“Doing What You Love, and Feeling Useful”

Friday, December 11, 2015 was my last official day to be an employee of Arkansas Insulation.  Oh, I went back a couple of times to work with the young lady that took my place — introducing her to the customers, sharing some of the things that I had learned about those customers, and giving her some tips on how to make the job easier.  It was my desire that she be successful at the job, and take good care of my customers.  But, I went off the payroll on that Friday.

Every once in a while, I will run into people (or they will contact me) and they will always ask “How do you like being retired?”  I had a pretty stock answer for that question — “I am old, bald, fat, and very happy!”  One of those four things is very important, two of them I can’t do a thing about, and the fourth one I am in the process of changing (and I am nearly through)

What I want you to know today is, that I did not retire from Arkansas Insulation to quit working!  But what I do now does not feel like work.  You see, I believe that the saying is true — Find something that you really enjoy doing, and you will never work another day in your life.  I am doing what I enjoy most in life — preaching for the Prairie Grove church of Christ!  I look forward to every day, the challenge of that day, with the prayer that I can do something good for the Lord that day.

This morning, I want to share two passages from Psalm 71, that have become a part of my daily prayers.

Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
(Psalm 71:9, NIV)

As for me, I will always have hope;
        I will praise you more and more.
 
My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
        of your saving acts all day long—
        though I know not how to relate them all.
I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
        I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
        and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray,
        do not forsake me, my God,
(Psalm 71:14-18, NIV)
Now, I know that the Lord will not forsake me.  My prayer is that I will not feel forsaken.  That I will feel useful, and  be able to share the story of God’s power, love, and salvation to another generation that is coming behind me.  I know that I have a lot less time in front of me, than I have behind me (and what is behind me passed quickly).  My prayer is that the Lord will help me to be fruitful, and useful, in that time.  Peace.
(This was first posted on Facebook on June 8, 2016.  It has been updated and revised, and posted here as a part of our “Psalms on Saturday.”  It is my prayer that you will be blessed by it.  Bill)

 

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“Who Moved My Pulpit?”

October 1st a new direction for this blog began.  Instead of trying to write a new entry 6 days a week, and then struggling to get it done and feeling guilty if I didn’t; I changed my schedule to writing 4 day (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday) a week.  Monday are to be devotionals from the devotional reading that I do; Wednesdays are used for devotionals, book reviews, theological or doctrinal teaching, etc.; Fridays have reflections on what is going on in my life, and the things that I have learned; and, on Saturday we have our “Psalms for Saturday“.

This morning I want to talk about, and briefly review, a book that I have read in the lst week. The book is:

Thom S. Rainer  Who Moved My Pulpit?  “Leading Change in the Church” 2016, B & H Publishing, Nashville, TN, 143 pages

Last Thursday morning, November 9th, as I was scanning through Twitter, I noticed there was a coupon for a FREE book. Well, those sort of things always catch my attention but to get this book; you had to take the coupon to a Lifeway Christian Bookstore.  I just happened to be headed in the direction of the nearest store, so I stopped by and picked up a free copy of Who Moved My Pulpit?.

Thom Rainer is a remarkable writer for any one that wants to understand how individual congregations (churches) function.  It seems to me that he knows more about the politics of a local church, the life cycles of local churches, and other related local church topics; than anyone that I have ever read.  He has written such books as I Am a Church Member, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Simple Church, Transformed Church, and many other titles.  This particular, short, volume is about leading change in the local church.  Anyone that has been in ministry for any length of time has either been in trouble for changing something (that wasn’t supposed to be changed), or has known of another minister that has been.  These changes could be from changing the order of services, changing the layout of the auditorium, the mission of that particular congregation, new carpet, all the way to more dramatic changes.

What Rainer does is this book is lay out a road map to navigate the change process; and the advice that he gives is very practical, and the examples that he uses are very real and to the point. The first chapter is introductory to why change can be difficult, and most every preacher will empathize with the story that is told in the chapter.  The second chapter is titled, “Five Kinds of Unmovable Church Members”, and as you read that you will be attaching names to the descriptions that he gives — because you will have known them all.

The next eight chapters are the road map that Rainer suggests that anyone trying to make a change (of any kind) in a local church follow.  The titles of the chapters will give you an idea of what he suggests, and may just prick your interest to the point of wanting to read the book.  They are as follows:

Stop …and Pray

Confront and Communicate a Sense of Urgency

Build an Eager Coalition

Become a Voice and Vision for Hope

Deal with People Issues

Move from an Inward Focus to an Outward Focus

Pick Low-Hanging Fruit

Implement and Consolidate Change

With the book only being 143 pages long, these chapters are not long and are full of information that will be valuable to the local preacher.

This book is written with those preachers that serve as “pastors” of a local church, and are recognized as the leader of the congregation.  Within the vast majority of churches of Christ, the preacher is not considered the pastor.  It is our understanding that local churches are to function with a plurality of elders (or overseers, or shepherds) that serve as the “leaders” of the local church.  I have noticed in the last few years, that there are those preachers in our fellowship that are beginning to call themselves “pastors”, but I am not one of them.  I am not the pastor of the Prairie Grove church, and do not want to be.  I am a minister, servant, of the Prairie Grove church, and I serve with our elders, as the minister of the Word, while they lead the congregation.  I have been called “pastor” many times; and most of the time (not always) I will reply that I am not the pastor, that I am the preacher.  The reason that I don’t do it every time, although I probably should, is that the most common reply is “same thing.”  But it really isn’t.

Over the years, the most common problem that I have seen in local churches of Christ, is that the elders don’t (won’t) lead, or facilitate change — so the preachers does it.  Honestly, most elders don’t have a problem with that, because it is one less thing that they have to do (and very few are full-time elders, and usually have busy lives with their jobs, family, etc.).  The problems usually arise when the preacher does something that one of them (elders), or a vocal church member, does not like.  Often that will lead to full-blown problems about who the boss really is, and will often lead to the preacher having to move (or worse moving, starting another church and dividing the one he left).

So, the question is — would I recommend this book?  Absolutely!  It has lots of valuable information, that needs to be shared.  But, I would absolutely discourage any preacher (from the churches of Christ) to try and use the information in this book to manipulate his elders to get the changes that he wants.  What I would recommend is that he get extra copies, and share them with his elders.  They are the ones that need to recognize the need for change when it arises.  They need to be the ones that have a dream for the future of their congregation.  The elders need to recognize that they we can’t always keep doing what we are doing, because it is not working.  They need to lead the congregation to a more outward focus.  They need to know the road map of how to make that happen.  As preachers, we can support them by our preaching of the Word, as they lead God’s people to be what God wants them to be.

On a scale of 10, I would give this about an 8.  I hope that you have found this to be of interest.  Look for more reviews in the coming weeks.

Bill

“Why Did That Happen?”

Inevitably, things happen in our lives, things that we don’t understand, and we don’t understand why they worked out the way that they did.  There are people in the Prairie Grove church, family members and friends, that are encountering difficult times, and some really challenges with life — that are trying at best, and can be much worse.

I wish I could explain why I have been so blessed, and so very fortunate in my life.  That tragedy and disease have not affected me, and my family, as it has other people and families that we know and love.  I thank God every day, for his goodness and blessings, and entreat Him for those that face the situations that I have not.

In 1973, I was preach for a small church in rural Lawrence County, Alabama.  I don’t remember if I was living in Florence, or Rogersville at the time — but it was a 25-30 mile drive from either place.  One night after services, several of us went to the house of one of the members for a time of fellowship.  When it was time to go, the pointed me to a back road that would get me home quicker.  It was dark, dreary, and rainy night; and I was driving a road that I had never driven before.  Somehow, I missed seeing the sign for the railroad crossing, and I went over the little rise for the tracks way too fast.  The result was that I ended up running a stop sign, and ended up in a cotton field on the other side of the road.  When I got out of the car, walked around to the back, and sat down on the bumper of my little red Volkswagen beetle — I just sat there and trembled!  That stop sign that I ran, was for the intersection of that country road and Highway 72.  Highway 72 is a four land highway that is the main connection between the Shoals are and Decatur. As I sat there and watched numerous semi’s going both ways, I thanked God that, somehow, I had made it across the highway without being hit.  You can call it luck, providence, or what you want; but, in my mind, it will always be that God looked out for, and protected me that night.

I cry out to God Most High,

  to God, who fulfills his purpose for me.

He send from heaven and saved me,

        rebuking those who hotly pursue me;

God sends his love and his faithfulness.  (Psalm 57:2-3, NIV)

Theologically speaking, I don’t believe that God has a detailed plan of every event that is scheduled for my life.  I believe that I make choices that can change the direction of my life, and that God allows me to choose the path (even if it is the wrong one).  But I do believe that there are times that God intervenes in the affairs of the world — and I don’t know why He chooses the ones that He does.

The passage in Psalms, reminded me of a responsibility that is given to those that God intervenes on their behalf.  As an acknowledgment of what God has done, my life out to be more devoted to the “purpose” that God has for all lives.  God’s plan for all lives, is that they live in relationship with Him; loving, serving, sharing.  Pray that I will recognize how blessed that I am, and that I will fulfill His “purpose” for my life.  Peace.

“The Inward Struggle”

Have you ever heard of “the battle of the bulge”?  No, not the battle during World War II, but the continual struggle that many have fought on a daily basis, and still continually fight.  Of course, I am talking about a struggle with weight.  I am veteran of many conflicts, and have lost more than I have won; and I still struggle with the desire to eat things that I shouldn’t.  Those of you that have never engaged in this conflict, be very thankful!

In the mid-1980’s, when Malia and I were living in Winters, Texas, there was a period of time when I lost a lot of weight.  Doug Taylor and I (and later Donald McMillon) went to a weight-loss physician in Lubbock, and I was successful in his program — for a while.  I took the medication he said to take, ate the foods that he said to eat, and exercised.  Lanny Bahlman and I would meet three mornings a week (at 5 in the morning), and go play racquetball.  Many afternoons, Jerry Hood and I would go walk at the high school track.  But another child came along (in both the Bahlman and Hooten homes), and the early morning racquetball was out of the question.  The cold of winter set in, and the late afternoon walks were not very comfortable, and I soon abandoned them.  Food still looked and tasted good, and over a period of a couple of years (and a move back to Arkansas), I gained all the weight back — and then some!  Most everyone that struggles with a weight problem can identify, at one point or another in their life, with that story.  Sadly, it is all too familiar.

The radical decision that I made this year, to have gastric bypass surgery, was not made on the basis of losing weight.  It was made with the desire to be healthy, and to live longer.  A lifetime of eating anything I wanted, as much of it as I wanted, and as fast as I could; leaves me with cravings that still have an impact on me.  Even now after the surgery, after losing 90+ pounds, and no longer having Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc; I still find myself wanting foods that I know that I should not eat.  The threat of another failure is real.  We all have seen people that have had the surgery, and then gain the weight back — and I don’t want to do that!

You see, food offers what tastes good at the moment, at the expense of what is good for me and my health.  The danger that I face is that I will begin to indulge in those foods (and amounts) that I shouldn’t, and nothing bad will happen.  Blood sugar won’t spike, blood pressure will stay the same, and the weight won’t change — so you begin to think that you can do that more often.  Then you will have those days, when you cheat on your food once; and think I have already blown it today, I might as well do it again (and I will do better tomorrow).  Before you know it, you have not only lost the battle — but are losing the war.  The only way to win, is to resist the urge and the temptation on a daily basis — no, on an hourly basis.  You have to be determined to be victorious over your desires, and win this battle, and every one that comes your way.  I’m not foolish enough to believe that I will, having already lost a couple, but I am determined to get back on the program (and that I have done) and not be caught in the same situation again!  With the encouragement of family and friends, I KNOW that I will lose this last 15-18 to make my goal weight, and I WILL keep it off!

Over the years I have recognized that my struggle to control my weight, is very similar to my struggle to live for Jesus.  Obviously, the big difference is that my victory in living for Jesus is not just dependent on me, and my strength, to resist the seduction of Satan and sin.  But Scripture still says for us to …lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us.  (Hebrews 12:1, HCSB).  The terminology is quite appropriate don’t you think?

This morning in my devotional reading, James says some things that made me think of all this.  Think about these two readings:

…Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.  (James 4:4, HCSB)

Therefore, submit to God.  But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people!  Be miserable and mourn and weep.  Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.  (Jame 4:7-10, HCSB)

I see within those words, the same struggle with sin that I have always had with my weight.  They are both very seductive, both can offer immediate gratification and pleasure, and both can be destructive.  For years, I have been using this definition of sin, doing what I want, instead of what God wants.   There is a reason that one of the most powerful statements that Jesus ever made was (and is) …If anyone wants to be My follower, HE MUST DENY HIMSELF, take up his cross, and follow Me.  (Mark 8:34, HCSB).

Obviously, I am not putting a struggle with weight on the same level as a struggle with sin.  BUT, there are similarities with the struggles.  Let’s recognize the danger, and be victorious in our struggle with sin.  Peace.


“Seeking after God”

Reader’s Digest used to have a treasury of short stories about people in every issue, especially those people that make a serious impact on the lives of others.  Over the years there have been a lot of those “special” people in my life, more lives than I could ever list or name.  Two of my favorite people are Mahlon Graham and Harold Wilbanks.  They both attended the Cedar Grove church in Rogersville, AL, when I preached there.  Harold passed away a few years ago, and Mahlon still lives in that community.

The people that make up that church all deserve extra stars in their crown — for putting up with all the nonsense, mistakes, problems, and dumb actions of a young (single) preacher, that still had some growing up to do.  Probably as much as anybody else, Harold and Mahlon liked me; and understood some of the conflict that was going on in my life.  They would listen to me, encourage me, and chastise me when I needed it.

Mahlon had a service station on Highway 72, east of town, down by the river, down by the river.  Sometimes the three of us would be there, and almost without exception, the conversation would turn to football.  Harold was an Alabama fan, Mahlon is an Auburn fan — and they were both serious about their team.  On top of that, they were both loud; and could get louder if they thought the situation deserved it.  Sometimes, I am sure that you could hear these “discussions” a mile away.  In those discussions I generally favored Auburn, but being an Arkansas, I really didn’t care much for either team.  So, I delighted in getting the arguments started, and providing a spark to keep them going.

Mahlon and Harold both encouraged me in my preaching, and there were times that I really needed it.  It was strange to me, that both of these men liked what they called my “hard” sermons.  You may recall those kinds of sermons from the past, when the preacher romps, stomps, and yells about “sin”.  Most of the time it seemed as if the intent of the sermon was to get the people to feel as if they were not good enough, or doing enough, to say they were saved.  Mahlon told me once, that he figured if he could “hunker” down and take a sermon like that, he was probably going to be alright.

Well, maybe I have learned a little, and grown a lot since then — but my approach to challenging sin is a little different 40 years later.  I have come to the conclusion, that sin is a “heart” problem, and not an action problem.  The bad actions are the result of what is going on in the heart.

Listen to what the psalmist has to say:

In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.  (Psalm 10:4, NIV)

That verse, as well as any, my definition of sin:  Sin is doing what I want, instead of what God wants.  In one of the most wicked periods in the history of the Israelite people, one of the thoughts that is constantly repeated is:

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. …  (Judges 2:10-12, NIV)

The Israelites were sinners because they had a heart problem, that manifested itself as actions in their lives.

The actions of people are bad, because our actions are a manifestation of what is in our heart.  In one of his first recorded sermons, the apostle Paul made this statement about the Israelite King, David:  After removing Saul, he made David their king, God testified concerning Him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do”.  (Acts 13:22, NIV).  David made some terrible mistakes, but he always stayed “after” the heart of God, and God loved that attribute in him.  When we keep “seeking” God, even if we make mistakes along the way; God, in His “steadfast love”, forgives us and stays out in front of us.  We have to continually search out heart, and see if we are “seeking” Him, or seeking after our own wants and pleasures. Those that are “seeking” have room in their heart for God.

Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.  (Psalm 9:10, NIV)

Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook on May 27, 2016.  It has been revised and edited for use as one of our “Psalms for Saturday”.  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing for you today.  Bill)

 

“It’s Not My Fault”

Flip Wilson was a very popular comedian, and was one of the very first African-American entertainer to host his own weekly variety TV show.  Not only was he an outstanding stand-up comedian, but he also was very successful portraying comedic characters in his show.  Two of the most popular characters were Reverend Leroy (pastor of “The Church of What’s Happening Now”) and Geraldine Jones (his most popular character).  Geraldine was now for referring to her boyfriend, Killer, and two very popular sayings:  “What you see is what you get,” and “The Devil made me do it.”  They were so wildly popular, that they were adopted by many and became catch-phrases for many in the nation.

It has always been interesting to me, as to why certain things, particularly catch-phrases, become popular.  I can remember repeating the two Geraldine phrases, and think that I understand the most popular of the two — The Devil Made Me Do It. When we do something wrong, we would really like to have someone to blame it on, and the devil is a likely subject.  That is really nothing new, as it has been common since the days of Adam and Eve.  You remember, Adam blamed Eve (the woman that God gave him); and, Eve placed the responsibility on the serpent.  Admitting responsibility for the things that we do that are wrong, is very difficult for most people.  We are still blaming others, even God, for the things we do that are wrong.  In James 1, James talks about the “sin process”, and where sin comes from.  Read carefully what he says:

No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.
(James 1:13-15, HCSB)

Most of us, when we just give that a cursory reading, know that what it says is right.  We are tempted when we are enticed (seduced) by our own evil desires.  When we see something, and we don’t see it as the good thing that God has given us; but as an “object” that we can use to satisfy our own evil thoughts, wants, and desires.  We may even know that it is wrong, but are so consumed by what we want — that we don’t care.

When we give in to the own seductive power of our wants and desires, we sin!  I really like the way the HCSB read here — … it gives birth to sin, …  That may be one of the most appropriate descriptions of sin that I have ever read.  Sin is conceived and nurtured in our mind, and then delivered into the world by our own selfish desire.  The end result is death.  That death may be a reference to spiritual death, a separation from the love, grace, and presence of God; or it may be talking about physical death, as a result, or a consequence, of what we have done.

When we learn to think of sin in that way, what Jesus says in Matthew 16:24 becomes crystal clear.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. (Matthew 16:24, HCSB)

To be victorious in the struggle with sin, I have to learn to say NO to what I want.  I really believe that is the hardest thing that we will ever do.  But it is what we have to do!  Peace.

“What Do People See in Me”

When I first moved to Florence, Alabama to attend the International Bible College; for a short while I attended the Mars Hill church of Christ.  This church was just off the campus of Mars Hill Bible School (a K-12 Christian school).  On the grounds of the church, was the old Mars Hill church building, that was built in 1904.  The old building is still maintained, and used for weddings, funerals, etc.  But the history of the Mars Hill church dates all the way back to the 1860’s.  One of the great evangelists of fellowship was T. B. Larimore, and the Mars Hill church was his “home” church, and he had a gospel meeting at the church every August for 40 years.

The preacher at the church, when I attended was Kenneth Davis.  Kenneth was also an instructor at the Bible School, and an adjunct professor for the Bible College.  He was speaking in one of our chapel services, when he made a statement that I have never forgotten.  He said that most Christians had such long faces, that they look like they could eat oats out of the bottom of an old-fashioned buttermilk churn.  I referenced that statement in a sermon on Psalm 84 a couple of weeks ago, but my reading this morning reminded me of it again.

The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.”  (Psalm 2:2-3, NIV)

The context probably is expressing surprise that the nations would plot against Jehovah God, and the king of His people.  The “Chains and Shackles” would be the dominance of the nation of Israel in the land that God had given to them.

My question upon the reading of that text, is why so many people today consider the service of God as being in the bondage of chains and shackles.  If you have trouble believing that — talk to a few of them, or read some of the things that they write.  Could it be, that those of us who are in the service of the Messiah; appear to be miserable (have such long faces) in the daily practice of our Christianity.  That our Christianity is more a case of the “don’ts” than anything else.  That our service to God, is our payment on the “fire insurance” that we have taken out?  It might be, that we have just enough of God to make ourselves miserable!

Is it possible that we have not really grasped what belongs to us in Jesus.  He said, Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32, NIV).  Freedom from what?  Freedom from guilt — freedom from sin — freedom from fear — freedom from death — and the list could go on and on!  Remember, Christian, that the people of the world READ us; and they will make judgments about the importance and value of serving Jesus — based upon what they see in our lives and attitudes.  What I have to ask myself, today is “What are they seeing in me”?  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook on May 26, 2016.  It is being reused here as one of our “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is our prayer that it will encourage and edify you in your walk with the Lord.  Bill)                                                                                                

“It’s a Lot of Work”

This past Sunday morning, in a sermon about Ruth (second in our series on “Heroines of God”), for a few moments I talked about the difficulty of life, hard times, and the American Dream.  I stated an opinion, that I did not believe that the American dream happened as often now, as it did in previous generations.  It was my speculation that there was two reasons for this: first, because of the vast amount of media that is available, our dreams are a lot bigger; and, secondly. the current generations will not work as hard to achieve those dreams, as the generations before.  Our culture is wrestling with a sense of entitlement now, that did not seem to be a part of our make-up before.

Let me see if I can offer an illustration.  If you have read this blog very often, you know that I had “gastric bypass” surgery about three months ago (in fact, you are probably tired of hearing about it).  As I have talked about it, the comment has been made that it is not a “magic bullet” — that just because you have had the surgery, the weight will not drop off, and stay off.  For the surgery to be successful, it takes work — a lot of work.  I have had to break habits, that I have had for years.  I have always eaten too much, too fast, and whatever I wanted.  Now, with the surgery there are some things that will deter you from doing that, but it still takes effort to make changes in that behavior.  If you had told me a year ago, that I would get up most every morning and walk 2 to 4 miles (and sometimes more) — I would have probably laughed at you.  For this surgery to be successful, and stay successful, for me; it is going to take a lot of work, for a long time.

I don’t remember who was the first one that I heard say this, but this saying is very true:  The only place that success comes before work, is in the dictionary.  It really doesn’t matter what area of life that you are talking about, that statement is true.  If you want to be good at something, and someone that is considered successful in a chosen area; you are going to have to work at it.  I was reminded of that this morning in my reading from Galatians.  Look at what Paul has to say:

Oh, my dear children!  I feel as if I’m going to through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. (Galatians 4:19, NLT)

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that following Jesus is easy!  There is a lot of work in allowing Christ to develop in you fully!  There are too many people that view baptism as a paid in full “fire insurance” policy, and never make the effort to develop and grow to the point that Christ is developed in their lives.  As we learn to live out the repentance that we expressed, from serving ourselves to following Jesus — there are habits that we are going to have to break — habits that we have practiced all of our lives.  As we attempt to practice the confession of living for Jesus the son of God, there are new habits and practices that we are going to have to develop.  These new habits will take a commitment to do it, and time to make it happen.  On top of all that, we have an enemy that will be working against us in everything that we do.  This enemy is as powerful as a roaring lion, and his minions are not flesh-and-blood enemies, but evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, mighty powers in this dark world, and evil spirits in the heavenly places.
Does winning a war with an enemy like that, sound easy to you?

Once you have got into Jesus, don’t think that it is all over.  You need to continue to work, to get Christ fully developed in your life!  It’s a lot of work to do that!  Peace.

“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.)

 

“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.