I can be replaced, but you can’t!

I’m worried I may be replaced. At least in some measure. I have been trying out a new Artificial Intelligence Content Writer. You can ask it to write an essay, or create an article or advertisement. It will even write a sermon based on a bible passage and it does. It’s pretty good too.This month I am writing about our spiritual practices or disciplines. I asked it to write an article on why going to church is important. Here’s part of what it wrote for me:Attending church is an important aspect of many people’s lives, and there are many reasons why it is worth making the effort to go. Here are a few reasons why going to church is important: In conclusion, attending church is an important aspect of many people’s lives for various reasons.I think the AI Writer did a good job. All excellent points. So, I may not be needed to write these articles in the future. Time will tell.  But as a member of the church, you are still needed. You can’t be replaced. We need each other in order to grow in our faith. Technology can’t replace that. We weren’t meant to be alone. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:4-5 As we commit to new habits in the coming year, let’s not forget about regularly being with the church. For your sake and for others, show up and be counted.

Confession, good for the soul

The fight was over something silly. She told him that they needed milk for the morning. He said he had checked and there was lots of milk. He didn’t need to go out and get more. But the next morning there was no milk. Now he blames her, and she’s frustrated because he just can’t admit he lied. The boss wanted the documents so he could close the file. She said they had been left at home and she’d bring them tomorrow. In truth, she had lost the paperwork and was scrambling to figure out where they had gone. She didn’t want to have to tell her boss the truth. Why is it so difficult to admit when we are wrong or make a mistake? There seem to be a lot of people in the public eye these days who have a hard time admitting they ever did anything wrong. When presented with evidence and eyewitness accounts, they spin a story about how everyone else is to blame. It’s just not popular to own our errors or blunders. Confession is an important part of our Christian faith. Richard Foster starts his chapter on the Discipline of Confession with these words, “At the heart of God is the desire to forgive and to give.” Yet to receive the forgiveness of God and live in right relationship with him it is necessary that we confess our wrongdoings. Worse, we must confess that we have sinned.  The very thing most people hate to do. It’s not just an initial confession that is needed. Part of a Christian’s spiritual life includes regular confession. It is another one of our spiritual practices or disciplines. We need to regularly examine our hearts and see if there is anything that is displeasing to him. Anything we need to confess as sinful or not of Christ. While we have been saved, it doesn’t mean we never sin again. Acknowledging our sins is what keeps us close in our walk with God.  This calls for some time in our day when we give careful reflection on how we used our words, what our motives were, or what was in our thought life. The Psalmist reminds us of the power of confession.Blessed is the one    whose transgressions are forgiven,    whose sins are covered.Blessed is the one    whose sin the Lord does not count against them    and in whose spirit is no deceit.When I kept silent,    my bones wasted away    through my groaning all day long.For day and night    your hand was heavy on me;my strength was sapped    as in the heat of summer.Then I acknowledged my sin to you    and did not cover up my iniquity.I said, “I will confess    my transgressions to the Lord.”And you forgave    the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:1-5) How good it is to be forgiven. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience that today.

Observing the quiet hours

If you live in Switzerland, you are familiar with the official ‘quiet hours’. Every day from noon to 1 pm, 10 pm to 7 am and all-day Sunday, we are to refrain from ‘excessive’ noise. Times may vary between cantons, but we are to respect our neighbors by keeping it down. What exactly counts as a noise violation is a little vague. The good news, however, is that if you do violate the noise ordinance you will be notified. When was the last time you really had silence? We live in a noisy world that seeks to grab our attention for every waking moment. If it’s not music playing in the background, it’s our phone notifications making sure we don’t miss anything. Our world is designed to keep us busy, so we don’t pay attention to the important things. Over the centuries, one key spiritual discipline for Christians is practicing silence. Simply being quiet before the Lord. If the monks, centuries ago, needed this discipline, how much more are we needing it today? How can God speak to us when we are so distracted by everything around us? How can we formulate our prayers and think about our souls? When do we have time to hear the voice of the Lord? Silence is a spiritual practice. It is necessary to renew and restore us.  When Jesus was travelling and teaching, he had a regular habit of withdrawing in order to be with the Father. “The news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.  But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15-16) It wasn’t just that Jesus took time to pray but he would find a quiet place to do so. When was the last time you really had silence? For some, quietness is uncomfortable. But it is essential. Start small. Schedule some time when the phone and computer are off. No checking notifications. No one else around. Can you sit quietly for 10 minutes? Can you invite God to fill those moments with his presence? If our desire is to grow in Christ-like character, then we need silence to hear.

Is there an App for that?

We have apps now that will measure most of our activities during the day. Our steps are counted and calories calculated. I get a weekly report on how many hours of screen time I’ve wasted. I get a morning reminder from our office suite about my tasks and what projects are left undone. However, I haven’t yet found an app that tracks my time spent in prayer. That might be a good thing. I’m not sure I am always as faithful in prayer as I think I am or want to be. For a Christian, prayer is one of those keystone habits we hear so much about. Keystone habits are those routines and practices that we use to operate our lives. There are certain routines we do so often that they become regular habits. Most of the time those habits make life better. At the beginning of a New Year, we often think about resolutions or goals that we have for the year ahead. It’s the 4th of January and you may already be behind. But don’t give up. Making prayer a regular part of our lives doesn’t need to be hard. We do need to be intentional, but we don’t have to make it difficult. No one starts off by praying for an hour each day. Many times, our prayer takes place over the course of the day in little bits here and there. The main thing is to start a practice, find a time and keep the routine. We are counselled to devote ourselves “to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2) Some of the best advice on prayer comes from the Alpha course. In the session on prayer, a priest offers these three pointers: Keep it simple – no need for formal or fancy words Keep it honest – be yourself and share from the heart Keep it going – make it regular, even when it’s tough Starting with that routine should be easy enough for all of us. Building spiritual practices into our lives isn’t meant to burden us, but rather place us before God where he can speak into our lives and do the work that only he can.