Depravity; January 15, 2022

Romans 1:32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

In a way, this first chapter of Romans should be an encouragement to believers today, because it shows us very clearly that now isn’t the first time such conditions have been rampant. The only distinction I see between today and 1st Century Roman society is that today the idols aren’t in the shape of birds and animals and reptiles (verse 23) but are more likely to be electronic, or even intangible, as came up a couple of days ago. The moral and sexual elements read like current news reports. The thing to remember is that things didn’t stay this way, even in Rome. Depravity is endemic in human society because sin is endemic in the human soul, but it always leads to its own destruction. The problem is that such collapse generally injures innocent bystanders as well. There’s a line from Jude’s letter that is seldom quoted, but seems very appropriate in this context. “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) Believers are on a rescue mission in the middle of an intense battle. We aren’t to close our eyes to all the evil, trying to retreat into some place of safety, because frankly, they won’t leave us alone! Rather, we are to go on the offense, declaring the truth of God in love and being unwavering in our defense of Biblical standards. America is far from the only place all this is going on. A former member of the Finnish government is in danger of a significant prison sentence for simply stating that homosexuality is unnatural and wrong! Even if your position is very libertarian, saying that we should let people destroy themselves if they are intent on doing that, you need to realize that such people aren’t satisfied with anything less than enthusiastic support of their activities, just as this verse says. Backing down never solves anything.

Like many in the Church I have been only peripherally aware of all of this until fairly recently, but it’s certainly unavoidable now. Just last night I watched a very powerful message by Bishop E. W. Jackson on the political and racial implications of the current assault on the kingdom of God, and he didn’t even touch on the sexual issues. The thing is, as nasty and as powerful as all the rot is, it’s no match for the power of God. I, and all those who seek to follow God, have got to remember John’s very comforting words: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) I’m not to back away from the fight, but as Jude said, “snatch people from the fire.” At the same time, again as Jude said, I’ve got to be careful the corruption doesn’t spread to me. I am to walk in the purity and love of Jesus Christ my Lord, because nothing else is up to the task.

Father, thank You for this strong reminder. Thank You for the video of Bishop Jackson, and for the friend who sent me the link. Help me indeed not back away from the fight, but fully clothed in Your armor be fully useful to You, to destroy the works of the devil and bring people from darkness to light, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Gospel; January 14, 2022

Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

We ascribe various shades of meaning to “Gospel,” and in the process often lose sight of what Paul says here. “Gospel” is applied to a style of music, that in Japan at least is often sung by non-believers who just like the music. It is applied to the four books of the New Testament that specifically recount the life of Jesus, and as an extension of that, is applied as a standard of truth, “the Gospel truth.” We must never forget, however, that it means Good News. Why is it good news? Because of what Paul says here. John 3:16 could rightly be said to be the foundation of the Gospel, because the good news is indeed that God loved us so much that He prepared a way, through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, for us to be saved from the penalty for our sins and brought into eternal fellowship with Him. The better we understand that, the better that news becomes! None of us is sinless, even after we encounter Christ, as John makes very clear in his first letter. (1 John 1:8-10) In the middle of that, however, John further clarifies the Gospel by saying, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) The sticking point for many when it comes to accepting God’s salvation is acknowledging that they need it, that they are sinners. Confession, at least to God, is essential for salvation. It doesn’t necessarily need to be codified, as it is in some churches, but we’ve got to say to God, and mean it, “God, I’ve screwed up. I have no right to spend eternity with You. I believe Jesus died in my place, and I ask You to forgive me, cleanse me, and take me as Your child.” That we can do that, and it really happens as an eternal transaction, is the best news possible!

I have committed my life to communicating the Gospel, but I am by temperament and gifting a teacher. Those with Encourager gifting make better evangelists! However, I’m not to make excuses, or in any way hold back from declaring the Good News of salvation to all who will receive it. On one level I feel I agree completely with Paul in what he says here, but in all honesty I have to admit that I have held back at times out of concern for how my words would be received, placing a higher value on people’s approval than on their eternal salvation. That’s being ashamed of the Gospel! I am to seek, and act in, God’s wisdom as to timing and methods, but I must never let self-centered concerns hold me back from declaring the Gospel. It is possible to come across as holier-than-thou, and when that happens it certainly doesn’t sound like good news. It is also possible to come across as pedantic, downright boring. That’s a particular hazard for someone with Teacher gifting! The way to avoid both of those traps is to remember how marvelous and how essential this truth is to me, personally, because I too am totally dependent on God’s grace. If I will remember that, then my words will come across as Good News indeed.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me be an effective communicator of Your Gospel, drawing many into repentance and faith, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Reputation; January 13, 2022

Acts 28:22 “But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”

As I read this it struck me that Christians in America are beginning to taste this sort of thing for the first time ever. When many of the early settlers were religious refugees, and the nation itself was founded on Biblical principles, devout Christians were certainly held in the highest regard. How things can change in 250 years! Today, you can hardly look at “mainstream media” without seeing and or hearing some slur against Christians. They are called intolerant, homophobic, transphobic, and a list of other pejoratives. Paul and his compatriots would say, “Welcome to the club!” Like some of the people who have recently been sanctioned by Iran for standing firmly against that regime, we should take such insults as a badge of honor! The natural human impulse is to want to be liked by everyone, but we’ve got to realize that’s never going to happen. We’ve got to choose whose approval we want, that of the world, or of our Creator? Just before His trial and crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18) He then went on and expanded some of what that would mean. We are not to offend needlessly, but we are never to abandon the things of God in order to be accepted by the world. It simply doesn’t work! Remember, the devil hates us by definition, and those who are deceived by him are going to do the same. We would do well to study the lives of the saints (and by that I mean all true believers) who have gone before us and, to use a colloquialism, “quitcher bitchin.” Our lives should be such that those who know us consider us loving, honest, and dependable, and those who are in rebellion against God hate the very ground we walk on.

I have always tended to be an independent sort, at least pretending that I didn’t care what people said about me, but I’ll have to confess it was pretense indeed. I too like for people to like me! I am very thankful to have grown up with the example of my parents, who were true to God first and foremost, and as a result loved those around them. Any time I realize I am being less than loving, I need to realize that means I’m not being fully true to God! I am fairly well known in this city, having lived here for 40 years and being rather noticeable as a Caucasian in Japan, and I think my reputation is generally good. However, not many people have been drawn to emulate me in following Christ, and that means I’ve got plenty of room to grow. It’s telling that I am most “spoken against,” as in this verse, on social media from the US, and sadly, some of that is from confessed Christians. I’ve got to remember not to be defensive, but always speak (and write) the truth in love, leaving my reputation and people’s reactions in God’s hands. If I am disliked or even hated, I’m in good company!

Father, thank You for this reminder. So much is going on, and it’s hard to stay focused on the immediate task at hand, all the while not losing sight of the ultimate goal. Thank You for Cathy asking me to translate What A Day That Will Be, by Ben Speer, and enabling me to do so. Help me remember the truth in that song, and rest, relax, and rejoice in You whatever is going on, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Faithfulness; January 12, 2022

Acts 27:35-36 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.

In the middle of a crisis, the simple act of thanking God for an ordinary thing like food can be a powerful act of faith. These men were in literal danger for their lives, and Paul said the blessing! I’m reminded of a Norman Rockwell painting of a woman and a little boy in a diner, heads bowed over their food, and two burly workmen are looking on in wonder. Our little acts of faith, of placing God first and being obedient to Him, can be powerful indeed. We have very little awareness of the weight of our actions, what is important and what is trivial. God can use what we would consider a minor thing, not worth remembering, to massively impact lives and even history itself. One philosophical idea about that posits a chain reaction from a butterfly flapping its wings in South America all the way to a hurricane in the North Atlantic. That particular example is just a mind game, but the impact of our words and actions is indeed beyond knowing, humanly speaking. However, God truly knows everything, being outside of time and thus seeing the end from the beginning. That level of know­ledge is beyond our comprehension. There is talk these days of what is called “the singularity,” when we create a computer that is more intelligent than we are, and it in turn creates one that is more intelligent than it is, and so on. The thing is, even such a process, if it were possible, couldn’t meet, much less surpass, the intelligence, the omniscience, of God. Rather than tying ourselves in knots over such things, we need to be walking in daily faithfulness and obedience, trusting God with the outcomes, because He alone knows what is fully right and necessary.

I have always liked to know stuff, and intellectual pride has been a real snare to me. At the same time, I’ve not been a very good planner, preferring to “wing it” in most circumstances. I am not to run from planning, but at the same time I am to trust God with whatever happens, whether planned or not. I am not to try to manipulate others, but rather focus on allowing God’s grace to flow through me. As the song says, “I don’t know about tomorrow… but I know Who holds the future, and I know Who holds my hand.” It is a marvelous privilege to be used by God in blessing others, but trying to “make it happen” is likely to cause more problems than not. I am to take each step at a time, not being frantic about anything but not holding anything back, either. God has told me personally that there are many things He’s not happy about at the moment, but with that was the strong assurance that He’s got the perfect “end game,” and I’m to trust Him with that.

Father, yesterday was a good illustration of all of this. We had a lot to do, but You caused it to all fit together without any rush. You know what is on today’s schedule better than I do. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, allowing You to do with and through me whatever You know is best, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Faith; January 11, 2022

John 11:40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

This whole story is loaded with marvelous quotations of Jesus. I’m so thankful that John went to the trouble of writing his Gospel to add this sort of thing to the record, even though Matthew, Mark, and Luke had already been circulating for a few years. I’m reminded of one preacher who, to emphasize the depth of a period of depression and burnout that he had experienced, said, “I couldn’t even get a message out of JOHN!” It is indeed easy, and delightful, to open this Gospel almost anywhere and share the Word of the Lord. This particular statement by Jesus has two elements: our faith, and God’s glory. God’s glory is unchanging, and essentially infinite. Our faith, however, is another story. We may think, and probably do, that we would like to see the glory of God, but our lack of faith often blinds us, not only to God’s glory but to all sorts of things about Him and what He is doing. I am personally convinced that there is no such thing as a “coincidence.” Causative factors are almost without limit, but nothing “just happens.” Thinking too deeply about that quickly exceeds the limits of human intellect and understanding, but a study of the “if … then” statements in the Bible can go a long way in growing our hearts. Faith is enormously important, but we are quick either to discount it or to get it confused with wishful thinking. A study of the lives of the apostles should help clear that up. Their faith was exemplary and they did many miracles, but their lives were far from easy, and all but John left this world as martyrs. Faith is a gift, but it is also a choice, and must be exercised to be effective.

This is certainly preaching to me! I have complete assurance about a number of things, but my faith often comes up a little short in various details. It just occurred to me that faith is an example of quantum physics, in which something can be either plus or minus or both at the same time. Like the father of the epileptic boy, I am forced to cry out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) I think Peter alone recorded that particular quote because he identified with it so strongly, having literally walked on water, but also having denied that he even knew Jesus. I have moments when my faith is a strong encouragement to those around me, and also moments when it’s no stronger than wet toilet paper. The marvelous thing is that the result of my faith isn’t dependent on me, but on Whom I believe. Like Paul, “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) That, ultimately, gives me all the peace I need. I just need to remember it!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me indeed walk in the faith You have provided for me, accepting it and exercising it, so that Your glory may be manifested. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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God Meeting Needs; January 10, 2022

Luke 24:33-34 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”

Paul also notes that after His resurrection Jesus revealed Himself to Peter first among His male disciples, (1 Corinthians 15:5) but we should also remember that Mary Magdalene was actually the first of His followers to see Him. (John 20:10-18) Women were definitely “2nd class citizens” in those days, but Jesus elevated them to a degree that was shocking to those around Him, and eventually transforming to society. While many rabbis were insisting that females shouldn’t be educated at all, Jesus welcomed Mary of Bethany to sit at His feet along with the male disciples. (Luke 10:38-42) The thing is, Jesus knew what each person’s need was, and met it. Mary Magdalene was one of those who had watched Jesus’ burial and was prepared to anoint His corpse, only to discover He wasn’t in the tomb. Peter was the one who had actively denied that he even knew Jesus, and was totally torn up over that fact. Jesus knew that Peter needed a special touch in order to believe he really could be forgiven, so Jesus granted him that. Don Francisco’s song, He’s Alive! is a powerfully moving dramatization of that encounter that I believe is probably very accurate, even though we have no description of it in the Bible. Mark is the record of Peter’s recollections, but I don’t think Peter wanted to draw extra attention to himself, so he didn’t describe that particular experience. What we need to remember is that as Jesus said, God knows exactly what we need, so we need to trust Him. (Matthew 6:8)

I’ve had many experiences of God knowing what I needed better than I did, and meeting the specific need. I’ve also had many experiences of being sure I needed something when God said otherwise, and provided something that actually was better. Yesterday in the service we had a total, and blessed, surprise when a couple came in who were strangers to us. When they introduced themselves after the service we found that they are dedicated Christians from another prefecture, moving here because of the husband’s job transfer. The wife has been active in their church’s music ministry, teaching voice and leading a Gospel choir. They expect to be here a minimum of five years, and were familiar with our church from having found us on the Internet. It was a fascinating confirmation of God’s plan that I said things in the message that matched perfectly a new direction their home church is taking in this year! The wife and their son will actually be moving here at the end of the school year in March, but the husband has already started work, and they have already located a house, rather than the company-provided apartment where the husband is right now. They will meet a need we were very aware of, but had no idea how to fill. God knew! As He told me many years ago, I just need to rest, relax, and rejoice!

Father, thank You for Your overwhelming grace. May I respond to that grace as You want me to, fulfilling all of Your purposes for me on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Acting in Faith; January 9, 2022

Luke 17:14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

I have always loved this story, and it teaches us several things. In the first place, these 10 men were respectful, staying at a distance but addressing Jesus with terms of honor and respect. They had obviously heard stories of Jesus healing people, and it would seem they sought Him out, filled with hope. Jesus’ response wasn’t what we might expect today, going to them  and either laying hands on them or commanding the disease to leave, or both. Rather, He simply told them to do what was required for them to be certified as healed, and in faith and hope they obeyed. That is the point of this verse. If they had set conditions on their healing, wanting Him to do something dramatic, they probably would not have been healed. The simple act of obedience based on faith was powerful indeed. We are prone to ask God for things but fail to believe that He has provided them. James’ remarks on the subject come to mind. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:5-8) Of course, that also brings us face to face with the quality of our faith. Peter got out of the boat and took steps on the water, but as soon as he took his eyes off of Jesus, he began to sink. (Matthew 14:25-31) We have to cry out with the father of the epileptic boy, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) Going back to James, he was very strong on people demonstrating their faith by their actions. That’s what these 10 men did, and we would do well to learn from them.

I have had times of acting in faith and seeing God come through, and I have had times of presumption, substituting wishful thinking for genuine faith. That difference can be subtle, and can really trip me up! I need to remember that on my own I am unreliable, but God can keep me straight if I will let Him. I need to remember Jude’s glorious benediction: “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25) I am not to doubt my own faith – which seems like a contradiction in terms, but it’s based on the reality that faith itself is a gracious gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Just yesterday I was remarking that I had lost my “joy of living,” but that comes entirely from taking my eyes off of my Lord, however unconsciously. I am to fix my eyes on Him, (Hebrews 12:2) and rejoice that He is going to bring everything to a glorious conclusion.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I needed it! Thank You for the assurance You’ve given me as to some of our activities for the next couple of months. Help me neither run ahead nor lag behind, but walk in step with Your Spirit so that Your will may be done in and through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Serving God; January 8, 2022

Luke 17:10 “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'”

I don’t remember how many years ago this first struck me, but it has stayed with me since. We rebel at the idea of being owned, but Paul has some pointed words on the subject. “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16) Slavery was very much a part of society in New Testament days, and everyone understood the concept. Sadly enough, there are actually more slaves today than at any time in history, but it is being done “under the radar,” so to speak. One of the ironies of human existence is that we are truly free only when we are fully obedient to our Creator. He owns us in point of fact, and the better we realize that, the more fulfilled and happier we will be.

With all of that in mind, what grips me about this verse is my awareness of how partially I have done what God wanted of me. My greatest desire is to hear Him say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23) but I am very aware of times when I have gone only part way, or have even gone off on a tangent entirely. On my own, I’m not entitled to even a pat on the head, much less the riches of glory that God has prepared for me in Christ. As Jesus says here, I’m not to be focused on rewards but on obedience. That’s what brings the best rewards!

Father, this is much less than I usually write, but the message is a simple one. Help me apply it fully. May I be a reliable servant, fully trustworthy, so that Your purposes may be accomplished through me for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Savior; January 7, 2022

Luke 2:21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

This verse jumped out at me because of yesterday’s reading, where Jesus says that His blood is to be “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28) The meaning of His name is specified in Matthew, where the angel tells Joseph in a dream, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) Yeshua, the Hebrew form of Jesus, means, “Yahweh is salvation.” That He was to be named that was indeed stated by Gabriel at the Annunciation. (Luke 1:31) Everything about Jesus, from before the Incarnation through right now, when He is interceding for us, (Hebrews 7:25) is focused on our salvation. He is indeed “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) If we grasp this about Him, then the only logical course is to acknow­ledge Him as Lord. Indeed, the Japanese word for “Savior” is specifically, “Saving Lord.” Further meanings for the character “Lord” include “owner” and “main/chief.” English speakers sometimes separate “accepting Jesus as your Savior” and “making Jesus your Lord,” but that doesn’t work in Japanese, and I personally think it is an impossibility. Either Jesus is your Lord, or He isn’t your Savior. It’s not that our attitude changes His character, it’s that salvation includes submission to His Lordship. As someone was pointing out on Facebook just yesterday, the irony of human free will is that we are truly free only when we choose to do God’s will! We want to “be saved” and at the same time do our own thing, but that doesn’t work. None of us follows Christ perfectly in this life, but our heart commitment must be to Him, His kingdom and His righteousness.

This is the central point not only of my life but of that of every human being. As Paul wrote to Timothy, God desires the salvation of everyone, (1 Timothy 2:4) so that is to be my focus as well. I cannot rightly claim to be a follower of Christ and not care about the salvation of others. At the same time, I’m not to beat myself up over those who fail to accept the salvation that God offers through me. It is reasonable to be saddened by such refusals, and spiritual warfare is to be done on behalf of such people, but the outcome is ultimately between them and God. I’m reminded of a quote I heard recently from Donald Trump, of all people. “Our country has a Savior, and it’s not me.” I must never descend into a “Messiah complex,” thinking that I myself can save anyone. At the same time, I’m to keep myself available for God to use me in saving people, because He can use anybody or anything. Yeshua is Lord indeed!

Father, thank You for this reminder. I do pray for the sadly confused person who called me yesterday. I pray that Your truth would indeed penetrate their heart and cancel the lies of the enemy so that they would be set free indeed, receiving Your full salvation for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Blood of Jesus; January 6, 2022

Matthew 26:27-28 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

In this church we almost exclusively use Paul’s retelling of this scene, from 1 Corinthians 11, which he obviously had learned from those who had been present, but this is the account of someone who was in the room at the time. Paul specifies Jesus giving thanks before breaking the bread, as does Matthew, but he isn’t so explicit about the cup, as Matthew is here. It is the further detail about the cup that strikes me right now. We aren’t used to the idea of killing a lamb to seal a covenant, but it was a common concept in Old Testament times, as Hebrews 9 explains in some detail. Jesus was literally giving thanks that His blood was going to be poured out for the forgiveness of sins. I don’t think we can really grasp the full magnitude of what Jesus did for us. God does reveal it to us in degrees, sometimes in a flash of revelation, but our minds are too small to contain it all. This is something we need to come back to again and again, falling at Jesus’ feet in gratitude and adoration for His incredible love and grace. I’m reminded of the prostitute who wet Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. (Luke 7:36-48) It isn’t until we grasp how much we need forgiveness that we receive that forgiveness in full. It isn’t until we grasp how necessary the cross was that we receive all its benefits. As Jesus taught in His story of the Pharisee and the tax collector, (Luke 18:9-14) those who don’t understand they need forgiveness don’t receive it. We don’t need to run out and do something horrible just to understand that we are sinners, we need to understand that we already are sinners, unfit to lift our face to God because of our attitudes and actions, even if we are thought to be exemplary by our peers, as was the Pharisee in Jesus’ story.

I’m preaching to myself here. Even after God gave me a glimpse of the blackness of my own heart, way back in 1972, I have still had times of feeling self-satisfied, insufficiently grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice. I’m not to be constantly picking at myself, but I am to have the constant awareness that it is only by the grace of God that I stand. I should so live that I can say with Paul, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Corinthians 4:4) When I deal with others, I am never to look down on them as did the Pharisee in Jesus’ story, but rather recognize that Jesus’ blood was as essential for me as for them; none of us have any hope apart from Christ. I will not be effective in persuading others to accept Jesus’ salvation if I am not fully grateful for it myself.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the person I encountered just recently who had been told they were “too sinful to be a good Buddhist,” but who was hungry for salvation. I pray that our interaction with them, along with the materials I gave them, would enable them to believe and receive, as a shining example to all who know them and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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