In Christ Alone; August 13, 2018

Acts 4:12 “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

I didn’t want to stop reading after this verse, even though the next part is on the list for tomorrow. This was an exciting time for the early believers, and I get excited just reading it! They were getting a massive taste of what it is to be filled with God’s Spirit as His instrument. I think they were starting to understand Jesus during His earthly ministry far better than they did at the time, because now they were experiencing what He had. Peter was an ignorant Galilean fisherman, but here he is standing in front of the Sanhedrin – equivalent to congress today – and proclaiming Christ in remarkably crisp, elegant oratory. No wonder those present were astonished! (verse 13) This particular verse is the theme Scripture of the All Japan Revival Mission, founded by Akira Takimoto and currently carried on by his sons. It is an absolute refutation of any sort of universalism, such as that taught by the Unitarians. As such it is something of a stumbling block for Japanese. Most of them practice, at different points in their life or even their day, elements of both Shinto and Buddhism, and see no conflict even though they are widely different religions. That’s why many of them would like to “add Jesus to their god shelf,” and can’t understand why it doesn’t work that way. Peter is really echoing Jesus here, which should be no surprise since they were both speaking by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Peter had heard Him say it, and he was convinced it was true. Sadly, even many Christians aren’t so convinced. Recent surveys in the US indicate that even a majority of people think that “All religions teach a way of salvation.” Libertarians believe strongly in “live and let live,” but when it comes to eternal life, the Bible gives no option besides faith in Jesus Christ. If you don’t want someone to go to hell, you’re going to tell them about Jesus!

Some of the strongest verbal attacks I have encountered have been from Americans incensed at my “cultural imperialism” at being a Christian missionary in Japan. I think probably many of those people had left the US to get away from all the churches! Today we are seeing what a “post-Christian” US looks like, because the nation is dangerously close to the tipping point. Thankfully, many people seem to be waking up, but the battle, and the contrast, is severe. It is easy for me to see from my vantage point in Japan, , but all I can do is sign online petitions, vote absentee, and pray. That last is certainly the most important! And all of that is of course in the middle of ministering in a nation that has never pretended to be Christian, and holds the unenviable record for the lowest rate of return on effort in evangelism. I’ve got to believe and proclaim Peter’s declaration myself, not backing down any more than he did. If I will do that, I will see the kind of victories he did – as well as the opposition he did – and my Lord will be pleased.

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for the joy it is stirring in my heart. Thank You for yesterday and all it held, seeing spiritual growth in others and in myself. Thank You especially for the brother who is to be baptized on the 19th, and for the joy and anticipation I see in him. May he be fully effective in drawing more into Your family as well, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Miracles and Persecution; August 12, 2018

Acts 3:6-8 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

There are many reasons for this miracle to have been recorded. In the first place, it was a notable, public miracle that got the apostles into trouble with the Jewish authorities, triggering persecution. I am reminded of what is called the Kohri Incident in Omura history. About a hundred years after Christianity was proscribed in Japan, a young man in a small Christian village upstream of the Kohri River started operating in the gift of healing, and word quickly got out, much as it did here. As a result, over 200 people were martyred – the vast majority of the small village – leaving behind some notable testimonies to their faith. In places where persecution isn’t a factor, it is important to notice precisely what Peter said and did. Having seen and talked with the risen Jesus, he had absolute assurance of the power of God, and that God could and would use him. He not only spoke boldly, he backed that up with action that would have proved embarrassing if God had not acted. God indeed acted, and the result drew many people to saving faith. (Acts 4:4) It is worth noting, here and throughout Acts, that this is the same Peter who denied three times that he even knew Jesus. Genuine faith is certainly transformative!

Many years ago I learned a catchy little song that is essentially these three verses set to music. It’s a good reminder of what God can and will do, if I will trust Him fully. The closest I’ve come to persecution was when the Baptists refused to appoint me as a missionary because I spoke in tongues, but they weren’t up front about it, and I spent years seeking to meet the false “qualifications” they were insisting on. God used all of that for good in various ways, particularly in terms of my faith, and the fact that since arriving in Omura I haven’t had to deal with their denominational bureaucracy, but there have been some downsides, at least as I have perceived them. At any rate, I haven’t had the level of faith, or results, that Peter demonstrated here. I have said that when Japanese believers realize who they are in Christ, they will transform the world, but the question remains of whether I genuinely realize who I am in Christ. I certainly need to be more like Peter, not bound by my past mistakes but looking fully to Jesus, and knowing that in Him I can do anything He asks of me.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I pray for renewed boldness, that I may not draw back for any reason but do and say exactly as You direct, so that Your will may be done fully, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Church Growth; August 11, 2018

Acts 2:41-42 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Many English Bibles include a heading between verses 41 and 42. Often such headings are helpful, particularly when you’re trying to find a particular passage, but here I think it distracts from a very important point. 3,000 people were baptized, but they immediately entered into training in what it is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We are all too prone to “dip ’em and drop ’em,” when that can do major damage to them even on the eternal scale. Many churches require baptismal preparation classes, but then require very little after baptism. I find that to be the reverse of the Biblical pattern! The 3,000 people baptized here did know the circumstances of Jesus’ crucifixion, as well as being believers in the Old Testament, but the Philippian jailer and his household had no such background. (Acts 16) There it simply says that “He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.” (Acts 16:30-33) That would have been no more than a couple of hours of instruction at the most. What happened there was the same thing that happened in Jerusalem after Pentecost: new believers were plugged into the fellowship, and learned both by hearing and by example. In America, “rugged individuality” is seen as something of an ideal, but the Bible knows very little of that. Often we have to go against the flow of society as a whole because it’s so polluted, as it is today, but solitary believers are very much against the Biblical pattern. James cautioned that not many should be teachers, (James 3:1) but Paul, the greatest teacher after Jesus recorded in the Bible, said, “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:26) As a general pattern, he told believers to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16) In other words, everyone taught everyone else. That brings us back to the Day of Pentecost. The 120 believers who had experienced the tongues of fire would have been hard put to baptize 3000 people, and it would have been out of the question for the 11 apostles. What comes across to me is that as someone was baptized, they then turned around and baptized the next person. There was no clergy/laity divide at all. That divide, loosened by Martin Luther but still all too present, has been a horrible drag on the Church down through the centuries since Constantine.

Since I am counted as “clergy” by the world at large, this is quite an issue for me. I have sought to avoid formal titles in this church, but I’ve slipped up in some more important areas. I’m not good at delegation, and all too often I take the easy way out (in the short term) of doing the work myself. That isn’t the Biblical pattern! Thankfully, Cathy and I will be gone for a weekend next month, and then for at least two weekends in March, so the church will have some good practicum in Biblical Christianity. I do need to prepare them for it, but then, that’s my job. (Ephesians 4:12) With a new, adult believer, I have an excellent opportunity to correct some of the things I’ve done wrong over the years. I must be both humble and diligent, but God is more than able to bring success.

Father, thank You for laying things out so clearly. Help me follow through! I ask for wisdom and anointing at every step, and faith to leave things in Your hands, so that Your plans and not mine may be fulfilled, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Baptism; August 10, 2018

Acts 2:38-39 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

This is perhaps the ultimate invitation, which is interesting because it was the first invitation given at the birth of the Church. You can’t really improve on it. It isn’t a call to faith, it’s a call to action. Those to whom it was addressed had already believed enough to be “cut to the heart,” (verse 37) so Peter was telling them what to do about it, and why. He also explicitly extended the invitation to all who would receive it, far more broadly than even he himself realized at the time. It didn’t occur to him that “all who are far off” would include Gentiles! That’s one of the features of prophetic preaching: you say more than you realize, so you need to pay attention to your own sermons! Some people have tried to read into this that baptism is necessary for salvation. That couldn’t be true, because Jesus assured the thief on the cross next to Him that he would be saved, when there was absolutely no opportunity for baptism. What is necessary is action. A concrete confession is called for, and baptism is certainly part of that. I was raised in a church tradition that said that baptism is entirely symbolic, to get away from the idea of “baptismal regeneration,” but my position has certainly changed over the years. I have a book about a 20th Century revival in New Guinea titled, If You Care to Accept It. The author was a pilot for a missionary aviation group, but I don’t remember his name at the moment. He describes numbers of miracles, but one scene sticks in my memory. They had gone to one village to conduct a baptism service for several converts, and the other men in the village confronted them in battle dress, saying they would kill them if they baptized anyone. When they asked why, the men said, “We have seen what happened in the neighboring village. Once those people go into the water they are as dead to us.” In other words, they had seen transformation in people who were baptized, and they were afraid of it. When the team trusted God and went ahead with the baptism, some of those who had threatened them chose to be baptized as well! Baptism without repentance just gets people wet, but when the conditions are met, it is transformative.

My own baptism at age seven was real. I don’t remember the baptism itself very well, but I do remember going to my parents and expressing my commitment and my desire to be baptized. However, my spiritual growth after that was not so good, and when God called me back to myself at age 24, the shock and repentance were so great that I thought I must not have actually been a Christian, and I asked for and received baptism a second time. At this point I don’t think that was necessary, but I know without question that mentoring and guidance are necessary for new Christians of whatever age. We have the baptism of a 65-year-old man scheduled for the 19th. He has come to the conviction that Christ is real by watching his sister-in-law, who struggled with clinical depression but is now a triumphant believer. I have talked with him about repentance, and he acknowledges that he is a sinner in need of salvation. I do need to mentor him, but it is the Holy Spirit who will bring him through to new life in Christ, as a testimony to all who know him, just as his sister-in-law was to him.

Father, thank You for all that You are doing. I pray that this would mark a real turning point in this church, with believers who are fully committed to Jesus as Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit to be and do all that You desire and intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Gift of Tongues; August 9, 2018

Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

As the birthday of the Church, the events of this day have certainly been examined up one side and down the other. This verse in particular has been something of a bedrock for the various Pentecostal denominations. Even so, there are some things really worth considering about this verse. In the first place, God was fulfilling His promise. Jesus spoke of it enough times that some people think of it as His promise, but Jesus Himself called it “the promise of the Father.” (Acts 1:4) John the Baptist made it clear that Jesus would be the Baptizer, (Luke 3:16) and it is the Holy Spirit Himself in whom believers are baptized, so the whole Trinity is involved. In any case, God keeps His promises. The whole Bible is actually a record of this, so we would do well so see which promises have yet to be fulfilled and anticipate their fulfillment, rather than getting distracted by all sorts of secondary issues. The other major point of this verse is the vocal gift that was given and expressed. The point is not that what was said was unintelligible, but rather that it was in languages that had not been learned by the speakers. That is the supernatural element, and not the words themselves. The following verses make it very clear that this was not babbling, but recognizable language. In 1 Corinthians 13:1 Paul references “tongues of men and of angels,” and various other passages make it clear that this gift may be expressed when there is no one present who speaks that language, but in such cases the gift of interpretation is called for. (1 Corinthians 14:13) This gift is significant because language is one of the key elements of being human, and it requires great faith and trust to speak out whatever the Lord gives you, even when you don’t understand it at all yourself. (Actually, the same thing may be said for some kinds of prophecy.) It’s not that God forces anyone to speak, but rather that He supplies the words when we choose to speak. I’ve had someone refuse the gift of tongues because they wanted God to move their mouth! These people on the day of Pentecost chose to praise God out of the joy in their hearts, and God gave them unexpected words with which to do so.

My family has a long and interesting history with the gift of tongues, starting with my father around 1935 or so. As a new missionary in Japan, he was studying Japanese but was hungry for more of God. At a special meeting in Yokohama he had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit. He was already gifted in languages, having gotten his Masters degree in Hebrew and his PhD in Greek, so it was no surprise that he did very well in his Japanese studies, particularly since he chose to live with a Japanese family so as to further immerse himself in the language. However, he interpreted his facility in Japanese as the gift of tongues, and when other missionaries struggled with the language, he just thought they needed to be more spiritual! I learned about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1973 and started seeking it, but because all the books I read stressed the gift of tongues, I ended up seeking that gift more than the baptism itself. It was over a year later, after I had brought my wife and children to Japan for the first time, that I was baptized in the Spirit, but God specifically divorced it from the gift of tongues so that I wouldn’t keep confusing the two. I did receive that gift, and various others over time, several months later. My wife Cathy had a fascinating experience of the gift of tongues after we were in Omura. We were ministering to a group of Filipina trainees at a company in Omura, and she had gone to their dormitory for a prayer meeting. As they were all praying, she started praying in tongues, and the girls got very excited. It turned out she was praying in Tagalog, which she neither speaks nor understands! The point is, we need to surrender our mouths – our whole bodies, actually – to God for Him to use however He chooses. If we will do that in active obedience, He will act.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I do pray that You would pour Your Spirit, and any gifts You feel we need, out on this church, that we would be equipped and emboldened to be and do all that You intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Power of the Holy Spirit; August 8, 2018

Acts 1:4-5 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

This is actually a restating of what Luke had recorded at the end of his Gospel. “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) Along with verse 8 of this chapter, that makes it very clear that the Holy Spirit is to supply the power to be and do all that the Father commands. Without the Holy Spirit, it actually goes without saying that we don’t have the ability to be God’s agents. Actually, it should go without saying, but far too often we try to do it on our own. That’s something we have to keep in our awareness: the organization and economy of the kingdom of God are absolutely illogical and even impossible without God. That is reflected very clearly in what God told Paul when he was complaining about a physical problem: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) If we don’t accept that we are weak in ourselves, we won’t be fully open for the power of God to operate through us. We have such trouble accepting what Jesus said: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) God is not stingy with His power, but it is different not only in quantity but in quality from ours, and the more we trust our own power and try to use it, the more we get in the way of God’s power operating through us. At one point, while the Southern Baptist mission board still had strict rules against the exercise of Charismatic gifts, fully half of the Southern Baptist missionaries in Japan had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, simply from realizing how impossible it was to make any headway here without the help of the Holy Spirit. They cried out to God, and He answered.

This is something I’ve had a lot of trouble really getting through my head. God has given me a lot of abilities, but if I try to use them on my own, I accomplish nothing worthwhile. I am to exercise those abilities, but always in recognition of and submission to God. When the Holy Spirit is operating through me, people are touched and encouraged and healed and otherwise drawn to God. When I’m operating on my own, none of that happens. I experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1975, and have experienced all of the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 at least once, but that doesn’t mean I operate in the Spirit with full consistency all the time. I still get in the way! Just as I tell the believers in this church, I’ve got to be more intentional in submitting to the Holy Spirit, asking Him to use me for the Father’s glory and making myself available. I’ve learned that my own will is involved, even though the power comes from God. I might feel a stirring in myself, but if I don’t choose to open my mouth, the speaking gifts aren’t manifested. I might feel something needs to be done, but if I don’t start moving, the action gifts aren’t manifested. That’s why I’ve got to stay humble, because I don’t have the wisdom to keep it all straight.

Father, thank You for this strong reminder, and for the awareness You want me to speak on the power of the Holy Spirit on Sunday. It won’t make any sense if I try to express it on my own, so I ask You to guide as I write the outline, so that it will be Your message in Your words to work Your will in the hearers for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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God Cares; August 7, 2018

John 21:12-13 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

We forget how totally mundane and down-to-earth Jesus was. We think of Him in terms of all sorts of miracles, but here He’s just giving His disciples some breakfast. The point is, God cares. We have a real tendency to lose sight of that. Jesus brought it up several times in His teaching, going so far as to say that the Father pays attention to how many hairs we have on our heads. (Matthew 10:30) No person is insignificant, and no detail is insignificant. In this era of “big data” we have computers that sift through incredible amounts of information, but they are no match for God! He is, by every metric, infinite, and that includes His concern for us His creatures. That’s why Jesus told us to ask for our “daily bread.” Sometime we get hung up on what we think are “big” things, when from God’s perspective, every bit of it is small! We aren’t to be presumptuous or lazy, but we are to trust Him with our every need, not just physical but emotional and every other kind of need. Jesus of course taught on that in Matthew 6, and Peter reminds us of it in his first letter. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) He even cares what you have for breakfast!

This is something I have certainly learned over the years, but even I forget it in practice sometimes. I tell others all the time that God loves us in every detail, but I still get uptight or anxious about various things. How foolish! Like the disciples in this story, I may “labor all night” with nothing to show for it, but when Jesus shows up, one cast of the net can bring in 153 fish. It’s been several years now since He told me to rest, relax, and rejoice, but I’ve still got room to grow in putting that into practice! I do believe God has a season of harvest for me, and I’m to trust Him with the timing and every other detail, so that He may receive every bit of the glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the good practice session we had last night for one of the songs for the CD project, and that You’ve already provided the recording engineer and location. Help me do my part, in that and in all of Your plans, so that Your name may be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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