God’s Family—Mayer Road Case Study

  • Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;  rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality…. (Romans 12: 9-13)
  • rejoice with those who rejoice…weep with those who weep… (Romans 12:15)
  • But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)
  • Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing…let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being… (1 Thes 5:11)
  • Bear one another’s burdens(Galatians 6:2)
  •  And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Please consider these verses. Each of them have a specific moral issue for which Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to admonish, instruct, and encourage the various brethren receiving them. I do not want to add to or take away from these lessons but want to emphasize these principles as I consider what is happening in Casco, Michigan as Christians come together for one of our own and do what they can to rebuild for one of our own.

Not too long ago, one of our families experienced a profound loss as their barn burnt in the middle of the night with all their equipment and livestock inside. The physical and emotional loss was tremendous and the ramifications are still felt as each of us continue to deal with the loss. This event was enough to burry many families…to cause many individuals to lose hope. That is not how this story ends though!

Though a terrible and fiery loss, what really resulted was God being glorified, His children strengthened, and an opportunity for those outside the faith to see the hope available through Jesus. I can’t emphasize the significance of the good that has been done, is being done and will continue to be done because of all the experiences around this great loss, clean up and rebuilding process. The work is far from done but isn’t that the case for all of us? Don’t we all have profound loss and struggle? Aren’t we all experiencing physical and spiritual struggles?

In all of that, do we do what we must? Do we put our full faith and trust in God’s love and power? Do we share our struggles with each other or create an environment to make it ok to do so? Do we take the time to not only pray for those who are struggling or hurting…but also to rejoice in the happiness, success, and blessings of our most dear brethren? Even if it isn’t as a result of a great struggle conquered…but in a blessed life…do we rejoice?

We are so blessed in one another and what is happening in on Mayer Road this week is another piece of an exceptional example of that…but we can see the same awesome God and Christian family in the everyday goings on in our own lives. Take time and thank God, thank each other and rejoice! We are here for but a short time and times aren’t always going to be easy…but we all share the hope of Heaven and living now within the context of eternity is such a blessed place to be. Living there with like-minded loving brethren makes it even the sweeter. Take a moment, see God’s blessings in His family and thank Him…and hugs always help too…because that right there is what God’s love looks like.  Have a blessed day brothers!

When God says “No”

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ESV)

Were Paul’s prayers for his thorn in the flesh prayed in faith? Yes.

Did those prayers come from a heart that was pure before God? Yes.

Were Paul’s prayers for this physical agony fervent, genuine and persistent? Yes.

Were Paul’s prayers specific? Yes.

Was Paul’s motive for this prayer selfish and self-centered? No. Just because it was about himself doesn’t make it selfish. Jesus did the same, right?

But with all of this, God still said “No” to Paul’s request. That is just hard to swallow. When God says “No” to our prayers, it can be a great challenge to our faith. Why pray at all? What does it matter? Is prayer just an exercise in futility?

If you are challenged by me even bringing this up, then that’s good. Read the Psalms. Look at those who are looking up into heaven and asking “Where are you God?”, or “How long will it be before You hear us?”

Remember the Psalm that Jesus quoted on the cross…

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
(Psalm 22:1-2, ESV)

These feelings are real. Sometimes when fellow Christians bring up these feelings and questions they get dismissed or invalidated by others who give their default “churchy” answers without thinking. If Jesus Himself wondered why God had forsaken Him and whether God wasn’t listening at all, is it okay for me to wonder that once in awhile, too?

Yes, yes it is.

Here are some thoughts I see from Scripture that help me when I go through that process of wondering where God is.

God IS listening. The Lord responded to Paul’s prayers. The prayer was heard, and the prayer was answered. “From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached His ears” (Psalm 18:6, ESV).

God answered the prayers of many people in Scripture and gave them their requests. Gideon, Joshua, Moses, Samuel, Abraham, Hannah, Esther, Mordecai, Elijah, Hezekiah are just a few of the faithful to whom God granted their petitions. Prayer is not an exercise in futility. It most certainly works.

God’s grace is sufficient. When God says “No,” or “Wait awhile,” or “Yes, but in a different way,” then you can be assured that He has a very good reason. It may be very difficult at times to accept that, but His grace is sufficient.

God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. God’s “No” answers will work for His glory so that His strength, not ours, is exalted.

I will glory and boast in my infirmities. We may want the “testimony” and “witness” to others that we prayed for something and God gave a definite and mighty “Yes” to our requests. But the testimony we may give is like that of Paul, in that we glorify God in the weaknesses, trials and setbacks of life. Paul’s “testimony” was that he was “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
(Luke 18:1, ESV)

A Story on Perspective

Take a minute and read and consider this story.

People were sitting quietly. Some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed. The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

  “It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, ‘Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?’”

  “The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.’

  Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm (heart) shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. ‘You’re wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’ Everything changed in an instant.”   (Stephen Covey)

Now consider the Holy Spirit’s words in (Galatians 6:1-5).

1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load.

 What did you think of in this exercise? What comes to my mind is the importance of knowing and participating in the lives of those I love…especially the brethren. If I know them and participate in their lives, I will understand better their circumstances. If I better understand their circumstances, I will have more patience with what I might be observing in their lives and seek out opportunities to help rather than chastise or be annoyed. If I seek out opportunities to help, those I love will be lifted up and God will be gloried and the law of Christ is fulfilled…and His law is love.

We all have spiritual and physical burdens to carry but God has given us one another to be a helper to each other and sometimes that “one thing” we carry for another is just enough. Meditate on this today. Pray God would turn your eyes and heart to other’s lives. Have the courage to love them.

The Gospel in our Relationships

I have made the point in recent discussions that the relationships we have and how we conduct ourselves in them provides a tremendous opportunity to live out and demonstrate the power of the Gospel. God has blessed us with grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, and hope. This produces a peace within…a serenity and tranquility based on a right relationship with God. From this position, we are free to truly love others and work to build them up spiritually and emotionally.

Loving others, however, isn’t always easy. Love is an action word. Love is a choice. Love requires us to humble ourselves and elevate others to a higher position of importance in our lives. That is what Jesus did. Jesus humbled Himself in becoming a man. Jesus humbled Himself in accepting the punishment due us and going to the cross to die for our sins. Jesus is the example and demonstration of all God’s blessings and personification of peace in the face of a tremendous adversity, pain and suffering. We look to Jesus’ teaching to see how it is we can and should love others in such a way that not only will we be a blessing to them but we will surely shine forth God’s glory and help others find their way to salvation, peace, and hope…now and in eternity.

Consider Jesus’ teachings in Luke 6:27-31.

27 “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. 29 To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. 31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

Previously (vs. 20-23) Jesus teaches about the mindset we are to have in The Beatitudes. In a word…humility. This provides us with the foundation to then love those who are our enemies. An enemy is simply one who is opposing another. We often think of enemies as those who are outside our circle but many times they are those in our families, congregations, friends, etc. Anyone who is standing in opposition to you and your life in Jesus is an enemy and they will hurt you. So what do we do?

Jesus says our actions should be to love our enemy, do go good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us. Further, Jesus provides how we should react. If someone hits our cheek, we offer the other. If they take our coat, give them our shirt too. If they ask (even if they are hurting us)…give! If someone takes something of ours, don’t look to get it back. These take on different forms in our relationships but the principles are the same.

What this all adds up to is exactly how God loves us. We were/are His enemy when we sin and yet He took the initiative and He loved us even when we didn’t deserve it. And what a difference that has made. For those who hear and obey the call of the gospel, they are saved and redeemed and back in fellowship with the Living God. This model and example is how we are to live with those in our lives. Treat them like we have been treated by God. Do that and you will surely look different, people will notice, they will ask why and God is glorified.

Strong Foundation

I hope you enjoy these thoughts as we start the week.  I received this from Jason Cicero, one of my best friends and most importantly a brother in Christ.  Consider your foundation this morning and take some time in meditation and prayer about how much God has loved you and how willingly and freely He blesses you so that you might be filled up with His blessings and be a blessing to others in whatever role or situation you find yourself in.  Have a great week!

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NKJV)

A foundation is a strong, stable base on which a life is built.  A blessing is a gift from God.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17; NKJV).  In Christ there are “showers of blessing” (Ezekiel 34:26; NKJV).  Of all the blessings God has given us it seems to me that there are five that we can fall back on as we make our journey from Earth to Heaven.

Five Foundational Blessings.  Grace is God’s kindness to the guilty and undeserving.  Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve.  Mercy is God withholding from us what we do deserve.  Love is God’s active good will toward us.  Forgiveness of sins is the release from the debt, guilt, and punishment for our transgressions.  Hope is the confident expectation He fills us after we receive forgiveness.

Why I don’t deserve them.  I do not deserve these five foundational blessings because I have sinned.  By definition I do not deserve grace.  I am guilty and undeserving.  He is well within His holy nature to give me what I deserve.  He loves me despite my sins.  He longs to forgive me.  He fills me with a living hope even though I have let Him down again and again.  

Why I’ve been given them.  I have been given these five foundational blessings to the praise of His glory!  We have been given “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” for the purpose of glorifying His name (Ephesians 1:3).  He gives me grace, mercy, love, forgiveness of my sins, and hope that I would praise His name!  Receive these blessings “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; 2:7; 3:20-21).

My response to them.  Because of these five foundational blessings I will rejoice always!  I will pray without ceasing!  I will give thanks in everything!  Because of these five foundational blessings I have a relationship to God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that will sustain me no matter what happens.  Nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39; NKJV).  In this I rejoice and praise His name!

How Long Nehemiah Prayed

I’m listening to some sermons on Nehemiah and this fellow made a wonderful observation that I want to share with you today.

When Nehemiah, cup-bearer for the king of Persia, heard that his ancestral city of Jerusalem was lying in rubble and his fellow Jews were in distress, he prayed fervently. Between chapters 1 and 2 there is a period of 3-4 months. Nehemiah prayed for 90-120 days before God gave him the first opportunity to petition his boss, Artaxerxes the King of Persia, to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild.

When the people of Israel began to rebuild the walls under his leadership, it took the Jews 52 days to build the wall (Nehemiah 6:15).

Do the math. Nehemiah prayed about this twice as long as it took them to build the wall.

Don’t we have this reversed sometimes? We work twice as long, beating our heads against the wall, because we did not spend enough time inviting God into our lives and our planning. Not enough time was spent seeking God’s advice, God’s will, His wisdom and His plans, and as a result we make our lives and work all the more difficult.

It’s something to think about. Nehemiah prayed about this twice as long as it took him to actually do the project.

 

Plumbing Depth of God’s Love–Hold the Line

6 For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You, In a time when You may be found; Surely in a flood of great waters, They shall not come near him. 7 You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah 8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. 9 Do not be like the horse or like the mule, Which have no understanding, Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, Else they will not come near you. 10 Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; But he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him. 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; And shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32:6-11 NKJV)

Today our discussion comes to a conclusion. We have covered a lot of ground and I am thankful to God that He provides us His word to study, discuss, and apply to our lives through reading it, studying it, meditating on it, discussing it and praying it. Here is a synopsis and checklist of sorts concerning the last verses of Psalm 32.

  • Pray: Seek the Lord! That means you must be talking to God at all times. Those conversations you are having in your own head…have them with God. Those conversations you wish you could have with those who mean the most to you…have them with God. Your groaning from physical, emotional, spiritual pain…give it to God. He is listening, reaching and waiting to lift off that what burdens you.
  • Now: Our days and lives are made up of individual moments. Though the moments might pile up on us and move so fast we don’t think there is time to take a pause…don’t be fooled. Now is the moment to seek out God. Have a sense of urgency in your prayer and service to God…remember He is who you need most.
  • Be secure: God will protect you. David is not saying you won’t have troubles but that God can get you through those troubles. Your pain and suffering is an ever-present reminder you need God, He will help you and you cannot hide or try to fix your sins, relationships, lives…alone.
  • God will not forsake you: We see this throughout scripture. In the verses above, God is speaking in 8-11 and He has an awesome way of encouraging us…just read, listen and hide His words in your heart.
  • God will lead you: What an awesome Shephard we have…follow Jesus and you will be able to shepherd those in your life. God promises to counsel you with His eye always on you. What a beautiful promise from the mouth of the Lord! God is watching you. He has his eye on you.
  • Trust in Him and Let Go: Don’t be stubborn like horses and mules who need to be driven in the right direction. It will not work. God does not force us to go the way we ought to go. God is a God of freedom…not limits…He doesn’t want you to be bridled and driven…but to be freed from your sins so you can be free to love others…God will point to the proper path and you must choose to follow His direction.
  • He will immerse you in His mercy!
  • You will be blessed and rejoice!
  • Be righteous!
  • Be upright!
  • Praise God!

The steadfast love of the Lord surrounds those who trust in the Him. Which would you rather have in life: the many sorrows of the wicked or the steadfast love of the Lord? The answer is obvious, but to have the steadfast love of the Lord then we must put our trust in Him. We must completely submit our lives to God. In the context of this Psalm, we must openly confess our sins to God and thank the Lord that our transgressions are forgiven, our sins are covered, and our iniquities are not counted.

Those most important to us as men are counting on that…need that. No other man can fulfill the role given to you and no other man can do for your wife, children, friends, co-workers, etc. what they most need from you. Hold the line brothers!

Asa’s Prayer

King Asa and his soldiers drew up in battle against the Ethiopian army. Although Asa’s soldiers numbered 580,000, the Ethiopian army had a million men (2 Chronicles 14:8-9). Anybody can take a brief look at this matchup and realize that Asa’s men were in trouble. They were vastly outnumbered. Look at Asa’s prayer as he assesses the situation.

Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, “LORD, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; let not man prevail against You” (2 Chronicles 14:11).

Asa first recognized that he needed help. Secondly, he realized that there was none other than God who can help him. He called this a “battle between the powerful and those who have no strength.” Asa and the people put their trust completely in the Lord’s power. They understood this victory would be for God’s glory (“in Your name”).

The Lord answered this prayer mightily, and He routed the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah. The Ethiopians, the powerful, the million man army, fled (2 Chronicles 14:12).

Asa’s Prayer Revisted Later in Life

In time, Asa began to depart from the Lord. He began to trust in men rather than in God. The Lord sent the prophet Hanani to remind King Asa of what God did for him.

“Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His…” (2 Chronicles 16:8-9).

Yet because you relied on the Lord – What will the Lord do for His people when we rely on Him rather than on our own wisdom and strength? His eyes are moving all over the globe today, but what are God’s eyes looking for? He is looking to “strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

You may feel without strength in some way this morning. Maybe you feel outnumbered at home or at work. It might be that you look at the size of Satan’s army and you want to tuck your tail in, run and hide. Please keep these passages in mind. God’s eyes are looking to strongly support you. Give your heart completely into His care. Don’t seek the help of man first; seek the help of God first. He will deliver.

You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Watch and Pray

Let us look at two passages of Scripture for today, both dealing with the command to “watch and pray.” The first is a warning Jesus makes to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. The next passage is from Peter as an older man, a mature servant of Jesus Christ. Pay attention to what Jesus told Peter in the Garden and what Peter the elder apostle is advising Christians to do decades later. It is the exact same advice!

Watch and Pray

Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
(Mark 14:37-38)

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world (1 Peter 5:6-9).

Peter was warned that his spirit was willing, but his flesh was weak. Hence the dire need to watch out for the Devil’s attack, and an even more pressing need to pray! That is precisely what Peter learned over time and he is sharing it with his brethren. Why did he fall that night of Jesus’ arrest? It is no surprise…he did not watch (he was sleeping) nor did he keep praying.

Even though the command “watch and pray” is not in the above passage from Peter, the teaching is clearly there, isn’t it?

Watch

“Be sober, be vigilant.” Keep your eyes open spiritually at all times. The Devil, the roaring lion, is always lurking. Don’t go asleep at the wheel, men. Our roads have rumble strips to warn us when we are swerving, but the Devil is not so kind to us when we doze off.

Pray

“Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” God cares. Jesus knew that in the Garden as He poured out His soul to the Father. Peter came to learn this beautiful truth and we will be better for it if we truly believe it. God cares for us. He wants us to pour all (not some) of our care upon Him. He has big shoulders and an even bigger heart. His ears never grow heavy and weary from listening to His children talk to Him.

Watch and pray, men.