Pastoral Ministry; December 2, 2018

Titus 2:1 You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.

Along with the two longer letters to Timothy, this is a letter about how to be a shepherd of Jesus’ flock. In the first chapter Paul writes about some types of people who can make real problems in a church, but here he goes on to tell Titus how he should be in contrast to those others. (The NIV leaves off the leading “However” in this verse.) The NIV says “teach” here, but the Japanese goes with the more general, “speak.” It does little good to try to teach good stuff if our normal conversation doesn’t fall in line. Some people today try to be “relevant” by coarsening their speech to fit those around them. Paul was clear on that point in writing to the Ephesians, (Ephesians 5:4) and Jesus famously said, “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37) Here, Paul goes on to give specific examples of sound (healthy) speaking/teaching. If every young seminary student were genuinely to take this chapter to heart, the Church worldwide would be much healthier! We are far too prone to go with the latest fad or with humanistic thinking, when God calls us to a much higher standard.

Having graduated from seminary 44 years ago, I can see times when I was following these instructions pretty well and times when I could definitely have done better. For a while I wasn’t a terribly willing pastor. I delighted to teach, but pastoral ministry didn’t turn me on. I have had to learn that we can’t just stick with what turns us on! Mike Rowe, of “Dirty Jobs” fame, tells young people, “Don’t just ‘follow your passion,’ buckle down and learn the skills to do a good job at whatever you do.” That’s good advice that would have benefited me 40+ years ago! There are still things that I would just as soon not do, but if there isn’t someone else to do them and they need to be done, I have no excuse. My life is to be an example, and the most important example I can set is of loving obedience to my Lord.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for Your incredible patience with me over the years. Thank You for the training You’re giving me right now of not speaking, of not being the one visibly in the lead. It’s hard to be quiet! Yesterday I experienced the emotional pain of not being able to participate in singing Christmas songs, and I’m not looking forward to this morning for that very reason. I pray that You would grow me in how to worship without sound, so that when I am again able to use my voice my worship may be fuller, more complete, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Rescue; December 1, 2018

2 Timothy 4:18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

This is at the very end of the last letter Paul wrote before he was martyred. The section from verse 1 through verse 8 is justly famous and loved, because it’s his instructions to his spiritual son Timothy as well as a clear recognition that his time on earth is up. However, I had never underlined this verse, and it too is a potent statement of faith. When Paul is aware that he will likely be martyred soon, at first glance this seems a little like wishful thinking: “rescue me from every evil attack.” (The Japanese says, “work of evil.”) That impression is cleared up when we realize that “rescue” isn’t necessarily physical. Paul had previously told the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) He fully expected that his body would be killed, but he knew that wouldn’t be the end of him, because he would be brought safely to the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. Paul was as human as we are, and I don’t doubt that he had some apprehension about the transition from earth to heaven, but he’d already had a visit, and he knew he wanted to go back. (2 Corinthians 12:2-4, perhaps when he was stoned at Lystra. [Acts 14:19]) Many people have realized that things like healing and rescue don’t always come in this life, but faith assures us that they are as certain as eternal judgment. (Hebrews 9:27) In America, even people who have no real faith will sometimes say things about the dead like, “They are in a better place.” They don’t know what they are talking about! If the person who died was in Christ, then they are indeed in glory with Him. However, if they followed the devil by default through refusing to commit to Jesus as Lord, then they are in “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41) That should be sobering indeed.

This is something I have been aware of for many years, and it is why I stopped mourning the death of known Christians. Everyone leaves this life at some point, and those left behind definitely miss them, sometimes bitterly. However, the important thing isn’t death itself, but the destination. Once we leave this life we are indeed rescued from all the works of evil that currently distress us. That includes physical, emotional, and spiritual attacks. I certainly don’t recommend suicide; that is a self-centered act that refuses to trust God. I also know that God can and does heal and otherwise rescue people in this life, as a demonstration of who He is in order to draw people to Him in repentance and faith. However, temporal miracles, even, are no comparison to eternity. Even Lazarus died again! I don’t demand that God rescue or heal in this life, but I seek to lead as many as possible into the faith that will guarantee that they are brought safely into heaven when the time comes.

Father, I lost two friends last month. One was rescued from his cancer and is now rejoicing before You. The other declined to let go of the “8 million gods” of his ancestors, and I could only release him to your mercy. Such things are very painful. Help me be increasingly useful to You in leading people into repentance and faith, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Living for Jesus; November 30, 2018

2 Timothy 2:11-13 Here is a trustworthy saying:

If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.

We don’t know who authored the “saying” Paul quotes here, but it is indeed powerfully thought-provoking. Everything in it can be backed up with multiple Scriptures, which is how we can be sure it is trustworthy, just as Paul says. It is for the most part deeply comforting, but it contains a strong word of warning that echos something Jesus Himself said: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38) Even more specifically, He said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33) That should certainly give us pause. We are never to take our commitment to Christ lightly. However, the very last sentence in this “saying” is perhaps the most comforting, because it recognizes our human frailty. Any time we speak of denying Christ, Peter comes to mind, since he so famously and publicly denied he even knew Jesus, but he repented in truth and was fully restored, becoming the leader of the Church as it was formed at Pentecost and later going on to Rome, where he was martyred. He would be the “poster child” of this “saying,” since he illustrated it with his life. We are to be steadfast in our commitment, our obedience, our endurance, but when we slip up, we are to throw ourselves on Christ’s mercy, because He cannot disown Himself.

I don’t think I’ve ever disowned Christ overtly, but my actions at times have not indicated that I belonged to Him. I’m as grateful for the last part of this as anyone! I would be surprised, but not necessarily upset, if I were martyred, but endurance is a daily issue. In that, I have to die to sin and self (Romans 6:1-10) on a daily basis, again just as Jesus said. (Luke 9:23) The hymn, Living for Jesus, expresses it pretty well. As I wrote yesterday, I’ve just started a 2-week period of minimal talking. After writing that, I proceeded to prove for the rest of the day that I’m not very good at that! This isn’t the sort of thing I’ve thought about before in terms of endurance, but it is indeed going to be a test of mine. Because I have a 90-minute nursing school class this morning (with microphone) the rest of the day will really need to be quiet. This is particularly hard to hold to because there’s no pain associated with talking. However, for the sake of my talking and singing in the future, I’ve got to endure.

Father, this is an entirely new challenge for me. Thank You. I wouldn’t have chosen it, but then, that’s not my business. I have intended to submit my speech to You in the past, but had not thought of that in terms of not speaking at all. This isn’t something I can do on my own, so I ask You to enable me to do it, for the sake of the Body of Christ and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Knowing Christ; November 29, 2018

2 Timothy 1:12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.

Genuinely knowing Christ will get you through anything. Paul went through a lot from the point God knocked him off his horse all the way until he was finally martyred, but by his own testimony, it was worth it. (Philippians 3:10-11, 2 Corinthians 4:17) Our problem today is that too many people aren’t convinced it’s worth it. We are too prone to take what we see as the “easy way out,” forgetting Jesus’ warning about the broad and narrow ways. (Matthew 7:13-14) We want the one cookie now instead of the two cookies later, as is demonstrated in the famous psychological experiment with little children. (They are left in a room by themselves with a cookie in front of them, told that if they wait to eat it until the adult returns, they will get two cookies. Few children pass the test!) Satan knows this well, and so does all he can to tempt us with immediate gratification. Anything will do, even essentially good things, so long as we are distracted from listening to and obeying God. We really don’t know what temptations Paul faced along the way, other than the over-all temptation to give it up and stop doing stuff that got him attacked all the time. However, we do know his response, and that is recorded here. I have always loved the hymn that uses the last part of this verse verbatim as its chorus. As that hymn declares, there’s a lot we don’t know, but if we know our Savior, all the other stuff doesn’t really matter.

I encounter this in various ways all the time. I am somewhat amused that, after having been warned repeatedly about the need for patient endurance, I’ve just been hit with doctor’s orders not to talk for a couple of weeks. I have a polyp on one of my vocal cords, and by God’s grace a member of the national team studying exactly that problem is the head of the ENT Department at the National Medical Center in town. That team has found through extensive research that for small polyps, surgery can often be avoided with an intensive rest schedule, and I just started a 2-week trial of that. When my whole life revolves around talking and singing, that is a challenge indeed! Whispering actually puts more stress on the vocal cords than normal speech, so I’m to talk in a low voice only when necessary. I have a class at the nursing school tomorrow, and am on strict orders to use a microphone. Since I teach vocal projection to speech therapists, that is a blow indeed! Last night it was decided that this coming Sunday Cathy will speak in English and one of our members will interpret into Japanese. And in it all, I can’t sing! My pride is demolished and my faith tested, and those are both very good things. Thankfully, I indeed know whom I have believed, and He’s the same Lord Paul knew and followed. I realize very well that this isn’t even worthy to be called suffering, compared to what others – even including my wife – go through, so I am to rejoice at God’s grace in allowing me this experience, knowing that it will turn out not just for my blessing but for His glory.

Father, thank You indeed for Your grace toward me. I ask for wisdom to do what I should, and nothing else. You know what a talker I am. You even had to tell me to shut up one time! I pray that as we go have lunch with another missionary couple today that I would be able to control myself, and that I would indeed grow in learning to listen, as I am sure is one of Your purposes in this. May I be shaped more and more into the useful tool that You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Positive Goals; November 28, 2018

1 Timothy 6:11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

The section ahead of this that talks about greed is very famous, but Paul very rightly changes gears in addressing Timothy directly. It is much easier to do a positive thing than not do a negative thing. Instead of just trying to avoid bad stuff, Timothy, and by extension we, are told to pursue good stuff. (The Japanese says, “earnestly seek.”) Pursuing something is a lot more fun than fleeing from something! Frankly, some of the things in this list seem more enjoyable to pursue than others. It is sobering how often “patient endurance” shows up as a desirable trait throughout the New Testament. Americans are only just now beginning to taste what religious persecution is like, but the history of the Church is rife with it, and at no time more than today, if we look at the worldwide picture. Paul was writing to Timothy about the “nuts and bolts” of leading a local church, but it was in the context of opposition. The very next sentence is, “Fight the good fight of the faith.” Sometimes our opposition takes physical form, but whether or not it does, we always have an enemy who seeks to destroy us, the devil, and we are to be proactive toward him. As James said we are to “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) Resisting includes making full use of the armor God provides, (Ephesians 6:10-18) which of course requires full submission to God, just as James said. It is in that understanding and posture that we are to pursue the things Paul mentions here. Then we will truly be people of God.

Once again I’m preaching to myself. I too have character traits I need to avoid, but if I focus on avoidance, I don’t go anywhere. I need to be forward-looking, striving to move ahead, just as Paul wrote to the Philippians. (Philippians 3:13-14) I need to recognize that these are the things I need to be displaying in my life, and evaluate myself accordingly. Likewise, as I minister to others I need to point them in this direction as well. All of this could be summed up as “Christ-likeness.” I need to remember, as well as teach, that this is God’s plan for us, (Romans 8:29) and if we will trust and obey Him, He will bring it about. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s very important to focus on the positive, particularly when the enemy assaults our minds with negative thoughts and scenarios. Thank you that the spot on my vocal cord was discovered, and that I’ll be having more thorough testing on it today. I pray that every decision in relation to that would be as You intend, to cooperate with Your health for me. I pray that my every word, attitude, and action would point people to You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Being an Example; November 27, 2018

1 Timothy 4:12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

It struck me just now that this verse could be amplified to read, “because you are young, or old, or a woman, or a foreigner, or for any other reason.” Timothy happened to be young, but the rest of the verse would apply equally to everyone. The NIV says, “look down on you,” but the Japanese expresses it as, “look at you lightly,” which is to say, not take you seriously. The flip side of this is that we aren’t to be dismissive of anyone, but understand that God can use whom­ever He pleases. Every believer in Jesus Christ should strive to be an example to others in the ways mentioned here. Otherwise, how is anyone going to know we are Christians? I’m brought back to the thought question I was reminded of recently: If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? There’s another small difference between the NIV and the Japanese that catches my attention. Where the NIV says, “in life,” the Japanese says, “in attitude.” That puts a little bit more of a point on it. Our attitude indeed colors our whole life. If our attitude is, “God’s got good stuff for me and I want to get it,” that’s not necessarily bad, but how is it different from non-believers around us, except that we’ve inserted God into the mix? Instead, our attitude should be, “God loved me enough to send His Son to die for me, and that deserves every bit of my gratitude and obedience.” If we live like that, the world will be impacted!

This is as challenging to me as it is to anyone. At 70, I’m certainly more likely to be dismissed because I’m old than because I’m young, and being a Caucasian in Japan can be a reason for not being taken seriously. Regardless, I am to live an exemplary life, in front of believers and non-believers alike. That is what will draw them to Christ. Our recent Thanksgiving dinner was a good example of that. 2/3 of those present were not Christians, and I think they were impressed by what they saw (and ate!). After 37 years here in Omura, I don’t think we have any human enemies. We have been remarkably well accepted. That said, there haven’t been very many who have committed themselves to Christ, and I think it comes from a fundamental lack of understanding of accountability and eternal judgment. They don’t believe they need to be saved. Just recently I was talking with one of our strongest members, and she said that Japanese have a very hazy concept of the devil and of hell. That’s probably why suicide seems like an attractive way out of difficulty for them. I need to seek the Lord for wisdom to express spiritual realities in ways that people will understand and accept, so that they too may repent and believe for their salvation.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I am constantly frustrated by how people seem to accept us, but still don’t accept Christ. (John 13:20) Thank You for what You did at the dinner Sunday night. I pray that the seed planted then would indeed bear abundant fruit, bringing real breakthrough for Your kingdom, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Prayer; November 26, 2018

1 Timothy 2:5-6 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.

It seems that every monotheistic religion has a statement similar to verse five. For Judaism it is the famous Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) The one for Islam is even more similar to verse five, which is interesting since it was written a few hundred years later: “There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed is his prophet.” (Incidentally, in an act of “cultural jihad,” Islamic groups have persuaded some US schools to teach this to elementary students, even teaching them to write it in Arabic, for “cultural understanding.”) Naturally, Paul’s statement is rooted in the Shema, but there is an additional element in Paul’s statement that is of great importance, and that is of Christ being the sole mediator between God and man. He was and is uniquely qualified, being both fully God and fully man, and recognizing Him as the sole mediator has a huge impact on prayer. Many people, notably the whole Catholic Church, pray to a wide assortment of saints, and their liturgy asks Mary to pray for them. That sort of thing is in direct violation of this passage. The devil has lied to people, telling them that “God’s too busy to hear your prayers, and you’re too insignificant anyway, so you’d better go through someone else.” That’s making God too small, and that’s something the devil is always trying to do. God is big enough to love, and listen to, each of us individually! The better we get that through our heads, the more intimate, joyful, and powerful our prayers will be. Every believer in Jesus as their Lord and Savior has every right and authority to speak directly with the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

It was a huge blessing to be raised in a family that had this understanding of prayer. Prayer was as natural as any other form of communication, if not more so. I sometimes say it was as natural as breathing, and that’s not much of an exaggeration. One of my greatest desires, and at the same time greatest challenges, as a pastor is for every member of my flock to have that sort of prayer life. That is inseparably connected with their reading the Bible regularly, because that’s the easiest and most reliable way to hear from God, rather than our just talking at Him. The more familiar you are with the Bible, the easier it is to hear Him accurately in other ways as well. I’ve always liked the line from John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High that says, “talk to God and listen to the casual reply.” That’s a goal to strive for, but without the Bible as a standard it’s all too easy to be deceived by lying spirits. (1 Kings 22:22-23) That’s why I try to focus on listening to God through the Bible in my morning devotions, and talk to Him throughout the day.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It helps give direction to my Advent sermons for the year, which start next Sunday. (My, how time flies!) Thank You for the good turnout a the Thanksgiving dinner last night, and for how smoothly everything went. Thank You particularly for how many people pitched in with the cleanup afterwards. I continue to ask that the impact made on those in attendance would work deeply in them to draw them to full repentance and faith, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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