Deception; June 24, 2022

1 Timothy 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.

Once again I’m presented with a chapter in which every verse is underlined, because it’s all so important and relevant! After prayer, I decided to start with this first verse, because we’re certainly seeing its fulfillment today. The degree of insanity that is being accepted in society in general, and even in many churches, is mind boggling. Who would have imagined that fundamental biology would be denied in the name of “tolerance” and “acceptance?” Deceiving spirits are certainly running rampant! I just finished a science fiction novel that was badly marred by projecting “gender fluidity” and “pronouns of choice” onto the future society that was portrayed. It styled itself after Greek tragedy, but there wasn’t much actual science presented! It would be bad enough if that were just secular society, but it becomes tragic indeed when it infiltrates the Church. We have got to speak the truth in love, but that certainly means speaking the truth, and not being silent in the face of blatant lies and deceptions. The thing is, the devil is more clever than we are, so we’ve got to rely on God’s wisdom and not our own. Thinking we are wise in and of ourselves is a huge trap, and indeed, it is part of what snared Adam and Eve in the garden, deciding what to do while ignoring what God had said to do. We are all too easily deceived, which is why we’ve got to submit to God before we can resist the devil. (James 4:7) The Bible indicates in various places that things are going to get even worse before the end comes, so we’ve got to hang onto our Lord and Savior and allow Him to cleanse us and protect us by His truth.

This certainly applies to me as much as it does to anyone. I have a high IQ, which makes me particularly vulnerable to the deception of elitism, thinking I know better than others so the rules don’t apply to me. We see people throughout society that are snared by that one. I am to be grateful for all that God shows me, but know that everything is by God’s grace, so I have no room for pride. I am in full agreement with C. S. Lewis’ statement that when we get to heaven we will all discover we were wrong about some things. Humility with conviction must be my attitude. I am to know and teach that God will never violate what He has already had recorded in the Bible, and so test every idea and concept against that. Far too many teachers teach from the Word, instead of teaching God’s truth! I am not to allow myself to be used as an instrument of deception, but rather walk in consistent humility and obedience.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the good teaching I received at the recent conference. Help me know when and how You want that communicated to those to whom I minister, so that we may be more and more free by Your truth. Thank You. Praise God!

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Family; June 23, 2022

1 Timothy 3:5 If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?

I’ve always been struck by this enormously practical verse. It’s certainly not impossible for a single person to be a good pastor, as Paul himself illustrates, but I think it would be much harder. Even without children in the picture, there are so many parallels between running a household and running a church that it would be like practicing medicine as a pre-med college student. Conviction and calling are essential, but there’s a lot of training and experience that is helpful to say the least. The flip side of that is those pastors who seem to do well managing a big church, but who leave their families behind as an afterthought. Such pastors too make grave mistakes. A man who doesn’t relate rightly to his wife doesn’t understand the heart of Christ for His Bride, the Church, (Ephesians 5:25-33) and a man who can’t command the respect of his children isn’t likely to command the respect of God’s children either. Some seminaries seem to take this issue to heart, but many do not, and I think that’s a sad mistake. Many of the pitfalls that lie in wait for a pastor are directly related to his relationship to his biological family. That includes not only sexual temptation but also burnout and a host of other issues. It is very foolish to forget that the family is the first human institution God established, right there in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 2:24)

I have had the huge blessing of being raised by a man who loved both his family and the Family of God. He didn’t do a perfect job with either, but then none of us do. He set such an example of loving my mother that I couldn’t wait to do the same, and got married less than 24 hours after graduating from college. He was an enormously busy man, and occasionally his biological family got the short end of the stick, but such times were rare, I think. I wasn’t aware of the details of his relating to the Church, but I think I absorbed a lot as his youngest child, and I’m grateful. How well I’ve done with my biological and spiritual children should be asked of them, but God is the final judge.

Father, thank You for this reminder, and thank You for Your grace and patience toward me and my children, both physical and spiritual. May I continue to grow as the father and pastor You want me to be, for the blessing of all and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Personal Blessings; June 22, 2022

1 Timothy 1:2 To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul’s blessings weren’t just for groups, but also for those closest to Him. We know nothing of his biological family, but as he says right here, Timothy was his son in every sense but the biological. It might seem strange to speak what appears to be conventional greetings to someone so close to you, but this is evidence that these were far more than just conventional greetings. Even to Timothy Paul has just reiterated his commission as an apostle, reminding him that his every interaction was in relation to and response to God. With that awareness, speaking grace, mercy, and peace was meaningful indeed. If we can’t be channels of those blessings to those closest to us, then to whom can we transmit them? We often have trouble ministering to those closest to us, but that is a trick of the devil, who hates the close relationships we can have in Christ. We should rejoice to be agents of God’s blessings to those closest to us, recognizing that the blessings come not from us but from the Lord. I think a major hindrance is the feeling that those close to us know too much about us, so our awareness of our own frailties gets in the way. We are certainly imperfect, but we serve a perfect God, and as His agents, imperfect though we are, we can bless people immensely.

This certainly applies to me. My desire to bless my wife is accentuated by our current physical distance! At this conference I am with many people whom I see rarely, as well as many people I am meeting for the first time, and I want to be an agent of blessing to them, too. I’m concerned that my getting ready to leave the room this morning to have this devotional time was disturbing to my roommates. I’ll have to be better prepared tomorrow! I don’t know what encounters God has in store for me today, but in each one I want to be His agent of blessing, saying and doing exactly what He desires of me, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You that the trip here was smooth and uneventful. Thank You for the good spiritual input I’ve already received. There’ve already been some things that have rubbed me the wrong way, but help me to learn from them as well. May all of Your purposes for this conference be fulfilled in each person, each church represented, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Blessing People; June 21, 2022

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Paul sure knew how to give a benediction! Such prayers of blessing are scattered throughout his letters, and I don’t think there’s a bad one among them. They are expressions of faith that the God we serve is good and desires good for us, and that He chooses to act through us in extending His blessings. I think we tend to fall short in both those areas at times. Sadly, many people are not convinced that God is good and desires good for His creation. Jeremiah 29:11 rings hollow to them, if they know it at all. Of course, the devil is constantly trying to plant doubt as to God’s goodness, and he passes his own evil deeds off as those of God in order to “show us that God is bad.” On top of that, the idea of our being God’s direct agents is presented to us as hubris, overweening pride that deserves to be slapped down. However, the Bible is full of examples of God using people directly, and if we think about it, we’ve all experienced it from one side or another. Frankly, being used by God to bless others feels wonderful! I really think the greater blessing accrues to the one giving it! It’s just like Paul quoted Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) That said, we must not limit ourselves to spoken blessings. As James rightly pointed out, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16) He said that to illustrate empty protestations of faith, but it’s true in and of itself. We are always to stand ready to bless others, however God opens the door, knowing that our own blessing is even greater.

It was at a meeting led by Yongi Cho in Fukuoka about 40 years ago that I was turned on to the idea of speaking blessing to people. I haven’t been entirely consistent about it since then, but it is still a blessing to me to do it. I’m probably most consistent about it when writing birthday greetings on Facebook. It’s interesting to see whom the Lord has me do it for, and the specific blessings He has me use. The response is pretty universally good. It also feels good to be used in material blessing. Often I would like to do more, but I try to listen to the Lord and to my wife about how much to do. Lack of unity in giving can make for major conflict. However, it’s remarkable how often the Lord speaks the same amount to Cathy and to me, quite separately. Of course the greatest blessing I can give anyone is to draw them into a right relationship with their Creator, and I strive to do that at every opportunity. There are no limits to that blessing!

Father, thank You indeed for the privilege of being an agent of Your blessings. Help me indeed be available at all times, so that Your will may be done for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Sharing God’s Truth; June 20, 2022

1 Thessalonians 5:27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

This is certainly a verse I’ve never written on before! As I was reading all the rich content in the rest of the chapter I was wondering what the Lord would have me focus on, and then it struck me that none of this was secret teaching to a select few. Paul is here very clear that all the teaching is for everyone. Paul was very aware that not everyone could absorb everything at once, but we aren’t to go around deciding who is fit for what; that’s the Holy Spirit’s business. The Gnostics were already making trouble when Paul wrote this, and their spiritual descendants are still active today. They focused on “special knowledge” in order to create an “in crowd” of the “elite.” We certainly see that attitude today, with some people feeling they are fit to rule the world, in contrast to everyone else. Paul was all for openness and equal access to information. Again, that runs counter to the censorship of all kinds that we see all around us today. We need to work for openness in society in general, but we need particularly to be on guard against Gnostic tendencies in the Church. We are all equally in need of salvation, and God’s Word is to be open to all. That was a major element of the Protestant Reformation that often gets overlooked. Luther and others were all for worshiping God in German rather than in Latin. It is ironic that the Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible was originally created precisely so that more people could read it, without having to learn Greek and Hebrew, but then it in turn became a tool for keeping people of other languages from free access to the Bible.

This is close to my heart. I have had direct ancestors involved in Bible translation, and several who were active proclaimers of God’s truth. I work in both English and Japanese, and recently have wished I could handle Mandarin as well. The point is, God’s truth is to be shared, not bottled up somewhere. In Old Testament days, long before the printing press, when the majority of people were at least functionally illiterate, it was a big deal when a scroll of the Law was discovered and read to people. We have the opposite of that situation in terms of dissemination of information, but people are so overwhelmed with all sorts of information that major gifts of discernment are called for. I am to seek always to speak the truth in love, in terms that can be most easily understood and received by my hearers. I can’t force anyone to believe, but I can be faithful as a communicator of the Gospel. That should be my goal at all times and with all people, so that as many as will may repent and believe for their salvation, for God’s glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all You are doing in and through this church. Yesterday was magnificent! May each person recognize the privilege they have and rejoice to be Your agent, bringing a great harvest for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Hope of Eternity; June 19, 2022

1 Thessalonians 4:13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.

The difference between the funeral of a believer in Christ and a Buddhist funeral is extreme. I once had a Catholic priest tell me that funerals were his most effective tool of evangelism, precisely because of that difference. Japan has a “festival of the dead” every year in the middle of August, when they send off the spirits of those who have died in the previous year, and when they say the dead come back to visit for about three days. There are so many ironies and paradoxes involved that I won’t go into it here. At the crematorium the attendant will open the viewing window above the deceased’s face for family and friends to “say a final good-bye” before the coffin (usually heavy cardboard or thin plywood) is put into the cremation oven. At Christian funerals, I, and most other pastors I have heard, say things about “We’ll be seeing them,” and “They are already with the Lord.” Most of mankind is enslaved to a fear of death, and sadly that includes many supposed Christians. I know people, particularly some who have lost children, who never seem to get out from under the burden of grief. That is so pathetic, particularly because it is so unnecessary for anyone who knows Christ, and that is precisely what Paul is talking about here. When Jesus said to the man on the cross next to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise,” (Luke 23:43) why should we be worried about death?

This naturally applies to me, as it does to every person alive. I’ve seen a lot of people leave this life, and once went to pick up one of our older members for church, only to discover they were already among the throng before the Throne. The ambulance crew and the police weren’t quite sure what to make of my response to having made the discovery, but the brother was 82, lived alone, and was more than ready to go. I was glad for him! I well remember when my own parents graduated, but they weren’t the first I had observed, and I wasn’t physically present for them, except at the burial of their ashes. I have absolutely no fear of my own death, but I’ll confess to not being excited about the idea of my wife going first, which she’s likely to do. However, she’s not worried about her own death because she’s already been to heaven once and come back, so she’s excited to go again. As a pastor, I seek to help believers understand the hope that is indeed laid up for them. We don’t have many details, but we know it will be glorious! We aren’t to try to duck out of whatever the Lord has for us to do here, but we should have the assurance that what awaits us is far better!

Father, thank You for this reminder. I’ll be separated from Cathy for three days this week because of a business trip, and such things are a reminder that temporal things are indeed temporary. Help us both focus on You and what You have for us, both now and in the future, and rest, relax, and rejoice in You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Spiritual Children; June 18, 2022

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

In several places Paul describes his ministry to those to whom he is writing, and to me this is one of the most touching. That’s all the more appropriate when tomorrow is Fathers’ Day! I find it very interesting that Paul would use this imagery when he had no biological children, but it seems like God often works that way. Genetics aren’t the most important thing to pass along! There are all sorts of adoptions, formal and informal. Timothy is Paul’s best-known “son in the faith,” but he actually had many, and here he indicates that the parent-child relationship guided all of his ministry. That seems like a good plan to me! Several things can interfere with that, however. All too many ministers fail to recognize their flock as their spiritual children, and instead act as administrators or even as dictators. That doesn’t build up the Body of Christ! The flip side of that is that many Christians refuse this relationship with their spiritual leaders, perhaps because they didn’t have a good relationship with their biological father. The thing is, God can use the spiritual relationship to heal the wounds caused by the biological relationship, if we are open to it. The three elements of that relationship that Paul mentions here (and there are many) are encouraging, comforting, and urging. Fathers sometimes have to “lay down the law” to their children, but the Japanese says, “privately commanding” (where the NIV says “urging). This isn’t exposing people to public shame, but it is being clear about right and wrong. Encouraging and comforting are given priority, and in most cases that is certainly the best course. As Paul says about biological children, fathers aren’t to “exasperate” (NIV) their children or “provoke them to wrath” (KJV). Proper parenting actually calls for more wisdom than we have, but God provides what we need if we turn to Him (James 1:5) Spiritual and biological fathers alike are dependent on God!

To be honest, it was the mess of spiritual parenting that made me want to be a teacher but not a pastor. My hands were full with my biological children! However, I have learned over the years to relate to my spiritual children this way too. I don’t have biological sons, but I have several spiritual ones, some closer than others. They have taught me how patient God is with me! Any time I am tempted to “lose it” with a spiritual child, God reminds me how I have responded to Him! I am indeed to encourage and comfort, and keep my “I told you so” statements to a minimum. I have a large family indeed, and I am grateful, even for the ones that are on the other side of the world from me geographically.

Father, thank You for being Father indeed, and for organizing us as Your Family. (Ephesians 3:14-15) Help me be the child and the father that You want me to be, nurturing the children who are under me and drawing all to You, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Christian Lifestyle; June 17, 2022

1 Thessalonians 1:3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I think I probably write on this verse every time the readings come to this chapter, but it’s certainly worth it. Faith, hope, and love are justly famous, particularly because of 1 Corinthians 13:13, but actually because of how essential they are for life in Christ. This verse points out that they aren’t just abstract concepts; they actually do things. James wrote a whole letter about how genuine faith indeed works, massively impacting our daily lifestyle. Sadly, there are still people who treat it as abstract, and try to divorce their protestations of “faith” from how they live. God, and actually a lot of people, see right through that. Love gives flavor and meaning to the work that faith does. Again going back to 1 Corinthians 13, Paul expressed very clearly that without love all our activities are essentially meaningless. All of that is well and good, but in practical terms we often don’t see the fruit of our labor immediately, and sometimes not at all in this life. That’s why we must have hope. Faith and hope are inseparable, as Hebrews 11:1 makes clear, but hope sustains us in the long term, when we can’t actually see the end of the tunnel. Hope assures us that Jesus is indeed coming back, as this chapter asserts, so all of the mess we see around us is temporary. The Thessalonians had it rough, physically speaking, but their hope sustained them, just as it has for persecuted believers down through the centuries. We do well to check on our own levels of these three essential qualities, so that we may be effective representatives of our Lord.

Naturally, this applies to me. After 41 years of ministry in Omura I am widely recognized as someone who represents faith in Christ, and I need that to be an accurate, inviting picture. As the Lord brought out in a conversation I had with a current non-believer, the Japanese generally treat faith as a non-essential. They have a proverb (that actually not many of them know) that even a sardine’s head can be an object of worship, which shows how casual they are about it all. Over 30 years ago a fellow teacher in the high school where I was teaching at the time told me he had used me as an illustration in class. I was naturally curious, so I asked how. He said that he was trying to get the students to understand the difference in attitude toward religion in different countries, so he told them that if you pointed a gun at a Japanese and told them to change their religion, they’d just ask to which one. However, if you pointed a gun at me and said the same thing, I’d just spread our my hands and say, “Shoot.” I literally had tears of joy at having been seen that way, when I am very aware of my own frailty, in faith and everything else. I want this description of the Thessalonians to apply to me, and by God’s grace and mercy I believe it does.

Father, thank You indeed for Your grace and mercy toward me. Help me respond more and more accurately, more and more fully, to You, for all of Your purposes for me to be fulfilled, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Work of a Minister; June 16, 2022

Colossians 1:28-29 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

This is a succinct description of the job of every true minister of the Gospel. Sadly there are some who could not honestly claim it, but there are many who can. This is predicated on the magnificent description of Christ Himself in verses 15-20. That still gets me every time I read it, even though I wrote a song from it back in 1978. If we don’t have a high enough vision of Christ, we aren’t going to proclaim Him accurately or sufficiently, as Paul talks about here. The goal of the proclamation is to make mature believers of everyone, or as Jesus Himself said, disciples. (Matthew 28:18-20) I’ve preached on that twice recently! Human strength isn’t up to the task, so it’s a good thing God’s strength is available, just as Paul mentions here. I think just about every minister has experienced burnout to at least some degree at one time or another. We all have a persistent tendency to rely on ourselves instead of on God, and that is what guarantees burnout, since the task is obviously more than we can handle on our own. However, when we maintain our connection to Christ, His wisdom, power, and everything else flow through us to establish His rule and reign as His will is done by and through us.

I’ll have to confess that it’s the “admonishing” part of this that gives me pause. I will teach at the drop of a hat, but correcting people and “laying down the law” is something that gives me heartburn. However, that too is needed for presenting people perfect/mature in Christ. (Several translations, including the Japanese one I use, go with “mature” in this passage.) Looking back over my ministry to this point, that’s something I haven’t done quite enough. Going forward, I need to fear nothing, either people’s reactions or my own human weaknesses, rather trusting God to do His work through me. I must not be proud or presumptuous – I’ve done more than enough of that – but operate in assured humility. That might seem like a contradictory term, but I think it expresses the conviction that I can’t do things right on my own, but God is more than able to do it through me, and if I am submitted to Him, He will.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the joy, the incredible privilege, of being used by You. Your anointing as I spoke to the prayer meeting yesterday was palpable, to me and to many of those present. Thank You. I pray that I would be fully available to You at all times and in all places, to indeed “present everyone perfect in Christ,” for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Christ’s Kingdom; June 15, 2022

Colossians 1:13-14 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

This isn’t how we usually think about salvation, but it’s tremendously important. The image is very like the border between North and South Korea. Night satellite pictures of East Asia are quite striking, with almost total darkness in the North, which is oppressive and repressive in almost every way, and abundant light in the South, which has a vibrant democracy and the highest average Internet connection speed of any country in the world. It’s extremely difficult for people to escape from the North to the South directly, but a few make it. Most who manage to escape do so through China, which is the long way around but still safer. In either case, the differences are an extreme culture shock. Only the language remains the same! The more we understand what Christ has done for us, the more we realize our situation is very much like that. Problems come when we try to “bring over” some of the thought patterns and practices of darkness into the kingdom of God. The thing is, they are so ingrained in us that we don’t even realize what they are. For example, many people bind themselves with “what if” scenarios, being anxious about all sorts of things that haven’t happened yet. Jesus said not to do that! (Matthew 6:31-34) In the kingdom of the beloved Son, as Paul puts it here, everything is already worked out and supplied; we just have to trust the Lord and be obedient. There may be some unpleasant things along the way, but they’re nothing to be worried about in comparison to the eventual result. (2 Corinthians 4:17) Salvation is quite literally passing from night to day, just as Paul says here.

Naturally this applies to me as much as it does to anyone else. I mostly operate in faith, but I have my moments of dreading possible events as well. I’m not to submit my mind to the enemy by doing that! Just as I encourage others to do, I need to rest in the assurance that God’s got a perfect plan and my job is just to follow. It’s when I project scenarios into the future that I run into problems, either dreading things that never happen or being disappointed by things that don’t happen. Either of those is foolish! I need to remember that my citizenship is in heaven; I no longer belong to the world. (Philippians 3:20) The better I grasp that, the more effective I will be in helping others “cross the border” into Christ’s territory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the realization that discipleship, on which I’m speaking this morning, is just a matter of living like citizens of Christ’s kingdom, instead of like residents of darkness. Help me challenge the people who gather this morning to be effective guides for “asylum seekers,” so that the plans of the devil for this nation may be defeated and Your rule and reign be established indeed, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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