Prayer Attitude

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trialsknowing that the testing of your faith produces patienceBut let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothingIf any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to himBut let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:2-8; NKJV)

In the margin of my bible for this section, I have the words “Prayer Attitude” meaning I should take a heavenly perspective and commit myself to talking to God about my problems and seek His way as I work through them.

If I have this perspective, I will find joy in my various trials.  It does not alleviate the pain or the suffering but rather produces joy as I come through them closer and stronger in Jesus.  As an athlete or a military trainee, there were  a lot of times I dreaded going to exercise/training and didn’t feel that great during it.  What I felt when I was done was worth it…accomplishment, strength, endurance, preparedness.  It is the same in the exercise of our life.  There is joy in being victorious with God. Endure through prayer.

Patience takes time.  Have you ever said “I am going to start being more patient and I am going to start right now!”  That isn’t how it works.  As with the exercise, it takes time, repetition and learning.  Be patient in prayer.

Applying God’s word to our lives through our trials and testing results in wisdom.  Wisdom is the application of knowledge and what we need is God’s knowledge in our lives.  We just have to ask in confidence and He will give us understanding and wisdom liberally because that is what He wants for us…that we ask, that He gives it, that we grow and draw nearer to Him.  Seek wisdom in prayer.

All of this is founded on our faith in Him.  Pray that God increase your faith.

In all of this, we pray that our faith will grow and we will hold fast to our Anchor…Jesus Christ…who is in heaven and will keep us despite the turbulence of our life.  There is confidence in prayer and we can speak with a humble boldness and He will provide grace for the moment.  Those moments strung together result in a life lived for Jesus that produces a patient joy as we look expectantly for His return and our homecoming.

Importance of the Good Deed

10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, 11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.  12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.  15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 10-16; NKJV)

The good deed that is presented before Philemon is to forgive and there is no good deed without reconciliation.  Without reconciliation, the opportunity for a negative attitude is a snare for Philemon.  He could have thought “Paul can keep that useless slave” even if it meant financial loss.  It would be worth it not to deal with him anymore.  That doesn’t sound like a good deed to me…even if it made him feel “better”.

If Philemon forgives and reconciles, then all three men are free to work together and Onesimus can be with Philemon and Paul.  Consider our own lives.  We have no problem staying away from people that we have problems with…steering clear of those who have wronged us and harmed us. The hard part is to come face to face with that person and do what is good for the other and not for self. This is what Paul is asking Philemon to do and where the value of the deed lies.

Paul can’t reconcile with Onesimus…there is no reason.  In fact, Paul is excited about how Onesimus has come into his life and the result through the working of God.  Paul offers that just might be the point.  Maybe the reason Onesimus didn’t remain with Philemon for a short period of time was so that they could be together forever.  Not as a useless or unprofitable slave but a brother and fellow worker in Christ.  Paul is offering a heavenly perspective and calling attention to God’s hand in our lives.  We see troubles and hardships, but God sees opportunity.  Many times, our own hardships must be endured for the benefit of others in a way we can’t see. We can, however, trust God’s hand in all of it if we keep a heavenly perspective.

Here, a relationship that was broken and a trust that was violated could be overcome and give way to a new and different relationship in Christ.  How often do our own desires, ambitions, or insecurities in the flesh hold back another?  How often do we act on what we think is right rather than consider God’s way?  Are we withholding spiritual forgiveness, blessings, and love to the detriment of others?  Paul is demonstrating that we can trust God’s hand and to be careful not to hinder His work.

Paul is providing both sides of the case.  Yes, Onesimus has wronged Philemon and that needs to be reconciled.  Paul also calls Onesimus a beloved brother and that much good has happened since Onesimus left and the potential for so much more if they are all reconciled and working together.  Paul has had much joy from Philemon’s love and faith and is encouraged that Philemon will do much more in reconciling with Onesimus.

As you consider this relationship in the context of your life, look to Joseph as well.  How did Joseph come to a point that he could forgive and reconcile with his brothers after all the betrayal?  Joseph recognized that evil done to him was used by God for good.  I am sure this was not an easy thing to come to terms with and it might have been tough for Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus.  We may have the same challenge facing us today.  Can we take a heavenly perspective?  Can we trust God’s hand in our lives?  Will we not give Satan an opportunity to drive a wedge further into the most important relationships we have with our brethren and with our Father?

The bottom-line is this.  We can confidently forgive and reconcile because we know the great power of God in our lives to accomplish good through our hardship. Further, we must forgive and reconcile any chance we get because we have been forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus every time we needed it and asked for it.  Finally, let’s not ever forget that we are all Onesimus in some way.  We are not perfect. We all sin.  We all hurt others and violate our relationships.  We need forgiveness and we need others to be willing to reconcile.  Therefore, lets open that door with our own attitude and with our willingness to forgive and reconcile.  Have a love and a faith like that.  Be confident that this will bring joy and refreshing to your brethren whether you know it or not.  Stomp on the devil’s head and forgive.  God is doing the heavy lifting…just look up and within and let Him.  Let go and let Him reconcile your life.  How important is that?  It is profoundly and eternally imperative!

Christian Character

1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, 2 to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  4 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. 7 For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. (Philemon 1-7; NKJV)

In Paul’s letter to Philemon that was intended for the church with him, there are two central points:  the need to forgive and how to forgive.  This teaching is profitable to us as well.  We live in a selfish, me-first society with grace and true forgiveness being overtaken with ambition and competition.   This influences us and impacts our Christians families, but this letter equips us to better forgive and in modeling that behavior we have opportunity to teach Jesus.

Remember, Paul is writing Philemon because he wants him to forgive and accept Onesimus.  Paul lays the groundwork for his request of Philemon by acknowledging Philemon’s Christian character.  Paul is thankful for Philemon because of his faith and love towards Jesus and all the saints.

This is Philemon’s reputation because he is doing what Christians should do in having and demonstrating love and faith toward brethren.  Further, this is a shared faith between Paul and Philemon which gives us more insight into  Philemon’s work.  He is an extension of Paul in some regards and the work Philemon is doing brings Paul joy and comfort because Paul knows the hearts of God’s people have been refreshed.

We often think that sharing our faith is about teaching the lost, but we  see in the point of this letter that we share our faith with brethren through forgiveness.  Paul is praying that Philemon’s faith will be more effective and to say it another way that Philemon’s faith will be put into action through forgiveness.

I envision this first section of the letter as being very encouraging to Philemon and those around him.  It is good to be part of a work bigger than ourselves and to be recognized and valued for our part in it.  Paul isn’t writing these things to inflate Philemon’s ego but rather to call to mind the intimate and collaborative work Paul and Philemon are doing for the sake of the gospel and God’s people and to bolster Philemon’s spirit.

Encouragement and recognition are a powerful influences.  This is true with our children, spouses, friends, and especially our brethren.  Taking the time to recognize the work already done and the heart demonstrated will encourage and provide opportunity for even more work to be done no matter how hard the task is.  This letter is about the need to forgive and how to forgive and Paul recognizes this is tough stuff.  Paul doesn’t just jump into that rather he center’s Philemon’s heart and mind on the work and the relationship to bolster Philemon for the work that needs to be done.

Forgiveness is hard spiritual, mental, and emotional work.  Just like any other hard labor, if we do not exercise the muscles necessary to do the work before we need them, we will tire quickly, get hurt or be unable to complete the task.  In looking at this first section of the letter, we can see that continual practice of love and faith for Jesus and the saints will prepare us for more and more difficult challenges and opportunity for even greater positive influence for the sake of Christians.

Practice love and faith.  Be encouraged in that work.  Encourage others in their love and faith.  Together we will be quipped to put our faith into action through forgiveness just like Paul and Philemon.

Lessons from Paul & Philemon

My wife and eldest son are traveling and visited a congregation last night for bible study.  Their study took them to Philemon and my wife sent me a text during the study because she was so encouraged and wanted to share it with me.  So I went to this short letter and read it and I would like to share it with you over the next several days. 

I am including the letter (Philemon) below (NKJV).  I have taken out the verse numbers and other references and presented it like it would have been written, received and read.  I invite you to take some time today and read it through a couple times.  As you do, consider the fact that God has preserved this letter in scripture and though it is a personal matter, the letter was for the church and in it there is learning and practical application today about christian character, love, and forgiveness to name a few.  I look forward to our experiencing this part of God’s word together and it is as awesome and powerful as it is short.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to he beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ— I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever,  no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account.  I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you.  Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Heavenly Inheritance

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5; NKJV)

Peter provides a beautiful picture in this passage.  We see God’s mercy and that in Jesus we have been born again, resurrected to a new life free from the bondage of sin.  In that, we have a living hope and an inheritance in Heaven that will not fade away, lessen or in any other way diminish.  We know this because it is God Himself who keeps this inheritance for us and He does so with power.  Our part is faith and in that salvation and an eager expectation of Jesus’ return.

This encouraging picture of salvation, hope, and eternal life help us to frame our present life and the challenges we face.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trialsthat the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christwhom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.  (1 Peter 1:6-9; NKJV)

The trials of life are like fire and as with gold, fire refines and removes the impurities.  Fire and pressure take a raw piece of gold and provides the process necessary to transform it into a precious and beautiful object.  Our faith is more precious than gold but the same type of process is applied to our faith and our soul…fire and pressure in a life lived for Jesus brings forth His glory and hope for others to see and receive the same inheritance through faith and obedience to the gospel.

Allow the love and promise of your Heavenly Father and Elder Brother lift your eyes upward when the world only seems to drag you down.

Good Decisions and Decisions Made Good

25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.  27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”  28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”  29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”  31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:25-33; NKJV)

At a point in my life when I was making a big decision and was doubting myself, one of the elders/shepherds at the church I was attending said to me “There are good decisions and decisions made good”.  He was communicating to me a lot of things but what I understood was I am free to make decisions but most importantly I needed to make those decisions in prayer and look to Jesus for my guidance and strength.  If I was focused on Jesus, my decision would be good even if it didn’t go the way that I thought it would.

I have since shared this phrase with others as a matter of encouragement and it came back to me this morning as I was thinking through some opportunities and challenges in my life.  As I was thinking, the above verse came to mind.  There are so many lessons in this passage and generally I focus on how Jesus responds.  It has had a profound effect on me in terms of when Peter got himself in trouble, the FIRST thing Jesus did was save him.  When Peter was safe, back with Him and his brethren, only then did Jesus rebuke him and teach him.  That is our Jesus…our Savior…our Lord.  He saves first!

Change and change management is not just a business or organizational term but something we all deal with every day.  We make decisions whether big or small.  We set out on our day and it is made up of a whole lot of decisions.  We often make them fully confident we know how things are going go and boldly set out…and guess what…it doesn’t always go like we think.  One moment we are walking on wave tops and the next we are sinking.  We start flailing and often we make things worse…trying to save ourselves.  I know for me…sometimes I have to be down to my last breath…about to go under…before I put my focus back on my Savior or ask for help.  What I am so thankful for, however, is that His mighty hand thrusts out and grabs a hold of me and pulls me back to Him and safety.

Good decisions and decisions made good.  I pray I make good Jesus-centered decisions but when I don’t, I pray that I call out to Him before it is too late.  Out of the boat…back in the boat…out of the boat again…it’s our life but Jesus doesn’t move and He is all about saving…being His disciple is a good decision and a decision made good.  Focus on Him and go boldly.  Love you all.

Run the Race

1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2; NKJV)

Our sister in Christ who I mentioned last week as nearing death went on to be with Jesus on Saturday.  Many of us were remembering her as we gathered on Sunday and one story dealt with her running the race…quite literally…she would train and run a 5K each year for the past few years.  Of course, that training and running also was how she lived with Jesus.

The above verse came to mind and I invite you to think about your race today.  Each of our races are different as our lives are different.  That said, the What, How, and Why of it is the same…Jesus.  Our faith in Jesus is the “what race” of our life and dictates what we do in our life.  Our determination to glorify Jesus is the “how we race” and the zealous way we try to live for Him.  Our hope of life everlasting and spiritual security now is the “why we race” because we know Jesus is worth it.  We can look at our life and how we are running it and simply evaluate it through the lens of Jesus.  In doing so, we will see the areas that require more training in God’s word and practice in applying it.  That training and practice will provide more endurance for our race and we will better make the run from earth to Heaven.

In the story about our sister, one of the points was that when she ran that 5K, people took notice as what she was doing was an accomplishment for a woman of her age.  People took notice of her running, they stood up, and they cheered as she ran buy.  Strangers did that.  People who didn’t know her and didn’t know what it took to get where she was…they recognized the achievement she was realizing.  If we run our race spiritually with Jesus, folks are going to notice…even those who don’t know you or Jesus.  We pray that as they take notice they might ask “how did you get here” and in that an opportunity for the gospel is presented and the hope for a soul to be saved.  All because you trained and ran the race of Jesus.  Run on!

Still Sitting on the Porch

I am recycling here…a post from 2017.  It is something that came to mind yesterday and I needed the lesson again so I thought I would offer it to you too.

A favorite parable of Jesus for me can be found in Luke 15:11-32 telling the story of the lost son or the prodigal son. There are many lessons in the parable but for today’s discussion lets focus on the teaching of God’s grace, mercy, love, forgiveness and restoration of hope for His children and the application as we work to better love and lead our children.

I have long thought about this parable and what has always struck me is how awesome it was to see the father running from the porch and going out to greet his returning son. His son had taken his inheritance, moved out of the house, gone to a faraway place and blown all that his father had given him on a lifestyle I am sure did not make his dad proud or happy. I imagine it was known to the father just how bad his son was behaving and I am sure it grieved him tremendously. There are a lot of emotions that might apply…anger, pain, embarrassment, regret, fear…I am sure there were some long nights for this dad. This dad could have just become bitter and wrote his son off…that would have been an understandable ending to this story. Still, knowing how wicked the son had been and the grief he had caused, the father still gets up as he sees his son returning and runs to welcome him home. What we see are the foundational blessings of God being expressed to this wayward son who wants nothing more than to come home. What a great image and lesson.

As time has passed and my children are getting older, this parable is starting to take on a different shape for me. With teenagers now roaming my home, I have learned that “bigger kids=bigger problems”. Further, as they grow and begin to shape their own lives, we allow them more freedom and there become more times when they are away from us with their friends and you hope and trust they are making good decisions and respecting the boundaries you have taught and modeled in their lives. And guess what, they don’t! They make stupid decisions. They get themselves into situations you know they know are dangerous. The wonders of the teenage brain ceases to amaze me and quite frankly disappointment me.

So what do I do? What is God teaching me here in His word? He is teaching me the tremendous heart of the father in his getting up off the porch to run to his son. However, what I am learning now is that as remarkable as this act is, what is even harder and equally important as a father is to stay on the porch. Our children have to spread their wings and as they do they are not going to make the right choices every time and the older they get the more dangerous wrong choices become. No matter how much we want them to listen to every word we teach them, to trust us (and God) in shaping their hearts and minds, to learn from our mistakes so they don’t have to suffer as we have…no matter how much we want that they are going to have to figure some of it out themselves…and that can really hurt and cause some sleepless nights for dad.

So we sit on the porch. What does that mean? Does that mean we wash our hands of the responsibility for our children? Does it mean we bury the fear and hurt and just write them off with a “they will get what they deserve” or “I told you not to…”? Does it mean that we resign ourselves to a position of abdication and just move on with whatever else is going on in our lives? Of course not.

What we do is remember we operate from a position of strength and draw upon the peace of God. We are confident in that God will not forsake us and He loves our children too. We have a voice in prayer and we take our worries and concerns for our children to Him and we trust He is working. We accept his grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, and hope and let it fill us up so that we are strengthened…both while sitting on the porch and so that we might get up and grab a hold of our children in the biggest bear hug out there when they come home and say “I am sorry”.

Even more, you don’t have to sit on the porch alone. There are brothers in Christ out there who will sit with you. We are a family. We all want each other to go to Heaven. We all, however, are not always going to take the easiest route. This is especially true of our children but our God is faithful and He will fight for them too…praise Him in that, be thankful, hold fast dad.

Spiritual Diet and Exercise

 For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. (1 Timothy 4:8-9)

Simple lesson for today that I have learned and relearned in my life…good health (assuming no significant medical condition) is a balanced diet and consistent exercise.  When I am watching what I eat and setting aside time for exercise…I feel and look better.

The verses above tell us that it is important to exercise and there are a lot of other places in the bible that tell us we should take care of the body God has given us.  Paul often used metaphors from athletics, as he is here, to teach us about spiritual health.  We should exercise physically and there will be profit in it but what really matters is exercising spiritually and growing in godliness.  This is both profitable in this life but also in the next.  Spiritual health is supremely important and we can exercise towards it.

A steady diet of God’s word and consistent exercising of our prayer muscles will result in spiritual health just as a good balanced diet and exercise routine will benefit our physical health.  This, as Paul says, is a “faithful saying” and something we should accept and incorporate into our lives.

Here’s a faithful Blackmer saying…”abs start in the kitchen” and I often say it making the point to my teenage sons that just because you are physically active doesn’t mean you will look physically fit.  You need to watch what you eat and put into your body too.

Well, I am going to say today, “godliness starts in the Word” and meditating and praying God’s word will result in our being and looking spiritually fit.  That doesn’t profit just a little but is eternally profitable.

 

 

Faith in an Invisible God

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:20)

These 2 verses are from the opening chapter of Romans and the first section is about being justified through a life of faith and the second section is a portion of a lesson about God’s wrath towards unrighteous people though I pulled it out in support of my thought this morning that our God is alive and working in eternity.

Over the weekend, my Brittany had pups and though it was a nerve-racking experience for me the owner, everything happened just as the Creator designed it.  I had worked to ensure that there was a safe and clean place for Ginger and her puppies and I was ready to help if I was needed…but I wasn’t.  As I sat and counted puppies and time, that was all I could do.  The design of life took care of the rest and it just occurred to me over and over how awesome our God the Designer is and how much I can see Him in all the creation and life around me.  God is revealed all around me (Psalms 19) and His handiwork should point to His all powerful nature.  I am His handiwork as well and if I can see what He has done and is doing in nature, I can trust He is doing and will do mighty things in my spiritual and physical life.

In remembering and praying for his brethren in Philippi, Paul says that he is confident in the fact that “that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”.  The design is our Father’s.  That is the work that is being done “behind the curtain” of our flesh.  We need to be present.  We need to be prepared.  But we also need to stand in trust of Him through faith…even if we cannot see Him.  God is all around us and He is working within us…take some time today and be present to see it and believe it and trust it.