Living Out Salvation; February 7, 2023

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Verse 12 has provoked a lot of discussion over the centuries since it was written, and verse 13 has been taken as comfort for an equal period, but I think we need to take the two together to understand either one. Christian life isn’t passive; we are actively involved, and we don’t want to get it wrong. However, we don’t need to be anxious about it because God does the “heavy lifting.” It’s kind of like I tell people about marriage: it’s an incredible blessing, but nothing is automatic; you have to work at it. Many people think of salvation as something God has done  entirely on His own, which is in a sense true enough, but we need to be intentional and appreciative in our reception of it. We aren’t “entitled” to salvation! People who expect the world to be presented to them on a silver tray are never happy, and Christians who expect everything to be rainbows and butterflies are the same way. There can be no salvation apart from the grace of God, as Paul so memorably proclaimed in Ephesians 2:8-9, but we are to be active participants in that salvation, seeking always to grow in our faith and obedience, recognizing and doing all the things God desires of us. (Ephesians 2:10)

I have used verse 13 as part of my faith declarations for over 40 years now, but my understanding of verse 12 has really grown in that period. I have no fear of somehow “missing heaven,” but I don’t want to miss any opportunities to serve my Lord while I’m here. When I am in tune with Him I discover that He has set up “appointments” for me all over the place. Yesterday I was at a clinic for physical therapy for my wrist, and one of our close neighbors here at the church spotted me and wanted to come over and talk, to the great surprise of the clinic staff. We have interacted with him for the 24 years the church building has been here, and I borrow his tiller to work my vegetable garden, but he’s never been to a worship service, much less committed himself to Christ. He’s well past 80 now, but I don’t think God’s given up on him and I shouldn’t either. I don’t know what appointments the Lord has set up for me today, but meeting them is part of why He chose to save me, so I need to be active in my obedience, for His glory.

Father, thank You for Your incredible grace. Thank You for the privilege of serving You. Help me indeed fulfill every purpose for which You saved me, drawing others into Your family as well, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Christ’s Attitude; February 6, 2023

Philippians 2:5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

The Japanese links the magnificent description of Christ’s attitude in verses 6-11 explicitly with what Paul has said in verses 3-4. That’s not to say that those are different, but I like the way this verse stands by itself in English. We should never forget that Jesus Christ is our example, our standard, if you will. When we remember that, all room for personal pride is gone, because we measure up to that standard only to the degree that we abide in Him, fully submitted to His Spirit. We have no room to complain about anything that is asked of us, because whatever it is it couldn’t approach what He did for us. We tend to complain about all sorts of things, when Jesus left the glory of heaven to become a human being for our sake, and it wasn’t just for a casual visit. He put up with diapers and skinned knees and all the mess of being a child, and then did hard physical labor as a carpenter, sweat and all. On top of that, when He started His public ministry He was not only opposed by the authorities, even His own family thought He was crazy. Betrayed by one of those closest to Him, He was put through a humiliating show trial and then scourged. A significant percentage of those scourged died from the shock and blood loss involved. And then He was crucified, stripped naked and nailed to a cross in the cruelest manner possible. Some martyrs today go through some pretty horrible stuff, but it still doesn’t top what Jesus went through for us. That He was willing to go through that to procure salvation for us is the attitude that we should always keep in our awareness, so that by His grace it may also be reflected in us.

I come back to this from time to time when I am tempted to complain about some part of my life experience. I could never top Jesus! The Bible doesn’t touch on it, but He also suffered loss, since Joseph had evidently died by the point He started His public ministry. I wonder if He wished for permission to heal Joseph, even though it was not yet time for Him to be revealed? He never married, though He was a healthy man, so He dealt with all the issues of chaste sexuality. Any way I look at it, I’ve got nothing to complain about! However, I’m not to dwell on what He suffered so much as glory in what He has provided for me. His suffering was certainly not in vain, and He will not waste any suffering I go through either. We not only have the promise of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” we also have Paul’s comments about “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill 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) Precisely what that second reference means has been hotly debated, but I do know that if anything I suffer could be useful to God in His plan, then I’m willing, even if I don’t see how it works. I indeed want to have the attitude of Jesus Christ.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the small taste of suffering I am having. It doesn’t compare to what Cathy has been and is going through, but it’s a blessing. Help me also submit such things as my frustration with computer issues to You, knowing that they too are totally insignificant compared to what You put up with in children who won’t listen to You. May I indeed rest, relax, and rejoice, just as You have told me to do, whatever is going on around me. Thank You. Praise God!

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Life and Death; February 5, 2023

Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

As I was reading on from verse 12, various things spoke to me, but then when I got to this verse I knew it was what I was to write on. It is a very famous verse, widely used in funerals and otherwise, but I don’t know that we think deeply enough about it. In the first place, what does it mean that “For me to live is Christ?” Paul speaks many times of how we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, and how Christ is in us. We are to live lives so in tune with Him that our presence means He is present, as we speak His words and manifest His character, His heart. The more we look at ourselves the more impossible that seems to be, because we are certainly flawed vessels. That’s good for our humility. However, as Paul famously wrote, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) The more we look to Jesus, the more He is manifested in and through us. (Hebrews 12:2) But then we get to, “to die is gain.” Our flesh screams in rebellion at this, but that’s the point: in death we leave the flesh behind. Just think about it. How would you like to discard everything you don’t like about yourself? That’s what physical death means for the believer. In fact, the prospect is so glorious that sometimes the devil twists it to try to get people to hurry it along, but the timing is always to be left in the hands of the Creator. For the believer, death is not a tragedy. It can certainly be a tragedy for those left behind, and it is the ultimate tragedy if the person is not a believer, but for the person who is in Christ, it is the ultimate graduation, release, and reward. That certainly qualifies as gain!

I’ve had experiences on both sides of this. I have experienced God speaking through me numerous times, but one time when I gave a salvation invitation at the close of a worship service I told people to come forward and take my hand as though they were taking Jesus’ hand, and a visitor thought I was claiming to be Jesus, never came back, and wrote me a strong letter of rebuke! I need to be careful of my terminology! However, I have experienced going into a room and the people there encountering the presence of the Lord from that moment. I am very much a jar of clay, and cracked at that, but Christ can shine through the cracks! As far as my experience of death goes, when my father didn’t wake up after heart surgery at 64 I felt, and still feel, that it was a special blessing to him from the Lord. When my mother had terminal cancer at 72, I wept and asked the Lord to take her home, but after He did, I felt no need of tears. My wife has numerous physical issues, and as much as I would like to keep her with me, when the Lord says it’s time, I know she will be more than delighted to go back to where she once visited 49 years ago this month. For myself, I certainly want to stick around to support my wife, and I do delight to proclaim God’s Word, but I know without question that leaving this physical body behind will be gain indeed.

Father, thank You for this reminder. My current pain from my injury brings it into focus! Help me indeed live as Christ for as long as You want me to be here, speaking Your Word and drawing people into Your kingdom, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Blessings in Trials; February 4, 2023

Philippians 1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you.

It is hardly surprising that essentially the entire book of Philippians came up when I was researching Scriptures on The Joy of the Lord. For the next few days we’ll essentially be reading through this letter of Paul to a congregation with which he obviously had a very special relationship. It is worth noting how this congregation started, as recorded in Acts 16. I feel sure Paul felt it was more than worth it to suffer the beating and imprisonment he had there in order to gain such a group of spiritual children. Often our times of greatest trial bring us the greatest blessings. After all, Jesus’ scourging, crucifixion, and death brought about salvation that is available to all mankind! Recently I was talking with a vibrant Christian who was sharing how they had gone through a period of extreme trial, including homelessness, and then said, “That was an amazing year. It wasn’t much fun at the time, but it was amazing.” We are touched and blessed to hear the stories of all sorts of saints, but we don’t necessarily think about how it was for them to live through all of that.

God doesn’t pick on us. I have no idea how many times I’ve said that to others, but it’s something I need to remember consistently myself. Right now I’m going through a “painful trial” myself, but I am already recognizing some of the blessings God has planned for me in it. Yesterday I got the stitches out from the surgery on my arm to repair the break in my wrist. The x-rays show that things are going well as far as the break itself goes, but the tissues all around it, going all the way to above my elbow, are still very tender and painful. I have no way of knowing how much of that is from the original fall and injury and how much is from the manipulation involved in the surgery, but that makes no difference in the level of pain. The thing is, it doesn’t matter. This is a situation God has allowed in His gracious plan for me, and I am to be grateful. I am learning how to let others do things for me, as well as how to work through pain to accomplish what needs to be done. My focus on Christ and His kingdom has been sharpened, just as Peter noted. (1 Peter 4:1) My pride has been taken down another notch, and that’s always a good thing. I know that this is yet another thing for which I will be praising God in heaven, and I am blessed if I start now!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You indeed for Your overflowing, unending grace toward us, even when the circumstances of the moment aren’t pleasant. May my response to everything You allow in my life point people to You, so that they too may experience Your eternal salvation, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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In Step with the Spirit; February 3, 2023

Galatians 5:25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

When everything but the list of the sins of the flesh is underlined in my Bible in both languages, from verse 13 through the end of the chapter, it’s not easy to settle on just one verse! The list of the fruit of the Spirit in verses 22-23 is something I memorized in both languages as a child. However, I think this verse resonates with me most strongly at the moment. For once I really like the turn of phrase in the NIV. The Japanese says, “led by the Spirit,” but “keep in step” is something I can really identify with. Our lives generally have a rhythm to them, patterns we settle into without thinking much about them. To me this verse says to let the Holy Spirit set the rhythm, and then follow it. Making conscious decisions about everything quickly becomes exhausting. I think this verse is telling us to let the Spirit be our “autopilot,” our “self-driving mode,” and to get our flesh out of the driver’s seat.

I identify so strongly with “keeping in step” because I was first in a marching band in the 4th grade, and was in various bands on through college. By the time I got into the Army, marching was so natural to me that I was quickly chosen to call cadence for the other recruits in basic training. However, I have also learned that keeping in step with the people around you isn’t nearly as beneficial or important as keeping in step with the Spirit. Around the time I was in college the idea of “marching to the beat of a different drummer” was seen as something of a romantic ideal, and was claimed by many of the hippies of the day. Sadly, I could see that their “drummer” was just the devil in a different outfit. Right now, dealing with physical injury, I am very aware of how demanding  of attention the flesh can be. Pain can make me self-centered and short with those around me. That doesn’t feel good! I certainly don’t want to add emotional or even spiritual pain to my physical pain. My current circumstances are further training in ignoring the other “beats” around me in order to keep in step with the Spirit.

Father, thank you for this time of training. I pray that I would not rebel against it, but rather learn all that You are wanting to teach me, to make me a more obedient son and better servant, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Speaking Truth; February 2, 2023

Gal 4:16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

This jumped out at me because it is such a common problem these days. People lose their jobs from stating simple truths of biology! Jesus said of the devil that “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!” (John 8:44-45) It might be some comfort to realize that Jesus too had the problem of not being believed because He was telling the truth! However, that’s no reason to bow to the lies. We are always to speak in love, (Ephesians 4:15) but that doesn’t mean we are to speak the devil’s lies after him the way some are demanding we do these days. For example, it is not love to tell an addict they don’t have a problem, or that their problem is the fault of someone else. Some branches of Psychology seem to have turned into full-time lie-generating machines! The answers to problems are never found in lies. Thankfully there seems to be a groundswell of reaction against all the lies, particularly as more and more lies are being exposed, but we must be careful to always speak the truth in love, and not vindictively. That said, we must also remember another thing Jesus said: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21) “Light” here is synonymous with truth, and some people are never going to like it. Regardless, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light [truth]; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5-7) Truth is not an option for Christians.

This naturally applies as much to me as it does to anyone else. I was thankfully raised by a father who held Absolute Honesty as one of his guiding principles, and I think it stuck. That’s certainly not to say that I’ve never lied, not to mention all the times I’ve been mistaken, but it does mean that I’ve never been comfortable with less than the truth. That raises the danger of spiritual pride, and that’s a tool of the devil too! I’ve got to remember that I don’t have a monopoly on the truth, and also that something doesn’t become true just because I say it. I’ve got to keep seeking more of God, which means seeking more truth, but I have the comfort of His promise: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

Father, thank You for this reminder and encouragement. Help me indeed walk in Your truth all the time in every way, expressing it in Your love for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Generosity; February 1, 2023

2 Corinthians 8:2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

I have heard reports of this sort of thing countless times. Even my own daughters experienced it on short-term mission trips to Southeast Asia in high school, when the people to whom they were ministering were shockingly generous in their hospitality. The thing is, generosity is a matter of the heart, not the resources. Paul makes that clear in verse 12: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” One of the many ironies of politics is that the people who are most in favor of the government taxing “the rich” in order to “take care of the poor” are least generous with their personal resources. Study after statistical study has shown that conservatives are the most generous personally, in direct contrast to what they are accused of by the Left. Even within churches, sometimes the “great benefactors” give less proportionately than some who are barely getting by, as Jesus pointed out to His disciples while watching people at the temple offering box. (Luke 21:1-4) God is never in trouble for resources, financial or otherwise. His children sometimes are, so He delights to pour blessings through one to another, and everyone in the process is blessed.

We have been on the receiving end of this recently. Since Sunday, each day people have showed up at our door with food, in one form or another. Today we are being taken out to lunch, and who knows what will happen in the days to come? It almost feels like they want us to get fat! However, seeing the joy on their faces is a real blessing to us, and we don’t want to squelch that joy. God is indeed our Provider and participating in His provision is a blessing, whatever our specific role might be.

Father, thank You for Your overwhelming generosity that Paul referred to in verse nine. Thank You for indeed meeting all our needs as we seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness. (Matthew 6:33) Help us all delight to be part of the flow of Your provision, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Christian Living; January 31, 2023

2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

This isn’t a condemnation, but rather a strong encouragement. At the same time, it should bring conviction to a lot of Christians today, because there is so much in current society to contaminate our body and spirit. We aren’t to be legalistic, but we are to be careful. In a sense, this is another way of saying what James said so famously: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) Right after that James went on to say, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10) Pride is always a major snare for us. When we think we can live holy lives on our own, we quickly lose sight of what holiness is. It is only in Christ that we are truly holy, but thankfully, He wants us to abide in Him even more than we want to do so. If people in the world see no difference in our lives and theirs, they will have no impetus to change. And frankly, various studies have shown that there really is very little difference in the lifestyles of professed Christians in the US and professed non-Christians. That’s tragic. We need to take this admonition of Paul to heart, and indeed live as children of God.

I am preaching to myself here. People think I live this perfectly holy lifestyle, but I had a bit of a check on that recently. While I was in the hospital I was using my wife’s tablet computer, and I noticed that YouTube was giving me different suggestions than I was used to. Then it dawned on me that the algorithm weights to what you click on, and I realized “that looks interesting” isn’t sufficient justification by itself to click on something. That’s why it’s called “click bait!” The devil is the expert at bait, and I need to be both alert and submitted to the Holy Spirit, or I’m all too likely to take the bait.

Father, thank You for this important reminder. Help me live fully in all that You have provided for me, holiness and everything else, so that I may be pleasing to You and attractive to those who need to draw close to You. Thank You. Praise God! Thank You also that I was able to get out of the hospital yesterday, earlier than expected. May I not need such drastic “interventions” in the future!

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Living Testimony; January 30, 2023

2 Corinthians 6:3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.

In one sense Christians are not to care what people think of them, because we live for the approval of God, not of man. However, we are to be careful to live so as not to discredit the message we proclaim. Paul touches on this in several of his letters, dealing particularly with eating meat that might have been bought at a market outside a pagan temple. In this chapter he gets into things that are much closer to home for most people today. Are we willing to endure beatings and the like for the sake of the Gospel? Such are common in places like India and Nigeria, progressing all the way to martyrdom. The thing is, we need to be demonstrating the truth of what we say, that Jesus is supreme and His love is better than life itself. (Psalm 63:3) When our heads are on straight – when our faith is on straight – then our lives will shine brightly (Matthew 5:16) and people will want to know why. (1 Peter 3:15) Failure to do so will make people think that all religions are equally meaningless.

My wife and I haven’t encountered persecution exactly, but we have had our share of difficulties of one sort and another. How we respond to those is being watched carefully. Cathy has been an inspiration to many because of her response to back surgeries and Parkinson’s Disease, and several people have commented on how I have been a support to her. Right now, I’m in the hospital with a fractured wrist, and she doesn’t have that level of support. This is very much a time for us both to recognize that God’s grace is all we really need, and allow Him to guide us in appropriating that grace. Yesterday I watched a video of Mark Lowry, and was really blessed. He quoted Gloria Gaither, who once said, “God shows up in the interruptions of life, and not so often in our plans.” That is true indeed! My current hospitalization was certainly unexpected, but it came at a point when my schedule is unusually open, demonstrating God’s grace. We’ve got to open our hearts to receive all that God wants to teach us, to give us in this time, not just for ourselves but also for all the people who are watching us.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s something I’ve known in theory for a long time, but I keep needing help in practical application. I ask You to enable both Cathy and me to keep our eyes on Jesus, and rest, relax, and rejoice in You, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Forgiveness; January 29, 2023

2 Corinthians 2:10-11 If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven–if there was anything to forgive–I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

We tend to take the whole matter of forgiveness far too lightly. Jesus said that if we fail to forgive others, we won’t be forgiven by God, (Matthew 6:14-15) and after His resurrection He gave us authority to forgive on a heavenly scale. (John 20:21) That deserves a lot more thought than we give it! As Paul recognized, the devil knows all about that, and he works overtime to trip us up, to get us to nurse unforgiveness or to overlook things that need to be corrected. We need to be alert as Paul was. I couldn’t begin to count up all the train wrecks I’ve seen in this area. As I’ve written before, Japanese have a linguistic problem in this, because they have two characters that are read the same way, but the one that is used commonly actually means permission. The average person on the street doesn’t even know the character that means Biblical forgiveness. I find that very significant, because the two halves of that character indicate “blood document.” You can’t get more Biblical than that! And that is compounded by the word/character for sin being most commonly used for crime, so people who haven’t broken human laws don’t understand how they have broken God’s laws.

And that is the culture in which I live and minister. My own spiritual warfare is very involved with forgiveness! One incident a couple of years ago caused a Japanese pastor to say that I had more faith than he did, because of a situation in which I forgave. However, I’m never to take my ability to forgive as a done deal. I am to seek the Spirit’s guidance in every situation, not permitting evil but not failing to forgive. I don’t want to be deceived by the devil, and I don’t want those to whom I minister to be deceived either.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You also for enabling me to type it one-handed! Help me release everything into Your more than capable hands, particularly while one of mine isn’t really available. Thank You. Praise God!

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