Diversity and Unity; October 21, 2018

Galatians 3:28-29 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

This is perhaps the ultimate statement on Christian unity from the human perspective. Jesus prayed for our unity just before His crucifixion, (John 17:20-23) but that was from the Divine perspective and takes the help of the Holy Spirit to understand it. Actually, this needs the help of the Holy Spirit to really understand it as well, but the words used are a little closer to home from our perspective. The three different pairs that Paul uses are very clear. “Neither Jew nor Greek” means that nationality and race are no longer barriers. They exist, but they are no longer barriers. We have had instances recently of people claiming to be an ethnicity they were not, but that is a different issue entirely. “Slave nor free” refers to social standing, or place in society. We tend to place a lot of weight on that but in Christ it is meaningless. This isn’t “equality by edict,” but rather saying that such differences don’t matter. Then we get to “male nor female.” That’s the real mind-blower. It has only been very recently that some people have tried to claim that gender was merely a social construct, and this isn’t saying that at all. What it is saying is that men and women are of absolutely equal worth before God. Some of Paul’s other writing seems to contradict that, but those are places where he is talking about differences in function, not value. What Paul is saying here is that all differences between people fade to complete insignificance in the light of the gracious promises of God. God’s creation is one of incredible diversity. It has been said as a joke, but it is nonetheless true: “You are unique, just like everyone else.” It’s like snowflakes: God created diversity when He didn’t have to. However, all those differences don’t make us of different value, and they shouldn’t hinder our unity.

I quote verse 28 every time I do premarital counseling, because Japanese society has traditionally been male-dominated. It is sad and even amazing how much trouble some men have in accepting their wives as equal partners. (1 Peter 2:7) Likewise, it is sad to see how many women disrespect their husbands. I was blessed to have parents who respected and honored each other, and who also did not focus on differences between themselves and other people. Growing up as a Caucasian in Japan, I was sometimes acutely aware of differences, but at the same time I learned how unimportant external differences really were. I am still imperfect in that area, as I think we all are, but I have the foundation in place. As a pastor, I have to teach people to value each other. That is one of the most beautiful, attractive features of a healthy church: there are differences in function, but not in value. That is why people who feel devalued by society are so attracted to the Gospel, and why people who feel they are superior tend to be dismissive of it. I am to proclaim the truth in love, telling each person that they are uniquely valuable to God, but that doesn’t make them more valuable than anyone else.

Father, this is sometimes hard to get through to people. As always, I need Your wisdom, words, and anointing to get it right. I pray that I would be fully submitted and obedient to You at all times, so that Your truth through me would indeed set people free, (John 8:32) for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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

Identity; October 20, 2018

Galatians 3:7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.

This was an earth-shaking statement back in the 1st Century, and it still is to Jews today. Their whole identity, then and now, was/is wrapped up in physical lineage from Abraham, and here Paul is saying clearly that anyone can “join the club” by faith. In Romans 11 and elsewhere Paul talks about the meaning of genetic/physical Israel under the New Covenant. It’s not that the Jews are discarded, and it is significant on many levels that the Jewish state was reborn in 1948, but Jews too need to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, descended from Abraham and David. For the vast majority of people in the world, this verse is marvelous news and instantly makes the Old Testament relevant. If we are Abraham’s descendants by faith, then all the promises from Genesis through Malachi apply to us, as well as to genetic Jews. Many people have an identity/self-image problem. This verse should take care of that! We tend to forget that Jesus, and indeed the entire Early Church, up until Cornelius (Acts 10 and 11) was entirely Jewish. Antisemitism is entirely illogical, as well as demonic. Gentile believers should be eternally grateful for the privilege of being “grafted in” to the Abrahamic root-stock. (Romans 11:17-21)

Identity has long been an issue for me, growing up as a “Third Culture Kid” of American parents in Japan. It has been painful to me not to be accepted as Japanese because I am Caucasian, but at the same time I have had adjustment problems with trying to live in the US. This verse is indeed a comfort to me, and I have long clung to the statement that “Our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20) I find that Japanese need this verse too, because they have just about as strong a racial identity as Jews do, and the majority see Christianity as a “foreign” religion. That’s ironic, since Buddhism was also “imported,” but it’s the case nonetheless. I have found that the people who are most likely to receive the Gospel with joy are those who have been excluded from society for one reason or another. I have personally had some of my best success at evangelism at a mental hospital. When people are secure in who and what they are, they see no reason to change. I am not to fail to share the Gospel with the secure, but neither am I to be surprised when they are less than receptive. The thing is, only Christians are secure when it comes to death, so I need to speak to that very basic insecurity and invite people into the assurance that can be had in Christ alone.

Father, thank You for this Word. Help me take it and run with it, (Habakkuk 2:2) so that many may repent and believe, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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

Life in Christ; October 19, 2018

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This is an extremely important verse that is the absolute key to living as God intends His children to do. Since we are in the world but not of it, (John 17:14-16) how are we to live? This verse tells us: by faith. And that’s not some nebulous, abstract faith, either. It is concrete, practical faith in the Son of God who loved us enough to give Himself for us. Our flesh is really stubborn, which is why Paul uses the extreme expression of saying he is crucified and dead. Dead people are immune to temptation! Actually, this is exactly the same image Jesus used for those who would follow Him. “Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24) We get so caught up with trying to preserve our lives that we lose them completely, when the Biblical pattern is to believe in the One who threw His life away for us, letting go of our lives so that we may lay hold of His. The image of the monkey trap jar comes to mind. I’m told that if you leave a treat that monkeys really like in a jar with a mouth just large enough for the monkey to get his hand in, but too small to pull his hand back out if he is grasping the treat, you can trap monkeys very easily. (Of course, the jar has to be tethered in some way to keep the monkey from running off with it.) We are like that with the pleasures of this life. God has indescribable riches prepared for us, but we tend to refuse to let go of the trinkets of this life in order to receive the treasures He has for us. Paul discovered that accepting the cross of Christ as his own freed him to live the life of Christ even in this world. That doesn’t happen instantaneously. Paul very famously wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14) That’s what life in Christ looks like.

This of course applies to me as much as it does to anyone. I can “hang onto the trinkets” with the best of them! As I tell others, it takes empty hands to receive. I must not fall into the trap of telling truth to others and then failing to live by it myself. After over 60 years as a Christian, I am all too aware of my ability to deceive myself! (James 1:22) That’s why I identify with Paul’s awareness of his own imperfection. As a pastor, I must not project the image that I think I’m perfect. Rather, I am to walk alongside the believers as together we allow the Holy Spirit to perfect us.

Father, You’ve given me another message when I haven’t shared the last one you gave me! Help me know clearly what You want me to say, this Sunday and each time You allow me to speak, so that Your Word may indeed go forth by Your Spirit to accomplish that for which You send it, (Isaiah 55:10-11) for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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

Lord Jesus; October 18, 2018

Galatians 1:10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Paul was never one to mince words, and here he explains why. He was the very antithesis of politically correct! He wasn’t deliberately abrasive. Elsewhere he says, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) However, he had no patience at all with anyone who was deliberately trying to twist the Gospel for their own purposes. Today many churches are run as democracies, which tends to turn the pastors into politicians. We need more politicians who are like Paul, doing what is right instead of just what will get them reelected! Even in non-democratic church structures, often more attention is given to tradition than to what God has said clearly in His Word, when Jesus explicitly condemned such behavior. (Mark 7:8) Every believer, and not just pastors, needs to seek to please God first and foremost, rather than worrying first about people. We have an extremely current good example to follow. It has been in the news that Pastor Andrew Brunson was released this month from prison in Turkey, but I don’t think most news sources have focused on why he was imprisoned in the first place. The charge was terrorism, and he was convicted. The sentence was greatly reduced because of US pressure, but by Islamic logic, the charge was actually accurate. The court documents used the word, “Christianization.” In other words, pastor Brunson was being dedicated and effective in evangelism. In an Islamic country, that can’t be allowed because it will destroy the nation as it is today. That’s precisely why the Roman Empire persecuted Christians: they wouldn’t accept Caesar as the ultimate authority. When we insist that Jesus is Lord, and mean it, we are placing Him above any and all government, not to mention everything else. Everything is subservient to Him. No totalitarian regime is going to want to put up with that! People in genuine democracies don’t have the same pressure, but we still tend to let all sorts of other things control our lives, rather than Christ.

Many years ago a “thought question” was making the rounds. “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” I’ve thought about that off and on in the perhaps 40 years since, because it’s a valid question. If you took away cultural trappings, for many people the answer would be no. I don’t want that to be true of me! Pastor Brunson’s case has really brought this back into focus. There was very severe persecution of Christians in Japan over a period of over 300 years, and that’s where I minister now. That persecution started for largely political reasons, because the Edo government reasonably feared that Christians would be loyal to other than the nation of Japan. That’s very much like the situation in Islamic nations today. Before and during WWII Christians were extremely suspect for precisely that reason. Today, the major “religion” is secularism, but even so, someone who lives with Jesus as Lord is definitely “out of sync” with the rest of society. My challenge is that I am trying to generate more and more “out of sync” people! I am never to give up, but seek to be sure that Jesus is my Lord, in every area of my life, for His glory.

Father, this is going to be a pretty severe message. I pray that You would enable me to speak it in Your love, so that all who hear it would be set free from the lies of the enemy, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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

Authority; October 17, 2018

2 Corinthians 13:10 This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.

Authority is a strange thing. Some people crave it, some people don’t want it, and many people resent its being exercised over them. However, it’s part of the way the universe is made and organized. We have to understand and accept it to discover and fit into the place God has for us. The Centurion with the sick servant is famous for having understood authority and being commended by Jesus for that. (Luke 7:1-10) In this verse Paul touches on some very important things about authority. In the first place, it is given from above. Even Jesus, in the Great Commission, said that “All authority has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18) As the Centurion realized, authority operates in a flow. Sometimes people take authority or seize authority, but that can be entirely bogus. The other point that Paul stresses here is that authority is to be constructive, not destructive. We are to operate in the authority of Christ to destroy the works of the devil, certainly, (1 John 3:8) but even that is to set people free and build them up. Too often we treat authority like a stick, and just flail around with it, wounding people left and right. When that happens in the Church, it is a real tragedy.

I’ve always had something of an uneasy relationship to authority myself. I tend to shy away from exercising it, and that certainly doesn’t fulfill the purpose for which it is given. As a teacher in the classroom I have had to learn to exercise authority judiciously, to gain the respect of my students and teach them as I am called to do. As a pastor in this church I am still learning the extent and limits of my authority, and how to use it to extricate believers from the traps of the enemy. More broadly, I feel I have been given authority by God in and over this city, but I am still rather in the dark about that, not knowing what is God’s plan and what is my imagination. In every case, as the Centurion said, I’ve got to be submitted to God’s absolute authority over me before I will be able to exercise properly whatever authority He has assigned to me. Jesus said, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19-20) I will never be able to operate in that authority unless I am submitted to Him. (James 4:7)

Father, thank You for this reminder. I ask for more and more revelation of Your plans for me so that I may fulfill them in every detail, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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

Depending on God; October 16, 2018

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

This is an enormously important passage that runs directly counter to our fleshly impulses. We don’t like to be weak! However, it’s a foregone conclusion that, as Paul himself pointed out, “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25) If we want God to work, we’ve got to get out of the way! The sad thing is, too often we’d rather muddle through in our own weakness and foolishness, because we want to be “independent.” How can we be independent when it is only by God’s grace that we exist at all? Physicists have posited a “strong force” and a “weak force” that make the universe behave as it does, but they still aren’t sure at all why it doesn’t just dissolve into disassociated particles. I’ve got a clue for them: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17) Christ is the “cosmic glue” they’ve been trying to discover! Paul received a lot of revelation of the mysteries of God, (1 Corinthians 4:1-2) and He had him write them down for our benefit. What we have here is another of those counter-intuitive mysteries, that when we are weak, then we are strong. The most dangerous thing about pride is that it deceives us into thinking we don’t need God, or that we can appropriate His attributes in fullness. That’s exactly what the devil dangled in front of Eve in the garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:5) The better we understand our total dependence on God, and rejoice in it, the more He will be able to do in and through us.

I remember my mother telling me about one time we had a family emergency and she had to fly to the US by herself to deal with it. She was using the Good News translation (TEV) for her devotions at that point, and was reading the Bible on the plane, and got to this passage. The TEV renders it as, “My grace is all you need.” That really spoke to her, and it sustained her not only through that emergency but for the rest of her life, all the way through my father’s death and her own bout with the cancer that took her life. Even more personally for me, I can never forget the time the Lord got it through to me that He’s smart and I’m not. I’ve never been particularly proficient at sports, so “strength” was never a major consideration for me. However, I was proud of my mind! I had long acknowledged that God was smarter than I was, but I still placed myself somewhere on the same scale. How foolish! I’ve got to remember Jesus’ plain, unvarnished words: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Sometimes I just have to ask myself, “What part of nothing don’t you understand?” Like Paul, I need to rejoice in my limitations, since they are opportunities for God to manifest Himself. Like my mother, I need to rest in complete peace that God’s grace is indeed all I need.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the many things each day that remind me of my dependence on You. Help me be a good steward of all that You place in my hands, but never for a moment think that I’m the source of any of it. My I be fully useful to You as Your instrument, for Your glory alone. Thank You. Praise God!

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

Weapons; October 15, 2018

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Reading this really brought to mind the escalating political violence in the US today. Those who are becoming violent are indeed setting themselves up against the knowledge of God, because the thing they are most frantic to protect is the “right” to murder unborn infants. There is a real temptation to become violent in reaction, but that would be relying on the weapons of the world. I’m not saying anything against the right of self defense; if I lived in the US, I would get a concealed-carry license. However, those who have knowledge of God and seek to be obedient to Him aren’t to go looking for trouble. There’s plenty of it without that! Rather, we are to stand firm in the Lord and come against the spiritual forces that are behind what is going on. People in the flesh aren’t our enemies, even if they are beating us up physically. They are certainly to be pitied, because they are submitting themselves to the one who only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10) We are rather to submit to God and resist the devil. (James 4:7) If we aren’t submitted to God, His weapons aren’t at our disposal. The mention of “arguments and pretensions” here really rings true, because what we are seeing is a clash of ideas, of world views. Those who are centered on humanism are blind to the truth of God, when that is the very thing that can set them free, and freedom is what they crave. (John 8:32) We are to pray, in full submission to God, and we are to speak His truth in love, even when that love requires that we be forceful in our speaking. We’ve got to remember that Christ has already won the victory, and if we are in Him, we will see it too.

Some might say this is easy for me to say because I don’t live in the US. However, physical distance can help with objectivity. I have plenty of family and other loved ones in the US! I may not come into direct contact with masked thugs or screaming protesters, but I can pray, and distance is no barrier to the power of God. I was part of the army praying for Andrew Brunson, for example, and I pray for Asia Bibi in Pakistan. There are many strongholds of the enemy in the world, both in individual lives and in society, and I am to do my part in tearing them down. I am to thank God for the freedoms I have and be diligent on behalf of those who do not have those freedoms. One of our church members is going to be moving to one of the former Soviet republics next year. I am to pray for her to be Christ’s agent in every way, both toward her husband and toward everyone around her, so that she may be protected and be a channel of God’s salvation, for the glory of God.

Father, thank You that more and more of Your children are waking up to the conflict they had been ignoring. May we all stand up, as a mighty army, so that the works of the devil may be destroyed (1 John 3:8) and multitudes set free, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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