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.

 

 

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.

 

Have You Seen Jesus?

One of the questions our Fanning the Flame coach asks us at each meeting is, “Where have you seen God at work this month?”  A friend on the team said to me, “I don’t understand why we’re doing this.  God is at work all the time, it isn’t a rarity we need to point out.”  Well, yes and no.  God is always at work, the problem is we become distracted and fail to notice what’s right in front of us.  The question is really just a reminder to open our eyes and pay attention.  This isn’t something new, the disciples had the same tendency.

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” John 21:4

There’s a song we use of Via de Cristo weekends that expresses the same thought.  It’s called, “Have You Seen Jesus, My Lord?”  Listen to it and look for Jesus in the events and people around you today.

Grown-Up Faith

I can’t fairly call this post a book review because I started reading a book called Grown-Up Faith by Kevin Myers and didn’t finish it.  Not because it’s a bad book, but simply because after the first few chapters, I didn’t seem to be learning anything new.  I actually would recommend it for a small group, especially one with newer Christians, to read and discuss together.  At the end of each chapter, there is a summary about “Grown-Up Faith in Action” and some chapters in the Bible to read before tackling the next chapter.  These passages take the reader from Genesis through Revelation, giving a good overview of the Bible and its’ message.

Grown-up Faith: The Big Picture for a Bigger Life by [Myers, Kevin]

I did like the premise explained by the author at the very beginning.  Here it is:

“A grown-up faith requires the involvement of the whole person.  It doesn’t come from half measures.  We can’t be half-in and expect whole results.”

If we want to be mature Christians, we must engage our mind (Biblical knowledge), our heart (spiritual intimacy with God) and our will (holy obedience).  How many of us stop at some point in this process?  Or develop only one in one area, ignoring the others?  This can lead to several problems such as:

  • Intellectualism:  Biblical knowledge without any real relationship with God or obedience to His Word
  • Emotionalism:  A relationship with God without knowledge of the Bible and obedience
  • Legalism:  Obedience to the Bible’s “rules” without an understanding of the full meaning of the gospel or spiritual intimacy with God

Individuals and even denominations can fall into the trap of being less than whole Christians because they neglect some areas, or overemphasize one.  My big take-away is something I’ve heard for years at Via de Cristo retreats:

There is no Christian life without Christian action

And it might be added, that action must spring from a correct motivation — one that flows out of a heart-felt relationship with Christ and a true knowledge of His teachings.

This book gives us all something to think about.  On which area am I (and possibly my church) weak?  I would say the Lutherans with whom I’m most familiar, lean toward intellectualism.  We know our Scripture well, but don’t always have a true hunger for Christ and obedience to His Word.  We know we’re saved by grace, isn’t that enough?  Well, it is and it isn’t.  True grace will lead us into true relationship and true obedience. Wherever you find yourself, go one step further.  Grow up in your faith.

 

 

Knowing Our Ideal, part 8

People can have an ideal for themselves, for their family, for a group, their country or even mankind.

I work for a hospital.  Our workplace ideal is to be the healthcare provider of choice in our county.  My husband and I have an ideal, as parents, of raising our children to become responsible, productive and contented adults.  A national ideal in the United States is to offer freedom and opportunity to every citizen.

Our ideals can be characterized by our goals.  If a person seeks a certain set of goals, her ideal will be different from someone pursuing other goals.  The person whose primary goal is career advancement will have a different ideal than someone whose goal is to raise and nurture a large family.

We also need the recognize the difference between the ideals we actually hold — our real ideals–and those we like to believe we hold –our apparent ideals.  Too often we tell ourselves we hold a very worthwhile goal, when, in truth, the way we live points to something very different.  I find my teenage daughters are very good at picking up on this tendency.  We recently had a very heated discussion about why I thought they should attend our church youth group meetings.  I saw my ideal as helping them to make Christian friends and grow in their faith.  They felt that since they attend church and already have Christian friends, my true ideal was to look good in the eyes of others, especially my friends, the youth leaders.  Know what?  They were probably right.

The time has come to consider the question, “What is my ideal?”

Compare your life to a boat.  Your ideal — what you are trying to become–is the mast.  Your personality–what you are–is the keel.  These two elements determine what your life will be like.  If the mast is too large, it will swamp the boat, but if it is too small, the boat will not travel as far as it could.

Think about your life.  Where do you direct your thoughts?  How to do you spend your money?  What do you do with your spare time?  The answer to these questions will reveal your true ideal.

Hoping this will raise some questions we can post about this month.  Authors and readers, what is your true ideal?

An Authentic Ideal, part 7

An authentic ideal is capable of satisfying a person’s every need.  It is vital, providing great meaning to life.  It is complete, so that we are able to live our whole life for the ideal.  It will lead us to maturity.

The authentic ideal must be attainable.  If my ideal is to become the queen of England, I am doomed to frustration, because I will never qualify for the job.  It must also be a goal or goals that are definable and understandable on a personal level.  “World Peace” may be a beautiful sounding ideal, but how do I work toward it?  If I have only a vague idea without clear, short term plans, I will soon become discouraged and lose motivation.

The authentic ideal has a series of progressive goals which are each attainable within a satisfactory time period, but it is always able to present new goals, so that the person is continually encouraged to grow.  Each goal must inspire a person to be faithful to the primary ideal, willing to give away a little more of herself each time because the results are worth it.

A good ideal gives direction and meaning to life.  A good ideal can help a person surmount difficulties.  It can help people overcome their fears and achieve greater things than they could have before.

A person with an authentic ideal does not live just for herself.  She lives for something greater.  She may even be willing to sacrifice herself.  A person’s ideal is potentially more important than life itself.  Think of the founders of our country.  For the ideal of religious freedom, they were willing to sacrifice home, security, family and belongings.  Many lost their lives.  All the things that are really worthwhile in human history have come about due to the ideals which people have held.

One of the most disappointing experiences in life is for a person to give themselves to a false ideal.  Consider someone who pours their energies into electing a particular political candidate, only to have that person renege on their promises once in office.  This can cause disillusionment and make future self giving and commitment to an ideal difficult.

On the other hand, a person can become so cautious that they refuse to give of themselves to any other person or cause.  Fear of taking a risk will prevent us from reaching our full human potential.  Therefore, people must exercise careful discernment and then commit themselves to a worthwhile ideal because this is the only path to their true selves.

More to come …..

What is An Ideal? Part 6

What exactly is an ideal?

An ideal is the center of our goals, it is the combination of ideas, aspirations and preferences which attract a person and move her toward its’ attainment.  Another way to describe an ideal is to say a persons’ ideal is what she is headed for.  It is her image of what she wants to become.

The ideal has two components:  vision and motivation.  Vision is the foundation of the ideal–the combination of ideas, aspirations and preferences which constitute the reason for our life.  It could be compared to the chassis of a car, or the framework.  Motivation is the moving element, the engine.  It is the impulse, the attraction that moves us toward our ideal and is based on our capacity to give of ourselves.

Both elements are necessary.  Without vision, we have no idea what we are moving toward.  Without motivation, our ideal is meaningless, because it cannot be attained.

There is no such thing as human life without an ideal.  A person has an ideal throughout her life, although she might not be fully aware of it.  I remember when my daughters were little girls they would say, “I want to grow up and be just like you, Mommy.”  This is an ideal often expressed in childhood.  Now, as teenagers, things have changed.  For one thing, their ideals mark them as unique individuals.  To Beth, band is life.  Nothing is more important to her than the people, the activities and the goals of the high school marching band.  Kate, on the other hand, is focused on academic achievement and the rewards she believes this ideal will bring her.  These youthful ideals will one day be replaced with new ones related to the type of career, family and lifestyle they each decide to pursue.  Every ideal my children hold as they mature will influence who they are and what they become.  Their ideals will shape and characterize their lives.  The higher their ideals, the more fully human they will become.

To be continued …..