March 27, 2017

Deuteronomy 1:30-31 “The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

The whole book of Deuteronomy is a recounting of what had already happened. In some ways it is Moses’ edit of what he had written in Exodus through Numbers. The thing is, we need to be reminded of what God has said to us and done for us in the past. Somewhat like a cow chewing their cud, we need to ruminate over such things so that we won’t miss the lessons God wants us to learn. Here, the specific imagery Moses uses is both meaningful and beautiful. We can all relate to the picture of a father carrying his child, and it’s a very apt one. Just like a father doesn’t carry his child all the time, but only when it might be dangerous for the child to walk, or the child might be too tired, in the same way, God doesn’t spoil us, but He does protect us. Just as a child sometimes kicks and squirms, wanting to get down even when the father knows it isn’t wise, so we kick and squirm against God, not recognizing what He is doing and wanting to do things our own way. The Israelites whom Moses was addressing were certainly good examples of that. As Paul pointed out, much of the Old Testament was recorded precisely so that we could learn from such examples. (1 Corinthians 10:11) Sometimes we think that short attention spans are a modern malady, but mankind has a long history of failing to remember lessons they have already been taught. As the saying goes, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. We need to follow Moses’ example in Deuteronomy and consider what God has already taught us, so that He won’t have to teach it to us all over again.

When I look back over my own life, some of the lessons God has taught me have been delightful and some have been painful. The thing is, I tend to remember the delightful ones and expect more of the same, but push the painful ones out of my mind, and for that very reason have to go through them again. God isn’t mean, but as has been said, He’s more interested in my character than in my comfort. That’s the lesson of one of Paul’s very famous statements: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) I have been shaped and grown by the pains in my life, probably more than by the pleasures. I need to recognize better how God has supported and protected me even when the way seemed hard. Rather than complain like the Israelites, I need to “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for [me] in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s interesting how often I need it! Help me encourage all the believers in the same way, so that together we may “Through Jesus continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” (Hebrews 13:15) Thank You. Praise God!

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March 26, 2017

Deuteronomy 1:8 “See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

God supplies, but in many cases we have to receive that supply actively rather than passively. We can do nothing to generate God’s grace, for example, but we have to believe in order to receive His salvation. In that case it is simply a choice, but often we are called to be even more active. This particular instance was certainly active, with large scale physical movement and even military action, so we need to be prepared for that. It is no less God’s provision, but He calls us to be active participants in the process. Sometimes when that is the case we leave God out of our thinking and feel either that we have done it on our own, which generates pride, or that we have to do it on our own, which can generate despair. Neither is accurate. Moses touched on that issue a little later, when he said, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18) God gives us abilities, but if we don’t exercise them they don’t do us much good. God provides abundantly, but we need to be willing to do our part to participate in His plan.

This is a somewhat painful Word to me this morning, because I have been entirely too passive about a number of things. Two days ago I finally went to talk to the contractor who was recommended to us for building a nursing home, and discovered that the preliminary work necessary for rezoning and the like is something they do for free. Had I been more active and gone to them in December, the surveying and such that is going on with the land next door would be on our behalf rather than for a real estate developer. I have also been less than persistent in taking tracts around in the neighborhood. The return on that is certainly low, but doing nothing isn’t the answer. My major gift and calling is teaching, but I have to have people to teach! It is entirely true that I can’t make things happen on my own, but I need to be active in participating in what God is doing. All sorts of things are going on, in the church and in society around us. I need to be active in seeking God for my part in it all, so that His will may be done on His schedule for His glory.

Father, thank You for this Word. Forgive me for being passive, for feeling entitled, for taking You for granted. Help me be faithful as a steward of all You provide, opportunities as well as objects, so that indeed, Your Name may be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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March 25, 2017

Numbers 27:15-17 Moses said to the Lord, “May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

It was very clear to Moses that he didn’t have a lot longer on this earth, which is hardly surprising since he was well past 100, and he was concerned for a successor. He realized, as has been said, that there is no success without a successor. What strikes me here is that he sought the Lord over the issue, rather than automatically assuming it would be Joshua. As it turned out, Joshua was indeed the one the Lord had in mind, but Moses wasn’t going to presume. That’s very wise! We use all sorts of criteria in choosing people, from mates to golf partners. Those aren’t necessarily wrong or bad, but the more important the decision, the more important it is to seek God’s voice in the matter. Actually, no detail of our lives is beneath God’s notice, (Luke 12:7) so the wisest course is to be listening to God all the time. That doesn’t mean we aren’t to use our heads, but it does mean we are to submit our wills to Him, knowing that He always has the best idea. Sometimes God’s choices will surprise us, but we must not let that stand in the way of our obedience. In my experience, sometimes I don’t think something could be God’s will because it’s what I want so badly! That’s as foolish as failing to ask Him in the first place. God indeed works in us both to will and to do His good pleasure, (Philippians 2:13) so the longer we walk with Him, the more trustworthy our own impulses become. Even so, like Moses we must not presume on big issues, but humbly and actively seek Him.

My life has certainly had hits and misses in this area. The choice of a wife was a huge hit, even though I wasn’t really walking close to the Lord at the time. I wrote my parents the day after our first real date that I had found the girl I wanted to marry, and before I could get their reply, we placed a collect call to them to announce our engagement. That was 48 years ago, so I think I got my directions right! As a pastor, the matter of a successor has been a real concern, particularly since we are a small, non-denominational/independent congregation. However, over the years the Lord has raised up through me people who are pastoring other congregations, so I haven’t been too worried. In recent years I have thought it was maybe this person, and then maybe that person, but in each case the Lord made it clear He had other plans for them. Right now I do have a formally ordained assistant pastor, who is humbly and sacrificially dedicated to the Lord and to this congregation. I have real peace with that, but even so God has the final word, whenever and however He takes me out of this congregation. My success, and my successor, are in His hands.

Father, thank You for Your gracious guidance and provision. Help me walk in full obedience, not presuming but actively listening to You, so that all of Your plans may be fulfilled on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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March 24, 2017

Numbers 21:8-9 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

It has long been interesting to me that Jesus referenced some of the stranger stories of the Old Testament in His teaching. For example, He referenced Noah (Matthew 24:37-39) and He referenced this bronze snake. (John 3:14-15) God’s actions are never either isolated or meaningless; they always have implications for succeeding generations. At the same time, the devil always tries to twist what God does so as to use it for evil. Even this bronze snake, that Jesus said was a foreshadowing of His crucifixion, later became an object of idolatry and had to be destroyed. (2 Kings 18:4) That illustrates a common human failing: we tend to focus on what God has done in the past, rather than on God Himself who is still speaking and acting. That sometimes takes the form of “Bibliolatry,” worshiping the Bible rather than God who caused the Bible to be written. Some churches seem to worship “Father, Son, and Holy Bible,” rather than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am deeply grateful for the Bible, but a piece of printed matter isn’t to be worshiped. Just as the bronze snake was a tool to focus people’s attention on God, the Bible is a medium to transmit God’s Word to our hearts and minds. To illustrate, you could have a DVD of a wonderful movie, but unless you put that DVD in a player and watched it, it would be of no benefit to you. The recent movie about prayer, The War Room, comes to mind. Just owning the disc won’t change your life, but watching the movie and applying the principles it illustrates will. It all comes back to James 1:22, applying the Word rather than deceiving ourselves. As long as the people were doing what God had said through Moses, looking at the bronze snake in faith, they were healed and the snake fulfilled its purpose. When they later deviated from that, looking just at the snake rather than at God who was behind (figuratively) the snake, they were falling into idolatry. We need to read the Bible frequently, at least daily, and store it up in our hearts, (Psalm 119:11) but that must always be for the purpose of drawing closer to the God of the Bible, doing what He says.

I am frequently reminded of how at-risk I am in this area. I have a pretty broad and deep familiarity with the Bible, but if I am not applying it in my daily living, I am deceiving myself. I have multiple translations in both English and Japanese, but if I don’t use them to deepen my understanding and obedience, that becomes meaningless. I realize that the principle God has been expressing here applies to other things as well, including Church traditions. Traditions aren’t bad in themselves, but it is all too easy to fixate on the tradition rather than on the reason that tradition arose. I’m not to venerate any bronze snakes! I am to learn from what God has done in the past, but I am not to limit Him in my mind to repeating Himself. He is eternal and unchanging, but from the human perspective that makes Him ever new. I am to look to Him so that I won’t miss any of the new things He wants to do in my life.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s not like You just caused this passage to appear in the Bible, but You have made it new to me. May I apply it fully as You intend, so that Your will may be done in and through me for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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March 23, 2017

Numbers 20:12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

This is one of the strongest lessons in the whole Bible about not taking God for granted. The fact that even Moses fell into that, when the Bible says he was “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth,” (Numbers 12:3) should give anyone pause. It strikes me that this incident connects directly to the first phrase in the Lord’s Prayer: “May Your name be acknowledged as holy.” I doubt most people think about that phrase at all, even when they pray the prayer regularly. We need to consider just what Moses did that caused this rather severe discipline. He was quite understandably irritated with the people for failing to trust God, but the problem was, he took it personally, and when God had told him to speak to the rock, instead he hit it, not once but twice. Paul said that the rock was Christ, (1 Corinthians 10:4) which puts Moses in the place of taking his anger at the people out on God. This mistake didn’t deprive Moses of his eternal salvation but it did deprive him of an earthly reward that he had been working for for a very long time. God is indeed holy, more holy than we can grasp, really, and we must not forget that. As Moses illustrates, the more we are used in spiritual leadership the more vital this becomes, because others take their cue from us. Under the New Covenant, every believer is a priest before God, and we are all called to lead those who don’t yet know Christ out of darkness into His light. That will not happen if we fail to treat Him as holy.

Once again I am clearly talking about myself. Given the level of familiarity I have with God and His Word, I am always at danger of letting that breed contempt, just as the expression says. I feel I have a great deal to learn about the holiness of God, and this may indeed be a major, unperceived hindrance to my ministry. I am to love Him, in response to His overwhelming love for me, but I am also to fear Him, to hold Him in awe and reverence. To be honest, I don’t know really how to do that right. For starters, it occurs to me that I need to treat this area where I meet with Him every morning with more respect. Right now it’s pretty cluttered and dirty! He looks at the heart rather than at externals, but that doesn’t mean that the externals are unimportant. My life as a whole needs to be a recognition and reflection of His holiness, without coming across to others as “holier-than-thou.” I’m not smart enough to do that! As always, I’m totally dependent on Him, but that’s not a bad thing. I need to be conscious of the issue and be responsive to His guidance, so that His perfect will may be done in everything concerning me.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s not an issue I think about often enough. Clutter is a real problem for me. Help me deal with it as a response to Your holiness, so that my heart likewise may be uncluttered, a fitting place for Your throne, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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March 22, 2017

Numbers 18:25-26 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering.'”

This is a very important Scripture for anyone in ministry. It is sadly common for people to assume that because ministers are paid with offerings, they don’t have to give any offerings. Nothing could be further from the truth. The whole point of offerings, and specifically the tithe, is for us to recognize our dependence on God. It’s certainly not that God lacks anything! A particular danger for ministers is that since they frequently speak for God, they start to think they are God. Tithes and offerings are one hedge against that. If a pastor isn’t faithful with his own tithing, how can he expect his flock to tithe? Actually, the whole matter of tithing is a major weak spot in the Church today, especially in wealthy countries. Back when I was in seminary in the late ’70s I saw a statistical report of how much money would be available if every member of Southern Baptist churches tithed (since I attended a Southern Baptist seminary). The figure was staggering, exceeding the national budget of more than a few countries! The point of the study was to show how few actually did tithe, even in a denomination that has traditionally stressed tithing. Today society tends to depend on government for such things as social welfare, but if all the Christians tithed, the Church would have plenty of funds to take care of the job, undoubtedly with far greater efficiency. Samaritan’s Purse is an excellent example of what can be done in that area by people who are motivated by the love of God rather than the desire for a paycheck. It is no coincidence that Jesus talked more about money than He did about heaven. As He said so clearly, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Tithes and offerings are a tool given us by God to help us get our treasure in the right place.

I have had someone express amazement that I tithe what I receive from this church. It’s obvious they didn’t know this passage! I remember clearly when Cathy and I started tithing. We were a struggling young family, and Cathy was pregnant with our second daughter. (We had so little money that our daughter’s birth was paid for almost entirely by Medicaid, for which I am grateful.) We knew that we should tithe, but we never had a tenth left over at the end of the month. Finally, in faith we decided to take the tithe out first, and trust God for the rest of the month. To our amazement, we actually had a little left over at the end of that first month! That was back in 1973, and we have never missed a meal since, even when I was out of a job for 9 months at one point. I could go on and on about what and how God taught us about His provision, but the point here is that I’ve got to remember that He is Yahweh Jireh, my Provider, and tithes and offerings are an important acknowledgment of that.

Father, thank You for this reminder. You know how I hesitate to preach on giving, fearing that people will see me as money-grubbing because their giving affects my bottom line. Give me the right words to dispel that misunderstanding, along with the boldness to proclaim Your truth in love, so that all the believers may operate in Your provision, for their blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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March 21, 2017

Num 18:14, 20 “Everything in Israel that is devoted to the Lord is yours.”
The Lord said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.”

Here we have the two sides of the “priestly contract,” so to speak. The things given to God (other than the burnt offerings that were to be consumed by fire) were to go to the priests as His representatives. That might seem like a great deal, but then God says that there was to be no real estate involved. Real estate is a special category, just as the name implies. Land has a special place, not just in society but emotionally. That impact has been greatly weakened in our modern mobile society, but even today the matter of inheriting land becomes a very big deal. On the one hand the priests’ needs were to be met, even abundantly, by what the people offered to God, but on the other hand it was a continual dependence; if the people stopped giving, the priests had nothing. The whole matter of the support of clergy is one that has continued through the centuries. Paul dealt with the issue. Though he took pride in being largely self-supporting, he stated clearly that “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:14) That said, some “ministry fat cats” today bring shame on the name of Christ by being focused on material wealth. As Paul also said, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) That’s as true for a minister as it is for anyone. Those who receive that which is given to God must recognize that such offerings are holy, just as God stressed to Aaron, and treat it as such, whether it is financial or otherwise. We are never more than stewards of that which belongs to God.

Since I was ordained as a minister in 1979, this certainly applies to me. Like Paul I am mostly self-supporting, but I do receive things that people are giving to God. I must never take that lightly. I am not to seek offerings for my own gain, but I am not to hesitate to receive, or I will deprive people of the joy and blessing of giving to God. At the same time, I am to be very careful with accountability. Just recently I have learned that two ministries that are close to me on some levels have no real financial accountability structure, and I am very concerned. I know of too many ministries that have crashed and burned on that very issue. Without clear structure it is too easy for offerings to become a “slush fund” for the minister, and that opens the door for a huge host of problems. I am to provide vision and guidance for how church finances are used, but I must never be cavalier about it, spending money on my whims. With the size of our congregation it was actually easier when I handled the accounting myself, but the present situation is far safer for me and for the church, with me not doing that but rather assisting as called on.

Father, the whole issue of finances quickly becomes complicated, and all too often messy. Help me recognize my total dependence on You and indeed treat that which is given to You as holy, so that I may not be trapped by the devil and so that Your Name may be honored as holy, by me and by all those around me. Thank You. Praise God!

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