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 #15 –Getting Good

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already obtained. Philippians 3:12-16

A book I read recently stated  that “getting good” at any complicated task takes about 10,000 hours of practice.  Now this author wasn’t speaking about the living the Christian life, but I imagine it still applies.  So if you want to “get good” at being a Christian, simply sitting in the pew won’t cut it.  At the rate of one hour per week, “getting good” will take approximately 192 years!  In case you haven’t noticed, none of us have that long!  To really mature as a Christian, we need to put in the hours –hours of prayer, Bible study, service and more.

This is exactly what the Fanning the Flame process is teaching us.  As a team, we are learning to be more disciplined in our prayer life;  to discover and use our spiritual gifts;  to repent of our sins;  to remember God’s promises;  to study His Word;  to fellowship with one another, and so on.  Hopefully, as we mature in our faith, we will influence others within the congregation to do the same.  We’ll be stronger, better witnesses.

Will we ever achieve complete sanctification?  Lutherans don’t think so.  However, like Paul, we need to press on and do what is in our power to become worthy followers of the gift we have already been given.  Christ died for our sins so that we could be reconciled with God and live with Him in eternity.  Is it enough to plunk ourselves down in the sanctuary once a week, sing a few hymns and drop a few dollars in the offering plate?  Is this a show of true gratitude, or is it just a pious habit we’ve developed over the years?  We can’t stand still in the life of faith, we have to practice.  We have to get good.

 

 

Preaching By The Book – A Book Review

This book is the second in a series published through Hobbs College Library (part of OBU).  I will start off by saying that this book is not for the average layperson.  It is a deep study of the formation of sermons.  The author of this book, R. Scott Pace is a distinguished writer and professor who utilizes his experience to assist pastors in developing their sermon style.

 

The book is divided into the following three sections:  Foundation, Framework, Finishing Touches; within each section of these three sections are the sublevels of sermon writing.  In foundation, the reader is given information about the inspiration and investigation into the sermon topic.  He advises the reader that unless the foundation is solid (Based on the Word of God) the rest will falter.  The next section, framework, progresses into interpretation and implementation of the Word and how to study and use the information received to write a sermon.  The final section, Finishing Touches goes into introductions, illustrations, invitations, and conclusions.

 

Throughout the book, Mr. Pace stresses the importance of using the truth of God’s word in your sermons.  He also stresses the impact of a personality in a sermon.  I can identify with that because I am more apt to actually hear a sermon that has a personality to it.  I do not mean the pastor is acting like an idiot, but just that their individual personality shines through the words they are speaking.

 

Even though this book is not geared towards laypeople, but towards pastors, I enjoyed learning about structuring sermons and how to make sure they follow a good format.

 

I would give this book 5 out of 5 stars and a must for those starting to deliver God’s word.

 

I was given a free copy of this book for an honest review by B&H Publishing.

Cornerstones – A Book Review

Brian Dembowczyk has written a book that reviews 200 basic questions about God, Jesus, the Church and pretty much any basic theological question you can imagine.  He starts of with a letter to parents about why he wrote the book and how to use it to develop a spiritual nature in their children.

The book is colorful and interesting in its format It is broken into 7 sections.  The sections are listed below:

  1. God
  2. Creation
  3. Sin
  4. Jesus
  5. Salvation
  6. The Bible
  7. Discipleship
  8. The Church and Last Things

Even though the questions and answers are a simple format and are geared towards children; I feel that this book would work well with anyone who is new to the faith or would like to renew the knowledge they have.

I found the answers simple, correct and to the point, and since I prefer books that are straight to the point I enjoyed this one.

Keep in mind this book is to be used as a family unit, you are not to give the book to someone and walk away, it is an interactive study to expand and deepen the knowledge a person has of their spiritual walk.

I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars and would recommend it as required family reading.

 

I was given a free copy of this book in return for an unbiased review.

The CSB Worldview Study Bible

The Worldview CSB Study Bible is a newer translation called the Christian Standard Bible.  This translation is said to be more reader-friendly.  I did not really have a problem with the verses I checked against my ESV and will continue to utilize it in my studies since I like to use several translations.  There are approximately 100 essays located throughout the Bible written by different professors, theologians, Pastors, etc. that range in topics from how to use the study Bible to different religions and modern issues we as Christians are dealing with.  I did not really care for them to be scattered throughout the Bible I would have preferred to have them in the back as an appendix.  The study notes are located at the bottom of the text and any additional reference verses are located in the middle column.  In the New Testament, all Old Testament references in the text are in bold, and I find that I like that and wish all Bibles would do it.  Before I review the actual physical characteristics I want to put in a word of caution.  If ANY of the study notes raise a question, talk to your Pastor, Priest Spiritual Head or whatever they are referred to as; do not accept information that is contrary to your beliefs in any way.  That being said the notes that I review were on target with my theology, but of course, I did not read every study note.  There is a very nicely detailed concordance in the back along with colorful maps.

Physical Characteristics – It is a blue Leather touch with silver gilding on the page edges.  It comes in a sturdy box that if giving as a gift and mailing should do well.  There is a presentation page with the verse Revelations 22:6A Then He said to me, “These words are faithful and true” I liked that and felt it gave it a great touch.  There are 2 ribbon markers one for the Old Testament and one for the New Testament.

I give this Study Bible 4 out of 5 stars based on the information I read and would recommend it for purchase.

I was given a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

The CSB Study Bible for Women – Book Review

This is the Christian Standard Bible translation offered by Holman.  The exterior of this Bible has a hardback light turquoise with a cream bookend.  It comes with a very pretty flowered paper jacket.  The appearance of this Bible is feminine and the only thing I would like to see changed is that the flower jacket covered the entire exterior.

The interior has a lot of features to review, starting with the wife and husband family trees located in the very front of the book.  It then lists the Ketubah, which is a Jewish marriage contract, I found the information about this interesting and it also gives space for your own personal contract to be written.  Next comes the listing of family milestones and spiritual mothers.  Since there are events and people in our lives that shape us, this is a great way to honor them.

The introduction to the Study Bible had some very relevant suggestions and ideas that were written by Dorothy Kelley Patterson (professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary).  There is also a section on how to actually study the Bible.  There are essays from various women throughout the Bible and also different charts and maps to help.

One of the many items I liked were the word studies located throughout.  Each one picks a single word and gives a more detailed breakdown; origin, different locations in the Bible, etc.)  The concordance is the back has many different features including related terms, color coding for old, new or both.

Now to the meat of the review.  I checked the translation against my ESV, NIV, and NLT and found them to be similar.  I like the format of the study notes and how much information is provided.  The essays and study notes were extensive and I did not read all of them, but the ones I did were in line with the Lutheran doctrine.

However, if anyone should have questions about any notes in a study Bible, I would suggest a discussion with your Pastor in case the notes are not conducive to your doctrine.

That being said I would purchase this Study Bible and give it 3 out of 4 stars.

You may purchase it at:  https://www.lifeway.com/en/product/the-csb-study-bible-for-women-light-turquoise-sand-hardcover-P005787303

 

Problems or Blessings #2

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15

Well, I almost blew it again.  Just like Paul in the book of Romans, I know the right way to act, but more often than not, I keep choosing the same old sin.  A little while back, I blogged about how most of our “problems” are really just annoyances or inconveniences, and instead of whining and complaining, we should focus on the actual blessings we’ve received.  Today I had a test of just this sort of situation, and I came close to forgetting all my good intentions.

On Tuesday our church has a regularly scheduled Bible Study at 10:30AM.  I went over an hour early so that I could run off some copies needed for the Wednesday Prayer meeting and the next Fanning the Flame meeting.  I got there only to find a repairman working on the copier!  I got pretty cranky with my husband–after all, he could have called me to let me know what was going on, couldn’t he? I didn’t even bring a book to read (duh, what about my Bible?) and I didn’t have anything to do until class started. What a waste of my precious time.

Then it dawned on me — Joan, this gives you an hour to pray!  No interruptions, no phones, a beautiful sanctuary to sit in — what a blessing!  It calmed me down and I realized that not only did I have my Bible, I had my little Pilgrim’s Guide (a book of prayers of Bible verses from my Via de Cristo weekend) in my purse.  So I spent a peaceful hour thanking God, examining my conscience (something that I evidently sorely need to do), and reading over the chapter we’re studying (which I hadn’t found time for).  And you know what?  After class, I got the copying done, too.  Another first world problem solved!