Marriage; October 9, 2019

Proverbs 5:18-19 May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.

Every once in a while the Bible is distinctly PG! Verses 15-17 are an explicit admonition to avoid casual hook-ups, and here we have a barely poeticized description of physical satisfaction in marriage. That said, this is actually a very important subject that is very often thought of and even discussed, yet rarely in “polite” company. When we make sex taboo or shameful, we are inviting its degradation into the mess that is so common today, with pornography and human trafficking and all the rest. Sexual reproduction is something we have in common with all animals, but if we leave it on the animal level we are degrading ourselves horribly. Various Christian writers have tried to reclaim the idea of marital sex as both pure and delightful, but the devil puts out huge effort in the opposite direction, and he is all too successful a distressing amount of the time. When God has called the Church the Bride of Christ, (Revelation 19:7; 21:9) and Paul, though single himself, famously interlinked marriage and the relationship of Christ to the Church in Ephesians 5:22-33, we urgently need to reclaim marriage, and the sex that it includes, as the holy and glorious thing that God created it to be. At this point we are a long way from this description in Proverbs. The Japanese translates a line in verse 19 as, “May you get drunk on her breasts.” You aren’t likely to hear that read from a pulpit!

I require a session of counseling before I will do a wedding. Since in Japan a religious ceremony has no legal significance, well over half of the couples I deal with are already legally married, and in current society, people having their first intercourse on their wedding night is almost totally unheard of, much less expected. I am very blunt, pointing out that society is sexually saturated, so no one is without temptation, but that adultery brings loss to everyone involved, even if the partner is a “professional.” (The emotional loss from treating your own body and sexuality that way is something no amount of money can replace.) I tell them that intimacy is an essential part of the marital relationship, but without heart intimacy, you quickly tire of physical intimacy. However, when the heart intimacy is secure, the physical intimacy is delightful “icing on the cake,” and something you never tire of. Various studies have shown that there is far more satisfaction, on various levels, in good marital sex than in any other kind. I am very grateful to be able to confirm that, after 50 years of marriage! I feel like I fit this passage in Proverbs very well, having gotten married at the ripe old age of 20, and I am very grateful.

Father, thank You for marriage, and everything involved in it. Some of that is more pleasant at the moment and some less, but it is all for our benefit and blessing. Thank You indeed for the “helper suitable for me” (Genesis 2:18) with whom You have bound me, and for the 50 years we have had together so far. May we continue to be what You intend for each other on all levels, as an example to those who are watching us and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Wisdom vs. Intellect; October 8, 2019

Proverbs 4:7-8 Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Esteem her, and she will exalt you;
embrace her, and she will honor you.

If this is indeed what David taught Solomon, it’s no wonder Solomon asked God for wisdom. (2 Chronicles 1:10) The tragedy is that Solomon failed to distinguish between Godly wisdom and human intellect, and by relying on the latter, he fell horribly. God gives everyone a measure of intellect and a measure of wisdom. That can vary greatly from person to person, but we need to keep two things in focus: Godly wisdom is far more important than intellect, and none of us have any of either wisdom or intellect, compared to God. As we are approaching, through technology, what has been called Singularity, the point when machines become “smarter” than humans, that awareness becomes all the more important. Now that we can easily carry the Internet around in our pockets, simple information is such a commonplace that it is ceasing to be valued. However, with the flood of information (which may or may not be accurate) we are forgetting to really think. There is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom! Our phones today could be said to have more “knowledge” than we do, but they don’t know what it means, much less what to do with it. The whole field of Artificial Intelligence is working on that, but they can’t begin to touch true wisdom, much less Godly wisdom. We create computers and try to teach them how to think. Is it not all the more important that we seek our Creator, and ask Him to teach us how to think? As I’ve already said, He has done that to a degree for every human being, but He has also given us the responsibility to seek Him for true wisdom, so that we won’t be deceived as Solomon was.

This is very much the story of my life. I come from a highly intellectual/academic family. My father and both my grandfathers had doctorates, and even my grandmothers were college graduates, which was pretty unusual for the time (late 19th Century). Looking at my extended family I see that the genetics have held true, with academic degrees peppered all over. However, I also see plenty of evidence that some have relied on intellect rather than seeking true wisdom, let alone Godly wisdom. When things come easily, it is too easy to forget that we have nothing, and are nothing, without God. I am embarrassed to say that I was past 50 before it finally got through to me that God’s smart and I’m not. The wisest thing I can possibly do is seek Him, to listen carefully and obey fully. That’s really just another way of saying what Jesus said so famously: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) God is the source of everything good, (James 1:17) and seeking anything less is pure foolishness.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for Your incredible patience with me over the years, exposing my foolish pride and opening Your heart to me. May I indeed operate in Your wisdom at all times, so that You alone may be glorified as Your will is done in and through me. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Parenting; October 7, 2019

Proverbs 3:11-12 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.

When I get to this part of the Bible the temptation to focus on verses five and six is very strong, because I have loved them for many years and we have even used them as the Scripture for the Year fairly recently. However, these two verses are also massively important, and are also quoted in Hebrews 12:5-6, which are part of another dearly loved passage. The Bible is so rich, and filled with truth that indeed sets us free! People who fail to take this passage (and the longer exposition in Hebrews) to heart are often captive to resentment and a feeling of “Why me?” That’s no way to live a happy, fulfilled life! We have a tendency to want to think we are the ultimate authority in life, when nothing could be further from the truth. Just as a child has to learn that they are not their parent (and are therefore not in charge) we have to learn that we are not God, or even anywhere close to being Him. One of the challenges of parenting is knowing how much explanation to give your children for your decisions and edicts. “Because I say so” is a perfectly valid answer at times, but not all the time, particularly as the children get older. We do have to remember, and acknowledge, that unlike God we are not perfect; we make mistakes. However, leaving the decision up to the child, particularly too early or too often, can cause real damage. We are all born with an innate need for boundaries, and lack of them can be devastating. That’s precisely what this passage is talking about. God is indeed the perfect Parent, and He knows that we need to learn to decide on our own to do what is right. That’s what free will is all about. However, He also knows that we need training in making right decisions, just as any child does, and that’s what discipline is all about.

My children would probably be the first to tell you I’ve not been the perfect father, but since they’re both in their late 40s with children of their own, they have also expressed gratitude to Cathy and me for doing our best. That has certainly been gratifying! As a pastor I have been called on to do marriage and parenting seminars, and I call on both my successes and my failures to do those. Some of the things I know now, I learned because I didn’t know them before! I remember the absurdity of taking a class in Early Childhood Development in seminary that was taught by a professor who not only had no children, she was young and single! Some of her pronouncements were so ungrounded in reality that some of the older students, with multiple children, literally walked out of class in disgust. She only had a theoretical understanding of the subject matter, and some of those theories were downright wrong. I must not be like that, but share in all humility what God has taught me, at the same time learning to be a better child of God myself, for the benefit of everyone involved.

Father, thank You for Your patience with me over the years, and for how You have grown and trained me, sometimes over my strong objections! Help me keep growing to be a more effective channel of Your love and grace to those around me, for their blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Wisdom; October 6, 2019

Proverbs 1:29-31 Since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord,
since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.

Proverbs is rightly classified as Wisdom Literature, because starting with this first chapter it records a lot of wise sayings and, as here, uses Wisdom itself as a metaphorical speaker. The reason it qualifies as Scripture is that wisdom is couched in terms of faith, with “the fear of the Lord” as the most basic element and evidence of wisdom. Right now the events in government circles in the US seem like a morality play, even one taken directly from the pages of Proverbs. We see people lying when their lies bring them no advantage whatsoever, and we see people making pious pronouncements when their actions betray no fear of God at all. At times I find myself torn between laughter at the ridiculousness of it all and sorrow that anyone, and particularly leaders, could be so committed to falsehoods. One strongly Christian news commentator recently left his position, but not without making a final statement on the godlessness of what he was seeing. It is clear that wisdom, as Proverbs says, starts with recognizing that we are fallible created beings who are accountable to our Creator, who is both omniscient and omnipotent. That recognition will certainly generate a healthy respect, and yes, fear, that is all too lacking in much of society today.

The risk for me is that in seeing the foolishness of others, I may forget my own susceptibility to the same deceptions. Just last night I had the privilege of hearing an anointed speaker, and one of the many things he said from the Lord was that we are all fundamentally hypocrites, but the way out of that is to recognize and confess your hypocrisy. At the moment you confess, “I am a hypocrite,” you stop being hypocritical! As I look at all the mess that is going on, not just in government but in every area of society, I am not to despise anyone or hate them as individuals, even when I hate what they are doing and see that they are being directly obedient to the devil. I am to speak the truth in love, even when it comes out like what Jesus said to the religious professionals in Matthew 23. Like God told Ezekiel, if I fail to warn people, their destruction is my responsibility, but if I do warn them, it is their own. (Ezekiel 33:1-6) I am to seek the wisdom that comes from a right relationship with God, and I am to recommend that wisdom to all who will receive it.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You also for the refreshing I received in last night’s meeting, and for the marvelous example set by Pastor Minami. He is a true disciple of Jesus Christ, and as such, expresses Your truth in the power of Your Spirit. I ask Your blessings on him and his ministry, and pray that I too would be a faithful son and servant to You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Praising God; October 5, 2019

Psalm 147:1 Praise the Lord.
How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

I have seen statements that God must be some kind of egomaniac to require that mankind praise Him, but this verse expresses the simple truth. God doesn’t tell us to praise Him for His benefit, but for ours. When we praise God it realigns our perspective and enables us to rise above the various troubles that are part of life on this fallen planet. (John 16:33) This truth has been active since the dawn of history, but mankind has gone through periods of forgetting it. God in His mercy has brought us back to it again and again, but even when it is active in the Church, we still tend to forget it on a personal level. Someone who actively, consciously, thanks and praises God daily is going to be one of the happiest people around, regardless of what they are going through. There are countless tales of people who have gone through great tragedy and come out with peace and joy that is the wonder and envy of those who know them. That’s why Paul tells us so clearly, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:19-20) And, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) The way to “be joyful always” is to thank and praise God! Far from being an egotist, God desires the very best for us His children, and praising Him is an essential part of receiving that.

I was raised in a family that loved to sing hymns, but the area of praise was really opened up to me with the Charismatic Movement in the ’70s. Then when I personally opened myself up in faith to being baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, praise took on a new dimension. Even so, I still forget to thank and praise God at times, allowing the enemy to distract me with merely physical circumstances. It wasn’t easy to praise God in the recovery room after my recent hernia surgery, and I didn’t do so out loud, but I found that I could indeed do it in my heart and mind, particularly “singing” songs mentally, and it was a huge help. I have made a practice of trying to praise God in my own pain, either physical or emotional, but it gets more complicated when I am dealing with pain in others. I don’t want them to feel I am making light of their pain, because I’m not, but I am completely convinced that God is the answer to it all, and He is more than worthy of our praise. I have botched that several times, offending people and making them feel I had no empathy at all. I do need to weep with those who weep! (Romans 12:15) However, I want to teach them to praise God through the tears. When Jesus made His famous statement about troubles and rejoicing in John 16:33 he was about to be arrested, beaten, scourged, and crucified. That’s not something anybody wants to go through, and He certainly didn’t, as His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane made very clear. (Matthew 26:38-39) I am not to insist that anyone praise God, but I am always to speak the truth in love, and it is manifestly true that thanking and praising God lifts us above our circumstances.

Father, thank You for this reminder. We’ve been the brunt of quite a few attacks recently, on our bodies and on our finances. Help me remember to thank and praise You whatever is going on, trusting You fully and letting You be Lord, so that Your purposes in allowing whatever it might be to be fulfilled, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Heroes; October 4, 2019

Psalm 146:5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,

After two verses of introductory praise to God, this anonymous Psalm focuses on the contrast between depending on people, putting our hope in them, and depending on God. We tend to focus on people we can see, which is where the whole Superhero genre of literature came from. However, as verses three and four point out, people die, and that’s that. That’s why the course of true blessing is placing our hope in God and depending on Him. In the polytheistic world of the day, the writer specifies “the God of Jacob” to make it very clear who he is talking about. Today there are not only other religions, people tend to place their hope in technology or some other form of human intellect. There has certainly been massive technological progress, but ultimately all of that is material and temporal and will pass away. True security comes only in the One who is outside of time, who created the entire material universe and who, for some inexplicable reason, loves and cares about each one of us. We are to be grateful for the many ways God blesses us, and for the human instruments He often uses to do so, but our focus needs to be on Him rather than on any human individual. We love heroes, but the Son of God is the only one truly worthy of that title.

I think I am hardly unusual in having fantasized about being a hero, and not just in my youth. I have daydreamed about having super powers, or of being so mightily anointed by God that demons would flee when I just walked into a room. I have had to come to terms with the reality that I’m no hero, while at the same time remembering that God is big enough and powerful enough to use me, as easily as He can use someone else. Men have an innate drive to accomplish things, and that desire hasn’t gone away with age. However, my definition of accomplishment has shifted, and I am grateful. At this point, I want to be available for whatever tasks the Lord has for me, whether they are “within my ability” or not, so that His will may be done in and through me. I have deep joy in recognizing when I’ve met a “divine appointment,” being in the right place at the right time to say or do something God wanted said or done. At the same time, I recognize that it is very risky for anyone to depend on me, because I am as fallible as anyone. God has given me a message for this coming Sunday on being a model that people can imitate for their benefit, but I will never be a perfect model. I am to keep my hope in God and teach others to do likewise, because that is the only “sure thing.”

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You that I could be there yesterday for Cathy when she had the sudden severe pain that took her to the hospital in an ambulance. The fact that the pain eventually subsided without their ever identifying the cause is an indication that this is yet more spiritual warfare. Help us indeed keep on all the armor You provide, (Ephesians 6:13-18) so that we may be fully effective in resisting the devil (James 4:7) and destroying his works, (1 John 3:8) for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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God’s Mercy on our Weaknesses; October 3, 2019

Psalm 145:8-9 The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.

This is another acrostic Psalm, laid out according to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and so has a bit of the feeling of a collection of truisms. At the same time, every statement in it is demonstrably true, certainly including these two verses. What comes across to me here is that as our Creator, God knows just how weak and foolish we are, and He acts accordingly. We need to remember that God is never shocked or even surprised by anything we say or do, though He may be saddened. This passage calls to mind another of David’s Psalms. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14) It was His loving compassion that caused Him to send His Son to take the penalty for our stupid sins, since we weren’t bright enough to choose the blessings of obedience over our own willfulness. We are indeed accountable for our every action and even our every word, (Matthew 12:36) but we must remember that God still loves us, and His forgiveness is always available for all who will repent.

I definitely need to be reminded of this from time to time. I have times of feeling intimate fellowship with my Lord, of participating in what He is doing, and those are glorious. However, I also have times of feeling like I’m spinning my wheels, of essentially being of not much use to anybody or anything. Yesterday was one of those days, even though objectively speaking I did get some things done. That left me feeling spiritually dull this morning, “not the sharpest knife in the drawer.” However, my feelings in no way change God’s love for me. Once again I need to get my focus off of myself and onto my Lord. Rather than worrying about what to do, I need to rejoice in what He has caused me to be, a redeemed child of the Creator of the universe. I am to keep myself available at all times for anything He indicates He wants me to do, but that is secondary to simply being His child. This too is part of what He told me years ago: rest, relax, rejoice. I can be remarkably slow to learn at times!

Father, thank You for this reminder. You have really changed my mood, causing me to laugh at myself. That’s good medicine! Thank You that our neighbor came over last night to tell us the extent of her financial loss from our shed flying over there in the typhoon. I ask for clear guidance in how that is to be dealt with, and I thank You for Your abundant provision. Help me not be so disgusted with insurance companies! May we be willing, joyful agents of Your will being done in all things, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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