Speaking God’s Words; June 20, 2018

Luke 10:16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

A major focus of my teaching ministry over the years has been the Biblical reality that we are Christ’s representatives. Of course 2 Corinthians 5:20 is central to that, but this verse really brings it home. It is important to note that Jesus didn’t say this just to the 12 apostles, but to the larger group that He sent out. Some people claim to want to hear from God, but if a person of God speaks a word of correction to them, they reject it, and often the messenger who speaks it. No human messenger is perfect, so we need the Holy Spirit to help us “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) However, a fundamental humility is essential. Since God used a donkey to speak to Balaam, (Numbers 22) He might use just about anybody to speak to us! However, some people have the reverse problem, taking people’s responses to what they say personally, and either getting conceited or getting down on themselves. Again, we are back to Balaam’s donkey. If God could speak through a donkey, why couldn’t He speak through you? Don Francisco makes that point very well, and with humor, in one of his songs. The container isn’t special, it’s the contents. Paul famously made that point. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) We are to seek to keep the container clean, so that we ourselves won’t be a cause of stumbling, but we must remember that we aren’t the central issue, God is.

This verse has in a sense haunted me, particularly in the years since we’ve been in Omura. Along with Matthew 10:40-42 it makes me wonder just how much impact my ministry is or isn’t having on the people I encounter. Japanese are very gracious and polite, in sometimes shocking contrast to people from some other cultures, but that doesn’t make them all instant Christians by any means. I am to be grateful for the reception I have been given, but I am not to hold back in preaching that repentance and faith are essential. “Socially expedient” professions of faith don’t hold water. In my ministry I’ve got to keep the focus on Christ, knowing that He lives, speaks, and acts through me, but not taking any credit for myself, because it’s all of Him. I am to speak the truth in love, and let the reception of that truth be between my hearers and God.

Father, thank You for Your faithfulness to speak through me. Thank You for the opportunity I have this morning to speak to the interdenominational prayer meeting. I pray that I would say only what You are saying, and that Your words through me may be received as You intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Doing God’s Word; June 19, 2018

Luke 8:21 He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

Considering how His family had received Him not long before this, this doesn’t seem too surprising a response. There is also the very real possibility they were coming to “put Him away,” thinking He had completely lost His mind. In any case, these specific words are a powerful confirmation of what James said. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” The delicious irony in that is that James was one of the brothers who came to see Jesus in this particular incident! It is a testimony of God’s grace that after Jesus’ resurrection he did repent of his earlier skepticism about his older Brother, and became the leader of the Jerusalem Church after Peter went to Rome. Even apart from that, the most powerful element of this verse is Jesus’ specifying, “put it into practice.” We are very good at deceiving ourselves, thinking that just because we know Scripture we are close to God. Jesus’ criterion is much more demanding than that. He doesn’t insist we become theologians, with massive knowledge of all the “…ologies,” or even that we memorize huge chunks of the Bible. Neither of those things are bad, but they aren’t what Jesus is really seeking. He desires love, demonstrated in obedience. (John 14:15)

This has been an important part of my life for a long time now. It is why I so appreciate Wayne Cordeiro’s SOAP system of devotions, which I follow, because the A in that is Application. By the time I was five years old I was proclaiming my love for Jesus, and I was baptized at seven, but my obedience was spotty, to the point that I became a conceited hypocrite, as sure I was better than other Christians as any Pharisee in the Bible, when actually I was almost totally ignoring God in my daily living. I don’t really like to remember how I was back then, but I do need to be aware of how utterly helpless I am without the grace of God. As a pastor, I seek to bring others to the same understanding, but it can be slow going. I have great empathy with the story of the preacher who brought the same message three Sundays in a row, and when called on it, said, “I’ll go to another message when you start doing this one.” I think that would be counterproductive, but I certainly understand the impulse! I find that I keep repeating various themes in my messages, and I realize God is trying to get through the layers of lies that are keeping people from really receiving His truth. However, saying I’m repeating isn’t helpful! I need to remember God’s immense patience with me, and exercise some of that same patience with those under my care.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I do need frequent reminders, so help me not resent reminding the believers as well. Thank You for the Coaching conference I’m attending right now. Thank You for the awareness of how we are all Your children, members of Your family, just as this verse says. May Your will for today’s events be fulfilled precisely, building up each individual and each church represented, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Loving God; June 18, 2018

Luke 7:47 “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

The whole issue when it comes to forgiveness is the awareness of our need. If we fail to love God, it’s because we fail to recognize how much we have done that would completely justify Him squashing us like noxious bugs. One of the devil’s favorite lies is, “But you’re better than that person.” James points out, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10) As I was delivering the message yesterday the Lord reminded me of the Japanese expression, “Acorns comparing height.” Acorns are indeed of different sizes, but try comparing one to a coconut! When we compare degrees of righteousness, that’s a distinction without a difference. Japan has a shame culture, as opposed to a sin culture like the West, so it can be hard to explain the need for salvation to Japanese people. The flip side of that is that at its root, Buddhism has no concept of salvation at all, so people end up fatalistically assuming they will go to destruction. Evangelism is the process of getting people to accept personal responsibility for their sins, and then believe that God loved them enough for Jesus to take the penalty for their sins on Himself.

People who look at me now, as a missionary pastor, have no concept of how I have been, that should have completely disqualified me from any part in God’s kingdom. I love God precisely because I am sharply aware of my total dependence on His grace. That is of course the story behind the lyrics to Amazing Grace, one of the best-loved hymns of all time. I’ve never been a slave boat captain, but my pride has risen up against my Creator in full imitation of Lucifer. (Isaiah 14:12-14) I shudder to think of the path that would have been possible for me, but God has been incredibly gracious and loving. I have had Americans accuse me of “cultural imperialism” for being a missionary, but my response is always that when I have encountered such a treasure trove of love and grace, I would be the stingiest person in the world not to share it. I haven’t “lived a sinful life” the way the woman in this story had, but comparing my sins to hers would truly be like acorns comparing height. I need to focus on love for God, measured by obedience. (John 14:15, 23)

Father, indeed help me to love You more. Help me recognize my total dependence on You more and more clearly, so that my obedience to You may be more and more consistent, as an example to those around me and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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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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