“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.

“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)

“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.

 

“He’s There for You”

While my mother was living, and I was working for Arkansas Insulation; most mornings, on my way to the office, I would call her and see how she was doing.  Inevitably, the conversations would drift any number of ways — to the newest vitamin (supplement) that I needed to take, a problem that I needed help with, the loneliness she was feeling, or just life in general.  I really miss those conversations, just knowing that she was there to talk.  After she was gone, I can’t tell you how many times I reached for my phone, then realized that I could not talk to her any more.  My sister, Christye, has often expressed those same thoughts to me, about how much we have lost; just because she is not there to talk.  The really sad part, is that I don’t think either one of us realized how important that was, until she was gone.

When Jehovah led the Israelites out of Egypt, He often got tired of their complaining and whining.  There was a point that He got so disgusted, He was going to let them go on to the “promised land” without Him (Exodus 33:1-3).  The people mourned because of what God said, and Moses implored God that it was His presence that gave him the ability to lead the people.  One of the more powerful verses in that context says:

For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people?  Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?  (Exodus 33:16, ESV)

The gist of the passage is that what set apart Moses, as the leader of the Israelites, and the Israelites as the people of God — was the presence of God in their midst.  They needed to know that God was there!

In my reading this morning, there was a couple of passage in the Psalms, where David expressed how important the presence of God was in his life.  Listen to what is said:

For you make him most blessed forever, you make him glad with the joy of your presence.  (Psalm 21:6, ESV)

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; … (Psalm 23:4, ESV).

For years I have listened to my brethren argue about what God does, and how He does it.  It is my opinion, that we have forgotten one very important principle.  What makes the people of God distinct from everyone else in the world, is the presence of God in their lives!

Personally, I need the joy, and the comfort, that comes from knowing the presence of God in my life.  I need to know that He is there!  Peace.

 

(This devotional was first posted on Facebook, April 1, 2016.  It is being reposted here as a part of our “Psalms on Saturday.”  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing to your life.  Bill)

Psalm 84 — “The Road Home”

Late August 1972, I loaded up my 1967 Camaro and headed east, a direction that I was totally unfamiliar with, having never seen or crossed the Mississippi River.  Crossing the river at Memphis, I took Highway 72 across northern Mississippi to the Shoals area of north Alabama.  Through the assistance of our local preacher, Jack Gray, I had been accepted as a student to International Bible College; and north Alabama was my home for the next 5 1/2 years.  Life there, for the most part, was a joy; and I made friends that are still important to me nearly 45 years later.

But north Alabama was not home!  I still loved going back to Arkansas.  I would tell my Alabama friends, that I was going to cross the Jordan at Memphis and enter the promised land.  Then, after crossing the state on I-40, I would turn north on Highway 71 and head toward the Fayetteville-Springdale area.  That old road, no matter how miserable it was to drive, was beautiful to me!  It meant that I was nearing home.

John Denver had touched the hearts of the nation, and of several generations, with his 1971 song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”  It touched our heartstrings, because everyone had a highway, a country road, or a street that was like my Highway 71.  The road they knew would take them home!

Psalm 84 has a verse that creates that same feeling in us, about our relationship with God, and the destination of our journey with Him.  Listen to what the text says:

Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.  (Psalm 84:5, NRSV)

Jerusalem was the “city of God,” and the Jews made (or were supposed to) regular pilgrimages to that city.  Those that went, had that “road/highway” in their heart, and their hearts were bursting with joy and praise to be going.  There is a whole section of the Psalms, that are songs they sang as they climbed to that city.

God’s people today, still long to go a city, and, it is still the city of God.  We want to go to spend an eternity with Him, and the highway that takes us there is still beautiful to us.  That way, that road, that beautiful highway, is called — Jesus (John 14:1-7).  Let us be sure that we have within our heart, the highway to Zion.  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook, April 13, 2016.  It is being used again here, as one of our “Psalms on Saturday”.  Of all the devotionals that I have written, this may be one of the most well-liked, because of the feelings of “home” that we all have.)

John 16-17 — “Fulfilled Joy”

Have you ever tried to place yourself inside the mind of one of the 12 apostles?  They had been with Jesus since the very beginning of His ministry.  He said things that were somewhat compelling, and outrageous; and the things that He did were often beyond belief.  They were following Him because they believed that He might be the Christ; but what He said, and things that He did, were often in opposition to all that they had been taught to expect.  But those things that He did do, there was no denying that God HAD to be with Him.  You just know, that there were times  they had to be a very confused group.

As the time for the culmination of everything that He had come to do was drawing near, I believe that Jesus was aware of the doubt and confusion in their minds.  He was doing the best that He could to comfort and reassure the disciples, as they faced one of the most difficult situations in their lives.  He tried to explain to them that they were about to be overwhelmed with sorrow, but that it would be turned to joy.  Listen to what He says to them:

Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.  …  So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you(John 16:19-20, 22, ESV)

He then went on to tell them:

I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father. (John 16:24, ESV)

I often wondered, what they thought He was saying; but, all of a sudden, they act as if they have it all figured out.

His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. … (John 16:29-32, ESV)

It would seem that immediately after saying this, Jesus begins to pray for these disciples.  There are so many things that stand out to me from that prayer in John 17, but one line seemed especially meaningful to me this morning.

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. (John 17:13, ESV)

Jesus had been trying to explain to them that their sorrow would be turned to joy, and I don’t think they ever grasped it.  Now, He takes the matter to the Father and asks that the joy that He has may be fulfilled in the disciples.  What was it that He wanted them to share?   He wanted them to know the joy that death was not the end!  That His death, that they would watch (and be frightened and depressed by), would not be the end.  That not only would they see that, but that they, and everyone else, would be given the opportunity to share in the blessing of forgiveness, salvation, security, and hope.  That the power of the Satan would be defeated, and that the victory could be theirs IN THE CHRIST!  All of that is something that can be called “fulfilled joy.”  May we all share in that with them!  Peace.