Good for the Soul

Confession, Prayer, Psalms, Repentance No Comments »

Has it been awhile since you openly and honestly confessed your sins to our Father? When’s the last time you got down on your knees, alone in the presence of our Holy God, and confessed your shortcomings and failures? These days between Ash Wednesday and the first Sunday of Lent are a good time to re-engage this scriptural, historical practice.

Maybe you have a hard time getting started. If so, I would humbly suggest something like this. It’s both a terrible and beautiful experience for me. It’s devastating and liberating. Not easy at all, but needed. Desperately needed.

Block out twenty minutes when you can be totally alone with our Father. Not in the back bedroom of a crowded house, I mean in the back bedroom of an empty house. Totally alone. Nobody around. If you have to go to the shed in the backyard, do it.

Now, physically get down on your knees and physically open your hands with your palms up toward heaven. Now, just sit there in silence for a full five minutes — no cheating! —- in the presence of God. After those five minutes, read one of the penitential psalms to the Father out loud. I’m partial to Psalms 32 and 51, but you could go with Psalm 6, 38, 102, 130, or 143.

At this point, I am acutely aware of the presence of God and my own sinful soul. Like Peter, my first thoughts are, “Get away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!” My feelings are like those of the prophets who proclaimed their own demise in God’s presence. I am ruined. I am dead. I am not worthy. And then I confess my sins out loud to God. And they are many.

I believe the silence and the physical posture of humility and prayer and the holy words of the psalms work together to prime the pump so that what’s in the deepest part of my soul comes gushing out.  It can’t be stopped. And it needs to come out. I need to be open and honest about my sins with my loving and forgiving Father. I need to experience his forgiveness and his blessing, his pardon and approval.

You do, too.

Whatever it takes. Don’t let Sunday come without spending some time in personal confession with our God.

If you need another suggestion, you might consider the words of this prayer of confession we prayed together with our brothers and sisters at First Presbyterian during yesterday’s Ash Wednesday service:

Holy and merciful God, I confess to you that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed by what I have done and by what I have left undone. Have mercy on me, O God, and in your mercy, cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Hear me now, as I continue to confess my sins to you…

Most Christian traditions begin every worship assembly with a time of corporate and personal confession. We don’t. We have to work on it. Now’s a good time.

Peace,

Allan

24 Hours of Prayer

Central Church Family, Prayer No Comments »

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI spent the 9:00 hour this morning with Nancy, Shelly, Dick and Crista, and Pete. I shared the 2:00 hour this afternoon with Larry, Drew, and Bruce and Celia. Over the next several hours, through the night, and into tomorrow morning, more than a hundred of my brothers and sisters at Central are praying in the chapel. We’re gathering in the presence of God, in the name of our Lord Jesus, and by the power of his Spirit to lift up prayers of intercession for our Ignite Initiative. We’re praying for Bivins Elementary and the homeless in our city. We’re praying for CareNet and single moms. We’re praying for the poor, the marginalized, the immigrants, the disabled, and Martha’s Home. There are more than a thousand prayer requests in those envelopes. And they are all being faithfully brought to our Father’s throne by his servants at Central.

What a blessing to pray for an hour with my siblings in Christ. What a joy to listen to their hearts being poured out to God, to participate together in bearing one another’s burdens, to form closer friendships in the foxholes of intercession.

May our Father bless all who gather in the Central chapel during these 24 hours. May the prayers of the saints bring him glory and praise. May we be transformed during these hours to be more like our Lord, trained to consider the needs of others more important than our own. And may his will be done in and through these hundred Christians and these hundreds of requests just as it is in heaven.

I can’t wait for my next hour at 11:00 tonight.

Peace,

Allan

Instrument of God’s Peace

Carley, Christ & Culture, Prayer, Stanglin Family No Comments »

Mom70We spent all weekend behind the Pine Curtain in Liberty City celebrating my mother’s 70th birthday. As our children get older and our schedules become less predictable, getting the entire family together is becoming more and more difficult. But it’s always worth it. Dad grilled burgers in the rain, we played football and Frisbee and board games, we ate a ton, laughed a lot, and worshiped together as a big family yesterday morning at the Chandler Street Church of Christ in Kilgore.

The highlight for Carley was probably getting to drive the Impala. My dad owns a fully restored 1960 Chevrolet Impala that belonged to my grandfather. It’s a beautiful turquoise head-turner: huge fins on the back, wide whitewall tires, rocket-style tail lights, wrap-around windshield, add-on AC, and plenty of chrome. The younger kids all wanted to go for a ride and, somehow, they returned to the house with Carley behind the wheel. I’m not sure how she talked her grandpa into letting her drive, but it was pretty cool.

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I received an email from Jerry Taylor last week. Totally out of the blue. Completely unexpected. No context. No explanation. Just a couple of short sentences from a great man of God whom I respect and admire.

“One person has said about the current political season that this is a time of moral reckoning for every American citizen. It can better be said that this is a time of moral reckoning for every Christian in America.”

That was it. Nothing else. Short. Simple. Yet penetrating. And provocative.

ShoutingI wonder about those in the United States who declare themselves to be Christians and, at the same time, are personally and emotionally invested in the race for president. As the shouting grows louder, as the insults become more pointed, as the fear tactics reach ridiculous levels, how do Christians participate in the process without personally joining and even contributing to the rancor of the political campaigns? I’m sure it’s possible; I just wonder how. It seems to me it would be maddeningly difficult.

Is there even one political YouTube video you can recommend that only builds others up without tearing anybody down? Is there even one political email you can forward that only encourages people without insulting or disparaging others? If you put a candidate’s name on the back of your car, are you telling everybody that you agree with that candidate’s position on everything and that you stand by his or her tactics? It must be really difficult for a Christian to engage this thing and still hold true to our calling as ambassadors for Christ.

I’ve been thinking about the opening lines of an ancient prayer that’s been attributed to St. Francis. The prayer petitions God to empower the one praying to be an instrument in the world of God’s peace. The one praying is asking God to work through him to show the world a different way

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is error, the truth;
where there is doubt, the faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s getting the forwarded videos and emails, who’s thrust into the conversations at meal times, who’s bombarded with the rhetoric while waiting in line at Wal-Mart or while I’m getting my oil changed. How do you answer that hateful email? How do you reply to the mean-spirited video? How do you respond to the insults that disparage entire groups of people?

What it requires is discipline. Diligence. A refusal to join the rage. A commitment to combat the evil with love and grace. A constant awareness. A continuing asking of the question: Am I acting as an instrument of God’s peace?

Christians have to be intentional about sowing love where there is hatred. We must carefully choose words that build up, never injure; we must speak to forgive, never to hurt. We have to look through the lens of Christian hope in the face of so much despair. We must be full of joy when so many around us are filled with hate. And it’s not going to happen accidentally. We have to do this on purpose.

Peace,

Allan

He Saw the Disciples

Discipleship, Jesus, Mark, Prayer No Comments »

“After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.” ~Mark 6:46-48

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The disciples are out in the water, right where Jesus put them. He “made” them go there, it says. They’re out on the lake and he’s on the mountain praying. He’s praying. And he’s watching them. He’s watching them as they strain at the oars because the wind is against them. If he’s watching them and he’s praying, I imagine he’s praying about them, don’t you? They’re struggling. They’re working hard. They’re fighting the wind and the waves and going nowhere. He sees them. He’s watching them. They’re stuck. They’re frustrated. Nothing’s happening! They’re actually being blown off course.

I feel like that sometimes. Do you?

In my desires to follow Jesus, in my best efforts to obey God, sometimes I feel like I’m beating my brains out against the wind. I’m rowing and rowing and rowing and not getting anywhere. I’m doing and working and striving and I’m stuck. Nothing’s happening. The wind is against me, it’s in my face. And I get frustrated. And I doubt.

You feel that, too. I know you do. There are so many things that fight against us, so many things that oppose us. Just the chaos of life in this godless culture is enough. But Jesus has put us here. He’s placed us here in the middle of crime and cancer and illness and death. We fight failure and rejection and ridicule and judgment. We’re distressed by divisions in the Church. We’re in turmoil over circumstances with our children or grandchildren. We’re struggling with our jobs. Temptation and sin and dishonesty and abuse. Vengeance and greed. Selfishness and lust. Yes, the wind is against us. And we strain at the oars.

Please take comfort in the fact that Jesus is watching you strain at the oars. He sees you. He knows. He’s aware of every struggle. He sees every battle. He knows the things that are causing you distress and heartache. He’s watching you.

And he is praying for you. He’s talking to the Father about you right now. Scripture tells us that Christ Jesus lives to intercede for us. It’s what he does. He watches the disciples and he prays. He’s watching you today and he’s praying. He’s pointing you out to the Father right now. He’s talking about you to God. And I imagine as he watches you strain at the oars, he’s very proud of you.

Peace,

Allan

Prayers for Paris

Prayer, Sin, Story of God No Comments »

ParisGrief

The pictures and stories keep coming in from Paris. More information and updates keep crawling across the bottom of the screen. What happened in Paris Friday is the result of Act Two in our Story, right? The Fall. The Perished Kingdom. Men and women rebel against the Creator, they turn their backs on the God of Heaven and Earth, and sin is the result. Sin. Violence. Death. Chaos. Grief. Terrible, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking grief.

We see it. We hear it. We can even feel it.

And we pray.

We pray for the victims and their families. I can’t imagine the horror, the fear, the tremendous loss.  We pray for the perpetrators of this evil and their families. I can’t understand how sick and distorted the image of God must be in the people who pull off these kinds of horrific acts of violence; how twisted and sad, it’s so incredibly sad. And we pray for government leaders and their families. I can’t comprehend the tremendous pressure and stress these people must feel, the burden of leadership, the responsibility to make things right, the impossible chore of balancing freedom and security, caution and action, justice and patience, all with the proper amounts of calculated diplomacy.

I think we’re called to pray.

We’re also called to proclaim.

God has made a lot of promises to us. In Act Three, God declares that he’s going to fix everything. In Act Four, God comes to this earth to suffer these same kinds of atrocities with us to prove he’ll do anything — everything! — to fix what’s wrong with this world and his people. We see the conclusion to the Story in Act Six: everything is fixed. Peace between all people. Perfect harmony between the Creator and his creation. No violence. No war. No death. No tears.

While we live in the unfinished Fifth Act, we proclaim. With our lips, with our lives, and through our Christian communities. Jesus is Lord. He really is fixing everything. And we all need to get in on it.

I can’t explain terrorism and airplane crashes and bombings. It’s sin. It’s Act Two. And the world leaders and politicians have no solution. Whatever they’re saying and whatever they’re promising — they’re making a lot of statements and making a lot of promises — is not going to work. More bombs and more violence and more death doesn’t fix this. The only ruler with the solution is our risen and coming Lord Christ Jesus. He alone can make right everything that’s wrong. He alone can fix this. And he is. He is risen and he is coming and he is reigning supreme right now at the right hand of the Father in heaven. That’s what we proclaim.

And we pray.

Peace,

Allan

Watchful & Thankful

Colossians, Ephesians, Luke, Mark, Prayer No Comments »

PrayerCorporate

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” ~Colossians 4:2

The earliest Christians made it a habit to pray regularly at specific hours every day. Some appear to have prayed twice a day, morning and evening; others three times a day, morning, afternoon, and evening. It was a continuation of the Jewish custom that had been practiced for centuries, and subsequently passed on to succeeding Christian generations.

But regular daily prayer was not just the result of tradition.

The first Christians confidently expected the return of Christ and the consummation of the Kingdom of God in the immediate future, within their lifetimes. And they believed they were called to be alert and watchful at all times for that final event. Just like servants were supposed to stay awake and watch for the return of their master, they were expected to remain vigilant for the return of their Lord.

Mark 13:32-37 quotes Jesus as telling us to “be on guard! Be alert!” and “Keep watch!” Christ tells us in Luke 12:35-40 to “keep your lamps burning like men waiting for their master to return.”

Several New Testament passages further reveal that prayer is the proper mode of this constant state of readiness. Prayer is the way that watchful attitude is best expressed. Jesus tells his apostles to watch and pray that they may not enter into temptation. Paul’s letter to the Colossians links the idea of watchfulness and prayer (4:2). And he tells the Ephesians to “be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (6:18).

The discipline of prayer at regular, fixed times was an expression of the Church’s constant readiness for the imminent return of Christ.

Shall we pray?

Allan