Commission; August 6, 2018

John 20:21-22 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

After giving the ultimate proof of His divinity by rising from the dead, Jesus then gives the ultimate commission to His disciples, sending them as He was sent. On the face of it, that’s absurd. Jesus was and is the only Son of God, and certainly the only human being to be born of a virgin. He is the only Savior, the only one in whom faith produces the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. How could anyone be sent the way He was sent? It comes down to understanding the broader definition of Jesus’ commission. Very simply, Jesus came to earth as God’s agent to express and demonstrate His love to mankind. The entire New Testament and much of the Old Testament speaks of this in various ways. The disciples in that room, and by extension, believers today, have that same commission. This is not hubris. If anything, it takes intense humility to accept this commission, since we have to acknowledge that we are utterly incapable of fulfilling it in our own strength and wisdom. As soon as He delivered this commission, Jesus then made it possible to fulfill it, by giving the Holy Spirit. Up until His resurrection, Jesus Himself operated only in the power of the Spirit, rather than in His own power as the Son. We have to understand that before we can believe that we can indeed fulfill Jesus’ commission, because the same Spirit is available to us. It wasn’t until several days later that the Holy Spirit was manifested to a degree that supernatural things started happening, but Jesus wasn’t about to give a commission without providing the power to fulfill it. We have to realize that since it’s God’s commission to us, it’s God’s power in and through us that will fulfill it.

This is an issue that has really burned in me, to the point that I’ve written a short book on it, though I’ve not yet published it. (At this point it’s just in English, and my burden is for the Japanese.) Many years ago I came to the conviction that if Japanese believers really grasped who they were in Christ, they would change not only the Japanese Church, or even the nation, but the whole world. I stated it that way because I am specifically called to Japan, but that should apply to believers in any country of the world. I cannot force anyone to act as Christ’s representative, but I can keep myself available to do so. I have experienced God acting through me many times, and it’s marvelous! I am to speak the truth in love, praying for others that they may have the courage to accept and surrender to the commission that Christ has for them, so that God’s name may be acknowledged as holy and His kingdom come as His will is done, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Show me what I’m to do with that little book, since it’s been almost a year since I finished writing. If I’m to write more, guide me clearly. If I’m to get it into Japanese, show me how and by whom. If I’m to publish as is, give me peace about that. May I indeed fulfill Your purposes for me, in every way and on every level, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Cross; August 5, 2018

John 19:30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The different Gospel writers each brought out different details of Jesus’ crucifixion, thus reinforcing the authenticity of the total narrative. John was the only one to record Jesus entrusting His mother Mary to him, just before the end, and here he records a theologically vital detail. In English we use “finished” in various ways, but the Japanese is very specific here, rendering it as, “It is completed.” Jesus had indeed completed the work for which His Father had sent Him. Another reason that statement is important is that we can neither add to nor subtract from what Jesus did on the cross. We love to take credit for things, but there is no opportunity for that here. Paul spoke of “fill[ing] up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church,” (Colossians 1:24) but that isn’t a matter of adding to salvation, rather it is of being willing to take up his own cross, just as Jesus had spoken of. (Luke 9:23) Various religions promote abusing the flesh for “spiritual gain,” but neither Jesus nor Paul did that. We will all have our own encounter with death, but that is in God’s hands and we are not to try to take it into our own to any degree. The final detail in John’s record here is how he saw what was going on. Jesus here fulfilled exactly what He had said: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (John 10:17-18) That’s why John chose to express Jesus’ physical death as, “He gave up His spirit.” That was the ultimate provision for our salvation.

I have known the facts of Jesus’ crucifixion since I was a young child, but my awareness of it keeps getting deeper and deeper. I am very aware that no suffering I might be called on to endure could compare with what Jesus went through for me. As several of the New Testament writers expressed in various ways, the magnificence of what happened for our salvation is beyond human words to express fully. It follows then that the only appropriate response is total love and obedience. I strive for that, but I constantly come up against my own humanity. I could never earn what God has provided in Christ; every bit of it is grace. And as the Lord told Paul, that grace is all I need. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Father, thank You indeed for the cross, for all You did for me in Christ. Thank You for revealing more and more of that to me as I walk with You. Help me share the reality of Your grace more and more effectively with more and more people, so that they too may fall totally in love with You in response to Your love for them, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Accountability; August 4, 2018

John 19:11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

God’s provision sometimes involves some strange things. He gave Pilate authority to crucify Jesus! Just because something has been given doesn’t necessarily mean it should be used, and in any case, how it is used is certainly our responsibility. This calls for humility and obedience at all times. Parents have authority over their children. If they use that authority to train them up in the way appropriate for them, (Proverbs 22:6) the child will feel loved and affirmed and God will be pleased. However, if they insist the child be a surrogate for their own dreams and ambitions, or worse yet, an outlet for their anger or even perversions, then they will certainly have to face the consequences when they stand before God in the Judgment. Some people today insist that parents have no such authority. The current absurdity is that they are not even to insist on the child’s biological gender. Again, all such things must be answered to before God, just as Pilate faced. Apart from authority, God gives abilities of all sorts. Again, we are responsible for how we use them. The vast majority of evil in the world comes from people misusing the abilities God has given them. It all comes down to accountability. Whenever God gives us something, we are accountable to Him for what we do with it. The famous parable of the talents comes to mind. (Matthew 25:14-30) As that parable points out, not using what God has given is not a good option! If we ask, He will give us the wisdom and guidance we need to make the use He intends of whatever it is, (James 1:5) but we need to tune our hearts to inquire and obey.

This is an issue that has loomed large in my awareness because I feel God has given me so much. I have a wide variety of abilities, and only a fraction of those have been developed. I am currently preparing for a photo show in just over a week, and I find that to be something of an analogy for my life. Each year I limit my exhibit to pictures taken within the previous 12 months, but I still have extreme difficulty narrowing the selection down to a manageable number. Even now, we have more pictures in frames, even, than we have wall space, and yet we have more pictures than we have frames! In response I have tended to draw back, effectively saying “I took and printed the pictures, and that’s that.” That is enormously unfair to my wife, without whom I could never mount these exhibits. I am accountable to her and I am accountable to God, not just for taking and printing the pictures but for what happens now. The same thing may be said about my musical ability, my literary ability, my linguistic ability, and on and on. As comes out in the parable of the talents, God is after faithfulness, and that is how I will be judged. I am very aware of my need for the grace and mercy of God!

Father, I do thank You for Your provision of everything, and for Your grace and mercy most of all. Help me never take any of Your provision lightly, but make the use of it that You intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Prayer; August 3, 2018

John 17:13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”

Prayer is very interesting. Jesus was very clear that we are not to pray in public for the sake of being seen and heard by people, (Matthew 6:5-6) but at the same time He showed us by example, here and at the resurrection of Lazarus, (John 11) that sometimes we are to pray to be seen and heard by people. The difference is why we want to be seen and heard. In Matthew Jesus is addressing people who want to flaunt their piety. Some people simply want it to be seen that they are praying, so that they will be admired. I’d say their prayers have about as much effect as flicking a teaspoon of water at a forest fire. Here, and elsewhere, Jesus prayed out loud so that those around Him could be blessed by His words. It is a powerful encouragement to know that someone is praying for you, and the easiest way for that to happen is for them to do so in your presence. Jesus had perfect communication with His Father, but He sometimes conducted that communication in public so that those around Him could know the content and be blessed in that way. I was very blessed to know Dr. Cal Guy while I was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. One of his trademarks was that whenever someone asked him for prayer, he would stop whatever he was doing and pray, whether it was in the middle of class or walking on the campus or in a grocery store or wherever. Many people were greatly blessed by that, and I’m sure it was life-changing for quite a few. We aren’t to flaunt prayer, but neither are we to hide it. Often enough, Spirit-guided prayer (Romans 8:26) is prophetic, speaking the very words of God into situations. We should not draw back from that!

Because of the home in which I was raised, prayer has always been as natural to me as breathing, so I found Dr. Guy to be a kindred spirit indeed. I try to follow his example, but sometimes people find it intimidating! That is never my intention. As a pastor one of my highest priorities is for each believer to have an intimate relationship with the Trinity, certainly including prayer, so I need to teach by example, allowing them to hear how I pray. However, if they are not used to the idea of personal prayer, hearing me pray so freely has been known to make people feel they could never pray like that, so they don’t try. That’s a tragic trick of the devil! Even Jesus said, “I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26-27) Faith gives each individual a personal ticket into the throne room of God. I need to help people understand that I can pray as I do – not because I’m a pastor, but because God loves me and I love Him, just as He loves them and they can love Him. I need to communicate God’s love to them so that they will delight to talk with their Daddy, in private and in public and all the time, just as I do.

Father, thank You for this Word, and for making it clear I’m to share it Sunday. Thank You for the brother who has decided to commit himself to You, and for the time we could have together yesterday, but he’s not the only one who needs to know more about prayer. Help me share Your heart with Your words so that Your will may be done in the hearts and lives of all my hearers, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Glory; August 2, 2018

John 17:4 “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”

Even Jesus was concerned with giving the Father glory. Just before this, in 15:8, He said that our bearing much fruit as His disciples gives the Father glory. Far too often we are concerned with our own glory. Most of us hardly ever think of whether we are giving glory to God. I think we really don’t have a very good grasp of just what glory is. The characters used to write it in Japanese indicate something along the lines of “successful light,” whatever that might mean, and I don’t think we’re much clearer in English. At the same time, I think we all have something of an innate awareness of glory, which would not be surprising since we were created for the Father’s glory. Looking at this verse and 15:8, I think at least one factor in glory is something or someone doing what was intended for it. It’s like a machine that works well gives glory to its designer/maker. We are far more than machines, but I think the idea comes across. When children do well, becoming good people and expressing their gifting, that gives glory to their parents. The converse of that is when children go off the rails and bring shame to themselves and their parents. We are all agreed that is tragic indeed. The problem with putting that in a strictly human framework is that parents often don’t know what is best for their children, and try to set out “rails” that aren’t appropriate for them. In such cases, the children have to “go off the rails” in order to fulfill their true purpose. With the understanding that our parents were fallible, and we are certainly fallible, the smartest thing is obviously to seek God for what purpose He has for us. The Bible is very clear that He indeed has a purpose for each individual. Passages from Jeremiah 29:11 to Ephesians 2:10 leave no doubt on that score. We don’t have to be anxious about whether God’s plan for us is good, so we just need to draw close to Him to be able to listen accurately and obey fully. When we do that, we indeed give Him glory and find our own greatest fulfillment.

My parents’ gravestone has a line from John 4:34: “… to do the will of Him who sent me.” When my father died at 64 several things he was involved in were terminated, most notably a fresh translation of the New Testament into Japanese. Even so, I think he indeed gave the Father glory by doing to his fullest each task that was set before him, right up to the point that the Father said, “That’s enough.” That’s a magnificent and high example for me to aspire to. I’ve already outlived him by over 5 years, but I don’t know how much in my own life has really given God glory. He’s the judge of that! The point for me is to “keep on keeping on,” seeking God’s plan for right now and doing it with the strength He gives me. I’ve certainly proven that I can’t do it in my own strength and ability! Faithful obedience is the key, and is my prayer.

Father, I do ask that You enable me to do that for which You created me. Right now my schedule seems complicated and packed, to the point that I have something of an avoidance response. Forgive me, and help me fulfill each task at hand, not being anxious about what’s down the line. Today has things of considerable importance, as does tomorrow. Help me rest, relax, and rejoice in You, allowing You to work through me in every detail so that You may indeed receive the glory only You deserve. Thank You. Praise God!

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Troubles; August 1, 2018

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I probably quote this verse more than any other, particularly in messages. Once again, the Japanese amplifies my understanding of what is said. As has come out recently, Japanese differentiates between inner, emotional peace and the absence of external conflict. It is entirely possible, even common, for someone to be in inner turmoil even though their external circumstances are quite peaceful. It is also possible, though less common, for someone to have inner peace even though their circumstances are chaotic, even violent. That’s what Jesus is talking about here. External peace is welcome, but Jesus knew it would be in short supply for His disciples for the rest of their time on earth. Another way the Japanese translation I use helps me understand what Jesus said here is the specific combination of characters used to express “trouble.” It’s unusual enough that Microsoft IME doesn’t want to give it to me when I type this verse in phonetically. The second character used is relatively expected, but the first is “patient,” as in someone in a hospital. The character itself isn’t unusual, but the combination is. I don’t know the Greek there, but the Japanese certainly agrees with experience. We know from Acts, as well as Paul’s letters, that early believers had health issues just as we do. God is indeed our Healer, (Exodus 15:26) and miracles of healing are to be expected even today, just as they were in Jesus’ ministry. (John 14:12) However, that doesn’t mean we can be careless with our health, doing unhealthy things (like smoking or overeating) or failing to do healthy things (like appropriate nutrition, exercise, and rest). What Jesus is saying here is that because we live in a fallen world, all sorts of problems, including health issues, are part of the package. He then says why we can have inner peace regardless of our circumstances: He has overcome the world. When we abide in Him, as He talked about repeatedly throughout the Upper Room Discourse, we share in His victory, whatever it might look like at the moment. It blows my mind, actually, that He put “overcome” in the past tense when in the flow of time He had not yet gone through His crucifixion and resurrection. God is outside of time, so to Him, everything is already a done deal, and Christ and those in Him are on top. When we get that through our hearts and minds we can indeed have peace and even joy even when everything is falling apart.

I think I quote this so much because I need so much to remember it myself! Various things trigger anxiety and/or anger in me, so I have to choose to abide in Christ and receive His peace, just as He says here. It is a great comfort to be confident that there is no bureaucracy in heaven! (Tangling with such on earth can really trigger me!) I face many circumstances that I would like to be different, but one time when I was thinking about that the Lord said very clearly to me, “How do you think I feel?” He’s not happy about them either, and He’s not going to leave them that way. It will get very messy before He’s done, but the end result will be glorious. I am not to allow the devil to steal my peace or my joy, but submit every part of my being to God and receive all that He has for me.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me be increasingly effective in sharing this glorious truth with others, so that together we may be Christ’s disciples indeed, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Asking and Receiving; July 31, 2018

John 16:23-24 “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

Here Jesus is really doubling down on what he said earlier in 15:7. If it seemed extreme then, it’s much more extreme now! (In a side note, the Japanese clarifies something that is confusing in English. The first “ask” is actually “inquire,” as in “ask a question.” After that, “ask” goes to “make a request.”) The problem is, our experience doesn’t seem to match the promise. James had an answer for that. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3) Asking in Jesus’ name is far more than tacking “In Jesus’ name, Amen” on the end of your wish list. That said, in a way this is just a reiteration of what Jesus said way back in the Sermon on the mount: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) Jesus pointed out the element of faith in all this when the disciples were so shocked at the incident of the withering fig tree. “Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig-tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:21-22) When He taught about the imperative to forgive, the apostles recognized their inability in that area too, and we have another powerful exchange. “The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6) Jesus doesn’t accept excuses! However, He does accept humility and repentance, and His mercy and grace are sufficient. Paul famously went back and forth with the Lord on this over a physical problem he had. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9) Sometimes God’s answer to a request is that He has something better for us, even though it might not look that way at the time. So we are left with the necessity to trust and obey, just as the hymn says, knowing that God’s plan is best whatever it feels like to our flesh.

This is very personal to me in a number of ways. In the first place, I have prayed for the salvation of the Japanese for a long time, but have seen very little fruit. In the second place, my wife has a list of physical problems that sometimes cause even doctors to just shake their heads. I have certainly prayed for her healing, and those prayers have not gone unheard. One time she was instantaneously healed of pneumonia, and another time she died, went to heaven, and came back. We are left with Paul’s question about her Parkinson’s Disease and other problems, and I think we get much the same response. We have seen God move miraculously many times, and at the same time we have had times of laboring in prayer and seeing nothing. We have to choose to be at peace with not knowing, trusting Daddy to do what is right. As the old Southern Gospel song says, “We will understand it better bye and bye.”

Father, thank You for this reminder. I would rather be the one in pain than Cathy, but that’s not how it is right now. Help us not stop asking, but at the same time never stop trusting Your love and grace, which are indeed sufficient for us. Thank You. Praise God!

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