Monday, July 18, 2011

ACTS Thanksgiving; Know your ABC's?

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." ~Philippians 4:4-8

Summer is known for family road trips. Hours in a hot car can be a challenge, one way families meet the challenge is by playing thinking games. Faced with a 2 hour drive to summer camp with our 9 year old yesterday, we played an oldy-but-a-goody. We took turns coming up with animals names that started with each letter of the alphabet- alligator, bear, cat, dog, elephant, etc. etc. 

Then we cranked it up a notch by challenging each other to name cities or states that began with the ABCs. Albuquerque, Barstow, Chicago, Denver, Evansville, Fargo... you get the idea. (Ute, Iowa and Quartzite, Arizona were a couple of tough ones, by the way).

If you're serious about thanking God for all He's done for you, maybe you should start playing games with Him. Try making a list of things you're thankful for that uses all 26 letters of the alphabet! You can do it on your own during your personal prayer and devotion time, or you can do it with your family on a road trip- you  can do it at a Youth Group or Prayer Group meeting, in a Sunday School or Vacation Bible School class- or hold on to it and remember to do it with your family next Thanksgiving.

To make it more of a challenge, you could play more than one round- one time giving thanks about things, another time about events or activities, and the best way  would be to give thanks for people you're grateful for having in your life.

Apple pie
Doctor Whatshisname
Evergreen trees
Garage sales
Hot chocolate
I think you get the idea- try coming up with your own!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

ACTS, Thanksgiving: Christmas in July

This summer, we've been talking about an outline for prayer, ACTS; Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Sometimes after spending a lot of time in confession, one can start to feel a little unworthy of God's love. Sin makes you not just feel guilty, but insecure, inadequate, insignificant and inconsequential.

A great way to realize just how much God loves you is to remind yourself how much He's done for you and given you.

Ever feel anxious about finances? Feel under pressure from expectations? How about irritated or a little resentful of how others seem to succeed without scruples? Stressed-out or like you don't understand why you seem to be the only person who cares that things get done? Ever get discouraged about all the things you don't have? Feel like you're always trying to play the rules, yet you never seem to get anywhere?

Maybe you don't really need an antidepressant. Maybe you've been looking down too long and you just need to spend some time looking up for a while. Oh, I know that sounds corny or Pollyanna. But it's not as easy, or as pointless as it sounds.

I can be preoccupied about how my vehicle is rusty and doesn't have air conditioning or how much gas costs and wish I had something newer or prettier. Or I can appreciate that I have a a ride to work. I can complain about my mortgage payment and how much utilities and home repairs and maintenance cost or I can appreciate the fact that I have a safe, comfortable home where I can go to get out of the sun or the wind or rain, when so many are being foreclosed on, paying rent, or without any home at all.

John Thomas is an evangelist in the towns outside of Calcutta India. He prayed for a year for a Jeep to travel in from town to town to share the Good News about Jesus. He helps run a Christian school in his neighborhood that provides a rare opportunity for education to desperately impoverished children - not to mention much needed meals and stories of God's love to people who literally have never heard of Jesus. Their landlord has decided not to renew their lease, she'd rather make room for business tenants. John would like to raise $40K in the next year in order to buy or build their own facilities.

Thinking about John's ministry not only makes me grateful for what I have, it makes me feel guilty for complaining about not being more comfortable, secure, or affluent. It certainly motivates me to pray for John and his wife Cyndi and to try to influence my congregation to help support them. Frankly (and I know this will make Ayn Rand admirers cringe), it makes me feel pretty guilty about being an American, born into such a decadent, materialistic society where so many of us feel entitled to our blessings, instead of humbly appreciative.

So take some time in prayer to catalog your inventory of people, things, and ways in which God has blessed you. Thank Him for where He's brought you, what He's done for you, and especially for the people He's placed in your life.

If you're up all night because your mind is racing, obsessing about all you have to get done or how you're going to pay your bills- try spending some time thinking about how much you do have and how much joy your loved ones bring you. Think about the good things that have happened and just how much you do have.

Christmas may be 6 months away, but this song from Bing Crosby's popular holiday movie is an excellent reminder that the best way to battle worry, fear and anger is with thanksgiving, appreciation and an attitude of gratitude.

When I'm worried and I can't sleepI count my blessings instead of sheepAnd I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting smallI think of when I had none at allAnd I fall asleep counting my blessings 
I think about a nursery and I picture curly headsAnd one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleepJust count your blessings instead of sheepAnd you'll fall asleep counting your blessings

Sunday, July 03, 2011

ACTS Confession;

Why bother with confession? Well, I'll tell ya. I want to have a meaningful relationship with God, but it seems like almost everyday I get drug down by what I like to call the "Diabolical D's," Doubt, Discouragement and Depression. All three of these are things that reveal that I don't really trust God and they erode away my bond with Him.

Why else? Well, I'll tell ya. I'd like to be useful to God, an instrument  which He can use to share His love, forgiveness and promises with other people. But it seems like everyday I get side-tracked by my own appetites. Instead of being satisfied with His lavish gifts of grace, salvation, and all kinds of blessings, I my insecurity and selfishness have me constantly almost frantically trying to binge on pride, anger, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth and envy. 

And of course, the more I try to fill that God-shaped hole with these forms of ungodly indulgence, the worse I feel, the more I need God.

I need confession because my selfish, human thoughts words and deeds undermines my relationship with God and tampers my relationships with others.

The liturgy of confession and absolution we used in church today made it pretty clear.

"...we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition." When we admit that to God in prayer, that's confession. And when "we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)." God gives us a fresh start.

Romans 7:7-257But I can hear you say, "If the law code was as bad as all that, it's no better than sin itself." That's certainly not true. The law code had a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidelines for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork. Apart from the succinct, surgical command, "You shall not covet," I could have dressed covetousness up to look like a virtue and ruined my life with it.
8-12Don't you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of "forbidden fruit" out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the law code, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the law code and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the law code itself is God's good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel.
13I can already hear your next question: "Does that mean I can't even trust what is good [that is, the law]? Is good just as dangerous as evil?" No again! Sin simply did what sin is so famous for doing: using the good as a cover to tempt me to do what would finally destroy me. By hiding within God's good commandment, sin did far more mischief than it could ever have accomplished on its own.
14-16I can anticipate the response that is coming: "I know that all God's commands are spiritual, but I'm not. Isn't this also your experience?" Yes. I'm full of myself—after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.
17-20But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
25The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.