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!

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized, Christian | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

November 17, 2014

Hebrews 11:39-40 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

This is an extremely important passage, and should finish off the “name it and claim it” crowd. Being finite and temporal ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget that God is infinite and eternal. He sees everything all at once, while we certainly cannot. Just because something doesn’t happen in our time frame doesn’t mean God hasn’t fulfilled His promise. It is a given in psychology that tolerance for delayed gratification is a major indicator of maturity. God wants mature children, so He deliberately doesn’t meet our frantic schedules sometimes. And we can’t tell Him when that is appropriate! God loves to bless us, but He is always more interested in our character than our comfort. If you always give a child everything they demand you will spoil them indeed, literally and figuratively. In fact, you will rob them of ever having true happiness and satisfaction. God wouldn’t do that to us! Tests of faith are seldom pleasant at the time, but faith only grows by being exercised, and the stronger our faith, the more peace and joy we have. Sometimes the most loving thing God can say to us is “No,” or “Not now.” We don’t like that, but our opinion doesn’t change the truth, whatever moral relativists say.

I’ve done my share of complaining about and rebelling against God’s timing, and it hasn’t done me any good! I have also seen God act instantly, to the shock of everyone involved. I’m reminded of the line from the Narnia books: “Aslan isn’t a tame lion.” I have had to learn that God isn’t there to do my bidding, but I am here to do His. In the process, I’ve also learned that His ideas are always better than mine. I can’t wrap my mind around a fraction of all the factors God takes into account. I am left with marveling that He does indeed hear my prayers and act on them. I’m still not really sure why He does it! I myself am still growing in my understanding of and fellowship with my Lord, even as I exhort others to press into Him. I have learned that He is indeed love, just as John said, (1 John 4:8, 16) and that He desires fellowship with His children. That knowledge is enough to get me through whatever I might go through, because I know my experiences will only make me better able to fellowship with Him.

Father, thank You for all You are doing in, around, and through me. Thank You for the good things You did here yesterday. Thank You that You are absolutely to be trusted, and to be trusted absolutely. Keep me growing in trust, and use me to grow others in trusting You as well, so that together we may be the children You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

November 16, 2014

Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

As many times as I’ve read this, I had not remembered that here we have the perfect explanation of the dilemma of atheism. As some have pointed out, it is actually more difficult to believe that life started in primordial goo and evolved into all the complex life forms we see today than it is to believe God had a guiding hand in it all. Atheists, in declining to believe in a Creator, set themselves the virtually impossible task of believing in totally impossible odds. It’s far worse than the person who spends their money on lottery tickets because they don’t have enough money for the rent. Computer simulations have been run on super-computers (and yes, I know such things are certainly imperfect) to calculate the odds of our current universe existing by chance, and the odds make the term “astronomical” seem completely inadequate. Actually, recent studies show that we are born with a degree of innate faith in a Creator, and it takes some pretty complicated mental gymnastics to get away from that. There are abundant stories of erstwhile atheists in terror on their deathbeds, because they know they are going to meet their Maker. The Gospel is unique not that it stipulates a Creator, but that it tells us He loves us. That He would love us enough to send His Son to die in our place is absolutely mind boggling. It is sad indeed that so many decline to accept the gift of faith that will enable them to receive eternal life.

Ministering in Japan, I am surrounded by functional agnostics. The vast majority of Japanese practice elements of both Buddhism and Shinto, but without real faith in either. That’s why many would like to add Jesus to their god-shelf, so to speak: they have no concept of exclusive monotheism. My challenge with most of them is not to convince them of a Creator, but to help them understand that there can be only one Creator, and that He loves them. Evolution is accepted unquestioned in public schools, just as it is in the US, and that can be a real barrier. I know, intellectually and by experience, that I can’t get through all of that by my own wisdom and strength, so I’ve got to live in active dependence on and obedience to the Holy Spirit. He can and does get through to people, so I’ve got to keep myself available to Him for however He wants to use me.

Father, this is a constant issue, as You know better than I do. Help me remember that in the end Your solution is good indeed, and not be anxious. I am currently ministering to three people who are medically terminal, and only one of them has openly committed to Jesus Christ as Lord. I ask Your grace for the other two, that they would recognize both their need and Your supply, and open their hearts to You while there is still time, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment