Being God-centered; June 16, 2017

2 Samuel 5:12 And David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.

Time and again throughout the Bible we see that God doesn’t do things just for some limited purpose, but as part of His overall plan that touches all humanity. We talk about “unintended consequences,” because they happen with us all the time, but such are impossible with God. David realized that God had exalted him to the kingship and given him victory after victory not just for his sake, but for the sake of the nation. We almost certainly aren’t as central to God’s plan as David was, but we too would do well to realize that what God plans for us isn’t just about us. Each one of us interacts with multiple people every day, and God loves them just as much as He does us – and that’s certainly a lot! We need to realize that what happens to us may be even more about other people than it is about us. That in no way diminishes our value before God. He, and He alone, is big enough to love each one of us as much as if we were the only person alive, while at the same time loving each other person with the same intensity. We can’t wrap our minds around that very well! We need to delight in God’s amazing grace and all-encompassing love for us individually, but at the same time realize that we are no more important than the next person. That is the perfect antidote for being self-centered, but we have a lot of time swallowing it. We tend to see God as though He were as we are, with all our limitations. The thing is, He’s not. He’s infinite, not to mention omnipotent and omniscient. The better we can grasp that, the more peace and joy we have in our own personal sphere of existence, because we know we are part of His perfect plan.

This of course applies to me as much as it does to anyone else. I had the advantage of growing up in a home where people who are literally in the history books would come and spend the night, and I learned at a young age that such people are just as human as I was. That should have made me totally egalitarian, but sad to say, it had more the effect of convincing me I was special. The irony is, I was and am special, but everyone is special in God’s eyes. I am to rejoice that God chooses to use me at times, and rest in the magnificence of His love for me, but realize that His love and grace for me aren’t just for me, but for those I touch as well. As a pastor I am constantly confronted with the problems people generate by being self-centered. I cannot look down on them, because I have the same tendency myself. I am to seek always to be Christ-centered, because only then will I see myself and others the way God does, and receive and rejoice in all that He wants to pour out through me for the blessing of many – not just me – and for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s interesting how often I am frustrated at how self-centered other people are, without realizing how much I operate that way myself. Help me rest, relax, and rejoice in You, just as You have told me, so that I may escape all the traps of the enemy and allow You to draw many into Your family through me, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Consistently Seeking God; June 15, 2017

1 Samuel 30:8 And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?”
“Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.”

Once again we have an example of David inquiring of the Lord before he took action. The total shock of finding the town where they had been living totally destroyed and everything and everyone gone had some of his men to the point of irrationality, but David clung to the Lord even now. That this wasn’t necessarily an easy decision is evidenced by the fact that a fourth of his men were too exhausted from what they had been doing up to this point to continue the pursuit of the raiders, (verse 10) and the numerical odds weren’t in David’s favor to begin with (verse 17). He really needed the strong encouragement the Lord gave him, as recorded in this verse. It seems probable that had David not sought the Lord at this juncture and been obedient to what He told him, he would never have become king of all Israel, but would have ended as a minor chieftain, if that. We never know ahead of time what crises we will encounter, so our heart attitudes need to be set ahead of time. David already had a firm pattern of seeking God before acting, and it served him very well indeed. This should be a lesson to us to do the same, establishing firm patterns of devotion to God, both in corporate worship, being planted in a body of believers, and in daily, consistent private time with God. Society today, with the strong encouragement of the devil, works against such a lifestyle, so it generally takes a conscious decision to keep God as the first priority in our life. However, once that decision is firmly ingrained over time, we discover peace and stability that can be had no other way, enabling us to get through any crisis.

I am deeply grateful to have been able to establish a pattern of daily morning devotions many years ago now. I doubt that I’ve missed even 10 times over the past 40 years. (It does get a little awkward when I’m going back and forth across the International Date Line, but I manage.) Some people might accuse me of being legalistic about it, but it has become the bedrock of my lifestyle, and I couldn’t be more grateful. One result is that I have trouble understanding people who insist they are Christians, but yet won’t make the effort to have daily devotions. To a degree I can understand, because I remember trying to establish such a pattern when I was in college but giving up after a few days. However, the benefits are so great that now I have trouble imagining anything else. As a pastor I can see that the majority of the issues I deal with in the congregation simply wouldn’t exist if everyone had such a lifestyle. That’s another reason for me to encourage it! However, I can’t make such decisions for others, but only for myself. I am to speak the truth in love and encourage them any way I can, asking the Holy Spirit to counter the lies of the devil and lead them to single-minded devotion to Christ, for their great blessing and His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for how it fits in perfectly with what You had already been indicating I am to speak on this Sunday. I pray that Sunday’s service would indeed enable those who don’t yet have a consistent, regular time with You to get going and establish one, so that we may “get out of the weeds” as a church and move into all that You intend for us, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Anointing; June 14, 2017

1 Samuel 26:9 But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?”

David was in a very interesting situation. Saul was king, but David too had been anointed by Samuel. David’s respect for the anointing as it applied to Saul translated into respect as it applied to him as well. David continued to be aware that it was God who had taken him from herding sheep and led him into all he was experiencing, and that awareness and gratitude were of great value to him. It was only when he got too comfortable in the blessings that had been heaped on him that he committed the drastic sins that echoed through the rest of his life. Here, though, he was sharply aware of his personal dependence on God, and he acted accordingly.

Once again David is an excellent example for me. God has anointed me for His service (though not with a literal flask of oil) and I must not take that lightly. At the same time I must respect the anointing I recognize on others. I’ve got to remember that anointing doesn’t equal perfection, as David himself showed years after this incident. I am to walk in personal humility, while at the same time realizing that God can do anything at all through me, if He so chooses. I am to pray for those around me that they may “live [lives] worthy of the calling [they] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1) They need as much help and support as I do! I am to recognize that we are all dependent on God’s grace and mercy and live accordingly, seeking His will in every situation and delighting to be used by Him for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I ask for wisdom and guidance not only as a steward of the anointing You have poured out on me, but also in relating to those around me who are likewise anointed. Anointing doesn’t automatically equal wisdom! Help me be an open channel of Your grace at all times, so that the devil’s schemes may be defeated and Your will alone be done, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Revenge vs. Forgiveness; June 13, 2017

1 Samuel 24:12 “May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.”

David’s dependence on God was complete. He not only trusted Him to provide victory over enemies in battle, as He had done with Goliath, he also trusted Him for moral victories, providing justice when he had been wronged. That can be more difficult than open conflict! Many people are familiar with what God said through Moses in Deuteronomy 32:35 and 41, quoted by Paul in Romans 12:19 and by the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 10:30: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” However, we still have an emotional desire to pay people back for the wrongs they do us. The problem is, that is the very definition of unforgiveness, and it damages the one nursing the grudge far more than it does the one who wronged them. When we nurse a grudge we hold it to our breast, just as the words themselves mean, and it eats away at us. In the premarital counseling I do (not to mention marital conflict counseling) I stress this point, because nursed grudges will poison any relationship. Jesus said they will even poison our relationship with our Heavenly Father. (Matthew 6:14-15) For our own emotional health, and really for our own salvation, we need to make the choice David did, and let God take care of justice issues in the short and long term.

I honestly don’t know what it was about my upbringing that made it easier for me to forgive than it seems to be for many people. Perhaps it was the example my parents set, but then I seem to find it easier than some of my siblings. However it happened, I’m grateful. That said, I deal with other people’s forgiveness issues all the time. I have seen many people absolutely poisoned by unforgiveness, and it is sad indeed. Living in Nagasaki Prefecture, every summer we get bombarded by people who can’t forgive America for dropping the atomic bomb here, never mind that it was instrumental in ending a war that Japan started. (I have long maintained that the Hiroshima bomb was sufficient to do that and the Nagasaki bomb was completely unnecessary, but that’s a different matter.) All issues of justice aside, such an attitude benefits no one. However, holding an American passport, I also have to hold my tongue, because arguing only inflames things. Wars in general are very sad chapters in human history, but Jesus said we aren’t to get stirred up over them. (Matthew 24:6) I’ve written before about the Japanese linguistic difficulty in dealing with the very word, forgiveness, but this is an issue for all mankind. I am both to proclaim and demonstrate forgiveness, letting people know that God’s forgiveness is available by forgiving them myself. (John 20:23) That will give them the best chance of repenting and believing for their own salvation. (Mark 1:15)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for David’s example. Thank You for what we have seen just recently of You dealing with the heart of someone who was not fair to us. I continue to pray for his full repentance and salvation. I cannot save him, or anyone else, myself, but I can speak the truth of salvation in Christ in Your love. May many indeed receive it, repent, and believe, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Inquiring of God; June 12, 2017

1 Samuel 23:4 Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him.

This particular story is an excellent illustration of the reason for David’s successes. Simply put, He asked God. Today we would tend to think that his method of doing so was very superstitious, but it was one that was prescribed by God to Moses. Verse 6 gives us the parenthetical information that “Now Abiathar son of Ahimelech had brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David at Keilah.” The ephod in question was a priestly garment that had a pocket containing two stones that could not be distinguished by feel. One of them indicated a positive answer and the other a negative. The priest would express a yes/no question to God, put his hand in the pocket, and pull out one of the stones. Whichever stone came out was taken as God’s answer to the question. Our “modern” minds would treat that as pure chance, but that ignores the reality that God created the universe, and “chance” is an illusion. However, the method of inquiring of God is merely coincidental. What is important is the choice to ask and the commitment to obey. This verse is the second time this particular question was asked of the Lord, because the answer the first time seemed too risky. God was faithful to give the same answer, and David acted accordingly. God hasn’t given us quite as simplistic a method of inquiring of Him, but the principle is still valid. Too often we want to know God’s will for us but we fail to come right out and ask. What is actually worse, we often fail to have a solid commitment to do whatever He indicates. If our hearts are committed to obedience, He will guide us, by one means or another.

This is certainly valid for me, and indeed quite timely. We have been in turmoil over the land next door to the church, wanting to have it to build an elder-care facility, but all sorts of things getting in the way. A particular solution seems to be opening up at this point, but it is not one we would have chosen at the outset. I am not to “settle” for something, but trust that God is in control and seek to be obedient to Him. There are many important issues ahead, and today could well be pivotal. I am to seek God, rather than any particular outcome dictated by my mind. That can be difficult! Joy Dawson expressed it as “dying” to the issue at hand. If I am dead, I don’t care how things turn out! My focus is to be on God, His kingdom and His righteousness, rather than on any desired outcome.

Father thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the emphasis in the message yesterday on dying to sin. Self-centered willfulness is certainly sin! Help me be quiet enough before You to hear what You are saying, and active enough to be fully obedient to what You tell me, so that Your will may be done on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Legalism vs. Grace; June 11, 2017

1 Samuel 21:6 So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away.

This particular incident is most famous because Jesus quoted it when He was questioned about his disciples picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:1-4) The point Jesus was making is that God supplies needs in all sorts of ways, and even in ways that might not seem “legitimate” to us from our perspective. We certainly aren’t to go around ignoring rules, but we need to remember that for the most part rules are man-made, or at best human interpretations of what God has said. The bread in this particular instance was holy because it had been given to God, and as such was to be eaten only by those who were likewise holy. David and his men were chosen by God and thus were holy, whatever religious bureaucracy might have said about them. Jesus’ point in referring to this incident is that legalism doesn’t get us to God.

I have always been leery of legalism, but that has at times caused me to take grace for granted, and that is certainly dangerous. I am to rejoice in God’s grace but never forget God’s holiness. After all, His grace means very little if there is no absolute standard to which we fail to measure up. The devil does all he can to promote relativism, situational ethics, and a general feeling of no absolutes. Sadly, such thinking is very widespread today. Abortion is a good case in point. Thankfully, more and more people are realizing that murder is bad, period. Much is made of “exceptions,” such as rape, incest, or “for the life of the mother.” Rape and incest are certainly horrible, but there is no fault or responsibility in the child, and with modern medicine, honest physicians have trouble even imagining a situation where killing the child would save the life of the mother. I am to express God’s grace and mercy to those who have gotten into trouble by ignoring God’s rules, not just this way but in any way, but I am not to pretend that the rules don’t exist. Miracles are instances in which God bypasses the physical rules of the universe that He Himself created, but they don’t mean those rules aren’t valid. I am to proclaim God’s holiness, but with that, as the hymn says, “Grace that is Greater than All our Sin.”

Father, I am constantly presented with the tension between holiness and grace. I can’t keep it straight on my own. Help me hear You accurately (grace again) so that I may be an accurate channel of Your grace and holiness and love, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Jealousy vs. Gratitude; June 10, 2017

1 Samuel 18:28-29 When Saul realised that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy for the rest of his days.

Jealousy is such a sad thing. We see it all the time, with people being unable to rejoice in others’ blessings. We tend to look at life as a zero-sum game, forgetting that God is infinite. One person being more blessed doesn’t mean that another person is less blessed. We have such trouble grasping that. Some areas of life are indeed competitive, and that’s not bad. Not everyone comes in first in a race, regardless of schools that give out participation trophies. That said, one person can be blessed in one area and another in a different area. We fail to see that, and particularly fail to recognize the areas in which we ourselves are blessed. A major difference between Saul and David was the matter of gratitude. Saul was greatly blessed, but he somehow felt entitled to what he had. David was greatly blessed, and he never could get over the magnitude of God’s grace toward him. The outcomes of their lives could not have been more different. In the physical universe, entropy is seen as a given. That is, everything runs down eventually, ending in chaos. However, that ignores the Creator, who can and does speak things into existence. In our personal lives, entropy does seem to apply to our physical bodies, so if we are focused on the physical we will be jealous and fatalistic. However, when our focus is on the spiritual, we realize that entropy simply doesn’t apply. The more we are aware of our infinite Father God, the less room we will have for jealousy and the more we will be able to receive and enjoy His grace toward us.

I was surprised the other day when I was at the hospital talking with a dermatologist about scheduling surgery on a minor spot on my leg. When I wouldn’t schedule it for my wedding anniversary, and then mentioned that doing it a week later meant that I would be having ice cream with my wife that day because it was the 31st (and Baskin Robbins has a 31% discount every 31st) she said, “You really enjoy life, don’t you.” I’ve had other people comment the same sort of thing, and I feel it comes from recognizing grace and blessings. I can’t say that I’m never envious of others, but I’m grateful that I don’t want others to do badly so that I’ll look good by comparison. God is more than big enough to bless us all! Spiritually speaking, God operates on negative entropy! In His kingdom it’s never a zero-sum game, but rather ever-increasing glory. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Father, I am saddened to see so many people operating in jealousy, not understanding Your love for them or recognizing how You express it. Help me be increasingly effective in speaking Your truth to them in love so that the destructive lies of the devil may be defeated in their hearts and lives. I pray that more and more people would be liberated from bondage to the physical to rejoice in Your infinite blessings, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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