Deacon Prayer Time

Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:19-20: “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Several years ago, a group of deacons at our church decided to start an informal prayer group. The prayer group is not very large in number, but it is a faithful and committed group. We take very seriously the opportunity to meet one Monday night a month to pray for our fellow church members and our church. For those of you that attend Milledge Avenue Baptist Church, you may not even know of our deacon prayer group but it is very possible that we have prayed for you on many occasions.

Davin Welter was the driving force behind starting this group, and he has provided exceptional leadership and encouragement in keeping the group together. Without Davin’s leadership, this group probably would have ceased to function. Davin begins our time together by going over the list of people in our congregation that are sick, homebound, or recovering from a hospital stay.

We also pray for our members that are in assisted living homes, nursing homes or in Alzheimer’s care facilities. Many times we pray for folks that are just going through a difficult period in their lives. We also pray for those in our church family that are grieving the loss of a dear, loved one. We pray for our church leaders and our church staff and for each other. We celebrate praises and blessings and sometimes we share some tears.

Our prayers are not perfect and many times they are probably just plain awkward. However, our prayers are sincere and from the heart, as we pray with confidence to God in heaven. We trust that God hears our prayers and we believe that Christ is there with us as we gather in our empty, quiet sanctuary to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus’ ministry was characterized by prayer. The gospels refer to the fact that Jesus prayed and prayed often.  In the New Testament, Jesus is portrayed as a model and instructor in prayer, especially in Luke’s Gospel, where he prays at decisive moments: his baptism (3:21), the calling of his disciples (6:12), transfiguration (9:29), Gethsemane (22:39-46), and his crucifixion (23:46). The major prayers attributed to Jesus, however, are in Matthew (6:9-13, the Lord’s Prayer), and John (chapter 17, the High Priestly Prayer) where Jesus prays for himself, his disciples, and all future believers.

Sometimes our prayers are not answered, or not answered in the way we expected. As believers, all we can do is pray in trust and confidence. We can often learn valuable lessons in trust and patience during times of difficulty and testing. Trials are not necessarily sent by God, but they can always be used by God to draw us closer to Him. Such times of difficulty often prepare us for God’s best that is still awaiting us.

Prayer binds the church together as nothing else can. As we gather the fourth Monday night of each month we make the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ our prayer concerns. Prayer knits us together as believers and it helps us to grow stronger in our love for each other and for God.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18, reminds us to, “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

 

 

 

 

Administering God’s Grace

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 4:10-11: Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

For almost four years now, I have been doing a monthly service at an assisted living facility here in Athens. This ministry has always been a blessing to me personally, as I have the opportunity to be around some wonderful people that are very welcoming and loving. On several occasions, I have told myself that the service that I was going to do today would be my last service at this home. However, after that service was over I would always find a reason to put off my decision to end my ministry with these older adults who so desperately need someone that is willing to listen and encourage them.

This past Sunday I found myself saying again that this would be the last Sunday that I would continue my ministry at this place. I prayed to God while driving to the assisted living home for guidance about what I should do. “God, I have been doing this service for four years now and I’m tired and I need a break. After all, I’m not even sure that what I’m doing is making any difference in their lives. Do they even remember what I teach or what the point of my message was? After I leave, have I even made a difference or accomplished anything significant?”

I arrived about three minutes late and noticed that we had a larger crowd than usual. One lady spoke up and said, “We were wondering if you were going to be here today, since you were late.” I thought to myself, “This is definitely going to be my last Sunday.” And then I saw one of my favorite ladies there, Ms. Johnnie, sitting in her chair with a big smile on her face. I went over to her and took her by the hand and she said, “It’s so good to see you today. I have not been doing well and didn’t really feel like coming today, but I knew that you were going to be here and I knew that I had to come.”

As we began to sing our first hymn another lady came in with her daughter that was there visiting her. I found them a seat, gave them a hymnal and we started our service. Ms. Johnnie requested a certain hymn for us to sing and immediately there were a complaint about not knowing that hymn from the lady that noticed that I was late. Several of the residents have a hard time finding the page number so I always take the time to find the hymn for them so that they can sing along. Someone else said, “What’s taking so long, are we going to sing?”

After this hymn, I decided to sing Amazing Grace because everyone knows that hymn. As we sang Amazing Grace, I noticed that Ms. Johnnie didn’t sing like she usually does, she appeared uncomfortable as she sat there. On the last stanza, she looked up and gave me that reassuring smile that she always gives me as if to let me know that the service is going well.

After my devotional, we always have a time of prayer. I will usually ask if anyone has any specific prayer requests and most of the time all I hear is silence. On this Sunday, I asked if anyone had any prayer requests and no one spoke up. I closed the service with a prayer for those present and for those that were not able to join us and also for the staff at this facility.

After the prayer, I always go around the room to each person and shake hands with them and ask for God’s blessing to be upon them. After I had spoken to each person there and was putting the hymnals away, I noticed that everyone was still sitting in their chairs. I wondered if they realized that the service was over and it was time for me to leave. Then, the lady that was visiting her mother, got up out of her chair and walked up to me. She said that she had cancer and was currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments. She told me her name and said that she wanted me to pray for her. I wrote her name down and I told her that she would be in my daily prayers. She said, “That’s great, but I want you to pray for me now, right here.” I took her by the hand and we stood there with everyone else still seated and I prayed for this lady. After the prayer she thanked me for being so kind and for taking the time to pray with her. I felt kind of ashamed because it was she that insisted that I pray for here right there at that moment.

Again I prepared to leave and another lady, Ms. Johnnie said, “Will you pray with me also?” I went over to where she was seated and I knelt down and took her by the hand and I prayed for her also. After I finished praying, I looked at her and her eyes were filled with tears. She managed to smile and said, “May God bless you and the important work that you do here. You are such a blessing to us and we always look forward to your visit and the time that you spend with us.” I told her that I was the one that was truly blessed. She gave me a hug and said, “I will see you next time.”

As I drove back home, I reflected on what had taken place in the service that day. Before the service, I had convinced myself that I needed and even deserved some rest. I was certain that what I was doing didn’t really matter all that much. God has His own way of speaking to us sometimes, especially through other people. On a Sunday, when I had persuaded myself that this would be my last service at this assisted living home, God found a way to speak to me and demonstrate to me that I was doing important work by speaking God’s word and administering God’s grace to those that surely needed to be touched by the grace of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Is Well With My Soul

Scripture Reading: Psalm 46:1-3,10-11: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fill into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

This psalm, with the reference to the sea and its waters roaring, reminded me of a hymn that was written in the late 19th century. There are many encouraging stories as to how and why certain hymns were written. One such hymn is, It is well with my soul, which was published in 1876.

The following are the first and fourth stanzas from this great old hymn:

When peace, like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well; it is well with my soul.

And, Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll; the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, even so, it is well with my soul.

Horatio G. Spafford, a 43-year-old Chicago businessman, had suffered a personal financial calamity in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. He and his wife were still grieving over the death of their only son shortly before the fire. Spafford realized they the family needed to get away for a vacation. He decided to take his family on a trip to England, knowing that their friend and well-known evangelist Dwight L. Moody was going to be preaching in England that fall. However, urgent business delayed Mr. Spafford, so his wife Anna and his four daughters sailed on ahead and he made plans to set sail a few days later.

The ship that his wife and four daughters were sailing on was struck by another ship and sank in 12 minutes in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Two hundred and twenty-six people lost their lives in this terrible accident. Mrs. Spafford amazingly survived, but all four of their daughters drowned at sea. On reaching the European mainland, Mrs. Spafford sent her husband a telegram with the sad message, “Saved alone.”

Stories differ as to when the hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” was written. Some believe it was written while Spafford was on a ship to rejoin his wife in Cardiff, Wales. When the captain informed him that they were passing over the scene of the accident, what depth of pain-filled grief must have flooded over him. It could have been at that moment that the Holy Spirit inspired him to put in writing these words, “When sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Others feel Spafford wrote this hymn about two years later when Moody and his music evangelist Ira Sanky were staying at the Spafford home. We all know how friends can surely be a source of comfort and encouragement during difficult circumstances. Spafford, in spite of his anguish, could say along with the apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). Would you or I be content if we were faced with a similar situation?

This bereaved, loving father longed for the day when he would see his four beautiful daughters and son again. “And Lord haste the day when the faith will be sight, the clouds will be rolled back as a scroll; the trumpet shall sound and the Lord shall descend, even so, it is well with my soul.” The hope of being reunited with their beloved children gave these parents the courage to continue on by living in faith. Their hearts were comforted and strengthened by the truth of the resurrection.

This hymn is a beautiful expression of worship—”Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul.” Each verse contains wonderful expressions of faith and truth. In spite of the horrible tragedy, the comfort that comes from a strong faith in God shines brightly through the gloom. This hymn echoes of pain and suffering but also of the eternal hope that all believers have.

Although the words “it is well with my soul” are not found in Scripture, Jesus did say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened … and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). Our compassionate heavenly Father gives us comfort, hope and peace through His Son Jesus Christ.

Philip Bliss (1838-1876), composer of many songs including Let the Lower Lights be Burning, and Jesus Loves Even Me, was so impressed with Spafford’s life and the words of his hymn that he composed a beautiful piece of music to accompany the lyrics. The song was published by Bliss and Sankey, in 1876.

For more than a century, the tragic story of one man has given hope to countless thousands who have lifted their voices to sing,  It Is Well With My Soul.

The Spaffords had two more daughters born after the shipwreck tragedy and then the family moved to Jerusalem. Horatio Spafford died of malaria in 1888. However, this man’s story and the song that he wrote lives on today as a testimony to all believers that we can find peace in God in spite of the tragic circumstances that we may find ourselves in . Through faith in God there is the promise of peace and contentment for those who place their faith and trust in Him.

Source used: Cathy Sheridan, Christianity.ca

Free from Worry

Scripture Reading: Luke 12:22-26: Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest”

“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the filed, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kindgom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, Jesus is instructing his disciples on the danger of excessive worrying. The main point that the Sermon on the Mount addresses is the habit of excessive worrying.

E.R. Dodds spoke of the Roman Empire as an “Age of Anxiety.”  Men and women had been taught for centuries by anxiety-ridden writers, teachers, prophets, and philosophers. Dodds argues that philosophy and religion also contributed to the topic of anxiety that seemed to penetrate deeper and deeper into the human mind and behavior.

Hans Dieter Betz lists three underlying themes of anxiety in the Sermon on the Mount. The first theme is that people worry without knowing why and they tend to worry about the wrong things.  The second theme gives a more serious reason for anxiety as seen in humanity’s fragile condition, demonstrated already at birth, when the body is set out naked and helpless into a world full of dangers and enemies.

Betz tells us that concerns about worrying occur in wisdom texts, which gives us exhortations not to worry and portrays wisdom as freedom from worrying.   The third theme is that of Divine Providence, which means under God’s sovereign guidance and control.  The idea of Divine Providence is present in Jewish literature and especially in wisdom literature.  Betz says that the Sermon on the Mount takes on the position of defending Divine Providence and that this could be due to a profound crisis of faith in God’s providence that was present in society at that time.  This crisis of faith seemed to be typical of society in general in the first century.

Frederick Dale Bruner writes that Jesus frees us from this world’s obsession with how we are doing by giving us the liberating obsession of concern with how God is doing.  We are commanded to take our eyes off our selves, off our lives, off our own selfish anxiety with our desires for good things for ourselves and to look around God’s world for a place where we can throw ourselves into the cause of God’s righteousness.

Most of the time, I know that I am guilty of this type of excessive worrying. I found myself worrying this week about the many repairs that I need to start thinking about for my home. There is the worry about how I can fit these repairs into our budget and trying to prioritize the work that needs to be done. Before I knew it, that worry had expanded into even greater worries. My focus is taken off today and I start to worry about the future and the many obstacles or problems that I am sure to face. When my mind start to race and worry begins to overtake me, I must remind myself of the many times throughout my life that God has provided for me. And I know that God will continue to provide for me as I continue to be faithful to Him in all that I do.

Worry tends to paralyze us with fear and keeps us from living the life that God intends for us to live. Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 6:33-34: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Prayer: God, help me as your child and follower, to not become paralyzed or overcome with worry. I know that there are legitimate worries that I need to be concerned with and I trust in you to provide and care for my needs. Help me to not become lazy and to continue to work hard in all areas of my life. Teach me to enjoy each day and to seek your righteousness and your will for today. Keep me from being consumed with so much worry about tomorrow that I don’t miss out on the many opportunities and blessing that you have in store for me today. Amen.

Eric R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety: Some Aspects of Religious Experience from Marcus Aurelius to Augustine (New York and London: Norton, 1965)

Hans Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount (Minneapolis, Augsburg Fortress, 1995)

Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A commentary by Frederick Dale Bruner, Volume 1, The Christbook, Matthew 1-12 (Dallas, Word Publishing, 1987)

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Doubting and Believe

Scripture Reading: John 20:24-31

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

All of us have our struggles with doubt at one time or another. We doubt if we are a good enough parent or spouse. We doubt whether or not we express our love enough to our friends, our neighbors, or even our own family. And some of us even doubt if we are good enough to be called followers of Christ.

Some pastors today focus too much on those negative aspects and not enough on God’s love and grace towards his children. Sometimes we do need to be told that we are not leading the kind of life that we should be. However, we all need to hear that we do have some worth in our daily walk with God. Our Heavenly Father created us, so He knows that we are far from perfect. Our creator wants us to start each day with a clean slate so that He can work through us, in order to carry out His will in this world.

I have been awake several times this week in the middle of the night and that is the absolute worst time for doubts to set in. Everything seems so dark and hopeless in the early morning hours and that’s when my doubts begin to play mind games with me. You know those voices that are saying, you aren’t smart enough, or good enough, or capable enough to do what God is calling you to do. You might as well just give up and resign yourself to the fact that God can’t possibly use someone who is weak like you. In times like this, I have to remind myself that this voice is the evil one, that is whispering in my ear. Satan will do everything he can, to cause us to doubt how much our God loves us and cares for us.

John’s gospel gives us the story of the original doubting Thomas. This disciple had been with Jesus throughout his ministry and he had seen up close the many miracles that Jesus had performed. So why did Thomas made such a harsh statement saying, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it”?  I believe that Satan was whispering in his ear, causing him to doubt what his eyes had witnessed throughout Jesus’ ministry. For Thomas, he had to see Jesus, and his hands, and his side, in order to believe.

Jesus reminds us today to also stop doubting and believe. When that voice of doubt comes to you and tells you that you are not good enough, or smart enough, or capable enough to be used by God, just tell the evil one that all things are possible if you only believe. Stop doubting yourself and stop doubting God’s awesome power and just believe and put your faith and trust in your creator, redeemer, and sustainer. You and I are God’s creation and He loves each and every one of us, in spite of our failures. God invites you to start today with a clean slate. Thanks be to God!