Update 9-27-2018

I just got an email from Pastor Takeshi in Japan.  His home in Japan was damaged in the recent earthquake and then following that, they had a typhoon, but little damage from that.  I don’t know how much damage there was but he reported that they were still living in the house.  To complicate the matter further, he was gone during the events, on another mission trip to China.  After he returned to Japan, he was traveling across Japan during the week and only home on weekends so he hasn’t been able to address the damage. When I met with him when we were in Japan I also noticed how involved in the work, his family was.  His wife and oldest daughter were a tremendous support to him and were quite interested in our being there. I marvel at the sacrifice missionaries make in their service to the Lord.  It causes me to look at my own life and answer the question, what is it costing me to serve the Lord?

He will be making two additional trips to China yet this year.  They are usually about two or three weeks long and they travel to many churches as the need there is great.  He also sent me an 11 page report from his translator who travels with him on his last trip.  If you would like to read it just let me know and I can forward it on to you.  The people in China are really struggling because of the living conditions and oppression and they need hope.  The traditions are often demanding and the examples of how life can be are very rare.  To make matters worse, there are a number of false religions that are turning the government against all religions as they do not know the difference between the true believers and the false ones.

So how many Christians are there in China?  I have heard a number of reports and I don’t know how accurate they are.  A few years ago I heard that there were several million Christians there.  Then a little latter the number was 30-40 million.  The next report I heard that the number was upward of 60 million.  More recently I heard that the number was close to 100 million and the most recent report was that it could be approaching 300 million.  I am not sure that anyone really knows how many there are, but this much I do know, most all of them are living in very difficult conditions and have little hope of anything more than that.  Perhaps that is why so many are turning to Christ.  He is the only one offering them more to life.  If the government could only see that this is a tremendous opportunity for them to not only improve their lives but to also strengthen their nation and extend their favor with the people.

If the number of 300 million is close to accurate that would mean that one in 4 or 5 of the people in China are Christians which is a phenomenal number.  Compare that to America where one in 50 to 100 are Christians.  I remember reading about the Great Revival in America when, at its peak, one in seven were Christians and the amazing events that took place.  Work stopped at times because of the presence of the Holy Spirit working with the people.  Lives were transformed instantly.  The story is told of a man in a buggy came under such conviction of his sin, just as he enter a county where revival was happening that he fell out of the buggy to his knees begging the Lord to save him.  On and on it went and was so powerful that it transformed the nation.  My prayer is that the Lord would do it again in China, and also here as well.

Purpose Phrases

As I study the Scriptures, I have come to notice certain statements that I term “Purpose Phrases“.  These are phrases that define the ‘why’ of a passage.   One such passage is found in I Corinthians 1:8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  These Purpose Phrases often begin with the word ‘that’ and invariably reveal the answer to an oft ask question.  I couple them together with other similar passages and have found some amazing revelations.

Let me illustrate this phrase, “that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” in the above verse.   Other passages include;

  • Galatians 1:4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:
  • Ephesians 1:4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
  •  Ephesians 5:27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 
  • Colossians  1:22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:  
  • 1Thessalonians 3:13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.  
  • 1Thessalonians 5:23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  
  • Titus 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.  
  • Jude 1:24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless  before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,  

These do not encompass the whole of the idea but they illustrate my point.  When I was first saved I was told that we should try to be like Jesus, but then they added, of course we will never make it.  That left me thinking, then why try.  I have since learned by a careful study of the Scripture that we will make it.  God will deliver us without blame before Him in love.  I am not talking about sinless perfection in this world but of the final results of God’s work on us and how we will arrive in glory.  God is going to make good His promise to deliver us a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.  We are going to make it!

 

Preparation

When thinking about what goes into making a trip all it can be, I think that preparation is one of the most important things you can do.  It will enhance your trip in many ways; it will expand it, it will enrich it, it will extend it, it will enable it and it will preserve it.

In planning for my trip to China, I have already begun to experience it in many ways.  First, I have had to plan where and when I was going.  Since I am going with others there was the necessity of coordinating all our schedules and finding a time that would fit all of us.  Then there was the destination.  In this case, I will be traveling with the others for much of the journey, but then I will be separated from the others for several days and traveling alone to a place that I have never been.  That can be daunting to some and exhilarating to others.  In my case it is some of both.  Fortunately, I will be meeting with someone I know and He knows the place, customs, etc.  I will literally be in his hands.

Then there is the securing of my passport (which I already have), the visa (which came in last week, and the plane tickets which have been purchased.  These are extremely important as they allow access to this part of the world and determine a lot of your schedule.

Another thing I have done is read up on the places that you will visit and the customs and culture that you will be experiencing.  The more you know about your destination, the more that you will enrich the experience.  It was enlightening to discover some of the history and current activities where I will be going.  One highlight for me is that my destination grows some of the greatest produce in China.  Since I have a lot of experience in produce (both growing and eating which I love), this will be a treat for me to taste some of God’s treats that I have never had the opportunity to enjoy before.

Planning on what you will take with you is also important.  What you will wear will be affected by the climate you will be in and the customs of the people.  Things that you will need like medicine, personal items (make a list and update it regularly), and things that may not be available there that you have need of.  Preserving your experience is also important.  Your camera, pencil and paper, gifts, etc  Think it through and then rethink it again.  Don’t fret about it but your anticipation will enhance the actual experience.  It will also give you a sense of preparedness that will allow you to enjoy the trip to the fullest.

One of the things that I am looking forward to is the actual flight.  I will be flying nonstop to Seoul, Korea, then an hour and 10 minute layover, then another nonstop flight to Guangzhou, China (near Hong Kong), an overnight layover and then on to my final destination (another 5-6 hour flight).  Altogether it will be about 24 hours flight time plus layovers.  So who in his right mind would be looking forward to such a grueling flight.  Me, of course.  I have the choice to suffer through it or turn it into an experience that will be of benefit. I simple made the choice to not suffer but to allow myself to be stretched to the point that I will be able to contain the blessing God is giving me.  It is a choice, you know, so I plan to spend some time getting to know those with whom I travel with.  I plan to do some exercising on the plane so that my legs don’t develop problems that you get on long flights.  I also plan to watch the terrain and the people to notice the changes in the land we fly over and to pick up on anything that will help me once I get there.  I plan to do some writing while in flight and anything else that will keep my mind occupied.  When I have exhausted all other avenues, I may even get some sleep – though it is hard for me to sleep on a plane.

We all have a trip ahead of us that these thoughts could help us prepare for – from here to eternity.  We should secure the proper credentials (salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ).  The trip won’t take long (a moment, in the twinkling of an eye) so we won’t have to fill time because time will be no more.  There are some things that we will want to take, such as our works of faith, our testimony, our hope, our eternal body, etc. that we will need when we get home.  We should study the Word of God to teach us about our final destination to make our arrival even more enriching.  It will help us to understand what is happening.  We won’t need to pack because we will be given a robe of righteousness that will never wear out and everything will be ours to serve our Lord with.  There will be no more sorrow or tears and all will be glorious.  Don’t you want to meet me there?  All aboard!!!

 

 

The Great Commission

The Christian community understands that the Great Commission refers to the charge of Jesus to evangelize the world.  The main Scripture that is associated with this commission is Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: 20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.  It was also recorded in Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47, Acts 1:8, and referred to in several other scriptures.

A commission comes with certain implications.  First, it is a command and not a request.  It is not based on whether or not you feel like it or if it fits into your schedule.  It is your schedule.  Your life is to include this task as a main theme.  It is of prime importance and not to be regulated into a lesser importance.  People’s eternities are at stake and our love for our Lord as well as our love for others are our motivators.

Second, we are to go into all the world with the gospel message.  God’s message is for everyone and everyone is important to Him.  The Bible declares that it is not God’s will that any perish, but that all come to repentance.  (2 Peter 3:9)  There is no specific plan as to priority of order of importance but ‘as you go’ or maybe ‘where ever you go’ or everywhere you go is the order of the day.  Further, it is an all inclusive plan to include all places.  From the early church it was Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth.  Your Jerusalem is where you begin and includes that environment.  Your Judea is the region just beyond your Jerusalem.  Your Samaria goes beyond your Judea to include the more difficult places for you to include your prejudices, or your enemies, or some other barrier you will need to cross such as distance or finances.  Your uttermost part of the earth extends to include all peoples in all places and all circumstances.

The third implication is that we are to go in His power and not our own.  It is so often said that I cannot afford to go on missions.  God will finance His missions.  I am not saying that it is a free ride and you have no responsibility in this.  What I am saying is that all resources belong to God, they are not ours.  The first place to go is to the Lord in prayer and seek His power to deal with this situation.  Don’t attempt to do it on your own for you are commissioned to look to Him for the resources to go and the power to do His will.  If you can accomplish the task without His power then it will frustrate the grace of God and you will get the glory.  God has commissioned us to the ministry of reconciliation for more purposes than you can guess.  It is partly for the ministry to others, but just as importantly, for us to grow in our own faith and love.  The struggle to reject our own efforts as the solution and to tap in to God’s power is equally important for us as it is to them.

The final implication that I will address is our witness.  The apostles said that they were witnesses to what they had seen and heard.  If you testify to that which you did not have first hand knowledge, then you become a false witness.  Instead of revealing the God of glory, you now obscure the view and work against the Lord.  You cannot give what you do not possess.  You have to be real and cannot go beyond your own personal revelation.  It is important to remember that you are in partnership with the Lord in this work and as you are being transformed into His image, He then uses you as His illustration of the message.  It is His work and you are a part of that plan.  The success of the word is not on you, but on Him.  You are a witness of that success.

Close Enough

How close is close enough?  I guess that it depends on the circumstances and what you are talking about.  If you are talking about a shave it is within a small fraction of an inch.  If you are talking about horseshoes it is within the span of the mouth of the shoe.  If you are talking about hand grenades, it is within a few feet. If you are talking about a bomb it could be measured in miles.

The real question is not about the distance but about the effect that is desired.  For example, If you have a fire, are you seeking to just get warm, or to cook on it or to destroy with it, the distance will vary a lot.  When it comes to knowing God, do you want to just want to know him like we know the president, or perhaps to get close enough to receive a blessing from Him, or to get close enough to Him to be transformed into His likeness.  How close is close enough for you?

But then, how close is close enough from God’s perspective?  Can you appease Him with a superficial worship and religiously orienting your life?  Will he recognize you because of your good deeds?  Will He be pleased with anything short of the surrender of your will and your conformation to His standards for life and conduct?  How close is close enough?  Is there such a thing as too close?

Mattthew 5:48 Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. God’s standard is perfection.  Close enough just won’t do.  The scripture also states int Ro 3:23 for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God;  How can a sinful man be made perfect if all men have sinned?  The answer is very clear in the scriptures; he must be born again.  Of himself it is impossible but if the carnal nature is surrendered to the Lord. You cannot make it without the new life that comes in Jesus Christ.  He is the only way and by God’s grace and working, we can be transformed into a new creation and in Him all things become new.   2Corinthians 5:17 Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new.

 

 

 

 

Fitting In

Its that time of year when the NFL draft is in full swing.  Teams are making decisions that will complete their team and hopefully propel them through the playoffs.  But what makes them the best fit for a team is not their skill level because all of them have skills, but how well they can play for the team, or how well they fit in.

When I was young we moved several times.  Each move involved cultural, social, economic and environmental changes.  It was always a tremendous challenge for me to figure out how I fit in to the new situation.  Relationships were already established and experiences were already anticipated.  I didn’t have any relationships and often my responses were not what was expected which made me a target.  I was behind right at the beginning so I had to overcome a lot to just start even with others.

Probably the most difficult place for many people to fit in is in church.  They do not have the church language down, they don’t know the history or even know how to maneuver thought the Bible.  They feel out of place like everyone is staring at them and they are quite uncomfortable.

I had one experience that I treasure to this day.  One of the students came up to me as I was walking down the hall and introduced himself and then welcomed me to the school.  It wasn’t a major thing in many respects but it meant the world to me.

Figuring out how to fit in to God’s plan for you in this world is undoubtedly the most important adjustment you will ever make in your life.  A lot of time it is described as your purpose in life.  Jesus underscored its importance in John 3 when He told Nicodemus that “you must be born again.”  God’s plan for you is not just for your comfort in this world but it is eternal in its scope and purpose.  Gods plan for you is first stated in Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  His plan is to complete you in the fashion of Himself and to dwell with you for eternity.  You were chosen before creation ever came to be because God looked down the corridors of time and saw you chose Christ.  To put it another way, God chose all those who choose Christ.

You fit in because you made the decision to be a part of His plan and now follow in obedience, placing your faith in Him and not in yourself.

First Visits

The women at the tomb

The first to visit the tomb on Easter Sunday morning was Mary Magdalene who came while it was still dark.  She found the stone rolled away from the tomb entrance and concluded that Jesus’ body had been moved so she ran to tell Peter and John.  She joined the other women when the sun was risen.  They came to anoint the body with spices but they were confronted with a shocking revelation from the angles that He had risen from the dead.  They went therefore to tell the disciples.

Peter and John

John was the first to arrive and look in to the tomb but waited outside for Peter to arrive.  When Peter arrived he immediately went in. (Note previous my blog on the grave clothes)  They were confronted with evidence that defied normal explanation.  John believed immediately and Peter left in wonderment.

Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus

Mary was so disturbed by not knowing where Jesus body was and her grief of her loss that she didn’t recognize Jesus and thought he was a gardener.  When Jesus spoke, she recognized Him and reached out to hold Him.  Jesus said don’t cling to me for I am not yet ascended to My Father.  He didn’t say don’t touch me but he used the word haptomai which means attach oneself to another or to cling.  She had lost Him once and she didn’t want to lose Him again.  Remember, Jesus told His disciples the it is expedient for you that I go away for if I go not away, the Holy Spirit would not come.  Jesus intended for us to know Him in another way by being indwelt with the Holy Spirit until we receive our resurrected bodies.   Having then been confronted with Christ Himself, she went again to tell the disciples with a new urgency in her report.

The Two On the Road to Emmaus

Emmaus was a town about 8 miles NE from Jerusalem and was located about 3,000 lower in elevation.  One of the two was Cleopas and the other is unnamed.  They were downtrodden and speculated about the events of the crucifixion as they walked.  Jesus, Himself joined them but was unrecognized.  He then engaged them in their conversation and they restated the events including the morning reports from the women.  Then Jesus chided them in being slow to believe and began at the prophets He interpreted the Scriptures concerning Himself. As they arrived at Emmaus they invited Jesus to stay with them since it was evening.  As they were eating Jesus broke the bread and gave it to them.  As they were confronted with the truth of who Jesus is, He vanished out of their site.

These are not the only sighting of Jesus but they are recorded for us so that we too can come to the truth of who Jesus is and that He is resurrected.  You have now been confronted with the truth.  What does it take to convince you HE IS ALIVE!!!

A Guarded Grave

One day as I was going somewhere with another person on some matter and as we passed a cemetery in the country and he spoke up and said, “You see that cemetery over there?”  I answered and said I did.  Then he made an announcement that caught me off guard and said, “They keep a Sheriff and two deputies over there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”  I thought about it for a minute and said “Well, why do they do that?” as I couldn’t think of anything that mandated such an action.  I wasn’t prepared for his answer when he said, “Cause they are dead.”  You see, I was thinking that they were alive.

Easter is all about the resurrection of Christ.  It is not about the easter bunny, or the latest fashion, or candy or a ‘must attend’ religious holiday.  It is about the greatest event in history, and brings hope to a lost and dying world.  There is hope beyond the grave.  Life does not end at death, but rather, in a real sense it is just the beginning of life.  Our eternity is determined by our belief in Christ.  How we respond to Him reveals how we believe.

Yet, it is interesting that the only person to come forth in victory over death is one whose tomb was guarded to keep His body in it.  It is also interesting that those who had repeatedly been told that it would happen were the hardest to convince that it did.  It is also interesting that those who refused to believe in Him, took all the precautions they could to prevent it from happening.

Take a look at Matt 27:62-66 where we find Pilate saying “Ye have a guard; go, make it as sure as ye can.”  So they went and made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone, the guard being with them.  Notice that they stationed soldier to guard the tomb.  That meant that no outsiders would be able to tamper with it and falsify his resurrection.  It also meant that the religious leaders  were keeping his followers from gathering at the tomb and creating an insurrection out of their grief.  In reality, the soldiers validated the resurrection in that they keep all hands off of the scene. (compliments of Rome).  Secondly, they sealed the tomb with the Roman seal.  To break it would have brought the Roman armies and their power against them.  It was a metal catch, like a lock that fastened the round stone to the rock behind and it was covered in a wax and impressed with the Roman seal.  Though it could have been opened easily it would leave the evidence in the wax that could not be copied again without the seal imprint.

The stone was rounded so that it could be rolled into place at the entrance to the tomb.  It rolled in a channel that was cut out of the rock and guided it into place.  The stone was large enough to cover the tomb entrance and was several inches thick which would have required two or three men to roll it into place.  Yet in Matt 28:2 a lone angel rolled back the stone and then sat upon it.  Some have speculated as to why the stone was rolled back.  It is easy to assume that it was so that Jesus could exit the tomb but later he walked through walls so I don’t think that is the answer.  I believe that it was for the purpose of us being able to look inside the tomb and sharing to the world that He is not here but He is risen from the dead!

Who Are You?

Who are we really? I’ve heard it said that you are not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.  Its a play on words to get you to think about who you really are.  It may be one of the most popular unspoken questions about ourselves that we could ask.  So I ask you, Just who do you think you are?

If you have a low self esteem, you may think little of yourself or your ideas, and not put yourself forward.  Fear may have a great influence over you and your choices.  Your social skills may not be developed very much.  Your goals may not be very high.  Disappointment, embarrassment, and hopelessness may be your closest friends.

On the other hand, you may have a high self esteem and may see yourself being a success in many of the things you do.  You may have a lot of confidence and are not bothered much by what others think of you.  The world is yours for the taking.  You may be popular and have a measure of success.  Still you may have internal questions that leave you feeling hollow or something is missing.

Neither of these positions answer the questions of who you really are.  I found the answer in the Bible.  Ro 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?  It is not the name you hang on your door that defines who you are but the values you hold and what controls you.

So if you have become a servant of righteousness as a Christian, then let me ask you again, Who are you really?  For the answer to that question we must again go to the Bible for the answer.  1.  You are the salt of the earth. Matt 5:13  Do you remember the saying, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink?”  Well, I can make him drink.  All I need to do is put salt in his feed.  Then when he is led to the water he will drink of his own choice.  Just create a thirst.  2.  You are the light of the world.  Matt 5:14  The world is in darkness and cannot see the glory of God.  There is a sin barrier between them a God.  You can see the glory of God because the sin issue has been dissolved between you and God, and you can also see those in the world.  You can act as a mirror to reflect His glory to those in darkness.  They can see God in you.  3.  You are the temple of God 1 Cor 3:16  In all of creation the only place that God choose to dwell was in the Christian.  It is an eternal habitation and therefore must be fitted for Him.  He is Holy so we must be Holy.  He is eternal so He offers us eternal life.   1Pe 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: and again in 2 Cor 6:16 “. . .as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  4.  Ye are children of God.  Gal 3: 26  Every person is not a child of God because they were born physically.  That is the first requirement that they be human but there is a second requirement to become a child of God and that is to be born spiritually (from above, of the spirit, born again).  That is what Jesus was talking about to Nicodemus in Joh 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  He explained it further when he said that which is flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.  He even  told the Pharisees that their father was the Devil.  5.  Ye are sons (Gal 4:6) . . .heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ . . .(Ro 8:17) A  joint-heir with Christ makes Jesus our brother and we inherit with Christ.  What God has in store for us is so beyond all that we can ever ask or think.  We should so walk that it is clear to all that we are born from above.  6.  . . .ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. . .  We began in this world but we are not of this world.  We have become a part of God’s eternal plan when we chose Christ as our Lord.  Now it is all over but the happening.  Satan can’t stop it and neither can all the demonic forces of the world together.  We are the apple of God’s eye.  We know who we are when we know who’s we are.

 

 

Sin or Sins

I remember reading a gospel tract entitled “How to get to heaven from Pineville, Kentucky”  It had a catchy title and got me to reading. The truth is that it would read the same from anywhere on the earth.  There is only one way to get to heaven and that is the way that is specified in the Bible.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)  So that begs the question, how do you come “by me?”

It is at this point that there seems to be confusion.  Does that mean to try hard or is it by doing good things like benevolent acts?  Does it mean that I have to quit doing “something”?  Does it mean that I have to give up fun things?  How does it work?  None of these answers are correct for they are all works of man?  Eph 2:8-9 Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

The problem between God and man is not what he does but what he is.  He is a sinner, which is another way of describing rebellion against God’s control on our live.  We cannot earn His favor for as soon as we try that avenue, our true nature takes over and our sin nature is exposed. It is at this point that we need to note the difference between Sin and Sins.  Sin is the self life that we hold naturally.  It is all about me; what I want, what I think, what I do.  I don’t want God directing my life because He won’t let me do my thing.  Sins are what we do  because of this attitude. Sins are the symptoms of the rood cause, sin.  We are incapable of paying for our “sin” so God made a way for us to be accepted and that is by our placing our faith in Jesus instead of ourselves.  When we are willing to do that we repent of our sin (that is turn from it) and place our faith in Jesus to make that payment (turn to Jesus as our way).  It is not two separate actions, but one.  It is like a coin.  It has two sides but it is just one coin.  The act of turning moves you from one thing and unto another.

If we continue to deal with the symptoms (sins) we will fail to treat the problem of sin, itself.  Faith in Jesus as the Lord of our life is the way to heaven.