A New Way of Seeing

In my Via de Cristo reunion group, one of the questions we ask ourselves each time we meet is “what was the most helpful Spiritual insight from your study?” This week I’ve been reading a book about spiritual formation, and I came across this idea which struck me in a profound way:

“A Filipino-American pastor told me that American society views most of the members of his congregation as ‘machine people.’ Such people are invisible to busy professionals, who view them as merely an extension of service machinery that performs the duties we need done. They are an extension of dish washing, dry cleaning, or hotel services. He challenged me to simply pay attention to these invisible ‘machine people’ that I, as he correctly predicted, encounter every day and yet overlook. He urged me, as an act of following Jesus to engage these people with eye contact, affirmations, and questions about their lives or well-being.” From Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered by James C. Wilhoit

How often do we take for granted the people who serve us as we go about our daily errands and chores? The clerk at the grocery store, the UPS delivery man, the librarian at the circulation desk. Sometimes a simple and heart felt expression of thanks or interest in them as fellow human beings will make a big difference to their attitude and their day. Then there are the homeless we pass by without a thought. They are our brothers and sisters as well. My husband and I have started passing out ‘goodie-bags’ with some food, socks, and personal care items. I’ve been blessed to begin really seeing these folks, and their gratitude touches my heart.

The author states that developing a new way of seeing people is the first step in loving them, and love is the greatest commandment. Even if we are called to do “big things” for God, we must begin by being kind and available to those we meet every day.

So, here’s my challenge to you (and myself) going forward. Put on your God-goggles and see like Jesus.

For more posts about kindness see:

A Kind Word

Dare to be Kind by Lizzie Velasquez–Book Review

Be Kind at Christmas

Vineyard Via de Cristo history #3

In the Bible, the image of plants is often used to convey a message to us about how God raised up a people for Himself. Like all good farmers and landscapers, God knows the value of fertile soil. Seeds are planted where they will be able to flourish and grow and yield fruit– where they can sink down roots and take in the nutrients and moisture needed to spread and be what they can be at their best.

As I think about the future of Via de Cristo, I think about the soil in which we are planted. I rejoice in the many layers of good, rich dirt which will give us the strength we need to carry this method and message forward–through all the trials, difficulties and successes we will have.

The topsoil, if you will, is our brothers and sisters in Rainbow Via de Cristo (now Living Stones Via de Cristo). This is where many of us first came to know this movement and what it is about. Here is where we felt God’s grace and love in a way we never had before. Here is where we forged lasting and deep friendships with Christian brothers and sisters. This is an important place for us.

But vineyards require a lot of nutrients, and our roots sink even deeper through Rainbow to the national Via de Cristo movement– back to the folks in Miami and Iowa who stepped out in faith many years ago because they were convinced that God was doing a new thing in the Lutheran Church.

And our roots go even deeper — to the island of Majorca after WWII and a group of Spanish Catholics who developed a short course in Christianity to excite and encourage lay people to walk the walk of a committed Christian.

tAnd deeper yet–our roots touch the soil that is the Church — the Body of Christ on earth. Nothing we are and nothing we do can be any good if it is not rooted in the Church.

Finally our roots sink until they come to rest in the most fertile soil of all — the Living Word of God that is Jesus the Christ. He is the source of all our strength.

Because we are so rooted, we know that Vineyard Via de Cristo will produce branches. It will bear fruit. It will become a splendid vine. Not because of who we are, but because of whose we are.

For more on Lutheran Via de Cristo see:

What is Via de Cristo?

Remembering My Via De Cristo Weekend

My Via de Cristo Experience

Vineyard Via de Cristo –More History

Joan and I used to tell our children as they went out into the world that they needed to remember both who they are and whose they are. They had to know where they came from and what that meant for their lives.

I’ve had the opportunity lately to look at some old family pictures–some of them over 80 years old. Looking at the faces of those folks — some of whom died over two generations ago, I learned something about myself. In the pictures of my grandfather as a young man, I can see myself–how much we look alike and probably what I will look like as I continue to age. And that tells me something about who I am and where I came from — I didn’t just spring out of nothing.

Much of the Old Testament deals with the need Israel had to remember who they were and how they came to be so. God reminds them over and over again…. “I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of bondage…” This, He said, is who you are and how you got that way.

Who we are and whose we are.

For more about families see:

The Blessing of Family

Family Faith

Being a Family Blessing

Stay tuned for more tomorrow ….

Vineyard Via de Cristo — Some History

I am part of a lay movement in the Lutheran Church called Via de Cristo, as are a number of the ladies who have been authors on this blog. I recently came across a talk my husband had given at the inception of Vineyard Via de Cristo (https://www.vineyardviadecristo.org) — this group broke off from another Via de Cristo group called Rainbow (now Living Stones) in order to expand the movement geographically. Via de Cristo holds retreats for Christian men and women with the goal of helping them learn to be leaders in their home congregations.

Today is one of those happy/sad movements that punctuate our lives as individuals, as we leave the Rainbow Via de Cristo community in order to form a new group. For those of us who are parents, we vividly remember the passages of our children as they started school, or graduated from school– as we watched their confirmations or saw them go off to their first proms. All of these were times when we were filled with happiness and pride in their progress and sadness in knowing things would never be the same.

Those happy/sad feelings are on both sides of the situation, of course. No matter how interesting or challenging or invigorating new circumstances may seem, we always feel some concern, some anxiety, when we leave the security of the known for the insecurity of the future. We’re steeping out and counting on what went before to be the foundation and strength we need to carry on.

For more about change see:

Life Changes

How the Reformation Changed the Environment

Fanning the Flame #10 Continued … Creating a Culture for Change

to be continued ….

After the Weekend, Last Chapter

Sometimes God wants stretch us by trying something new or a little outside of our comfort zone. That happened to me years ago when my husband was the chairman of our church fundraising committee. He asked me if I would chair the communications subcommittee and I agreed, imagining I would be writing newsletter articles, bulletin inserts, and other things like that. When the fundraiser we hired arrived to brief us on our duties, I was astounded to learn that what my committee was REALLY responsible for was coming up with a logo for the campaign, designing a brochure, and organizing several large mailings — all on a very tight time schedule! I sat through the meeting in a daze and afterwards I told Terry, “I don’t think I can do this.” Then I calmed down and got to work. My basic tactic was to find people who were good at the things I wasn’t. Two of our skilled in computer graphics brainstormed with me and we came up with a logo and a theme for the brochure. I could handle the writing. Then I recruited a nice, detail-oriented person and turned full responsibility for the mailings over to her. Everything was completed on time and the finished brochure turned out really well. Completing this project required the use of a number of gifts I have like leadership (taking responsibility for getting the job done); discernment (recognizing what different people could do well); and encouragement (asking others to use their gifts). I discovered I did have the ability to get the work done, I just needed to worry less and trust God more.

In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a little power phrase — “I’m not called to do everything, but I am called to do something.” God has called each of us to do his work in our own environment– at home, in our congregations, in the work place. Don’t be foolish and try to do everything in every place. This will lead to frustration, burnout and failure. Instead be wise. Pray. Study and pursue your own gifts and talents. When he does call, be ready to answer, “Here I am, send me.”

After the Weekend part 3

In addition to prayer, study can help us the direction our Christian action should take. Have you ever noticed that we’re not all good at the same things? From Romans, chapter 12:

“We have different gifts according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is in serving, let him serve. If it is teaching, let him teach. If it is encouraging, let him encourage. If it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously. If it is leadership, let him govern diligently. If it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

There are many books available about discovering your spiritual gifts. There are also personality tests such as the Meyers Briggs test, or seminars about personality types which are often available through your workplace. Take note of the things people praise you for, or tell you you do well. Ask your Pastor or your church friends to give you their opinion and advice. All of these things are study– studying yourself so that you can be a good steward of your unique God-given abilities.

Of course, unless you have physical limitations, there are many things that need to be done around the church that almost any of us can do–things like cleaning, making coffee, being an usher or folding bulletins. We should all be willing to do our share of those chores. Being gifted to teach, for example, should not be used as an excuse to avoid every doing anything else. So make an effort to fit some of them into your schedule. Your fellow members will be VERY grateful.

One more section to come ….

For more about spiritual gifts see:

What are the Spiritual Gifts?

Let Your Spiritual Gifts S–T–R–E–T–C–H You

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

What Happens After the Weekend part 2

After a Via de Cristo weekend we’re usually eager to leap into action, but we need to remember that Christian action must be accompanied by piety and study or our Christian life will not maintain a good balance.

First and foremost, we must pray. All of us, as part of our Christian walk, should continually ask God to lead us to the ministry opportunities that are both appropriate for us and pleasing to Him. In the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul says:

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he prepared in advance for us to do.”

Isn’t that exciting? God already has a plan for each of us, but if we don’t take the time to listen for His voice we may never discover what it is.

That doesn’t mean we can never be spontaneous. I remember once I was at a church council meeting when the newsletter was being discussed. It had been published sporadically and one member suggested we just discontinue it. Well, I really enjoyed getting the newsletter and I like to write, so the Holy Spirit only had to nudge me once. I volunteered to be the editor and did it for quite a few years. However, often we don’t feel so clearly led. If you are not sure, take some time to pray before rushing into a new area of service. There was the time, years ago, when the Via de Cristo community decided to try putting together a Co-ed weekend (up to this point, all the weekends had been either solely for men or solely for women). We knew that adding an extra weekend to the schedule would increase the need for team members, and our first thought was how fun and interesting it would be to serve together. After praying about it, we both realized the timing was wrong. Our daughter Kate, was coming home from her year as an exchange student in Germany around that time, and we needed to reconnect with her and help her with things like getting a drivers license and visiting colleges. God was calling us to put that responsibility first, so we decided not to serve on a team for a while.

For more about prayer see:

Beginning the Day with Prayer

Pray Without Ceasing

Learning to Pray by James Martin, SJ–Book Review

Stay tuned for study .

After the Weekend, or What Next?

In the years since this blog was started, a number of authors have posted about their experiences on a Via de Cristo (Lutheran retreat weekend). The weekend is designed to motivate Christians to become leaders who make a difference in the environments where God has placed them. Here’s a talk I wrote many years ago about what should/could happen after the weekend.

How did you feel after your weekend? If you’re like most people, you returned to your congregation full of enthusiasm and with an increased desire to devote your energies to serving Christ. That’s what’s supposed to happen, right? But how does this play out in reality? Some of the possibilities are not so good. Let me give you a few examples.

  1. You stop by the Pastor’s office and tell him that you want to serve and you’re willing to do anything. He is thrilled because the Church Council is in dire need of a treasurer. You’ve never done that sort of thing before, but you agree. After all, the Pastor suggested it, and how hard can it be? Three months later, the records are in a muddle, bills aren’t being paid on time, and you are embarrassed and humiliated by your failure. Someone else has to step in to straighten things out and you vow to never take on a church office again!
  2. You catch the president of the congregation one Sunday in the narthex. “I want to help” you tell him. “What job do you have for me?” He looks surprised and mumbles something along the lines of …”ah… well… let me think about that and get back to you. He never does. You feel hurt and disillusioned and withdraw from congregational activities.
  3. You raise your hand and volunteer for every project and committee that comes along. By the end of the year you’re exhausted, burned out and telling yourself, “I really need a break from all this church stuff.”

I don’t mean to discourage you, but these things happen. The have happened, in one way or another to people I know and to me. So, what’s wrong with the picture? How can you avoid these pitfalls?

…. to be continued …..

For more about Lutheran Via de Cristo see:

What is Via de Cristo?

m=Remembering My Via De Cristo Weekend

My Via de Cristo Experience

A Spanish Birthday Song?

As I’m writing this post, my husband and a member of our congregation are attending a Lutheran Via de Cristo weekend. In prayer for that retreat, I read through the Pilgrim’s Guide, a booklet of prayers, songs, and psalms that is given out to all first time attendees. One of the songs is Las Mananitas, a traditional Spanish song that’s used in Mexico as a sort of “Happy Birthday.” It’s also sung on other occasions such as Mother’s Day and the Feast Day of the Lady of Guadalupe. On Via de Cristo weekend, team members sing it on Sunday morning to awaken the first-timers. What a blessed way to start the day!

The composer is not known, and since it has a long history, there are many different lyrics and variations. Here’s one version:

For other songs used on Via de Cristo weekends see:

Just A Closer Walk With Thee

Wind, Wind Blow on Me

Lord I Lift Your Name on High

Confess to One Another

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

If there is one thing I have learned from our Fanning the Flame process of church revitalization, it is the importance of prayer.  Prayer permeated the life of the early Christians (read the book of Acts to picture what this looked like) and it should be the foundation for every Christian congregation today.  We must pray for our church leaders, and guidance to be led to the people and ministries God has planned for us.  Most of all, we must pray for one another and, according to the verses from James, we should confess to one another and request prayerful intercession.

This is hard for most of us.  It’s easy enough to confess in a general way, in the church service.  You can do this without even thinking about the actual sins you’ve committed;  and even if you do think them, nobody else has to know, right?  However, the apostle James seems to be telling saying that I should actually tell another person the nasty things I’ve done (or maybe just thought) — and admit that I need prayer and healing.  Pretty scary.  Confessing to someone else, even a sister or brother in Christ, puts me in a vulnerable position.  It means not only knowing that I’m a sinner, but admitting it to another person.  What if they think less of me?  What if they blab about it to somebody else?  What if it means I actually have to take a real, close look at those sins myself?

Well, all of those things are possible.  But to be effective witnesses, we need to get down off the self-righteous pedestal we like to stand on when we’re presenting ourselves to the world.  After all, if we’re sinners, we’re going to sin, and if we could keep from sinning, we wouldn’t need Jesus.  The people we want to reach with the Good News should know that our story isn’t any different from theirs.

So, my advice is, find an accountability partner or group (for me this is the Via de Cristo reunion group).  Meet with them regularly. Keep everything discussed confidential.  Admit your failings (in other words, ‘fess up).  Ask for prayer.  You’ll find that their prayers for you are powerful and effective.