You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith–Book Review

,,According to author James Smith, What do you want? is the most important question of Christian discipleship. Most, or at least many of us have the intellectual knowledge — we know what we should want as followers of Christ — the problem is that in our heart, what we really want is something else. That’s because we are all influenced unconsciously by what Smith calls “secular liturgies” or habits. We like to believe that “we are what we think” when in reality “we are what we desire.”

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

This means that in addition to studying the Bible, we need to “do” Christianity by establishing traditions and disciplines that help virtuous behavior sink into our bones and become our default position. The liturgy of the church helps with that. Rituals such as baptism, Holy Communion, repeating the creeds, confession, even the simple act of gathering together, reorients and focuses us on the kingdom of God where our true citizenship belongs. Family “liturgies” such as praying together, observing the seasons of the church year, even eating meals together ground us in our faith.

On the other hand, too often secular “liturgies” are allowed to influence our religious life. If worship is modeled after a concert and stop at Starbucks, and Youth Group is reduced to a “game night” we’ve missed the mark.

As Christians we need to place ourselves in God’s story. In the final chapter, Smith says:

“The body of Christ should be a testimony to the kingdom that is coming, bearing witness to how the world will be … Our work and our practices should be foretastes of that coming new city and thus should include protest and critique. Our engagement with God’s world is not about running the show or winning a culture war. We are called to be witnesses, not necessarily winners.”

We are called to be different, and we need to develop the habits and rituals that will make that a reality in our daily lives.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. Thought provoking and challenging. I recommend this one!

For more about Christian worship see these posts:

The Ways We Worship

First Things First — Who (or what) Do You Worship?

Worship Essentials – Book Review

The End of All Things

I’ve been reading through the book of 1 Peter slowly, pausing to contemplate the verse or phrase that jumps out at me in each section. I’m up to Chapter 4, and what strikes home with me is this:

:”The end of all things is at hand...” 1 Peter 4:7

At the time this was written, many Christians thought that Jesus could return very soon, maybe even during their life time. Of course, this didn’t happen. Most Lutherans believe that we are in the end times now, a period which began when Christ ascended. We don’t know when the final end of things will come — it could be any minute, or it could be a thousand years from now. Our time is not God’s time.

For me personally, this phrase has a different meaning — I’m over 70 now and according to Psalm 90:

“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10

Realistically, the end of all thing things for me is near. Modern medicine has pushed our life expectancy up a bit, but not that much. Both my husband and I lost younger brothers this year — our generation is now the one that is dying off.

Now, I could find this depressing, but I don’t. I look back on my life with satisfaction and gratitude for the things I’ve accomplished, and the friends and family I’ve known. I am looking forward to seeing people who have gone before me again; I certainly yearn for that time when aches and pains, anxiety and grief, all the “toil and trouble” of life are removed. Suffering hold fear for me, but not death. It will lead to a new and better way of life.

Peter has some advice for those of us nearing the end (and really that’s everyone because life could end any minute, not matter what our age). Here’s what you and I should be doing:

*Be self-controlled and sober-minded — life is serious business

*Love one another– so much quarreling and tension will be removed this way

*Show hospitality without grumbling — everyone needs some help and understanding now and then

*Serve each other, using our gifts for the good of mankind –leave the world a little better than you found it

It’s simple, really, but important. Your time is precious. Don’t waste it — the end is near.

For more about death see:

Martin Luther on God’s Victory Over Death

death is but a dream by Christopher Kerr, MD—Book review

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Death

Walking With Jesus — Another Quote

I’m evidently not done with last month’s theme, because I came across this quote in my daily devotions. Edward Pusey (1800-1882) was one of the major figures of the Oxford Movement, a reform movement in the Church of England.

“If we be faithful and humble, God will increase our faith by enabling us to obey more faithfully, and will strengthen our sight by enabling us to do what we now see. As in our daily walk we become nearer towards heaven, He will open to us more of heaven. And so the veil which sin laid upon our sight being taken away ‘we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass, the glory of the Lord,’ studying His countenance, watching His looks, seeking to have His gracious and compassionate look cast upon us in the midst of our frailties and infirmities, may catch some faint reflections of its brightness and be changed into the image wheron we gaze, which we love, which in our weakness, we would long to copy and transfuse into ourselves; we too may be ‘changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Edward Pusey

For more quotes by Edward Pusey see:

Surrendering Every Day

Clothed With Christ

Victorious Faith

Growing Up, Part 5

Learning about my spiritual gifts helped a lot, but I wasn’t grown up yet. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us:

Each one of you has received a special grace, so like good stewards responsible for all these different graces from God, put yourselves at the service of others.”

I began to seek out ways to use the talents God had given me. This sometimes meant taking a risk, but as a Christian friend once told me, “if you’re going to try something new, do it at church. If you fail, they’ll still love you!” One of the first things I did after taking the spiritual gifts class was start to write Vacation Bible School programs for our church. That was a big risk, because in addition to the skills I had, it required some of the ones I didn’t — crafts and organization. But you know what? I found other people to help me with those. That’s one of the wonderful things I’ve learned about being part of a church family, there are many people who will encourage you and help you when you step out and try to do the things God calls you to do.

Growing up as a Christian has been one of the greatest adventures of my life. Who would have guessed 40+ years ago that a shy introvert like me could do things like … lead a retreat? start a Bible study group for women? Stand up in front of a group and give a talk?

 “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26b

For more about following God’s calling see:

What’s Your Vocation?

Your Calling

Your Dream. God’s Plan. by Tiffany Smiling — Book Review

Growing Up, Part 4

Since those early days I’ve been in many different kinds of Bible study groups. There was the two year “Crossways” study Terry and I attended when our children were small. In that class, for the first time, I began to get the chronology of all those Sunday School stories straight. I made some good friends, too. I could still list for you every person who took that class with me.

Another study that had a big impact on my life was one that our pastor taught on spiritual gifts. I hadn’t really thought about my gifts before. Of course, I knew there were things I liked to do and things I didn’t. But when it came to doing things at church, I was pretty haphazard. I did things because somebody asked me to help, or because something needed to be done, or because I was interested. Sometimes this approach worked out– I was fine at many things like teaching the children, serving on the altar guild, and editing the newsletter–but I also made mistakes. There was the time I agreed to bake a lamb cake for Vacation Bible School. I baked three cakes and the final one still wouldn’t stand up the way it was supposed to! I can laugh now, but at the time it was a frustrating and unpleasant experience and one I certainly wouldn’t want to repeat.

In the gifts class, I learned there was a better way to go about serving. By evaluating my God-given talents I began to sort jobs around the church into three categories– things I was especially good at that included writing, studying and leadership; things I certainly could do like making coffee, cleaning, helping at the yard sale or visiting someone in the hospital; and things I really shouldn’t do– in my case that’s anything involving arts and craft or a high degree of organizational skill.

I’m not finished yet, so come back tomorrow for installment #5!

For more posts about spiritual gifts see:

Spiritual Gifts from the Holy Spirit

What are the Spiritual Gifts?

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

Growing Up, Part 3

When Terry and I joined the congregation, I didn’t have any experience at being an active, adult member. As a child, a family friend took me to church, Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. As a teenager and young adult, I attended services sporadically. Then after Terry and I got married, we decided to join a church, but basically, we just sat in the pew on Sunday morning. I thought that’s what belonging to a church was all about, but I was wrong. When we joined Peace In Christ, there were maybe 50 or 60 members, and God must have known just what I needed, because it’s hard to hide in a group that size. In fact, I was elected Recording Secretary at the first congregational meeting I attended. What a shock! I didn’t realize that in a small church agreeing to serve meant you got the job. Soon the pastor found out I liked to write and he suggested I get involved in helping with the newsletter and writing articles about the church for the local newspaper. I really enjoyed that, but I still wasn’t studying the Bible. After all, I knew all those stories from Sunday School class, and had even taken some courses about the Bible as literature in college. I didn’t think I needed any more.

Life has a way of moving along and changing, though, and pretty soon our first child was born. Before I knew it, she was two years old, and the nice people at church were asking if she could stay for Sunday School. Of course, that meant that Terry and I joined the adult class–what else was there to do for that hour? There I got another surprise–I discovered that the Bible is more than history or literature, it’s a guide for living life. In 1 Timothy 3:16-17 we read:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

I got to know other Christians — the ones in the Bible, and the ones in class–most of whom were more mature in the faith than I was at the time. I saw how, despite their flaws and mistakes they had a living faith–vibrant and growing. Here were people who prayed before making a decision–I had never done that. They loved and served some of the most unlovable people. They had a purpose in life. I admired them and I began to want to be more like them.

Stay tuned for more tomorrow …..

For more posts about Bible study see:

The Greatest Bible Study

Study Resources for Ladies

A Prayer Before Study

Growing Up, Part 2

Now my church family has a lot in common with the Culler family. We’re not all alike–we’re different in age, gender and personality type. We have different talents and levels of education. We each have had different life experiences. The one big thing we have in common is this — God called us together to accomplish His purpose in this place, and we need one another. The 12th Chapter of 1 Corinthians puts it this way:

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different ways of working, but the same God works all of them in all men … (and) to each one a manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…. God has arranged the parts of the body just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? … Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you has a part in it.”

However, we’re not born into a human family knowing what we want to do or can do as adults, and we’re not “born again” into the Christian family knowing that either. How do we find out?

To illustrate, I’ll tell you a little about how I grew up spiritually at Peace In Christ Lutheran Church ….. stay tuned for that story tomorrow ……

For more posts on the church family see:

Thankful for my Church Family

The Church Family

Living as a Family with One Another

Growing Up Part 1

Years ago, the vision of my church, Peace In Christ Lutheran in Walkersville was:

God’s People, Gathered Together, Growing up and Going Out through God’s Grace

At one point, to familiarize members with our vision, we held a Vision Workshop. Members gave talks on each segment of the vision — what it meant and how they had seen it applied. I recently came across the talk I wrote about “Growing Up” and thought I would share it this month.

You’ve probably noticed that in any family, there are different jobs or tasks that need to be done. It’s also true that not everyone in the family is equally able to do every job. For example, in my family, my husband, Terry rarely cooks — and to be frank, the rest of us prefer it that way! However, Terry is an excellent financial manager. He balances the checkbook, does the taxes and keeps the family records in order, and I depend upon him to do those things. Our daughter, Beth, is the only family member with artistic ability and so she is consulted on picture arrangement, color selection and poster projects. Kate, the most extroverted among us, keeps the dinner conversation lively. Of course, there are quite a few tasks that any one of us can handle like vacuuming or cleaning the bathroom. And believe me, life is better in the Culler household when everyone pitches in.

The family, however, has goals beyond housekeeping. One of the deepest human drives is the search for direction and meaning in life. A family is the best place to find encouragement and help in discovering who we are and what we do best. In our family, we’ve always tried to encourage the girls in their interests. At different times this has meant paying for music lessons and instruments; art classes; becoming soccer parents; going to Girl Scout meetings, band competitions and recitals. We even packed Kate up and sent her to Germany for a year as an exchange student. You get the idea! And it’s not only children, we adults grow and change also. When Terry and I were first married, he decided to go back to school, so I supported him through college and graduate school. He has been patient with my enthusiasms also. There were the years I decided to write the Vacation Bible School programs for Peace In Christ. I remember Terry telling someone how for months before VBS started, our house would be littered with books, maps and craft ideas (not easy for a neat freak to tolerate) and my mind was racing with ideas for that year’s theme to the virtual exclusion of everything else in our lives. He knew how important it was to me, so he helped me in any way he could.

To be continued …..

For more about family see these posts:

The Blessing of Family

Being a Family Blessing

A Family Prayer

1 Peter Chapter 3–What Stands Out?

This must be a favorite chapter of mine, because a number of phrases stand out and I have written about them before. For example, “a gentle and quiet spirit” 1 Peter 3:4 (A Gentle and Quiet Spirit), “with gentleness and respect” 1 Peter 3:16 (With Gentleness and Respect) and “seek peace and pursue it” 1 Peter 3:11 (Pursue Peace). Peter is chock-full of good advice! This time, I’ll pick something different — “the hidden person of the heart.” In any number of places, Scripture tells us that God does not judge us because of the way we look, or even our behavior, but by the true motivation and intentions in our heart. When God chose David, He told Samuel:

” The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

And Jesus rebuked the Pharisees saying,

““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” Matthew 23:27

What does this tell me? First of all, God sees everything. I may fool those around me by a lot of good deeds or holy-seeming behavior, but I can’t fool Him. Secondly, that I need to cultivate that “hidden person” deep inside. Changing what I do is important, but changing how I think is critical. In fact, if I change the way I think, I probably won’t have to worry so much about what I do!

This isn’t easy. When my reunion group friend and I review our behavior, we often admit that we’re more likely to be guilty of doing good things with a poor attitude than doing bad things. What’s the answer? I find it in prayer– praying to love those people who annoy me; praying to accept my duty with a cheerful heart; praying to give others the benefit of the doubt … just praying continually. I can change my behavior, but only God can change my heart.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” Romans 12:2

For more about transformation see:

Rebirth and Transformation

This Is Your Brain on Faith

Learning to Count It All Joy

Jesus, My Shepherd

My husband is a recently retired pastor and we’ve been visiting different churches in our area. This past Sunday, at the church we attended, the readings, sermon and hymns all had to do with Jesus as our shepherd. I’ve always liked this image, and it’s probably the one that most influences the way I visualize and experience God “The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want” was the sermon hymn for the day. It’s based on the 23rd Psalm and it first appeared in print in the Scottish Psalter of 1650. I hadn’t heard it for a while, and I enjoyed singing it. Listen, and sing along if you like!

For more posts about the Good Shepherd see:

The Good Shepherd

Like a Shepherd Lead Us

Martin Luther on Preachers as Shepherds