Evangelism; July 4, 2022

Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Reading this chapter I’m always tempted to dwell on verse 31, because that, in the mouth of Jonathan Edwards, was used to spark the Great Awakening revival that prepared the American colonies for the Revolutionary War. (Perhaps a fitting subject for the 4th of July.) However, this verse is also powerful and is applicable to every believer, and not just those who have drawn away from God. The English and the Japanese are obviously translations of the same Greek, but the nuance is different. The Japanese says, “Since the One who promised is faithful, let us not waver, but firmly profess hope.” The English stresses the holding onto hope, and the Japanese stresses professing hope. I take that as being evangelism, expressing the hope that is available in Christ alone to others, just as Peter talked about in 1 Peter 3:15. American society has always stressed the individual, to a degree that is perhaps unique in the world, but that can easily bleed over into self-centeredness, which benefits no one. We are individually accountable to God, but we are not to be satisfied with just our own salvation; we are to be sharing that with those around us. When we discover the incredible salvation that is available in Christ by grace through faith, it is the worst of ironies if we keep that good news to ourselves. God’s truth is to be shared! Just as Jonathan Edwards helped transform the colonies into a nation, our words too can lead people from darkness to light, from death to life. If we are indeed convinced that our God is faithful, just as this verse says, then nothing should hold us back from sharing the Good News of salvation.

As I have written multiple times, the thing that showed me that God had indeed baptized me with His Spirit was the awareness that for the first time in my life, I was talking about Jesus with a total stranger. Jesus’ statement in Acts 1:8 about being witnesses wasn’t coincidental, much less unimportant, it was the definition of walking in the Spirit. If we want the Holy Spirit to flow through us, and we certainly should, then we need to be active in sharing Christ. This isn’t limited to speaking, but it certainly includes it. Francis of Assisi’s famous admonition, “Preach constantly. When necessary, use words,” is valid enough, but as Peter pointed out, words are going to be called for to give people the details. Personality plays a part here, but we aren’t to let personality be an excuse not to share Christ. Despite being a teacher, unafraid to speak to groups, I am an introvert, happy to be by myself and uncomfortable at parties. That’s no excuse not to share Christ! I am to be active in seeking God’s appointments with those whose hearts He has prepared, because, as Paul pointed out, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14) (Don’t overthink “preaching” here. This is simply sharing the Gospel.) As a pastor, a major part of my ministry is to be in helping all the believers understand this is their privilege and task.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s something I’ve known for a long time, but I’ve got a lot of room to grow in communicating it to the believers. I pray that they would all profess boldly the hope that we have in Christ, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Jesus’ Intercession; July 3, 2022

Hebrews 7:24-25 Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Hebrews presents the legal basis for our salvation from the standpoint of the Mosaic Law. That might mean very little to Gentiles, but it is important in the grand scheme of things. The various covenants between God and man, from Adam on, respectively precede and supersede each other, coming to a grand culmination in Christ. As He Himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) That’s why it’s important to have Hebrews in the Bible. This particular statement is enormously comforting if you allow it to permeate your being. It says that salvation in Christ is complete, with nothing left to be done. We are forever trying to add to our salvation in some way, when that is an impossibility. What we should be doing is living in grateful obedience for the salvation that has already been accomplished and granted. That is possible because Jesus is eternal. He existed before Creation and He cannot “not exist.” And what is He doing with His eternity? He is interceding to God for all who seek to draw near to God through Christ. It is futile to try to draw near to God apart from Christ, though many try. People don’t like it that there is no room for pride in God’s plan of salvation! It requires repentance and faith, but nothing else. (Mark 1:15, Ephesians 2:8-9) In our weakness we slip and fall many times, in more ways than we generally realize, but as it says here, Jesus is always there to say, “Put that on my bill.” That is marvelous news indeed!

Of course this applies as much to me as it does to anyone. The Lord has had to point my sins out to me many times, and not just that one earth-shaking experience in 1972, but repentance has been possible and forgiveness has been real. I have the privilege of sharing the good news of God’s salvation with others, and I must let nothing interfere with that. I preach again this morning, and the subject is God’s grace. I am to proclaim it with great joy, allowing God to speak His heart through me by His Spirit, so that those present and those hearing electronically alike may be transformed by His Word to them, for His glory alone.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Lord Jesus, thank You indeed for interceding for me, and for all God’s children. Holy Spirit, use me freely, flow through me to break the lies that have bound so many, so that there may be a great harvest in the Family of God. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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A Firm Hope; July 2, 2022

Hebrews 6:19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.

There are two distinct metaphors in this verse, and many people don’t have a reference for either one. Boating is fairly common and we are all familiar with the idea of ships and anchors, but unless we have personal experience, this image isn’t likely to grab us. The thing is, in heavy seas or strong winds, anchors can and often do drag along the floor of the body of water in question. It is only when they dig into the sand or catch onto fixed rocks that they really fulfill their purpose. That’s why this verse specifies “firm and secure.” The second metaphor is even less familiar, because it speaks of the temple in Jerusalem that hasn’t existed for almost 2000 years. There was a curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple. The Ark of the Covenant was there, signifying the very presence of God. Matthew records that when Jesus died on the cross, that curtain split from the top to the bottom, signifying that Jesus had opened the way to God’s presence. (Matthew 27:51) What the writer is saying here is that our hope is firm and secure in the very presence of God. All of us have times when our hope doesn’t seem very strong, when our “anchor is dragging,” so to speak. When that is the case, it shows that our hope has shifted off of what God has done for us in Christ and onto some lesser thing, generally circumstantial. The thing is, circumstances are temporal, temporary, and so can’t be a firm and secure anchor for us. Storms certainly come in life, as even Jesus assured us, (John 16:33) so we need to confirm that our anchor is properly set, and take our focus off of the wind and waves.

I’m in a very minor training session in this at the moment. A number of essentially minor things, coupled with the heat and humidity, have added up to make me feel unsettled. How silly! Lifting my eyes to Jesus is without question the answer. You’d think I’d have that down pat by now, but even at 73 I still need reminders. I need to focus on Christ to have the anticipation of all that has been promised us in Him. That’s the hope that is spoken of here, and I need to walk in it.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me tackle each thing I face with the assurance that You will get me through it, and not let the devil distract me with negative scenarios. That only produces procrastination that benefits nothing! Help me flow with Your Spirit on Your schedule each moment of today, resting, relaxing, and rejoicing in You just as You have told me to do, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Focus on Jesus; July 1, 2022

Hebrews 3:1 Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.

The writer of Hebrews was certainly Christ-centered. 12:2 is the more famous verse to say what he says here. (I personally think the writer was Apollos, but that is largely irrelevant.) The book as a whole is a commentary on how Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Law as our Great High Priest, as he mentions here. The advice to fix our thoughts on Him is good for every person in every age. Christ is timeless, and the truth about Him never goes out of date. It is through Him that we have the “heavenly calling” mentioned here, and only through Him that we are truly holy. That said, in Him we are indeed holy, whatever the devil, or even our own slip-ups, say about us. As Paul said, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) The biggest battleground is in our minds and hearts, so the more we think about Jesus, the easier it is to be yielded to the work of His Spirit in us, transforming us to be like Him.

The Bible is so marvelously connected! My sermons often use too many Scriptures, because it’s all just so interrelated. I am very familiar with the Bible, but I am not immune to distraction and temptation. I would do well to think more about Jesus! When I am meditating on all that He has done for me, the wiles of the devil will have no power over me. I am reminded of a very perceptive cartoon I saw several years ago, from the series, Rose is Rose. A little boy is one of the main characters, and he can see his guardian angel. In the episode I’m thinking of, the angel was talking about the huge amount of things he had to get done in a previous 24 hour period, and in the climactic frame he says, “So I had to pray for 23 hours, and then got it all done.” That’s the way it is. If I am properly focused on Jesus, everything in my life will fall into place, but if not, there will be all sorts of misalignments. Going back to the cartoon, just because I’m praying doesn’t mean I’m not doing other things at the same time. I can and often do pray in the process of doing other things. That’s a major reason I’m thankful for the gift of Tongues. However, my will is always involved; I’ve got to choose to pray. That said, if I do choose to focus on Jesus, which is essentially what prayer is, then He will be totally faithful.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for yesterday and all it held. Thank You for the new tooth. It was shocking on Wednes­day to have a tooth essentially crumble in my mouth, and almost more shocking to have the dentist create a new tooth and get it firmly attached to the original root. I’m grateful for such technology, and I know it comes from You. Help me indeed stay focused on You in every area today, as I do the sermon notes and take care of other things this morning and go to Takeo this afternoon, and then have a Zoom meeting this evening. I pray that in everything I would be Your agent, doing Your will on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Paul’s Ministry; June 30, 2022

Titus 3:3-7 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

You could say that this is the long-form version of Ephesians 2:8-10. One thing that shows that Paul’s letters are trustworthy is their internal consistency; he doesn’t contradict himself. That’s because he wasn’t saying one thing to one group and something different to another. That reflects both honesty and integrity. The Japanese term for integrity uses characters that are very clear: “unity of words and actions.” We sometimes forget that’s what “integrity” means. Paul didn’t try to manipulate people, he simply spoke the truth in love, just as he told others to do. (Ephesians 4:15) That characteristic can be found in a number of great teachers down through the centuries, and when someone deviates from that pattern, we need to pay close attention and be on our guard. For example, Mohammed started his ministry in Mecca, and the part of the Quran that was written then is very accepting of Jews and Christians, “people of the Book.” However, once he moved to Medina and started functioning more as a warlord than a spiritual teacher, his writing in the Quran becomes very aggressive toward Christians and especially Jews. When those who follow him want to seem peaceful, they quote the first half of the Quran, but the official position is that “the later writings are more authoritative,” and that can justify great violence. There is no integrity there! Some people accuse the Bible of the same thing, with the Old Testament being the “violent” part, but they are actually cherry-picking a very few passages that are easily explained by the holiness of God. We need to absorb as much as we can of the whole Word of God in the Bible, so that we may walk in growing faith and personal integrity, just as Paul did.

I have had several people say things about my similarity to Paul, but I don’t know if that’s a compliment. After all, his preaching put people to sleep! (Acts 20:9) However, I do seek to have the sort of integrity Paul displayed, speaking not what is convenient or would please my immediate hearers, but what God is speaking to and through me. I am very aware that my own imagination doesn’t produce God’s results! There are many, many differences between my ministry and that of Paul, but I do seek to please the same Lord he did, and like him, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12) Everything else is secondary.

Father, thank You for the incredible privilege of serving You. Help me do it with integrity indeed, not in my own strength, because that isn’t up to the task, but with Yours, because just as Paul said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Grace; June 29, 2022

Titus 2:11-13 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ

We don’t usually think of God’s grace in these terms, but this in no way conflicts with what the rest of the Bible says about it. What it boils down to is that absolutely everything about God in relation to us is grace; we don’t deserve any of it. The better we understand God’s grace the better we are able to indeed say “No” to ungodliness and worldly lusts, as Paul says here. Considering how Paul described the people of Crete in the first chapter, this was a pretty important thing for him to write to Titus who was ministering to them. Looking at our world today, this passage is no less appropriate for us! The better we understand God’s grace, the freer we are from the temptations and traps of the devil. Far too many people associate grace with license, the permission to do anything we like. That’s a terrible deception of the enemy. When we understand that we really are forgiven, that should inspire us to live lives of total gratitude and obedience. A major problem is that we fail to grasp how bad sin really is. The news supplies us with plenty of horrendous examples of sin, and so long as we don’t go that far, we think we’re OK. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Corinthians 10:12) The standard isn’t other people, it’s Jesus Christ Himself, in all His purity. Any sin disqualifies us from eternal salvation, apart from the grace of God. That’s why God’s grace is indeed amazing, just as John Newton wrote so beautifully. He realized that when the captain of a slave ship could be saved, nothing was impossible for God! We shouldn’t have to be so far gone to grasp the magnitude of God’s grace toward us, and the sooner we do grasp it, the better off we are.

This is intensely personal for me. I have known the facts of salvation since childhood, and I think my commitment was real, though terribly immature. That made it all the more devastating when God, in the magnitude of His grace and mercy, tapped me on the shoulder in 1972 and, when I turned, had a mirror for me to see, just for a moment, the blackness of my own soul. My spiritual growth began from that moment. It would have been nice if that had cured me completely, but my flesh has been remarkably stubborn. It was quite a few years later that I was again mired in a persistent sin, and then God used 2 Peter 1:9 to show me that when I repented, I really was forgiven. God’s grace is indeed amazing! I have the privilege of proclaiming that grace to others, but I need the wisdom and anointing of God to do it right, because it is literally beyond human intellect to grasp it fully. (Philippians 4:7)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You also for making it clear what I am to speak on Sunday! I had expected to speak on more of what You said to me through the conference speakers, but Your plans are always best. Help me be faithful in my obedience, rightly responding to Your incredible grace toward me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Standards of Morality; June 28, 2022

Titus 1:15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.

Well, Paul, why don’t you tell us what you really think of the Cretans! This chapter is unusual in being so negative about a whole group of people, but Paul obviously wasn’t talking about everyone who lived on Crete, because there were people there who had received the Gospel in such numbers that he wanted Titus to “appoint elders in every town.” (verse 5) That said, this was evidently a pretty debased society with low moral expectations. Even in such a society, however, people were getting saved and added to the Family of God, so Titus was to act accordingly. This particular verse is not only true, it is extremely appropriate for American society today. There is a significant section of society – not as big as they want us to think, but significant nonetheless – that indeed throws out all standards of purity and morality, calling light darkness and evil good. They are currently on full display, as restrictions on their “sacrament” of abortion have been legalized. We aren’t to despise the people, but we are to hate what they espouse, holding onto Biblical standards even, or especially, in the face of the now clearly demonic attacks that are coming. We indeed need to take better care of girls in trouble and their children, but killing the children was never the right answer. The circumstances of a life being created can’t remove the value or purity of that life itself. We need to let God show us His purity in all things, and live accordingly.

One of the saddest things to me about the current situation is who is upset. Many are “the usual suspects,” but there are those who grieve me by their response. It all comes down to a worship of hedonism, which has been endemic in mankind since the earliest days. The Old Testament is full of such accounts, and history reinforces the record. I am not to feel, much less act, holier-than-thou, but rather keep praying and loving. As Jude put it, “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear–hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” (Jude 1:22-23) I’m not to let “societal norms” sway me from Biblical standards, but I am always to speak the truth in love.

Father, thank You for the glimpses of sanity that are appearing. Help me be faithful to keep praying, not condemning but extending Your hand of grace, so that as many as will may repent and believe, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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A Faithful Workman; June 27, 2022

2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

This verse is often quoted to young ministers, seeking to set them on the right course for their future ministry, but we tend to forget that it applies equally to old ministers! There is the risk, over time, of taking things for granted, of assuming that you’re doing things right, and so wandering away from dedication to God’s truth. Every preacher must realize that the words they speak apply to them first, and aren’t just for their audience. That sort of deception is what leads into all sorts of sin, particularly sexual and financial. When those are exposed it is a major scandal, but it all starts with a failure to apply this verse to yourself. We tend to worry about the approval of people, and if we can hide our sins from them, avoiding their disapproval, we think we’re OK. This verse is a reminder that our Employer is God, not the church board or anyone else, and it is first of all to Him that we are accountable. Anyone who purports to express or explain the Word of God had better keep learning, humbly realizing that they don’t have the whole picture. The commitment to God needs to be constant and complete. My father had a saying that has been widely quoted in evangelism, but which still applies to the oldest Christian: “Give all you know of yourself to all you know of Christ.” The longer we live, the more we learn about ourselves, and the longer we walk with Christ, the more we learn of Him. Life has a way of showing us that what we thought was total commitment wasn’t so total, because it was made on the basis of incomplete information. That’s why we need to keep renewing our commitment daily, as we grow in knowledge of ourselves and of the Lord.

I had the incredible privilege of being raised by the man who created that slogan, and he lived by it. In my observation he kept growing all his life, learning more of himself and more of his Lord and maintaining full commitment. I could do no better. Going back to this verse from Paul, it’s been many years now since I realized that my ultimate goal in life and in eternity is to hear my Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21) For that to happen I’ve got to apply this verse fully and consistently, not with my own wisdom and power, because those are totally inadequate, but with God’s, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me maintain the humility that is so essential, so that I will be able to hear and obey You at all times in all ways, for Your will to be done on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Spirit of God; June 26, 2022

2 Timothy 1:7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

This morning I’m speaking once again on receiving God’s Holy Spirit, and here He has arranged that this is in the morning’s reading! I am often impressed at how God arranges things like that, even when I’m the one drawing up the Scripture list each month. It’s confirmation both that God knows everything ahead of time and that He can use even me to accomplish His purposes. This particular verse is one I have used countless times in ministering to various people, because fear is a major tool/weapon of the devil. He’s certainly used it a lot in relation to COVID! However, as John pointed out, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) When we are surrendered to fear, we aren’t surrendered to the Holy Spirit. There is literally no end to the things that can provoke us to fear, so we need to be consciously submitted to the Holy Spirit. However, we aren’t to be afraid of being afraid, either! Fear as such is a natural reaction to protect us from danger, but misusing something God intended for good is the devil’s forte. As David put it so simply and clearly, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3) When he wrote that Psalm he was quite literally in danger for his life, so that was an important and practical choice for him to make. We need to do the same!

Of course this applies to me as much as it does to anyone. Just because I have a lot of Scriptures at my fingertips doesn’t mean I always apply them consistently in my life! Given how restless I was in the night, I’d say that I’m not fully relaxed about this morning’s service. That’s because of who will and who won’t be here. One strong church member won’t be here because of health issues, we’ll be having a pastor and his wife as visitors, and a man to whom I have witnessed will be here, perhaps entering a church for the first time in his life. I’m most concerned about the last individual, because this could set his course for eternity. We have Communion today, and I don’t want him to misunderstand and feel excluded from the elements, as has happened with other people in the past. I can’t make it all go right, so I’ve got to remember that I serve the One who can, and speak and act with grace and assurance so that His plans may be fulfilled.

Father, thank You for Your grace on so many levels. Help me indeed reject fear whatever its disguise and rather choose to be filled with Your Spirit, allowing You to use me however You like for the salvation and blessing of others and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Object of our Hope; June 25, 2022

1 Timothy 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

We’re getting a lesson in the practicality of this verse right now. Inflation makes all finances worth less, and on top of that, some companies like Disney have lost half their stock value in six months. Wealth is definitely uncertain! Sadly, many people, both those with finances and those without, put their hope in it. Those with fat investment accounts tend to rely on what they have, and those with minimal finances think, “If I only had X amount.” Paul is pointing out that both attitudes are foolish. Verse 10 of this chapter – the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil – is far more famous, but this verse too is extremely practical. We forget the story of Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac, and God providing a ram instead. There Abraham declared, “Yahweh Yireh” (commonly mispronounced as Jehovah Jirah) – the Lord Will Provide. (Genesis 22:14) When we have that assurance, reiterated by Paul to the Philippians (Philippians 4:19), we have our hope in the right place. After all, why trust in the gift when the Giver is available?

This is very timely for me. Various factors have combined to make our financial picture more secure than I can recall it being in the 53 years of our marriage. That’s not at all to say that we are what this world – or Paul, for that matter – would call wealthy, but there is the temptation to trust in what we have been given, rather than in the One who has provided it all. It is nice not to be concerned about such sudden expenses as inspection and taxes on both our vehicles right together, but my response must be gratitude and not pride. I’ve got to remember that it could all be gone in a moment, but God is forever, and in Christ, so am I. I am indeed not to love money, but rather love the One who loved me enough to die for me. As Paul wrote to the Romans, how could He then not give me everything I need? (Romans 8:32) I am to be anxious for nothing, (Philippians 4:6) but keep my trust and obedience in the Creator of the Universe, who loves me personally and keeps track of even how many hairs I have on my head. (Luke 12:7)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You that Your provision certainly isn’t limited to the financial. It was a delightful shock this morning to discover that the mole on my chest that was scheduled to be biopsied on Monday is now completely gone! Your provision and Your plans are indeed perfect, whatever they look like to us in the moment. Help me walk in full fellowship and agreement with You throughout today and each day, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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