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!

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?

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?

 

Do You Have a Saintly Worldview?

In the sermon last Sunday, my husband talked about having a Christian worldview.  A study by Barna research revealed some disturbing results.  Only 9% of American adults answered the questions in a way that indicated they hold a biblical worldview– even sadder, only about 1 in 5 of the people who described themselves as “born again” hold such a outlook!

Well, you might be saying, what were those questions?  Maybe they were tricky, or too theological or difficult to understand.  I’m going to post them below.  They look pretty basic to me:

  1. Do absolute moral truths exist?
  2. Does the Bible define absolute truth?
  3. Did Jesus lead a sinless life?
  4. Is God an all powerful, all knowing creator of the universe and is He still active in the world today?
  5. Is salvation a gift that cannot be earned?
  6. Is Satan real?
  7. Do all Christians have a responsibility to share their faith with others?
  8. Is the Bible accurate in all of its’ teachings?

If you answered “no” to some of these questions, the culture may be influencing you more than your Bible.  If you said yes to all these questions, are you living as if you really believed them?  There can still be a gap between our intellectual assent and our actions.   As saints, we’re called to be Christ’s ambassadors, and an ambassador represents a different country than the one in which they live.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Romans 12:2

As sinners, we’ll often fall down.  Our transformation is incomplete. We say we believe one thing, then behave as if we don’t.  Every day we need to pray:

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:21

Ask God to give you a saintly worldview and the strength to live in its grace.

 

 

 

Bringing the Saints to Life — Play Review of ‘Jesus’

A few days ago my husband and I travelled to Lancaster, Pa., to see “Jesus” at the Sight and Sound Theatre.  This was a gift from our congregation for Pastor Appreciation Month.

See the source image

It’s hard to see how anyone could be disappointed in this performance.  It truly has everything one could wish for — singing, tears, comedy relief (in the form of banter between the ‘sons of thunder’ and their mother) and real animals (even a camel!).  The special effects are breathtaking– I was especially impressed by the storm on the Sea of Galilee.

For the most part the play is true to the biblical account of the ministry Jesus.  Some liberties are taken with the time line and dialogue, which is probably unavoidable when condensing years into a dramatic and cohesive two hour production.  The only really disturbing inaccuracy was the confounding of Mary Magdalene with the woman caught in adultery;  although many Christians persist in believing that Mary was a prostitute, there is no evidence to support this hypothesis.

This play will capture your attention and bring many biblical saints to life for you in a new way.  I recommend that every Christian visit Sight and Sound at least once if there are able.  More that just a play, it is an experience and would be especially interesting to children.

Here’s a quote from the director, Joshua Enck:

“What you are about to experience is not a history lesson the most famous person ever to walk the earth.  It is not ever necessarily a story of Jesus’ life.  It’s a story of Jesus’ love, which we believe, is life.”

At the end of the performance Sight and Sound employees are available for prayer and further conversation with anyone desiring to learn more about becoming a Christian.