Are You Truly Loving?

This quote was part of my devotional reading this morning, and it made me realize how difficult it is to be truly loving.  We cannot do it unless God’s Spirit is within us.  It reminds me of the love verses of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13.

“The Spirit of Love must work the works, and speak the tones of Love.  It cannot exist and give no sign, or a false sign.  It cannot be a spirit of Love, and mantle into irritable and selfish impatience.  It cannot be a Spirit of Love, and at the same time make self the prominent object.  It cannot rejoice to lend itself to the happiness of others, and at the same time be seeing its own.  It cannot be generous, and envious.  It cannot be sympathizing, and unseemly;  self-forgetful, and vain-glorious.  It cannot delight in the rectitude and purity of other hearts, as the spiritual elements of their peace, and unnecessarily suspect them.

J. H. Thom

GraceFull by Dorena Williamson — Book Review

This is the third in a series of books for children authored by Dorena Williamson.  Like its  predecessors, ColorFull  and ThoughtFull, it has bright illustrations and a solid Christian message.

Hope and her family (who attend an ethnically diverse congregation) volunteer to serve the residents of Chen House, a local residence for homeless families.  Hope’s mother explains that this is a way to show God’s grace to others.  She explains:

“God showers blessings on all of us.  When we truly understand that, we can’t help but share grace and lift others up. … When grace is full and overflowing, we are graceFull. “

Hope takes the lesson to heart and shares by giving her new friend Anna Habib, from Chen House, her new pair of rain boots.  The Habibs are eventually able to move into their own home.


Grace is a difficult concept to explain to young children, and Gracefull does not really attempt to define it,  Instead it presents a portrait of how grace can be shown in daily life.  A suggested memory verse, further Bible reading and thought questions are included at the end of the story.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the first two, because the illustrations were not as engaging , and I found the story line predictable and unexceptional.  However, I give it 4 out of 5 stars.  It would be a worthwhile addition to a nursery library.

For more information or to order this book follow the link below:

I have a free copy of this book in return for an honest and fair review – Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CFR Part 255

Near to the Heart of God

Our choir sang the hymn, Near to the Heart of God, recently and I decided to look up the story of its’ composition.

Dr. Cleland McAfee (1866-1944), was a Presbyterian minister, who served for many years on the faculty of Park College, a church-related school.  He also pastored a number of churches.

Tragedy struck the McAfee family in 1903 when two of his brother’s infant daughters succumbed to diphtheria—dying within 24 hours of each other.  This double bereavement touched Dr. McAfee’s heart.  People were unable to visit and express their sympathy as the house was quarantined.

As Dr. McAfee prayed for God to give him the right words to help his brother and his brother’s wife he felt inspired to write this hymn. He taught the song to his choir, and they stood outside his brother’s house to sing it.  The choir also sang it during the regular worship hour on the following Sunday.  It’s still comforting today to anyone experiencing loss.

Unraptured by Zack Hunt — Book Review

This book is subtitled, “How End Times Theology Gets it Wrong,” but it’s about much more than comparative theology.  It’s the story of one person’s faith, how it evolved over time, and how the things we believe affect the things that we do.

As a teenager, Zack Hunt became wrapped up (no pun intended) in the rapture.  His idol was Jack Van Impe and his prized possession the Jack Van Impe Prophecy Bible complete with a color coded guide to the apocalypse.  Understanding the “secret” Bible code that predicted the end times made Zack feel intelligent, superior and most of all safe — safe, since his salvation depended upon knowing and believing all the right things.

In college, Zack is dismayed to find that many professors of religion do not adhere to his beliefs.  Through study he comes to realize that the proof texts for the rapture are taken out of context, and that the book of Revelation has a spiritual rather than literal interpretation.  Even more, he sees that a fixation on the end times can prevent Christians from taking action in the here and now.  Why bother to try and fix what Jesus intends to destroy and remake anyway?  For Zack, at least, preoccupation with the end times led to a focus on his own personal salvation and future in heaven, and a lack of concern for the welfare of others in the present. This is not Christlike.

Unraptured is an interesting and easy read.  You’ll get an overview and history of apocalyptic theology (something Lutherans rarely talk about) along with the story of another Christian’s journey of faith.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars, because I did not agree with some of the author’s political and theological conclusions and his writing style was a bit too informal for my taste.  Overall, still worthwhile reading.

A Thought From Martin Luther

One evening when Luther saw a little bird perched on a tree, to roost there for the night, he said,

“This little bird has had it’s supper, and now it is getting ready to go to sleep here, quite secure and content, never troubling itself what its food will be, or where its lodging on the morrow.  Like David, ‘it abides under the shadow of the Almighty.’  It sits on its little twig, content, and lets God take care.”

236x260 Free Download Etsy Ideas Bird Clipart, Bird

Ministries of Mercy by Timothy Keller — Book Review

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” Luke 10:36-37

These are some excerpts from a book review prepared by one of our Fanning the Flame Team Members, Ted, and presented at our last monthly meeting.

The phrase “ministry of mercy” comes from Luke 10:37 where Jesus commands us to “go and do likewise.”  Timothy Keller asks in his book, “Are we as Christians obeying this command personally?  Are we, as a church, obeying this command corporately?”

For decades we are told that evangelicals have avoided the radical nature of the parable of the Good Samaritan.  At most we have heard it telling us to prepare a fruit basket for the needy each Christmas or to give to relief agencies when there is a famine or earthquake in a distant nation.

It is time to listen more closely.  We are finally beginning to wonder why there are suddenly hundreds of thousands “stripped and lying half dead” in the streets of our own cities.  There are problems in the world that bring misery and violence into the lives of most of humanity.  These include war, injustice, oppression, famine, natural disasters, disease, mental illness, physical disabilities, racism, crime, scarcity of resources and class struggle.  We need to see that we are all living on the Jericho Road.

Under the principles of mercy, there is a call to mercy.  Love is essential in the call.  We are required to love God above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Mercy is not optional.  Although believers are to give their first and greatest aid to the needy within the church, mercy must also be show to all people.  Most of us have not come to grips with the clear directive that all Christians must have their own ministry of mercy.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.”  Galatians 6:10

A question to ponder (from me, not Ted):  What is your ministry of mercy?

Pass It On

I recently sponsored two ladies on a Lutheran Via de Cristo retreat.  The weekend always closes with everyone gathered in a circle, singing Pass It On.  I looked up the history of this well-known Christian song.

Pass it On was written by Mr. Kurt Kaiser, a Christian composer who has received many awards for his music.  Here is his account of how he got the idea for the song.

 “In 1969, Ralph Carmichael and I collaborated on a musical, Tell It Like It Is. It was written to get young people involved in the Church. After reviewing what we had written, we decided there needed to be a closer, a modern ‘Just As I Am’ [a hymn by Charlotte Elliott written in 1835, and a favorite of Evangelicals for altar calls].


On a Sunday night I was sitting in our den by the fireplace where there were remnants of a fire, and it occurred to me that it only takes a spark to get a fire going . . . and the rest came very quickly. My wife suggested that I should say something about shouting it from mountain tops, and that ended up in the third verse. It only took about 20 minutes to write the lyrics. Afterwards my wife and I went for a walk, letting the song ruminate in our minds.”

This simple song has influenced many.  Let the words sink into your heart as well.


Memories of a Devil: My Life As a Jesuit in Dachau by Father Chester Fabisiak–Book Review

Father Fabisiak was born in Poland in 1911, ordained as a Catholic priest in 1939 and taken prisoner by Nazi SS commandos the same year.  He was eventually taken to the concentration camp of Dachau in Germany where he worked as slave labor for the Nazis.  His book is not a chronological account, but series of short vignettes describing his experiences.  Each episode is his memory of a person, place, or incident  encountered during his wartime odyssey. I would not characterize this as a religious book, but rather a book about a religious person and his reaction to extreme brutality, deprivation and humiliation.

Memories of a Devil: My Life as a Jesuit in Dachau

Several things stood out for me.  Father Fabisiak reminds us that in addition to Jews, the Nazis intended to use and exterminate many other people groups.  His focus is on the Poles who the Germans also considered inferior, fit only to serve them.  He also mentions Italians, French, Russians and others who were abused, starved, subjected to medical experiments and killed in the camp.

Second, Father Fabisiak describes Nazism as an alternative religion. Hitler was their God and  the Germans themselves a super race entitled to rule and use the rest of humankind. He recounts many instances of Germans who had seemingly lost all moral compass.  Others retained their humanity and tried to help the prisoners in small ways. Some become completely unmoored from feelings of compassion and empathy by the constant immersion in hatred propagated by the Nazis.  This memoir points out that we are all sinful and all capable of moral corruption when we allow any country, person or philosophy to displace God in our lives.

In spite of the terrible treatment, Father Fabisiak finds moments of joy, humor and thankfulness to report.  He admits that circumstances sometimes caused him to fall short of his Christian ideals.  However, he survived by living one day at a time and trusting in God. He was liberated by Allied Forces in 1945 and served for over twenty years as a missionary in South America.

Anyone interested in World War II, the concentration camps and Nazi philosophy will gain from reading this survivor’s account.  The memoir was received by his niece, Danuta Fabisiak, whose desire is that it:

“…teach us about the past, inspire us to live each day, and guide us into a more just future.”


Mercy Ministry & Evangelism — Fanning the Flame CD

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Matthew 9:35-38

I gathered with some other Fanning the Flame team members recently to listen to a CD lecture by Pastor Harry Reeder on the topic of mercy ministries.

Pastor Reeder called mercy ministries “the gateway to the kingdom of God” and the preeminent strategy for evangelism.  Unfortunately in our churches we often regard such ministries as simply a drain on our resources.  The greatest mission field is those who are in need of mercy.  Most of our evangelism efforts center around gospel words, but some won’t listen to those words until they see our gospel deeds —  deeds of love mercy and justice.

Here’s what will happen when we undertake mercy ministries:

  • God will be glorified because the world will see a full picture of authentic Christianity
  • People will be influenced by encountering authentic Christians
  • Our own members will be encouraged and edified, becoming better disciples as they are incorporated into ministry

He did have a word of warning.  It is important to ensure that the ministries undertaken are constructive.  They should take time to teach that God has a purpose for pain and suffering and that He can take our brokenness and use it.  Those who are suffering are not victims, and we must love them, not tolerate them, building on improving self respect rather than guilt and shame.

Here are some of the steps Pastor Reeder’s recommends:

  • Make mercy and mercy ministry a part of the congregational culture
  • Do Bible study and preaching that will lead members to develop a theology of mercy
  • Equip people to be involved in mercy ministry as part of discipleship training
  • Pray for a champion for this ministry
  •  Ask God to reveal a starting point for the ministry
  • Make sure mercy ministry is gospel-driven, Christ-centered and has evangelism embedded in it
  • Create a project/s that allow a low level of commitment and an ending date to encourage people to give it a try
  • Make sure leaders take responsibility for the project
  • Be strategic–impel and compel others to get involved

For me, the real eye opener is the idea that mercy ministry should be the 1ST strategy for evangelism.  As spiritual gifts coordinator, I have discoved that we have few people with the gift of evangelism, but many with the gift of mercy.  We can do this.

Choose Spiritual Health

There was recently an article in our local paper by a doctor, who gave the readers suggestions about making choices that would lead to a healthier physical life.  It occurred to me that most of them can be adapted to living a healthier spiritual life, so here goes

To be healthy physically                               To be healthy spiritually

  1.  Stop smoking                                            Stop sinful habits                                 We know certain things are bad for us, but we often hold onto them out of habit.  What sin do you struggle with most often?  Is it lust, greed, laziness, pride, anger, gluttony or something else?  Make an effort to give it up.
  2. Control your weight                                   Feed yourself spiritually                    It’s been said that you are what you eat.  Nourish yourself by reading God’s Word and reading books and watching television shows that edify instead of feeding yourself with “junk food”
  3.  Exercise                                                      Exercise  your faith                            Your faith will not grow stronger without practice.  Go to worship and Bible study.  Pray.  Make these things part of your weekly routine.
  4. Have regular check-ups                              Meet with a spiritual mentor           Make time to speak with a more mature Christian who will hold you accountable in your faith life and give suggestions about how to grow spiritually.  This could be your pastor, or a Christian friend.
  5. Do something besides work                        Participate in Christian ministry  Helping others will not only spread God’s love in the world, it will make you feel better about yourself and you will spend less time thinking about your problems.
  6. Have someone special in your life              Join other Christians in fellowship God is love, and He made us to give and receive love.  Positive relationships are important to both physical and spiritual health

Most of us are willing to make changes that will improve our lives physically, so why not spiritually?  The same kind of sacrifice and discipline is necessary, and the effects are even more worthwhile.  Since Lent is a time of spiritual discipline, consider which of these healthy habits you can implement.