Faith, Love, and Hope; November 17, 2018

1 Thessalonians 1:3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m sure I’ve written on this every time this verse has come up in our daily readings, because it is so striking and meaningful. It expresses the practical reality of Christian living in a way that allows us to evaluate our own lives, as well as appreciate the lives of others. In the first place, it settles the argument between faith and works, which both Paul (Ephesians 2:8-10 and the whole letter to the Galatians) and James (James 2:14-26) dealt with. Simply put, faith works. If you believe God and His Word, you are going to work for Him and with Him. That’s what James was stressing. However, some people try to substitute work for faith. That’s what Galatians deals with and it is what Martin Luther reacted so strongly against that he called James a “book of straw,” meaning, worthless. Here Paul goes a step beyond that to the point of labor, meaning really putting your sweat into it. We don’t do that without some sort of compulsion, but love is the best compulsion, (2 Corinthians 5:14) Jesus made it very clear that genuine love for Him will produce obedience to Him, (John 14:15) and love for our neighbor will cause us to go all-out in service to them. (Matthew 22:39) The third thing Paul mentions here is patient endurance. That’s something we could all use more of! We aren’t going to endure hardship very well without hope of something better on the other side. As the hymn, The Solid Rock, says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” We don’t know the details of heaven, much less Jesus’ return to earth as King, but if our hope is anchored in Him, we can wait patiently for those things to be revealed in His time. As Jesus said so famously, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

This verse is as much a challenge to me as it is to anyone else. I too need to keep check on my faith, love, and hope. Putting it that way, I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 13:13! When I look at my own life, I regularly feel I come up short, inadequate in all three of those areas. I need to remember that only God is perfect, and welcome His working in me to move me in that direction. I am never to be satisfied with where I am, but at the same time I am not to be picking at myself, taking on the role of satan, which means, “accuser.” The devil does quite enough of that, without my helping him out! I am certainly not to resist when the Holy Spirit prompts me to repent of specific things, but I am never to accept blanket condemnation of any kind. Likewise, I am never to deliver blanket condemnation! I am to admonish and encourage, not put down and condemn.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You also for all You did yesterday, answering my prayers about speaking to the nurses and to the “movers and shakers.” I pray that my words and actions would consistently inspire others to faith, love, and hope, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Evangelism; November 16, 2018

Colossians 4:5-6 Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Paul didn’t say he was writing this letter from prison, but by this point the danger of violent opposition was very real. It wasn’t long after this that believers developed the “secret sign” of the fish, from the initials to Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, so they could identify each other with a minimum of risk. Even so, the evangelistic imperative was still there, as it is for us; they couldn’t be quiet about their faith. America is just starting to experience an essentially very mild form of persecution of Christians (though that might see an increase over the next two years). With “political correctness” at such a fever pitch, anything you say can get you into trouble! Like Paul says, we need to be wise in how we interact with those who are not walking in faith, whether or not they carry the label of Christian. That said, God will give us opportunities to proclaim Christ in various ways, and we are to recognize them and make the most of them. I keep being affirmed in my conviction that in the 1st Century non-believers seldom if ever attended meetings of believers; evangelism was always on a personal basis, away from the group. We have turned that on its head, counting “inviting someone to church” as evangelism! People do get saved in church services, and we aren’t to turn anyone away, but we aren’t to leave evangelism to the “professionals,” either. Paul goes on to say how we are to do that, graciously without being bland. This of course brings to mind Jesus’ statement that we are “the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) It also agrees perfectly with what Peter had to say on the subject. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16) When we live our daily lives in Christ, people are going to want to know how we do it, and that will be our opportunity to lead them to Him.

This has been my conviction for many years now, but in Japanese society, matters of faith and religion are simply never discussed. Actually, that applies to almost anything that might be considered personal. You might work at a company for years and never know if the person at the desk next to you was even married, for example. As a non-Japanese I can get away with saying things and asking things that might be considered rude in a Japanese, but the flip side of that is that people don’t think my faith applies to them because I’m not like them. Catch 22! For all the challenges of ministry in Japan, I am never to give up, remembering that nothing is too difficult for God. (Jeremiah 32:27)

Father, thank You for this reminder, particularly as I’ll be speaking to a classroom full of nursing students this morning and to a hotel ballroom full of “movers and shakers” this evening. I pray that my words would be both gracious and salty, “whetting the appetite” of each person who hears, so that many may enter into life in Christ, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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In Jesus’ Name; November 15, 2018

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The “practical living” sections of Paul’s letters are so rich and deep and to the point! If every genuine believer, let alone every church member, would live their lives as Paul has laid out in this chapter, the whole world would be a far better place. In a sense this verse condenses it all into one sentence. We have very little emotional understanding of what it meant in the 1st Century to do things “in someone’s name.” We very glibly rattle off, “In Jesus’ name, amen” at the end of our prayers, but seldom do so with the full weight of glory involved in Jesus giving us permission to do so. Speaking and acting in someone’s name was to do so with the full authority of that individual, and it also meant doing so in line with that individual’s desires and intentions. In many ways it was like a Power of Attorney is today. What Paul is saying here is like the ultimate, “What would Jesus do?” Every detail of our lives is to be in line with who Jesus is, so that we live as His representatives. To the degree that we do that, everything that He has and is is poured out on us. That’s certainly something to be thankful for! The reason Paul includes that as a separate admonition here is that we don’t operate in Jesus’ name perfectly yet, plus the fact that just as Jesus encountered opposition, all the way to being crucified, we will encounter opposition as we act as His agents. We need to be thankful for the privilege! We must never forget Jesus’ admonition in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But rejoice! I have overcome the world.”

This has been a recurring theme in my life for quite a few years now. Based on 2 Corinthians 5:20, at one point I even posted a sign at the church door: “The Kubara Embassy of the Kingdom of God.” I eventually took that down out of concern for confusion with Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they call their meeting places “Kingdom Halls,” but the principle is certainly valid. (That’s why the devil stole it.) Often when I am to be “on stage” – conducting weddings, teaching classes, or whatever – I explicitly pray that I would be Christ’s agent of blessing to those who see and hear me. I am certainly no more perfect in my implementation of this than Paul was, (Philippians 3:12-14) but I strive to make it the theme of my life. There is certainly much to be thankful for!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Tomorrow I will be speaking to a group of “movers and shakers,” but that isn’t necessarily more important than anything I might do today. Help me indeed live every moment of my life in perfect harmony with Christ in me, by the power of Your Spirit, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Appetites; November 14, 2018

Colossians 2:22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.

Every once in a while the Japanese translation I use makes a lot more sense than the NIV, and this is one of those times. Put into English, it comes out as, “These things all deal with stuff that perishes with use, and are based on human commands and teachings.” It may seem like a very small difference, but it gave me an “Aha!” moment. It all comes back to what is temporal and what is eternal. For example, food is by definition consumable; that’s its whole purpose. You don’t put a “perfect apple pie” in a museum, even if it is a work of art. Paul goes on in the next chapter to talk about specifics of how we should live, but here he is putting some perspective on it all. We are called to be good stewards of everything at our disposal, particularly including our bodies, which means we need to be aware of what is healthy and what is not. However, obsession with food in any way is a distraction from the important things of life. Likewise, we need to be very careful we aren’t being trapped by “human commands and teachings,” as opposed to what God says. There are various religious groups that follow all sorts of rules that have no basis in Scripture, and those rules can ultimately be very destructive. A good case in point is the prohibition of marriage for Catholic clergy. We are hearing a good bit about some of the tragic fallout from that even recently. As a person with the gift of singleness, Paul did think that had advantages, talking about it in 1 Corinthians 7, but few people are so gifted. To Timothy, he lists “forbidding marriage” (1 Timothy 4:1-3) as something taught by demons! God knows how He made us, and all of our appetites are originally good, so we need to be careful that they are channeled and used as God intends, for blessing rather than for destruction.

I have certainly experienced this myself, as I’m sure we all have. God had me get married at 20 because He knew what danger I’d be in if I didn’t, and that relationship has been a great blessing in the 50 years since. Likewise, He has given me a great appreciation for all kinds of food, but has guided and guarded me in my intake so that I’m not the size of a small car. Actually, as good a cook as my wife is, that’s downright miraculous! With Thanksgiving (we have a 25 lb. turkey for the church dinner) and Christmas coming up I will need to be careful, but that’s not a matter of eternal consequence. As a pastor I caution people in dealing with their appetites, but I steer away from “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” I don’t want things like that clouding the really important issues of loving God and loving our neighbors.

Father, thank You for how down-to-earth the Bible is. Thank You that it doesn’t dress anyone up, but presents people in all their human weaknesses. Help me respond to my own humanity, and that of those to whom I minister, as You desire, so that Your purposes may be fulfilled in Your holiness for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Good Advice; November 13, 2018

Colossians 2:6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

What marvelous advice! The world being as it is, we all need encouragement in our faith. Paul’s instructions are both simple and practical, reminding us first of all of the Lordship of Christ. After all, if Jesus isn’t our Lord, then we don’t belong to Him and can’t claim the salvation that comes through Him alone. However, just because Jesus is our Lord, that doesn’t mean we’re always obedient to Him, so Paul goes on to say that we are to continue to live in Him. That isn’t just to keep breathing but rather “live” as in “lifestyle.” That’s why the Greek says “walk,” because it is active. Sometimes we try to do that on our own, and fail miserably. We need to choose to be rooted and built up in Christ. These words of Paul bring to mind Jesus’ famous parable of the seeds and the soil. (Matthew 13:18-23) In that, Jesus said that without roots, we fall away quickly when difficulties come. We don’t want to be that way! Paul goes on to remind us that it is all by faith, and then he closes with the key to joy in it all; thankfulness. If we are constantly complaining about and resenting all the stuff we have to go through, we won’t be able to enjoy the abundant blessings God has for us in it all. When we are able to overflow with thankfulness, we see God’s smiling face even in the middle of the darkest circumstances, and that is blessing indeed.

This applies as much to me as it does to anyone. I too need to remember at all times who is Lord, never trying to “grab the wheel” myself, but trusting Him in every detail. I need to keep putting my roots deeper and deeper into Him and His Word, because there is no limit to the richness of what He has provided. My faith too endures attack, as the devil does all he can to discourage me, but I can stand up to it all in Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13) And I certainly can and need to be thankful. God has poured out such an abundance of blessings on me that I can’t possible contain them all; I need to let them flow through me to those around me. If I’m not grateful, I will block the flow of those blessings and everyone will be poorer for it. As I preach to others, I need to receive the Word myself and act on it, for the glory of God.

Father, thank You for Your unending grace to me. Thank You for the totally unexpected blessing of the pilgrimage group coming by here yesterday. There were so many interconnections and confirmations in that, and we needed it. I say it frequently, but Your blessings are indeed unexpected, even unimagined. (Ephesians 3:20) Help me be more expectant of whatever You have around the corner, not letting the devil’s tricks pull me down but resting, relaxing, and rejoicing in You, just as You have told me, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Theology; November 12, 2018

Colossians 1:23 This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Sometimes Paul writes stuff that makes Quantum Mechanics look simple by comparison! The section ahead of this is a good example of that. That’s why theologians have argued down through the centuries, and why there are so many different denominations. Even Peter acknowledged that Paul could be hard to understand! (2 Peter 3:16) That’s why it is significant that a famous theologian, Karl Barth if I recall correctly, when asked what was the deepest thing he had learned in all of his studies, replied, “Jesus loves me. This I know for the Bible tells me so.” There is indeed infinite depth to the study of God, because He is infinite, but the gateway to all of that is so simple that even a little child can grasp it and enter in. We tend to complicate that, trying to make all of God fit into our systems and schemes, and in the process drive people away from God, or at least refuse to let them enter in. To go back to the analogy of physics, if you were to require that someone grasp String Theory before they were taught the rules of Newtonian physics, action and reaction and the like, you would get absolutely nowhere. At one point, at least in some churches in Japan, it was felt that the harder a sermon was to understand, the better it was, because it meant the preacher was more intellectual. What rot! Jesus said that we have to become like little children to enter His kingdom. (Luke 18:17) This is not at all to say, “Everybody’s OK because God’s real nice.” Even little children can grasp sin and responsibility and forgiveness; my mother did so at age five, and proved it was real by going on to become a missionary. It’s also not to say that deeper points of theology are unimportant; different denominations have brought out important facets in the wealth of God’s truth. However, if in our pursuit of “deeper truth” we lose our mooring in John 3:16, we have lost everything.

As a preacher I tend to presume too much foundation in my hearers. I don’t chase theological fads, but I don’t always help my hearers get their foundations right, either. I need to ask and allow the Holy Spirit to help me put God’s truth in terms my hearers can understand and receive, so that they may indeed be set free from the lying traps of the enemy. (John 8:32) When I teach pronunciation to speech therapists I point out that it does little good if they speak beautifully but are unable to help someone else do likewise. That would make them a good speaker but not a speech therapist. Exactly the same thing may be said of me as a pastor. I can have a marvelous, intimate relationship with God, but if I can’t lead someone else to have the same, I’m not much of a pastor. Frankly, I don’t think that was touched on much if at all when I was in seminary, and that’s very sad. The Coaching movement that I’ve recently been exposed to makes the very valid point that we aren’t told to make converts, but disciples, and it proposes coaching techniques as a way of doing that. I’ve got a lot to learn! I must not succumb to the foolishness of thinking intellect is a substitute for intimacy and obedience. God wants to use me, and I am to rejoice to allow Him to do so.

Father, thank You for what You are doing in me in these days. Keep me from getting down on myself, but help me hear You accurately and obey You fully and promptly. Thank You for calling me to fast today. It’s been quite a while since I have done so. May this day be spent exactly as You intend, accomplishing Your purposes on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Qualifications; November 11, 2018

Colossians 1:12 Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

Japanese society pays a lot of attention to qualifications, especially in the form of licenses, certificates, and the like. That’s why this verse probably has more impact here than in some other countries. Americans might relate better to the idea of a winning lottery ticket, which is a comparable concept. After all “the inheritance of the saints” is greater than any Powerball amount! If you don’t have the ticket, you can’t receive the money, plain and simple. Recently “social justice warriors” have been fighting for equality of outcome, saying that anything less is “unjust.” However, that would result in each person simply getting back what they paid for their lottery tickets in the first place. They completely miss the point. What is actually offered is equality of opportunity, even though the odds of getting the winning ticket are ridiculously small. (I don’t buy lottery tickets, by the way.) God, being infinite, has an infinite inheritance for “the saints,” so the “prize” isn’t diluted by more people getting it, but there are strict rules for qualification. Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 10:9 make it clear that the “price of admission” is faith. The thing is, genuine faith is going to produce a lifestyle of obedience, so this isn’t a matter of “into bliss and out of blister,” as my grandfather used to say. When in faith we commit to Jesus Christ as Lord, just as it says in Romans, then the Father accepts that as righteousness (Romans 4:5 and many more) and we are qualified to receive the inheritance of the saints, whether we think of ourselves as saints or not!

I have long been a mystery to many Japanese because of all the things I can do without ever having received a piece of paper saying I was “qualified” to do them. On the flip side of that, having gone to seminary and being ordained didn’t necessarily qualify me to be a pastor; that qualification really only comes from God. Things happen all the time to remind me that apart from Him, I am quite unqualified for what I am doing. I am not to be anxious about my qualifications for anything God tells me to do, but rather keep my focus on Him and remember that “Where God guides, He provides,” as a very accurate refrigerator magnet puts it. I am not to be puffed up about anything, but neither am I to hesitate or doubt my qualification for anything God is guiding me into.

Father, thank You for this encouraging Word. I feel that You are indeed guiding us into new things. Keep me from holding back from any of it, but rather rejoice to be Your child, Your servant, trusting You for everything, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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