August 27, 2015

John 5:38-40 “nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

People are strange. We get so stuck in our preconceptions that we can’t recognize God’s truth when it is right under our noses. You can read the Bible all you like, but if you aren’t ready to accept the person and work of Jesus Christ you aren’t going to get eternal life from it. The whole issue with “accepting Jesus” is that He has to be Lord. I fear there are many who think they are Christians but in reality are not, because they have rejected the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus had that problem with the people who saw Him physically, and He still has that problem with us today. His words echo down through the centuries: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) There are many who treat the Bible as a talisman, a good-luck charm, and don’t apply what they read to their daily lives – provided they actually read it, even. The Bible will indeed lead us to Jesus, and thus to eternal life, but only if we read it with humility, allowing it to “penetrate even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow [and] judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Growing up in the home I did, I was immersed in the Bible from before I was born, but that doesn’t mean I’ve always walked in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As much as I love the Bible, I know that words on a page don’t in themselves save me; I’ve got to receive God’s truth by grace through faith. Since my primary motivational gift is Teacher, I tend to feel that dumping truth on people should be sufficient, yet I know even from my own life that is not the case. I’ve got to be active in applying God’s Word in my own life, and as a pastor I am to be helping others do the same. I find that frequently things that seem obvious to me because of my background are far from obvious to others, and when I express them, people respond with “Oh that’s so deep!” I need to come alongside people and walk them through the truth God has ingrained in my heart. Anything less will come across as judgmental and holier-than-thou. Only when I allow Christ to be formed in/manifested through me will people really recognize Him to follow Him as Lord.

Father, once again I am up against my own inability. Thank You that You are not limited even by my inability. I ask You to do in and through me all that You have planned, so that those under my care may be healed, nurtured, and empowered to be all that You have planned, for the sake of the Body of Christ and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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August 26, 2015

Luke 24:33-34 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”

This is a clear record of one of the most dramatic events in the entire Bible that is not described: the personal meeting of Peter with the risen Lord whom he had denied knowing just days before. Paul also references it, (1 Corinthians 15:5) though he wasn’t a believer at the time it happened. Don Francisco wrote a magnificent story-song about it that I feel sure is highly accurate as to the emotional and spiritual events of the encounter. I think it teaches us a great deal about the love and grace of God that it happened, and by the changes that were so evident in Peter afterward. The contrast between Peter and Judas is also important to consider, and I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had Judas not committed suicide before the resurrection. Judas’ betrayal was more active, and the motive seems to have been financial profit, but Peter said three times he didn’t even know Jesus, after Jesus had warned him about it specifically. If anything, Peter was perhaps more devastated after the crucifixion than Judas was, because his love for Jesus was greater. The point is, Jesus responded to the love, to the repentant heart, and gave him a personal audience like no other. As familiar as I am with it, I still get a thrill every time I hear Don Francisco’s song. As a result of that encounter, and the commissioning by the Sea of Galilee shortly afterward, (John 21:15-22) Peter became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, even before Pentecost, and was the first to deliver the Gospel specifically to Gentiles. (Acts 10) We can have terrible failures, but God can still use us. We’ve got to remember that the real power is never in us anyway, so our weakness should never be an issue. It is when we realize that that we get past the weaknesses and move into all that God intends for us.

I have always liked Peter because he is so human, so ordinary even. I have had to learn the hard way that when I am sure of my personal competence I fall flat, but when I rest in the knowledge that God can do anything through me, He does. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6) I have quite a track record of “failure by conceit!” God has placed many gifts and abilities in me, but as soon as I take personal pride in them, forgetting who gave them to me, or if I fail to be diligent in applying what He has placed in me, I fail indeed. Some of Peter’s characteristics that God used mightily were doubtless seen as character flaws in other contexts. The boldness that he exhibited before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4) is the same character trait that caused him to rebuke Jesus. (Matthew 16:22) I am never to despair at anything I see in myself, but yield it all to my Lord so that He may make the use of it that He intends, for His glory.

Father, this isn’t exactly what I expected to get from this morning’s reading! Thank You for speaking what I need, when I need it. Help me be the encouragement those around me need to yield all of themselves to You, even the things they see as negatives, so that You may turn them around and use them for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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August 25, 2016

Matthew 12:21 “In his name the nations will put their hope.”

It is always pleasing, even exciting to me when one of the Gospel writers points out that Jesus fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy. Matthew does that particularly, as his intended readership was evidently Jewish. I have read that computer analysis of the Greek indicates it was probably written originally in Aramaic, though translated very early into Greek. The passage Matthew quotes here, Isaiah 42, was covered in the reading for August 9, but this was not the line that stood out to me then. This particular verse is a strong foundation for international missions. Actually, it is a basis for proclaiming Christ to any Gentile at all, which is why it is significant that it is quoted in this most Jewish of the Gospels. From the time God spoke to Abraham, even before Isaac was born, He made it clear that His love extended to all the peoples of the earth. Genesis 12:3 says, “All peoples on earth will be blessed because of you,” and then that sentiment is repeated in Genesis 22:18 after Abraham is willing to sacrifice Isaac. For anyone who believes in a Creator, that’s good news! Jesus is certainly worthy to be the anchor point of hope for every person on the face of the earth, and it is the privilege and the responsibility of all who know Him to let others know about Him so that they too may believe for their salvation.

Since I’ve been a missionary for 34 years now, I’ve obviously taken this to heart. Actually, not only were my parents missionaries, my maternal grandfather, W. O. Carver, founded the Department of Missions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and that is currently the oldest such school of missions in the world. You could say I didn’t have a chance! However, at this point I’m the only one of W. O. Carver’s descendants to be a missionary, (though there is a former missionary among us) and I personally find that rather remarkable. I take no “pride of achievement” in my calling, since that is God’s business, but I wonder how many of my relatives “dodged the call,” as they used to say back when people were being drafted during the Vietnam war. (I did my two years in the Army then, too!) The point is, each person is individually responsible before God; it’s all about Him, not us. Jesus said clearly that we aren’t to get puffed up no matter what God chooses to do through us. (Luke 17:10) As a pastor, I am to encourage each believer to open their heart and mind to grasp God’s plans for them, and then believe that He can bring it to pass regardless of our own weakness, if we will simply be obedient.

Father, thank You for how You have chosen to use me. At times I get discouraged, not seeing as much fruit as I would like, but then I also see people who have become Your children because of Your Word through me, and I know that You are faithful. Help me never, to any degree, let go of my own hope in You, but rather walk in daily obedience, for Your will to be done in and through me on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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August 24, 2015

Zechariah 9:12 Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

I understand that Hebrew prepositions can be somewhat indefinite. English translations have traditionally rendered this as “prisoners of hope,” but the Japanese gives it as “prisoners who have hope.” That makes a bit more sense to me! Hope is liberating, not binding. When we lose our hope, sometimes we fail to recognize God’s deliverance when it comes. Genuine hope in God involves both faith and trust, and as it says in Romans 9:33, “The one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” The reference to double restoration here strikes me as related to the “double portion” of inheritance that the oldest son received. There are many references, but one that comes to mind is when Elisha asked Elijah for a double portion before Elijah was taken up into heaven. (2 Kings 2:9) Taken that way, this is saying that the way to inherit what God has for us is to have hope/faith. That certainly fits in with Paul’s discourses on our spiritual inheritance, in Ephesians 1 and elsewhere. It all comes back to faith. 1 Corinthians 13:13 differentiates between faith and hope, but I personally don’t see how you can have genuine hope without faith, and faith without hope seems fatalistic at best.

I am in a training course in faith/hope that I never wanted or expected, because of my wife having a large, though benign, brain tumor, Parkinson’s disease, lumbar stenosis, and other medical problems. Daily living is a choice to trust, rather than despair or panic. Sometimes I feel it would be easier to deal with these things in myself! However, just as Paul did, I am finding that God’s grace is sufficient, (2 Corinthians 12:9) if I will trust enough to recognize it. This week we have an MRI for the tumor and the next day attend a lecture on the use of iPS cells to treat Parkinson’s, and then next week consult with her orthopedic surgeon about the possibility of surgery for the lumbar stenosis. I’ve got to be careful that my preconceptions don’t get in the way of hearing accurately what is being said, but most importantly, I need to listen to my God above and beyond anything people say to me. I need to remember that God’s plans are to prosper and not harm us, to give us a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Father, thank You for Your grace, that is indeed sufficient. Thank You for all You allow me to experience to make me more like Jesus. I pray that I wouldn’t rebel or be resentful, but would rest, relax, and rejoice in You, so that You may be glorified as Your purposes for me are fulfilled. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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August 23, 2015

Micah 7:7 But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,
I wait for God my Savior;
my God will hear me.

The circumstances just described are horrible indeed, and frankly bring to mind conditions in the US today. That said, Micah’s attitude is the one to which we should all aspire. From time to time throughout history and in various locations there have been times that have seemed as bad as this, but the solution is always the same: trust God. God gives mankind free will, but that doesn’t mean He has abdicated His throne. The devil is very real, but that doesn’t mean his power approaches that of the Creator. (1 John 4:4) For the person who has a personal relationship with God, the answer is always trusting obedience. Sometimes that does mean waiting, and sometimes from our perspective that wait seems long indeed, but in the end it will have been worth it. (Hebrews 10:35 and many more) God is our “God of salvation,” to use Micah’s phrase, and as the Bible says repeatedly, “Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11)

I am something of a “news junkie,” wanting to know what’s going on, but much of the news, at least as it’s reported, is hardly encouraging, and at times I have been distracted by that. It’s not that “ignorance is bliss,” but I’ve got to remember that no matter how horrible the circumstances, God is still God, whether the circumstances in question are on the world stage or in my own life. Jesus spoke of “wars and rumors of wars,” (Matthew 24:6) and said not to get too stirred up by them. I am to be active in the world, in prayer at the very least, but I am never to think it all depends on me. That’s the route to a very rapid breakdown! Rather, I am to focus on listening to God and being obedient to Him, allowing Him to use me or not use me however He chooses. I’ve got to be as willing to get out of the way as I am to lay my life on the line. Sometimes that’s hard to remember! Laziness is not an option, but I’ve got to remember the example of King Saul, who lost his kingdom because he was unable to wait for God in the face of human pressures. (1 Samuel 13)

Father, I’m not sure what You’re saying to me this morning. I’ve never been very good at delegation; help me recognize whatever I’m to do in that area. Thoughts of retirement have crossed my mind, but I sense no clear guidance there. Help me not be anxious about anything, but rather maintain full obedience to You on every level in every detail, so that Your perfect will may be done on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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August 22, 2015

Hosea 2:15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

Both the NIV and the Japanese render “Valley of Achor” as a place name, but fortunately the Bible I’m using gives the footnote, “Achor means trouble.” God has a way of doing exactly what He says here, giving hope in the middle of trouble. The question is always whether we will receive that hope, or whether we will wallow in self-centered misery. We have a reluctance to repent, because repentance requires acknowledging you were wrong and changing course. Our pride doesn’t want to acknowledge we were wrong, and our flesh doesn’t want to change course! However, it is when we repent that we receive the hope, the forgiveness, the peace, and the joy that God intends for us. We tend to get mired in the trouble itself, instead of understanding that it’s merely a transit point through which we may get closer to God, if we will respond to it correctly. In this verse, the NIV says “sing,” and gives “respond” in a footnote, but the Japanese just goes with “answer/respond” It is our choice whether our troubles draw us closer to God or drive us from Him. We need to be like Job, who said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (Job 13:15 KJV)

I have had moments when troubles made me forget God, but for the most part, when those things happened I wasn’t thinking about God in the first place! The more I have learned to turn to God in trouble, the more I have gained His peace and joy, on a bedrock foundation of hope. There’s a beautiful song that says, “I know Who holds the future, and I know Who holds my hand.” I have seen so many people devastated by “what might happen,” before it ever comes around. They aren’t living in hope! I’m not to deny the reality of evil, but I am never to think that evil will win out in the end. Not just in my own life, but world events certainly give plenty of opportunity to be anxious. I am to stand firm in all of that, walking in personal humility, and repentance when called for, with the eyes of my heart fixed on Jesus Christ my Lord. (Hebrews 12:2)

Father, thank You for Your faithfulness. There have been plenty of things that have tried to shake me recently, and several of them are still at it. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, knowing that Your plans are perfect, whether what I have imagined agrees with them or not. Help me recognize and fulfill every task You have for me as it comes up and not be anxious about what’s down the line. Help me rest in Your hope regardless of what troubles might come, so that all of Your purposes may be fulfilled on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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August 21, 2015

Ezekiel 37:3, 10 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

In this very famous story, Ezekiel did two things right: he didn’t try to impose his ideas on the situation, and he was obedient to what God told him to do. We tend to focus on the second half of that, obedience, and forget about the first half. For most of us, if God were to ask us what He asked Ezekiel, our answer would be, “No way! That’s impossible!” We effectively forget that God is God, and He can do anything. It is only when we remember who God is that we can hear Him accurately and obey Him fully. The world today is rife with “impossible” situations, but God is in no way limited. We cannot dictate to Him how He will act, and it is both foolish and dangerous to try, but we must not think He is unable or unwilling, or we will miss out on a great deal.

I find so many applications to this in my own life that I hardly know where to begin. My wife has serious medical challenges, but that’s no big deal for God. This church is tiny and seems stagnant, but again that’s no big deal for God. This nation has been resistant to the Gospel for generations, but even that is no big deal for God. Over 20 years ago the Lord told me personally that He would like many things in the world to be different. Even before that, He told me not to be amazed at what amazed others, but expect great things from Him. I have many unanswered questions, but I must not limit by my unbelief what God wants to do through me. Like Ezekiel, I need to respond, “O Lord, You know.” I am not to be afraid to ask for God to act, because Jesus told the story of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) and even Abraham bargained with God. (Genesis 18) I fear I have been lazy in asking, presuming on God rather than being faithful. I really don’t know how or even why prayer is effective, but I know from the Bible and from experience that God does answer prayer, and I must act accordingly.

Father, I am prone to pray for something once and then drop it. Forgive me. Help me be willing to labor in prayer, even as Jesus labored in Gethsemane to the point that He sweat blood. May I be willing to pour myself out for Your kingdom in this most basic area, so that Your healing, Your life, Your salvation may be manifested in power, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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