Author Archives: jculler1972

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 recently published by the Women's Missionary Federation of the AFLC(Association of Free Lutheran Churches).

Fanning the Flame #8 Continued … How should I pray?

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I once read that we should pray as we can, not as we can’t.  I need to work within my own way of prayer to make it better, not try to force myself into a mold I admire in others.  Satan sometimes whispers in my ear that the way I pray isn’t really valid.  How do you know you’re not just talking to yourself?  Why do you think that idea came from God, it’s just what you want to do anyway.  Why would you think God is using you, you’re not so special!  To counteract this,  I need some reminders that keep me focused on God while I go about my daily life of prayer.

I’ve started a daily routine of taking a walk early in the morning.  I’ve decided to use this time (usually about 15 minutes) to ask God to be with me during the day, to guide my thoughts and actions. When I can’t walk due to the weather, I use an exercise DVD.  On these days, as soon as I’ve finished the DVD, I will take a few minutes to close my eyes, relax and meditate with the same intent.

I do feel bad that my husband and I never pray together, except for table grace. This is largely my fault, since Terry knows I an uncomfortable with verbal prayers. In order to improve our family prayer life we have committed to spending some time every afternoon when he comes home from work reviewing our day together.  What went well?  What fell apart?  What upset us?  How did we experience God’s presence?  His guidance? Then we’ll give thanks for the good things and ask for help to do better tomorrow.

I also want recognize more intentionally, the part that study and worship play in my prayer life.  Before I start these activities I will invite God to be with me and help me hear His Word for me.

When I am in a situation where I need to pray out loud with others, I will look upon it as an opportunity to grow spiritually and serve others.  I will recognize that my spiritual life isn’t all about me.  I will ask God to use even my awkward prayers to bless me and those around me.

This is my prayer vision for the coming year.  What’s yours?  The first step in becoming a Godly leader is to pray, pray, pray.

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Fanning the Flame #8 — Prayer Vision

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“Pray without ceasing.”  1 Thessalonians 5:17

One of our team assignments for Fanning the Flame this month is to write a personal prayer vision.  This means first describing what my prayer life is realistically like today and then forming a goal to work toward by the end of the year.  I admit that I am struggling, mainly because, for me, prayer isn’t a time I carve out.  I’ve tried having a quiet time, using a devotional, making prayer lists or using prayer journals.  It can’t seem to sustain these kinds of disciplines.  My mind is too unruly.  I don’t like to pray out loud with others. I find myself thinking about the person praying and what I am going to say when my “turn” comes. Words distract me from listening to God, which is what I really want to do when I pray.

Years ago I found this Frank Laubach quote (he was a Congregational missionary) that nails prayer for me:

“I really do believe that all thought can be conversations with thee.”

In the midst of my often chaotic and jumbled up brain, God is there.  The Bible tells us to “put on the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16  I don’t claim to have achieved this, but I do believe He’s part of my thought processes;  He sorts things out, He speaks to me, He guides me.  Sometimes a person comes to my mind and I just hold them up to God.  Sometimes an idea pops into my brain — something I wouldn’t have imagined on my own. Sometimes I wake up with an answer to a problem, which tells me God has been with me even during my sleep, as my mind worked unconsciously.   I don’t need words to pray, I just need to pay attention and listen.  This is prayer for me.

Now there are some other things that “feed” my prayer life.  I have found our Wednesday evening prayer sessions at church deeply calming and fulfilling.  We have a prayer list and pray silently for thirty minutes. It is powerful for me and a good discipline to pray with others this way.  I feel the presence of God and the comfort of Christian unity.

Music is prayer for me, and most especially the familiar words and music of the liturgy.  Here’s what Christian author Kathleen Norris says about that:

“The liturgy of the word is prayer.  You pray the scriptures with, and for, the people assembled and the words go out to them, touching them in ways only God can imagine.”

And of course, we Lutherans know how Luther loved music and St. Augustine of Hippo said:

“He who sings well, prays twice.”

God brings the words of hymns and spiritual songs into my mind all the time.

Study is prayer.  God speaks to me through the words of Scripture.  Often something jumps out in a passage I’ve read over and over yet never noticed.  Sometimes the words of a sermon touch my heart, and I know they are a message just for me.  Sometimes God places a book in my hand or a verse in my mind at just the right time.

My life is my prayer.  When I allow someone to interrupt my schedule because they need help or someone to listen, that’s prayer.  When I learn about my gifts and seek to use them in God’s service, that’s my prayer.  When I try to be “unoffendable” and put the needs of another person first, I am praying.

I don’t know how to separate my prayer life from my life.  Does anyone else feel this way?

This has gotten rather long, so I’ll continue later with my thoughts on how I could grow spiritually through prayer.  Right now I’d like to hear from others — what is prayer like for you?  What helps you to pray?  When and why do you pray?

It may sound as if I’ve strayed off our monthly topic (leaders) but the again, isn’t God our ultimate leader?  And isn’t prayer the way we hear from Him?

 

Leading Major Change by Jeff Iorg–Book Review

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The Lutheran ladies received a free copy of this book in return for an unbiased review.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have given it a second glance.  It is definitely geared toward Pastors and other ministry leaders involved in making major changes in their church or ministry.  However, since I am on the leadership team of our church and we are in the midst of a transforming process (Fanning the Flame), I found myself interested and excited to see what Jeff Iorg had to say about the process of change and how to lead people through it.

He begins by reviewing different definitions of leadership (our topic this month).  It’s not as easy to pin down as you might think.  My favorite was:

“Leadership is a process in which leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation, accomplishment and living.”

That is certainly what our congregation is trying to do through Fanning the Flame!

Dr. Iorg has led a number of organizations through major change.  His resume includes:  relocating a church, a church plant, major change in a Baptist Convention, and relocating and reorganizing a large seminary.  He uses his own experiences throughout the book to discuss the pitfalls and opportunities that are part of the process of change.  Also interspersed are brief testimonies from others (employees, laypeople, etc.) who have participated in some of these major changes.

I especially appreciated his emphasis on servant leadership, and the necessity of providing pastoral care for followers.  He reminds readers over and over that change is an event, but transition is a process which can continue for some time after the change.  It can be difficult for many, it can require great sacrifice,  and a good leader needs to earn and retain the trust of followers throughout the entire process.  Followers are the people who must buy in and accomplish the change.  Everyone involved must truly believe that the mission matters most.

“Leaders intend real change–and that is often painful.  It causes organizational upheaval and personal angst.  Leaders’ decisions sometime inflict pain on their followers.  Good leaders do not enjoy hurting others, but are responsible to make difficult decisions (in the short run) for the long-term benefit of advancing God’s mission and the particular mission of the organization they lead.”

Verdict:  I enjoyed this book, and will be passing it on to my husband and other leaders of our congregation.  It was readable and full of useful information and insights for those involved in change within a church or ministry.  However, it will appeal to a limited audience.  I give it four stars.  If you are interested in purchasing it, the link is below:

http://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/products/leading-major-change-in-your-ministry

Who Follows You?

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Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives ,when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 1 Peter 3:1-2

Maybe you think you are not a leader.  You are not usually the one in charge of a project;  you have never been the president of an organization;  you prefer to work behind the scenes.  However, according to the Via de Cristo talk on leaders, we are all leaders because we all influence somebody.  The people we influence most are those within our own family.

The verses above, from 1 Peter, give us a picture of how this might be done.  It sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?  Lead by submission?  How could that work?  I like to think of the Biblical concept of “submission” as putting another person first. Submission isn’t being a door mat, accepting abuse, or losing every disagreement.  It is about caring for someone deeply enough to put their needs ahead of your own.  The Bible actually tells us to do this, not just with our spouse, but with others in our family, our congregation and even the world. This kind of behavior often makes people sit up and take notice.  It earns their trust.  It makes them willing to listen to what you have to say.  It can make them want to emulate you out of gratitude and respect.

Did you know what the biggest factor in determining whether a child continues to attend to church when they grow up is?   It’s whether their father attended church.  Do you know the most frequently cited influence on a person’s faith life?  The answer is “my mother.”  Do you know why most people attend a church for the first time?  Because a friend invited them. Make no mistake, people are watching you every day–the people at work, your spouse, your children, your friends, your neighbors, even the cashier at the grocery store.  Do you use your influence for good?  Do they see a life of “purity and reverence?”  You are somebody’s leader;  think about that responsibility and take it seriously.

Generations of Leaders

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We sang this hymn in church recently.  It reminded me, that we can always look to Christ and many generations of His followers as examples and inspiration for our own walk.  Read your Bible to find the leader you want to emulate, then follow in the train!

 

I Can Only Imagine

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I just finished watching the movie, I Can Only Imagine.  I don’t think it’s an accident that the next adult Sunday School lesson I’ll be teaching is from the book of Romans and titled “The Transformed Life.” God does that to me all the time! Bart Miller’s story is one of transformation, redemption, forgiveness, hope and most of all music.  His father was abusive and angry, his mother left, and for young Bart, music anchored him, lifted him up, and gave him a dream.  I won’t say more, because you should see this film for yourself.  You’ve probably heard the song, but it’s worth another listen:

 

Costly Grace by Rob Schenck–Book Review

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Rob Schneck has the gift of leadership.  Growing up in the 70’s he converted from nominal Judaism to evangelical Christianity.  His faith journey took him through a variety of roles:  van driver and lay preacher at a shelter for heroin addicts;  Assembly of God pastor; activist in the anti-abortion movement;  supporter and leader of the religious right; minister to a number of top government officials and now founding president of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute.

Rob’s memoir is an honest account of one man’s struggle to fulfill his God-given calling.  He freely admits his failures (lack of attention to his family, being influenced by pride and prestige, being judgmental, etc.)  I think most Christians who are seeking to grow in faith will identify with Schneck as he wrestles with God, allowing himself to be changed and molded in the process.

Verdict:  I couldn’t put this one down.  It’s a new release so you should be able to borrow or request it from your local library.

 

New Month/New Theme

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Our theme for July is leaders.  Leadership is a big topic in the church today.  Peruse the shelves in your local Christian book store and you’ll find many volumes have been written about it. Here are some of the questions I hope we’ll be addressing this month:

  • What Biblical leaders do you most admire?
  • What does the Bible say about leadership?
  • What are the qualities of a good leader?
  • Are you a leader?  If so, what qualifies you?
  • Can we train members to be leaders?  Or is leadership a spiritual gift you either have or you don’t?
  • Who are the leaders who have influenced you in your Christian walk?
  • What are our responsibilities to those who are leaders of our congregation?
  • Should Christian leadership be different from leadership in secular arenas (i.e. business, politics, etc.)?

I look forward to reading what our authors and readers have to say.

 

We (the Laity) Are the Church

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This is a second section from a Via de Cristo talk I gave on Laity in 1998.  When I mention my church, I am speaking of the church I belonged to at that time, not St. Paul’s.

Now God is all powerful and he could have chosen any number of ways to work out His purposes on earth.  Isn’t it amazing that He chose the church, and He chose us to do that.  To fully understand our role in God’s plan, we first need to think about the church– what it is, and what it is not.

The church is not a building.  My congregation, Peace In Christ Lutheran, meets in a little red brick church which is over one hundred years old.  With its’ iron fence and the cemetery out back, it looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell scene.  This building is very dear to my heart.  The men of Peace In Christ spent many, many hours renovating it for our use.  My younger daughter, Kate, was the first Peace In Christ baby baptized there.  Both of my daughters were confirmed there.  When our president called a while back to say we might be selling our building, I cried.  But I know that Peace In Christ is not made up of brick and mortar, it is a people, the living stones that form the body of Christ.  We were the church twenty years ago when we began meeting in a Civic Association with an altar on wheels;  and we will still be the church several years from now when we move to the new, modern, more functional building we have grown to need.

The church is not a kind of religious club.  If you’ve ever served on the church council, as I have, you know how easy it is to start thinking this way.  After all, we have a budget to balance and property to maintain.  Our members pay their dues (which we call pledges or tithes) and in return feel entitled to certain benefits, such as baptism, confirmation and marriage;  also free admission to all educational and social events.  But the church goes beyond the physical and temporal world of daily life.  When we say we are praising God along with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we’re not kidding!  The church is not just the visible, it includes the spiritual and invisible.

My church does all kinds of good works.  Some members serve breakfast at the local mission regularly.  Our AAL (Aid Association for Lutherans) branch delivers food baskets at Christmas.  The Sunday School and Vacation Bible School students collect money for mission projects.  But the church is not a Social Services Agency created to dispense charity to the less fortunate.  In the church we are all equal in our need for God’s grace, we are all seated at His table together, sharing the life He alone offers.  I’ve heard the church described as “one group of beggars telling other beggars where they can find bread.”

In reality the church was created to be the living body of Christ in the world.  The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.  And we are His witnesses.  Called forth by the evangelizing activity of Jesus and the disciples 2000 years ago to make His presence living, vibrant and real today.

Imagine yourself taking the hand of the person who first told you about Jesus.  Maybe it was your mother or father, a neighbor or a friend.  And then imagine that person taking hold of the person who told them and so on.  The chain would eventually go all the way back to someone who walked with Christ during His earthly life.  The church is this community of believers.  It is the people of God, the people chosen to be light and salt and leaven to a dark, hurting and hungry world.  We can’t let the chain stop with us.

I am the church, You are the church, We are the Church.  We are the body of our Lord, the restored children of God.

The Mission of the Layperson

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This is taken from a talk I gave on a Via de Cristo weekend many years ago, but it seemed appropriate to include it this month.

By virtue of our baptism, we, as laypeople of the church have been called to live a new life, to “put on Christ.”  We are His hands and feet and voice in the world.  The church I visit in Myrtle Beach every year has a sign you see when you are exiting from the parking lot.  It says, “you are now entering the mission field.”  Our mission field is wherever we are–it is our family, our friends, the people we meet at work and in our neighborhoods.  And where you are is no accident– Martin Luther, in one of his sermons says,

“therefore, where you are in a calling that is not sinful in itself, you are certainly placed there by God.”

Isn’t that exciting?  It’s not only the clergy who are called, but every one of us.  Called to do God’s work in the place and with the people He has given to us.

In the same sermon, Luther says:

“To be spiritual and not busy with God’s word, which should be your special work, is like being married and never being together.”

A happy marriage radiates joy.  It reaches out and touches others.  The life of grace is the same.  Our whole life is changed and that change affects those around us.  Listen to what Christian author Catherine Jackson says will happen if we conform our life to Christ’s:

“When a believer follows the Lord faithfully several evidences appear sooner or later.  Meekness and quietness of spirit become….characteristics of daily life.  Other outward signs are:  grateful acceptance of the will of God as it comes in the hourly events of each day;  pliability in the hands of God to do or bear whatever He assigns us;  a sweet disposition, even under provocation, calmness in the midst of turmoil and confusion, willingness to let others have their way, refusal to notice slights and affronts, absence of worry, anxiety and fear.”

By living out our life in this kind of visible witness the good news becomes real, and the world in which we live is transformed.  As one new Christian told me, “who wouldn’t want to be part of this?”

Realizing both our human ideal and God’s ideal for us isn’t easy.  Even the world says, “no pain, no gain.”  We must commit ourselves to living out the life of grace in every way that we can.  In our personal, professional, civic, economic and academic pursuits we are called to be saints and to make the world holy.