Supermen; June 17, 2018

Luke 7:28 “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

I think we have a lot of trouble with the implications of this verse. John is described as one born of a woman, implying that he was a natural human being, yet his birth was miraculous in a number of ways, as specifically Luke records in the 1st Chapter. Both his parents are spoken of as being “filled with the Holy Spirit,” his mother before his birth, when Mary visited her, (1:41) and his father after he was born. (1:67) However, those were momentary fillings, just as various people in the Old Testament experienced. What Jesus is saying is that being born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-6) puts us into a different, supernatural category. John was a demonstration that a human being can be magnificent indeed, but Jesus is saying that those who are born again by grace through faith are more than human. People have dreamed of that sort of thing from the dawn of history, and literature and philosophy are filled with “supermen” of various sorts. Right now I’m reading a science fiction book that is no exception. However, God’s plan for supermen (and women) doesn’t look like any of that. In God’s kingdom, the first shall be last, (Mark 10:31) and the way up is down. (Matthew 20:26-27) Most Christians fail to recognize how special they are, because the devil desperately wants to keep them from doing so. However, Paul took the believers in Corinth to task because they were “acting like mere men.” (1 Corinthians 3:3) How are believers supermen? By manifesting the love and grace of God in circumstances that totally overload the simply human soul. The Romans noted that the early believers “really know how to love each other, and they really know how to die.” Even those killing them recognized they were special, just as the Centurion did at Jesus’ death. (Mark 15:39) That’s not the kind of “super power” most people aspire to! We tend to look at the gifts of the Holy Spirit as things to augment and inflate us, just like science fiction books write about, when God intends them as tools of service, to build others up. We have to accept God’s definition of a superman before we can recognize that He has put us into that category.

This of course applies to me. I was slow to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit because I was seeking the gift of tongues more than I was seeking the Giver. Once I got that straightened out, all of the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 have manifested in and through me at various times, but always in relation to blessing others. Even the gift of tongues, that seems on the surface to be least suited for that, has been very helpful in praying for situations where I really had no idea how to pray. Even I fail to recognize things of God’s kingdom because I have a distorted idea of what that kingdom is like. Sometimes I try to be a “John the Baptist,” when Jesus has said that’s aiming far too low! I need to release myself to God so that He can manifest Himself in and through me, for His purposes and His glory. Only then will I be the “superman” He wants me to be.

Father, thank You for this Word. I’m reminded of the article I read recently about such things as “drown-proofing,” where in order to succeed we have to learn not to try. Help me surrender fully to You, not to be passive or lazy but to allow You full control, so that Your purposes may be fulfilled indeed, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah”

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Death; June 16, 2018

Luke 7:15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Sometimes God’s provision, what He gives, is entirely outside of the realm of the possible, as we see it. Jesus didn’t raise this man from the dead for his own sake, but for the sake of his mother, since there was no formal social welfare framework at that time. Actually, I think the same could be said of Lazarus. Jesus didn’t raise him for his own sake but for the sake of his sisters, and also as a clear sign of His own power and authority. When someone dies we tend to think we are mourning for them, but really we are mourning for ourselves and for anyone else who will feel the loss of that person. We have no idea what terrible hardship that person might have been spared by leaving this earth when they did. Death is indeed part of life, but we don’t like to accept that. I am reminded of Smith Wigglesworth, the illiterate British plumber who was saved and taught to read by the Lord and was so filled with the Holy Spirit that he had a powerful speaking and healing ministry across Europe in the beginning of the 20th Century. He had raised people from the dead, and when his own wife died he raised her, too. However, she said to him, “Smith, why did you do that?” He realized that he had done it for his own sake, and after about 20 or so minutes of talking together, he allowed her to go back to heaven. We need to come to terms with the reality that we aren’t supposed to be in these bodies indefinitely, but are created to grow into intimacy with our Creator and spend eternity with Him. Death is a tragedy for the individual only when they die in rebellion against God. There are very many such cases, of course, but those who do know Jesus should be laboring to reduce that number. I am reminded of the man (there was at least one, there may well have been more) on the Titanic who had a life jacket, but asked someone who didn’t have one whether they were a Christian, and when they said no, gave him the life jacket, saying, “I know where I’m going, but you aren’t headed there yet.” That second person naturally went on to become a committed Christian!

I well remember when my father died, after heart surgery at 64. My first thought was, “He won’t have to retire.” I recognized that was a special gift from God to my father, even though I missed him quite painfully myself. As a pastor I have been present at the moment of physical death quite a few times. For one of those, I had baptized him just three days before. For a believer, death is graduation, not destruction. However, for those close to them, it can feel like horrible deprivation. I have had to come to terms with the reality that it would be purely selfish if I were to try to resurrect my own wife, particularly since she went to heaven and came back when she was in her 20s. As the time, she was told that “Jack and the girls need you.” Indeed we did, and I’m very grateful for the 40+ years we’ve had her since then. Meanwhile, I am surrounded by people who aren’t on their way to heaven, but rather to hell, and I need to be fully available to the Holy Spirit to change that situation as much as possible.

Father, thank You for the assurance of heaven. Thank You that I have no fear of death, though I am concerned about how rough it would be for Cathy if I were to go first. I pray that my example and witness would draw many into personal commitment to Jesus as Lord, so that they may join me before Your throne some day, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Students; June 15, 2018

Luke 6:40 “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

Jesus touched on this theme several times, most notably in the Upper Room Discourse in John 14-16. The NIV here uses “student,” but the Japanese uses “disciple/apprentice.” When we hear “student” we think of an academic setting, but our current image of such was completely unknown in the 1st Century. It’s not that “book learning” was unknown, but rather that education was far more action oriented, “hands on,” if you will. That’s why I think “apprentice” would be a better choice of words here. When we recently visited one of the believers from this church who is in the middle of a 2-month practicum as an occupational therapist, he talked about how interacting with patients helped him understand just why he had studied various things, like nerves and muscles and psychology. Only in using that information did it fully come home to him. That’s why Jesus said, “fully trained” here. Until we apply truth in our lives it remains theoretical, in a sense less than real to us. You can study the manual all you like, but until you get behind the wheel of a car, you won’t really learn to drive. We are back to James’s words about deceiving ourselves if we fail to apply the truth we hear. (James 1:22) Jesus’ disciples in all ages are to learn to be like Him by doing what He says and imitating Him. We are in a lifelong “practicum,” but fortunately we have the ultimate Teacher.

As someone who has been a school teacher as well as a pastor for many years now, this really hits home. I find some things are far easier to teach than others. For example, trying to teach people to use computers is a major frustration to me, because I never had anyone teach me, but rather picked it up on my own. Teaching Medical English is far easier, but the classroom setting is limiting when I don’t have English-speaking patients for my students to work with. However, teaching vocal production/pronunciation is most satisfying. Each student is confronted with their own abilities, and the content is anything but theoretical. I am reminded of the story of the wise and foolish builders, recorded from verse 46 on in this same chapter. If we fail to apply what Jesus teaches us we end up with a “house of cards,” to use a slightly different image. It is only when we do what He tells us that we really grasp the meaning and become more like Him. I get frustrated with students who don’t follow directions. How much more does my Lord get frustrated with me when I fail to follow His directions?

Father, thank You for this reminder. Keep me pressing in for more of You, to be more like Jesus, more filled with Your Spirit, so that I may indeed do Your will for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Depending on God; June 14, 2018

Luke 6:36 “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Jesus applied the same standard to us that He was held to Himself: the Father. As an eternal member of the Godhead He was able to meet that standard, even though He was also fully human, but we deal with past sins as well as the sins of others, to the point that our perfection will come only when we are free of these bodies and before the Father’s throne. Jesus wasn’t trying to push us down or give us a complex, rather He was encouraging us never to be satisfied with things as they are, but keep pressing in for more. That was exactly Paul’s attitude, which he so famously expressed in Philippians 3:12-14. The devil, on the other hand, wants us to see that we can’t be perfect in our own strength, and so give up trying. He’s a real expert at taking something that is true and twisting it until it becomes false. We indeed can’t be perfect in our own strength, but again as Paul said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) The whole point is to teach us to depend on God rather than on ourselves, applying ourselves fully but knowing that the power rests entirely with God and not with us. We don’t like to acknowledge that! We like to maintain pride, thinking we are accomplishing things on our own, when Jesus said flat out, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Commands to be like God should remind us of that, and cause us to cling more closely to Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us and flow through us. To the degree that happens, everything that is true of the Father is true of us. That’s why Jesus could say, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) We choke at that simply because we are fixated on ourselves, rather than fully depending on God.

I’m really talking to myself here! I have known the truth of these Scriptures as intellectual fact for a long time, but I’m pushing 70 and they still aren’t fully at the core of my being. I have no trouble at all agreeing with Paul that I’m not yet made perfect! That makes me all the more grateful for the grace of God, which not only saves me from the penalty of sin but also saves me from the power of sin right now. I so look forward to being saved from the very presence of sin as I stand before my Lord in heaven! Any time I am tempted to “rest on my laurels,” seeing how far I’ve come, I need to apply Jesus’ standard of perfection and realize how far I have yet to go. That’s not to say that I’m constantly to be putting myself down. God has indeed done a good work in me. I am to recognize and be grateful for that, but at the same time know that it will be carried to completion only in the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

Father, I had wondered what I was to speak on Sunday, and here You’ve given it to me! Thank You. Help me deliver this Word in a way that people can receive it, being encouraged rather than feeling put down. Keep me from coming across as, “I’m this far along and you’re way back there.” Rather, help me be an instrument of hope for each one who hears, that they may not think their present condition will persist to the end, but rather rejoice at what You’ve already done in them and look forward to what You are continuing to do in and through them, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Testing; June 13, 2018

Luke 4:14-15 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

Times of testing bring spiritual power. Jesus had just come through a 40 day fast and an active encounter with the devil, and it effectively charged Him up for His public ministry. We have no details of what He taught at this point, nor how many people He might have healed. However, the response was very good, and we today would say He was having a very “successful” ministry. However, Jesus wasn’t content with doing things the easy way, so He went to Nazareth to tackle the people He grew up with, and almost got killed. This should teach us several things. First, we are not to be afraid of difficult situations, because getting through them will strip us of things that get in the way, and having to depend on God will open us up to allowing Him to flow through us more. The second thing is not to let success tie us down. God’s plans are always bigger than ours, and we are to move at His command. I am reminded of Philip, who was in the middle of a revival in Samaria and God told him to go to a deserted area. (Acts 8:26) He was obedient, and as a result the Gospel was carried all the way to Ethiopia. We are also not to fear challenges. It would have been easier for Jesus to bypass Nazareth, but instead He went there and proclaimed His commission in front of people who knew Him as the carpenter next door, in the process telling them that they weren’t so special. We too are to be fully obedient to whatever we are told, not giving in to whatever anxieties our circumstances might trigger.

This is as applicable to me as it is to anyone, but I’m not sure exactly what is going on. However, I know that God’s plan is good, and I am to be active in my obedience. We have come through a period of considerable testing, and I can be assured that God wants to use whatever that testing has generated in me. Recently there have been several small indications of encouragement, so I am to be looking forward to whatever God has in store. Recently my teaching schedule has eased up and I’m feeling more rested, for which I’m grateful. There are various things in process, and I’m to apply myself fully to each one. Some of them require courage, and all of them require depending fully on God. I am not to evaluate myself on the basis of what people think of me, but do as Paul did, letting God be my judge and living for Him. (1 Corinthians 4:3-4)

Father, thank You for this Word. You know what I’m facing better than I do, and You know which things are intimidating to me. Help me trust You fully and obey You fully, not skipping over the details because they aren’t fun, but doing everything that You intend on Your schedule, so that Your will may be done for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Temptation; June 12, 2018

Luke 4:1-2 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

Much has been said of this part of the Biblical record, but it occurs to me to wonder how it came to be recorded. After all, Jesus and the devil were presumably the only witnesses. My guess is that Jesus Himself shared the story with His disciples to encourage them in their own temptations, letting them know that being tempted isn’t itself a sin. It is striking to me that the Holy Spirit explicitly led Jesus into this time of temptation. Jesus tells us to pray that we not be led into temptation, (Matthew 6:13) but if we are never tested we don’t know our own strength, or lack of it, and we don’t grow. We have the three specific temptations recorded, but it specifies that they came at the end of the 40 days, and yet here it states that He was tempted for the whole 40 days. We really don’t know what all those temptations might have been, but we can have confidence that Jesus got through them all without yielding. It seems significant to me that all of this occurred right after Jesus was baptized by John, with the Holy Spirit coming upon Him and receiving a direct word of affirmation from the Father. You couldn’t get much higher than that as a spiritual experience on this earth! The thing is, the devil delights to attack us right after such times, both because he is jealous and because he knows that euphoria can make us let our guard down. The point for us is to recognize this phenomenon and stand against it, knowing that if Jesus wasn’t immune, we certainly aren’t. Temptation is part of life; yielding to it doesn’t have to be.

I certainly have plenty of experience in this area, and not with Jesus’ spotless track record. I have learned times when I am more vulnerable than usual, and seek not to let my guard down. As a pastor, I seek to help people understand that the fact of temptation doesn’t mean they are bad, it means the devil wants to keep them from being good. When we stand against temptations we are strengthened, but we’ve got to remember that we can have the strength we need for that only when we are first submitted to God. (James 4:7) Far too often we try to “work up” resistance to the devil, and he laughs in delight, because we can’t succeed on our own. The way to resist the devil is active submission to God. Jesus certainly had that, so He came through victorious. I’ve found that the more I’m focused on resisting the devil, the stronger the temptations seem to me. When I am focused on God, submitting to and delighting in Him, then the temptations fade into insignificance. As Peter said, I’m to be self-controlled and alert, (1 Peter 5:8) but I’m not to be obsessed with the devil; that gives him the attention he craves. Rather, I am to focus more and more fully on my Lord Jesus, resting, relaxing, and rejoicing in Him.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You that Jesus was indeed “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Help me focus on Him and follow His example in every way, so that His victory may be manifested in and through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Evangelism; June 11, 2018

Luke 1:76-77 “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins.”

I can hardly even imagine what a rush it must have been for Zechariah to be given a prophecy like this about his own son, for whom he had waited for so long. John was indeed everything this prophecy says about him, but it is important for us to understand how this applies to us. It might seem like hubris to compare yourself to John the Baptist, but every believer in Jesus Christ is called to “give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” That’s what evangelism is all about. We mistakenly talk about “getting people saved,” but all we can do is give them the knowledge that salvation is possible; the rest is up to their response to God’s invitation. That’s why Jesus commissioned us as witnesses. (Acts 1:8) A witness testifies to the truth; they don’t make things up. I have heard the term, “creative evangelism,” but that’s simply finding novel ways to get people’s attention, and it is helpful only when that “creativity” is directed by the Holy Spirit. When we give people the knowledge of salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) we are “preparing the way for the Lord,” as this passage says. He is the One who saves, not us. Our part is real, and important, but we are no more than messengers imparting information.

This of course applies fully to my life and work here. I desire to transmit the knowledge of Christ to those around me, but there are many obstacles. Apart from the active interference of the devil and his demons, (of which there is plenty) there is the simple fact that most of the people I deal with have no framework to understand what I’m telling them. Buddhism lacks the concept of salvation entirely, saying that “emptiness” is the ultimate goal, and Shinto is better described as a collection of superstitions than as a formal religion. That said, the world Paul faced was no better. I really understand why he always went first to the synagogue, if there was one, because a right understanding of the Old Testament will certainly prepare your heart for Christ. However, even that was no guarantee the Gospel would be accepted, and in general his fiercest enemies were Jewish. I am not to give up, or even complain about the difficulty of my task, but rejoice to be allowed to share Christ with people who would otherwise have no opportunity for salvation. The devil tries to get me to feel that people’s response is all about me, but that’s a lie. If I am being true to Christ, people are responding to Him, either positively or negatively, and I’ve got to leave it in His hands.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I know this truth full well, but I still grieve over those who don’t receive Your Gospel. I pray that You would pour out Your Spirit of repentance and faith, on this city and on this nation, for a mighty harvest in Your kingdom, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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