Entropy; May 25, 2022

Romans 8:20-21 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Every once in a while it’s good to write on a passage I haven’t underlined previously! As I read this just now it hit me that this is describing the repeal of entropy, of all things. Entropy is considered to be one of the foundational principles of the universe, that things wind down and deteriorate – which is why evolution is such an absurdity. The very people who deny the existence of a Creator likewise insist that entropy is real, totally missing the disconnect in their thinking. However, just as there is both nuclear fission and nuclear fusion, God isn’t limited by the “law” of entropy. The world doesn’t have to always “run downhill!” Just recently some physicists have advanced the previously heretical idea that the laws of physics might not be constant, and here we have Paul saying that they are indeed going to change. Pardon me for being a total geek, but that’s exciting! As I am reminded with some frequency, our concept of God is too small. On one level that’s unavoidable, since God is infinite and we aren’t, but it’s something we should work to get past. He does indeed reveal Himself to us in various ways, just as He did to Paul here, and we need to keep our hearts open to that revelation. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would do that work in us, (John 14:26) and that’s a major reason to seek to be filled with and in step with the Spirit. God is far too big for us to grasp Him on our own!

Of course this applies to me. I have been tripped up by pride in my high IQ, when human IQ is effectively zero when compared to God. I need to absorb as much as possible of the Bible, since God isn’t going to contradict Himself, but I am not to be limited by the human systems that men have created by their interpretations of what is written. God isn’t limited by anything! I have been a fan of science fiction since I entered my teens, and already many of the things I read 60 years ago are part of our daily lives. Physical things are trivial compared to the spiritual, but that’s an illustration of the danger of saying, “never happen.” I need to have faith and expectation that God is going to fulfill His Word, regardless of how things might look at any given moment, so that I will be available to Him for whatever purpose He might have for me, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this Word. I’m a bit blown out of the water! Help me open my heart to You fully so that I will neither hold back nor go astray, but follow You fully in all that You want to do involving me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Love; May 24, 2022

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The depth, the magnificence of this chapter, indeed of the whole book of Romans, boggles the mind. It’s no wonder that it was very quickly recognized as being as much the Word of God as the Old Testament! Here we have the ultimate answer to anyone who doubts the love of God. John 3:16 is of course justly famous, but here Paul is being very specific that Jesus didn’t die for us because we in some way deserved it, but simply out of the overflow of His grace and love, because that’s who He is. As John also expresses in the fourth chapter of his first letter, the love in question isn’t ours but God’s. Ours is no more than a poor imitation at best. Human love can indeed be mag­­nificent and sacrificial at times, but it never comes up to the level of God’s love for us. From the perspective of the world’s religions, love seems a very strange thing to base everything on. For example, the very word, Islam, means “submission.” We are to submit to God, but out of love for Him that reflects His love for us. Judaism absolutely venerates the Law of Moses, but when He was asked what the most important law was, Jesus famously responded, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40) Imagine that! All the Law is predicated on love! Human love can’t handle that load, but God’s love certainly can, and Jesus proved it by His death and resurrection.

I was blessed to be born and raised in a home that was characterized by love, both God’s and man’s, but not everyone can say that. As a pastor I deal frequently with people who have a very distorted concept of love, because they don’t have the foundation of God’s love in their heart and mind. For that to get through to them, they need to see it in me first. My life needs to be predicated on love, just as Jesus said. As we had prayed it would be, I think our recent church barbecue was something of a “love bath” for everyone who attended, and I believe that was a powerful witness to those who are not yet believers. I am personally very conscious of love at the moment, because today is our 53rd wedding anniversary. The past 53 years have certainly been a training course in love! However, as wonderful as our love for each other has been and continues to be, it is no more than a pale reflection of God’s love for us. I am to revel in that love first and foremost, allowing it to flow through me to those around me, for His glory alone.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Your love truly is beyond human vocabulary to express. Thank You for the words You gave Paul to give us some insight, at least. May I respond to Your love as You desire and intend, so that more and more people may open their hearts to receive Your love, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Active Faith; May 23, 2022

Romans 4:21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

This verse is a sentence fragment both in English and in Japanese, but I feel it contains a vital truth. Yesterday I spoke on Living Faith, talking about the importance of practicing what we say we believe. Abraham is a prime example of that, as Paul discusses at length in this chapter. In practical terms we often fail to believe either that God can or that He will follow through on what He has said, either in the Bible or perhaps to us specifically. Such lack of faith often deprives us of much that God intends for us, and at the very least it robs us of peace and joy along the way. We are very prone to dictate, at least subconsciously, what, when, and how we want God to act. That is so foolish! In these reading on Hope we have had passage after passage that point out our lack of perspective and our need to trust God with every detail of our lives. Even, or perhaps precisely, when things don’t seem to be going as we would like, we need to rest, relax, and rejoice in God, just as He has told me personally to do. Not only will that put us in position to make full use of the opportunities and the materials God supplies, it will also vastly improve our enjoyment of the process!

This certainly applies to me in every respect! Yesterday we had a church barbecue, which had been weighing on me because I’m not only an introvert, I also am not much of a planner. Everything went off remarkably smoothly, with God providing the workers necessary for each task when it needed to be done. To our great joy, one of the closest neighbor families did show up for the barbecue, though not for the program we had beforehand, and God’s love was abundantly in evidence throughout. God came through! On a far larger scale, God gave us a vision many years ago of Omura again becoming the foremost Christian city in Japan, as it was for a time 450 years ago. We don’t see much movement in that direction with our physical eyes, but that’s all the more reason to be like Abraham, convinced that God was big enough and powerful enough to do what He had said, even though Abraham himself was “as good as dead.” (verse 19) I’m currently 73, and my body is currently reminding me that recovery time slows with age, after all the activities of yesterday. Physical factors aside, there is no way that I myself could transform this city into a hotbed of faith, but nothing is impossible for God. If He wants to use me in the process, I’m available!

Father, thank You indeed for Your perfect faithfulness. Thank You for the discovery that the wife of the couple who came is an Occupational Therapist and works with some of my former students, and so was predisposed to think well of us. I pray that You would get past the Japanese “allergy to religion” and show them the difference between religion and a living relationship with their Creator, and that their transformation would be a trigger that would draw more and more into Your family, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Evangelism; May 22, 2022

Acts 28:24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.

What strikes me about this short verse is the difference between those who believed and those who didn’t believe Paul’s Gospel of the Kingdom. Their background was essentially identical, as devout Jews living in Rome, but some chose to believe and some chose not to believe. (The Japanese doesn’t say “were convinced,” but simply “believed.”) Faith, and the salvation that results, is ultimately a choice, and God doesn’t force us. That is an essential thing to remember for anyone involved in evangelism. We are saved by grace through faith, and that faith is a gift, (Ephesians 2:8-9) but we have to choose to receive that gift. These people all had equal opportunity hearing what Paul had to say, but some chose to receive faith and some chose not to receive. That reality can be heartbreaking for those sharing the Gospel, but we have to release each situation, and each person, into God’s hands. Sometimes something that is said lies dormant like a seed, and only later sprouts and bears fruit. We are never to stop scattering the seed! We should also be encouraged by stories like this. After all, if Paul had uneven results, who are we to expect better?

This is, naturally enough, extremely appropriate for me to remember. Japan is certainly famous for uneven results! There have been, and are, magnificent Japanese Christians, but the statistical probability of a Japanese accepting and living out the Gospel is one of the lowest in the world. The reasons for that have been widely discussed and debated, but it all boils down to this: we don’t know! I am to be faithful to share, always seeking the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit so as to do it as effectively as possible, but the results aren’t up to me. There is no evangelism “technique” that has proven results. Today we will be having an evangelistic program and barbecue, hoping to share Christ with our neighbors, but we can’t force them to take part, much less repent and believe. What we can do is be open to the Holy Spirit, loving God and loving the people around us, and allow Him to bring the fruit that He desires.

Father, thank You for this reminder at the beginning of a very full day. Help me not be uptight about anything, but rest, relax, and rejoice in You, just as You have told me to do. I have a track record of being snappy at others when I feel stressed. I ask You to keep me from that. It would be nice if I didn’t feel stressed, but that’s not the issue! Help me be an accurate reflection of my Lord Jesus, drawing people to Him by Your love, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Public Speaking; May 21, 2022

Acts 26:29 Paul replied, “Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

This is the conclusion of an absolutely magnificent, beautifully reasoned testimony. It obviously impressed the socks off of King Agrippa! The thing that probably impressed him the most was the fact that a chained prisoner would speak so boldly to those with legal authority to do almost anything to him. Like Peter at Pentecost, Paul was allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through him, and it was powerful indeed. In rather drastic contrast to Peter, Paul was highly educated and trained, probably in oratory as well as in theology. I find it interesting that verse one mentions that he “motioned with his hand.” I think that was probably a standard oratorical signal in those times to indicate that a speech was about to begin, since they didn’t have microphones and amplifiers to get people’s attention. However, it wasn’t oratorical training that came through most strongly, but the power of the Holy Spirit. I think the Greek here must say, “with little or with much,” because where the NIV says, “short time or long,” the Japanese says, “few words or many.” The point is that when it comes to testifying and speaking for God, quality matters much more than quantity. Sermon length has been debated for centuries, and Paul himself famously preached to the point of putting people to sleep. (Acts 20:9) Even Jesus, in the Upper Room before Gethsemane, kept going on for quite a while. However, the content of the Upper Room Discourse is some of the most magnificent in the whole Bible, so there was nothing wasted or irrelevant. We need to let the Holy Spirit be in control of both the accelerator and the brake when it comes to speaking, so that we will deliver precisely what our hearers need and can receive.

This hits very close to home, since as a teacher and pastor I make my living by speaking. I have had hearers go to sleep, both in the classroom and in the worship service. However, I strive to keep my output interesting and relevant enough to avoid that as much as possible. In both settings, I find that some people use sleep as a means of escape from information they find difficult or unwelcome. I have little control over that, but I can and do pray for my hearers that they would receive what the Lord knows they need from my words. Since I preach bilingually, interpreting for myself, I am constrained by people’s attention span, since everything takes twice as long to say. That makes it all the more important to deliver God’s truth in compact, penetrating form. I don’t have sufficient wisdom for that, but the Holy Spirit does, so I am to rely fully on Him.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You also for the message You’ve given me for tomorrow. I pray that I would indeed deliver it with Your words in the power of Your Spirit, so that it may accomplish that for which You send it, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Living Out Our Faith; May 20, 2022

Acts 24:16 “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”

Luke’s very faithful record of what went on in this courtroom sounds like it could have happened yesterday. People haven’t changed! That’s why the Bible is as relevant today as it was when it was written, despite many changes in technology. The world we live in today would have been unimaginable to people back then, and indeed, things we take for granted were literally the stuff of science fiction less than a hundred years ago. That said, the people living with all that technology are still completely human, with the same hopes, fears, and motivations. With that awareness, what Paul says here is very important. He is stating that he lives according to his faith, which his accusers also claim to do. The thing is, what we really believe is shown by our actions. Paul’s conviction that there would be a resurrection and subsequent judgment caused him to live an exemplary life. Recently Elon Musk said that he expected to go to hell, but it didn’t bother him because he knew that the majority of mankind was going there too. As Bill Whittle and Alfonzo Rachel pointed out, that shows that he doesn’t actually believe in hell, or in heaven for that matter. The Beatles’ song, Imagine, is widely loved, but it is an attempt to deny our accountability before God. That is foolish in the extreme! If it didn’t matter what we believe that would be one thing, however not just the Bible but all of human history shows us that what we believe makes a huge difference. Paul’s enemies on this occasion were so vehement against him precisely because he had been one of them, a “Pharisee of Pharisees,” as he had proclaimed before the Sanhedrin just days before. (Acts 23:6) The thing is, they weren’t living out the faith they proclaimed, and Paul was. We are very quick to attack those who make us look bad. It is vitally important that each of us ask God to show us how we are being inconsistent with what we say we believe, so that we may repent. As James pointed out, we are experts at deceiving ourselves! (James 1:22) Only the Holy Spirit working in us can keep us straight, but as Paul said, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

This naturally applies to me. I have long felt that James 1:22 was written expressly (though not exclusively) for me. I am quite good at deceiving myself! As a pastor I deal constantly with people who are struggling with the gap between what they honestly say they believe and how they live their daily lives. I have that same struggle! I can’t “fix” myself, much less anyone else, but I can point them to the One who can, just as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. I am not to despair at failures, my own or anyone else’s, but yield everything to God and keep pressing in toward Him. I need to believe He won’t give up on me, or on anyone else, and live accordingly!

Father, thank You for this encouraging reminder. I had been wondering what I was to share with the congregation on Sunday! I pray that I would be increasingly faithful in living out the faith You have placed in me, so that Your purposes may be accomplished in and through me for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Plans; May 19, 2022

Acts 23:11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

The following two years of imprisonment in Caesarea were doubtless not what Paul would have chosen, but I’m sure the Lord’s words to him here helped him get through them, and the time following, much better. Assurance that we are in God’s will is a tremendous encouragement for any believer. From our perspective we can see that Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea allowed Luke to research and write the Gospel that bears his name, and the trials and hardships of the rest of Paul’s life allowed, even caused, him to write more of the letters that form half the New Testament, for the incalculable blessing of every generation since. We seldom know how the events of our lives are going to impact others, and there is no way we can know how that impact will resonate through succeeding generations. We don’t know the details of Paul’s testimony in Rome the way we do of this incident, but there were probably some of his hearers, even among the soldiers who guarded him, who became believers and left a spiritual legacy, just as there were perhaps members of the Sanhedrin who opened their hearts to the truth because of the situation recorded here. Every one of us needs to trust God with our past, present, and future, believing that He is going to use even our mistakes for good. (Romans 8:28) Someone has said that it’s like watching a Persian rug being made. In this life all we are seeing is a confusion of strings and knots, but when we get to heaven we will be able to see the other side, and the beautiful tapestry it became.

I need to remember this as much as anyone. At this point in my life I am thinking about my legacy, but I can rest assured that it will be as God intends, which is a very good thing. Faithfulness is called for, because I certainly don’t want to derail what God is doing. I have little if any idea what it will all involve. One of my favorite people in the Old Testament is Isaiah, and tradition tells us he went to heaven by being sawed apart! The life of Paul is an encouragement and comfort to me. It certainly wasn’t easy. He famously didn’t receive the healing he desired, but God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) That and other things enabled him to write, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) I don’t often think about the fact that those two passages are parts of the same letter! When Paul could leave the legacy he did with all he went through, I’ve got nothing to complain about!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me indeed release everything to You and trust that You have Your good purposes for allowing it. Help me be proactive in obeying You, rather than having to repent of disobedience. The days ahead hold a great deal – and that is true with both potential meanings of that phrase! May I trust You enough to be totally obedient, so that the greatness of what You have planned may be manifested, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Invitation; May 18, 2022

Acts 2:38-39 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

This is certainly one of the most glorious invitations ever given, not just in the Bible but in all of human history. It is the offer not simply of forgiveness of sins and eternal life (as though that were a simple thing) but of intimacy with our Creator even on this earth. And it is of the utmost importance to realize that the invitation is extended to all, far and near, “whom the Lord our God will call.” Peter himself didn’t understand the breadth and the impact of the words God spoke through him in this moment. It took a pretty dramatic experience in Joppa and then in the home of a Roman Centurion for it to get through to him. (Acts 10) God was and is calling people “from every nation, tribe, people and language.” (Revelation 7:9) Making it more personal for those present, Peter specified “you and your children.” It is tragic that many Christians fail to pass their faith on to the next generation. Sometimes they say things like, “I want it to be their faith, and not mine pressed on them.” On the face of it that’s valid, but the devil is actively trying to steal our children from us, and from the family of God. We need to be active and intentional in equipping our children with a framework that will make it easy for them to have a deep, personal relationship with their heavenly Father. They too need to be fully equipped with the Holy Spirit in order to resist all the unholy spirits that are rampant in the world today. I can’t specify when a child is ready for baptism. My mother was baptized at five, after a genuine awareness of sin and repentance. I was baptized at seven, but got sidetracked by pride to the point that when the Lord really got my attention at 24, it was so dramatic that I requested and received baptism a second time. That sort of timing isn’t so important. The vital thing is that the invitation expressed here be expressed and understood by all who will receive it, for their eternal salvation and God’s glory.

This is of course of vital importance to me, for many reasons. I am first of all a Christian, and I am also commissioned as a minister of the Gospel, a missionary in Japan. This invitation is what I’m all about! There are young people in the church right now whom I would baptize at any moment they expressed their desire for it. We will be having a barbecue this Sunday evening as an outreach to the families in the neighborhood, and that is all about this very invitation. Actually, my every interaction with people should be a reflection and an expression of this invitation. I cannot control people’s response, but I must be faithful to extend the invitation in the first place. No one on the face of the earth is NOT in need of this invitation! I am not to be intimidated by anything, but be as bold as Paul was regardless of the status of my audience. God wants His invitation to go out!

Father, thank You for this powerful reminder. Thank You for the further witnessing You enabled me to do at school yesterday, with another contract teacher and one of the fulltime teaching staff. Help me not miss, or misuse, any of Your appointments for me, but be fully useful to You to draw people to Yourself, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Words; May 17, 2022

Acts 2:14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.”

This was as much a work of the Holy Spirit as what had just gone before, and in some ways was just as astonishing. Peter, an ignorant fisherman with a track record of sticking his foot in his mouth and making a mess of things, here delivers a clear, even scholarly explanation to the crowd not only of what they had just witnessed, but of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Scriptures he quoted were spot on, and the effect on his hearers was dramatic. In the days, weeks, and years following he went on to earn a reputation as someone who indeed spoke the words of God. We can be pretty confident that here he was speaking Aramaic, because 2nd Peter shows that his Greek skills never rose very high, but that’s part of the miracle: God took him as he was and used him powerfully as a vital part of the establishment of the Church, not because of him but in spite of him and all his faults. We have no idea how much his grammar was cleaned up in this transcription, particularly because the record we have is in Greek rather than in Aramaic, but we do know what God did through His words which He spoke through Peter. I personally think that the experience of denying three times that he even knew Jesus, and then being forgiven after the resurrection, was an essential part of preparing Peter for this moment. He had zero confidence in himself, which enabled him to be totally yielded and available to the Lord. To whatever degree we draw back from letting God use us, we are looking at ourselves and our circumstances instead of at Christ. (Hebrews 12:2)

In some ways I have had the opposite problem. As many have recognized from my youth, God gifted me in terms of words and language. However, that was no guarantee that my output had any value! I have used words to amuse and entertain, which is fine but not vital. I have used words to lash out and hurt, which is certainly reprehensible. I have used words to confuse deliberately, which is the opposite of their purpose. I have gloried in the power of words, instead of in the One who enabled me to produce them. Occasionally I have used words as God has indeed intended them, lifting people up, healing them, and drawing them closer to their Creator. As good as that feels, you’d think I’d try to do it more consistently! I do seek to do that, but I’m acutely aware that I have a lot of room to grow in my availability to God. I want my words to echo His, working His will in my hearers, both those I can see and those I can’t. I’m to speak His words to principalities and powers, as well as to the physical people around me. (Ephesians 6:12) The moment I try to do that in my own strength and wisdom it becomes ineffective, but God is big enough and powerful enough to use even me, if I will allow Him to do so.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s sobering! Between school teaching and church preaching, it could be said that I make my living with words. May they be living words indeed, Your Words, bringing light and life to those who hear, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Pentecost; May 16, 2022

Acts 2:6, 11 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

The miracle of Pentecost was two-sided. Not only were the believers given words they had not learned, the crowd was given the ability to hear what they were saying and understand it. When you consider that there were around 120 people all talking at once, as well as the number of different localities mentioned from verse nine on, the hearing was also a miracle! What is not clear is whether each hearer heard all of them speaking his language, or whether they were able to pick out one or two people who were doing so. Anyone who has been in a polyglot situation has experienced recognizing when someone was speaking a particular language they knew, even if they couldn’t distinguish exactly what was being said. That seems likely here. I speak English and Japanese and have studied German so I can pick up those languages in a crowd, and I have a fair guess at some others, so I have no problems with that idea. It seems important to remember that what was being said was praise to God for what He had done. God’s miracles aren’t just for the sake of being miraculous, they are to point and draw people to Him in faith. It would have been meaningless if the believers had been talking about the weather or the stock market. They were experiencing the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to them: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) When we operate in God’s power, we will do His will for His glory.

Naturally, this applies to me. I first encountered the idea of Pentecost being a “miracle of hearing” during the brief time I had with my father after bringing my wife and children to Japan for the first time, before my parents left for the furlough from which my father returned as cremated ashes. I had been exposed to teaching about the Charismatic Movement but hadn’t yet personally experienced it, and I think I was discussing it with my father. He pointed out something his father (also a pastor) had written in the margin of a commentary on Acts, to the effect that “wouldn’t this be a miracle of hearing?” My father also wondered if his own remarkable ability in Japanese wasn’t a variation on the Gift of Tongues, since it came to him after a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit. I can’t deny that it might have been! I have also heard someone who certainly didn’t speak Japanese using that language in ministry – in America! My wife also has experienced praying in Tagalog with a group of Filipinas, when she certainly doesn’t speak that language. I have learned that it’s very foolish to try to put God’s gifts into any sort of box. I have also learned that they are to be used, at His direction of course, and not hidden away like the servant who only received one talent. (Matthew 25)

Father, like so many other things, I realize I only have partial knowledge and understanding here. Help me keep growing, keep learning, so that I may be increasingly useful to You. May I be a good steward of all that You have placed in me and at my disposal, so that Your purposes for every bit of it may be fulfilled, on Your schedule and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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