Longing for the church

“I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:9b-12). Paul’s longing to be with his brothers and sisters is a reminder to me: do not take for granted opportunities to be together with the church. I am reminded how many times I have been strengthened by time together with my fellow Jesus-followers. How rich is this idea of mutual encouragement! I encourage. I am encouraged. That’s the way it works. That’s why I need to be with the church.

Telling the story

“I was on my way and approaching Damascus…”(Acts 22:6a). We have already read Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion. Now we read Paul’s words as he shared the story of his conversion. We will hear Paul tell the story again later in Acts. He tells his story. The people are quiet and listening carefully at first. By the time he finishes telling the story he says a “magic word” that leads to people throwing off their jackets, shouting, and throwing dust in the air. There is a lot to process in this account, but as I read it today I am thinking about how I need to be prepared to tell my story of encountering God and becoming a follower of Jesus. In fact, all of us who follow Jesus should share our story. Are you ready?

Three words

A few days ago I participated in a reflective prayer exercise. One part of the exercise involved reflecting on Colossians 1:9-12.

Many phrases and words in this passage caught my eye and fueled prayer.

But there were three words in particular that just stopped me momentarily before they redirected my prayer in another direction.

Those three words: “giving joyful thanks.”

Breathe

Inhale.

Exhale.

Repeat.

Without thinking.

Without effort.

Just breathe.

As two friends are struggling to breathe, I am reminded how easy it is to take functional lungs for granted.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Repeat.

Without thinking.

Without effort.

Just breathe.

Lord, have mercy.

Shaping Up

I have been exercising this week, specifically, I have been doing a Thankfulness Exercise. Each day I have carefully written down three things for which I am thankful. A funny thing happened today. After four days of this exercising, I found myself being thankful throughout the day as I saw something, heard something, or interacted with someone. I think this exercise is getting me in shape.

Boxes in the Attic

Getting our house ready to put on the market began with Lourene watching several episodes of Designed to Sell. The whole purpose of the show, as I understand it, is to offer viewers some often simple, always important ways to improve the odds of selling your house.

Her reaction? Well maybe it was because she was serving on jury duty at the time, but she delivered it more like a verdict–

“We have to declutter if we want to sell the house.”

So we began to declutter.

We decluttered the closets. We decluttered the cabinets. We decluttered the file cabinets. We decluttered the storage room. We decluttered the storage shed. We decluttered the walls. We decluttered the tables. We decluttered the counters.

Just when I thought the decluttering ordeal was over and the time had come to guiltlessly watch The Rose Bowl, you know– the granddaddy of them all–she spoke words that struck fear in my heart.

“There are boxes in the attic.”

Yes, there were boxes in the attic. Boxes full of memories. Boxes full of stuff we wanted to preserve but we couldn’t have displayed for all to see. Boxes full  of stuff we didn’t have time to sort through at the time so we hid it out of sight in the attic so we could deal with it later.

We hauled the boxes out of the attic and sorted through all the stuff. Memories. Things we didn’t want to deal with eight or ten years ago. Junk that we inexplicably saved. And the decluttering ordeal finally came to an end.

Now that it is finished, I can tell you I am glad we decluttered. Throughout the process Lourene and I reflected on how thankful we are for our memories and our material blessings.  We found a box of cards the children made for us, many made from construction paper and crayons.   We discussed how we need to guard against the temptation to hoard. We found enough lamps, pictures, and knick knacks to decorate an entire house. And we pondered how we have stored boxes of stuff in the attic of our hearts, you know, the stuff we didn’t want to deal with at the time but we kept it so someday we could.

The “For Sale” sign is in the front yard. A decluttered house awaits potential buyers. And Lourene and I have enjoyed some wonderful conversations thanks to the insistence of the television real estate gurus that we declutter.

Today I am chewing on these passages–

1 Timothy 6:6-8 (NLT)
“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.”

Hebrews 13:5-6 (MSG)
“Don’t be obsessed with getting more material things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you….”

Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

A Word of Thanks

God our Father,

We are so thankful for the blessings
You pour our in abundance
upon a people who are sometimes
resistant and stubborn.

Why do we fight You, God?
Why do we second-guess You, God?
Why do we ignore You?

Our reasons are many,
but whatever they may be
we pray for forgiveness.

Forgive us, our Father.
Forgive us, restore us, and gather us
that we might encourage one another
as we pour out our worship to You.

In Jesus’ name,
AMEN.

Enter with Thanksgiving

Psalms 100:4-5 NIV
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

When I gather with my church family to worship Almighty God, I do so with a thankful heart. After all, when I worship I not only honor God for who He is, but I spend much of my time acknowledging what God has done.

  • I sing songs about God demonstrating His love through Jesus.
  • I listen to God through a passage that recalls His grace.
  • I remember God’s lovingkindness in the bread and cup.
  • I celebrate God’s material blessings in the offering.
  • I experience God’s encouragement with His family all around.
  • I join the family in speaking to God with words of praise.
  • I confess sins while celebrating God’s forgiveness.
  • I rejoice as the community acknowledges God’s healing hand.

If I really want to be ready for church Sunday, I just need to spend a little time with this psalm. God is good. God’s love never ends. God is forever faithful.

No wonder it is so easy to enter His gates with thanksgiving!

Where Are Your Shoes?

For several years I enjoyed regularly attending a prayer group for alcoholics and addicts. The old-timers in the group, those with some mature sobriety, always warned the newcomers about the need to be thankful. Those returning to the group after a relapse would often confess that when they stopped being thankful their relapse quickly followed. So as you might imagine, prayers in these groups tended to be full of thanksgiving. Regularly men and women prayed, “Thank you, God, for letting us get out of bed today.” And from those opening words, they often rattled off a long list of that for which they were thankful.

One of the first things an addict learns about thankfulness when going to a half-way house is something that could benefit all of us. Before they go to bed at night, they put their shoes up under their bed. Why? So that in the morning, they would have to get down on their knees to look under the bed for their shoes. When they found themselves on their knees, they would remember to pray, giving thanks to God for letting them have another day.

Maybe all of us should do that, put our shoes under the bed. We need to do something to remind us that we do not need to even leave our rooms before we get down on our knees to praise God for who He is and thank God for what He has done.

Where are your shoes?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT
“Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”