February 25, 2015

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

Genuine humility is not thinking nothing of yourself, it’s thinking accurately of yourself. This can be a big issue. In America children are raised with what appears to be deliberately inflated self esteem, while in Japan parents never brag on their children and seldom praise them for anything. Either is a terrible aberration! Everyone is gifted in various ways, whatever handicaps they might have in other ways. (My wife’s sign language teacher in her college days said, “Everyone is handicapped; it’s just that some handicaps are more visible than others.”) It has been said that everyone rises to their level of incompetence. Humanly speaking that has some truth to it, but in God’s kingdom faithful stewards are rewarded with more. It is those who fail to recognize and make use of what they have been given who are punished. (Matthew 25:14-30) Verses 6-8 of this chapter form the foundation of what is called Motivational Gifts teaching. That can be a great help in understanding ourselves and others, and why everyone is different. Paul’s point is that we are indeed different, but we are not to let our differences make us think we are superior or inferior to anyone else in intrinsic value. We are to strive to be “profitable” servants of Christ by exercising the gifts He has given us in obedience to Him. (Luke 17:10)

I have been blessed to be able to interpret for Don and Katie Fortune several times when they have come to Japan to teach on Motivational Gifts, and I have used their material to teach on the subject myself. I would like every believer to have a firm understanding of the subject, but then I sometimes feel overwhelmed at how much we all need to know and learn to be better witnesses. I have struggled with both conceit and feelings of inferiority, so I know the pitfalls of both. I am to nurture those in my care to do as Paul says in this verse so that they may grasp the incredible potential God has placed in each person, and how that potential takes a different shape for each person. I am to be faithful to teach, and also to apply and live out the truth I am teaching, so that I may not deceive myself. (James 1:22)

Father, thank You for this reminder. I certainly need Your wisdom as to what to teach when and how. I have not been the best steward of all You have placed in me. Help me recognize which gift You want me to use when and how, to be faithful in exercising them to do Your will on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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February 24, 2015

Acts 20:24 “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

This is the heart of every fully-committed servant of Jesus Christ. We allow so many things to take priority over being witnesses for Him, and we are much the poorer for it. We have seen this attitude in action recently, as 21 Egyptian Christians cried out to Jesus just before they were beheaded simply for being Christians. Their reward is great indeed! We tend to run from anything that might so much as put us in a bad light socially (or so we think), forgetting all that Jesus endured to provide salvation to us. The movie The Passion of the Christ was important because it showed not just the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion, but the horrible brutality He endured even before He was nailed to the cross. When He endured that for us, why do we complain about the little things that get under our skin? The pace of martyrdom has really picked up, with more dying for the name of Jesus in the 20th Century than in the previous 19 combined, and the figure for the 21st looking to be higher still. Every believer alive today is being called to Paul’s level of commitment, whether we face the knife – or the bullet or the flames – directly or not.

I earnestly desire to have this sort of commitment, but it’s not something I can work up. Rather, it’s something I can decide, and allow God to work in me. I see evidence of it in my life, which is encouraging, but I also see areas in which I’m not there yet, which keeps me humble. I have no particular desire to be martyred as such – and I certainly have no fondness for pain – but I want more than anything to hear my Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21, 23) For that, I’ve got to be careful of the little things, not sloughing off or being lazy but taking each task in turn and fulfilling it with all I’ve got, which He put in me in the first place. There are constant temptations of all sorts, some that I recognize and some that I don’t. I am to be absolutely single-minded in my obedience to my Lord, knowing that if I seek Him and His righteousness first, that He will add to that everything I need and more. (Matthew 6:33)

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for the magnificent example of my Egyptian brothers. Thank You for the faith of their families as well. Help me, like them, not value anything ahead or above obedience to You, even my life, so that all of Your purposes for me may be fulfilled, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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February 23, 2015

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

The story that follows this verse is justly famous. It is an enormous comfort to those who throw themselves on the grace of God, but it really “sticks it to” those who are described in this verse. There are two parts to this description. First, such people are assured of their own righteousness. This is in spite of such passages as Psalm 14:3, “There is no one who does good, not even one,” and Ecclesiastes 7:20, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” Paul famously paraphrased that thought in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Thinking we’ve got it all together, that we’re perfect, is essentially a slap in God’s face, because He alone is perfect. We are to keep our repentance up to date and so operate in the righteousness of Christ, (1 Corinthians 1:30) but we must maintain our awareness that this is possible only by the grace of God. The other half of the description in this verse, that makes it even worse, is the matter of looking down on others. Sadly, Christians have quite a reputation for this, whether deserved or not. Some people are going to feel condemned simply by being around someone who is living a righteous lifestyle, but that is their problem. The task for those who operate in the righteousness of Christ is to be accepting of those who aren’t there yet, so that they will have the opportunity to share the grace that they have received. Sadly, we have all encountered “Sister Better-than-you,” as one comedian very aptly put it. Jesus consistently taught that humility is essential for all who would live in the family of God.

I have been yelled at by a bar patron for drinking a soft drink rather than alcohol (I was there with my boss), so I understand people projecting their self-condemnation onto others. However, I need to do all I can to keep such reactions to a minimum. That’s not to say that I’m to excuse sin, open or otherwise, but I’m not to act shocked or disgusted by it. I’m capable of the same! I am to love people as Jesus did, which is to say, as they are and not just as I’d like them to be. I am to be sensitive and obedient to the Holy Spirit as He prompts me to repentance for my own sins, and let that keep me humble. The phrase, “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” is as important as it is true. Trying to shame people into repentance and salvation never works!

Father, thank You for Your amazing grace. Help me never forget how dependent on it I am, so that I may be an open channel of that grace to all I encounter. May Your love and Your Spirit, operating through me, draw many to repentance and faith, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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February 22, 2015

Luke 14:13-14 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Reading this immediately brings to mind what Matthew recorded: “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.’” (Matthew 25:40) If we approach life with the attitude of what’s in it for me, we will get very little out of it in the long run. However, if we approach life with the attitude of how can I serve, how can I be a blessing, then the rewards are enormous. Home environment and parental teaching are extremely important in generating right attitudes but some of it remains a mystery, because two children from the same family can turn out very differently. It boils down to the choices we make. We can choose to focus on “number one,” or we can choose to see those around us with eyes of compassion and thus be God’s instruments of blessing to them. However, we need to remember that indulgence isn’t love; often, the best thing we can do for someone is to teach them to do things for themselves. However, the specific illustration Jesus is using here isn’t that sort of thing. Let’s face it: a lot of social interaction is based on reciprocity. Jesus is saying, specifically and explicitly, not to live like that. We are to relate to people on the basis of what God has done for us and who He is in us, and not on the basis of what we can get from the other person.

I can honestly say this is how I try to live, but being honest, I also have to say that I’m certainly not 100% successful at it. I do need to spend time with people who recharge my batteries, so to speak, or I find I have nothing to give to those who are in need. That’s why my morning devotion times are so essential. If I didn’t hear from the Lord myself, I would have nothing to say. If I didn’t let Him fill me, I would be running on empty. It is a deep joy to be used by God in various situations, but it can also be very draining. I must never descend into “What’s in it for me?” but I must also remember that it is only by the grace of God that I have anything at all, for myself or for anyone else. He will supply all I need, for myself and for those to whom I minister, but I’ve got to keep my connection firm to Him, or it all falls apart.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the conferences I’ve been able to attend already this year. Thank You for the privilege of speaking Sunday by Sunday in this church, and for being Your agent to all sorts of people through each day. Thank You most especially for being able to come to You morning by morning and have You speak to and through me as I am quiet before You. Help me be Your agent in drawing more and more people into fellowship with You, to live for You and not for themselves, so that they may discover the incredible riches for which they were created, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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February 21, 2015

Luke 1:51 “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.”

The Bible deals with our activities a good bit, both good and bad, but it also speaks of our thought life. With rare exceptions, we don’t do something unless we think it first. That’s why Jesus so famously said that looking at a woman lustfully is equivalent to adultery, because without the thought, the action isn’t going to happen. (Matthew 5:28) He also cautioned us that all of our sins originate in our hearts. (Matthew 15:19) There have been various dystopian novels and movies that have involved “thought police.” They qualify as dystopian because people trying to control other people’s thoughts is indeed horrible, but the flip side of that is that God is indeed aware of all our thoughts. He knows our motives, and He knows what we dwell on in private. When our desire is to please Him, that’s a blessed thing, but if we are rebellious, it’s a nightmare. However you look at it, the Bible makes it clear that it is reality. The “perfect crime” doesn’t exist, because even if we can completely hide things from other people, we can never hide anything from God. In Psalm 139 David explored this theme at some length, and concluded with a prayer that it would be wise for everyone to pray individually: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

This is a thought, and Psalm 139 is a Scripture, that I have known from childhood, yet my understanding and appreciation of it continues to grow. In a slight twist on what Mary said, I don’t want God to scatter me, but I do want Him to scatter my thoughts when they become proud. I understand the importance of my thought life and I choose to submit it to Him, but I can’t do it without His help, His strength. It is my choice to be humble before Him, but thinking I can accomplish that on my own would be proud! It is truly a “catch 22” world without Him. However, with Him is life and health and peace.

Father, thank You for knowing every detail about me, from the number of hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30) to everything else. Thank You for being Love (1 John 4:8) so that Your knowledge of me is not terror but peace and joy. Thank You for continuing to work on and in me to transform me into the likeness of Christ. May I rejoice in that and cooperate fully, to be and do all that You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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February 20, 2015

Matthew 23:8-10 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher’, for you have one Teacher, the Christ.”

Wow! Being literal about this would tie Japanese social interaction in knots, to say the least! However, that’s actually what Jesus is talking about. The whole idea of setting people apart by titles is what He is saying is dangerous, because it puts people in the place only God should inhabit in our hearts and minds. In secular society some of this is unavoidable, but the Church is to be different, and too often it is not. On this particular issue, the Church is if anything an amplification of the secular trend, with people insisting on titles of all sorts. It’s one thing to have functional titles, that is, simply indicating a position in an organization, but too often Church leaders insist on being called “Bishop” this or “Prophet” that or “Apostle” the other. Those are functions and not titles! It has always struck me as ironic in the light of this passage that the Catholic church has used “Father” as a title for priests for over 1,000 years. (The Japanese term, considered from the viewpoint of modern Japanese, is literally “God Father,” that is “Father of God.” That’s because the term was brought over from China, where the character that in Japan is considered to mean “god” has much more the sense of “spirit.” Thus, from the Chinese of that day, at any rate, it would mean “Spiritual Father.” That’s better, but still hangs up on what Jesus says here.) When we obsess about titles we are forgetting God, which is Jesus’ whole point.

Since I teach in secular schools I am called Teacher quite often, but in this church I have tried to avoid that, insisting on my name, and among the believers, my given name. However, some are uncomfortable with that, and call me “Pastor Jack” or “Teacher Garrott.” Those are functional descriptions, but I must do all I can to keep from feeding into the clergy/laity divide. That divide is in violation of what Jesus is saying here, whatever titles we use or don’t use. Protestants have talked about “the priesthood of the believer” ever since Luther, but haven’t really gone very far in implementing it. As long as we depend on a priestly caste, we won’t be pressing in individually to have the fellowship with God for which we were created. This has been a major issue in my mind and heart for most of my ministry. I’m happy when people receive from God through me, but I want even more for them to be able to feed themselves. My battle is against spiritual inertia and laziness, and I must not give up.

Father, this is something that keeps coming up. Virtually all Japanese Christians call me Teacher, just as I am called at school. I don’t know how to address that issue without jumping all over them and generally making an ass of myself. I ask for Your wisdom to be able to lead people to focus on You rather than me, letting titles fade into insignificance, so that the Body of Christ may indeed be drawn into the unity that You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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February 19, 2015

Matthew 18:2-4 He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

This is a well-known teaching of Jesus, yet it is ignored more than it is practiced. It is interesting that where the NIV says “change,” and other English translations use words like “turn” and “be converted,” the Japanese says “repent.” That points out the vital truth that repentance includes change, or it isn’t really repentance. In English we tend to think of repentance as something emotional, but the Japanese term means “regret and start over.” The Japanese language has some problems when it comes to communicating the Gospel, most notably (in my view) in expressing forgiveness, but when it comes to repentance it really shines. That said, what Jesus is talking about here is child-like simplicity. It specifies that He called a little child, one that had no pretensions. We get such distorted ideas of who and what we are! We are enormously valuable, but no one more so than another. Right after talking about how our gifting, and thus our functions, are different, Paul said, “Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10) Genuine humility isn’t denying your own gifts and abilities, but it is honoring others’ gifts and abilities equally. That’s why Jesus said that the person who “makes himself low,” as the Japanese expresses it, is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

I have certainly had my struggles with comparing myself to others, either favorably or unfavorably. Since my sports performance is very far from stellar, I have had a real inferiority complex in that area. Since I am blessed in verbal and spatial thinking, I have been conceited in those areas. Both are foolish. I am to recognize and acknowledge both strengths and weaknesses without thinking they affect intrinsic value. I am a beloved child of God, and that’s all the value I need. At the same time, every other human being is a beloved child of God by creation, and I am to be useful to God in calling them to accept His invitation to become His children by adoption as well, to live with Him eternally. I will not be effective in that if I come across as gloating in my blessings. I am to be like a little child, offering other children goodies from an unlimited supply.

Father, thank You for that last image You gave me. As I am sometimes painfully aware, I am gifted in teaching but not in marketing, in drawing people in. May I do the work of an evangelist, as Paul instructed Timothy, (2 Timothy 4:5) while praying for people to be added who are more gifted at that than I am. Keep me from using gifting as an excuse, but help me make the best use of what You have given me, so that the Body of Christ may be built up indeed, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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