Mercy; December 16, 2018


James 2:12-13 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Christian living isn’t simple. On the one hand we are commanded to be holy (1 Peter 1:16) and perfect. (Matthew 5:48) On the other hand, we are reminded that all have sinned, (Romans 3:23) and if we say we have not, the truth isn’t in us. (1 John 1:8) We are to be discerning (Philippians 1:10) but not judgmental. (Matthew 7:1) Frankly, none of us is smart enough to keep it all straight. The more we draw close to God, the more we are aware that we are in total need of His grace and mercy. That’s why Jesus was so strict on the point of forgiving. (Matthew 6:14-15) As we condemn others’ failures, we are effectively condemning ourselves. It’s not at all that we aren’t to call sin, sin. Far too many churches are going in that direction these days, caving to the demands of those who are in open rebellion against God. It has long been a cliché, but even so, we are to hate the sin and love the sinner – even when the sinner is us! That’s what this passage is talking about. In verse 10 of this same chapter it states clearly that breaking God’s law at any point makes us a lawbreaker, period. It has been said that American law has become so convoluted that just about anybody could be shown to be breaking at least one law at any given point. That’s probably true for other countries as well. God’s law isn’t arbitrary the way so many human laws are, but it is far more complete, and by it, we are indeed all guilty. That is why we are saved by grace through faith, (Ephesians 2:8-9) and not by keeping the law. Martin Luther despised this letter of James, because from the very next verse after this passage it talks about the importance of demonstrating our faith through living it out, when Luther had just rediscovered the principle of justification by faith. Luther overlooked this passage! Luther himself was a deeply flawed individual, as we all are. That’s why we must cling to Christ, and extend to others the grace and mercy that have been shown to us.

This certainly applies to me! At this point in my life people tend to think I’ve got it all together, but I am constantly reminded of sins of omission – things I have failed to do – as well as occasional sins of commission – things I know I shouldn’t do. I too am totally in debt to the grace and mercy of God. Some of the actions of people I care about grieve me deeply, but I must remember that God is grieved even more. I am to love them first and foremost, without failing to speak the truth to them as God gives opportunities. If I descend into judgmentalism I have handed the devil a victory, over me as well as over the other person. I am to forgive without excusing, love without condoning. That’s more than I can do on my own! Just this morning I have been reminded of numerous failures on my part, and have been tempted to condemn others along the way. I’ve got to operate in the truth of this passage, toward myself and toward others.

Father, thank You for Your grace and mercy! Thank You also for helping me be aware of my need for them. Help me keep growing, keep drawing closer to You, so that I may indeed be transformed into the likeness of Christ Jesus my Lord, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Perseverance; December 15, 2018


James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Once again we have a passage that would hardly be welcomed in many churches today. We don’t like people talking about trials and perseverance! Actually, where the NIV says, “Perseverance must finish its work,” the Japanese says, “Put perseverance (patient endurance) to work fully.” In other words, it’s a command. If we fail to put in the effort, we won’t be “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Recently I read about a vision someone had of Jesus telling him that people were so focused on His love and grace that they had forgotten He is returning as King. I have no trouble believing that was a completely genuine, valid vision. We try to attract people to the Gospel by making it all soft and sweet. A marshmallow isn’t very durable! God isn’t after marshmallows, He’s after disciples who will follow Him no matter what. We have forgotten the message of repentance, and there is no salvation without it. People need to be told of the love and grace of God, certainly, but they must also be told how much they need that love and grace, because they are utterly doomed without it. We must not promise people “sweetness and light” all the time, because life on this earth isn’t like that. As Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But rejoice, for I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33) We want what God has for us, but we forget verse 12 here: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.”

This is certainly applicable to me, as it is to every believer. We don’t like to need to persevere; we’d like everything dumped into our laps right now. I’m no different, but I have learned that many things are sweeter when we have had to wait for them. Just last night our supper was about two hours later than we usually eat, and boy, did it taste good! I have no idea when God will fulfill His various promises to me, either the ones that are to all believers or some He has given to me personally, but I am to persevere in the assurance that He is faithful. As the Bible repeatedly assures us, God is totally faithful and will reward us for our obedience, but at the same time we aren’t to presume. Jesus said clearly, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:10) I can hardly claim to have done everything I was told to do! I am to rejoice in God’s grace toward me, and know that He will be totally consistent with His character, and that is a very good thing indeed.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all that You take me through to teach me faith and perseverance. Help me receive those lessons with joy, drawing others into discipleship by my example, for their blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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God’s Equipping; December 14, 2018


Hebrews 13:20-21 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

This chapter has so much good stuff in it I was at first at a loss as to what to write on. Verse 15 was fundamental in my introduction to the Charismatic Movement back in the ’70s, and the section at the very first about how to live is totally appropriate for the present day. However, these two verses speak to the foundation of it all. In the first place, there is the reminder that Jesus is the Great Shepherd. That is such an important thing for everyone in ministry to have in their mind and heart at all times. Peter also speaks of Jesus as the Chief Shepherd, specifically talking to those in Church leadership. (1 Peter 5:4) Not even the Pope is the Big Cheese! Those in Church leadership MUST remember that they are simply part of a chain of command, and serve only at the pleasure of our Lord. The other thing these verses say to me is that God will provide everything necessary for us to do whatever He asks of us. When God gives us a vision of something He wants done, we tend either to think, “Oh I’ve got this,” or else panic because we know we don’t have the ability or resources necessary for the task. Neither response is accurate. We do need to be clear that the vision is from God and not just our own imagination or ambition, but with that settled, we should know definitively that on our own we couldn’t possibly do it, (John 15:5) but God can and will do it through us, if we will trust and obey. That’s what God’s provision is all about! As He told Paul, His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) We are to trust that, and give Him glory by our loving obedience.

This is certainly applicable to me! At 70 I can look back at quite a few things the Lord has enabled me to do with absolute certainty that I couldn’t have done them on my own. At the same time, I can look forward with assurance that the Lord isn’t through with me yet, and He has quite a few more things He wants to do through me. I’m not to try to dream those up, but I am to be active in seeking His will on a daily, even moment-by-moment basis. If God says it, that settles it! I am not to hold back from anything for any reason, but press on even as Paul wrote to the Philippians. (Philippians 3:12-14) I have no idea what God has planned, but I know that it is good, even if the road might be steep. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You that my voice continues to be OK. Help me take proper care of it! Thank You for the various opportunities You’re giving me to share some of what You’ve poured into me, yesterday and again tomorrow. Help me not come across as “the guru,” but rather come alongside people as Your agent, so that the Body of Christ may be built up for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Witnesses; December 13, 2018


Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

I couldn’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard this verse quoted with the commentary that we have all these saints cheering us on. Frankly, that’s closely tied with Catholic veneration of saints. This is indeed referencing the many heroes of faith talked about in chapter 11, but the whole question is that of the meaning of “witnesses.” The Japanese is much less open to confusion, because the term used is the one that refers to someone giving testimony in court. These people aren’t up there watching us, they are saying that God is absolutely faithful and Jesus is our perfect example. This goes back to Jesus’ very famous words after His resurrection: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The witnesses with which we are surrounded aren’t witnessing (watching) us, they are witnessing (testifying) to us of the faithfulness of God. That steps on our self-centered egos, but that needs to be done sometimes! We need to get it through our heads and into our hearts that it’s not about us, it’s about Him. That’s why the next verse so famously tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus. That’s what all these witnesses are telling us to do!

It’s been many years since I first realized what this verse was really saying, in contrast to what so many people were claiming it meant. However, that doesn’t mean I was instantly cured of being self-centered! I too have to keep being reminded that it’s not about me, it’s about my Lord, the Savior of the universe who wants to use me for His glory. I very frequently tell people that self-centeredness never leads to true happiness, but that doesn’t mean I operate on that principle 100% myself. However, I have certainly tasted the faithfulness and goodness of God, and I too am called and equipped with the Holy Spirit to be a witness to those around me. I am to be part of that “cloud of witnesses” for others. I’ve got to remember that what God does for me, He intends as blessing for others as well. I am not to hang onto anything, but receive it with open hands so that it may then be shared with all who will receive it in turn. I am to be a demonstration of a Christ-centered life, so that others may see and desire such for themselves, for their great blessing and God’s glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the confirmation of Your healing as I was checked yesterday, with only the slightest of marks visible, even at high magnification, on my vocal cord where two weeks earlier I had a very noticeable blister. Help me be a good steward indeed of the voice You have given me, not for my satisfaction but to bless those around me. Give me wisdom in the fairly intensive use of my voice that is called for over the next two weeks. May I speak and sing not for my ego but for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Promises; December 12, 2018


Hebrews 11:39-40 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

I have found myself quoting this passage a great deal recently. We get all caught up in our temporal time frame and want things to happen on our schedule, but God is outside of time and He has a better idea. Peter famously referenced that when he wrote, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9) It is fascinating that an uneducated fisherman like Peter would have such a revelation of the relativistic nature of time. Even major physicists have trouble with that one! However, it is something we need to accept as we trust God to be true to His word. When a Biblical promise seems to have failed, that’s only because we are applying the wrong time frame. Right now we are in the middle of the Advent season, celebrating the birth of Christ. That had been prophesied for many centuries prior, but only in the fullness of time did it happen. Paul refers to that both in Galatians 4:4 and Ephesians 1:10. God waited until Greek was established as a common language over a very wide area and Rome had such overwhelming power that there was minimal unrest – called the Pax Romanum – so that the Gospel would be able to be communicated widely and easily. He got things lined up, so to speak, to a degree that we can only begin to comprehend, even studying it 2000 years later. What we need to trust and believe is that God is just as much aware, and in control, of all the details right now, even as things look like absolute chaos from our viewpoint. On a personal scale, sometimes it hits us just as it did the people mentioned here in Hebrews. It may look like God’s promises aren’t being fulfilled and we are total failures. However from God’s perspective, everything is on schedule. That doesn’t mean that day-to-day faithfulness is unimportant, far from it. However, it does mean that if we are being faithful, we can totally leave the results up to God.

This is intensely personal to me as a 2nd generation missionary in Japan, one of the hardest of fields. My parents labored under sometimes very difficult circumstances, but saw very sparse fruit. I am about to beat them in terms of total longevity, but I too have little I can point to. That doesn’t mean either that we missed our calling or that God is unfaithful. All it means is that God’s schedule isn’t as we would have liked it to be. I am not to give up! It is entirely possible that God has lined things up so this next year will see a massive outpouring of His Spirit on this nation and on the world, but I am not to try to dictate that or insist on it. My job is to love God, love my neighbor, and be consistently faithful in my obedience, whatever is going on.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me love, worship, and obey You for who and what You are, not for how You meet my desires and expectations. Thank You for speaking this to me today, when I already knew You wanted me to speak on Your promises this next Sunday. Help me get those notes down as You desire so that Your Word may have its full work in my hearers. Thank You that I go back to the ENT doctor today for the check on my vocal cords, and that they seem so much better. Help me accept Your schedule there as well, being anxious for nothing, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Confidence; December 11, 2018


Hebrews 10:35-36 (So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

“Accuser” is the devil’s name, and discouragement is his game. Jesus said clearly that the devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy, (John 10:10) and the first thing he wants to rob us of is our hope. Frankly, life on this earth can be a long slog. There is joy, certainly, but again as Jesus warned us, there are difficulties. (John 16:33) All of life is a succession of choices. To the degree that we choose to trust God and obey Him, we extricate ourselves from the devil’s traps and walk in victory. To the degree we choose to focus on ourselves and our difficulties, we surrender to the devil and lose hold of the peace and joy God has provided for us. This doesn’t mean at all that we are to ignore the world around us and live in a fantasy, it means that we are to remember that God is greater than our circumstances, and He’s certainly greater than we are. The confidence that is spoken of here isn’t at all self-confidence, but rather, as Paul said, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12) Ever since childhood I have loved the hymn, Trust and Obey. It is certainly Biblical, and true.

This is a Word directly to me this morning, because I was under spiritual attack all day yesterday, and even woke up in something of a funk this morning. The situation with the polyp on my vocal cord had really gotten through to me. I’ve been saying the right things, recognizing that I have taken my voice for granted and have been proud of my speaking and singing, and that God allowing something to correct that attitude was a good thing. However, my flesh hasn’t gone down quietly! That this is happening at this extremely busy time of year has contributed to my stress, but it’s a further reminder that nothing is impossible for God, just as we have been saying every Sunday all year. (Jeremiah 32:27) Actually, my voice sounds much better this morning, and I even sang a verse of It Is No Secret What God Can Do just now without difficulty. It will be very interesting to see what the doctor says when I go back to him tomorrow! However, I am not to presume, but rest, relax, and rejoice in my Lord. Anything else is a failure to believe, to trust and obey.

Father, thank You for this very personal message this morning. Help me not just hear it, but internalize it and act on it, doing Your will both in my heart, mind, and emotions and also in my words and actions, so that You alone may be glorified. Thank You. Praise God!

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Reincarnation; December 10, 2018


Hebrews 9:27-28 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

This passage says some very important things. In the first place, it demolishes the idea of reincarnation with a simple statement. Hinduism, and Buddhism which grew out of it, both posit reincarnation as a way for beings to atone for their sins. That is such an essentially hopeless idea that the Buddha said the ideal was nothingness, gaining such a state of enlightenment that you wouldn’t be forced to be reborn as someone or something else. That’s a source of what has been called “Eastern fatalism,” because if you’ve got it really rough, you just hope for a better hand the next time. Christian faith is linear, going from birth to death to judgment, and this makes that perfectly clear. We don’t get a do-over! Jesus was born once, as we are getting ready to celebrate, he died once as an atonement for all our sins, and when He comes again it will be as the climax of history, not as a recurring bump in the cycle, so to speak. Believers through the centuries have actively looked forward to Christ’s return, but we can say definitively that each one who had that hope and expectation experienced its fulfillment in less than 100 years. We aren’t to fear physical death (nor are we to seek it) but rather understand that it is a transition from the material to the spiritual, and for those who have believed in Jesus as Lord, what awaits on the other side is glorious indeed. For those who have rejected Him, choosing to rely on themselves, the judgment that awaits is genuinely fearsome.

Ministering in Japan as I do, I find the idea of reincarnation to be sadly powerful in dulling people’s awareness of their need for salvation. If you’re just going to go around again, why do anything special this time? That’s why I’m convinced that reincarnation isn’t a merely human construct, but rather the devil twisting the truth of being born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8) into something to keep people from that very act of salvation. Japanese like the term, “reborn,” and they apply it to such things as remodeling a building or a musical group getting back together. I am not to give up, but keep speaking the truth in love. I have never liked “hellfire and brimstone” preaching, but I’ve got to let people know where their current course leads, so that they may repent and believe in the only One who can save them.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Christmas is one of the best opportunities for evangelism in the whole year. May we make the use of it that You intend, not simply to have a packed house on the 24th, but so that Your truth may penetrate into many hearts and minds, setting them free to repent and believe for their salvation, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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