on their right to worldly indulgences, don’t have their heads on straight. The last point to remember is that this applies to every day of our lives. This clearly rules out “Sunday Christians!” We can’t be “part-time Christians” and we never retire from being Christians. (Actually, I would doubt the salvation of anyone who would want to do that.) The rewards for faith and faithfulness are great, but we’ve got to be in it for the long haul. That’s why the letter to the Hebrews goes on at such length, in chapters 11-13, about this issue. We are here for God, and that’s a good thing.

This is very appropriate, coming on my 66th birthday, when my father died less that two weeks after his 64th. It’s a good time to reexamine why I am here, and the focus of my days. I know from experience that focusing on myself can produce some momentary pleasures, but genuine happiness, peace, and satisfaction never come that way. When I remember that I am here to serve God and not to make me happy, I discover that I am far happier than when I am trying to make me happy. Yesterday in speaking of how God has fulfilled His plans in my life, even when I had planned something else, I was overcome with emotion at God’s faithfulness. There are no words to describe His faithfulness adequately. I have no idea how many more days I will have on this earth, nor what they will hold. I know what is planned for today, but I have no guarantee that will happen. I am to walk in moment-by-moment fellowship with and obedience to my Lord by His Spirit, so that I may indeed serve Him in holiness and righteousness all my days, including today.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s a good birthday present! Help me rest, relax, and rejoice in You, allowing Your love and grace to flow through me unhindered to all I am with, for the blessing of us all and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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September 14, 2014

Matthew 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”

This story of rewards and punishments in the Last Judgment is well known, yet we stumble over it more often than not. There are various questions raised by it, such as just who is a brother by Jesus’ definition. But when we start looking for loopholes, we’ve lost the whole point. Jesus is saying here that when we relate to people on the basis of “What’s in it for me?” then we are essentially spitting in His face. We are to look at those around us as fellow recipients of the grace of God, recognizing that we ourselves could be or do nothing apart from that grace, and so rejoice to be channels of that grace to others. The Golden Rule, “Do to others what you would have them do to you,” (Matthew 7:12) has far more depth and applicability that we like to admit. Here, Jesus is extending that same rule to eternal consequences. We aren’t to be nice to people because we’re afraid we’ll get zapped if we aren’t, or to try to earn “brownie points” with God. Rather, we are to respond to others out of a recognition of God’s love for us, and that He loves those others just as much as He does us. When we do that, we will indeed serve them as we would serve Jesus, just as He talks about here.

I struggle with this at times too! As I tell couples in marriage counseling, the Golden Rule can be very dangerous if approached wrongly, especially between men and women. If we expect – demand – that others like things to be the way we do, we are guaranteeing conflict. The point is to love enough to care enough to find out what the person really needs or wants, and seek to do that for them. So much “charity” is whatever makes the person doing it feel good, rather than what the recipient really needs. Sometimes, what they really need is some discipline! However, seeing them as a little brother or sister of Jesus, as He paints the picture here, is perhaps the best guide. I’ve got to remember how much of His patience and mercy I’ve demanded by my own actions, and so be willing to let that patience and mercy operate through me toward others.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the assurance that in the final analysis it will all be worth it. Help me never hold back, but let Your love and grace flow through me unhindered, with Your wisdom, to produce Your results for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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