Consequences of Sin; May 8, 2021

2 Samuel 12:13-14 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.”

Our sins have consequences, and they aren’t limited to us. Just before this Nathan specifies some things that indeed happened to David because of his sin, but here he declares that the totally innocent child who had been born because of David’s sin would die. David himself had repented because of Nathan’s forthright confrontation, and Nathan tells him, “The Lord has taken away your sin.” (The Japanese says, “overlooked your sin.”) Here, David’s repentance is expressed very tersely, but Psalm 51 is the full expression of that repentance. God’s forgiveness is real, but it doesn’t necessarily interrupt the chain of consequences that come from sin. Opportunities are lost, and evil things are set in motion. That said, verses 22 and 23 show David’s grasp of God’s grace, as he responds to the death of the child. We need to grasp better what it is to fear the Lord and so hate our own sin, knowing that it resonates to those around us. God is indeed love and He is indeed gracious, but He is also perfectly holy, and we must never forget that.

I honestly don’t know which of the unpleasant things in my life have resulted from my sin and how many are strictly part of living in this fallen world. (John 16:33) I also don’t know the cause of the many physical/health-related attacks on Cathy. If they are in any way a result of my sin, I want to know how to repent! She has benefited from some good doctors, but she has also suffered from some poor doctors. Right now, her Parkinson’s specialist is insisting her pain doesn’t come from that disease, but her Orthopedic Surgeon very reasonably says that is the trigger. I just don’t want her to be in pain! I do know that all pain in this world is temporary, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to bear. I want to so walk before the Lord that I won’t be a pain vector, to Cathy or to anyone else. I want Cathy to be free of pain, but I don’t want her taken from me, even though her own experience demonstrates that heaven is marvelously free of pain. In some ways that’s rather selfish of me! Like David, I need to walk in humility and repentance, trusting God’s grace but not presuming on it, so that His will may be done in and through me for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I do pray that You would keep Cathy from any unnecessary pain, and that You would keep me from being a source of pain in any way to others. May I be an open channel of Your grace, and experience it myself in the process, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Stewardship of Gifts and Opportunities; May 7, 2021

2 Samuel 7:28 “O Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant.”

Nathan had built up a track record with David, and David trusted that he accurately heard and reported what God was saying. The first half of this chapter is a pretty magnificent prophecy of blessing, not just of David himself but of his descendants, and David was blown out of the water. He went before the Lord, probably in the tent he had recently put up to house the Ark of the Covenant, (chapter 6) and prayed this formal prayer. My guess is that since he had assigned people to praise God in that tent 24/7, there were people around him who recorded this prayer. Between the prophecy and the prayer in response, it probably seemed to those around David, and even to David himself, that he had reached some pinnacle of perfection/holiness, and that was very dangerous. He indeed did many good things after this, but he fell into the trap of presuming on God’s approval of anything he did, and that led to his massive sin with Bathsheba and Uriah (chapter 11) and near disaster with his own children. We humans can be very blind and stupid! When God blesses us we think we somehow earned or deserved those blessings, and when bad things happen to us we think we are hopeless and worthless, and neither of those things are true. As Paul famously recognized, we are never perfect in this life, (Philippians 3:12-14) but at the same time we are never beyond the reach of God. All that is required is humble obedience, but that is indeed required. Authentic humility recognizes that every good thing we have is by the grace of God, but it also recognizes that God is big enough to use even us and our circumstances for His glory. The bigger God is in our mind and heart, the more available we will be to Him for His purposes.

This hits me squarely between the eyes. I started off with a rather full basket of abilities, but I have failed to be diligent in seeking God for how He would have me apply them for His purposes. That doesn’t mean I haven’t done anything good, it means that the good things have been almost accidental, rather than by my submitting myself diligently to do the hard stuff that is often required. This morning, just before waking I was dreaming about writing, and I realized that I have known for most of my life that I had been given a gift for words, but I haven’t been very purposeful in exercising that gift for blessing people and glorifying God. That needs to change! My time every morning of reading the Bible and “praying through my fingers” like this is a blessing and not a burden, but I need to consciously seek how God would have me expand my writing, and also how He would have me get that to those who need to read what I write, so that I won’t be fruitless but fruitful, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this wake-up call, literally. Thank You also for interrupting me with the lady who came by. Thank You that Cathy realized someone was here and came down also, and we were able to minister to her. I pray that Your words through me to her would indeed penetrate and bring her to clear-cut commitment and faith, exploding Your grace in her life beyond her wildest dreams, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Leadership; May 6, 2021

1 Samuel 12:23 “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.”

As I said in a sermon recently, any leader, much less a church leader, who fails to pray for those they lead doesn’t understand a thing about leadership. We tend to think about leadership in terms of getting in front of people and saying, “This is the way! Let’s go!” To be honest, some “leaders” don’t even do that, but get behind people and say, “Go that way!” That’s the very definition of “leading from behind,” and it certainly never works. If enough power is involved there is indeed motion, but it is more slave-driving than leading. I have seen churches that were like that! As Samuel rightly says, that is sinning against the Lord. Even strictly secular leaders need to be concerned for the good of those they lead. If they are honest, they will concede that they don’t always do it right, and if they have any shred of faith, they will pray for wisdom at least. How much more a church leader! Failure to pray for those led is at the very least hubris, pride that thinks it doesn’t need God. Since the Church is the Body of Christ, trying to lead without being in right connection to the Head is like cancer in a physical body, rebellion against the right order of things. Sadly, there are pastors who seldom pray, and who read the Bible only to create sermons that have no life in them. Such pastors are indeed sinning against the Lord whom they claim to serve.

To be honest, I have been slow to come into this understanding of church leadership. I have prayed for wisdom, but that was self-centered, that I would do the right thing. Praying for the flock has been all too low on my priorities. At the same time, I have bemoaned my own “lack of leadership gifting.” I have recognized my Teacher gifting, since I have never hesitated to get up in front of people and tell them stuff, but without humility before God, that can be “stuff and nonsense!” In my school teaching I have started each class by praying for my students, since I don’t have much individual interaction with them outside of class, but ironically, I have been slow to pray for individuals in the church unless they have asked for prayer. How foolish of me! I have bemoaned the fact that they weren’t the disciples of Christ that they could be, but I haven’t prayed enough to that end. As I have been preaching the current series on prayer, I have been preaching to myself! Ironically, I think I pray for other churches and for world situations more than I pray for individuals under my care, and that’s not right. I’m not to neglect the other prayers, but I am to lift up those in my own flock, especially since they don’t belong to me, but to my Lord.

Father, thank You for this clear Word. Help me follow through! You know each individual need far better than I do, so I have no reason to hesitate to let Your Spirit guide my words. Even as You have had me preach, help me be a fully useful tool in Your hands through prayer, so that Your name may be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, in and through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Government; May 5, 2021

1 Samuel 8:19-20 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

Samuel could not have been more blunt in his description of the actions of a king of those days (verses 10-18), including saying that they would “cry out for relief,” (verse 18) but the people were adamant. Today, the idea of just being taxed a tenth of your income seems like a really good deal! I think just about everyone was thinking that their sons would be “commanders of thousands,” (verse 12) or some other high position, and even today “working for the government” is seen as a highly desirable thing. Japan even has “cram schools” to help people pass the Civil Service Examination. People have such a distorted idea of what life can be and should be! The people here who were insisting on a king frankly had no real idea what they were asking for, because they hadn’t experienced it. As the saying goes, “The grass is always greener of the other side of the fence.” As a current example, many people living in what is statistically the most desirable nation in the world, the US, pine for socialism, refusing to see what an abject failure socialism has been in every nation that has tried it. They see it as “being taken care of,” much as the people here thought a king would take care of them, not realizing that the resources for any nation ultimately come from the people and the economy of that nation. They want to “tax the rich,” not seeing that enterprising people are the engine of the economy, so they are trying to “kill the goose that laid the golden egg.” It all boils down to a desire to evade personal responsibility, to deny accountability, to others and ultimately to God. As God told Samuel, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (verse 7) We tend to choose what we see as the easy way out, not realizing all the pitfalls of the way we choose, just as these people with Samuel.

I could obviously stay up on my soapbox quite a while on this subject, but it’s much easier to rant than it is to act responsibly! I am no better than the people in this story if I fail to submit to God personally and live as He indicates. I am active in signing online petitions, since I am physically in Japan, but my primary focus needs to be prayer. The problem there is that there are literally countless things that cry out for prayer! I am to seek and follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance in what to pray for, how and when. It is hardly surprising that the federal government is ignoring the National Day of Prayer this week, but past occurrences have been largely lip service in any case. What is needed is for God’s children to get serious about it on a personal level, not only praying for all the issues “out there” but living their own lives in purity and faithfulness. If that happens, then 2 Chronicles 7:14 will indeed be fulfilled.

Father, thank You for this strong reminder. Help me live it out faithfully myself, pointing people to You in every facet of my life, for Your glory alone. Thank You. Praise God!

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Judging; May 4, 2021

1 Samuel 3:9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

This was perhaps the high point of Eli’s ministry, the moment at which he best fulfilled the Lord’s purposes for him. He was a very poor priest, bringing judgment on himself and his household by his failure to train up his sons as he should have, but in this moment he steered Samuel rightly, and all Israel, and indeed all posterity, has benefited. We don’t know God’s plans, but sometimes He uses one person largely to bring out another person. That doesn’t mean the first person is unimportant. It’s fairly well known that Billy Graham was the only person to respond at an evangelistic meeting when he was a young man, and the evangelist thought he was a failure. The whole world knows the result of that story! Eli was by most counts a failure indeed, but he was used by God to encourage Hannah’s faith and to nurture Samuel in seeking God – more than he himself sought God! I don’t think he failed to receive the reward for that, despite his failures. None of us knows exactly how we ourselves will be judged by God, so how foolish of us is it for us to go around judging others? We aren’t to excuse sin, but neither are we to condemn. We are to lift people up to God for Him to use them, dealing with their sins and healing their wounds. That’s His job and not ours. Sometimes He uses us in the process, particularly in healing, but it’s not anything we can do on our own.

As a pastor, this is a particularly sensitive issue for me. I am to teach and admonish, and even at times to discipline, but I am never to do it from some kind of high horse. I must always be aware of my own weaknesses, walking humbly before my Lord. As Paul said, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Corinthians 4:3-4) I am to repent of my sins the moment I become aware of them, keeping my conscience clear as Paul did, but not thinking that makes me better than others. I am also not to dump on myself, thinking I’m a failure. Someone God has touched through me could end up being as mighty in the Kingdom as Billy Graham! I am to rejoice in the grace of God and be at peace with my own total dependence on that grace.

Father thank you for this clear reminder. Help me indeed be faithful in the tasks You have for me, not avoiding them or making excuses, but not putting myself down, either. May I indeed be a useful tool in Your hands, just as You had me talk about in the message on Sunday, so that Your purposes may be accomplished on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Response to Circumstances; May 3, 2021

1 Samuel 2:2 “There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

Recently I have been reminded many times that the people in the Bible for the most part lived in a polytheistic environment. They might not have thought there was no other god in existence besides Yahweh, but like Hannah, they came to the conviction that He was the only One worth worshiping. This particular verse has been set beautifully to music, and I would guess that most people who sing it think it comes from Psalms, when actually it is from Hannah’s prayer. There is a huge difference between societal religion and experiential faith. Hannah could create this beautiful, powerful prayer/song/psalm because she had encountered God directly, through His answering her heartfelt request. I feel sure she became more and more aware of Him through her pregnancy and raising her son to the point that he was able to be taken to Eli at Shiloh. That was what enabled her to make the huge sacrifice of being separated from her son, but she certainly didn’t dismiss Samuel from her thoughts and love. It is record­ed in 2:19 that she took him a new robe in her annual visits, and I’m sure that was a reminder to him that he hadn’t been discarded. We all have circumstances that seem less than ideal, but how we respond to them is the key to their impact on our lives. Hannah and Samuel both yielded their circumstances to Yahweh, and were blessed as a result. (2:21)

I have certainly had many things in my life that weren’t fun at the time, and some have left lasting scars. Some of the things that were most problematic at the time I wouldn’t trade for anything now, because they shaped and grew me into what I am, making me more assured in my dependence on God. As a pastor I am continually dealing with people who don’t have that perspective yet, so my task is to help them gain that perspective. My older daughter was in an abusive first marriage, but she says she doesn’t regret it, because it provided her with a daughter whom she loves greatly and is very proud of. I must have done something right in raising her! Like Paul, I need to remember that every good thing I have is the result of God’s grace, (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that grace is enough to deal with anything and everything I will deal with from now through eternity. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the very good day yesterday. Thank You for everyone who was here for the service, and for Your clear presence in it. Thank You for showing me how to cover for the battery dying in the digital audio recorder, and that I didn’t panic when I discovered what had happened. I pray that what You spoke through me would indeed bless many who hear it digitally, as well as those who heard it in person. May we continue to grow as a church in every way that You intend, on Your schedule and not ours, for Your glory alone. Thank You. Praise God!

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Parenting; May 2, 2021

1 Samuel 1:27-28 “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

Here we have the proof of Hannah’s faith. She remembered the terms of the vow she made, recorded in verse 11, and recognizing that God had fulfilled His end of it, she fulfilled hers. The record is simply that Samuel was weaned at this point (verse 24), so I’m thinking he was probably about the same age as the bull that was sacrificed for the occasion, that is, three. Today, Hannah would likely be arrested for “child endangerment/abandonment,” but those were different days back then! No child had it easy, and infant mortality was what we would consider shockingly high. That he had survived long enough to be weaned and was healthy at that point meant that he was likely to live to full adulthood at least. Hannah wasn’t short-changing God! That she entrusted her son to Eli and company proves a level of commitment equal to martyrdom, I think. The flip side of that is of course Samuel himself. I don’t doubt that Hannah had prepared him for this all along, talking to him about how she had prayed for him and that he belonged to God, but this was the first time he had ever met Eli and the people around him. It had to be a major shock to him. However, the evidence is clear that he got through it pretty well, accepting Eli as a father-figure. However, he didn’t do any better with his sons than Eli had done with his, (1 Samuel 8:3) probably because he didn’t grow up with the example of good parenting. What are called “generational curses” are often the natural results of the examples we see and follow. In spite of that, Samuel grew to be undeniably a great servant of the Lord, just as Hannah had promised him to be.

As the youngest of four, my circumstances are hardly like those of Samuel. Also, my parents presented an example of good parenting for me to follow (though my own results are my own responsibility). That said, I think my parents gave me to the Lord as fully as Hannah did. I never felt pressure to be anything specific, but my parents consistently prayed for me to do God’s will for my life, serving Him. I can’t claim that my focus was very clear on that for many years, but since November, 1972, that has been my goal. Parenting is indeed a huge task and many people run from it, either refusing to have children or essentially abandoning them after they are born. (And no, I don’t think Hannah was abandoning Samuel.) However, parenting brings rich rewards that can be had no other way. I have two physical children, but quite a few spiritual children in addition. My prayer for them all is that they would indeed serve the Lord all their lives, just as Hannah dedicated Samuel, because that is without question the best road all the way around.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for my physical children and my spiritual children. I do pray that they and I would love You and serve You as You alone deserve, for Your pleasure and glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Words; May 1, 2021

1 Samuel 1:17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

Eli’s words to Hannah were very simple, but because he was the priest, Hannah received them as from the Lord, and they engendered faith in her. We cannot know whether it was his words that enabled her to conceive, or the faith those words generated, but the result was miraculous, at least from Hannah’s standpoint. We really don’t know what our words will do, before we speak them and often, not after either. The Bible has a lot to say about words, and it can be a very deep study. Right now a lot is made of various words, and definitions seem to be changing all the time. Some words have been designated as “micro aggressions,” and we are told to eliminate them from our vocabulary. That seems like a total distortion of the gift of language! Our words are certainly important, but God is most interested in the heart behind the words. God can speak words through us that are far beyond our own ability or qualification. Eli, for example, was hardly a good priest, as comes out in chapter 2 in what he allowed his sons to do, but God honored his office anyway. The extreme example of that is the statement by Caiaphas, the high priest at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, that Jesus would die for mankind, as John explained. (John 11:49-52) Our goal should be to always speak the truth in love, (Ephesians 4:15) allowing God to speak through us as He chooses, so that His will may be accomplished in and through us. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

I have always been a man of words, at times for good and at other times not so much. I am in a position where my words have weight for many of the people who hear or read them, and I’ve got to remember that. Something I read several years ago made a deep impression on me. A man with a strong, and recognized, prophetic gift had a dream in which he was at a construction site, and several people were throwing things at him, sometimes missing but sometimes hitting him rather painfully. Finally, in exasperation he picked up a screwdriver that was lying on the ground and lightly tossed it at one of the offenders. To his horror, it pierced the man’s abdomen and wounded him severely. When he woke up, he realized that it had all been about words, and that because of his gift and his office, he had to be very careful with his words because they had great potential to wound. I have tried to take that to heart. I have great joy in speaking and writing what the Lord pours into me, but I must never take that gift lightly. Like Paul’s authority, it is for building people up and not tearing them down. (2 Corinthians 10:8)

Father, thank You for this cautionary Word. I certainly don’t want to be paranoid, but I do want to be a good steward of the words You give me. Help me indeed speak Your truth in Your love so that people may be set free from the lies of the devil (John 8:32), for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Stewardship of Abilities; April 30, 2021

Judges 13:8 Then Manoah prayed to the Lord: “O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.”

To be quite honest, I think Manoah might well have prayed this prayer because he wondered if his wife hadn’t just had a fling with a handsome stranger, and he wanted to check out her story. After all, the cause of a couple’s infertility can be with either spouse. It wasn’t until the angel went up in the flame of the sacrifice that he was completely sure that it was indeed an angel. None of us have conversations with angels every day! However, God was gracious to him and to his wife, confirming what He had said to her in the clearest possible way. The negative side of this was that I think Manoah and his wife treated their son with such awe at the circumstances of his conception that they failed to discipline him at all, and he was spoiled rotten. We actually know more of the story of their son Samson’s life than we do about most of the minor characters in the Bible, and self control was hardly one of his character traits! It was tragic, but God used even the results of their poor parenting to deliver Israel, in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him. I think the reason Samson has four chapters of the Bible devoted to him is that he was a prime example of someone who was mightily gifted by God, but failed to submit that gifting to Him in faithful obedience. We see that all the time, with performers and scientists and athletes and people of virtually every other profession who are at the top of their field but fail to acknowledge their Creator, claiming all the glory for themselves. It’s tragic every time, just as it was for Samson.

My gifting is certainly not in the extreme category of that of Samson, and thankfully, my parents did a much better job of parenting than did Manoah and his wife. My life hasn’t devolved into tragedy, certainly, but I too could have benefited from more self-discipline, actively applying my gifts instead of taking them for granted. It has only been as I have aged that I have understood on the deepest level that the gifts were never mine to begin with, and I was no more than a steward. I haven’t been the most faithful of stewards! Thinking back, my potential as a young person was incredible, but by failing to buckle down and put in the hard work to develop that potential, much if not most of it was squandered. I think perhaps the best job I’ve done has been that of husband! However many more years the Lord keeps me here, I want to apply all that He has put into me however He desires, not sloughing off or making excuses but applying myself faithfully, so that His purposes may be accomplished in and through me for His glory, even at this late date.

Father, thank You for Your incredible grace and patience toward me. Thank You for the plans that You have for me from this point. I pray that I would not get in the way, but would be fully available and committed to You, whatever that involves, for the sake of Your kingdom and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Confirmation; April 29, 2021

Judges 6:36-37 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised– look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.”

This is a famous story, and rightly so. When we come up with our own plans, we indeed need to think carefully and rationally and calculate our probability of success. Even Jesus said, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30) However, He was talking about the matter of total commitment to discipleship. When it comes to specific things God tells us to do, if we fixate on our own abilities and resources, we will be paralyzed and not follow through. That’s not to say that we are to be foolish and thoughtless, but it is to say that our reliance is to be on the One who gave the command. At times like that, it is only natural that we want to be sure we heard correctly, and that is exactly what Gideon did. However, “asking for a sign” can be a cover for a simple lack of faith. Jesus dealt with that, too. “The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.’” (Mark 8:11-12) Gideon wanted to believe, but he needed encouragement, and God gave it to him.

I’ve had some interesting experiences in this area. Just a few years ago we were feeling God wanted us to buy the land next to the church building to build a senior care center there. We were excited at the idea, but had no resources. Then a non-Christian friend heard about our desire and offered, completely on their own, to lend us the necessary large amount. We took that as confirmation from the Lord, but we failed to include the church members sufficiently in our talking and planning, and there was opposition arising from disbelief. Bureaucratic regulations played a big part, but we ultimately had to set that plan aside. Frankly, that was heartbreaking. God did use those events to bring about some good things, but we came away scarred. Confirmation can be a tricky thing! However, we are completely assured that God has not abandoned us, or this city and nation, and we are to stay available to Him for however He wants to use us, whether it matches our dreams or not.

Father, thank You for all You allow us to go through. Help us learn what You want to teach us, growing as You intend, so that the results will be what You desire, for Your glory alone. Thank You. Praise God!

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