Paul’s Example; April 12, 2019

1 Corinthians 9:23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Those who preach the Gospel receive the Gospel as well. The Good News is big enough for all! Paul is such a magnificent example because he believed the things he said. There were moments when even he wavered, and God had to tell him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) However, he endured to the end, and there is no question that he indeed received the crown of righteousness that he told us about. (2 Timothy 4:8) Nowhere did Paul claim any exclusive benefits for himself. He understood that God’s grace is exactly that, and it was and is available to all. I think that Paul was forever amazed that God had chosen him, of all people, and his awareness of God’s love and grace drove him. (2 Corinthians 5:14) He had ample reason to tell others to imitate him, (1 Corinthians 4:16) because he was so focused on Christ. The challenge for us today is whether we can cut through all the distractions and follow Christ fully ourselves, even as we seek to share the Gospel with others.

This whole section feels very close to home, because I have made my living from the Gospel for less than two years out of 40 years of ministry. The irony is that even so, some people have accused me of wanting more people in the church so I could get more money! I do feel that I have no choice but to share the abundance of truth the Lord has poured out on me. I do know that my personal reward is sure, but I would certainly like to see more results “on the ground.” I know that what I share is God’s truth, and it grieves me that so little is received and accepted for what it is. I must never give up, but remember that the weapons I have been given are mighty to the point of tearing down strongholds, (2 Corinthians 10:4) and do the work I have been given whether I see results with my natural eyes or not.

Father, it’s easy to get tired and discouraged. Today I will be dealing yet again with a son in the Lord who is listening to the enemy’s lies instead of to You. May I be strong on his behalf, leading him out of the pit he is in so that he may taste and delight in the abundance of Your grace toward him. Guide me as I prepare message notes for Sunday, that I may communicate what You are saying and not just what sounds good to me – or to them. May I indeed run with patience the race that is set before me, (Hebrews 12:1) so that Your will may be accomplished on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Sin and Forgiveness; April 11, 2019

1 Corinthians 6:11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

This chapter is one that a lot of people wish weren’t in the Bible, and some try to deny its validity. However, they overlook this verse. Sexual sin has been an issue for as long as mankind has been around. Some people would like to be like dogs, happily humping anything around. However, we weren’t created to be dogs, as delightful as they can be. We were created for covenant relationships, not merely instinctual ones. That said, this verse is of vital importance. God never excuses sin (though in some places the Bible speaks of His overlooking it) but He does forgive it. We have trouble grasping that distinction at times, but it is vital. Verses nine and ten list whole categories of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God. However, this verse makes it very clear that it doesn’t matter what or who you were, it matters who you are in Christ. If you insist that your sinful behavior is OK, you are excluding yourself from God’s forgiveness. It is only when we acknowledge that we need salvation that we can receive it. However, that recognition, and committing to Jesus as Lord by faith, can and does “make the vilest clean,” as an old hymn expresses it. As is often discussed these days, God provides equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. His offer of cleansing and salvation is open to every human being, but it requires our repentance and faith to accept and receive it.

This is at the very heart of the Gospel, of which I am a minister. I am to proclaim the love and grace of God, but not out of the context of His absolute holiness. It is precisely because He is holy that His grace is so necessary! I have had trouble communicating the necessity of salvation to the Japanese, but Americans seem to be forgetting it at a great rate these days as well. The only unforgivable sin is insisting you don’t need forgiveness. 1 Timothy 4:2 speaks of people with their consciences “seared as with a hot iron.” Some people seem to want to discard their conscience, because it gets in the way of their enjoying their sin. How sad! I cannot convict people of their sin in my own strength and wisdom, but that’s the job of the Holy Spirit anyway. (John 16:8-11) I am to keep speaking the truth in love, assuring people that nothing they have done is beyond the power of the cross to atone, forgive, and cleanse, if they will only confess it to God. (1 John 1:9) At times I am called to help people understand that they are in need of such grace, but again, conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit. I cannot save anyone, but God can indeed save absolutely anyone.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the new students I will be meeting this morning. I pray that my interaction with them over the next two years will indeed draw them to repentance and faith for their salvation, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Stewardship of the Word of God; April 10, 2019

1 Corinthians 4:1-2 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

Verse two is quoted fairly often in various contexts, and not without reason, because it expresses an important principle. However, the Japanese starts the verse with, “In this case,” specifically referring to verse one. It’s not that those entrusted with other things don’t need to be faithful, but rather that the burden is especially heavy when we are dealing with “the secret things of God.” (The Japanese term translates literally as “underlying righteousness.”) Paul indeed had every reason to speak of himself that way, because he wrote half the New Testament, but when you think about it, today we have those “secret things of God” in written form, so we are all entrusted with them. We take the Bible so lightly! The devil doesn’t, which is why he does everything he can to keep it out of the public sphere, getting it out of most schools and even forbidding displays of the Ten Commandments. The devil is against anything that could be called righteousness! That’s why believers need to wake up and take their stewardship of the Word of God seriously, living it out in their daily lives and teaching it to their children and anyone else who will receive it. As Paul goes on to discuss right after this, we will all be judged by God for how good a job we did with that very task. We aren’t to go around pointing fingers at others, but seek to get the best grade possible on our own final exam! However, we won’t get a very good grade unless we understand what a marvelous thing we have been entrusted with, and act accordingly.

As I am frequently reminded, I had the enormous privilege of growing up in a home that indeed valued the Bible for what it is. My parents each had their own private devotions each day, and they sought to teach the Bible to us their children. As missionaries, they sought to communicate the truths of God to all with whom they interacted, and I grew up watching their example. They were certainly not perfect, but their focus was on being faithful to their Lord. I can certainly do no better than that. As a pastor, I have the regular privilege of sharing formally the truths that God has spoken to me, but I think the opportunities He gives me in informal settings may actually be more important, because those aren’t people who would come to a church service. I am to remember that God has indeed placed His truth in me, and He certainly didn’t do it to puff me up. I am to be an open conduit for living water, for the Bread of Life, so that as many as will may receive God’s truth and be set free. (John 8:32)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the opportunity You gave us last night to speak your truth to someone who really needed it, because he’s been bombarded with the lies of the devil. I pray that he would indeed receive what he heard last night and walk out of the trap that had ensnared him, into the fullness of all that You have planned for him, (John 10:10) for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Rewards; April 9, 2019

1 Corinthians 3:14-15 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

These verses are not underlined in my Bible, because I don’t think I really wanted to confront this truth in relation to myself. Paul is in no way straying into some sort of “salvation by works” heresy, but he is saying that what we do matters. Just before this he says, “Each will be rewarded for his own labor.” (verse 8) Hebrews is no less clear: “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.” (Hebrews 10:35-36) God will never “stiff” us, but He does expect our best. Far too many people just do enough to get by, both in their employment and in terms of their faith. What they don’t realize is that they are short-changing themselves in the process. We should always do our best quality work in every situation, because God is our ultimate “employer,” and He can’t be fooled. Jesus spoke of love in terms of obedience, (John 14:15, etc.) but I think doing our best is involved as well. Grudging obedience could hardly be called love! We may not love our employer, but Paul, speaking to slaves even, said “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.” (Ephesians 6:7-8)

This issue is personal to me because at this point in my life I am increasingly concerned with legacy. For the most part I have sought to do my best for the Lord, but I really find myself wondering how much will remain when I am gone. I am in no way concerned for my own salvation, but I am concerned for the salvation of those to whom I have ministered. As far as this church is concerned, the building and land are of no consequence spiritually speaking, but I would like to leave a thriving congregation that is pleasing to God, and at this point that seems questionable. It all belongs to God, and I will answer to Him for my stewardship of it. That said, I know that I desire to do exactly what God wants, so I need to remember the passage from Hebrews that I already quoted, and rest, relax, and rejoice in my Lord.

Father, thank You for this reminder. My physical eyes don’t see much legacy for me to be leaving, but You see what is really going on spiritually speaking, and that is what matters. Help me remember Galatians 6:9. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Thank You. Praise God!

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Speaking Truth; April 8, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

This verse answers many mysteries in life. There are times when people can seem incredibly obtuse, not understanding a thing you say to them. That may be because you are speaking according to the Spirit, and they don’t have the Spirit to enable them to hear what is being said. The problem with this, however, is that sometimes we retreat into this explanation, when actually we were the one not making any sense. That’s why humility is always called for. As Paul said, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10) Pride certainly hinders the flow of the Spirit, in understanding and everything else. Jesus said in the Upper Room, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:12-13) One of the many important jobs of the Spirit is indeed to guide us into God’s truth, because our human minds can’t get there on our own. Accordingly, if you want understanding, seek to be filled with the Spirit! The way to do that is to recognize who God is and who we are. As it says in Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10) If we come to God in humility and gratitude, He will meet us where we are and take us to where we need to be.

I am a past master at “talking till I’m blue in the face.” I am a man of words, and I tend to feel that my words should be sufficient to get the point across. However, by themselves they seldom are. I am not to be puffed up, but always speak God’s truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 8:1) I am to recognize that I don’t always get it right, and that if it’s no more than my idea, it’s wrong to begin with. I am not to attack or accuse those who just don’t seem to get it, but rather pray that we all open our hearts to God’s grace and mercy. In my case, sometimes things seem to get lost between English and Japanese. Sometimes when I’m speaking one language I appear to be thinking in the other one! I am to seek the unity of the Spirit at all times, which of course means seeking that we all be filled with the same Holy Spirit of God.

Father, this is a major issue. I talk out of my own head far too much, and people are confused and/or hurt as a result. Forgive me, and help them forgive me. May I say only what You are saying, in Your love, so that the results may be what You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Christ is All; April 7, 2019

1 Corinthians 1:30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

It all boils down to Christ being everything. That should be no surprise, but we are forever wanting to add stuff, to make it “Jesus and….” This is no new revelation. Even David realized that his relationship with his Creator was better, that is, more important, than physical life itself. (Psalm 63:3) We so desperately want to be able to take pride in something, to feel like we’ve had a hand in our own salvation, but it’s all by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. The more we realize that, really lay hold of it, the more our anxieties and frustrations fade away. When we’ve got Jesus we don’t really need anything else. The world and our flesh always want more: more money, more time, more pleasure, more honor, what have you. When we really grasp that Christ is everything, we just want more of Him! I am reminded of a little chorus that came out almost 50 years ago. “I want more of Jesus, more and more and more. I want more of Jesus than I ever had before. I want more of His great love, so rich and full and free. I want more of Jesus, and He wants more of me.” After my father’s death, his missionary prayer partner shared with me that he had liked that song very much, but he changed the last line a little bit: “I want more of Jesus, so I’ll give Him more of me.” It is when we realize that Christ is everything that we release everything about ourselves and our circumstances to Him, for Him to do with as pleases Him. We do have the assurance that His plans for us are good, (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28) but we are very prone to trying to specify what that’s going to look like. We aren’t smart enough to know that! Our focus is to be on loving Him, and the obedience that comes from that.

This is very relevant to me. I have had my struggles with pride, and really understanding that He’s smart and I’m not, but this is something I’ve got to keep in focus every moment of my life. There are things that I want for myself, and things I want for those around me. I want freedom from pain and frustration for my wife, but I very selfishly want that to be in this life, so that she can continue to be with me. I want others to let go of the lies of the devil and receive the abundance that God has for them, but I can’t make them do so. I want a successor and a legacy for me, but that too is in God’s hands. All of that comes back to laying hold of Christ and letting Him be Lord in every detail. Today I’m speaking on the worship of giving our bodies to Christ, from Romans 12:1. That is inseparable from this, because when I really know that Christ is my everything, I will indeed give Him my everything.

Father, I feel like on some level I already know this well, yet on another level I don’t know it at all. Help me keep growing, opening myself up more and more to You, so that everything that disagrees with You may be washed out and I be fully available and useful to You, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Fellowship with God; April 6, 2019

1 Corinthians 1:9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

For once I really like the NIV turn of phrase. It’s not a difference in translation, but the sentence structure puts the emphasis on the faithfulness of God, and that’s a very good thing. The rest of the verse is also very important. We tend to think of a “calling” as an occupation, particularly in the area of “full-time Christian service.” However, our fundamental calling is into fellowship with Christ, and that applies to every believer. You don’t have to go to seminary to answer that call, either! John and Charles Wesley’s mother had so many children that in order to have time with the Lord she would flip her apron over her head, almost like a tent, and her children knew she wasn’t to be bothered at that time. We too have myriad distractions, so we need to ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom in how to maintain fellowship. The Toronto Revival had as a feature “soaking” in God’s presence, and that is very much an expression of fellowship with Him. I recently read Preparing for the Glory, by John and Carol Arnott, who shepherded that move of God. Rather than simply recounting what happened, they touch on the specific principles they learned through it, and what they portend for the Church going forward. They point out that when we are in love, we want more than anything to spend time with our beloved, and “soaking” is a way to be mindful about doing that. After all, when God has called us into fellowship with His Son, as this verse says, we had better make that a priority. Anything works better when used as designed, and we were designed for fellowship with our Creator!

This is something I have learned in many ways over the years, both from times of fellowship and from times when I had very little fellowship with God. Many years ago I highlighted something David said. “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek.” (Psalm 27:8) That agrees completely with another famous line from the Psalms: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” (Psalm 42:1) People have sought fellowship with God since the Garden of Eden, because that’s how He made us! However, I have also learned the reality of what we do that breaks that fellowship. Of course unrepented sin does it, but Paul speaks of “quenching” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and “grieving” the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4:30) Sin is involved there, but sometimes it is as seemingly benign as shifting priorities. I’ve got to make and keep fellowship with my Lord my first priority! I couldn’t begin to count all the different ways the devil tries to interfere with that, and I shouldn’t try. Rather, I need to focus on my Lord, who calls me into fellowship with Himself. (Matthew 6:33)

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s definitely something I need to share from the pulpit! Help me keep it in focus to practice it consistently, so that I may avoid the traps of the enemy and walk in all that You intend for me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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