Tools; October 14, 2018

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

This whole passage, from verse 6 through verse 15, has been used by unscrupulous shysters so much that it can be hard to hear what God is really saying through it. That is sad, because Paul was accurately conveying God’s truth here. This verse makes it clear that God’s provision always has a purpose. He doesn’t pour His grace out on us to puff us up, but to equip us for “every good work.” It is true that much of what we are called on to do requires material resources of various sorts, and God will always provide for us whatever we need to do His will. However, we are constantly tempted to focus on the tools rather than on the work to be done. We seem to have particular difficulty in looking at money as a tool, rather than as something to be desired for its own sake. That’s why our stewardship of money is such an indicator of our spiritual condition. Often our attitude toward money has to change before God can trust us with much of it. Money isn’t evil of itself, but loving it for its own sake, rather than seeing it as a tool, creates all sorts of problems. (1 Timothy 6:10) Our priorities should be first, what does God want me to do, and then, what does He want me to have in order to do that. That includes giving to others, which is the focus of this passage as a whole. We are to see everything God places in our hands as His grace toward us, and we are to seek His will as to what He wants us to do with it.

I have never been especially greedy for money, but I have always been something of a “tool nut.” I get great satisfaction at having the right tool for the job, whatever that job might be. A tool catalog can be a great temptation to me! However, I have tools right now which I use very seldom, because I’m not called on for whatever work for which they would be necessary. At this point in my life I need to be paring down, eliminating things I don’t need. However, some of those things might be needed by someone else, which is why I still have them. Recently my wife has been coming to the same realization, and is delighting in blessing others while reducing her own clutter. I certainly need to do that! At the same time, I need to be active in using what God wants me to hang onto, material or otherwise, to do the work that He has prepared for me to do. (Ephesians 2:10) I’m not to complain about someone else’s stewardship (though I am to speak the truth in love where called for) but am to be careful of my own, for the glory of God alone.

Father, thank You for Your abundant provision. May I indeed see it all as Your grace toward me and as tools to accomplish Your will, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Giving; October 13, 2018

2 Corinthians 8:12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

This is an important principle that often gets overlooked, even though Jesus expressed it very clearly Himself. (Luke 12:1-4) God never asks of us anything that He hasn’t already provided, if we have the faith to realize it. Sometimes we have to step out in faith before that provision is visible to us and to those around us, but in God’s economy, it’s already provided. The devil loves to dump guilt trips on us. After all, “Satan” means, “the accuser.” However, his specialty is in accusing us of things that aren’t true. Recently the whole matter of unsubstantiated accusations has been much in the news, but we aren’t to assume that accusations are false when first heard. They are always to be submitted to God in full humility, asking the Holy Spirit to show us anything of which we need to repent, and doing so immediately for anything He shows us. That said, we’re back to the reality that false accusations that seem real are the devil’s specialty. When it comes to giving, which is the subject in this verse, we are inundated with pleas for money from all sides. We are certainly to be generous, however much or little we have in our bank account, and our tithe is to go to the local congregation where we are fed spiritually, but everything beyond that is to be submitted to God for His directions on how much to give to whom. We are to be faithful stewards, knowing that everything we have is simply in our care, rather than belonging to us in an absolute sense. Accordingly, we are to use everything – money, abilities, time, whatever – as the Owner desires, to accomplish His will for His glory.

I have been a consistent tither for about 48 years now, and I seek to live all of my life in obedience to the Lord, but as a pastor, this is an issue involving each person in this church. By God’s mercy we don’t have any wealthy people, so each person knows their offerings make a difference, I think. One of our most faithful givers has one of the most limited incomes! I am to encourage the believers in “the grace of giving,” as Paul puts it in verse seven, but I am not to make anyone feel put down because they don’t have the resources to give a lot. I would be delighted to have a good group of solid wage-earners in the church, but since that isn’t our current situation, I am to trust the Lord and rejoice!

Father, thank You for the privilege of participating in the flow of Your provision. I do pray that each person in this church would understand and delight in that joy, for the blessing of everyone involved and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Godly Sorrow; October 12, 2018

2 Corinthians 7:10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

This verse gets a little confusing in Japanese, because the Japanese term for “repentance” is “regret and redo.” That makes saying “no regret” and “repentance” in the same sentence paradoxical. The NIV fixes that with the simple word, “leaves.” We do have to regret what we’ve done in order to repent in truth, but once we’ve repented, there’s no regret left. With that potential misunderstanding out of the way, this verse expresses a very important truth. Some people try to go through life with no sorrow at all, but that’s a flat impossibility. I quote it very frequently, but Jesus’ words in John 16:33 are certainly true: “In this world you will have trouble.” The point is not to try to get out of all trouble, but rather to get through it, and gain from that very trouble the blessings God has planned. This past Sunday I spoke on the difference between trials and temptations, referencing what the Lord had said to me in my devotions on September 28th. We are certainly to flee temptations, but trials grow us and train us and ultimately strengthen and bless us. That’s why God allows them, and sometimes expressly plans them, I feel. That is worlds different from what the devil tries to do to us through the world. He comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, (John 10:10) which is why Paul says very accurately, “Worldly sorrow brings death.” The point is to lift our eyes from our circumstances and fix them on God who loves us enough to send His Son to die for us. If we will do that, we will be able to release our circumstances to Him and allow Him to turn them around for our good. (Romans 8:28) That is true even when our own sin got us into those circumstances in the first place! That’s where “repentance that leads to salvation” comes in.

This is something I have experienced in my own life, certainly, and as a pastor I encounter it in the lives of others frequently. I was texted in the night last night by someone who is seeing no meaning to their life at this point, when the truth is, their biggest problem is that they have regretted but not repented, and so are not walking in submission to God right now. There are others involved in their current situation, and repentance is called for in them as well, but until one or more parties to the problem “let go of the wheel” and let God be in control, the situation isn’t going to straighten out. All I can do is keep praying for them and keep speaking the truth in love, asking God to give them ears to hear and receive His truth so that they may be set free from this trap of the enemy. I’ve been there, so I must be careful not to come across as holier-than-thou, but I also must not fail to speak the truth they need to hear.

Father, once again I am very aware of my own lack of wisdom. I ask Your grace and mercy for the parties involved, and I ask Your wisdom and anointing for me, that I may be Your agent to defeat the works of the enemy in this situation, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Living for Jesus; October 11, 2018

2 Corinthians 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

2 Corinthians is so loaded with important truth! Each day I have great difficulty deciding what I am to focus on, because there are multiple messages in each passage. This verse is of course the basis for a hymn I have known since childhood, Living for Jesus. I am blessed that I grew up singing a lot of Scripture-based, or at least Scriptural, songs, because setting things to music really cements them into our memory. That’s one of many reasons it’s wise to be careful what you listen to. Some songs are unavoidable in society, and that includes some pretty unfortunate ones, but many people spend their days listening to music of one sort or another by their own choice. We need to submit our play lists to the Lord and ask Him what should be filling our hearts and minds. That is exactly in line with what Paul says here. He uses different expressions in different places, but Paul was consumed with the reality that he didn’t belong to himself anymore, because Jesus had paid His own life to purchase him from sin and the devil. If we would only have that same conviction! Something I mention very frequently in counseling is that selfishness/self-centeredness never leads to genuine happiness. At best, it leads to momentary pleasure. I stress that in marriage counseling, but it applies in many other situations as well. The problem is, we all tend to be selfish and self-centered. It doesn’t take much introspection to realize that helping and blessing others feels good, but most of us don’t really carry that thought through to its logical conclusion. Paul quoted Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Jesus gave everything for us, as Paul reminds us in this verse, and we are most blessed when we give ourselves back to Him in return.

This of course applies to me as much as it does to anyone. When I take Communion, I say to Jesus, “Lord, I receive this bread as Your body, and I renew the commitment of my body to you. Use me for Your glory.” It’s been many years since I started doing that, and likewise many years since I started celebrating Communion by myself (with left-over communion bread and, usually, iced tea) every day as part of my morning devotions. (I likewise receive whatever I’m drinking as Jesus’ blood, and ask that it have its full work in and through me.) I wish I could say that I live fully for Christ rather than for myself, but I’m still in process there, rather than at the finish line. It is deeply comforting to know that I will be brought to that finish line when my physical life is finished. (Philippians 1:6) Meanwhile, I try to help others grasp this truth so that they too may experience the peace and joy of living for Christ rather than for themselves.

Father, thank You for loving me so much! Thank You for giving me the privilege of living for Jesus, rather than in a futile, self-centered rat race. Help me communicate the message of Your love more and more effectively to more and more people, so that the lies of the devil may be defeated by Your truth, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Seen vs. Unseen; October 10, 2018

2 Corinthians 5:7 We live by faith, not by sight.

Here Paul is restating what he had just said at the end of the previous chapter. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) That’s why the Japanese (presumably agreeing with the Greek) starts this verse with “Certainly.” It takes a real shift in perspective to see things this way, and far too many of us never make it. I have seen far too many Christians who supposedly have assurance of salvation, yet are terribly afraid of death. They haven’t let the Holy Spirit speak this into their hearts. When we finally get settled that everything physical is temporary, it is enormously liberating. The vast majority of our stresses and frustrations are related to the physical world, and Paul is pointing out that doesn’t matter a hill of beans. It’s not that the physical is completely insignificant; we are called to faithful stewardship. However, it’s all a matter of comparative values. Some people have twisted this truth to excuse immorality, and even Paul had to deal with that issue, in Romans 5 and elsewhere. We are in the physical world to prepare us for the spiritual world to come, which is why Jesus talked more about money than He did about heaven and hell combined. As He said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” (Luke 16:10-12) We indeed need to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. (Matthew 6:33)

I struggle with this too, though by God’s grace I am far from where I once was on the issue. I have come to the place in life where I am actively looking forward to the next life, just as Paul talks about in this chapter, but I still enjoy this life, and I’m not tempted to set my own schedule for the transition. I am realizing, on the emotional level, that the only things that make it into the next life are souls, so everything in this life is to be directed toward the end of getting as many people saved as possible. At the same time, I delight in God’s creation, and love to take pictures of its beauty. I just ordered a new lens for my camera, and I find myself impatient for it to get here so I can take even more pictures. However, my equipment, the photographs, and the world they record, are all momentary against the backdrop of eternity, and I’ve got to remember that. The angels don’t go “Wow” over my pictures! I am to be a faithful steward of everything material, but keep it all submitted to God, who is Spirit. (John 4:24)

Father, You know better than I do that I can’t keep it all straight. Help me stay humble before You, delighting in fellowship with You and being fully obedient in all You direct me to say and do, so that the works of the devil may indeed be destroyed (1 John 3:8) and many brought into Your family, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Knowledge of God; October 9, 2018

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

I love this whole chapter, but I had wondered what had triggered my including it in the series on God’s Provision, and this is it. I have underlined just about everything in this chapter, but in a sense all of it is referenced in this verse, because it it is all included in “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” There is so much to know about God, and so much that is unknowable apart from His revelation. This verse is talking about that revelation in terms of light shining in, and that is so very apt. I think every believers has experienced situations when it seemed like God suddenly “turned on the lights” and things that had been invisible became obvious. One lady I baptized had seen a friend’s baptism, in which I had asked the candidate, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who died for you and was then raised from death?” (I always include that when I baptize.) The candidate had replied in the affirmative, and been baptized on the basis of that confession, but the lady who was watching thought, “How can she say she believes that?” After that lady had her own encounter with the Lord, receiving a direct and personal response to prayer, she abruptly realized that she had no doubt at all that Jesus was raised from death! God had shone His light into her heart. Sadly, I think there are many church members who are still in the dark. For any of a number of reasons they have gone through the motions, but their heart wasn’t in it and so Jesus isn’t in their heart. That’s tragic, because since they think they are Christians, they stop seeking (if they were ever really seeking in the first place). God’s promise to Jeremiah says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) We need to seek God and welcome the light of His revelation of Himself to our hearts.

As a pastor I desire an intimate relationship with God for each of those in my care, but I can’t have it for them. I can and do keep pressing in for more of Him myself, but all I can do for them is keep praying for them and speaking the truth in love, modeling what it looks like to walk with God and hoping they will seek to do likewise. By God’s grace I do speak messages that are filled with the light of the knowledge of God, but I can’t force anyone to receive it. It breaks my heart when people are stubbornly unreceptive, but that reminds me of how I’ve make God feel when I’ve refused His love as well. I’m to exercise with them the patience God has shown me, and trust the Holy Spirit to do His work. (John 16:8-11)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for those who are receptive, and for each time anyone does receive Your light. Help me never “dim the wattage,” much less burn out. Help me remember that any light that originates in me is no better than darkness, and so allow Your light to shine through me, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Boldness; October 8, 2018

2 Corinthians 3:12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

I tend to be surprised at hesitant Christians. This verse would indicate that such an attitude shows they don’t understand the glory of the New Covenant by which they have been implanted in Christ, that Paul discusses just before this. “Bold” can be applied to a number of things, but the Japanese here specifically says “act boldly.” That was certainly Paul’s personality and lifestyle! Personality indeed has a lot to do with it, but fundamental convictions are of great importance, and that is what is touched on here. Paul famously told Timothy, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Timothy obviously didn’t have Paul’s personality, but he had the same Holy Spirit, and He is available to us all. I think this all ties in to what Jesus 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) “Adulterous and sinful” certainly sounds like the world today! Most people never witness actively for Christ because they are afraid of how people will react, fearing man instead of fearing God. They need a deeper appreciation of the glory and Spirit of God! We aren’t to be brash, running roughshod over people, but we need to be so settled in our faith and hope that we will never hesitate to speak the truth in love, (Ephesians 4:15) so that people may be set free. (John 8:32)

I’m talking to myself here! I do witness and I have introduced people to Christ for their salvation, but all too often I hold back, not wanting people to be turned off to me. See, the focus is on me! I am constantly telling believers to “lift their eyes to Jesus,” but I’m not consistent about it myself. When I fix the gaze of my heart on the glory of God, as Paul is talking about here, I will have no problem with boldness. The last song in yesterday’s service was Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. I learned that song as a child, but I’m still not consistent about it. I want to be as bold as Paul and as loving as John, which will make me more like Jesus.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all You are doing in, around, and through me. May I be so focused on You that boldness is never an issue, because I am totally and instantly responsive to whatever You want to say or do through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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