The Law of Love; February 26, 2020

Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Much of the Church needs a powerful reminder of this verse. We tend either to bind ourselves and each other with all sorts of rules, or we throw it all off and indulge our flesh. Sometimes we manage to do both at the same time! The whole letter to the Galatians is an effort to counteract the evils of legalism, but that doesn’t mean we are to indulge in our every fleshly whim. As the next verse points out, the law of love covers the whole gamut of human interaction. If we use one another (eros) we are certainly not expressing God’s love (agape). We are complicated beings, and often enough we don’t understand our own motives. However, the more we open ourselves up to the love of God and are obedient to Him because of our love for Him, the more His love is going to flow through us to those around us. It’s like I tell couples when I’m doing marriage counseling. Women being told they are to “submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24) may want to rebel, but men being told to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25) is much more strict! We tend to think of love as emotion, but Jesus said the greatest and second commandments were both to love, and that is a far cry from simple emotion. (Matthew 22:36-40) Genuine love is the perfect check on our fleshly impulses, and it teaches us the self-control we so often lack.

I was incredibly blessed to grow up in a household that exemplified Godly love in many ways. I have no question that watching my parents is what made me so eager to get married, and not just play around, at a young age. My Japanese friends are floored to find out I got married at 20, but it’s lasted over 50 years! However, marital love, as wonderful as it is, is just part of our life experience, and just one of the many expressions of love that we are called to give. I am still learning to serve others in love, but it is a blessed course of study! I seek to teach others this Law of Love, but we can be remarkably dense at times. I tell people that selfishness never leads to genuine happiness, but the devil tells them that self-indulgence equals happiness, and they believe him rather than me. I am to keep speaking the truth in love, demonstrating God’s love in all that I am, and let the Holy Spirit take it from there.

Father, thank You for Your incredible grace toward me. Help me be a good steward of that grace, allowing it to be expressed through me to all those around me, so that many may be rescued from the lies of the devil and brought into the freedom of Your Spirit, (2 Corinthians 3:17) for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Death and Life; February 25, 2020

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This is the most famous single verse in Galatians, certainly, and one of the more famous in the whole New Testament, and rightly so. When we rightly grasp what it says and apply it in our own lives, it can be transforming. Paul touched on this in Romans 6:11. “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The thing is, when we are dead, temptation can’t touch us. We all have areas of particular weakness, but when we are dead, those disappear. Life in Christ is paradoxical from many standpoints, such as serving to be great, (Mark 10:43) so we really need to have our minds renewed. (Romans 12:2) The disciple of Jesus Christ is in no way suicidal, but they know that death is better than life (Philippians 1:21) and, as this verse says, they are a “dead man walking.” To someone without faith that can seem terribly morbid, but for someone with assurance of eternal life, it is glorious! When we understand that we have already died through the cross of Christ and are resurrected in Him, physical death holds no terrors. As a result, life itself holds no terrors! We fear all sorts of things, but the more we really grasp that in Christ we are already dead, the less those things can shake us.

This is something I have grown in over the years, and I continue to do so. Having already outlived my father by over seven years, I know that each day is a gift with a purpose, to be used as my Lord intends. Since I still “live in the flesh,” I am to be careful that I indeed “live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” As Paul wrote to the Philippians, my personal greatest blessing would be to leave this body behind and go be with my Lord, but my still being in my body means I’ve got work to do to bless others. I would be delighted if I didn’t keep making mistakes in this body, even hurting others at times by the things I say and do, but God’s grace is sufficient for that as well. Right now the world is going into something of a panic over the COVID-19 virus, but I find myself pretty unconcerned, even though there are now cases on this same island of Kyushu. I read reports from Dennis Balcombe and others that this is causing many to come to Christ in China, and I pray that the same would be true in Japan and elsewhere. When I am already dead, what happens to me is entirely God’s business! I am not to be careless, but be a good steward of this body and all it contains in terms of abilities and the like, but when I have this verse firmly established in my spirit, nothing can shake me.

Father, thank You for all that You have been doing and are doing, both in me and around me. Various developments are giving me deep peace and joy. May I be an open channel of that peace and joy to those around me, so that all the tricks of the devil may be exposed and defeated and Your kingdom come indeed, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Benediction; February 24, 2020

2 Corinthians 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

I have no idea how many times I have spoken this benediction, but it is still meaningful every time. Unpacked, the meaning is very deep indeed. In the first place, grace is absolutely central to everything, because we don’t deserve any of the good stuff God provides for us. I often say that without God’s grace we can’t take a single breath, because it’s true. Jesus exemplified grace, because there was no reason for Him personally to become a human being and live our life with us, much less go to the cross and take our death on Himself. That is amazing grace indeed! Speaking out that grace is an appropriate benediction, because the moment I fail to extend God’s grace to others, I step out of it myself. That’s what Jesus was talking about when He followed up the Lord’s Prayer with saying that if we fail to forgive, we won’t be forgiven. (Matthew 6:14-15) Then we get to the love of God, which motivates the grace that allows us to exist. When I speak this benediction I specify, “Father God,” because in Japan it can be very confusing which god you are speaking of. Some people have sadly not experienced the love of their human father, but our Creator is very much the Father of us all, and His love is absolutely perfect, if our hearts are open to receive it. Finally we have mention of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Here too I embellish slightly, specifying “intimate fellowship.” That’s because for so many people the Holy Spirit is simply an abstract concept, something they accept in theory but not as part of their daily lives. We need to discover that the Holy Spirit is indeed Immanuel, God with us, in a fellowship that is more intimate than that of a husband and wife. When we experience that, it colors everything else, giving it all tints of heaven. Those who have been to heaven and come back say that the colors there are beyond anything we experience on earth, and walking in step, in fellowship with the Holy Spirit can help us see heaven on earth, quite literally. All of this makes this an appropriate benediction indeed, something we should desire for everyone we meet, because it will transform their lives as nothing else ever could.

As I speak this benediction over others, I need to be careful to walk in it myself. Particularly with something this familiar, it’s easy to just say the words and be done with it, rather than letting those words operate in my own heart and mind. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I need constantly to be aware of the Father’s love and the fact that everything I have and am is because of grace. I’m not there 100% yet! I still get caught in traps of the enemy, being self-centered and losing sight of what is true and good. Being aware of my own foolishness should keep me humble and allow me to transmit the grace, love, and fellowship God provides to me, to those around me for our mutual blessing.

Father, thank You for this reminder. This morning I snapped at my wife and opened a door of attack by the enemy against her and against me. I ask Your forgiveness and cleansing, that we may stand together against the enemy on every front, based on our full submission to You, so that he may indeed flee and Your plans be manifested in our life, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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JOY; February 23, 2020

2 Corinthians 12:19 Everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.

This should be true for every minister of the Gospel, but sadly, ministers struggle with being self-centered just like everyone else. I think the majority at least have this as a goal, but just as Paul himself discovered, perfection is not for this earth. (Philippians 3:12-14) We are continually growing, and that is as it should be. If there were any true “paragons of perfection” walking around, it could be discouraging to those who recognize their faults! The marvelous truth is that in building others up, we ourselves are built up. Building others up helps us overcome our own self-centeredness, which opens us up to receiving the joy of the Lord. Quite a few years ago someone came up with JOY as an acronym for the priorities that indeed lead to true joy: Jesus, Others, Yourself. I am constantly having to point out to people that selfishness never leads to happiness; at best, it leads to temporary pleasure. Being in full-time ministry is something of an intensive course in that very truth. There is nothing more satisfying than leading someone first to repentance and faith and then into committed discipleship, but that requires committed discipleship on the part of the minister as well. God desires and intends joy for us, (John 16:24) but the more we focus on getting and grasping joy for its own sake, the more elusive it becomes. That’s just as Jesus said about life itself. “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)

I have experienced this from all directions. I have had times of being focused on myself, and they have never done much good for me or for anyone else. I have also experienced the joy of seeing others blossom as I have ministered to them. In marriage, I have experienced what I tell every couple before I will do their wedding: the more I focus on my own happiness, the more it flees from me. The more I focus on my wife’s happiness, the happier I become. Recently the Lord has given me great joy in seeing one of my spiritual children escape from a trap of the devil. I think I’m happier than I would be if I were the one doing it! The more I give myself to my Lord through giving myself to those around me, the more blessed I will be.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all that You are doing, in individuals and in this church as a whole. May we indeed grow to be and do all that You desire and intend, drawing many into Your kingdom for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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False Apostles; February 22, 2020

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Virtually any organization of any size, particularly one that is intended to accomplish good, has “enemy agents” in it. Such people act to sabotage what should be going on. We see that in the US government right now, with “deep state operatives” trying to block the various moves toward a more free, prosperous, and righteous nation. That is serious enough, but it is even more serious when it happens in the Church, the Body of Christ. In a biological body, it would be called a cancer, because cancer cells masquerade as normal, healthy cells so that the immune system won’t attack them. One of the most effective lines of cancer therapy research is aimed at training the immune system to recognize cancer cells for what they are, and attack them. When that is successful, there is no need for poison (chemotherapy) or fire (radiation). Paul is attempting to do exactly that for the Body of Christ, telling us to be on our guard and recognize false apostles for what they are. Jesus also cautioned us about exactly the same thing. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-20) We are not to be deceived by smooth words, but look for the evidence, or lack of it, of the Holy Spirit in their lives, not in flashy gifts but in consistent, loving, holy living.

This is of great importance to me as the pastor of a congregation. I am to be careful who I allow to speak, and whose teaching I take in myself, not to mention needing to be careful that I don’t fit into the “false apostle” category myself! Here, everyone sees how I live, day in and day out, but when I go elsewhere they don’t have that background. I am never to claim more than I have been given by the Lord, and seek to do His will alone at all times in everything. We have seen people who were acting as “enemy agents” under various disguises, and I am not to be gullible. At the same time, I am not to be anxious, but know that it is Christ who builds His Church, (Matthew 16:18) and keep myself available for however He wants to use me in that.

Father, thank You for how You have protected us over the years. We have had a few occasional close calls! May we be true to Christ and grow as You intend, being and doing what You desire and nothing else, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Provision; February 21, 2020

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 section on giving is true and important, but it has been used and abused by so many people who were in “ministry” for the money that it almost leaves a bad taste in my mouth. People who want you to give “seed money” to them so they can buy a better private jet are an abomination. That’s not to say that private jets don’t have their legitimate uses, even for nonprofit ministries, but it is to say that pleading for money to acquire them disgraces the name of Jesus before the world. That said, some people fail to give to the Church because they don’t really believe this verse. God is not stingy, and He has a literally infinite supply of everything. We need to remember that when Paul wrote this section he wasn’t seeking funds for himself personally, but to be able to take those funds to Jerusalem to help the believers in Judea. What he says in this verse focuses not on giving itself, but on God’s supply and the purpose for it, and that supply certainly isn’t limited to money. As Paul says, it’s all grace in all things at all times. That does include finances, but it also includes wisdom and knowledge and patience and insight and healing and endurance and strength, and the list can go on and on. And the purpose of all that is that so we will “abound in every good work.” God doesn’t give us stuff of any sort just to inflate us (or our bank account) but to equip us to do the work he has for us to do. As Paul wrote so memorably to the Ephesians, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) If we feel our supply is limited, we need to check and see if we are using what we have already been given in the way God intends. Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:13-30) is very explicit on that account, almost frighteningly so. We are not to sit on God’s provision in any area, but rather seek Him to know how He wants us to use it, and be faithful to follow through.

Any time I talk about God’s provision I remember a period of special blessing that He gave us years ago. I had resigned a pastorate over the race issue, and for the next nine months I had only intermittent, temporary employment of various sorts. One thing God showed us in that time was that we didn’t need money exactly, we needed what we would normally get with money, and He provided it: places to stay, heating oil, food, gasoline, and on and on. During that time He also provided various opportunities for ministry, and trained us in the grace of prayer with fasting. It was a blessed time indeed! It wasn’t always fun at the time, any more than my basic training in the Army was always fun, but it grew us and equipped us for our ministry here in Omura, which followed that period. We have learned that if we are listening obediently to God, the provision of every sort is there. As the refrigerator magnet says, “Where God guides, He provides.”

Father, thank You indeed for Your abundant provision. Even I tend to doubt it at times, and I certainly know better! Thank You for the new missionary family from Taiwan, and thank You for the physical healing the father in that family currently needs, because You have already provided it. Thank You for Your grace poured out in other situations as well, more than I could list. May we all trust You fully, not holding anything back, because we know that Your supply is unlimited, and there is much work to do. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Handling Money; February 20, 2020

2 Corinthians 8:21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.

In various places the Bible talks about not fearing people and their opinions, but this would seem to be an exception. It’s not a matter of fear, but rather avoiding any opportunity for accusation. These people were to be involved in handling money, specifically, other people’s offerings, and Paul was very rightly concerned that everything be aboveboard. As Jesus said, we are not of the world, but we are still in the world. (John 17:14-18) Not every rule and expectation of the world is wrong! Particularly when it comes to money, we are very prone to temptation in various ways, so there are social rules and even laws about how we handle it. The Church should not be more lax than society in general here. We have more reason to trust each other, but there are inadvertent errors that should be guarded against, and no one is immune to temptation. Anytime there is a scandal of any sort in the Church, the devil uses it to try to discredit the whole thing, and we are not to give him any opportunity to do that.

This is very close to home for me, because right now I am dealing with the church finances because of the simple fact that we don’t have anyone else to do it at this point. I am as careful as possible, but not only is it something I would rather not deal with, it lays us open to potential suspicion. Over the years we have had several church treasurers leave the church because of the stress of the position. People don’t deal well with trusting God for finances! Part of the problem may be that I am the biggest single donor to the church, since we don’t have many households to be agreed on tithing. One very earnest treasurer, whose husband is not a believer, said to me, “We couldn’t survive if you weren’t paying rent to the church every month.” I said that I was aware of that, but it didn’t bother me. It obviously bothered her, and she ended up leaving the church. I would be thrilled if the Lord brought several tithing families into the church, as well as someone with the time and the ability to be treasurer, but in the mean time I am to be scrupulously honest and faithful, trusting God to supply what we need, when and how we need it.

Father, this isn’t something I think about very often. Thank You for meeting our every need. I pray that I would place no stumbling blocks in anyone’s way, but would be pure and honest before you, before the people around me, and before the law, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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