Teaching; February 14, 2019

John 7:16-17 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

This is another passage that needs to be taught and stressed at every Christian seminary on the planet! There are many things involved here. One of them is of course the question of by whom are we sent. Sadly, there are many people in seminaries and after who aren’t called and sent by God. Every believer is called to be a witness, (Acts 1:8) but the “ministry gifts” (Ephesians 4:11) are given for and through specific individuals, decided by God. I heard an expression while I was in seminary of “Mama called and Papa sent.” Of course, those who used it were never talking about themselves! For some, “being in the ministry” is some sort of romantic ideal, so they either aspire to it themselves or push their children into it. In point of fact, it is something no one can do correctly in their own strength. Based on my own experience, I tell people not to do it unless they can’t help it! That said, the question then becomes, what do we teach? This is the question Jesus is addressing most directly here. If what we teach is from the mind of man alone, it is worthless. God doesn’t want us to ignore our minds, but our responsibility is to communicate what He has said and is saying, not what we or anybody else thinks about it. Much damage has been done down through the centuries by people adhering to the teachings of men rather than the Word of God. Jesus here gives us a very important tool in distinguishing the difference: desiring to do the will of God. If that is our heart, even if we make some mistakes along the way, God will guide us aright.

Once again, I’m talking about myself here. Every time I get in the pulpit I pray that God would speak through me, because my own thoughts and ideas benefit no one. I remember my great frustration in seminary preaching class where I was required to quote various commentaries, rather than seeking God for what He was saying. Various commentaries can be enlightening and broaden our understanding, but they must never be more than peripheral to what we say. I had a pastor friend who had the complete works of Karl Barth in his study. I asked him if he was more familiar with Barth or with the Bible, and he very honestly replied, “Barth.” That’s tragic! I’m grateful that after a few years of friendship with me, his position changed on that, but his former situation is sadly not unusual. Add to that the fact that he was reading Barth in Japanese translation and you get a further remove from whatever God might actually have been saying. I am not to be so stupidly proud as to claim, or even think, that I have an exclusive line to heaven, but I must never overlook the glorious reality that I, like every other believer, can have a direct connection with my Creator. As I teach, I must remember that teaching puts me on a stricter plane of judgment. (James 3:1) As I do pray to do, I’ve got to be careful that I don’t spout off out of my own head, but rather humbly communicate what God has spoken to my heart. I also need to train the believers in discernment, so that as they desire to do God’s will they may distinguish between what is of Him and what is not.

Father, thank You for all that You are doing in me and in this church. Thank You for the brother in prayer meeting last night talking about why people have left this church over the years, and how we need to consider that as people are added to us from this point. Thank You that he was realizing that the problems were fundamentally with each individual, more than they were with the church. I pray that we would indeed be a gathering of true disciples, people who hear You clearly because we desire to do Your will above and before anything else, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

Posted in Christian, encouragement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reception; February 13, 2019

John 6:63-64 “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”

It just struck me that if there were people who did not believe when they heard Jesus speak words infused with the Spirit of God, it is hardly surprising when people fail to believe when someone else is the speaker. The same Holy Spirit is operative and the words are true, so it rests on the hearer. That’s not to say that anyone today is as perfect a vessel as Jesus was, but the vessel is of minor importance. (2 Corinthians 4:7) We are to strive to hear accurately and speak accurately, always speaking in love, (Ephesians 4:15) but we can’t control how our words will be received. That’s why we are to speak “in season and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2) We don’t know when people’s hearts are prepared to receive the Gospel. It is true that sometimes it is better to be quiet, because speaking can be counter-productive. That’s part of being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. But we must remember, how can they believe if they have not heard? (Romans 10:14) So we’re back to the reality that we are simply tools in the process. We are responsible to be available, to “make the most of every opportunity,” (Colossians 4:5) but we cannot control the response.

This is me all around! I’ve been in Omura for over 37 years now, sharing Christ in many different ways, but the response has been spotty at best. I am to work with the people the Lord brings to me, reaching out so that I don’t miss any of them and loving them with God’s love, but not taking their response on myself as my responsibility. That can be a difficult line to walk! Just yesterday I was talking to someone who has declined the Gospel in the past, but right now they are in the hospital, under sedation and unable to speak. I prayed for them and there was some movement, but I don’t know if they were reacting for or against what I was praying. I’ve got to leave that in God’s hands. I do know that their spouse was moved by the love of God that I was expressing, so my words were not in vain. I earnestly, sometimes desperately, desire that those to whom I minister receive and believe God’s truth and be set free, (John 8:32) but I’ve got to leave that in God’s hands, just as Jesus did.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the many ways You use me, and for the results I do see. Thank You for the advice I was able to give the students last night who are studying for their national board exam. It wasn’t the Gospel as such, but it was truth and it was spoken in Your love. I pray that they would receive it, and the Gospel they have heard from me on other occasions, for their blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

Posted in Uncategorized, Christian, encouragement | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Listening to God; February 12, 2019

John 6:45 “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.”

Reading this I am reminded of stories I have read of earnest Muslims who had dreams that drove them to the Bible and to Christ. In the same way, I have met Jews who, in their search for real meaning in life, encountered Jesus as the Messiah. Someone who is honestly seeking God, and not just seeking to be validated in their preconceptions, is going to rejoice to hear the Gospel in truth. That’s a major issue in Japan, where the average person doesn’t think religion of any sort is in any way relevant to them. Rather than the Western stereotype of the “Oriental seeker after truth,” the average Japanese could hardly care less about religion, treating it as nothing more than tradition. Granted, tradition can be very important in Japan, but in the rush of modern society, even that is going by the wayside. The average Japanese intersects with religion when they are taken to a Shinto shrine as an infant, in something analogous to christening, when they get married, and when they die. “Chapel weddings” are very popular, even though less than 1% of the population is actively Christian, because most people view religion as totally irrelevant anyway. Funerals are largely Buddhist, to the point that many Japanese view Buddhism as a religion of death. All the ceremonies involved are certainly profitable for the temples! All of that makes Jesus’ words all the more tragic, because it indicates that the Japanese aren’t listening to their Creator. However, if the truth be told, many Americans have their fingers in their ears when it comes to what God is saying, too.

Since I minister in Japan, naturally the situation here is of great importance to me. I learned almost immediately than essentially none of the “evangelistic techniques” I learned in seminary were effective in Japan, because the Japanese had no foundation to receive them. For that matter, even Japanese evangelists have a lot of trouble getting genuine conversions. In my experience, most Japanese fall into one of two groups: those who feel no need for salvation at all, and those who desire and seek a strictly temporal salvation, that is, relief from some problem on this earth. I have had people in the latter group go through all the motions, including baptism, and then disappear because their problems didn’t vanish. Personal religion tends to be a mishmash of traditions and superstitions, but when you point that out, even to really intelligent people, they just shrug and say that’s the way it is. A Japanese Christian doctor and I were discussing how the average Japanese will say that they are both Shinto and Buddhist, when those two religions have some directly contradictory tenets, and another doctor who was in on the conversation said, “Well, that’s the way I am.” The Christian doctor and I were taken aback, because the speaker was a brilliant orthopedic surgeon and manifestly very intelligent. I cannot rely on intellectual persuasion; I’ve got to rely on the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. I need to pray for spiritual hunger in the Japanese people. Immediately after WWII evangelism got lots of response, but there weren’t enough missionaries and Japanese Christians were too battered by all they had gone through to really be active in persuading their neighbors. All of that sounds very negative, but nothing is impossible for God, and I am to seek His will and stay available to Him.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I don’t know what revival in Japan is going to look like, but it was recently prophesied that it won’t look like what we expect. Help me not miss it because of my preconceptions, but be fully available to You, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

Posted in Uncategorized, Christian, encouragement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faith; February 11, 2019

John 6:29, 40 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

It struck me as I read this that we have a very shallow definition of faith. This certainly isn’t talking about mere intellectual assent. Rather, it is talking about something that changes the way we live, our whole philosophy of life. Just yesterday in the sermon the Lord had me insert something that wasn’t in my notes, after I had talked about how faith is signing onto God’s contract with us: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) This passage certainly reinforces that. God doesn’t demand instant perfection, as every Bible character testifies. However He does look for forward motion, so to speak. If we aren’t drawing closer to Him, we are effectively drifting away. Sometimes we even run away! God is incredibly patient with us, and verse 39 is very comforting: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” We aren’t to be paranoid about whether we will “lose our salvation,” but neither are we to take things for granted and just coast. The deeper faith becomes, the more it shapes every part of our lives. That’s why Jesus could say that believing in Him is doing the work of God.

Of course, this applies to me as much as it does to anyone. I can’t say, or even think, that “I’ve done all this so God doesn’t ask anything more of me.” Rather, I need to keep growing, keep pressing in for more of Him. I well remember an analogy Jack Hayford used of rocks in a field. Before we are saved, it’s like there’s a huge boulder in the middle of the field. Salvation removes that boulder, but before long we realize that there are lots of head-sized rocks scattered over the field, and we start working on getting those out. With that done, (and really before it’s finished) we realize that there are almost countless fist-sized rocks to be dealt with. Thankfully, each step down in size is easier to handle, but my arm can get tired of pitching those fist-sized rocks out of my life! It can be a shock to run into another head-sized rock when I thought I had those taken care of, but that’s why humility is essential. I’ve had plenty of “stubbed toes” from that sort of experience! The more rocks are out of the field, the easier it is for God to grow the crop He desires from my life, and that is my goal.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all You are doing in this church. Some of it is surprising, but all of it is good. I ask for wisdom and anointing for everything I am to be involved in today. I also ask Your strength and healing for Cathy, who is dealing with a lot of pain today from her Parkinson’s. May we both keep pressing in to You, so that You may do in and through us all that You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

Posted in Christian, encouragement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Serving God; February 10, 2019

John 5:19, 30 Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. By myself I can do nothing.

Something really clicked as I read this just now. This is exactly what Jesus later said about us, talking to His disciples in the upper room just before His crucifixion: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Jesus didn’t place any restrictions on us that He Himself didn’t deal with! He never took Himself away from the Father, and we likewise are to abide in Him. This is a picture of spiritual unity that we have great difficulty wrapping our minds around because of our present sinful imperfection. Anyone who claims to be perfectly in harmony with the Father and the Son right now is, at best, deceiving themselves. (Philippians 3:12-14) At worst, they are charlatans, trying to manipulate those around them. However, imperfect as we are, we still can act as God’s agents when our hearts are in line with Him, and just as Paul said in the passage just referenced, it should be our goal to do that with increasing frequency and fidelity. Our natural human tendency is to be “independent as a hog on ice,” as my mother used to say. Spiritual maturity is learning that we have no more hope of real success on our own than a pig with no traction would have. We are not to resent that but rather rejoice that God has made it possible, through Christ, for us to indeed operate in Him, and so do really worthwhile things.

I am as much in this paradigm as anyone else. Because of my upbringing I have been aware of dependence on God in theory all my life, but I have forgotten it in practice more times than I like to think about. Spiritual and intellectual pride have been huge weaknesses for me. God showed me that rather dramatically back in 1972, and I repented in tears, but I have had countless relapses since then. It was within the past 20 years that God finally got it through to me that He’s smart and I’m not. Up until then I thought it was a difference in degree, but even such thinking is blind pride. I am not to discount or ignore the gifts that God has placed in me, but I have got to remember, at all times and in all circumstances, that those gifts accomplish nothing good apart from submission to God. When I am totally available and submitted to Him, nothing is impossible because it is God working through me. When I am not so available and submitted, all of my limitations come into play, and they are countless. I’ve got to remember that not even Jesus operated apart from the Father.

Father, thank You for this powerful reminder. Thank You for all You did in the conference just passed, and all You are going to do right here today. Help me rest, relax, and rejoice in You, just as You have told me to do, so that Your will may be done in me, in this church, in this city, and in this nation, for Your pleasure and glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

Posted in Christian, encouragement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Evangelism; February 9, 2019

John 3:14-15 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

Verse 16 being the most famous verse in the whole Bible, these verses get somewhat overshadowed. They are actually vitally important, particularly for anyone involved in Christian ministry. We tend to get all involved in programs and techniques and “movements,” when Jesus Himself said the key was that He Himself be lifted up. (Interestingly, the Shinkaiyaku Japanese translation ends the quote with verse 15, making verse 16 and following John’s commentary on what Jesus said. Since koine Greek didn’t have punctuation of any sort, much less quotation marks, that’s actually not at all unreasonable, given an objective examination of the text.) We rightly understand that Jesus was talking about His crucifixion, since the pole Moses used would logically have had a crosspiece to hold up the bronze snake. However, that’s far from the end of it. John later records some Greeks asking to see Jesus, and Jesus took that as a sign from the Father that His time was at hand. (John 12:20-23) When people see Jesus, through our words or our lives or however, they are drawn to Him. (Actually, those who are in rebellion may try to run from Him, but that is futile by definition.) Accordingly, the task of every believer is to seek for Jesus to be as evident as possible in their life. We tend strongly to relegate evangelism to “professionals,” when the mandate is given to every believer. (Matthew 28:18-20) We are to be witnesses, that is, lift up Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:8) Likewise, “professional Christians” too often lift themselves up, rather than lifting up the Lord they serve. If we want lasting fruit, we must lift up Jesus, above and before and beyond anything or anyone else.

I certainly desire to lift up Jesus, but my level of fruitfulness, or rather lack of it, gives me pause. The comfort there is that nobody is terribly fruitful in Japan! Many Japanese pastors and missionaries have chased techniques, since what they were doing obviously wasn’t working, but that is an exercise in futility. The churches in Japan that seem most “vibrant” and “successful” are in areas with large immigrant populations, and it is those non-Japanese that are providing the vibrance. Thankfully, Japanese young people do get pulled into that, but the energy tends to be with the foreigners. I need to seek the Lord as to how to lift up Christ to the Japanese, and not try to copy some “successful” church elsewhere. Nothing is impossible for God, so I need to let the Holy Spirit work through me freely.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the awesome conference that just finished, and for getting us home safely. I pray that everything You said in that conference may bear abundant fruit, not only in me but in every participant, on the stage and off, for the sake of Your kingdom and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

Posted in Christian, encouragement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rejection and Acceptance; February 8, 2019

John 1:10-11 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Everyone has a deep and abiding need to be accepted, to belong, but we have that need fulfilled to widely varying degrees. Everyone feels like an outsider sometimes, and some feel like an outsider most of the time. That last situation can be dangerous, because it is part of the makeup of a sociopath. The key word here is “feel,” because the objective facts have relatively little to do with how we react. That’s what makes it so tricky. Obsessing on whether or not we are accepted demonstrates our fundamental self-centeredness. The obvious solution for any Christian is to look at Jesus. We recognize that He took our sins on Himself on the cross, but often we fail to realize that He also took our rejection on Himself throughout His whole life. As John points out here, He had more reason to be accepted and welcomed than anyone else ever has or could have, but He was still rejected by the majority of those around Him. Even His own family thought He was weird! In one sense His isolation was by His choice, but in another sense it wasn’t His choice at all. He chose to be born on earth as a human baby, knowing that He would be accepted by a small minority of those He encountered, but that wasn’t what He would have preferred. His natural choice would have been for everyone who saw Him to recognize who He was and give Him the love and obedience He was due as the Son of God. His 12 disciples came closest to that, but even there, Judas betrayed Him for money and even Peter said he didn’t know Him. There is no level of rejection we could experience that Jesus hasn’t topped it, just as this passage says. Accordingly, just as we accept that He died for our sins, we need to believe that He endured rejection for our acceptance, and rejoice in Him regardless of people’s reactions toward us.

I am something of a case study in this issue. Growing up as a Caucasian in Japan, rejection was built into the situation. Going to school as a Missionary Kid on a US Air Force base, there was a very real level of separation there. Being a geek certainly didn’t improve the situation! Then, going to the US, my life experiences to that point were so different from my peers that I had great difficulty fitting in. However, along the way I have been incredibly blessed, receiving a wife at a young age and having an enduring marriage, making friends of various sorts all along the way. Living in Japan as I do, I still feel very much “other” more than I would like, even though this is very much my home. More than others, perhaps, I need to remember what Jesus chose to endure for me, not taking rejection personally but rejoicing that I am a child of God, as it says in the very next verse. It is nice when I am accepted by the people around me, but it is far more important that I am accepted by my God, through faith in Jesus Christ my Lord.

Father, I didn’t expect this particular lesson at this point. Thank You for knowing what I need, and when. Thank You for all that You are doing in and through this conference, in and through me and everyone else here. As we go home today may we not forget what You have said to us in this time, but rather live it out in bold obedience, indeed seeking first Your kingdom and Your righteousness, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

Posted in Christian, encouragement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment