About jculler1972

My husband is the pastor of St. Paul's Free Lutheran Church in Leitersburg, Maryland. I have two grown daughters and a granddaughter and am retired after a career in Purchasing. I have published articles in The Lutheran Ambassador, Lutheran Witness, and Lutheran Digest. My Bible study on the Book of Acts was published in 2016 by the Women's Missionary Federation of the AFLC(Association of Free Lutheran Churches).

Above All by J. D. Greear–Book Review

This book surprised me because I was inspired and challenged by the message.  I expected it to be rather basic — after all, we all accept the centrality of the gospel to our life as Christians.  And yes, the author’s explanation of the gospel is theologically sound and nothing I don’t already know.  However, Greear made me see how far I actually stray from putting the gospel “above all.”  For example,

“When people in our communities think about and talk about us, they should think and talk about the gospel.  It should be both the ultimate point and the basis of every ministry and endeavor of our churches.”

Can I honestly say this about myself and my congregation?  He goes on to say that if we are truly gospel-driven:

“The question we bring to church will not be, What kind of church do I prefer?  but, What type of ministry best reaches the people in this community.”

Above All

Throughout the book, Pastor Greear invites us to place the gospel above our culture, our preferences and our politics.  He paints a beautiful picture of what would change in our lives and our churches if we truly put the gospel’s mission, hope and grace above everything else in our lives.  If you think that’s impossible, then consider that:

“The gospel is the one thing in the New Testament, other than Jesus himself, that is referred to directly as the power of God.”

Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we have that gospel power within us.  It can change our lives and the lives around us when we surrender to it.  I’d like to get our entire congregation to read this book and then wait to see how God works!

VERDICT:  5 stars

If you would like to purchase this book or learn more go to this link:

Above All

 

The Lutheran Ladies received a free copy of this book in return for an honest and fair review – Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CFR Part 255

 

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A Quote on Kindness

This is another quote from my daily devotional.  The author is A.P. Stanley(1815–1881) who was an English churchman and academic, Dean of Westminster.  The topic is kindness, one that has been coming up in my reading and study recently.

“We may, if we choose, make the worst of one another.  Every one has his weak points;  every one has his faults;  we may make the worst of these;  we may fix our attention constantly upon these.  But we may also make the best of one another.  We may forgive, even as we hope to be forgiven.  We may put ourselves in the place of others, and ask what we should wish to be done to us, and thought of us, were we in their place.  By loving whatever is lovable in those around us, love will flow back from them to us, and life will become a pleasure instead of a pain;  and earth will become like heaven;  and we shall become not unworthy followers of Him whose name is love.”

The War For Kindness by Jamil Zaki — Book Review

This is not a “Christian” book but it is certainly a book that may be helpful to Christians who are trying to build empathy in their community, organization or church.  I picked it up because I am rather obsessed with the brain and how it works.  The author, Jamil Zaki is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and also director of the Stanford Neuroscience Laboratory.

The book begins with a discussion of empathy, what it is, how it is expressed, and whether it is a trait that is static, or one that can be learned.  Although some individuals are probably born with a higher level of empathy than others, studies have shown that empathy can increase.

The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by [Zaki, Jamil]

As humans, we all have our “tribe,”  people we perceive as being like us.  This can be based on race, religious affiliation, political bent, etc..  We empathize more readily with those who are part of our “group.”  However, exposure to individuals who are “outsiders” increases our feelings of empathy toward them.  For example, I may believe that I don’t like Muslims, until a very nice Muslim family moves next door and I get to know them.  So, one way to increase empathy is simply to get different groups to interact in normal, positive ways, until we realize that we do have things in common.

Reading also improves empathy …. not a surprise to me.  Through reading, both fiction or nonfiction, we are exposed to different people, places and cultures, and again this exposure creates empathy.  I remember giving a friend a copy of the book, The Soloist.  When she returned it she told me, “I’ll never look at homeless people the same way.”

There is a chapter about technology and how it often decreases our empathy for others for a variety of reasons;  however, it can also be used as a tool to provide positive feedback which may help create empathy in people diagnosed with autism, depression or anxiety.

I enjoyed this book and found some helpful insights and suggestions.  It provides hope that all of us can become more compassionate, caring and kind, and we can nurture and improve those qualities in others.  It wasn’t difficult read, but it does have a scientific bent, so if your interests don’t go there, you could find parts of the book boring.

MY VERDICT:  4 stars.  Definitely worth reading

I Surrender All? Or Just Some?

In church this past week we sang the well known hymn, I Surrender All, which always makes me smile.   I remember the comment a guest pastor once made after he heard it ––” for the majority of us, the lyrics should probably be ‘I surrender some.'”  Most of us are willing to give up things for Christ, but really, ALL?  Isn’t some enough?

Like many hymns, there’s a story behind this one.  The writer, Judsen Van de Venter, was a public school teacher and active Methodist layman.  Because of his fervent devotion to Christ, friends encouraged him to leave his career and become an evangelist.  It took five years for him to “surrender all.”  Here is his testimony of how the hymn and his change of heart came about:

“The song was written while I was conducting a meeting at East Palestine, Ohio, and in the home of George Sebring (founder of Sebring Campmeeting Bible Conference . . .). For some time, I had struggled between developing my talents in the field of art and going into full-time evangelistic work. At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all. A new day was ushered into my life. I became an evangelist and discovered down deep in my soul a talent hitherto unknown to me. God had hidden a song in my heart, and touching a tender chord, he caused me to sing.”

As you listen, ask yourself if you are surrendering all or only some to the call of Jesus.

 

 

Sitting is the New Smoking

I’ve taken some health classes at the local senior center recently, and the title of this post seems to be the new mantra.  Evidently it’s been found that it is not only bad to do something clearly destructive to your health (smoking)– it’s just as bad to do nothing to improve it.

Recently it occurred to me that this is just as true of our spiritual life.  Sometimes Christians, especially we older Christians who consider ourselves fairly mature in the faith, start to feel that we have “arrived.”  Now, I don’t mean to imply we think we’re perfect — we know we’re not.  However, we have our particular routine for spiritual health, and we stick to it.  Maybe we go to church, Sunday School or Bible Study.  Maybe we have a quiet time, or read a devotional every day.  Maybe we have certain tasks we do around the church — we’re on the altar guild, or teach a class– and we’re comfortable with all that.  We don’t think we need to try anything new.

WRONG!!  To keep our brain healthy, we need to learn new and complex tasks now and then.  To keep our faith lively, we need to mix it up and step outside our comfort zones.  This is something I learned from our Fanning the Flame process.

I don’t know what that means for you, because I don’t know where you’re “sitting” right now.  I do know you can get up and walk around.  Read some new books and talk to your Pastor or another Christian about the ideas.  Join a small group.  Take a spiritual gift assessment, and try something new that corresponds to your gift mix.  Start following (or even writing) a Christian blog. Try a different way of praying.  Listen to some new music and sing it out loud!  There are a million different ideas out there, so there’s no excuse.  Stop sitting still!

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:12-14

In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity In A Fractured World by Jake Meador–Book Review

GREAT BOOK!  I would categorize it as a must-read.  It’s not difficult, but it’s also a book to read carefully and slowly.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll develop a better understanding of why things are the way they are and what Christians can do to make life better.

These days we’re all bemoaning the state of our country, and indeed, the entire world.  There is much hatred and polarization between political parties and ethnic and religious groups.  Technology, which on one hand makes life easier, also tears down our social relationships.  What’s a Christian to do?

Jake Meador takes us through the causes of some of the problems we’re facing.  Many can be traced to what he calls, “the unwinding of common life.”  It starts with the dominant narrative of our age, which is very individualistic:

“… an aimless and meaningless search after wealth and power for no reason save one’s own personal peace and affluence.”

Even in the church we are all too willing to measure ourselves by worldly standards of success and therefore have forgotten that as God’s people we are called to a certain kind of life in His world.  We are called to live in community, and to work for the good of the community.  We are stewards, not owners of wealth.

Meador shows how politics of both the right and left are wrong in their focus on policy instead of doctrine.  It is possible for two sides to agree on doctrine and disagree on policy.  For example, valuing life is doctrine — a nationwide ban on abortion is policy;  protecting and caring for the poor is doctrine — government financed health care for all is policy.  Meador maintains that we should begin with doctrine, as that defines what a good life is as it relates to political systems and society.  We should then turn to the formation of citizens, asking what virtues are necessary in order to live well with one another in community and how to cultivate those virtues.  Policies are simple.  We vote for or against a policy.  We vote for politicians who support the policies we like.  Doctrine and formation are harder, and require more of us, but are necessary to change.

He touches on many relevant issues such as technology, world view, modernist philosophies, Darwinism, vocation and more.  It will fascinate, challenge and expand your understanding of what it should mean to be a Christian in modern society.

Meador is Vice-President of the Davenant Institute.  You might like to learn more about these ideas by going to this website: https://davenantinstitute.org/

VERDICT:  Definitely 5 stars!

How it Works–The Fanning the Flame process, Part 3

Continued from yesterday …..

A thought dawned on me:  for years our congregation had bemoaned our lack of young people.  In years past, large Sunday School classes filled the church each week.  “Where are all the children now?”  we asked.  I felt God answering, “Here are some of my children who need you.  Will you help them?”

We’re starting small.  The plan is to host some of the children two evenings each month.  We’ll have snacks, library books to choose, and a program which will include Bible study, games or a movie.  Our first meeting in mid-May was a success.  The girls especially loved my peanut butter chocolate chip bars and they are interested in baking classes to learn to bake for themselves.  Some have come to church on Sundays.  God is definitely at work.  We don’t know exactly where we’re going or what will happen next, but we know who’s leading the way.