“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.

“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 is it Worth to You”

Have you ever lost anything?  I’m struggling with something that I have lost, or misplaced?  Last Wednesday night (6-14), I took a thumb drive to our services, to use while I was teaching my class,  When I started looking for it, to put the Sunday morning sermon on, it was nowhere to be found!  Either it fell out of my pocket when I was pulling my keys out, I have misplaced it, or I left it in the jeans when I gave them to Goodwill (they no longer fit, they were way to big).  Regardless, it is gone!  I have turned the office at the house upside down, and the office at the church building; and have looked all through the house.  This is really frustrating!

This, particular, thumb drive is pretty important.  It has all the “power point” presentations that I have done over the last several years, and I really don’t want to lose all of them.  Obviously, I still have the original presentations on my PC, but it would be a real time-consuming pain to have to move all of them from the PC to another thumb drive — but, it is something that I would be willing to do.  If, the thumb drive had the only copy of any of those “presentations”, I imagine that my search would have been much longer, and much more intense.

When you lost something, how hard did you look for it?  Did the intensity in the search match the value, or the usefulness, of what you had lost?  Did you search harder, if it was something that was really important to you?  These thoughts about losing things, searching, and value; came to my mind as I was reading Matthew 18.  As Jesus was teaching about greatness in the kingdom, and little children, He told this parable:

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.  (Matthew 18:12-14)

As I was reading that, the thought crossed my mind (and ended up in the margin of my Bible — our searching may depend on how much we value what is lost.  That is sort of self-incriminating, and humbling at the same time.  Is it possible, that I have become so calloused by the world (and the things of the world), that I don’t value lost people as much as I should.  Have I allowed my heart to be hardened about how terrible being lost really is?  Do I just refuse to think about people being lost?

Those kinds of question can make you re-examine your commitment; your commitment to take the “good-news” to lost people; your commitment to telling the story of Jesus.  Do we pray for lost people?  Do we have that specific ONE (out of a hundred) that we are searching for?  I confess that I have allowed my life to get busy:  busy writing internet devotionals, studying for Bible classes, preparing sermons, going to ball games, reading books, and the such like; that I have forgotten to pray for, and seek those that are lost.  May God forgive me, and may He help to do a better job.  Will you join me?  Peace.

John 18 – “I’m Right! Pay Attention to Me”

Over the years, I have witnessed, and heard about, some of the most puzzling things taking places in our local churches.  Churches where if two men met each other in the aisle, before or after services; one of them would walk between the pews to the other side, so they would not have to shake hands with each other.  Churches where an elder and a Bible class teacher went outside of the building after class, and had a fist fight over whether you ought to give 10% of the gross, or 10% of the net,  of your income.  Churches where in an elders meeting, two elders got so angry at each other; that the rest of those sitting there, thought they might come to blows.  Churches where a preacher got a letter from a disgruntled member, and was called every name in the book, and condemned to a devil’s hell, that was signed “In brotherly love.”  Churches where a preacher is terminated and given two weeks to vacate the parsonage, and at the very worst time of the year.  As Paul told Titus, God’s people are a peculiar people — although, I know that I am using that expression differently than Paul did.

Stories like the ones that I have related above, that I know to be true; or have had them told to me as truth, make you wonder what in the world is wrong with us.  Every preacher that has been doing this for very long, can tell you similar stories.  It is not always things that happen to the preacher, but preachers do stupid things also.  One of the most tragic things that can happen, is for a church of God’s people to allow things to get to the point, that a split becomes inevitable.  I believe that church fights are worse than school board fights, or even a city council.  Usually, the fight will degenerate to a point of doctrine; and then you are “fighting for the truth, “contending for the faith,” and all things are fair.  Personally, I don’t believe that church fights start over doctrine, they start over personalities ( or authority) and stay that way until they can find a doctrine to fuss over.  Many times we have forgotten what Jesus said, A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35, ESV).  Personally, I believe that every doctrinal dispute, every personality conflict, must be ruled over by this principle.  Just because you thought you were doctrinally right, does not give you the privilege to forget what Jesus said.

As I was reading in The Gospel of John, I came across a passage that reminded me of how obsessed we can become with being right, and then showing every one that we are right, that we ignore what Jesus said.  Listen to what this text says:

Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor.  By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.  (John 18:38, NIV)

Did you catch that?  They were there to have a man crucified, a man they knew was innocent — but they were willing to sacrifice him for the good of the nation (or that was there story anyway) — and they are worried about avoiding becoming unclean and not being able to eat the Passover meal.  They are trying to have a man murdered, and they are concerned about being able to participate in a religious ritual.  Is that not the most ridiculous thing that you have ever heard?

There are times that we become so obsessed with being right, everyone knowing that we are right; and everyone knowing that every one that disagrees with ME is a false teacher and a sower of discord — that we forget the spirit that Jesus wants us to exemplify.  The really sad part, is that those that are involved don’t think they have done anything wrong.  They were standing up for the Lord, and the things that happened were collateral damage.  There was a church that had a reputation in its community for fussing and fighting, and then firing the preacher.  I think that they had fired almost every preacher they ever had.  Well, a new preacher moved to work with the church; and his first visitor was from the local Methodist church.  The Methodist pastor told the new preacher that he would be praying for him; and when things got bad, he would be there to help him in his time of need.  The preacher laughed and said that he would be fine, but later, when he got fired, he remembered that conversation.

We will never bring unity to the religious world, or take the Gospel to a lost and dying world; until we learn how to love each other.  Bottom line.  Peace.

(Usually, I post these devotionals on my blog in the mornings, but I have a meeting at 7:00 in the morning.  So, I wanted to take the time to share these thoughts with you tonight.  My schedule is really packed this week, before I leave on vacation on Friday; so my devotionals may be a little sporadic for the next couple of weeks.  Bill)

Psalm 15 — “Lists”

Almost every morning for 12 years, one of the first things that I did when I got to work was to make a “to do” list for that day.  A list of the people that I needed to talk to, work tickets that needed to be written, bids that needed to be completed, houses that needed to be checked, and other necessary tasks.  After the list was completed, I would then designate the order of importance of these responsibilities.  I really believe that these lists aided my effectiveness in being able to do my job.  I like lists, it helps me to have a feeling of accomplishment.

Psalm 15 begins with this question:

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
        Who may live on your holy mountain?
(Psalm 15:1, NIV)
Guess what follows?  A LIST of what God expects:
The one whose walk is blameless,
        who does what is righteous,
        who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
        who does no wrong to a neighbor,
        and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
        but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
        and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
        who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
(Psalm 15:2-5, NIV)
As I read that this morning, it was obvious to me, that David was telling us that we needed to “Love God, and love each other”.  So often we want to make a list (long list) of what God wants and expects of us; and then designate what is most important, important, and not quite so important.  After that, we like to make judgments about everybody’s significance in the Kingdom.  But all along, Jesus has been saying “the greatest command is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and body; and the second command is like it, “to love your neighbor as yourself.”
You would think that we could understand that.  Peace.
(This devotional was first posted on Facebook, March 30, 2016.  It is revised, and used for one of  our “Psalms on Saturday”.  It is my prayer that it is a blessing to you.)

 

Mark 10 — “Servant of All”

This morning I want to tell you a story, actually two stories; and both of them involve the same preacher.  There is a city, and for a city it is relatively small; but there are a lot of churches in this city.  There are all kinds of churches, of every size and denomination; but in particular, there are several from the Stone-Campbell heritage.  Many years ago, one of the larger congregations in that fellowship hired a new preacher, and most of the other preachers don’t trust him for some reason.  He doesn’t talk like they do, and he seems to handle Scripture differently.  These preachers began to listen to the tapes of his sermons, being sure that what he is saying is according to the Scripture.  Many of them decide that what he is preaching is dangerous, and begin to write bulletin articles and preach sermons about his error.  It is not long until he is ostracized by most of the preachers in town, and talked about by other preachers all over the country.

Another preacher in that city accepts another job, quite a distance away.  He has been one of those that wrote the bulletin articles, and preached the sermons about preacher #1.  After he moves, he writes a letter to all the preachers of his fellowship in the previous city, asking them for a favor.  You see, he has four sons; and three of them are preachers — the 4th one has quit going to church.  In this letter, he asks these preachers to go and visit his son.  Some of these preachers are his friends, most of them are acquaintances, and then there is the one that he wrote about and preached against.  One preacher goes to visit his son.  Can you guess which one?  Yep, you’re right.

A number of years later, a young preacher from a small town outside of that same city, is sitting with his wife, at the hospital of the city.  Their son has just been taken into surgery, and they are there by themselves.  The preacher from the large congregation comes in , and sitting down beside them; says that preachers don’t have preachers to sit with them at times like this — so he is there to sit with them, and pray with and for them.

This morning, as I was reading in Mark, I read a story that reminded me of these events.  Listen to what Mark has to say:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:35-45, NIV)
This morning as I read that passage, I thought of the stories that I have just shared.  How at times we can become so impressed with our own self-importance, that we forget to be a servant.  It doesn’t have to be something like watching for the “soundness” of those that we disagree with.  It can be something as simple as getting involved in what we do, that we lose the servant heart.  That what we are doing is so important, we’re so important; that we don’t have time for things like that.  Even if we think we are saving the brotherhood, if we do not exhibit the heart of a servant in our actions; we are failing.
This morning, I confess that I have struggled making time for people.  It’s not because I think that I am better, or even that I am unconcerned.  It’s leaving the comfort of where I am, and going to a”strange” place is really hard on me.   I know that is just an excuse, and I am trying harder to do better.  Because, passages like Mark 10, drive home the importance of having that servant heart.  May God help me learn from the example of the preacher that I told you about this morning.  Peace.

John 13 — “A New Commandment”

The news is getting harder and harder to watch, or even listen to, these days.  I do my very best to ignore all the strife and bitterness that is manifesting itself in our country, but that is nigh near impossible.  Those on the  right, are upset because of the attacks of those on the left; and, what they view as lies and distortions of what they believe and what they are doing.  Those on the left cannot believe that the “advances” they have made in the last few years are being threatened, by those who refuse to accept progress and change.  Almost every news cast, story, or report — begins with the turmoil and chaos that is taking place in our government, and around the country.  I really wonder if any enemy were to make an act of aggression on our country; would we be able to come together and stand united against it?

One thing that I have noticed about this current situation, is that both sides are arrogant and intolerant.  I know that those are pretty strong words, but it is so obvious that both sides believe that they are absolutely right, and would not even consider the possibility that they might be mistaken.  It might be time to reconsider Oliver Cromwell’s famous phrase, “I beseech you, … think it possible you may be mistaken.”  But that probably is not going to happen, because of that second characteristic I’ve noticed — both sides are intolerant.  Historically, one side has been known for its intolerance, while the other has openly been for tolerance.  Well, those that are intolerant are still intolerant; while the tolerant have fallen into the trap of being intolerant of the intolerant.  I pray for our country regularly, that they can lay aside their arrogance and intolerance, and come together for what is best for the nation.  I despair of that ever happening.

All of these thoughts, rushed through my mind as I was reading from the gospel of John in my devotional reading this morning.  A couple of familiar verses jumped off the page at me:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-35, ESV)

Beautiful, thought-provoking sentiment; and even more powerful, when you consider the context.  Crowds are being drawn to Jesus, the miracle-worker, because of the spread of the news that He had raised Lazarus from the dead.  Many of those coming to see Lazarus, were believing in Jesus (because of Lazarus, John 12:18); in fact, there were those that were in authority that believed, but were afraid to say anything (because they would lose their position of authority, John 12:42-43).  The situation was becoming so intolerable to the chief priests of the Jews; that they were plotting to not only kill Jesus, but also Lazarus (John 12:10).  But in spite of all the signs that He did, there still those that did not believe in Him (John 12:37).  If this were the plot of a Hollywood movie, you could tell that something was about to explode!

In the midst of all this turmoil, Jesus takes the disciples off for a meal and demonstrates what He is all about; by washing their feet (John 13:3-5).  There was the master and teacher showing that He cared enough to do what needed to be done, and wash their dirty feet.  After that act of service, Jesus shared the news with the group that one of them was going to betray Him (one of those that He had just washed their feet).   You can imagine all that was going on in that room,  and then the situation intensifies, Jesus tells them that He will not be there much longer (John 13:33).  Because He is not going to be there much longer, He had a new command for them — they would need to love each other, like He loved them.  I believe He is telling them, they will not survive what is about to happen, if they do not love each other!

Do I expect our government to pay attention to this lesson from Jesus?  No, I do not.  But I do expect those that call themselves Christians to practice this — even when they are talking about government.  So far, I see those that are “Christian” leading the way on both sides with rancor and bitterness.

I would like to see those of my fellowship, who are wanting to speak where the Bible speaks, and do Bible things in Bible ways –lead by example!  Not only as they talk about the government and their practices, but especially as they deal with, and talk about, one another.  All too often, those same two sad characteristics (arrogance and intolerance) manifest themselves in our conversations (and writings) about each other.  I look at a fellowship that is becoming more and more splintered, and wonder if Jesus thinks that we will make it — if we don’t listen to what He told the disciples that night!  Peace.