May 29, 2015

Luke 6:27-28 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.”

This is a very famous teaching of Jesus, echoing the Sermon on the Mount, but one little detail of it caught my attention just now. Jesus is addressing His remarks to “you who hear me.” God speaks to us a great deal, but much of the time we simply don’t hear Him. Jesus several times spoke of those who had “ears to hear.” (Mark 4:23, etc.) To Ezekiel the Lord spoke of people who had ears to hear but simply wouldn’t listen. (Ezekiel 12:2) Sadly, that describes far too many people today. For some, it’s like a husband who has a mental switch that turns off any time his wife starts talking. That’s a common phenomenon and is tragic enough, but it’s even worse when we turn off God. When Jesus gave John the messages for the seven churches in Revelation He said each time, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:7, etc.) That’s even one ear! There are many reasons we don’t hear God, but I think the biggest one is preoccupation with self. We’re so full of ourselves we have no room for God. How foolish is that? We make ourselves into our own little gods and so deny the Creator of the universe who loves us enough to send His Son to die for us! As long as our focus is on ourselves, our perception of what God is saying will be distorted at best. That’s perhaps the greatest benefit of true praise and worship: we focus on our Lord and Savior, caught up in His magnificence, and so open up to receive anything He wants to pour into us, be it instruction or encouragement or spiritual gifts or anything else.

I’ll never forget the time I was really wanting to hear from God and was “bombarding the gates of heaven,” so to speak, when I paused to take a breath and I heard Him say, so very clearly, “Well then, shut up.” I think I’ve gotten a little better at listening to Him since then! Even as I tell others to do, I need to be expecting Him to speak to me, with joyful anticipation. I delight to experience Him speaking through me, but I must never think that what He says is just for “the other guy.” In my morning times with Him He often gives me messages for the church, but I must always remember that I am as much a part of the church as anyone else. I need to let Him be my “audiologist,” adjusting my “spiritual hearing aid” to tune out the background noise to distinguish exactly what He is saying, with no distortion. And I need to remember that, as with physical hearing aids, if I fail to be properly connected, the feedback will be irritating rather than helpful to those around me.

Father, thank You for this Word. That illustration is interesting! Help me indeed listen to You faithfully and lead others to do the same, so that we may be the obedient children You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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May 28, 2015

Luke 1:67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

Throughout the Bible, when it says someone was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” the most common activity connected with that is prophecy, even for people who were not considered prophets as such. Before Pentecost such instances were pretty rare, but after Pentecost they could actually be said to be the norm. Even in the Early Church there were people who had specific gifting, the office, if you will, as prophets. Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:10) comes to mind. However, Paul urged everyone to prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1-5) Today we mystify prophecy and associate it with fortune telling, when that is not the New Testament picture at all. Particularly for those given to the Church as Prophets (Ephesians 4:11) there is often an element of speaking out what has not yet happened in the flow of time, but that is far from the only, or even the major, focus of New Testament prophecy. Prophecy is very simply, speaking out what God is saying. Most often God speaks to us about right now, and as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14, He does so to comfort and encourage us and build us up. We can imagine how comforted, encouraged, and built up those who heard Zechariah speak must have felt! Too many people seek spiritual gifts for themselves, that is, to make them feel big and important, rather than as tools to bless others. That is a complete degradation of the whole idea. We are to seek to be filled with the Spirit and to exercise His gifts in order to draw people to Christ, build up His Body, and give Him glory.

I well remember that when I was seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit for the sake of the gift of tongues, nothing happened. However, when I sought the filling on the basis of God’s promise, with no strings attached, He followed through. However, to teach me a lesson, perhaps, at that time no “spiritual gifts” were manifested, but I was given a completely new and natural boldness to witness to others of Christ. In the years since then I have experienced every spiritual gift mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 at least a time or two. Other than tongues, which are frequent but devotional, the most common has been prophecy. That has only occasionally been predictive, but it has always been encouraging. I seek to be prophetic, that is, to speak out what God is saying, every time I am given an opportunity, but He is the judge of how faithfully I do that. Like Paul, I strongly desire that everyone in my care likewise speak out what God is saying, by the presence and power of His Spirit. We limit ourselves so badly by only looking at ourselves, instead of at our omnipotent Lord who wants to use us for His glory!

Father, thank You for placing this burden on my heart. Help me be effective first of all with the flock in my direct care. Enable me to help them lift their eyes to Christ and move out in all that You have planned for them. Help me also be effective in communicating this truth more widely as You give opportunity, through writing and speaking. May I indeed express what You are saying when and how You are saying it, so that many may be raised up as the disciples You seek, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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May 27, 2015

Luke 1:58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

It’s interesting how many times mercy is mentioned in this unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. That a previously barren woman would have a child at all was and is a cause for great joy, as countless Internet videos attest, but it was particularly significant in the society of the day that the baby was a boy. Women were, sadly enough, devalued, a holdover from days when physical strength was a prime requirement for survival. One of the scandals of Jesus’ ministry was that He was so accepting of women, and even allowed them to sit at his feet and receive teaching. (Luke 10:38-39) It seems to me particularly significant that He revealed Himself after His resurrection first to a woman. (John 20:10-17) Some feminists today attack Christianity as being “oppressive of women,” not realizing that the genuine liberation of women stems from the attitudes taught in the New Testament. With remarkable illogic they equate differing roles with different value and demand sameness instead of equality, suffering hugely in the process. Paul has been widely accused of misogyny, but he was the one who wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) It is indicative of the spirit behind radical feminism that they ignore the horrible oppression and abuse of women in Islam, choosing instead to attack the one religion that gives women full dignity and value.

I was raised in a family that certainly valued women. My parents became missionaries individually as singles, and courted and married in Japan. My maternal grandfather was a champion of women in ministry, founding a school to train them when the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wouldn’t accept them as students, and at one point over half of the foreign missionaries under appointment by the Southern Baptists were graduates of the Carver School of Missions. Today there are Southern Baptists who don’t want to admit my grandfather was ever around, and his portrait has been removed from the building that was absorbed into the seminary. Be that as it may, I have a high respect for women, but I would not make the mistake of thinking they are identical with men. That’s part of the whole lie of homosexuality, because men and women were created to be complimentary to each other, balancing each others’ strengths and weaknesses. I do a lot of marriage counseling, and this point is a major part of that. When we expect someone of the opposite gender to be the same as us, we get into a lot of trouble! This is a soap box I could spend a lot of time on, but this isn’t the time or place. I am to express God’s truth in love in every area of life, so that people may receive that truth and be set free indeed from the multiple traps of our enemy the liar. (John 10:10)

Father, I certainly didn’t expect to write on this when I started! Thank You for Your perfect plan for every area of life, for expressing it in Your Word and bringing it to life by Your Spirit. May I walk in Your truth consistently, doing Your will in Your way on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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May 26, 2015

Luke 1:51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

Time and again the Bible reminds us that God knows what’s really going on inside our minds and hearts. These days you hear a lot of comments about “the death of privacy,” but that’s never been an issue when it comes to God. It is alarming when governments and individuals who don’t have our best interests in mind know too much about us, but again, that’s never an issue with God. We get antsy about God’s omniscience only when we are in rebellion against Him. Sadly, that’s all too often. However, for those who are submitted to Him and seeking to follow Him, His omniscience is a great comfort. We don’t have to get worked up about those who plot evil because we can be assured that in the final analysis, they will never “get away with” anything at all. God allows us free rein, for the most part, during our lives on this earth, but as Hebrews 9:27 reminds us, we will all die and face judgment. The most dangerous of all behaviors is the one mentioned in this verse: being proud in our inmost hearts. It is that pride that makes us think we can get by with ignoring God’s rules, and it is actually the sin of Satan, because he desired God’s glory for himself, and so was transformed from an angel to the devil. (Ezekiel 28:14-15) We cannot be in right relationship with our Creator unless we remember who He is and who we are, and act accordingly.

This issue is an increasing focus of my ministry. Not only do we need to maintain honest humility before God, as Christians we need to be aware of all that God has done for us in Christ, and who and what we are when we are in Christ. That’s what I’m writing a book about even now! I need to remember that apart from the grace of God not only do I not have the capacity to grasp the magnificence of what God has planned, I certainly don’t have the ability to communicate it effectively. This is what Paul was talking about in Ephesians 1:2-13, that my maternal grandfather referred to as “The Plan of the Ages.” I am blessed to come from generations of people who sought to grasp and communicate that plan, and I am to fulfill my own part in that plan as well.

Father, thank You for Your overwhelming grace and love. I don’t have words or ability to praise You properly for it all now, so thank You for the assurance that I will be able to do so in heaven. I do ask that You use me effectively in what I write, say, and do, so that Your love and grace may indeed communicate to as many as possible so that they may repent and believe, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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May 25, 2015

Mark 10:52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

There is a difference between the Japanese and the NIV that jumps out at me. Where the NIV says “healed,” the Japanese says “saved.” Young’s Literal Translation also uses “saved” there, so I’m guessing that’s pretty accurate. He certainly acted like he was saved after this, following Jesus. Physical healing isn’t predictable, though it is certainly possible by God’s grace. However, repentant faith will always bring salvation. I don’t think the name, Bartimaeus, would have been recorded if he hadn’t remained with the group of those who followed Jesus. He was quite possibly among the 120 in the upper room at Pentecost. Like the man born blind in John 9, he had a powerful testimony: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25) When we forget from what Jesus saved us, our discipleship can get shaky. Particularly for those who have never been what the world calls “bad,” this can be a real problem. However, the issue is not what the world approves or doesn’t, it’s our failure to align with the holiness of God, and none of us does that. We get glib with verses like “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23) and “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23) but we tend to forget they really apply to us. I certainly don’t recommend that people do something horrible so that they will better understand salvation. Rather, we need a revelation of just how horrible ignoring God and going our own way really is. People don’t intentionally choose hell, but they do intentionally choose their own way over God’s, and that’s actually the same thing. We need to realize that applies to us as much as it does to the guy on death row, and get serious about our gratitude for the salvation that has been given us.

Ouch! That exposes several areas for repentance. I could name several “major” sins I have committed in my life, though the police wouldn’t be interested in any of them, but this points out how often I fail to place God first in my thinking. I’m not plotting sin, I’m simply ignoring God. At the very least that lets down my defenses and makes me open to assorted attacks by the devil. I need to stay spiritually awake all the time, focused on Christ Jesus my Lord and keeping Him first in all my thoughts and actions. There is no question that is the way of greatest satisfaction and blessing.

Father, thank You for Your overwhelming grace toward me. Keep me from forgetting that even for a moment. Help me walk in the obedience of gratitude, not falling again into the trap of taking Your grace for granted, so that I may be true to You on every level, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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May 24, 2015

Mark 5:19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

This is the first time that I’m aware of that Jesus gave instructions for personal evangelism, and it certainly contains lessons worth applying. In the first place, Jesus didn’t tell him, “Follow me for three years and then you will be fit to tell others about me.” That’s what we tend to do today, sending people off to seminary. It’s not that seminaries are bad necessarily, though some are, but that they aren’t a prerequisite. When we confuse faith with academics we get into real trouble. What Jesus did tell the man was to go to the people who knew him best and tell them what had been done for him. I find that people often have the greatest reluctance to evangelize their own families. That comes from a failure to take the focus off of ourselves. We know we aren’t perfect, and those closest to us can see that most clearly, and we think that disqualifies us from witnessing. How foolish! It shows we have forgotten what a big thing the Lord has done for us in saving us, and how much mercy was involved. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need mercy! This particular man had something of an advantage in that area, because everyone knew what a state he had been in, and the change had certainly been dramatic. That called for humility on his part; it would have been emotionally easier to go somewhere people didn’t know what a raving lunatic he had been. However, that’s precisely why Jesus told him to go home: there would be no room for pride, so all the glory would go to God. (If it were today, the owners of the pigs would probably try to sue him for their financial loss!) We need to let go of our fear of how people will see us, and honestly share the magnificence of our Savior’s grace.

This issue is one I have certainly struggled with as a pastor. Japanese have a great reluctance to talk about religion, and tend to be very private people in general. There is a strong awareness of how they appear to others, and a desire not to be seen as strange. (Actually, that attitude isn’t unique to Japan!) On top of that, there is a national tendency to leave things up to experts. I find that the believers are more than willing for me to evangelize, but doing it themselves is an entirely different matter. I’ve got to come back to what Jesus said in Acts 1:8, because the Holy Spirit is the One who gives us power to be witnesses. Trying to browbeat people into evangelizing is total futility, because even if they go through the motions it won’t be effective. I need to remind them of what a great thing the Lord has done for them and how great God’s mercy has been toward them, and let the Holy Spirit take it from there.

Father, today is Pentecost. I ask You to pour Your Spirit out indeed on the Body of Christ world-wide, and very specifically on Your children in this city and in this church. May we catch fire no less than the early church, having our own impurities burned out and being a bright beacon to draw many into Your kingdom, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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May 23, 2015

Matthew 23:24 “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

I cannot read Matthew 23 without remembering how this scene played out in the Visual Bible video. The actor playing Jesus was a dedicated Christian, and he had been very concerned how this extended denunciation of the Pharisees was going to come across. They started filming late in the production day, not expecting to finish that day, but once they started, the Holy Spirit took over. Everything flowed in a powerful, unified stream, quite unexpectedly, and at least one of their cameras ran out of film in the process. The actor made it through with no mistakes at all, and then fell to his knees on the stone pavement of the set. The actor playing Peter, completely unscripted, rushed to his side to help him. The result is incredibly moving, making it very clear that Jesus said these things in an agony of love for the Pharisees. It tore Him up that they missed God so badly while thinking they were pleasing Him. This verse about gnats and camels is pretty amusing taken out of context, but it was a very graphic, easily understood illustration of just how mixed up the Pharisees were. I can easily think of some people who fit into this same category, and I am sure Jesus is just as grieved with them, because He loves them just as much. It’s not that we are to ignore issues, but rather that we are to let God show us what is important and what less so, and as Paul pointed out so forcefully in 1 Corinthians 13, remember that it must all be grounded on and bound up in love.

I have been leery of legalism much of my life, but I must not let that attitude cause me to take important things lightly, much less teach others to do so. (Matthew 5:17-19) However, having condemned legalism in the past, I must not be guilty of it myself. I am to abide in the love and grace of God, walking in obedience because I am already loved, accepted, and forgiven, and not in some misguided attempt to earn that standing with God. I am to proclaim the holiness of God but not apart from His love, and vice versa. I am not to draw back from strong words any more than Jesus did, but I must always speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15) I am to abide in Christ so that He may be manifested in and through me.

Father, I am frequently reminded of how far I have to go to be a perfect representative of Christ. Thank You that You use imperfect vessels! Thank You for all You allowed me to take part in yesterday, and for the really good things that happened. Thank You for Your plans for today. Thank You for the wedding I’ll be performing this afternoon, and for the counseling I’ll be doing with another couple right after that. Help me be Your agent in every interaction, speaking Your words by Your Spirit to work Your will for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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