Citizenship; May 19, 2019

Colossians 1:13-14 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Salvation changes our legal residence, our citizenship. This is something we don’t think about very much, and we should. I’m currently reading a book titled The Insurgence, by Frank Viola, that focuses on that and all it means, and it actually means a very great deal. 1st Century believers understood that when they declared, “Jesus is Lord,” they were saying, “Caesar is not my Lord, Jesus is.” By the standards of the Roman Empire, that was treason, and most people know that the penalty for treason is death. In Philippians 3:20 Paul proclaims clearly, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” We don’t think about that very much. Citizenship was and is a big deal, and the whole issue is creating a lot of turmoil in the US right now. The thing is, whether we’re talking about political nation-states or spiritual dominions, as this passage is talking about, either you are a citizen or you are not; there’s no “half-citizenship.” Politically we have visas and residence permits and the like, and few countries are as generous in that area as the US, but they still aren’t the same as citizenship. That’s why it’s such a scandal when non-citizens manage to vote in elections. The same thing happens in the Church, actually. There are people who have “been in church” all their lives, yet have never committed to Jesus Christ as Lord. Without that commitment they are not citizens of His kingdom, yet they often think they are, and are treated as if they were. That makes for a multitude of problems, and such problems are evident everywhere we turn. Sadly, such people can even rise in the human hierarchy of church government, exerting an outsized influence on many people. Our “documentation” isn’t a matter of physical paperwork. Actually, relying on such paperwork is one reason so many non-citizens of God’s kingdom are included in church. It’s not at all that the Church is exclusive, trying to keep people out, it’s that citizenship is black-and-white: Jesus is Lord, or He’s not. We tend to think of citizenship in terms of rights and privileges, but it is also a matter of duties and responsibilities. Our entry into God’s kingdom is by grace through faith, but it isn’t a matter of “into bliss and out of blister,” as my grandfather described “easy-believeism” The average Christian, even genuine Christian, thinks and understands far too little about the kingdom of God.

Living as a US citizen in Japan virtually my whole life, the whole concept of citizenship has been in my awareness probably much more than it is for most people. When I feel Japanese and feel American, I understand the struggle we have as genuine Christians with the whole now/not yet aspects of the kingdom of God. The difficulty for me is in communicating that truth to the Japanese, who have a very deep sense of racial/ethnic identity that in my opinion is comparable only to the Jews. They have a great fear of becoming un-Japanese, not realizing that the requirement is exactly the same for people of any nation or race. Sadly, many of the non-Japanese Christians they see don’t live as citizens of God’s kingdom, so they don’t have a good example. Even when they do, they confuse the Christian aspects of such people as being because they aren’t Japanese, and think they could never be that way. I have run into that repeatedly. It all comes back to the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in each heart and life, so that is where I need to focus, for myself and for those in my care.

Father, this is a huge issue, and I can’t help but feel it is at least one of the keys to the salvation of the Japanese. I ask You to illuminate my heart more and more so that I may speak and act on Your truth in love, causing people to acknowledge You as holy, indeed bringing Your kingdom as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Spiritual Growth; May 18, 2019

Philippians 4:12-13 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Verse 13 is widely quoted, mostly out of context. Frankly, a lot of people don’t want to have it true of them, because they don’t want to deal with the negative things Paul mentions in verse 12. That’s why “prosperity gospel” preachers are so popular: people want to be told that life in Christ is Easy Street. However, that’s not the way God planned it, because God didn’t want spoiled brats for children. God wants us to trust Him, and He wants us to learn how to stand firm against the devil, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10) Paul himself had some pretty strict training in this area, and he was eventually martyred. In it all, he learned the reality of what God told him when he had a health issue: God’s grace was all he really needed. (2 Corinthians 12:9) We don’t like to hear that! We like verses like Malachi 3:10 that talk about “the windows of heaven” being opened so that we receive more than we can hold. God can do that, and He does it when it’s in our best interest, but as has been said, He’s far more interested in our character than our comfort.

This is an uncomfortable passage for me to deal with right now, when my wife is having to deal with severe pain. She wrote me this morning that the pain feels worse than it was before the surgery, but she doesn’t remember that exactly the same thing happened after she had her first back surgery 3 ½ years ago. Her surgeon is supposed to be back from Canada today, but the devil is telling her he won’t be in to see her until Monday. Whether or not that’s the case, she needs to release everything to God and trust Him. That’s easy for me to say, when I’m not the one in pain! With a wedding this afternoon I won’t be able to go see her today, (the hospital is over an hour away by car) so my challenge is to help her feel loved and encouraged long distance. I can’t do that on my own, but going back to this passage, I can do it through the One who strengthens me.

Father, thank You that Your grace is unchanging, and that it is indeed sufficient. Help Cathy and me receive that grace in the abundance with which You supply it, so that we may grow as You intend and so be the children You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Peace; May 17, 2019

Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I have these two verses memorized in both languages to the point they seem like clichés, but they are still incredibly powerful. The problem is in the follow-through, actually doing this in faith and receiving the peace that is available to God’s children. That’s where the rubber hits the road, as the saying goes. We are back to James’ very blunt, and yet essential, comment: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22) The difficulty here comes in actually releasing things to God. Our viewpoint is so low that we can’t see over the next mole hill, or even around the next pebble in the road. That’s why God pointed out to Isaiah, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) God’s viewpoint is high enough that He can see the end from the beginning, so He’s not worried. The problem is in our believing that as more than just an intellectual proposition. We have to really trust God for this promise to be operative in our lives, so these two verses are an effective gauge of our faith.

Cathy and I are in a full-on practicum in this matter right now. God has told me personally to rest, relax, and rejoice, but when things pile up (from my viewpoint, anyway) it can be very hard to do that. Cathy is in the even more difficult position of dealing with physical pain that is at times very intense. She has no idea how long this situation is going to continue, nor what the outcome will be. Both of us are what many people consider mature Christians, but we are being reminded that we are all infants before our heavenly Father. I am seeing that Cathy is being used powerfully to bless various people in that hospital, but I don’t see why she has to endure so much pain in the process. As I just told her over the phone, I’m not used to crying while I’m praying in tongues, but I was doing that in my desire for her to be relieved of her pain. We are being shown that this is spiritual warfare, manifested in various physical things as well. We have got to remember that “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) The road can be very hard indeed, but in Christ, the destination is sure.

Father, thank You for the peace that I do feel right now, just as Paul wrote to the Philippians. It’s much nicer than I was feeling half an hour ago! I pray that peace for Cathy right now too. I ask that You enable her to communicate accurately with the nurses and with everyone else. I pray that Your peace would indeed guard her heart and her mind, right now and each day and each moment to come, so that she may be effective in standing against the devil, not only for herself but also for the various patients with whom You’ve already connected her, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Focus; May 16, 2019

Philippians 3:18-19 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

I do not enjoy writing on passages like this, because they are heart-breaking. As Paul himself says here, thinking about such things brings tears to the eyes. Tragically, the situation is no better today than it was in the 1st Century. Where the NIV says “stomach,” the Japanese is a little broader with “appetite/desire.” How many church members today live governed by their physical bodies/desires? To be blunt, obesity is a national epidemic in the US, with others becoming obsessed with “health foods” and the like in reaction. Neither side of that is “seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) Then there are those who are consumed with, and so define themselves by, sexuality. As Paul says here, their glory is their shame. It all boils down to the last sentence: “Their mind is set on earthly things.” We all get distracted from time to time by earthly things, but our focus must be on Christ and His kingdom. We tend to think of Jesus’ statement in Matthew as simply relating to provision, when actually it is defining a lifestyle. This isn’t about “being so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good,” it’s about living every moment in the kingdom of God, serving our Lord even as we are on this earth. We are accountable for our stewardship of all that is in our hands, which includes not only our finances but also our bodies and our dreams. We tend to think of stewardship strictly in terms of tithing! We are to be active as agents of Christ and His kingdom, His Lordship. To do that, we’ve got to keep our connection to our Lord as our absolute first priority.

This hits me as much as it does anyone else. I can indeed think of several people about whom I care deeply who fit into the category Paul is talking about here, and at the same time I am aware of how much room I personally have to grow in being totally focused on and committed to my Lord. The things of this earth can be very shiny and tempting! Just recently I had a direct challenge to my priorities when I was asked to do two weddings (read, make money) on the same day I had already been asked to give a testimony about our church vision at an interdenominational meeting. I’m sorry to say that I really hesitated before turning down the weddings. As a pastor, I am very aware that Paul was not at all being holier-than-thou in what he says here. I too grieve, even as I ask God’s grace on us all. I am to keep speaking the truth in love, seeking to apply that truth in my own life even as I proclaim it to others, so that indeed God’s name may be acknowledged as holy and His kingdom come as His will is done, in and through me, even, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. There is much going on. Help me rest, relax, and rejoice in You even in the middle of it all, so that You will be free to use me however You please, for Your kingdom and the body of Christ. Thank You. Praise God!

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Relationships; May 15, 2019

Philippians 3:1 Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.

This gives the strong impression that there was an earlier letter that has been lost, but we can be very grateful that this letter has been preserved for us. The section from verse 7 through verse 14 is very personal for me, because I have many parallels with Paul. I too was raised in a very religious home, and I too fell into the trap of pride, not seeing the depth and the totality of God’s grace. When God very kindly tapped me on the shoulder and showed me a mirror, I was devastated. I thought I was one of the best Christians walking around, when actually I was ignoring God in practical terms in almost every area of my life. I have repeated the story of that encounter many times, but just like Paul says here, I don’t consider that any trouble, and if the story of my stupidity helps keep someone else from falling into that trap, I am glad. We are not to dwell on past failures, but neither are we to hesitate to share what we have been through, be-cause we are never the final target for the grace God pours out on us. We are to rejoice in what we experience of the Lord, and rejoice even more when He flows through us to touch others. None of us are in isolation, whatever we might feel like at a given moment. There is a hymn that sings about being a “channel of blessing.” That is indeed a joy that is like no other, and it is one we do well to set as a primary goal in our lives.

One of my “set phrases” is that being self-centered never leads to true happiness. It has become that because I say it so often in every counseling/coaching situation I encounter. I am by nature as self-centered as anyone, if not more so. By the Lord’s great patience and mercy, I have learned what a negative thing that is. I know that I am personally, individually, responsible and accountable for my actions, but I have also learned that my actions always impact someone else, just as their actions impact me. I have learned that relationship is absolutely central to our existence. As a child I tended to be a “loner,” but that wasn’t always by choice. When I felt rejected, I built up a shell and pretended I preferred being alone. I have had to learn what a lie that is. That’s not at all to say that solitude is bad in itself, but it is to say that God created us for relationship, first of all with Himself and also with other people. That’s why the first and second commandments are to love Him and to love our neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-40) Right now is a strong reminder of that, with my wife in the hospital and me at home. It’s not at all that we spend all day every day in each other’s presence when she’s not in the hospital, but rather the enforced separation. Some people are frankly irritating to be with, but I’ve got to remember that they too are part of the relationship matrix God has prepared for me, and rejoice to be an agent of His blessing to them as well.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Cathy’s encountering some pleasant and some not-so-pleasant relationships with hospital staff. I ask Your overwhelming grace and anointing for her, so that even those who respond poorly to Your presence in her may be overcome by Your love, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Healing; May 14, 2019

Philippians 2:27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.

This verse is not underlined in my Bible, but it is striking under the current circumstances. I have heard preachers use passages like Mat-thew 8:16 and 12:15 and others like them that say Jesus “healed all” who came to Him to say that we should never need to go to the doc-tor. This verse shows that was certainly not the experience of even the 1st Century Church. It was no accident that Luke, a physician, was Paul’s traveling companion! It is true that Jesus heals, some-times spectacularly, but it is also true that He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Disease is part of the human condition until God makes all things new. (Revelation 21:5) We are to pray for healing in faith, as James exhorts us to do, (James 5:14-16) but we are not to accuse ourselves or each other of a lack of faith if we don’t see healing. Joni Tada had to deal with that for many years in relation to her paralysis from breaking her neck, and now she’s dealing with it in relation to cancer. However, she has certainly found that God’s grace is sufficient for her, though it has led her through some pretty difficult times.

This is of course front and center in Cathy’s and my experience, not only at the moment but over the years. I have been blessed with a remarkable degree of health, but Cathy has a “rap sheet” so long that she carries a printed copy of her medical history in case she encounters a new doctor. Right now, in the hospital recovering from back surgery, she is experiencing “resting pain” from her Parkinson’s Disease, to the distress of the nursing staff. Her primary doctor (surgeon) won’t be back from Canada until the 18th, so they are at a loss as to what to do. If they do come up with an answer to the “resting pain,” enabling her to get a good night’s sleep consistently, the back surgery will have been worth it! We are to be thankful for the good medical care she is getting, but at the same time keep our focus on our Lord, and trust Him to work all of this out for blessing.

Father, thank You for this Word. I do pray that You would keep Cathy from any unnecessary pain, and that she would have joy in the assurance that Your plans are good in every respect, whatever they feel like in the moment. Thank You. Praise God!

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Complaining; May 13, 2019

Philippians 2:5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

The verses that follow are a truly anointed description of Christ, so this verse presents an impossibly high standard. The fact that it is impossible to our human nature should drive us to our knees to ask and allow the Holy Spirit to work this in and through us. Jesus was just as human as we are, even while being fully Divine. We often lose sight of that fact. He performed no miracles (despite some “Christian mythology” about His childhood) until the Holy Spirit came on Him at His baptism. It is clear from the story of His Bar Mitzvah (Luke 2:41-52) that He had an awareness of Who He was, but as the verses that follow this one make clear, He willingly accepted our limitations when He came to reside in Mary’s womb. That’s why Paul can say that our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus. Something that comes across very clearly here is that Jesus didn’t complain. One of the many striking details of the movie, The Passion of the Christ, is how Jesus, having been driven to His knees by His scourging, then struggles to His feet again to receive more. The director rightly has the actors playing the Roman soldiers express amazement at this. We need to remember that the same Holy Spirit who empowered Jesus has been given to us. We tend to think of that in terms of miracles and the like, but it also applies to all the little mundane details of our lives. If Jesus could endure scourging and crucifixion for us, we can endure anything for Him. (Philippians 4:13)

This is intensely personal at the moment, with my wife just having undergone back surgery while also having Parkinson’s Disease. She wrote me this morning that she had intense pain from the Parkinson’s (not the surgery) in the night, and only one nurse seemed to believe or understand her. That’s not too surprising, since that is a surgical unit of an orthopedic hospital, but it’s still not easy to deal with. My tiredness from three hours of driving to get to and from the hospital is building, but that is certainly minor compared to what my wife is experiencing. Yesterday had a number of really nice blessings in it, and we need to focus on those rather than all the junk. This is indeed intensive training in having the same attitude as Jesus!

Father, thank You for this Word. Help me communicate it to Cathy in a way that will encourage her and not put her down. Thank You that I was able to go yesterday, and that I can go this morning as well. I ask that you keep me safe on the road, but especially that You keep Cathy from any unnecessary pain, and give the nurses understanding of her situation so that they can give her the support she needs. In all of this may we accurately represent Christ, drawing those around us to You for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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