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“Paul’s Prayer … and Me”

God has been really good to me, blessing me more than I could ever deserve.  Over the last 45 years, I have preached full-time for 18 years, and part-time for 21.  In the 18 years of full-time preaching, I have preached for 5 churches:  Cedar Grove church of Christ in Rogersville, Alabama; Huntsville church of Christ in Huntsville, Arkansas; North Main church of Christ in Winters, Texas; Farmington church of Christ in Farmington, Arkansas; and, Prairie Grove church of Christ, in Prairie Grove, Arkansas.  I really have no complaints about the way that I was treated; because, they treated me better than I deserved.  There are things at all of those churches, that I look back and wish that I had done differently, but there are strong and joyous memories of the people at all those different places.

What is really interesting to me, is that there are people from all of these churches that read this blog on a regular basis — even those churches that it has been 35-40 years since I preached at “their” congregation.  I don’t really believe that it is because I’m special, I believe that it is because Christian love and fellowship is special.  We are bound together because of what Jesus did, and who we are in Him — and time does not deteriorate that bond.  Nearly every day, when I look at the pages where my blog has been linked to Facebook; I see the names of people from all those churches, that have read and “liked” the devotional thoughts for that day.  Every time I see one of those names, my heart swells with the joy of the memories that I have from all these different places.  I am so grateful for the opportunities that Jehovah God has given me, and for the joy that fills my heart as I remember all the people from those different places.

For the last two weeks, my early morning devotional reading has been the book of Philippians, and reading Paul’s letter has called all these thoughts to my mind.  As I have read the first chapter, about the joy Paul feels as he remembers, and prays for, the Philippian church; I cannot help but be drawn to my own memories of these churches.  But this morning, another thing came to my mind.  I want you to read carefully the following words from Paul:

My prayer for you is that you may have still more love — a love that is full of knowledge and wise insight.  I want you to be able to always to recognize the highest and the best, and to live sincere and blameless lives until the day of Christ.  I want to see your lives full of true goodness, produced by the power that Jesus Christ gives you to the praise and glory of God.  (Philippians 1:9-11, The New Testament in Modern English — J. B. Phillips)

I was reading Philippians this morning from Phillips, the 8th different translation I have read; and I will probably read from a couple of more, before I move on to Galatians.  But let me show you that same passage from the NIV and ESV, to give us a better look.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.  (NIV)

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God  (ESV)

The voice of God speaking through Scripture has a way of convicting you when your read with the “eyes of your heart open.”  I don’t always do that, but this morning I did — and as I thought about Paul’s relationship with the church at Philippi, and in particular this prayer — I knew that I needed to be praying this prayer for the churches where I have preached.  I need to be praying for the churches, and the people, that were so good to me and have brought me so much joy.

I would encourage every preacher to pray this prayer for the churches where they have preached.  I would encourage all Christians to pray this prayer for the church where they attend, and other churches where they have attended in the past.  May God help us all, to always think of other Christians with joy about the past, and anticipation for the future.  Peace.

“I Can Do All Things … What?”

For those of you that don’t know, I just looked, and the jackpot for the Powerball lottery is $430,000,000.00 tonight.  That could increase during the day, as more and more people purchase tickets.  What would you do with that much money?  Have you ever thought about it? I’m sure that the millions of people that buy tickets have thought about it.  There will be people that just buy the tickets, as part of an entertaining game; and the other extreme is, that people will spend money they don’t have (and do without things they need).  The thing that ties all of them together is the fascination of what it would be like to have that much money.  Some of them will actually go beyond fascination, and it will turn into covetousness.

Our culture has fostered all of these feelings, as it has glamorized wealth, prosperity, and the lifestyle that they bring.  Those in the advertising agency have recognized this for years!  They advertise products that will give us a “taste”, or a “piece”, of what the good life is all about.  Television shows feature those that have success financially, and materially; creating (whether it is intended or not) a desire in us, to have what they have.  I believe that if you asked most young people (18 to 25) what is the American Dream, most all of their answers would include something about wealth and prosperity.

It seems to me, that there are elements of “Christianity” that have embraced the pursuit of wealth and prosperity, as a part of what Christianity is about.  That God wants His people to have a really good life, and is desiring to bless them with those “things.”  One of the verses that people use to support there efforts in accumulating things, and God helping them in that pursuit, is Philippians 4:13.  We have heard this verse used to support, and explain; wealth, athletic achievement, and many other things.  Rather than just pull that text out and quote it (for whatever you are trying to do), have you ever considered what the context is in Philippians 4.  Listen to what Paul has to say:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content — whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.  (Philippians 4:10-13, HCSB)

In the context of Philippians 4, Paul is saying that it is through Christ that he can have the strength to be content, whatever his circumstances might be.  Whether he has a little, or whether he has a lot; it is through the strength that Jesus supplies, that he can be content with what he has.  Obviously, if he has a lot, it is not wrong to have the things of the world; but it is wrong, to allow the desires of this world to overwhelm and control any of us.

Satan has a really strong weapon in his arsenal — the desire to have the things of this world, to have the “good life.”  It is not just manifested in the buying of a lottery ticket, going to a casino, or betting on a football game.  There are times that it is manifested by the way we work — putting our job first (in order that we can have things), the way we treat people as we climb the ladder of success, and a lot of other actions in the pursuit of stuff.  If we are not aware of that, and appropriate the strength that Jesus offers, we could lose to that desire.  We can learn to be content, but it will come through the help of the Lord.  Peace.

“Joy in the Church?”

Several years ago, an acquaintance of mine was hired to be the preacher for a church with a reputation for firing their preacher.  In the process of hiring him, they had discussed this reputation, and he was convinced that there were lots of misunderstandings; and that they really wanted to change that reputation.  After he had been there for 3 or 4 weeks, one of the “pastors” from a neighboring church called, and invited him to have lunch.  Over lunch, the man ( a long time resident of the city) told him that he had known the last several preachers at the church; that there were some mean people at “his” church, that they would get mad at him, and would want to fire him.  He went on to say, that when that happened to call him; and he would be available to talk.

Over the years, the churches of Christ have developed a reputation of “fussin’ and fightin”, and, sadly, often that reputation has been deserved.  My next door neighbor in Florence, Alabama; had a couple of sayings about our brethren, that he often shared:  one was “We would rather fight, than fish;” and the other was, “We would fight at the drop of a hat, even if we had to drop the hat.”  A few years ago, I remember reading a history of the churches of Christ in two counties in my area, and nearly every local congregation has a split in their history.  It is amazing the things that we have argued, debated, and divided about and over.

We have cloaked our disagreements as “doctrinal disputes,” and then they have become “issues,” as we have obsessed with being RIGHT!  In our desire to go back to the Bible, and to do Bible things in Bible ways, and call Bible acts by Bible names — we have reached a point that we act and believe that if you don’t do it, like I believe and do it — YOU ARE WRONG!  Then we carried it to the next step, and reached the logical conclusion; if you are wrong, you are a heretic and lost!  I actually know one preacher that go so involved in one “issue,” that he withdrew fellowship from his own wife.  Interestingly, she prepared the meal for their family, but he would not eat with her!  Using a play on words from Scripture, we are a peculiar people.

For the last week, I have been reading the book of Philippians as my devotional reading.  Each morning I have read it from a different translation, and I have been reminded; that “our” churches are not the first ones to have this problem, and likely will not be the last.  As long as people are in churches, people are going to have problems; and they will fuss and fight with other people with problems.  I want you to notice a few passages from Philippians:

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, (Philippians 1:27, NKJV)

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  (Philippians 2:1-4, NKJV)

Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. (Philippians 3:15-16, NKJV)

It is my conviction, that all of those verses are not accidental — or teachings that they might need some day.  I am convinced there was a problem in the church in Philippi, and that it was not a “doctrinal” problem, it was a personal, or personality, problem.  Listen:

I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, …  (Philippians 4:2-3, NKJV)

It appears to me that these two women, who appear to be strong, committed, and workers; have gotten crossways with each other.  Their struggle with each other has robbed this local church of the joy that it should have.  Paul, in my opinion, doesn’t write to the Philippian church about joy, because they have a lot of joy; but because division in the church is robbing them of the joy that they should have.

Personally, I feel this problem is still prevalent in local churches today!  It seems to me that most of the problems and divisions, are not really “doctrinal” problems.  Conflict arises because of personality, and feelings of authority and power — then a point of doctrine, or the interpretation of a passage, becomes the point of contention between the “warring parties.”

It is my conviction, that immediately after telling the brethren to help these two women, he tells them how to approach the problem in Philippians 4:4-6.  Look at what he says:

1) Rejoice in the Lord always — find the joy that you have lost, reclaim it, and approach them with the joy that God has given you.  Not joy, because they are fighting and fussing; but help them to see the joy that there is in Jesus.

2) Let your gentleness be known to all men — approach all troublesome situations with gentleness.  Treat these individuals like you would want to be treated, and let everyone see that you are using a gentle approach to everything.

3) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God — don’t worry about this situation, take it to God.  Every thought, every action, and every reaction; bathe them in prayer.  Let God know that you are depending on Him to help you through this.

Peace.

(Two notes:  first, the preacher that I mentioned in the beginning of this devotional DID get fired after about 3 years, and I don’t know if he visited with that “pastor”; and, secondly, I believe in being a “Back to the Bible” movement for our doctrine and practice.  BUT, I think that we need to be just as serious about having the spirit of Jesus in our attitudes and actions toward one another.  Bill)

“Living Purposefully”

How many are familiar with the “Battle of the Bulge”?  No, not the battle that was fought during World War II, but the struggle that many face with their waist.  I am a long-time veteran of that struggle, and have lost more of the individual conflicts than I have won.  It is a difficult battle to fight, and if you keep losing long enough, it will eventually lead to deteriorating health problems.  About the middle of February of this year, I decided to investigate the possibility of having “gastric bypass” surgery.  I read the literature about it, studied the different kind of procedures that were possible, checked to see if my insurance would cover the expense, scheduled the appointment with Roller Weight Loss and Advanced Surgery Clinic, and made the commitment to do whatever it takes to be successful with this surgery.

My first appointment was on March 15th, and it was a 4 hour appointment, and they educated me on a lot of different things that I needed to know.  The thing that I remembered the most, was that I needed to learn to “Eat Mindfully.”  The nutritionist explained that they wanted me to think about what I was going to eat, take small bites, chew my food completely, eat slowly (laying my fork down between bites), and to quit when I was satisfied (not stuffed).  I will be perfectly honest, I was going to have to go through a learning process to do that.  Up to that point in my life, what I had been most concerned about was did it taste good and was there enough of it!

The way that I decided to attack the problem was to keep a journal of what I ate.  So every day, since March 20th, I have written down what I have to eat and drink, and when I have it.  I have avoided sugar, fat, carbohydrates, caffeine, and carbonation — concentrating on proteins and liquids.  My surgery was scheduled for May 30th, and the clinic told me that I needed to lose 16 pounds, before the surgery.  Well, I lost 29 pounds before the surgery, and have lost 47 since the surgery.  I still write down everything that I eat and drink, still keep track of protein and liquids — still trying every day to eat mindfully.  The surgery that I had was an invaluable weapon in my battle against the bulge, but losing the weight (and learning to keep it off) is still a lot of work.

Well, some of you are probably thinking, Bill, we’re happy for you, and proud of you; but, why in the world do we need to know all of this?  This morning, in my devotional reading of Philippians, there was a passage reminded me of all of this, and, in particular, the concept of being “mindful.”  Look at what Paul has to say:

It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:12-14, CEB)

In that passage, Paul says that there is a single-mindedness, or a purposeful behavior, in the way that he lives his life, and in particular his Christian life.  Their is a goal that he is pursuing, and his purpose is to reach that Goal — …God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.  In pursuing that goal, he doesn’t allow himself to be hindered by past failures or accomplishments, but focuses on the things that are ahead of him.

I wonder how many of us live every day haphazardly, particularly in our walk with the Lord.  Not purposefully living every day pursuing the upward call of Jesus.  Do we get up in the morning thinking about what we can do to serve the Lord that day — reading His Word, communicating with Him through prayer, sharing the story of Jesus with someone we know or meet, caring about other people, etc.

If I am going to be successful in losing weight, and maintaining that weight loss, “eating mindfully”  is going to have to become a part of who I am!  It will be no accidental lifestyle for me to reach the goal of the Christian life.  I am going to have to dedicate myself to living “purposefully.”  Will you join me on that journey?  Peace.

(I have been reading Philippians every day for the last week, and reading it from a different translation each day.  This morning I read from the CEB, the Common English Bible.  This is the first time that I have ever read from this translation, and so far the review is mixed.  Obviously, my opinion is going to be based on readability, not on the accuracy of the translation — that will have to be left to the scholars.  There were some things that I like about it, and there were some things that I didn’t.  Bill.)

 

“Seeking God”

Does it seem to you that we spend our whole life chasing something?  How many movies have been made about the endless pursuit of “something”?  There are those that are comedies, dramas, adventures, and tragedies — but they all portray man’s pursuit of what they deem to be most important, or what will make them happy.  The Billy Crystal movie, “City Slickers”, where Jack Palance kept reminding him of the “one thing”, is one of the premier examples of that.

It is not just in movies where this pursuit is featured, it is featured in our lives.  There always seems to be something out there, that we think will make our lives a little better.  It seems to start early in our lives:  a place of acceptance in a certain circle of peers, a romantic relationship (with the one that sets our hearts to fluttering), a car (and not just any car, the right car), graduation from high school, college, and a host of other things that attract our attention.  Even as we get older, the “pursuit syndrome” is still there is still there.  We want a loving, lasting relationship; a job that pays well and makes us feel good about ourselves; a house that becomes a home for our safety; and security for the future; and, ultimately, retirement.

Have you ever wondered why we are that way, or at least most of us?  I believe that God intended for us to have this “pursuit syndrome“, and wanted us to focus it on a relationship with Him!  That we recognize, that the most important thing that we pursue in our life, is the relationship with a Holy God!

We have often wondered about “how” the Bible could say that David was a man after God’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14).  It certainly was not because of his sinless perfection!  The key word, in my mind, is “after” — that David was “seeking” God, and a relationship with Him.  Regardless of how man times he faltered and fell; he would get up, confess the wrong that he had committed, and begin to seek God again!

When you read the Psalms, there seems to be two ideas that jump off of nearly every page — the steadfast love of the Lord, and the admonition to seek God.  There is a beautiful description of what we are seeking, in Psalm 89:15-18 – – listen closely:

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
     who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.
They rejoice in your name all day long;
     they celebrate your righteousness.
For you are their glory and strength,
     and by your favor you exalt our horn.
Indeed, our shield belongs to the Lord,
     our king to the Holy One of Israel.
May the “ONE THING” that we pursue be God!  Isn’t that what Jesus said, Seek first his
kingdom and his righteousness, … (Matthew 6:33, NIV).  Peace.
(This was first posted on Facebook, May 12, 2016.  It is being posted here, as one of our “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is our prayer that it will be a blessing to you.  Bill)

 

Friday Reflections

Time sure flies when you are having fun!  It seems like these weeks just keep getting shorter, and there is less and less time between these “Friday Reflections”.  But it is getting to a busy time of the year, and as we say farewell to “summer vacation” (although, we have kept on working), our schedules seem to increase in speed and the number of special events.  Here are some of the things that have gone on in my life this past week, and how they have impacted me.

Saturday, August 5:  Some of you that follow me on Facebook, know that I was really excited last Saturday because of some new milestones that I reached in my walking regimen.  I walked for 1 hour, 13 minutes, and 33 seconds; and in that time I covered 4.33 miles (which is a pace of 16:58 per mile).  What is exciting about this for me, is that when I started walking on June 1, about the most that I could walk was about a quarter of a mile.  That could be attributed to age, physical condition, weight, and surgery two days before; but I persisted, and kept walking a little farther, and a little faster, each day.  I have changed my walking “place” a couple of times, to make the walk better AND more difficult.  I have persisted through a bloody blister on the achilles tendon area, losing a toenail (because of a hammertoe that was taking the pounding of walking on asphalt and concrete), and just being physically drained after some of these walks.  What is the old saying, “no pain, no gain.”  Well, there is a lot of truth in that statement.

The apostle Paul once said, For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well — (Philippians 1:29, NRSV).  We struggle at times to understand how “suffering” can be considered a privilege.  James tried to explain it to us, by saying:  My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.  (James 1:2-4, NRSV).  Much like the obstacles that I have faced have given me physical endurance and strength in my walking; when I face challenges in my walk with Jesus, as I overcome them I become stronger in my life in Jesus.  It may be a time for a lot of us to change our attitude about the difficulties we face each day.

Sunday, August 6:  Sunday evening, at the home of Tom and Lynne Reed, a Bible study group that I have  been leading for about 10-12 years, met to talk about our study that will begin in September.  The decision was made to study Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and that decision has already been a blessing to me.  Our first meeting will be on August 27th, and I have started preparing for it by reading the letter from a different translation each day.  You may have noticed that all of my devotionals, and “tweets,” have come from this book.  My life has already been enriched by the study of this special letter from Paul.  I am excited, not only because of the study with the group — but because of the enrichment that my soul has received, and will receive, from this study.

Wednesday, August 9 — I just knew that Wednesday was going to be a really good day, and it was — in spite of circumstances that just seemed to be determined to make the day difficult.

Wednesday about noon, the local ministerial alliance was providing and serving a meal for all the administration, teachers, and staff of the local school system.  Our congregation was asked to help provide desserts, and our ladies are OUTSTANDING at that.  On Sunday, I announced that the fellowship hall would be open Wednesday morning at 7:30 for them to bring the desserts, and I would pick them up at 10:00 to take them to the high school cafeteria by 10:30.  I just love it when a plan comes together.

Well, Tuesday afternoon, my oldest son (the one that had gall bladder surgery last week) called and asked if I could go with him to Rudy, Arkansas to pick up a couple of deer mounts.  We don’t get to spend as much time together as I would like, so I told him I could — but we would have to go and get back by 10:00.  We talked about it for a few minutes, and agreed that I would pick him up between 7:30 and 7:45, drive to Rudy (about a 45 minute drive) and be back in plenty of time.  Well, we left and the weather was perfect, and I really enjoyed having the time to visit with him — but then it happened.  After we passed the Winslow exit, we came to a complete stop on the bridge just before the Bobby Hopper tunnel.  I have heard, sometime in the past, about how high that bridge is, but I have forgotten; but I think that a 20-story building would fit underneath it.  Two minutes after we stopped, Josh’s phone beeped with a news flash.  A semi had overturned just south of the Bobby Hopper tunnel, and had both southbound lanes blocked, PLEASE FIND AN ALTERNATE ROUTE.  We are sitting on a bridge with no way to turn around, and no where to go!

I really was not too happy about being on that bridge to begin with, but after coming to a complete stop; you notice that every time a semi went past in the north bound lane, you could feel the bridge sway.  That every time a semi in our lanes, would pull forward for a few feet, with their jerking and bouncing motion, you could feel the bridge sway — and I will freely confess that I didn’t like that at all.  Well, after about sitting there 30 minutes, I wasn’t as worried about the swaying, because it had become painfully obvious that I was not going to be back by 10:00.  I called Malia, and she was swamped at work — we talked for a few moments about who I could call.  When we hung up, I was sitting there thinking about who to call, and my phone rang — it was Gay Wampler.  She had called to see if I knew if the funeral home needed any more of our “care” bags (for the families that had lost loved ones).  I told her that I didn’t think that they did, but I NEEDED a big favor.  So Gay, and Mildred Bone, got all the desserts from the fellowship hall  to the high school on time (in fact they were there a little early, which was a big help).

Not long after that, traffic started moving — Josh and I made it to the taxidermists, got the deer mounts and headed back.  I got to Prairie Grove, and walked into the cafeteria about 30 seconds before the prayer was offered before the food.  In time to be handed a pair of tongs, and serve the chicken for the fajita tacos that had been prepared.  It was a real privilege to serve, and visit, with the staff of our local schools.  I was glad to have that opportunity.

There is always something that we can find to be thankful for.  In this situation, I was thankful that there were those really smart, techno nerds that had the intelligence to invent a cell phone.  If they had not, I would have really been in a mess.  Secondly, I am extremely grateful to Gay Wampler and Mildred Bone for covering my responsibility of getting the desserts to the school, and being sure that our responsibility was covered.  Finally, I am glad we got back quickly, because it gave me time to work on my class for Wednesday night.  I needed the time, it was Lesson 6 in our series “The Holy Spirit and the Christian“, and it was about “What Does ‘Be Filled with the Spirit’ Mean.”

There are those times, that we just know that the Lord is working with us.  Thank you, Lord!

Weight — March 15, 2017 — 324 pounds

Weight — August 11, 2017 — 249 pounds !!!!!

“A Servant’s Heart”

If someone were to ask you: “Who do you know that has the heart of a servant?”  Who would come to your mind?  I’m sure that each one of us, know at least one individual that is always there, ready to help anyone that has a need.  It doesn’t matter who it is, or what they need — they will do their best to assist.  There is never any thought of what they will get in return, only the need of the individual is what matters.  They are the kind of people that inspire us to do better.

Over the years, almost every church that I have had the privilege of being involved with, has had at least one, and most of the time more, servants as a part of their fellowship.  They are not the kind of people that you would mention their name, because they would be embarrassed by the attention (and would likely scold me, if they saw it or heard about it).  They come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and occupations; but one thing stands out about them, they have a big heart!

For about the last 10 years, I have teaching a small group Bible study that has a core group of about 5 couples — the group has fluctuated, adding one or two couples, and then losing a couple.  The group is spread out over parts of 3 counties, and our meeting places vary (at the different homes of the members).  We try to meet once a month during the school year, but there are times that schedules (and weather) have interfered.  We had our first meeting this past Sunday, and the decision was made to study Paul’s letter of Philippians.

Beginning on Monday of this week, as my devotional reading, I have been reading Philippians (from a different translation each day); and, you might have noticed, my devotionals and “tweets” have been coming from what I have been reading.  This is the second devotional from Philippians, and so far Paul’s letter has been tough on me!  Tuesday (8-8-17) we talked about the practice of prayer, and the how of doing it and the need for consistency in our prayer life.  This was drawn from the first chapter, as Paul talked concerning the how and what of his prayers for the church in Philippi.  This morning, my mind was forced to think about what it meant to be a servant, and the people that I have been privileged to know that were servants; and to admit to myself, that there are some areas of serving where I am not what I need to be.  Observe what Paul says:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others.  Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.  (Philippians 2:3-4, NLT)

The challenge we face is to really think like that!  I don’t remember where I saw it, but in the last week, I scanned an article that affirmed that most “white southern evangelicals” believe that people in need are there because of their own lack of effort and initiative.  If that is true, are “we” really living out the attitude that Paul says that we need to have.  Are we hindered in our ability to serve, because we don’t have the “heart of a servant”?  Do I regard myself as “better”, because I am the one being asked to serve?  What does that say about my heart, and my relationship with the Lord?

Notice what Paul says next:
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.  (Philippians 2:5, NLT)
What attitude is that?
     Though he was God;
          he did not think of equality with God
          as something to be cling to.
     Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
          he took the humble position of a slave
          and was born as a human being.
     When he appeared in human form,
          he humbled himself in obedience to God
          he died a criminal’s death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8)
The question that I have to ask myself is, what if Jesus had looked at me in my need; and
thought of me, like I think of those in need in my world.  Where would I be now?

“Do You have a Prayer List”

How do you go about your personal prayer life?  Do you have a regular time of day, when you stop and spend time with the Father in prayer?  How long do you spend in prayer? What method do you use as a reminder of those that have requested prayer?  How do you remember those that are in need of prayer, that may not have talked about it publicly — but you know of their needs?  Do you have a number of churches, or preachers, or individuals; that you pray for on a regular basis?  After you are through praying, do you have an epiphany — and remember someone (or something) that you forgot to mention?  Do you take the time to list all the things that the Father has given to us, or blessed us with, during your prayers?  How often do you spend time just praising God for Who He is?

I have always struggled with having the kind of prayer life that I wanted?  I willingly confess, that there have been times that my prayer life has been better, and it has been worse.  Probably, I’m not the only one that can make that confession!    Over the years I have struggled, looking for the best method of practicing my prayer life.  I have trusted things to my memory (and that option gets worse all the time), and always struggled to always remember everything.  I have used a list, or lists, and prayed for everything that was on the list, which worked out pretty well (if you can remember to keep your list(s) updated.  What has always worked the best for me, is a combination of a list, and a worksheet — where I write out my prayers, and the people, things, and situations that I am to remember in prayer.

At this particular time in my life, I am struggling with finding the time to pray like I want to pray.  Most everyone knows, that I had “gastric bypass” surgery a little over two months ago.  Well, I am very much a person of routine, and the my mornings were pretty scheduled — and worked really well for me.  Now, I spend 45 minutes to an hour, walking early every morning, and am tired when I get back — and so my mornings are not going like I want.  This morning, as I was reading through Philippians, I was challenged, and encouraged, to redouble my efforts to find a schedule that works for me.  Observe what the text says:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  (Philippians 1:3-11, ESV)

It is always encouraging for me to read the prayers of Paul!  I don’t know what method that he used in his practice of prayer, but he prayed for everyone and everything!  I want my prayer life to be modeled after Paul’s.  If you notice in this prayer, his prayer is full of joy because of his friendship and partnership with the saints in Philippi, and for that he is extremely grateful (who in your life, in your spiritual family, causes your prayers to be filled with joy, when you think of them).  But not only is he grateful for that joy: he prays that their love may abound, that they will approve what is excellent, and be pure and blameless.  I want to be that kind of prayer warrior, for those that I know and love.

Just reading Paul’s prayer, and thinking about how he prayed, motivates me to do a better job!  How about you?  Peace.

 

“What Ya’ Reading”

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.  (II Timothy 4:13, NIV)

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.  (II Timothy 4:13, ESV)

When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left with Carpus at Troas.  Also bring my books, and especially my papers.  (II Timothy 4:13, NLT)

The past 10 days or so, I have had the practice of “reading” on my mind, a lot.  I have always been a reader, nothing more enjoyable than sitting down with a good book and getting lost in the story.  Books have always been a part of who I am, and I enjoying having books — almost as much as I do reading them.  I’m just now getting use to the idea of having “books” on my Kindle Fire.  It is still not as good as having a book in my hands, but it does provide a less expensive way to have stories, that I just want to read and forget.

BUT, as I stated, the practice of reading has been on my mind a lot — for the last 10 days or so.  Philip Yancy wrote a blog post (http://philipyancey.com/reading-wars) about reading — and how people don’t read like they used to read, how there are distractions to reading that pull us away, and the reading habits of successful people.  Then there is a Twitter post that makes the rounds about once a month, about how we should read —  Reading is a gift, but only if the words are taken into the soul — eaten, chewed, gnawed, received in unhurried delight.  All of these things, added together, have made me stop and consider my current reading habits.  This morning, as I was out for my morning walk, my mind was constantly churning about what I needed to read, and what I was reading.  The conclusions I reached, were not very satisfying, and probably not acceptable to me.

First, I spend way too much time on the internet!  Spending time reading Facebook, Twitter, Razorback chat boards, and blog posts.  Now let me say, I read some really good blog posts (like the Yancy blog), that have been encouraging, edifying, and educational; and Twitter is filled (once you limit who you follow) with short, pithy statements that are challenging; and will stay with you (like the Peterson statement).  The problem is that you end up reading one thing, and being drawn to another — and then may end up deciding to play a game of solitaire (that turns into 25), and time is gone.  This is one of those areas where I have to learn to say “NO” to myself, and do what needs to be done.

Second, I am not a vociferous reader like many of my preacher friends; nor do I read stuff that is very heavy, theologically.  I have friends and acquaintances that will read more in two months, than I will in a year.  I want to be a better reader — in quantity and quality!  This is going to be a real challenge for me, because my reading has always been about reading what I want to read because I like it (not necessarily, because it is something that I have to read, or need to read).  There is the saying, that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  Well, I’m not an old dog — I am an older man, that can change what they do.

Third, I am going to share with you what I am reading now, for a couple of reasons:  (1) to be held accountable for reading it; and (2) receive your comments, and encourage you to read more.  I will begin with the things that I do every day, and then what is ahead of me — beginning with the closes and working my way out.

For the past few years, I have begun the morning with a devotional from a daily devotional book.  This year, I have been reading One Year with Jesus, from Tyndale.  It is taken from the New Living Translation of the Life Application Bible.  I have not decided what to do next year, although I am looking at two on Psalms (Wiersbe and Lanier).  After that fairly short reading, this year I have been working my way through the Gospels.  This is not just reading, but this is highlighting and making extensive notes about what I am reading.  Right now, I am reading in Luke, and Luke some really long chapters.  It takes me almost an hour to work through one chapter.

Wednesday nights, I am teaching a class on The Holy Spirit and the Christian; and I am doing quite a bit of reading preparing for those classes.  I have 5 basic resources that I am using, plus notes that I have accumulated over the years, and other books that I am consulting.

This coming Sunday (8-13), the book club of the Prairie Grove church will meet.  I need to have two books finished by then, for the meeting — This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti, and Imagine Heaven (John Burke).  This book club has been really good for me, because I have been forced to read books, that I would not normally read; and some of them have been a real blessing (The Hiding Place, for example).

I am not going to list all of the reading projects (I’m sure I will say something about them later), but I want to encourage you to READ!  First, and foremost, read your Bible, and then read books that will be Spiritually uplifting.  Read books that will educate, encourage, and edify you in your walk with the Lord.  Read books that will help you be a better person, parent, child, grandparent, wife, husband.  You are never too old to learn!  READ!!!

(I apologize for the rambling nature of this post, and how late in them morning it is being posted.  It has been two hours since I started this, and I have had several interruptions.  I’ll try to do better tomorrow.  Bill)

 

“Why We Care”

As a child of the 1950’s, the first television shows that I remember watching were on a black and white TV.  Looking back from today’s perspective, the quality of production was not very good, but as a young boy they pulled me in and wrapped me up.  There were certain shows that captivated my interest.  Shows like Rin Tin Tin, The Lone Ranger, Wyatt Earp, Gunsmoke, Cheyenne, Wanted Dead or Alive, Rawhide and Have Gun Will Travel (do you see a pattern).  As I got a little older, other programs captured my interest:  Daniel Boone, Bonanza, Laramie, The Big Valley, The Wild Wild West, and High Chapparal.  Obviously, as I got older, and became more interested in movies — the John Wayne Westerns, and others of that genre, were always high on the list.  Is it any wonder, that one of my favorite cable channels today is “The Western Channel.”

So, obviously, my favorite movie from my youth, was a western — “The Magnificent Seven“, with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Eli Wallach — just to name some of the stars.  You probably know the story, villagers from a poor Mexican village hire seven gunfighters to assist them against a gang of 40 outlaws who pillage the town on a regular basis.  The gunfighters take the job, that didn’t pay as much as what they are used to receiving, and the odds are overwhelmingly against them.The most remarkable part of the story is that they “hardened” gunfighters begin to care about the people of the village.  The leader of the outlaw band can’t understand why — why they are there, and why they care.  There is one well-known line from the movie, where he says “If God did not want them to be sheared, he would not have made them to be sheep.”  Sort of a cold-hearted view toward people, don’t you think?

Psalm 82 is a fascinating, and difficult, chapter for the modern reader.  It reads as if there is a meeting in heaven of the great assembly, sort of like the one you read about in Job 1.  As I read the NIV, it seems as if God is sternly dealing with the “celestial beings” that are there, about how they are mishandling the people of His creation.

How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked.  Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.  (Psalm 82:2-4, NIV)

I will leave it to you to decided if this is a real heavenly meeting, or a symbolic picture that is painted for our learning.  But it is a definite, that God is telling someone that it is their responsibility to care for the weak, the fatherless, the poor, and the oppressed.

There are still people in this world that believe that some people are sheep, that were meant to be sheared.  They will take advantage of them, mistreat them, and generally ignore their plight.  God’s people are to be just the opposite, a blessing to all people; especially those that are not able to help themselves.  People will not understand why we care, we will be in the minority, and there will be those that take advantage of our concern.  But God still wants us to be salt and light in our world, and do what we can do in His name (even if it is just a cup of cold water).  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook, May 11, 2016.  It is being reposted here as a part of our “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing for your life.  Bill)