By Lavelle Woodrick
Finding Strength to Serve
Purpose: To encourage us to give thanks for God’s ability to transform us into servants.
Key Verse: “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He judged me faithful and appointed me to his service.” — 1
New Year’s Day is a secular holiday, but for Christians and other people of faith it has rich religious meanings. It is a day of new beginnings in our journey with the Lord. Many churches in the Methodist tradition have a Watch Night Service on New Year’s Eve. The service includes elements of
In that service, we are invited to pray to be a servant of Christ, saying: “Let me be your servant, under your command. I will no longer be my own. I will give up myself to your will in all things.”
The prayer continues in these words: “Lord, make me what you will. I put myself fully into your hands: put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and with a willing heart give it all to your pleasure and disposal.”
What a great prayer for all Christians to offer to the Lord as we enter a new year! We have been born anew to become servants of Christ.
The opportunities to serve the Lord are without number. If we sincerely pray the covenant renewal prayer, the Holy Spirit will show us how we can serve the Lord in ways unique to us.
In his first letter to
In Philippians 4:13, Paul gives witness to the same truth: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me. . . “
In one of his books, the late Dr. G. Ray Jordan relates the following: “Lorenzo Dow, a mountain preacher of pioneer days, once began his sermon this way: ‘My text is Philippians 4:13: I can do all things.’ At this point Lorenzo took a dollar bill out of his wallet and said, “Paul, that’s simply preposterous; I’ll wager this that you cannot do anything of the sort.’
“Then Lorenzo opened his Bible and read: I can do all things through him which strengthens me. ‘So,’ he said, “I withdraw my offer. Of course you can. Anybody can do anything by the help of God.’”
There is a song by Richard Gillard in the songbook The Faith We Sing, published by Abingdon Press, which has these words in the first and closing stanzas: “Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.”
Christ is depending on us to be servants to each other within the church and to others beyond the church. Just remember this, “Anybody can do anything by the help of God.”
Everyone Needs Prayer
Purpose: To help us experience the reconciling power of prayer for everyone, even those we do not like.
Key Verse: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” — I
Supposedly, this really happened: During World War II, a member of a church was called on to lead in prayer at a Wednesday evening prayer meeting. As he went on and on praying about the war, he worked up to this petition: “O Lord,” he said, “strike down dead that old Rudolph Hitler.” Before he could continue, someone called out, “It ain’t Rudolph Hitler; it’s Adolph Hitler. You’re gonna get the wrong man killed.”
At least he was praying for his enemies, or rather praying against his enemies. Furthermore, someone must have felt that the Lord would execute exactly as the man prayed, so a quick correction was needed.
How should we pray for our enemies? What is it that we ought to ask would happen to them? Questions like these are dealt with in today’s lesson in Adult Bible Studies, a United Methodist publication. After discussing several possibilities, the author says that we can ask God to help us know what to pray for them. He suggests that if we begin our prayer for someone we don’t like by asking God to help us see the other person as God does, it is likely that God will help us know how to finish our prayers.
That is certainly the best way to pray for someone who has hurt us in some way, or someone who just “rubs us the wrong way,” someone who irritates us. If we attempt to see them as people for whom Christ died, we may begin by giving thanks for that fact and move on from there.
Let’s admit: it’s not easy; especially in cases where a horrendous crime has been committed.
How do you pray for someone who has murdered a member of your family? How do you pray for corrupt corporation officers who “cooked the books” and wiped out your pension? Even in lesser matters, most of us find it difficult to pray for someone who has stolen from us, or have been “stabbed in the back” by someone. It’s tough.
Perhaps what we most need in those kinds of situations is to ask friends to pray for us that we may be open to receive God’s grace and strength to pray as we believe Jesus would.
Paul admonishes us to pray not just for those we don’t like, but for everyone, including those we love and care about. My wife’s grandfather was a country doctor for more than 50 years. That term “country doctor” is a badge of honor, for those physicians who served in rural areas and small towns, who made house calls and who treated every ailment imaginable for very little pay in all hours of the day and night and in all kinds of weather, are real heroes in our heritage.
Her grandfather, Dr. W. H. Banks, was a devout Christian, a loyal Methodist and a man of prayer. Pat, my wife, laughs about many a
There’s an old saying that prayer changes things. It does. But more than that, it changes people: both the ones prayed for, and the ones praying.
Leading God’s People
Purpose: To remind us that the behavior of the household of God, especially its leaders, has implications for the faithful mission of the church.
Key Verse: “They must hold to the mystery of the faith with a clean conscience.” — 1
In this chapter, Paul gives to
The word “bishop” is also translated “overseer.” At that time in the development of the church a bishop was the principal leader of a local church; or, as we would say today in Methodist terminology, the pastor-in-charge.
Deacons in the time of Paul and
While the traits that Paul lists as being needed for bishops and deacons, they also apply to all believers. Being accountable to God and neighbor and self is the essence of the challenge Paul lays down.
Of special importance, however, are these qualities for church leaders. A high moral standard was necessary for the church to win the hearts and minds of people for Christ. For this reason “they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clean conscience.” The mystery of the faith means not only the revelation of truth to be marveled at, but whole body of revealed doctrine to be believed and accepted. It is to be held with a clean conscience; that is, not half-believing, but convinced and convincing.
Years ago in a European country, a government official who was not a Christian believer would always visit the worship services in a small chapel located in the village where the official vacationed. His attendants wondered about this, and they asked him, “Why do you go and listen so attentively to that cleric preach? His preaching is dull, and he speaks so slowly. Why do you endure it?” “Because,” answered the official, “that old man believes every word he preaches.”
That preacher’s conscience didn’t bother him that he only half-heartedly believed his own sermons; he held and proclaimed the mystery of the faith with a clean conscience.
Pastors, church leaders and all members of the church need to hold firmly to basic Christian doctrines and to live in such a way that Christ is reflected in them day to day. This does not imply absolute sinlessness; all continue to fall short of the glory of God. Continual repentance is necessary.
It does mean that by the help of God our conduct should give no opportunity to critics to injure the church in its mission.
Christ-like living is the effective vehicle of the Gospel.
Set an Example
Purpose: To stress the importance of right belief and practice for the faithful service of God’s people.
Key Verse: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” — 1
In Chapter 4, there are some notable statements that speak to all Christians in all times.
“Train yourself in godliness,” says Paul in verse 7b. He states that while physical training has some value, godliness has greater value since it offers blessings now and also in the world to come. This is an appropriate reminder in our age of much emphasis on the worthy goal of physical fitness.
In verse 14, Paul says “Do not neglect the gift that is in you.” In other words, don’t treat carelessly the abilities and advantages God has given you. “Use them or lose them” is a truth to be taken seriously.
Verse 12 admonishes the young
Our key verse (16) begins, “Pay close attention to yourself...”
Church leaders should make sure their pastor gets regular time-off days and annual vacations. This is just as true of the church laity. Physical and spiritual fitness are needed by everyone.
The necessity of
This is of course the case with all believers because each one is a teacher by example, one way or the other.
A Sunday school teacher asked the children in her class, “Who can tell me what a saint is?” The group sat in silence for a while. One child thought of the picture windows in the sanctuary and that her mother had told her the people in the pictures were saints: St. Peter,
That is the example we pray that we may set: a person that the Light of Christ shines through.
Practicing Justice and Mercy
Purpose: To encourage us to honor our
Key Verse: “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as a father, to younger men as
In studying the Bible, we are greatly helped by being able to locate and designate any portion of Scripture by the use of numbered chapters and numbered verses. This was not possible during the first 15 centuries of Christian history. The division of the Bible into chapters is credited to Stephen Langston, archbishop of
This reminder of our indebtedness to the past should keep us thankful for things we now take for granted. The Scripture for today’s Sunday school lesson gives up glimpses into some problems and practices in the earliest years of the church that are very much like some of our situations today. The past is instructive.
Taking care of widows within the church is one of the responsibilities Paul addresses (verse ). He says that if a widow has children or grandchildren, her care is their duty. It is like a repayment for her care of them, and it is pleasing to God. Real widows, he says, are those left alone; they are the ones the church must support. Widows under 60 years of age should not be put on the list for support. Those on the list should have been married only once and had lived a good life. Younger widows should marry and have children. If a believing woman or man has relatives who are real widows, let them assist them, so that the church will not be burdened and can assist those who have no other means of support.
Paul also says that “whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (or infidel). (5:8)
Another practical aspect of church duty is how the church members relate to their pastors (elders). Paul says that they should be compensated for their work (verses 17-19). Also, “never accept an accusation against an elder except on the evidence of three witnesses.” (verse 19). How does the church deal with those who persist in sin? “Rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear.” (verse 20)
Although conditions and procedures have changed, the basic attitude behind Paul’s instructions is relevant: deal with each other with honor and respect, but also with accountability.
This practice results in justice and mercy. Justice means doing what’s right. In the case of
The key verse sets the tone: Treat each other in the church as family. We are as fathers, mothers,
A chorus that many Christians sing, usually doing so as a group holding hands, goes like this: “Bind us together, Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be
That’s the spirit of a true church.
Woodrick is a retired elder of the