October 23, 2016

Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

What a deeply meaningful incident! It tells us a great deal about life in the world as it is and how we are to respond to it, including to our own failures. In the first place, it touches on why the devil is allowed to do some of the things he does. Sifting isn’t a bad thing, but it might feel bad to the wheat. The purpose of sifting is to remove impurities, not only chaff but also little rocks and the like that can get into the mix. We really don’t want impurities in our lives, but the problem is, too often we can’t distinguish accurately what needs to go. Sifting takes care of that. The second thing is that Jesus knew full well that Peter was going to fall flat in the process. He didn’t pray that Peter wouldn’t fall, He prayed that he wouldn’t lose his faith. There’s a huge difference. Precisely because Peter so publicly denied knowing Jesus, he was thereafter forever insulated from pride, from thinking he could get it right on his own. That’s valuable indeed! We don’t want to fall, and we don’t want those we care about to fall, but if faith remains, God can indeed use our failures for good, for us and for those around us. (Romans 8:28) When Jesus first gave Simon the name, Peter, he was far from being a rock of stability, but this incident went a long way in making him the rock that he indeed was in the early Church. As Jesus told him to do, he strengthened his brothers and he fed Jesus’ sheep. (John 21:15-19)

This is an important lesson for me to take to heart. I can see how God has used some of my failures to shape and purify me, so as a pastor I am to pray that He would do the same for those under my care. I agonize sometimes over what my “sheep” get into. I am to pray that they not be led into temptation, (Matthew 6:13) but even more I am to pray that their faith not fail. I may even find I have a Peter or two in the flock! I am to trust God that He will not allow anyone to go through more than they can bear if they will turn to Him, and so pray that everyone, myself included, would keep our hearts turned to Him even when we fail, not letting go of our faith. When that happens, we will indeed be built up as living stones into a House suitable for our Lord. (1 Peter 2:5)

Father, You know who is on my mind as I write. I indeed pray that their faith would not fail, but rather that they would be purified and strengthened to in turn strengthen their brothers and sisters, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 22, 2016

Luke 21:34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”

It struck me as I was reading this just now that Jesus was talking to people who were following Him, yet He mentioned dissipation, drunkenness, and anxiety. To me that says that some people whom “religious” people have written off might well be genuine Christians. Certainly not wise Christians, but heirs of eternal life even so. We are not to excuse such behavior, but neither are we to cross people off because of their mistakes. Incidentally, the “dissipation” mentioned here is the same term applied to the Prodigal Son, who spent his money on prostitutes. Paul roundly and rightly condemns such behavior, (1 Corinthians 6:15-16) but it is something that can be repented of. Ephesians 5 needs to be our guide. Many areas are covered there, but the guiding principle is in verse 15: “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise.” I am reminded of something I read by the late Jamie Buckingham about drinking alcohol. He realized that as a Christian he was free to do so, but at the same time there was a distinct possibility that his doing so would cause someone else to stumble, so even drinking in moderation wasn’t the course of wisdom and love. That said, I think we tend to exclude many people the Lord does not. We are to teach and admonish, but we are to love as we have been loved by God, and that covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

I grew up in a strictly tea-totaling home, and frankly, very few alcoholic drinks I’ve tried have tasted good to me. I consider that a blessing! I have seen countless examples of people condemning unwise behavior in others while ignoring their own, (Matthew 7:3-5) and I have fallen into that trap myself. I am not to condone or excuse sins, but I am to forgive them. There is a huge difference, and I must not let the devil blind me to it. At this point in my life some people are put off by my being so “holy,” thinking they could never be like me and so not trying. I am not to “get in the mud” with them, but I am to make it as clear as possible that it is only by the grace of God that I am as I am, and that same grace is available to all who will receive it. I stumble even now, certainly, but they don’t see that. I’m not to go around “bragging” of my sins, but like Isaiah I am to walk in the humility that comes from seeing the holiness of God. (Isaiah 6:5) I am to be an open channel of His love and grace to all, so that as many as possible may be drawn into His kingdom, His family.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I deal with people all over the spiritual spectrum. Keep me from pegging them in a particular place in that spectrum, or even trying to. Help me rather love them as they are and where they are, without being content to leave them there. That’s what You did when You sent Jesus. Keep me from distorting that love. Rather, help me transmit it clearly and strongly, so that many may be brought from darkness to light, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 21, 2016

Luke 18:17 “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

The Japanese translates this, “cannot enter,” but this time it’s the NIV, backed up by various other English translations, that really makes me think. We do well to consider how a child receives things, in contrast to how an adult might do so. If you offer a child something that seems attractive to them, they accept it, generally with delight. An adult, on the other hand, might calculate what strings might be attached, or even whether they are worthy to receive such a thing. The reason we have to accept the kingdom of God like a child is that it is literally going to cost us the world, since we have to let go of the material to take hold of the spiritual, and we could never be worthy of receiving it in our own right. A little child doesn’t think these things. If they trust the one offering the gift and it seems attractive to them, they take it, period. In this fallen world that can be dangerous for children, since all too many people are not trustworthy and the devil is adept at making evil glitter. That’s why Jesus had such severe words for those who “cause little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:2) We need to exercise clear discernment when it comes to things in this world, but rejoice to receive the things of God like wide-eyed children.

Perhaps the reason this verse speaks to me so strongly is that I know people who decline to receive salvation precisely because they are too “adult.” Tragically, I have lost some close friends who fit into that category. We have someone who has attended this church for over 10 years and won’t accept Jesus as Savior and Lord precisely because they don’t want to give up a particular pleasure, and at the same time they don’t feel worthy because of that very pleasure. I have never confronted them about that activity, but they have been exposed to Christianity for over 50 years now, and that seems to be their position. They continue to come to church because we welcome them, and they are lonely. I need to keep praying that they would have the courage to act as a little child and receive what their Father is offering them, in all simplicity.

Father, You never said that getting the Gospel across to people would be easy. Help me never give up, but keep speaking Your truth in love so that as many as will may enter in, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 20, 2016

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Sometimes Jesus’ disciples asked Him to explain the meaning of His parables and sometimes He volunteered the meaning, but here Luke gives the point even before he records the parable. That could well be because of the extreme importance of the lesson! Where the NIV says, “give up,” the Japanese says “lose hope.” We give up on various things for a variety of reasons, most of them trivial, but losing hope is more tragic. As I am frequently reminded, God’s time frame is different from ours. Peter put it in terms of a thousand years and a day, (2 Peter 3:8) but actually it is even greater than that, because God is outside of the flow of time entirely, acting within time as He wills. Sometimes the answer to prayer is in eternity! It takes a lot of faith to accept that, but such faith is far more likely to see miraculous answers to prayer than a more shallow faith would be. As it says in Psalm 42, (just to mention one example) we are to put our hope in God, not in any merely human agency. Our hope is not ultimately in any specific chain of events, but rather in God’s perfect will being done, in our lives and in this world as a whole. That’s what we are to keep praying for, without ever giving up.

This is something I’ve known in my head for a long time, but sometimes my heart and emotions have trouble keeping up! Like everyone else, I want answers NOW. Just as acceptance of delayed gratification is a major yardstick of maturity psychologically speaking, the same may be said of spiritual maturity. I don’t want to lose childlike wonder at the goodness of my Father, but at the same time I desire the spiritual maturity to accept His timetable without fuss. He has told me personally that there are many things in the world today that are not pleasing to Him, but that means I’ve got to accept His timetable for fixing them all, and trust that He can and will do it. That is utterly beyond my imagination, because it is humanly impossible, so again as He has told me personally, I’ve got to rest, relax, and rejoice, trusting Him implicitly and explicitly. That is praying without losing hope.

Father, thank You for this important reminder. Thank You for the times this computer has crashed in the process of my writing this. That may have been intended by the devil to block me from receiving it, but You used it to repeat Yourself to me to cement the message. Help me apply everything You say to me, not deceiving myself but serving as a demonstration of Your truth and grace, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 19, 2016

Luke 11:13 “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11 invites many comparisons with the similar content in Matthew 6 and 7. I think it is futile to argue over whether Jesus said similar things more than once (which is highly probable) or whether either Matthew or Luke simply used an edited collection of teachings (which is quite possible). In either case, the similarities and differences give us things to think about. In this particular verse, the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement has seized on the promise of the Holy Spirit. There are a lot of factors here. One is that Luke, as a companion of Paul, heard about Jesus only well after the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Church. He mentions the Holy Spirit a great deal in Acts, from the events at Pentecost all the way through to the end of the book, and was obviously aware that the Holy Spirit was the soul and the engine of the Church. The other factor that strikes me right now is that the implication from the way this is written that the Holy Spirit is the very best thing God could give anyone. I think that was Luke’s own experience, and he didn’t hesitate to report Jesus putting it this way. Children ask their parents for a lot of things. Sometimes the requests are granted, sometimes they are denied, but sometimes the parent gives the child something better than what they asked for. I think God does that with us a lot. The only problem with that is that, because it isn’t what we asked for, we sometimes don’t recognize how good it is. The Holy Spirit is God Himself. He gave Himself to us in the Person of His Son to redeem us from our sins, and He gives Himself to us in the Person of His Spirit to empower us and to remake us in the likeness of His Son. (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18) If we really understand that, we will ask for, and welcome, the Holy Spirit at every turn.

This is an understanding I have been growing in over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever expressed it quite the way I just did, and I am deeply grateful for the revelation. This actually could be big in my ministry from this point. Just as many people don’t understand their need for Jesus as their Savior, so many Christians don’t understand their need to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18) As was pointed out to me in 1974, we receive everything from God by faith. I need to encourage people to trust God to give them the very best, and by definition, that is indeed Himself, in the Person of His Son and His Spirit.

Father, thank You indeed for this Word. I feel like it’s huge! Help me communicate it effectively so that as many as possible may receive it, for their salvation and eternal blessing and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 18, 2016

Luke 9:33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

This was one of Peter’s peak, “open mouth, insert foot,” moments. However, we’ve all been there. We don’t know what to say but we feel compelled to say something. It is interesting that the three disciples knew that the two men talking with Jesus were Moses and Elijah, and the question arises as to how they knew that. If it was by direct impartation from the Holy Spirit, Peter’s outburst seems all the more foolish. The disciples had been invited to the mountain by Jesus and their physical/spiritual lethargy had been overcome by the glory of God, but even wide awake they didn’t know how to respond. We may have those moments ourselves. God does something marvelous and we know it, but we don’t know what to do with it. Even here we can’t be sure what Peter should have done, but it’s clear he wasn’t listening obediently to the Holy Spirit. Often what God wants us to do is bask in the moment, to allow His Spirit to work in us on a much deeper level than human intellect or even consciousness. We have the persistent desire to do something, when what God is most after is for us to be something. When we are what He wants us to be, then we will indeed do what He wants us to do, but we tend to put that backwards and really mess things up. As Paul said, we are to be doing the good works that God has prepared for us, (Ephesians 2:10) but too often we tend to think of good works as a substitute for being a child of God. An infant doesn’t have to earn its parents’ love, it just has to be. We have a lot to learn about being children of God!

This is an issue that has tripped me up many times over the years. Peter doesn’t have anything on me! I am very prone to speak when I should be silent. I think I have grown at least a little bit in this area over the years, but my mouth still needs a better OFF button. At times I feel I am spiritually and/or physically lazy, not doing enough in the kingdom of God. However, a few years ago the Lord told me, and had me preach, that He wants us to rest, relax, and rejoice in Him. I’ve quoted that many times in the years since, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got it down pat yet! I am never to hold anything back when God tells me to do something, but at the same time I’m not to go around inventing ways to serve God. Like Peter’s huts, what I do in such cases is of no benefit to what God is doing and it just wears me out. I am to focus on being Christ’s representative, (2 Corinthians 5:20) allowing His power to work in and through me (Colossians 1:29) to accomplish, not what I think would be good, but His perfect will, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this strong Word this morning. When I first read the passage I had no idea what You wanted to say to me. Thank You for the time with my assistant pastor last night, debriefing Him from the time I was gone. I do pray that we would grow as a team so that this church would indeed grow to be what You have planned, however large or small that might be, for Your pleasure and glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 17, 2017

Luke 9:23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

I have always preferred Luke’s rendition of this famous teaching of Jesus over Matthew’s and Mark’s versions because of the one little word (in English), “daily.” We have a very bad tendency to think that once we’ve done something it’s done forever, when that is seldom the case. Salvation, once received, is a done deal, but the degree to which we receive the benefits of that salvation depends on faithfulness. “5-point Calvinists” might get up in arms over that statement, but the Bible is remarkably consistent on this point. If it were not true, why would Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and James all urge faithfulness? “Taking up our cross” is not something we can decide to do one day and then a few days later decide it’s too much trouble. As with everything else, this is not something we can do consistently in our own strength; we have to have God’s help, doing it in and through us. However, if the heart commitment is there, God is more faithful that we could ever be, and He will follow through. The devil tries to distract us with everything possible and convince us that such commitment is impractical at best, but as always, he’s a liar. At the same time, this verse is one of the strongest reasons for daily morning devotions. Choosing to spend time with God the first thing every morning is far and away the easiest, and perhaps the best, way to be faithful in taking up our cross to follow Jesus. And make no mistake, He is worth following!

The trip just ended has been strong training in this area. Every day has held new, and in some ways unfamiliar, challenges, and so has required the conscious choice to accept the challenge and follow Jesus. By God’s grace we have made it through, but the relief in coming through the door of our own home to go to bed in our own bed was beyond words. That said, today has its own challenges, some of which I have already run into, and each day to come will be likewise challenging. I am never to run from my cross, whatever form it might take, but rather shoulder it with gratitude and praise that God will always enable me to do whatever He calls me to do.

Father, thank You indeed for Your faithfulness throughout this trip. Thank You for the assurance that You will be faithful each day of the rest of my life, even when I am less than faithful. (2 Timothy 2:13) Help me not forget any of the things You have taught me on this trip, but rather apply each one as You intend, so that I may grow and the Body of Christ be built up, for Your pleasure and glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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