Small Groups of Saints #2 — Joan’s Experience

Small groups work.  I know it because I’ve seen them work in my own life.  Years ago, my husband and I noticed that just about every time we made a big leap forward in our spiritual lives, it was because of participation in a small group.  They’ve been an integral part in my journey of sanctification(The word sanctification is related to the word saint; both words have to do with holiness.)  Justification is something we already have through Christ’s sacrifice, but sanctification is a process in which every Christian participates, a process to become more and more Christlike.

My first group, was a Bible Study group.  I think there were eight of us, plus our Pastor, and together we did a through-the-Bible study of the entire Bible called Divine Drama.  It lasted for two years.  Terry and I had young children at the time, so we took turns going to the weekly meeting. Whoever attended the meeting took a tape recorder and recorded the lesson for the person who stayed home.  Believe it or not, people talked to the recorder to send the missing member messages!  It was lots of fun, I learned to put all those Bible stories into the correct chronological order, and grew very close to the other participants.

Later we attended Marriage Encounter and Via de Cristo weekends, both of which recommend follow-on small groups.  They encourage deep sharing about the personal and spiritual life of the members.  You learn how others are struggling, or succeeding in relationships with God, family and others.  You pray together.  You encourage one another.  You engage in evangelism or other Christian activities together.

I can’t explain exactly how all this works, except that if you are open and patient, the Holy Spirit does all the work.  It doesn’t even matter if you have a lot in common, because you have this one big thing in common — you are all followers of Jesus, and you have a desire to grow in your faith and understanding of His will.

So, my advice to you is this:  if you haven’t experienced a small group, find one or start one!  Do a Bible study, talk about your spiritual life, pray together, find a group project.  Be consistent;  give it some time.  You’ll be amazed at what you, God and your brothers and sisters in Christ can do together!

Would anyone else like to post about their personal walk and how small groups have played a part?

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Fanning the Flame #19 — Small Groups of Saints

Recently our Fanning the Flame team gathered to listen to a lecture on CD about Small Group Discipleship.  Here are some of my take-aways.

Many Christians have never experienced true Biblical fellowship;  they are not being discipled or discipling others;  they frankly are not interested in making disciples.  The commission within the Great Commission is “Make Disciples!”  so as saints of God, we need to take steps to make sure that is what we are about.

These are the elements of a Biblical Small Group Fellowship:

  • Worship
  • Evangelism
  • Loving
  • Learning

As you can see they form the acronym WELL.  A healthy small group will include these activities.

There is a strong biblical basis for small groups in both the Old and New Testaments.  The father-in-law of Moses advised him to form small groups in order to spread out the responsibilities of leadership (Exodus 18).  Jesus chose twelve men to disciple (Luke 6:12-13) and the early church met in small groups in the homes of Lydia, Priscilla and Aquila and others.

To be maximally successful, small groups must:

  • Be a church-wide ministry
  • Have strong pastoral and leadership support:  leaders must be in small groups
  • Have clearly defined faith goals — each group should have a kingdom project, something outside of the congregation they will do together
  • Establish relationships with non-believers
  • Have periodic entrance and exit times

Some of the blessings of small groups include:

  • Facilitation of  discipleship — they are relational, not just informational
  • Exponential expansion
  • Provides a core of trained leaders
  • Helps the Elders to fulfill their responsibilities to love and know the flock

Of course, there was more.  Our Small Group Task Force is already hard at work, and we are hoping this will become a focal point for our revitalization.  Facilitators are being selected and trained, and a “practice” small group, comprised of those people will start soon.

Keep praying for us as we continue on this journey to fan our embers into flames!

Spiritual Discipline For a Spiritual Life by Donald S. Witney –FTF Book Review

This book review is excerpted from one done by a Fanning the Flame team member, Ted,  and used with his permission.

The Spiritual Disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are both personal and interpersonal spiritual disciplines.  When Christians read and study the Bible on their own, this is a personal spiritual discipline.  Other disciplines are congregational such as fellowship, hearing God’s word preached and participation on the Lord’s Supper.  These are interpersonal spiritual disciplines.  This book is only about personal spiritual disciplines, but the author states that they are not more important than the interpersonal disciplines.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by [Whitney, Donald S.]Spiritual disciplines are activities, not attitudes.  They are practices, not character qualities or fruits of the spirit.  Disciplines are things you do.  The subject matter of the book is limited to those spiritual disciplines that are biblical, that is to say practices taught or modeled in the Bible.  Without this limitation, some might say that gardening, exercise, or some hobby is a valid spiritual discipline for them.

The following are the more prominent personal spiritual disciplines commended in the Scripture:  Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling and learning.  The purpose of practicing the disciplines is Godliness.  Donald Whitney defines Godliness as both closeness to Christ and conformity to Christ, a conformity that is both inward and outward, a growing conformity to both the heart of Christ and the life of Christ.

The book is certainly worth reading.  It reminds us of our responsibilities as a Christian.  The author validates what he is saying by quoting Scripture.

Living With the Saints

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

Let’s face it, the saints aren’t always easy to live with.  If they were, St. Paul would not have to give us the instruction above from the book of Romans. They gossip and brag, complain and criticize (sins of the tongue are so easy to come by).  They can be stubborn, impatient, hypocritical and unreliable.  Some have personalities that just don’t jive with our own– maybe they seem blunt, controlling, demanding or unreasonable.  These things are all part of our “sinner” nature.

Funny, isn’t it, that Paul doesn’t tell us to change them  He also doesn’t tell us to give up and leave the church.  He tells us to be peaceful within ourselves. What does that mean?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Empathize with others as human beings.  You don’t always know what sort of day, or life, another person has been enduring.
  2. Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Something that offends you may not have been intended in the way you understood it.
  3. Don’t respond in anger.  You’ll probably regret it later.  Take time to cool down before you speak.
  4.  If you are truly upset by something another said or did, go and talk to them privately and nonconfrontationally.  You may be surprised at the results.
  5. Remember that everyone isn’t like you (my husband tells me this all the time!).  We all have different levels of spiritual maturity, different priorities, life experiences and interests.
  6. Remember your own sins.  I know I have my full share of irritating habits, so I should be willing to forgive as I have been forgiven, by other people and by God.
  7. Finally (and I should have put this first), pray.  Don’t ask God to change the person, but pray that they would be blessed, and that you will come to love and understand them.  Then leave them (and your hurt or anger) in God’s hands.

These are some things that have helped me, but I’d like to hear from others.  What are your strategies for living with the saints?

Fanning the Flame #18 Things Are Changing

We had a congregational meeting last Sunday, and there was a difficult discussion.  Over the course of many years, people have designated part of their contribution to benevolence;  instead of giving this money away, it has been used as a cushion to help pay the daily expenses of running the church.  Worse than that, it became a crutch to allow ourselves deny the ugly truth that we’re not giving enough to sustain God’s church.  We need to repent and rectify this situation.

Fortunately we do now recognize this sin, and the council has a plan to wipe out our debt and give us a clean slate( a positive step).  This leaves us with the problem — how do we go forward without falling back into the same pattern?  We’d all like to pin the blame and the responsibility to fix the issue on somebody else.  If only EVERYONE would give more.  If only SOMEBODY would plan more fundraisers– etc., etc..

Then Beth Ann made a very good point.  FIRST we need to PRAY.  I have been at St. Paul’s for over thirteen years now, and I have never heard anyone say this in the midst of a meeting before.  This is a change.  I only wish we had taken it further and PRAYED right then and there.  It might have changed the whole tone of the meeting.  This morning God has put another conviction about this on my heart — we each need to pray, not for God to provide a miracle, or to make everyone else do the right thing;  we need to pray that God would show each one of us what we can do to nourish and sustain God’s church right here where we are.  I need to search my heart to see what God would have me do. I need to become a better steward, not just of my money, but of my spiritual gifts and my time.  I need to be like the little boy who trusted Christ with his few loaves and fishes.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  1 Timothy 2:15

I can’t change anyone else, but I can change myself.  I don’t want to stand before God, ashamed because I gave Him only the leftovers of my life.  I want to hear the words,

Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness! Matthew 25:23

I’m convinced we’re changing and moving in the right direction.  This is a sign that God is at work.  My prayer is that He will continue to change us by first changing me.  Pray with me, friends and readers … I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

 

Another Saint Song

“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Philippians 3:17

The text of this hymn was written by Reginald Heber (1783-1826). It was composed while he was Anglican archbishop of Calcutta, India, from 1823 to 1826 for St. Stephen’s Day, a religious holiday observed by the Anglican Church, and published posthumously in an 1827 collection of Heber’s poems entitled Hymns written and adapted to the Weekly Church Service of the Year. The tune (All Saints New) was composed for this text by Henry Stephen Cutler, who was born Oct. 13, 1825 in Boston, MA. After studying organ with A. U. Hayter in Boston, he went to Europe in 1844 to continue his studies in Frankfurt am Main.  While there, he visited many English cathedrals and became familiar with their style of music. Returning to Boston in 1846, he became music director at Grace Episcopal Church.

It speaks of the army of saints, past and present who follow Jesus.  I find it a powerful reminder that we are not alone in the Christian walk, we join our brothers and sisters, past and present, as well as Jesus Christ our head.

Two Favorite Saints

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made  She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered.  ‘you are worried and upset by many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.'”  Luke 10:38-41

Mary and Martha are probably my favorite biblical saints.  Why?  Well, in these two short paragraphs, their personalities shine forth so clearly.  Martha, the busy extrovert, Mary the quiet and studious introvert.  They are completely real in their interactions with Jesus–neither one is trying to put on a show of behaving the way one “ought” to in order to impress.  That must be because Jesus was completely accepting of them.  He didn’t try to put them in their place as women.  He didn’t tell Mary to get back to the kitchen, and he didn’t rebuke Martha for bothering him with household concerns.  He was their Lord, but also their friend.

I can identify with both of these sisters.  In personality, I’m most like Mary.  I’m much more likely to be found reading, studying or listening than bustling about.  Sometimes this makes me feel guilty because others (like Martha) may think I’m “lazy.”  However, I can be like Martha sometimes, too.  I let myself get carried away with what seems most pressing in the moment, and neglect the things that are really important.  How many times have I prayed with a distracted mind, or rushed away from worship, anxious to get on with the chores waiting at home?  How many times have I complained because I thought another member wasn’t doing their fair share of God’s work?  Yes, I can be just like Martha.

These two saints give us a realistic picture of life with Christ.  We can be ourselves with Him.  We can say the things we really think, not just mouth pious prayers.  He’ll listen and be gentle.  He’ll point us in the right direction.  He’ll look at us with love.  What a relief!

Now I want to hear from our authors and readers … who are your favorite saints of the Bible?