Church, Let’s Be Friends

Church Church Friendship

The below guest post is an excerpt taken from Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost ©2020 Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY 10016 I pull into the church parking lot about ten minutes early, and it occurs to me that if I go in now I might have to mingle with strangers. I decide to wait.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see another car pull up a few spaces down. A man hurriedly gets out, robe in hand, throwing a white collar around his neck. Approximately six minutes before the Ash Wednesday service will start, the priest arrives. I open my car door, and he gestures in my general direction, smiling ever so slightly.  The first thing a visitor notices in a Catholic church is its beauty. This particular church is only a few years old, so its stained-glass windows still sparkle like new, showing no sign of fading from the sun. The exposed wooden beams on the ceiling speak to the rustic northern town where the parish is in ministry.  Stepping into the nave, I dip my finger in the holy water because I can never resist it. Every time I reach for that water, I envision a siren going off at my touch: “Protestant alert!” Nevertheless, I keep going; the water holds such a symbolic significance in the Bible, and I love feeling the moistness on my fingers, signaling to my heart that its time for worship. Quickly, I cross myself. Still no siren. Every time it’s worth the risk.  I take an aisle seat on the last row. There are about thirty faithful ones at the service. The beautiful older lady wearing a black mantilla; the gentleman who genuflects before accepting the communion elements. Not many children. Then I see Jeanne, a dear friend I know from the Reformed church I attend in the next town over. What a wonderful feeling to find a familiar face in the crowd.  Suddenly, I hear a voice behind me: “Will you hold this for me just a second, please?” I turn to see the man I encountered in the parking lot. The priest. He needs to put on his wireless mic, so he hands me the small bowl filled with ashes. I am holding last year’s Palm Sunday branches, now burned up and ground into sacred bits. The ashes rest in my hands. I think to…

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Lent: What it is and Why it Matters

Lent is a complicated topic for most Christians. Many struggle with how to fast and dedicate a season to the Lord without simply creating New Year’s resolutions 2.0. Others have neglected it altogether because it feels confusing and too old-school to apply to their lives. I typically fall somewhere in the middle.  I want to participate in Lent. I recognize the importance and see why Christians have handed down the tradition from generation to generation, but also, it is hard. It’s hard to be counter-cultural and it’s even harder to be self-denying and confront your own failures and shortcomings. I know I have a great Savior, but I don’t like anything that reminds me I needed saving. Lent confronts me with all of the reasons why I needed Christ to come. It reminds me of my mortality, that I will one day, die and return to dust. My sinful nature is brought forth as I examine my life and see where I fall short. My struggle with fasting, whether from food or activities, shows me how weak and frail my body and will are.  But Lent doesn’t remind us of our weaknesses to leave us beaten down and feeling weak, it points us to great needs only to then show us our Hope and Salvation on Easter morning. And that is a grace that we can only find once we are humble of heart, recognizing that we cannot be who we were made to be on our own. There are three traditional spiritual disciplines that Christians have focused on for the season of Lent to help grow in the faith and holiness; fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.  Fasting – This is the discipline most commonly associated with Lent. Traditionally, believers fasted from meat and restricted their eating throughout all 40 days of Lent. Fasting should be a regular part of all Christian lives but Lent should be a time when we focus especially on giving up what is good to unite ourselves with the sufferings of Christ and seek after the imperishable goods of the Lord.  Almsgiving – This is basically a fancy,  old-fashioned word for charitable giving. Like Advent, Lent is a time to give charitably to your fellow man in need. One simple way to increase your giving is to take the money you normally spend on whatever you’re fasting from and instead, delegate that money to your local…

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21 Bible Verses on Joy You Need to Refresh Yourself With Today

Joy is one of the 9 Fruits of the Spirit, it is evidence that that Holy Spirit is working in our lives. I’ve shared before about how joy isn’t something that is based on circumstances, but in the hope we have in the God of our salvation. Sometimes, it is easy to tangibly feel the joy of the Lord. Other times, it’s something we need to pull into focus, reminding ourselves of the joy we have in the Lord.  On those days, the days when joy is an act of faith, a response of the hope of Christ, hiding Scripture in my heart and recalling the truth that I am not feeling is one way the Lord helps fill my life with joy. So here are 21 Bible verses on joy. Hide them in your heart. Write them and post them on your walls. Recall them throughout your day and remember the joy of the Lord.  1. Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life;     in your presence there is fullness of joy;     at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11, ESV 2. 1 Peter 1:8-9 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:8-9, ESV 3. Nehemiah 8:10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10, ESV 4. Psalm 20:5 May we shout for joy over your salvation,     and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the Lord fulfill all your petitions! – Psalm 20:5, ESV 5. John 16:22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. – John 16:22, ESV 6. Psalm 71:23 My lips will shout for joy,     when I sing praises to you;     my soul also, which you have redeemed. – Psalm 71:23, ESV 7. Psalm 66:1-4 Shout for joy to God, all the earth;      sing the glory of his name;     give…

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7 Spiritual Disciplines To Implement To Make Your Faith a Priority This Year

I want my faith in Jesus Christ to have the top priority in my life. Unfortunately, if you were to watch me Truman Show-style, you would probably quickly see that most days, it is a battle, often a losing one. I feel trapped in the cycle St. Paul wrote about in Romans 7, the cycle of continuing on in sin, giving in to my flesh and weakness, when I want to serve Christ and make my faith a priority.  As I’ve been reflecting on my past struggles and victories, on seasons when I’ve stayed the course and seasons when the battle has been overwhelming, and I’ve found a few patterns in what tools equip me to fight the good fight well. Unsurprisingly, most of the things that have helped make my faith a priority are spiritual disciplines that God has handed down for that very purpose.  Here are 7 Biblical spiritual disciplines to make your faith a priority this year:  1. Invest in your local church (serve the Body of Christ) You are not an island, you are a part of the Body of Christ. Invest in the community, with both your time and resources and commit to participating in the Body of Christ.  Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV 2. Find a way to serve the least of these One of the clear calls of all Christians is to serve the least of these – the poor, the imprisoned, the marginalized, the child, etc. Whether you are serving with your local church or partnering with others towards a common goal, find a way to serve others and add it to your regular schedule.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you…

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5 Tips to Make Daily Bible Reading a Habit 

Making daily Bible reading a habit can be such a struggle.  Simply put, we often don’t want to put in the effort. We opt for the path of least resistance – we scroll and scroll and scroll through our newsfeeds. We settle for simple, easy things instead of taking on the tasks that form us into the people we want to be. Or sometimes, we’re like Martha, distracting ourselves with the preparations, building up hours of work that we deem more important than sitting at the feet of our Lord.  But the Word of God isn’t a buffet for us to pop in and out of, grabbing and choosing what we want at that moment. It is the sustaining word we need to live (Matthew 4:4). It needs to be a part of every decision, day and choice.  But yet, we struggle. I struggle. Here are 5 ways I’ve worked past it and implemented daily Bible reading in my own life: 1. Let go of the idea that it has to be perfect or ground shattering: accept the transformative matter of mundane habits The first thing I had to work past was the idea that reading my Bible was going to be amazingly transformative, clearly applicable, and consistently provide a mountaintop experience for me. The reality is, oftentimes, we don’t see the fruits of our obedience immediately. Often, we labor in the work God has given us and when we least expect it, find comfort in a verse or passage tucked away long ago, waiting for the moment God has prepared. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  – Galatians 6:9, ESV 2. Choose a plan, or don’t. Just don’t over-complicate it. This requires a lot of self-understanding. What holds you back from reading your Bible? Do you get paralyzed by not knowing where to start? If no, choosing a simple reading plan (just do a quick Google search for a basic one for the month). On the flip side, I am often paralyzed by thinking I need to have a perfect plan for my Bible reading to be meaningful. For me, the battle is to simply pick up my Bible and read something. Whichever end of the spectrum you lie on, you need to identify your hang-ups and acknowledge the need to read…

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