The Fear of the Lord; September 23, 2020

Job 33:29-30 “God does all these things to a man– twice, even three times– to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him.”

Elihu is a very interesting character in Job, because he is not one of Job’s three friends whom God said were sadly mistaken, but appears to be a younger man who had overheard the discussion. (Job 32:1-5) That leaves it open to the interpretation that everything he says is entirely correct, and indeed, I have heard it expressed that he is actually a Christ-figure. In this section he is talking about how God uses illness to draw people into a right relationship with Him. These days we hesitate to attribute anything even remotely unpleasant to God, but that is hardly the Biblical standpoint. God isn’t mean, certainly, but He understands that there are lots of things more important than our immediate comfort. I am reminded of the excellent point I have heard made about parenting, that the parent’s goal should not be to have the child love them, but to have them respect them. If that is there, then the love will follow and be much deeper than it could be otherwise. That’s why the Bible talks about “the fear of the Lord” more than it does loving God. Respecting God as Creator and Lord is absolutely essential to what Jesus gave as the two greatest commandments. (Matthew 22:36-39) If we fail to have that foundation of respect, we will never grow to be the mature children of God that we were created to be. Until we recognize God’s absolute power, authority, and holiness, we will never realize the magnificence, the depth and height and breadth, of His gracious love for us. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

I am having a minor reminder of this, going into the hospital this morning to have a skin graft to patch the hole where a plug was taken out of my scalp because of a basal cell carcinoma. I anticipate some pain, both in the injection of local anesthesia at both surgical sites and in the recovery process, but I don’t consider that such a big deal. Of far more impact to me personally is the disruption in my schedule. Being in the hospital for about a week means a nursing school class has been rescheduled, but it’s the matter of not being here to prepare for Sunday’s service that weighs on me. I am being made sharply aware of how much I allow this church to depend on me, and what a weakness that is. Everything from preparing the Powerpoint for the songs to the sermon title for the street-level sign is going undone this week, and I have no control over the recording and live-stream of the service. That is remarkably hard to let go of emotionally! I need to praise God and thank Him for this lesson, being reminded on an ever-deeper level that this is His church and not mine, and allowing others to grow in their service to Him as well.

Father, thank You for this lesson. At the point I noticed that the reading for today was from Job I had a suspicion You would say something pointed to me! Thank You. Help me indeed receive every lesson You have for me with gratitude and joy, no matter how unpleasant it might be at the moment, so that I may be and do exactly what You desire, for the sake of the Body of Christ and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Trusting God; September 22, 2020

Ezra 8:22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.

It is fascinating, and sometimes amusing, to see how God uses human weaknesses for good and for His glory. Ezra had told the king, accurately enough, about why the Jews had been conquered, but that if they had been faithful to God, it never would have happened. Now he is faced with what was in those days a definitely dangerous journey, and he has to “back up his boasting,” so to speak. His own sense of shame forced him to depend on God actively, and that’s a good thing. The next verse indicates what they did, and that God responded. I am reminded of what someone said recently in relation to churches being told to shut down because of COVID: “God is our Shield, and He is able to protect us from the virus. If we contract the virus, He is our Healer. If we perhaps succumb, He has prepared heaven for us.” That covers all the bases! We aren’t to be presumptuous, but we are to walk in the peace of knowing that God is everything the Bible says about Him. And if we are regularly telling others about Him, then our own embarrassment can help keep us in line! If we regularly say about God that which is true, then our own words can implant that into us as unwavering faith, and that is a good thing indeed.

This is a major benefit that I have found in being a preacher. I am constantly telling other people how wonderful God is, and that has an excellent effect on my own faith. Of course that can’t be just words; I’ve got to walk it out on a daily basis. It does me no good to tell others, “God will speak to you if you regularly take time with Him each morning,” if I’m not doing that myself! It’s all part of James 1:22. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” That applies to those who speak the Word as well! It has been relatively easy to be at peace about my upcoming surgery because I have talked with so many people about God’s faithfulness. I was almost surprised to dream about it a couple of nights ago, indicating that I still have some anxiety about it. I’m not to be presumptuous, but be active in trusting God to be my healer, and to take care of my wife and this church while I’m in the hospital. This will be good training in prayer!

Father, thank You for all the good things You are doing each day. Yesterday had quite a few of them. Thank You for all You have planned for today. I pray that when our webmaster comes this morning that things will go smoothly in Cathy learning how to edit the English of our church website. I pray that I would be able to understand all the questions and so fill out the hospitalization questionnaire correctly. I pray that I would have the knowledge and wisdom to help my pastor friend this afternoon with the computer/telephone issues he has. I pray that we would be able to confirm the use of my tablet for Internet chats, so that will be fully available during my hospitalization. Lord, none of those are issues for You, but they all require my faithfulness. Help me be obedient in every detail, on Your schedule, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Stewardship of Abilities; September 21, 2020

Ezra 7:10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

God gives gifts and abilities, and all power ultimately comes from Him, but human will is certainly involved as well. Jesus’ famous parable of the talents makes that very clear. (Matthew 25:14-30) Ezra had obviously been given a good mind, but it was his choice to devote it to the study, practice, and dissemination of the Law of the Lord. That’s why God’s gracious hand was on him, as it says in verse 9. It gets complicated sometimes, trying to think it all out. Everything we have is by the grace of God, most expressly including salvation itself, (Ephesians 2:8-9) but we are still rewarded for what we do with what we are given, or punished for what we fail to do with it, as Jesus expressed in His parable. We cannot earn salvation, but when we respond rightly to the salvation God has provided, the rewards just don’t stop coming. It is no accident that immediately after giving the most famous and unequivocal statement of salvation by grace through faith, Paul then goes on to say, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) Ezra did not claim the position of Bible Teacher on his own, he chose to dedicate the abilities God had given him to serve God in the way He indicated. As Paul said, “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” (Ephesians 4:7) The question is not whether we have been gifted, but rather what we will do with what has been given us.

This has always been an issue with me, because the Lord has given me a wide variety of abilities, and every one is to be used as He directs. Yesterday I functioned as a preacher and as an audio technician, and today I will be functioning as a carpenter/cabinetmaker. I have been asked, in all seriousness, “Just what is your occupation?” The answer is ultimately, “Whatever the Lord directs at the moment.” I delight to serve as a musician, as a photographer, as a teacher, and as a carpenter and electrician. Any of those could be a full time occupation, but that’s not how I have been led. My focus is to be on hearing my Lord and doing whatever He says, as a good steward of the abilities with which He has blessed me. My stewardship has certainly not been consistent. My clarinets are gathering dust, and that is sad to me. Each day has only 24 hours, and there are so many distractions! I still have plenty of room for growth in listening to what the Lord wants me doing now, instead of just frittering away my time. At the same time, I’m not to be uptight about it all, because He Himself has told me to rest, relax, and rejoice in Him. That’s a pretty good assignment!

Father, thank You for the tasks You have for me today. I pray that I would do a good job at each, not only so that the results will be attractive, but especially so that the other people involved may be pointed to You. May I be an open channel of Your grace and power, for the blessing of those around me and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Evangelism; September 20, 2020

2 Chronicles 30:9 “If you return to the Lord, then your brothers and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will come back to this land, for the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.”

This invitation to repentance was honest and straightforward, as opposed to politically correct, and the next verse indicates it wasn’t received very well. However, some people did receive it and respond, as verse 11 indicates. That is generally the case with calls to repentance, so the fact that the response is sparse should never keep us from making the call. That’s closely related to Jesus’ parable of the banquet in Matthew 22, and I think underlies the last line of that parable: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14) The thing we’ve got to remember, however, is that if none are invited, none will respond. We all dream of massive response to evangelism, but that is entirely in God’s hands; we certainly can’t force anyone to be saved. As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Our job is to provide, or actually point out, the water.

This could hardly be any more appropriate to ministry in Japan. Statistically, no other nation even comes close in terms of the low rate of return for effort in evangelism. Since 1934 my family has been actively involved in calling the Japanese to Christ, and indeed, some have responded magnificently. However, their number is few indeed, when compared to the time frame and the effort involved. And as I wrote that, the Lord said I should stop comparing! I am to rejoice in those who do respond and equip them in turn to extend the invitation themselves. It’s like Paul said to Timothy: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2) I am to be faithful in declaring the Word myself, as well as in raising up others who will likewise be faithful in that task. It is interesting to me that no more “conversions” than I have had, how many have been called into ministry themselves (though not all have followed that call). Some have accepted and responded to the call after leaving here, but that’s fine. Meanwhile, I’ve got to be faithfully persistent (or persistently faithful). I am to seek God’s wisdom and God’s words to express the Good News of the kingdom as effectively as possible, and trust Him with the results.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for those who have responded to Your call, even if they have run from it for a while. I pray for good fruit for them, and for me as well. May all of Your children realize that they are called to be witnesses (Acts 1:8) and not shrink from it, but rather seek more and more of Your Spirit to enable them to fulfill Your commission, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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A Prophet; September 19. 2020

2 Kings 13:14 Now Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. “My father! My father!” he cried. “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”

Two things strike me about this. The first is the very practical matter that everyone dies of something, even a great prophet like Elisha. He had seen Elijah taken up directly to heaven in a chariot of fire and a whirlwind, (2 Kings 2:11) but he left this world in a much more pedestrian fashion. The second thing is that he was honored enough that King Jehoash came to see him on his deathbed, and spoke to him exactly the same words that he is recorded as having said when Elijah was taken from him. (2 Kings 2:12) Addressing an older, respected man as “My father” is common in many cultures, but the reference to “the chariots and horsemen of Israel” seems more unique. I would think that it was an acknowledgment that the power of God was manifested through that person to protect the nation from its enemies. Jehoash was probably more interested in what Elisha represented militarily than he was in what God might speak to him about his personal life through Elisha. We all tend to look at people and circumstances through the filter of how they will meet our preconceived goals, and in the process miss what God wants to do for us that we haven’t imagined. In this particular story, the king didn’t see the point in the symbolic act of striking the ground with the arrows, and so limited the blessing to himself and the nation. (verses 18-19) We are to acknowledge the people God uses to speak into our lives, but not try to determine ahead of time what or how He is going to speak or act.

Various things about this seem very relevant to me. I am quite aware of my own mortality, being in the middle of treatment for a basal cell carcinoma, having already outlived my father by eight years. Likewise, I feel very respected by many, though I certainly haven’t earned the sort of status Elisha had. I couldn’t count how many times I have spoken the Word of the Lord to people and they simply haven’t received it, because it wasn’t what they expected or what they wanted. At the same time, I have turned deaf ears to what God was saying to me more times than I could count as well. I am not to accuse others without acknowledging my own failures. I am to be an example, both of speaking the Word of the Lord and of listening to and obeying what God says, so that those in my care may be strengthened to walk in all that God has for them, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You that I’ve been asked to speak at an ordination next month. I pray that I would say exactly what You intend, and that the reception and response would be exactly as You desire, so that the Body of Christ may be built up for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Grief; September 18, 2020

2 Samuel 12:22-23 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

David’s grief was rooted in reality. Losing a child is a terrible thing, but it happens. David knew what it was to humble himself before the Lord, and a full week of fasting and sleeping on the ground was certainly impressive to his staff. However, he also knew that continuing to center his life on the child after the child was dead accomplished nothing. This is something that, sadly, many parents fail to grasp. They fail to understand that the child itself would not want the parents to destroy their own lives because of its death. David’s last statement, acknowledging that he would eventually join the child in death, but he couldn’t force a resurrection, is powerful. I have seen parents who would have given their own life in a moment if the child could have received it, but that’s not how it works, and David knew and accepted it. It is downright amazing to me when Christians are utterly distraught and fail to move on after the death of a loved one. They really don’t seem to believe in heaven! Yes, we miss those who go on ahead, but if they and we are committed to Christ, (or are less than the age of accountability) then we know that we will have a reunion, and heaven is immeasurably better than life here. We should rejoice that by God’s mercy the one who has died is freed from all suffering of any sort. Most grief is essentially self-centered, focusing on personal loss rather than on the deceased person. David realized that, and he was able to release his child to God and move on.

I haven’t lost children, but I have lost parents. When my father didn’t wake up after heart surgery at 64 it was quite a shock, but my honest first reaction was, “He won’t have to retire.” When my mother died at 72, after a considerable battle with cancer, I wept before the Lord before the fact, asking Him to take her home, since I knew she was more than ready, but I didn’t weep after. I realize that I’m pretty unusual in that, but I consider that awareness to be a huge blessing. At this point, my wife has a laundry list of medical issues, and there has been prophecy that she will precede me. That is hardly a happy thought for me, but objectively I know that my going first would be harder on her than the other way around. Frankly, I have done some grieving ahead of time! Since she has already been to heaven once and come back, I know that it would be entirely selfish of me to try to keep her here when God says it is time, but I would be delighted if He takes us together, or if Christ’s return makes it all moot. Meanwhile, as a pastor I am called on to comfort people in their grief. I am not to make light of their grief in any way, but I am to seek to lift their eyes to God’s grace and mercy and restore to them the joy of His salvation.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You that we indeed have the “hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) May I be increasingly effective in imparting that hope to others, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Regulations; September 17, 2020

Numbers 6:27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

In reading the English I was struck by the expression, “put My name on,” but then when I read the Japanese, I discovered that it said “pray My name for.” That’s quite a difference! Given that the NIV agrees with the preponderance of English translations of which I am aware, my guess is that the Japanese is an interpretation as opposed to a translation. In any case, God was saying that His covenant name, Yahweh, was to be associated with the Israelites. That makes it ironic, even tragic, that in an effort to keep from misusing that name, (Exodus 20:7) Jews bend over backwards to keep from using it at all. That’s what happens when humans expand and amplify God’s commands. That actually happens because of our own lust for power. We think that the more ways that we can control others, the more power that gives us. We see that in abundance in politicians, some of whom have been running wild with regulations using the COVID virus as an excuse. (And then they turn around and ignore their own regulations themselves.) The spirit behind that is evident, because “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) It is of major significance and importance that the name of Yahweh be associated with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but they themselves use Adonai, Lord, instead, even when reading the Bible where it gives the name explicitly. I am reminded of Jesus’ rather cutting statement, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” (Mark 7:8) Jesus Himself was referring to Isaiah 29:13, which He had just quoted. We tend to feel that if one regulation is good, 10 regulations are better, but that is substituting regulations for submission to the Holy Spirit, and that never works. That’s the whole problem with legalism. Augustine of Hippo had it right: “Love God and do as you please.” The only problem with that is that few if any of us love God enough! I find it very interesting that John MacArthur, who is well known as a rather legalistic preacher, has become something of a “point man” in opposing the anti-Christian regulations in California. I’m sure the Lord is teaching him some things about regulations! We are certainly not to ignore the regulations in Scripture, but we are to “serve [God] in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6)

I have always been something of an anti-legalist, but that has opened me up to the temptation to think that I personally know best, rather than being humbly submitted to the Holy Spirit. I need to keep pressing in for more of God and His Spirit, and that will not happen if I am rebellious. I am not to ignore human laws and regulations, certainly, even when they are a pain in the neck, which is often enough. However, I am not to let human regulations supersede what God has said clearly, through the Bible or directly to my heart. As a pastor I am to let people know of God’s holiness, and that we are called to be holy as He is, (1 Peter 1:16) but I am not to mandate that holiness by human regulations. I am to admonish firmly when people are clearly astray, (Colossians 3:16) but let God be the ultimate Judge in every case. I don’t have the wisdom to do it all right, but God does, and He will guide me. (James 1:5)

Father, thank You for this reminder. I have quite a track record of setting myself up as the Authority, and it’s never worked out well. Help me indeed be fully submitted to You and flow with Your Spirit, so that Your purposes and nothing else may be fulfilled in and through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Description of God; September 16, 2020

Exodus 34:6-7 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

Since this is recorded as God’s description of Himself, it calls for a lot of careful consideration. It’s worth noting that there is nothing physical about this description. He doesn’t say, “I am this tall, I am this color,” or anything of the sort. Rather, He describes His character. Even there, human language is severely limited. He emphasizes His loving graciousness, but lest people take Him lightly, He also makes it clear that sin has consequences. It almost seems contradictory, but that conflict stems from the limits of human understanding. The one thing He doesn’t mention here is repentance, because that is something required of sinful human beings. I think everyone has seen people who were suffering for the sins of their ancestors, just as this says, but even there, the solution is repentance and forgiveness. If we want to enjoy God’s grace and mercy we’ve got to acknowledge that we need it, and our ancestors did too. There are several examples in the Bible of people repenting for the sins of their ancestors, Daniel being one of the most prominent. (Daniel 9) We can’t excuse our sins by blaming them on our ancestors! Sin has to be confronted, acknowledged, and repented of, period. However, when that happens, the love and faithfulness mentioned here are manifested in abundance.

I am in the enviable, and rather unusual, position of being descended from generations of people who loved God and served Him wholeheartedly. However, I’ve got my own sins to deal with! I wallowed in pride for far too long, but God caught me up short and showed me my own heart. I sometimes say that it’s a good thing I’m not God, because if I were, I would have squashed me a long time ago! God is indeed slow to anger! As a pastor I try to teach others about God, not only that He is so incredibly loving and gracious, but also that He is perfectly holy and so cannot simply overlook sin. I am still learning more of God myself, so I need to be fully patient with those to whom I minister, and we are all dependent on the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to understand Him, since human words cannot begin to convey it all.

Father, thank You for all You have done down through the centuries to reveal Yourself to us, and that You continue to do so today. Help me receive Your revelation and transmit it, accurately and faithfully, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Ways; September 15, 2020

Exodus 33:13 “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

Here we have the heart of a leader pleasing to God fully exposed. Moses was not asking for anything personally for himself, he was asking to know God better so that he would be more pleasing to Him. I don’t know the Hebrew, but in Japanese, way, or ways, is consistently rendered with a word meaning street, road, or path. Way does have that meaning in English, as in highway and the like, but I don’t know that we think about it like that in this context. In a sense, Moses is asking for GPS – God Positioning System. That’s something we could all use, but we don’t think about it often enough. If we are following God’s route, not only will we arrive where we and He want us to go, we will see the sights along the way that He intends for us as well. Much of the time we hardly know where we are, much less where we are headed next! Moses was on a first-name basis with God, (Exodus 33:11) but he still wanted to know more of God and to be on ever better terms with Him. That’s certainly an example to follow! When we fail to keep pressing in for more of God, we end up drifting away, because the currents of life in this fallen world certainly flow away from Him rather than toward Him. Self-satisfaction ends up being disastrous! This is particularly true for those charged with leadership, as Moses was, because our “flock” doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to God.

Of course this applies completely to me, since I am a pastor and I desire to be pleasing to God. God has led me throughout my life but I haven’t always paid attention, and sometimes I’ve run into mud and potholes quite unnecessarily. I don’t have to know what’s around the next corner, but I do need to know where to turn! The longer I walk with the Lord, the closer I want to do so. I identify completely with the Bill Gaither song, The Longer I Serve Him, the Sweeter He Grows. I can understand how Billy Graham must have felt, when the only way he could get closer to God was to leave his physical body behind. I’m certainly looking forward to that day myself, but in the mean time He’s got work for me to do, and there is joy and satisfaction in it. Today being my 72nd birthday, it’s a milestone, and I’m deeply grateful, both for the road this far and the road ahead. I am constantly reminded that this flock belongs to Him and not to me, and I desire that all of His plans, for it and for me, be fulfilled for His glory.

Father, thank You for this, today of all days. I am frequently touched at the evidence of Your having guided in the creation of the monthly Scripture reading list, when the passage is spot-on for what You already knew would be happening. Thank You for enabling me to draw up the October list yesterday. Help me indeed follow Your path for me, drawing closer to You just as Moses asked, so that I may be fully pleasing to You. Thank You. Praise God!

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Giving; September 14, 2020

Genesis 33:11 “Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.

This story tells us all sorts of things about the people involved, as well as the customs of the day. We find that Jacob was indeed very intelligent (or maybe we should say, crafty) and knew how to give a bribe to save his skin. We also learn how Jacob valued the members of his own household. His was certainly what we would call a dysfunctional family today! The rivalries among his wives and concubines are mentioned elsewhere, and his children were ranked in terms of which womb they came from. It’s no wonder his other sons were jealous of Joseph and wanted to kill him! (Genesis 37) All that said, Jacob still managed to say something here that should impact how we think about our own lives: “God has been gracious to me, and I have plenty.” We have a bad tendency to forget that everything we have is a manifestation of God’s grace. Yes, our effort is often involved, but if God didn’t provide it, we wouldn’t have a thing. That’s a major function of tithing. Returning to God 1/10 is to remind us that all of it originates with Him. I talked about tithing with someone recently who is getting started in their first real job. They were taken aback by the idea of giving that large an amount every month, since they did not have the example of tithing when they were growing up. I told them that they should rejoice that God had provided so much as to enable that sort of giving! (They were leaving to work elsewhere, so I wasn’t trying to get more income for this church.) The thing is, we should all look at God’s supply as an opportunity to pass it on appropriately. Few are called to give it all away (though some are) but all of us will find joy and satisfaction as we allow God to meet others’ needs through us, and the first step in it all is tithing, to establish in our own heart and mind that God is our Source.

I am pestered with requests for donations on a daily basis, and I have gotten to where I turn it all off. That isn’t really good. Even political donations can be God’s will for us at times, but I find such organizations as and Samaritan’s Purse far more compelling. However, I was indeed raised to tithe, and I am grateful. God’s supply is indeed abundant, and I am to be a steward and not a glutton. In teaching others about giving, I am to be an example, but never boastful about it. That can take more wisdom than I have at times. However, God provides wisdom too, (James 1:5) so I have no excuse!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all You did in this church yesterday. I pray that I wouldn’t get in Your way, but would flow with Your Spirit in all that You are doing on every level, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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