Honesty; May 23, 2018

Matthew 22:18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?”

These passages were chosen on the basis of God giving or providing things, but here Jesus gives a very astute, politically incorrect answer. These days it’s not considered polite to call someone a hypocrite, but Jesus certainly didn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade. The two verses ahead of this one are so oily you could lubricate your car with them! This is simply an illustration of the reality that it’s no use to try to deceive God. Of course, the questioners in this instance didn’t acknowledge that Jesus was God, so it perhaps wasn’t totally stupid for them to try to trap Him. However, we have no such excuse. Still, we attempt to deceive Him more often than we would like to admit. We do things thinking, “Maybe He won’t notice,” but when He keeps track of how many hairs we have on our heads, how could He not notice? (Matthew 10:30) Obviously, the biggest beneficiaries of honesty with God are we ourselves. When we try to deceive God we are opening ourselves up to the devil, who is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44) That never ends well! The thing is, we are far more likely to deceive ourselves than we are to deceive God. (James 1:22) Society often demands “white lies,” but giving in to that can be very dangerous. When we repeat something often enough we start to believe it, whether it is true or not. We aren’t to hurt others needlessly, but we are to speak the truth in love so as to build each other up. (Ephesians 4:15) We serve a God who cannot lie, and we are to be like Him.

I am deeply grateful that I was raised by a father who held to a principle of absolute honesty. Not long before he died he talked to me about the conference he attended in Yokohama as a single missionary, at which he had a powerful encounter with God. (I personally believe he was baptized in the Holy Spirit, but to my knowledge he never spoke in tongues.) He told me the speaker was talking about several “absolutes” we should have in our lives, but the one that really stuck with him was absolute honesty. Not that I think he was particularly dishonest before that, but from that point honesty became the bedrock of his life, which led to various other good things. For example, he was absolutely faithful to my mother until the day he died. With such an example, a similar life course has been relatively simple for me. I am dedicated to communicating the truth of God’s Word, but would be totally ineffective if I were less than truthful myself. People sometimes misunderstand me, but it is never by my intent. I occasionally mislead people deliberately in order to spring a surprise on them, but even so I won’t tell them anything that is flat out untrue. Life is much simpler that way, because I don’t have to remember what I’ve told whom! However, I must not let this be a point of pride for me, but rather be grateful that I know the One who is the Truth (John 14:6)

Father, thank You for continuing to work on and in me to transform me into the likeness of Your Son. (Romans 8:29) May I reflect Him more and more effectively to those around me to draw them to You, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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

Responding to God’s Provision; May 22, 2018

Matthew 21:43-44 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”

This passage is used as the major justification for Replacement Theology by those who hold to it, saying that it means the kingdom of God has been taken from the Jews and given to the Gentile Church. However, just like the rest of the Bible, this needs to be read in context. In the first place, the very next verse says, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.” (Matthew 21:45) In other words, Jesus was talking about the Jewish leaders, and not about the Jewish people as a whole. In any case, the whole parable is about accountability and stewardship. God gives us a lot, but we must remember that He is still the Owner of it all, and act accordingly. Jesus told parables with this point repeatedly, most famously in the parable of the talents (which comes up in a few days in Matthew 25). In this parable, it wasn’t that the tenants weren’t to enjoy the fruit of their labors, it was that they were to remember who it all belonged to. So often we live as though everything we have were a product of our own labors and so ours alone, forgetting that it’s God who gives us the ability to generate wealth. (Deuteronomy 8:18) Tithing is actually a safety mechanism to help us remember that everything comes from God. Too many people give grudgingly, complaining at God’s “demands,” forgetting that every breath they take is a gift from Him. We should be grateful for all He allows us to use, even though it belongs to Him!

As I have written before, I was raised from childhood to tithe, putting 10 yen in the offering each week out of my allowance of 100 yen, back when the exchange rate was 360yen/$1. Like many other people, I got away from that in college, but the Lord graciously brought me back to it around the time of the birth of our second daughter. We were so broke at that point that Medicaid paid for just about everything about that pregnancy/delivery, but the Lord gave us the courage to take the tithe out first, and we were actually a little shocked at how far the 90% went! Since then the Lord has continued to provide in many different ways, and we have always had enough. Sometimes that provision was through work, sometimes through an unexpected inheritance, and sometimes through outright gifts. That has given Cathy and me great assurance that, “Where God guides, He provides.” as the saying goes. As a pastor, one of my stresses is that so few of the believers really have that through their heads and in their hearts. I am not to be condemning, but rather speak the truth in love and continue to pray for them, walking alongside them to lead them into understanding of God’s abundance.

Father, thank You for Your gracious generosity. Help me not only rejoice in it myself, but also lead the believers to recognize it as well, so that together we may give You the obedience and the praise You deserve, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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

Authority and Service; May 21, 2018

Matthew 20:26-28 “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It strikes me as significant that this incident came up immediately after Jesus had again predicted His death and resurrection (vv. 17-19). This shows how oblivious the apostles were to what was really happening. What a time for James and John to get their mother to ask for special favors in Jesus’ kingdom! In calming the uproar that naturally occurred when the other disciples realized what James and John were doing, Jesus said what is recorded here. He had just stated that He would be “mocked and flogged and crucified,” (v. 19) and now He tells all His disciples that is the price of leadership in His kingdom. This needs to be stressed a lot more in seminaries around the world! One of the biggest problems in the Church is that it runs far too much like merely human governments and corporations. Far too few leaders are genuinely focused on the benefit of those they lead. At the same time, they are often jealous of one another. Just last night in the Omura Ministerial Association it was mentioned that the Archbishop of Nagasaki drives a Lexus, and frankly, the comments weren’t so nice. I have no idea of the circumstances of his having such an expensive car, but it’s fine with me if he does. The point is where his heart is, as it is with each of us. God blesses in many ways, including materially, but if those blessings are the focus of our service, we have lost sight of our calling.

A couple of months ago in a coaching seminar the participants were asked to have someone who knew them well to supply a word or two to describe them. A close pastor friend said “serving” described me. If true, I am grateful, but I must not be proud of it. I have seen too many people who were proud of being humble! I have always felt conflicted about authority. I’m not good at delegating, which has not been good for this church because I haven’t given others sufficient opportunities to serve. I realize that I am given spiritual authority, not only in this church but also in this city and this nation, but I don’t know well how to exercise that authority. I want everything that is in my hands to fulfill the purpose for which God has given it to me, but I’m not sure of the details of that. I don’t want to go running off on my own! It seems ironic that this church has been battered to the point it is right now, but that may be an indication of the level of threat we are to the enemy, that he would come against us so strongly. I need to be submitted enough to my Lord to hear clearly what He is saying, so that I may obey without hesitation, for His glory.

Father, thank You for Your incredible faithfulness and grace. Help me respond to You more and more accurately, more and more fully, so that all of Your plans for me may be fulfilled, on Your schedule and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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

Rewards; May 20, 2018

Matthew 20:15 “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

I was very interested to hear from my mother that even my seminary professor grandfather, the author of several highly respected books, had trouble with this story. As someone who had been dedicated to the work of the Lord from youth, he was in the position of the person who complained to the landowner in this story. He felt that if this story was taken at face value, people would put off committing themselves to the Lord until the last minute, choosing to “enjoy the pleasures of sin” as long as possible. Whereas it is true that some people are indeed that foolish, they are taking a terrible gamble, because no one knows when or how they will die. On top of that, such an attitude makes it highly unlikely that such a person indeed will repent on their deathbed. My grandfather’s work-around was to say that Jesus’ parable was about simply the first day of the harvest period, and everyone was expected to be at work the next morning, too. I think that misses the whole point of what Jesus was saying. The thief on the cross next to Jesus received eternal life just as surely as my grandfather did! That said, I’ve never run into anyone who became a Christian late in life who didn’t wish they had done so much sooner. My grandfather hadn’t “indulged” in the prevalent sins of his day, so he didn’t know how empty they really were for those who got caught in them. However, he had been tempted, and it is in the temptation phase that sin seems most attractive. It’s sad to me that Christians don’t seem to know what a good thing they’ve got. At times they are just as deceived in their values as any “public sinner.” If we stick to Jesus’ parable, those who went to work first thing in the morning were probably fed by the landowner, as well as being protected from wild animals and the like. On top of that, there is the satisfaction of a job well done. The pay at the end of the day wasn’t the only reward. We need to recognize the benefits God pours out on us, and not be deceived.

This certainly applies to me and my ministry. I have had the privilege of baptizing someone in their hospital bed two days before they died, and I have also had the privilege of baptizing an amazing five-year-old girl whose prayers, at that age, put many adult Christians to shame. (Incidentally, she is now a vibrant young adult, still fully committed to the Lord to whom she dedicated herself. I wish her family still lived here, instead of in Australia!) I also baptized a 76-year-old man who, in his testimony/confession of faith just before the baptism, said, “I feel like my life before this was in a fog, and now I am finally coming out into the light.” All of those people either have been or will be received equally before the throne of God, to rejoice in Him throughout eternity. I myself was baptized at age seven, after having proclaimed my love for Jesus for over two years prior to that. I wish I could say I’ve been faithful ever since, but I can say I regret my every deviation from the path, and am deeply grateful for God’s grace to me. I have total agreement with the song, The Longer I Serve Him, the Sweeter He Grows. Those who commit to Christ on their deathbed do receive eternal life, but they have missed a lifetime of benefits in the here and now. That needs to be my message to all who will receive it.

Father, thank You indeed for Your limitless blessings. I often encourage others to recognize Your grace to them. May I not fall short myself! I pray that Christ in me would be increasingly magnetic, to draw more and more into Your family as early as possible, for their blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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

Focus; May 19, 2018

Matthew 19:29 “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

It has become a horribly misused cliché, but you can’t out-give God. It is very sad that some preachers have twisted this verse into a “give to get” philosophy. It is very telling that in such cases, it’s generally “Give to me so you will get.” Such people receive their judgment from God Himself. However, such misuse doesn’t negate the truth of what Jesus said. The sticking point comes in what we have actually left, and whether we have really done it for Christ. When someone was praising my mother for “all you have given up to be a missionary,” she replied that the only thing she felt she had given up was physical proximity to family. Our problem is that we tend to fixate on the material and the temporal, rather than really seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness. “Giving to get” materially speaking does us no good at all. However, it is manifestly true that “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” That was originally stated in terms of physical vs. eternal life, and puts this whole issue into perspective. As Jesus said elsewhere, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:24-27) We need to hold everything loosely, and leave our reward up to God.

In a sense this is close to home, since Cathy is in the process of liquidating her share in her family’s farm so that the funds may be used for ministry here. However, I’ve never felt like God was stingy. The longer I live, the better I understand the difference between temporal and eternal. Most of what consumes the world is strictly temporal, that is, limited to time and space. That is by very definition temporary, and God offers us what is eternal. I certainly live in the flow of time, and temporal things do matter to me, but their hold on me diminishes as I sharpen my focus on Christ. I don’t know what my eventual reward will be, but I am absolutely confident it will be more than worth it. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Father, thank You for this reminder. It can be easy to lose focus! Help me seek Your kingdom and Your righteousness on every level, not being distracted by the material, so that I may bring as many eternal souls as possible with me into Your presence, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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

Little Children; May 18, 2018

Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Thinking about it, Jesus had no children of his own, but children evidently liked being with Him. Children are often sensitive to the attitudes and even character of people, even more than adults are. The striking characteristic of children is that they hide nothing. I think that’s at least part of the reason Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like them. Adults work at giving specific impressions, but with children, what you see is what you get. God can see through any front we might put up, so it makes far more sense to be open and honest with Him and with ourselves. That’s the point of Jesus’ famous story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. (Luke 18:9-14) The tax collector was completely open and honest, and God received him as he was. It’s not at all that we are to revel in our sins, even being proud of them as some people seem to be, but it is that we are to come to Jesus as we are, just as these little children did, trusting that He will receive us and do for us what we need.

A couple of days ago I had something happen that I take as a huge compliment. I was sitting in my study when the doorbell rang, and it was our new neighbors’ 1st grade son. He said that he’d just gotten home from school, but his mother wasn’t at home. I happily went out and sat with him for a few minutes, talking about various things until his mother arrived. (When his mother arrived, very flustered, it turned out she had been at the dentist and it had taken longer than expected.) They’ve been our neighbors for less than two months, but I have spoken to them any time I’ve seen them. To me, that’s “organic evangelism,” and I’m thrilled to see some feedback. They haven’t come to a service yet, but I’m trusting that God has already chosen them for His family. I desire to be the sort of person anyone, child or adult, would not hesitate to approach, so that in the process they may draw close to the One who created them and loves them and died for them.

Father, I so often over-think things. Help me be as a little child before You, so that I won’t get in the way of others seeing Christ through me, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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

Who is Jesus?; May 17, 2017

Matthew 16:15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

This is the single most important question for any human being on the face of the earth. How it is answered determines the eternal destiny of the one answering. It is the ultimate test of whether someone is a brother or sister in Christ or a deluded heretic. There are groups that use the name of Jesus and would like to be accepted as Christian, but their answer to this question exposes the devil’s schemes. Recently a prominent Mormon politician got publicly upset with the statements of one of the pastors who prayed at the dedication of the US embassy in Jerusalem, claiming he was a bigot for not accepting Mormons as Christian, when Paul said strongly, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8) The Mormons teach that the angel Moroni revealed the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith, and that book claims that Jesus and Satan are brothers! There’s a lot more I could go into, but right there we have a disqualifying answer to Jesus’ question. Likewise, Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was not the eternal Son of God, but rather was accepted as the son of God because he lived such a good life. There are many people who say that Jesus was a great teacher, but unless He is the Son of God to you, His cross was insufficient to take the penalty for your sins. Actually, there are probably members of groups like the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who are saved, but it’s only because they deviate from the standard teaching of the group. Right in line with this is Paul’s statement that “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) There are many who have gone through the motions of baptism and the like without ever making Jesus their Lord. That’s not a different category of Christian, it’s part of the definition of Christian, and sadly, there are many who don’t meet it.

This is of course of vital importance to me, as it is to everyone. As a pastor, and particularly one serving in a largely non-Christian nation, it consumes my life. (If you read all of Romans 10, you see that it consumed Paul as well.) As Jesus said to Peter, who He is has to be revealed to us by God. However, as came out a few days ago, the big issue is whether we receive the revelation God offers us. I can’t save anyone with my own powers of persuasion. I know; I’ve tried! Even so, God can use me to open people’s eyes to Himself, so I’ve dedicated my life to being available for Him to do so. Knowing who Jesus is isn’t enough for me. I want everyone else to know Him too! All I can do is walk in faithfulness, speaking the truth in love so that the Holy Spirit may take my words and use them to touch people, so that they too may be brought to Peter’s confession, for their salvation and the glory of God.

Father, this is my eternal struggle. I so want those to whom I minister to open their hearts to You, submitting to Jesus Christ as Lord, but I can’t make it happen. I ask You to pour Your Spirit out on this city and this nation, so that the lies of the enemy may be exposed and people set free to repent and believe, for a mighty harvest in Your kingdom, for Your glory alone. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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