October 7, 2015

1 Timothy 6:11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

In context, the “all of this” here is talking about the things mentioned from verse 3 through verse 10. The major thrust there is the love of money, but it could be broadened to include all the attitudes and values of this world, as opposed to those of the kingdom of God. When we look at the things listed in this verse that we are supposed to seek earnestly, we discover that many of them are gained through trials! Paul famously wrote to the Romans that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) That’s not at all to say that we are to seek suffering, but rather that when we are suffering, we are to seek the benefits that God can give us through it. I am reminded of walking through a “red light district” at night, with all the artificial lighting, and in the middle of the day, with clear sunlight. At night, all the bars and such can seem glamorous, inviting, what have you, but in the clear light of day they show how tawdry and ultimately worthless they are. Sometimes we need suffering to open our eyes to true values. Peter said right out, “He who has suffered in his body is done with sin.” (1 Peter 4:1) I’ll say again that we are not to seek suffering; masochism has no place in God’s plan. However, we are to rejoice in what God can and will provide to us through our sufferings, if we will submit them to Him.

This is in some ways an awkward thing for me to write at this point, because I’m not the one in physical pain, my wife is. If I preach this from a high horse, it will not be received as love! I have already received push-back from quite a few people simply from telling them that if they lift their eyes off of themselves and their problems and fix them on Jesus, they will suffer far less because they will see things in proper perspective. People react to that with “You think my problems are insignificant,” and they get angry and/or hurt. Some have even left the church over it. The thing is, every possible human problem is relatively insignificant when viewed from the eternal perspective. It was by focusing on the eternal perspective that Jesus was able to get through the suffering He endured, from His arrest on through His crucifixion. (Hebrews 12:2) I am not to stop speaking the truth, but I must always do so in gentleness, respect, and love, so that the Holy Spirit may take my words as His, and bring healing, strength, comfort and joy.

Father, this is something I obviously don’t have the wisdom to do right. I’ve made a mess of it several times. I ask You to continue to grow and shape me so that Your truth through me may set people free from all the lies of the devil, for their great blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 6, 2015

1 Timothy 5:8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

The passage from verse 3~16 gives a framework for Christian social welfare that has largely been ignored since at least the middle of the 20th Century, replaced, in America at least, by dependence on the government. This is far from a matter of indiscriminate handouts; verse 6 and others make that very clear. Work opportunities for women were very limited back then, but Paul makes it very clear that those being supported by the group are to be active for the benefit of the group. (verse 9 and following) However, this verse hits at those who would offload responsibility to someone else. Paul is hitting at the attitude Jesus had to deal with in the Pharisees, who used twists of logic to excuse themselves from caring for aged parents. (Mark 7:9-12) Today we don’t use the same excuses as the Pharisees, but far too many people choose not to care about those less fortunate, assuming that the government will do the job for them and getting incensed when the government does it poorly. Far and away the best, most efficient social welfare programs are private, and specifically Christian. Only when people express the integrity and compassion of Christ do they really get things right in this area. Those involved in other programs with the same stated aims often attack and even try to sabotage the Christian programs, out of jealousy or even to try to “get a bigger piece of the pie” for themselves. Nothing is a “zero-sum game” in God’s economy, because His resources are infinite! Christians need to wake up to their opportunities and responsibilities and stop thinking that secular organizations are the answer.

I have never been in the position of needing to provide for my own aged relatives, and thankfully, at this point at least, it doesn’t look like Cathy and I will be much of a burden on our children. There is an irony to my saying that, because we do benefit from government pension and health insurance programs, but I’m not saying that’s ideal. To this point I have not been a big contributor to even such top-notch Christian organizations as Samaritan’s Purse, and the Lord may be saying that needs to change. I don’t think I’ve been stingy in opportunities close to home, but that’s not something to be proud of. I need to be a good steward of all God places in my hands, letting Him indicate how it is to be used and not being possessive of any of it. He is big enough even to use me, and it is a joy to be His agent.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s not an issue I usually think about very much. Help me think Your thoughts after You about every area of my life, so that I may be an unhindered channel of Your grace and love to all, drawing them to You for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 5, 2015

1 Timothy 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.

This sad truth is all too evident as we look around us. Deceiving and evil spirits certainly seem to have ramped up their activities, and caution and devotion to the Word are certainly called for. The flip side of that is that some have quenched the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19) in an excess of caution, and so have missed out on great blessings. The thing is, the major lies of the devil and his cohort don’t change fundamentally, they just put on new window dressing. The “Prosperity Gospel” of today is another version of a lie that Paul had to deal with, (1 Timothy 6:5, 9-10) and likewise lax attitudes toward sexual sins are nothing new. We need to be so steeped in the Word that anything contrary to it immediately becomes obvious to us. God is not stingy, but He is certainly holy, and He calls us to be holy as well. (1 Peter 1:15-16) That is a truth the devil certainly wants to conceal and/or deny! We aren’t to be surprised by all the junk that’s going around, but we must stand firm against it, speaking the truth in love even when such loving truth is branded “hate speech,” as it often is today.

I will confess to a desire to pull into a shell and forget that all this junk is going on around me, but that would be violating Jesus’ command to let my light shine. (Matthew 5:16) As a pastor I have a special responsibility to communicate the truth, building a firm foundation in people’s hearts and lives so that they won’t be shaken by “every wind of teaching.” (Ephesians 4:14) It is a continuing frustration that so many fail to develop a lifestyle of feeding on the Word and having fellowship with the Lord, but I must not give up. The Holy Spirit is faithful, despite human failings, and I am to keep trusting Him and proclaiming God’s truth. At this point there are many distractions from what I have thought of as “the work of the Kingdom,” but God works in ways that transcend human plans and ideas, and I am to keep my heart centered on Him. He will “do exceeding abundantly, beyond all I could ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Father, thank You for this training, growing period You have us in right now, just as You had me say in the message yesterday. Help me be true to You in all that happens, rejecting every temptation to deviate from full submission and obedience. Irritations of one sort and another seem to be unrelenting, but I know that You indeed turn it all around for good. (Romans 8:28) Help me be an open channel of Your grace and blessing to all today, to Cathy first and to everyone else as well, so that You may touch them through me for their blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 4, 2015

1 Timothy 3:5 If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?

For all the fact that elsewhere Paul touts the advantages of singleness, (1 Corinthians 7) it is clear that marriage was the norm that he expected, in keeping with the rest of the whole Bible. There were single prophets, such as Jeremiah, but the marriages of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea, at the very least, were vital parts of their respective ministries. Again, throughout the Bible the parent/child relationship is key, as a picture of how God relates to us. Thus is is not surprising that Paul would throw in this statement as though it were too obvious to need saying. However, we have a remarkable ability to overlook the obvious! I have known pastors and missionaries who ruined their ministries by failing to pay the right attention to their “first flock,” their family. In my observation, that and the matter of personal, private devotions are the biggest, and at the same time most subtle, ways the devil attacks those in ministry. It is all too easy for him to deceive us with “serving God is my first priority,” when our first priority is actually relating to God as an obedient child, listening to Him, (devotions) and our second priority is the family that He has entrusted to us. Only then are we fit to serve Him and His family.

This was an area where my father struggled somewhat, but he made it through on the family front because he maintained a consistent devotional life. He was in enormous demand, and as a result we hardly ever took family vacations when I was a child. Actually, he didn’t take vacations at all, really, which definitely contributed to his leaving this earth at age 64. That isn’t the best stewardship! I haven’t done so very much better, though health management has risen in my awareness since I passed 60. My personal relationship with God is definitely my first priority, and people have actually criticized me for making my wife, particularly, such a high priority. Since our daughters are in their 40s, they haven’t been part of our immediate household for quite a while, but in some ways that is a parallel to the many people who have left this church geographically. Physical distance doesn’t eliminate relationships, though it does affect them. I am to seek God’s wisdom in relating both to my physical children and my spiritual children, whether they are close or far.

Father, this is timely, since my wife’s medical problems are demanding so much of my attention. Help me relate to everything as You intend, allocating not just time but emotional energy as You intend, not neglecting anything You desire for me to do but understanding what Your priorities are, so that Your purposes may be accomplished in and through me on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 3, 2015

1 Timothy 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.

We sometimes get stuck in habitual terminology in thinking about God, when the Bible itself is far more flexible. We usually speak of Christ our Savior, which He certainly is, but here Paul turns that around and says God our Savior. The Trinity is a doctrine that tries to explain something that really is beyond our intellectual ability to grasp. Actually, astrophysicists describe it in their talking about the multiple dimensions that had to exist at the moment of the “Big Bang,” but those are abstract constructs, when God is available to us on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. In that context, it’s very appropriate that Paul speaks here of Christ Jesus our hope. We can know God on a personal basis precisely because He chose to come to earth as a human being, thereby letting us see God. (John 14:7, 9) Apart from that, and His taking the penalty for our sins on Himself, we would indeed have no hope. Human words, human intellect, choke on the Divine reality of Father, Son, and Spirit being indeed One, though from our perspective they are three. In the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17) Jesus said quite a few things that violate our normal, physical/material understanding of things, especially regarding the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. As Paul said later, spiritual things are spiritually discerned; a materialistic mind can’t grasp them at all. (1 Corinthians 2:12) Those who desire to know more of God need to relax their categories and let Him reveal Himself to them. He really doesn’t fit into boxes very well!

I have had many discussions of the Trinity, both with believers and with non-believers, and I have come to the conclusion that they accomplish very little. I am not to run from the subject, but I’ve got to remember that my own understanding is far from complete and I’ll certainly never convince anyone of anything by the force of my words. God has used my words on occasion to give people revelation of Himself, but that’s His doing and not mine. I’ve got to remember that God, being infinite, is beyond our finite ability to grasp, apart from His graciously revealing Himself to us, and so pray not only for revelation but for faith, for myself and for those I work with. Our triune God is certainly up to the task!

Father, I certainly didn’t expect this when I sat down to read just now! Thank You for the physical impossibility, but glorious spiritual reality, of being Your child, being in Christ and Christ being in me, even as You are in Him and vice versa. (John 15:4; 17:22-23) May I be Your agent in every area of my life, accurately transmitting Your love and grace to all I encounter, so that they to may be drawn into intimate fellowship with You, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 2, 2015

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

This is a beautiful and important word of blessing. Just as in the 1st Century, believers today encounter all sorts of opposition and difficulty. Some of it looks different and some of it is remarkably similar, but the source is always the same. We have an enemy who is out to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10) The reason the Lord doesn’t wipe him out right now is that in learning to stand against him we are transformed into the likeness of the Lord Himself, (2 Corinthians 3:18) strengthened and matured in every way. Some of that, indeed a lot of it, isn’t much fun at the time, but the results are glorious. (Hebrews 12:11) That’s why Paul speaks here of being comforted. As we receive God’s comfort, we are then able to do good works and speak good words, that is, His works and words. I keep coming back to the reality that nothing from God is ever for just the direct recipient; everything flows through us for multiplied blessings. That is certainly true when He comforts us, just as Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) When we receive any sort of blessing we are strengthened and enlarged to be better able to help others. God is the source of every good gift, (James 1:17) but we have the privilege of being conduits for those gifts to flow to many, for their blessing and God’s glory.

This is certainly close to home. Cathy is facing major back surgery at a hospital 90 minutes away, which will require a 2-month hospitalization. That is a daunting prospect! She is an integral part of not only my daily life, or even of this church, but of a great deal that goes on in this city. This will give a lot of people opportunity for growth that they perhaps don’t want! I need to be focused on the reality that God desires blessing for us, and that His plans are always good, for us and for everyone connected to us, whether we even know who they are or not.

Father, thank You for this Word this morning. I needed it! Help us walk in this assurance day by day and moment by moment, not only for the next two months but as long as You keep us in this world, so that all of Your plans may be fulfilled on Your schedule, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 1, 2015

1 Thessalonians 5:24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

This short little verse is one of the most encouraging in the whole Bible. The verses ahead of this are justly famous as pithy little instructions for living the Christian life, but anyone who is honest has moments of saying, I can’t do it! That’s why Paul throws in this verse. This verse and the one ahead of it are delightfully set to music in Japanese. I had to modify it a bit when I translated it to English to make the words fit the music, but this last line comes out as, “We know that what He’s promised He will do.” That’s the whole point of grace: God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves, out of the sheer magnitude and magnificence of His love for us. In ourselves we are not faithful or dependable or any of those good things, but God can manifest those good qualities in and through us if we will allow Him to do so. Paul himself famously lamented in Romans 7 the struggles of anyone who genuinely desires to please God, but he ends that with, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) Our wills are most certainly involved, but God does the work if – and this can be a big if – we are committed to Him in repentance and faith. That should give every believer peace and hope, because, as Paul started out Romans 8, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) When we are anchored in Him, He takes care of everything.

Just this morning I saw a comment that one of my sisters forwarded to me, that I “must have the patience of Job.” The thing is, I don’t, but God does, and more. As long as I am yielded to and trusting in Him, He will manifest in and through me all that is called for. It’s like He finally got through to me a few years ago, He’s smart and I’m not. The same can be said of every other desirable trait/characteristic. I know that He has called me, that He is faithful, and that He is going to do everything necessary in and through me, so my job, as He told me a few years ago, is to rest, relax, and rejoice!

Father, thank You indeed for Your faithfulness. Thank You that timing and everything else are in Your hands. Help me indeed “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication make my requests known to You, so that Your peace may guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 adapted) Thank You. Praise God!

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