23. I am thankful for the STRUGGLE...

Some of you think I have probably lost my mind...."thankful for the struggle"...how can it be?

I often ask myself the same question....and even at this ungodly early hour...I am sitting here at a friend's laptop (I'm in New Mexico at this very moment, visiting some dear friends), thanking God for the "struggle"....

Because I know that in every struggle, I can go to the Rock....that Rock is Jesus. In every struggle, I know that all my tears are not in vain.....God washes my eyes with tears, so I can see His Son more clearly.

The "struggle" reminds me that this life isn't all there is....that a far better day is coming. A day when all the toils, cares, heartaches, disappointments, setbacks, and defeats will be ended...eternally.

The "struggle" reminds me that I can't live life alone...I need the love, fellowship, communion, and grace offered by a lot of other people....and they need it as well....we are in this thing together.

The "struggle" reminds me that all the feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and unworthiness are just that: feelings. God has already validated me with the blood of His own Son. Sometimes the real "struggle" is in remembering this most important of FACTS....

The Perrys sing a wonderful song, "I Rest my case at the Cross"----and when I bring it all to the Cross, I can give my "struggle" to Him. He does indeed "champion" my cause. He hears my case....He renders His verdict...and He declares that I belong to Him.

Even in the "struggle."

22. I am thankful for DOWN TIME...

I know far too many completely FRENZIED people. Always working, always entertaining, always going, always serving, always "doing"....just "always" something or another....

I used to be one of those people. But lately, I'm not among that "cast of characters" for the time being.

"Down time" is a precious, precious gift God intends for us to have...it is our for the taking....but it's always up to us.

There is nothing holy or spiritual about being "constantly tired" or perpetually exhausted....and I learned this lessons the hard way. When I was close to a nervous breakdown (about 12 years ag0), I discovered that I didn't have to be at every single activity of my local church, and every extra-activity of graduate school, and accept every invitation that was made....in other words, the WORLD would survive without me "constantly being there"....but I might not, if I didn't discover some "down time"---and do it rather quickly.

Now, I'm just thankful for the "down time"....the times when I can "detox" from all the "busy-ness" that can crowd out life.

I enjoy staying active and busy....but now I want all the "activity" and the "busy-ness" to serve a purpose other than just "taking up time."

The Scriptures tell us to "number our days" and "apply our heart to wisdom"....and sometimes the wisest thing I can do is take some "down time."

21. I am thankful for AIR TRAVEL....

I had my first airplane ride when I was 18 years old. My pastor (at the time) was also a very experienced pilot--he had his private pilot's liscense before he ever got his drivers' liscense.

I will always remember that flight. We are started at the Cleveland airstrip, and flew over the Smoky Mountains...it didn't last long, but it was fun.

My next flight would come some four and a half years later. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I flew from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Boston, Massachussetts on the now defunct Piedmont Airlines. The entire trip (with two nights in a hotel room in Boston) was only $99.00 I will never forget that trip.

I had a 6 a.m. flight (my friend Tim Stone) took me to the Chattanooga Airport. It was stormy, and very stormy. The flight was "bumpy" to say the least...and I had no idea what to expect. I was just praying that we would get wherever we were going---which at the time was the Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. (The old airport, not the new one). As soon as I got off the plane, I walked in the terminal, and looked like I had just been through a really bad winter....

I'm not sure who the wonderful gate agent was...but she saw how frazzled I must have been, and I was almost in tears....and I had a 3-hour layover in this airport....but she found me a flight that was leaving in 30 minutes...and I would be on my way to Logan International Airport in lovely Boston, Massachussetts. That flight--smoother than a newborn baby's butt. It was lovely...very, very lovely.

Since that weekend (25 years ago this Thanksgiving), I have literally flown around the world, and all over the world....The longest single flight being from San Francisco, California to Seoul, Korea--nonstop in January 1990. There have been some very short flights...from Sacramento to San Francisco....that same day....I think it took about 25 minutes. No coke, no peanuts....straight up, and straight down....

I am thankful for air travel. I can't imagine life without it. I'm glad I don't have to stretch my mind like that anymore.

I am thankful for THIS MUSIC

19. I am very thankful for Vacation Bible School

My great friend, Dr Jackie Johns (www.jackiespeaks.blogspot.com) wrote a marvelous post about his brother-in-law Mike. He mentions, frequently I might add, how "hyper-hyper-active" his BIL is...or was...possibly still is...(I don't remember meeting Mike-he didn't stand still long enough for me to meet him)....but I digress...

I was a pretty "hyper-active" child. But then again, "normal children" (in my humble opinion) are supposed to be "active"--maybe even "hyper"--that's the reason they are young. God did waste "youth" on the young, obviously.

One of the blessed respites for my sainted Grandmother Hoover (who raised me) was the local Vacation Bible School. And there were always at least THREE in the vicinity--she made sure that I attended every single one of them, without fail.

Of course, I've always loved school--except in my waining years (now)--and the thought doesn't terrify me, but it does CHALLENGE me to "continue growing" mentally. But again, I digress...

Vacation Bible School meant that I would be with other "children"--teenagers--whatever for at least five days, consecutively. VBS always meant that I would learn about Christ, in a very interactive and fun manner. VBS meant that I would learn a new "craft" of some type. I may even still have some of those "projects"--like the "praying hands" that we made out of some type of cement/clay materials, and then painted...(okay, I confess...I can be a packrat.)

But Vacation Bible School was always fun. It was just fun...FUN, I say.

For this little "orphan" boy who was being raised by his grandmother, it was a break for her, and a chance to "learn" for him. Both were always needed.

Response to President Calderon

My sentiments EXACTLY....I'm glad that SOMEONE in this nation has the FORTITUDE to stand up for AMERICA.....

18. I am thankful for the VOICE OF GOD in my life...

One year ago this morning (approximately 9:15 a.m.), I received a much-awaited telephone call from the Renal Transplant Center of the University of Alabama-Birmingham. This was the call that I had been wanting to receive for at least 20 days. It would tell me that I was a "suitable match" to be a living kidney donor for my friend, Dr Bill George. I was sure this would be the case. Let me explain.

On Tuesday before Easter (2009), I was on FaceBook for only the second time...and saw a posting saying that my former Missions professor (Dr George) needed a kidney transplant. I was praying, "O Lord, somewhere in this big family of Yours, there's got to be a kidney...Lord, someone has to be a match." Almost immediately the LORD spoke to me, "You are a match." Immediately I said, "okay, I'll do it." There was no crisis moment, no drama, no tears, and no discussion. I simply wanted to see where the Lord would lead me in all of this.

On April 28, 2009 (approximately 3 weeks earlier) I took a vacation day from work, went to my physician's office and did the "blood tests" that were immediately Overnighted (UPS) to UAB for lab results. The lab director in Birmingham told me that I would have results in approximately three weeks. As soon as I finished the blood work at the doctor's office, I left the hospital, and immediately called Bill George at his office in Cleveland, TN. He was just a bit concerned, and a bit down-trodden. The LORD clearly spoke to my heart, and I said, "Well, Bill, let's just see what the LORD has for us in all of this." I had never used that sentence with him or anyone else before, to the best of my knowledge. But I knew what GOD had spoken to me...

So, as soon as I receive the telephone call from UAB, I start typing an email to my friend Bill, in TN....saying, "I'm a match...call me..." He calls about 90 seconds later and immediately said, "Phil, this is a terrible joke." I assured him that I was NOT joking...and that I was still on the phone with UAB, and that I would call him back immediately--which I did.

I'm thankful for the voice of God in my life. This is just one of "several times" when I knew the LORD was clearly speaking to me....and I'm grateful for His wisdom and grace given so that I could obey Him.

I humbly ask Him to continue speaking through His Word, His people, and by His Spirit.

17. I am thankful for the "Usual Places..." in life...

My wonderful friend, Kay Horner, preached a message a couple months ago at her home church
(www.peerlessroadchurch.com/media) about the cripple man in Acts 3...on the man who had not walked for more than 40 years....

So laying near the "gate" was a usual place for him.

This made me think. What are the "usual places" in my life? Why are these the "usual" places, and what makes them special---more than just "usual"?

I've been very blessed in life to grow up "in the church"....a "usual place."

I've been very fortunate to sit in the pew and sings the songs of Zion...a "usual place."

I've been enriched in knowing the power of "praying through at the altars"...another "usual place."

I've was trained at an early age (in the Church of Christ, for starters) to LOVE the "Sunday School hour"--and almost always have attended, with few exceptions. Sunday School is my "usual place."

But Christ has always been there....I've never known a time when the "usual place" wasn't a special time....the "unusual things of God"....healing, deliverance, peace, comfort, conviction, and strength.....all from the hand of God...in these "usual places."

I'm thankful for "usual places."

16. I am thankful for Refrigerators...

It is no secret that the "Food Network" is probably my very favorite thing on Cable Television...thus, I do not have "cable television" in my home....but I do watch every possible "food show" that comes on all the "free channels", particularly PBS.

And I have identified with the old joke, "The only LIGHT in my life is the one in the refrigerator..." Thank the LORD for refrigerators.

But, in the interest of honest disclosure, I must say that I have always had this "thing" with the largest appliance in the kitchen: the most blessed refrigerator.

I remember, as I was growing up, that we kept most of the "food stuff" in two places: the cabinets in the kitchen (usually out of my reach, also) and the refrigerator. I learned early on that one MUST keep butter, milk, cheese, sour cream (notice the "dairy" theme) and all meats in the refrigerator.

Of course, I can remember my sainted Grandmother Hoover (now in heaven for almost 18 years) telling me how the "ice box" had literal blocks of ice to keep the food stuff cool and edible. (I've never understood why we don't just say "eat-able"...but I'll surrender to the tyranny of good grammar.) I"m glad those days are over...REALLY glad those days are over....

I look in my refrigerator now, and see all kinds of "interesting" things: Tomato paste that I opened about two months ago--now with mold on it; the four different kinds of Polish mustard that I have in the door (and all of them are YUMMY); the three different kinds of BBQ sauce I have in the door (I usually put BBQ sauce on my baked AND fried potatoes); and then there is the "healthy stuff"--the dietary police would have no reason to give me more than a "simple warning" ticket (most of the time, any way).

There is the lemonade (sugar free, and calorie free, just as advertised); the two dozen eggs that I will eventually use; the gallon of milk that I am trying (with all my might) to use before it "clabbers" and all the other stuff. Down in the vegetable drawer: two bags of carrots, some cauliflower, broccoli, and some left over onion in one of those plastic grocery bag thingies...

Oh, but BLESS THE LORD for the automatic icemaker. I have always wanted an AUTOMATIC ICEMAKER. God is so good! Never, not ever (well as long as I live in this same apartment) will I have to put those tedious ice trays in the freezer, and wait for them to "make ice." I marvel at God's creation...and that of Amana...in that order, I might add.

And yes, there is the frozen pie crust that has been in my freezer since Thanksgiving 2008...maybe I should either use it or just throw it away. And in the freezer door, there is the ice pack (that can also be used as a "hot pack") that I used on my shoulder January-March when I was doing "physical therapy" twice a week. That "life saver" cost me $9 at WalGreens...I'm not ABOUT to throw it away.

And I haven't even described all of my roommate's stuff in the blessed Stainless Steel.

15. I am thankful for TODAY

Gloria Gaither stated it so well,

"Yesterday's gone, and tomorrow may never come; We have this moment today."

Even when the day seems wasted, I am still thankful for it. I am thankful that GOD woke me up this morning...that HE gave me breath all day long. I am thankful for the people that I've encountered today---even those who don't like me or what I may believe to be true.

I am thankful for HIS mercies that are "new every morning" (Lamentations 3), and that today I have lived, according to the mercies of our Lord.

I am thankful for the Pasta Bolognese (homemade in my kitchen) dinner that I shared with my great friend (and roommate) Joe Misek. I am thankful for the ability to make a wonderful meal. I am thankful for every bite of that food today....

I am thankful for TODAY....there is no promise of tomorrow...and yesterday is HISTORY....

And the writer of Hebrews reminds us, "Today, if you hear His voice..."

Today. TODAY, I am thankful.

14. I am thankful for FACEBOOK...

Second only to my friend Joe Misek (www.joemisek.blogspot.com), I was the most hesitant person I know to jump on the "FaceBook" bandwagon....(and thank the LORD, Joe has finally joined as well...just a few months ago). But I am so very glad that I did "see the Facebook light"...

It has been a wonderful "family reunion" for me in many ways. Just this very evening (it's about 10:45 p.m. CST right now), I was able to "reconnect" with someone I've not heard from in almost 30 years. Her brother was one of my "best friends" in middle and high school. Donna is a precious, precious woman, and still loves Christ. Her brother (my friend) Michael, is still somewhat "unsure" of his own spiritual walk, even though I remember when he was very much in love with the Saviour, and wanted to follow His will in life. I still think and pray for him often.

I've been able to reconnect with friends from high days, and even earlier than that. Some of these people I've not heard from since the 4th grade, which makes it all the sweeter to me.

And GOD used "facebook" to give my great friend Dr Bill George, my left kidney last October...you can go back to the May-October blogs on this forum and read the "storyline" of how all this transpired. It truly was God's doing.

I know that I can post a "prayer request" on FaceBook any hour of the day, and that my friends all over the world (from Russia to New Zealand, and all points in between) will be praying for me. That is more precious than gold of any amount.

So, let me close by saying, I am very thankful for FaceBook.

Joe is too. He just doesn't realize it yet.

13. I am thankful for BABY DEDICATIONS

During our morning worship gathering yesterday, The Moody Church family witnessed seven young children being "dedicated" to the LORD. It was a precious and very blessed time.

I am always delighted to see families bring their small children before the LORD and the congregation to perform the public act of "dedicating" these small ones to God's will and care.
We fully realize that their is no "salvific power" in this ritual, but rather a commitment on the part of the parents to raise their children in the fear of God, and to teach these children the ways of Christ.

One of the most sobering parts of these ceremonies is the challenge to the local congregation to "commit ourselves" to nurture and cherish these children and their parents in the ways of God. A proper baby dedication ceremony (in a place of worship) is not just for the children and their parents. It is also a time for the local congregation to commit themselves to these families.

After all, the local church is called to be the "family of God."

12. I am thankful for CLOTHES (I seem to have plenty of them).

I am amazed at how some people treat their personal closets....I mean, really! When I visit my Grandmother Fields, she will often say "I don't have anything to wear to...."

That's true. SHE HAS FOUR CLOSETS full of "anything to wear..."

What she means is tha she wants something new to wear....

I grew up unspeakably poor, and really didn't have very many clothes. But I am thankful for what I did have.

Now I have a closet full...but it hasn't always been that way. I remember when I only had three pairs of pants, and three shirts, and one pair of shoes.

Every time I think of how Jesus said His Heavenly Father "clothes the lilies of the fields" I am immediately thankful for every piece of clothing I have. I have plenty, and I'm very, very thankful for them.

11. I am thankful that GOD LOVES ME.

Listening to Paul Washer (www.tenindictments.com) tonite, I have been profoundly reminded of how blessed and fortunate and RICH I am to know that the Sovereign God of the universe loves me. He really, really does love me.

You see, I grew up with no parents in my life...or should I say no "consistent parents" in my life. My biological "producers" abandoned each other, shortly after my birth...and then abandoned me. My paternal grandmother raised me...and the LORD Himself made sure that I survived.

I was so loved by God that He drew me to Himself through His Son, Jesus when I was just a very young lad. On a Tuesday night at the Greenfield Church of Christ in rural Madison County, Alabama I came to Jesus...just as I was...a young kid...but realizing that I needed a Saviour. Jesus was that Saviour then...and He is still that Saviour today, more than 40 years later.

Psychologists tell us that our "view of God" is initially formed by our relationship with our earthly fathers. Mine wasn't formed that way...because my earthly father was never there...except when he would occasionally "drop by" for a few minutes. I soon learned that my Heavenly Father wouldn't just "drop by" for a few minutes. My paternal great-grandmother Brannum taught me a song when I was just a young, young child--and it was about God. Some of the most precious words I've ever heard, and that I have ever learned are these:

"And He walks with me, and He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own!
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known."

Such simple words, and a simple song. But for this young kid, it was profound truth that my 105-years old Great-Grandmother wanted me to always remember. I can't begin to count the times the Holy Spirit has reminded me that God is walking with me...and that I belong to Him.

When I felt so insecure (and sometimes...many times still do), this loving Father God says to me, "Let's walk and talk...I still love you."

I'm thankful for those times.

10. I am thankful for MY PASTORS...every single one of them...over the last 40+ years

Pastors are very, very special people. That is the way God designed (and called) them. The "pastor" is the undershepherd, representing the GREAT SHEPHERD Himself. This GREAT SHEPHERD is the pastor's role model and example.

And since I grew up "without a father" (for all intents and purposes), my "pastor" has always been a "father-figure" to me, in most cases. One dear pastor wasn't...and never could have been: Sister Roden just could never have been a "father" to anyone...but a "mother figure" to many, many people.

Let's see if I can remember all of the people I've called "pastor" since I've started this wonderful "walk with Jesus":

Tommy Rosenblume (introduced me to Jesus and baptized me the same night I was converted).
David Sain
Dewey Smith
Billy Nettle
Raymond Wallace
Mildred Roden (went to heaven the summer after I graduated from high school, on a warm Sunday afternoon in July 1980).
J E Brisson
Sam Clements
Glenn Rountree (kept my membership in TN while I was in the Air Force for ten years)
W Donald Wellman (now in Heaven)
Chris Losey and Travis Robinson (Air Force Chaplains)
Gary Piepkorn and Larry Hendon (Air Force Chaplains)
Ivar Overgaard (Norwegian pastor, and now in heaven)
John Donneberg
Randal Ross
Tim McCaleb
Mitch Maloney
Erwin Lutzer
Al Toledo
Erwin Lutzer (returned to the Moody Church in 2005)
** The people served as "Senior Pastors" in the local churches where I was a regular worshipper. Many of the "pastoral staff" have become precious and wonderful friends. Pastor Charles Butler, who directs Shepherding and Men's Ministries at The Moody Church is one of the dearest "role models" of what it means to be like Jesus that I have had in a long, long time.

I am very, very thankful for my pastors. God called them, and I'm so glad that HE did.

9. I am thankful for the privilege of Serving...

I have to admit it right up front: I am MADLY in love with my local church family. Unashamedly, unabashedly, irrevocably, MADLY in love with The Moody Church family. And one of the many things that "evokes" my love with this great congregation is the privilege I have to "serve" among them as we seek to love Christ to the very best of our abilities, individually and corporately. Some of the very finest people in the city of Chicago are in this "Moody Church family" of mine. I'll write more about them in another post, I'm sure.

But like every church, there is almost always a "shortage" of people serving in all the places where "people are needed." That FACT seems to be REAL in every congregation. And ours is no different.

When I returned to The Moody Church in November, 2005 (after a 3-year hiatus in another congregation), the first thing I wanted to do was find "places" to serve...to do whatever I can to further the kingdom of God, and the ministries of this local Body of Christ.

God has MORE than answered my prayers! I am always finding "things to do" and "ways to serve." I am so THANKFUL for these. Whether it is preparing food for the "Men's Fraternity" gathering on Thursday morning--meaning I have to be at the church not later than 5:15 a.m., or assisting the Music Department in getting the "food things" ready for their major productions three times a year, or setting up the Coffee/Tea/Water/Beverages Services for the Sunday Evening Gathering, so people will have something to "wet their whistle" before and during the worship gathering. I also serve in the Women's Ministries as the coordinator for all the "male volunteers" for luncheon functions and the like. It is my HIGH HONOR to 'serve" in this manner. Being involved in three or four SERVING activities every Sunday was nothing unusual for me at all....and it was beginning to take its toll on me. One of the pastoral team members refers to me as his "first-round draft pick" anytime there is a need for someone to "serve in the kitchen" or get "food items" ready for an event.

For some crazy reason when someone at the church needs something in the kitchen--or needs to know someone about the church kitchen--my name always seems to be in the mix...somewhere, and somehow. Betty (Crocker) and Martha (Stewart) and Paula (Deen) would be proud, I'm sure.

Last year (2009), I was so burned out from all the "serving", that I knew the LORD was leading me to take a three-month sabbatical from it all. My great friend (and pastor) Charles Butler was the first that I shared this "leading" with, since I wanted him to help me discern if this was God or just my own exhaustion. I remember calling him on April 1, 2009 and saying, "Pastor, I have decided that I am going to take June, July, and August OFF from all the extra-curricular stuff at the church. If it is already on my calendar as of today, I will honor that commitment. But NOTHING else is going on my calendar for those three months. I need a break."

"Yeah, well I'll believe it when I see it," replied one Pastor Charles Butler. So I made a pact with him. Every time someone asked me to "do something" at the church, I would run it by him first. I would be completely accountable to Pastor Charles concerning my "over-serving" and my sabbatical requirements. I fully intended to "not do any of the extra stuff" for three months.

From June 1, until August 30, 2009--I KEPT MY WORD. I turned down an average of 4 different requests every week for ministries at the local church needing "assistance" with an activity of some type. But I knew where my temporary boundaries were, and they were not to be compromised.

But August 30th, I was out in Lincoln Park organizing the "cooks" and the "grillmeisters" for the Church-wide picnic. The "four of us" (three other guys and myself) grilled enough hamburgers and hotdogs to feed more than 1800 people. Everyone moved through the line in less than ONE HOUR....this was a record time for these events. We were so happy.

But, I am grateful for the privilege of "serving." I learned many years ago that when I am "serving" that I must always offer my "gift of serving" to the LORD before I ever offer the "product of service" to those whom are being served. Whenever I am in the kitchen at the church, I want to remember that I am serving the LORD first and foremost. Then, I am serving His people to the very best of my ability.

This is a high honor and a tremendous privlege in my life. I wouldn't trade it for anything else.

8. I am thankful for CELL PHONES

Okay, I'll admit it. I remember when we had the "dial phone" consoles sitting on our nightstands, and the "dial phone" attached to the wall somewhere in the kitchen. And then we graduated to "touchtone" phones....

And now, it seems like EVERYONE has a cell phone...even some people who shouldn't (but that is another post for another day). I first saw these "wonderful items" about ten years ago when I first moved to the Windy City. I was downtown in the LOOP, and saw people walking around seemingly talking to themselves...I was certain that one city couldn't possibly have THIS MANY "mentally unstable" people...and then someone explained the "earpiece" and the cell phone technology to me....back in the Fall of 2000. Almost ten years ago.

I swore I'd never be so vain as to have a "cell phone" with me at all times. Well, I must admit that I am addicted to my "vanity"...and my cell phone goes everywhere with me, 99.99% of the time.

I am thankful for CELL PHONES because I can pick up my phone (which is never more than 2 feet from me 24 hours a day, seven days a week) and call just about anyone I want to talk to...or at least leave a message. Or, I can be "really post-modern" and send a text message...

I remember the days of "public lines" versus "private lines" and how the ringing would be so loud, it could wake the dead. Yes, we've come a very, very long way.

My cell phone goes EVERYWHERE with me. I can put it on "silent" or "vibrate"...or just about any other setting that I choose. I can be connected almost as quickly as I can open my eyes, and get my fingers to digitizing. Maybe that is just a bit "too connected"--but you get the point.

So yes, I am thankful for cell phones.

7. I am thankful for FIRST-TIME VISITORS at Church

We had a literal busload of "first-time visitors" to The Moody Church yesterday morning. These wonderful people were on their way BACK to Savannah, Georgia and stopped by to worship the LORD with us here in Chicago. It was a THRILL to have them--all 35 of them!

Most of these folks were in their early-mid 60s, and some well beyond that. But each was a delight to my heart, as I had the time to stop and talk with them ever so briefly.

One of things I enjoy doing (most Sunday mornings) is standing in the main lobby (Clark Street entrance) of our local church facilities, and seeing people gather in for our time of corporate worship. Since The Moody Church enjoys the diversity of more than 68 nationalities as regular parishioners, it is always a joy to "meet and greet" people from literally all over the world, united for one purpose: worshipping Jesus!

But, I am also reminded of what it means to make "good impressions" the first time someone comes to "visit" our "family." I've been a visitor on more than one occasion in local churches other than "my own." There were times it was a "real treat" for me to see others in the "kingdom of God"--translated, I was welcomed and would return to worship with these people if the occasion ever presented itself.

There have been THOSE TIMES (thankfully and mercifully FEW in number) when I swore I would never return to that church if it were the LAST PLACE on earth to gather with God's people for worship. I'd start my own first. That reminds me of a story (but as I've stated elsewhere, MOST things remind me of a story. I'll spare you this time). The "meal" may be good, and good for you, but if the first "taste" is bad....good luck with the "rest of that stuff."

So what made a good "first-time visitor" experience for me?

First, I received a warm, and sincere "welcome" at the front door. Someone was standing there ready to answer my question(s), and assist me if I needed it. Everyone should know where the water fountains, restrooms, and nursery are located...as well as the sanctuary, and when the worship service will begin. This should be "sincere"--not plastic, or "rehearsed." Maybe I'm being a bit "over-sensitive" here, but I am KEENLY AWARE of when someone is truly glad to have me "among them" and when someone is just 'being nice because that is what I'm supposed to be". As a first-time visitor, "sincerity" at the front door means everything.

Second, I always appreciate a good handshake, a smile, and an "Order of Worship" if one is being used. (Not every congregation prints their "Order of Worship" and that's completely fine with me).

Third, I appreciate being "acknowledged" as a visitor in a worship gathering, but not embarrassed. Thank me, publicly, for coming. Tell me where the "Visitors Center" is (if your local church has one), and encourage me to come by after the meeting is dismissed. Don't ask me to stand and tell my name, or where I am from. I can tolerate the "will all our visitors please stand" routine, if this is your normal procedure. But don't just "single me out" unless it is absolutely necessary. And most of the time, it isn't.

Finally, (and this may be self-serving), always invite "me" (or whomever your visitors are) to lunch, or a refreshment of some kind. I remember visiting the Crystal Cathedral (Garden Grove, California) more than 20 years ago. After I had been identified as a visitor, I remember more than 20 people coming up to me, and inviting me to join them for lunch that day. While I wasn't able to join anyone for lunch (because of other commitments that HAD to take precedence), I will always remember their kindness to me.

I trust that our "First-Time Visitors" yesterday (and every Sunday) had a great experience with the people of God gathered as The Moody Church. If they didn't, I hope someone will let us know about it. We want to represent Christ and His people in the very best possible way.

6. I am thankful for RAIN....

I'm not trying to "copycat" anyone, and I do truly feel sorry for the people in Middle Tennessee who are being flooded out of their homes (at the time of the writing). Rain refreshes. Rain regenerates. Rain revives. I'm very thankful for rain.

I made a deal with God about 14 years ago...and I am not one who is always trying to "negotiate" with the Almighty. But I did make a deal with God when I lived in Lubbock, Texas (my years in EXILE--but that's for another post).

We had not experienced rain in almost a year...it was early May, 1996. The fields were absolutely drought-stricken, and the entire area was more dusty than usual. This was becoming a serious problem.

The local church where I worshipped during this time (Trinity Church, Lubbock), decided to have a prayer meeting on a Thursday night, and pray for "rain." Our sole prayer request that evening was for God to send rain. There was NO rain in the weather forecast....but about 2.5 hours into the prayer meeting, GOD sent a "gully-washer" of a rainstorm.

From that day until this one, I have never complained about the rain. I remember how GOD answered our prayers, and sent rain....I still remember.

And I'm thankful.

5. I am thankful for "memories"....

The songwriter was absolute correct:

"Precious memories, Unseen angels
Sent from somewhere to my soul.
How they linger, ever near me
Precious sacred scenes unfold."

It seems like most of contemporary culture gets caught up in the "now" and sometimes "the future" but fails to remember "the past". In other words, we don't learn much because we don't like to "look back."

Those "sacred scenes" unfolding in my life often remind me of God's great faithfulness, and His "ever present in the time of trouble" promises from His Word.

Those "sacred scenes" unfolding in my life often remind me of what it was like to "have less" but to enjoy "life" so much more than most of us seem to enjoy it now. I (we) have found out that "life does not consist in the abundance of things we possess." Seems like I've read that somewhere before. (You all are smart, you know where I've read it).

Those "sacred scenes" unfolding in my life often remind me that I stand on the shoulders of those wonderful people who have gone before me. These scenes remind me that "no man is an island" and that I should never try to be one myself...it is guaranteed failure. Guaranteed.

Those "sacred scenes" unfolding in my life often remind me of times when God's people would sometimes pray all afternoon, weeping before the Lord in the altars of the local church. We stayed there until we "prayed through." As a teenager, I often didn't understand it...but as an adult I LONG FOR IT....those precious, precious times when all that really matters is that "my will" aligns with the designs of Heaven and Heaven's King.

Those "sacred scenes" unfolding in my life often remind me of my Grandmother Hoover's wonderful "biscuits" every morning for breakfast. (And to many of my friends, "biscuits" are a very holy and sacred thing, but I won't embarrass anyone by naming names here...at least not this early in the morning). Every single time I've ever make a biscuit, I have recalled how my precious grandmother (now rejoicing on the streets of glory) made her biscuits....I hope I am doing her proud. Not sure mine will ever be as good as hers, but I think they come close.

Those "sacred scenes" unfolding in my life often remind me of how God has provided HIS FAMILY to be my family....and that will deserve several posts of its' own. I'll write about that later.

Yes, these memories are precious. "Unseen angels" indeed.