Out of Your Devotional Life

I posted recently about a Fanning the Flame CD our team spent time hearing.  The topic was “protecting the pastor’s time” and it focused on how the pastor must be allowed time to pray and study because (get this, it’s important):  his preaching must flow out of his devotional life.  If your pastor is not speaking with and listening to God, his preaching may be great public speaking, but it won’t be the Word that God wants you and your church family to hear right now.

The next thing that came to my mind is this:  all of us need to protect our times of prayer and study because:  the ministry we undertake must flow out of our devotional life.  Just like the pastor, if we are not taking time to listen to God and follow his leading, we may do a million “good” things that are not the task God has in mind for us, right here and right now.

Prayer

It’s easy to get distracted.  It’s easy to give in to putting out fires and taking care of what seems urgent, instead of what’s truly important.  There are times when we need to step in, but often we create our own “emergencies” because we enjoy feeling needed and indispensable.  Maybe we even enjoy being the martyr who has to do it all because nobody else seems interested.  This isn’t just a modern day problem.  Remember what Jesus told Martha?

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things;  one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:41-42

Mary was taking the time to listen to the Lord;  Martha was following her own agenda.  Letting our ministry flow out of our devotional life takes patience and discipline.  Sometimes it will require waiting for the Lord’s timing; sometimes it will make us uncomfortable;  but it can be done.  Help when you can, but don’t forget to make time for “the good portion.”

 

Protecting the Pastor’s Time -Fanning the Flame CD

Once again our Fanning the Flame team gathered to listen to a CD.  This time the topic was “protecting the Pastor’s time.”  It started out with a reading from Acts, Chapter 6.  There is a controversy about the daily division of food, and the twelve disciples gathered together and decided:

“It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.  Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.  We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”  Acts 6:2-4

Notice it is not a question of the disciples being “too good” to perform such a menial task.  The men selected were also well respected, wise and spiritual.  It is a matter or prioritizing duties.  The disciples were called to a particular ministry, and they needed to focus on that responsibility.

Strangely (or not so strangely) enough, we were also recently reading this passage in Sunday School, as part of our study of spiritual gifts.  Certain gifts such as apostleship, teaching, shepherding and evangelism (probably most pastors have one or more of these) build up the body of Christ — they help it to grow, spiritually and numerically.  If the Pastor is distracted by too many “emergencies” and cannot concentrate on these gifts, the body will suffer.  According to the speaker, a good preacher will spend up to 22 hours per week in prayer, study and sermon preparation.  Is this really important?  Well, studies have shown that one of the biggest factors in whether visitors chose to join a particular church is the quality of the sermons and the preparedness of the preacher.  So, yes, it is.  Also, this speaker contends that a pastor’s counseling load will go down if his preaching is earnest and compelling enough to make a difference in the way his congregants lead their lives.

I actually think our congregation is quite respectful of my husband’s time.  However, as part of our Fanning the Flame process, he is trying to pull back from certain responsibilities that really aren’t his — for example, attending Church Council meetings.  He now goes to begin the meeting with some devotions and then leaves the council members to their work.  There is really no reason for him to be involved in getting the plumbing fixed, or scheduling the church picnic.

This CD urged pastors and church leaders to agree upon a list of 3-5 priorities for the pastor.  The list would probably include:

  1. Prayer and study
  2. Teaching and preaching the Word
  3. Leadership development

The CD also stressed the need for a commonly understood plan for all members to pray regularly for their pastor and church leaders.  This could even include signing a pledge or covenant and setting a particular time of the day.

The bottom line?  Your Pastor and every pastor needs to continue to grow in his relationship with the Lord.  His preaching should flow out of his devotional life.

Not a Tame Lion–The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis by Terry Gaspey–Book Review

This biography of C.S. Lewis is the second I’ve read from the Leaders In Action series recommended by Fanning the Flame.  I chose it because Lewis is a writer (and I’m an English major) and I’m familiar with most of his work.  This book is written with the average reader in mind and doesn’t try to give an academic critique of Lewis as an author.

Lewis was a well-known Christian apologist, who believed that intellect is an important element of our faith.  His own conversion was gradual, as he came to accept that Christianity was not “pie in the sky” but was the religion that made the most sense.  Throughout his writing he tried to provide reasonable, logical answers to those questions people faced in becoming or remaining Christian.  He also wrote fictional works that, like the parables of Jesus, put the tenets of the faith into stories that were easily understood and appealed to both children and adults.  He read widely (another reason I like him), wrote clearly and engagingly and had an astonishing grasp of many subjects.

According to the author, the factors behind Lewis’s success in conveying the Christian message are these:

  1. He emphasized the reasonableness of the gospel, showing that it is based on logic and common sense, not wishful thinking
  2. He used his amazingly detailed imagination to represent the truth of the gospel in fresh ways that spoke to contemporary readers
  3. He demonstrated in both his writing and his personal life that following the gospel was indeed possible and that people can live out the gospel daily

I enjoyed the book, and it made me want to check our the work of C.S. Lewis once again, since I read most of his books when I was much younger.  I might have an entirely new perspective now.  Lewis himself believed in reading good books over and over (not a discipline I’ve developed.)  He is certainly a worthy role model for any Christian writer.

Note to Lutherans:  You will find some differences in Lewis’s theology, particularly related to free will and election

Verdict:  5 stars

Beyond Stateliest Marble by Douglas Wilson — Book Review

This book is part of the Leaders In Action series edited by George Grant.  The series was recommended in one of the Fanning the Flame CD’s our team listened to recently.  The idea is that leaders should seek out historical and Biblical leaders they can emulate.  I chose this particular book because it is the only one in the series whose subject is a woman.

Anne Bradstreet was a wife, mother, devout Puritan and also a poet.  She, her husband and other members of her family came from England to American in 1630 and eventually settled in Boston.  Both her father, Thomas Dudley, and her husband, Simon Bradstreet served as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The author goes to great pains to show us that the Puritans were not dull, dour or uneducated, and that Anne, as an intellectually curious, passionate and winsome woman was not out of place in their midst.  Her world view was completely Christian and orthodox (in her case, Calvinistic).   Her poems dealt with her own everyday concerns such as family, household possessions, deliverance from illness, and the struggles that come with the death of loved ones.  She considered everything that was happening to her in light of Biblical teaching.  She questioned, but never challenged God.

“Like all Christians, she (Anne) had to strive in her faithfulness to God …. she was a Christian growing in the midst of trials.”

Cotton Mather called her poetry “a Monument for her Memory beyond the stateliest marbles.”  She was the first American poetess before Emily Dickinson, and unlike Dickinson, she wrote while in the midst of a full and rich family life.  However, biographer Elizabeth White says:

“It is as a human being,…. that she can still appeal to us over the centuries.  She had a firm and lively character, avid for knowledge, generous in affection and admiration, with a quiet but perceptive humor….”

Anne is certainly worthy of admiration and imitation.  She was a woman of her time, and she lived in her time and her station with joy.  Isn’t that what we all want to do?  Her personality comes through in her poetry and in the way she conducted her life and influenced others in her family and community.  I would recommend this book as a means of learning more about Anne and the early Puritans.  Verdict:  4 stars — I enjoyed it, but it may be too much of an English major moment for some readers!

Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place

This song from the 1970’s was written by Lanny Wolfe, an American Christian music songwriter, musician, music publisher, and music teacher.  The song came to Wolfe while he was waiting for a church dedication.  He immediately wrote down the words and melody, taught it to his trio and played it on the spot.  It’s often used on our Lutheran Via de Cristo weekends, and I used it recently as part of a closing devotion with our Fanning the Flame team.  It’s a good reminder that God is with us everywhere.

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”  Genesis 28:16

 

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Gifts from the Holy Spirit

This was written by one of our Fanning the Flame team members, Debbie.  It is about her experience in learning more about spiritual gifts.

One of the many positive things coming out of Fanning the Flame is that we are finding out what our spiritual gifts are. Some of us already know what our gift is but we might not really understand what it means and are not quite sure how we can use it to the glory of God. God has given us all spiritual gifts through the Holy Spirit. We may find out we have more than one but one or two are the strongest. One thing I have learned is that there are spiritual gifts that I don’t have that someone else may have but that is okay. I need to use the gifts God has given me because as a congregation we need to use the gifts that are given to each of us. When you put all of our gifts together we have everything covered to do God’s work. That is the Holy Spirit’s plan. A Church that as a congregation does not use their gifts is impotent. The definition of the word impotent as used in the Bible is “to be without strength”. That means the Church that does not use their gifts will not be a healthy Church. Even though we may know what our gifts are and would like to use them as God has intended we might not know what to do. I know for me that the Small Groups Discipleship Ministry that we are starting is going to help me use my gifts working with others in the group. In a small group you get a chance to really get to know each other and learn to work together to achieve what we are intended to do. I personally don’t think I would be able to do enough on my own but in a small group I feel the possibilities are endless. Anyone who has not done a spiritual gift assessment I urge you do that. It is very interesting and exciting to do. Also Joan is sharing her knowledge of spiritual gifts with us in the Sunday School class. We are looking at each spiritual gift and what them mean, where they are described in the Bible and there is discussion of examples of each and how they apply in our daily lives.

1 Corinthians 12:6-7 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Fanning the Flame #22 — More on Leadership

This past Saturday the Fanning the Flame gathered to listen the continuation of a talk on leadership given by Harry Reeder.  Here are some of my take-aways:

To take the first steps, a leader must have a mission/vision.  He or she does the basics well, and understands the need for a personal coach.  Great leaders lead with hope.

Skills a leader needs to put into place include:

  1. Modeling (so that others can imitate)
  2. Mentoring (teach)
  3. Managing in a way that equips and implements
  4. Motivating
  5. Ministering (help people by evaluation)

Leaders who multiply leaders are:

  • Insatiable learners
  • Seize their own personal learning moments, i.e. failure and challenges
  • Constantly coach others
  • Use memorable maxims
  • Help those they are teaching to see their own learning moments and give them the freedom to learn and grow from mistakes

And this is very important:  Effective leaders do NOT develop leadership teams, they develop teams of leaders.  They generate leadership factories.

Leadership teams are developed by:

  • Lining up the gifts and passions of members with the goal of the team
  • Character
  • Competency and skills
  • Commitment
  • Maintaining energy through the team leader, believing in the mission/vision, team dynamic and relationships and overcoming obstacles.

To become a better leader you should:

  • Develop your personal spiritual formation
  • Select 3-7 models from scripture and history
  • Have 3-5 mentors that you approach as life coaches
  • Develop an encouragement team
  • Develop an infrastructure that requires/encourages teams

The “Leaders In Action” book series was recommended as a resource.  Note to the ladies:  I checked this series out and have requested a few to read and review;  however, disappointingly there is only one woman included in the set.

 

 

 

Are you Comfortable?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the quote below to be true.  Sometimes God doesn’t get my attention until I’m uncomfortable.  I don’t take the trouble to change until I feel there’s so choice: until  I’m so miserable with the existing circumstances that I have to do something.  When I’m comfortable, I tend to forget about God — or at least His presence moves to the background.  I’m okay, so I don’t need Him.

To grow spiritually, we have to step out of our comfort zone.  At St. Paul’s we’re doing this in a variety of ways through our Fanning the Flame process.  We’re reading new books and considering new ideas.  We’re evaluating our gifts and our current prayer practices.  We’re going to be meeting in small groups and finding ways to invite others to journey along with us.  Most of all, we’re making God and our vision as His people part of every process.  We want to be doing the things He would have us be about, instead of simply “doing church” the way we’ve always done it in the past.

This doesn’t mean we have to give up treasured traditions, the traditional liturgy, or anything else about our congregation.  It does mean we have to be intentional about what we’re doing.  We won’t move forward in our spiritual lives by just existing day to day in the same thoughtless way.  Our faith wasn’t meant to keep us safe and comfortable;  it was meant to send us out into risky places, depending upon God to guide us.  This is the only way we’ll learn to hear His voice and depend on Him.

So, don’t keep marching in place!  Use those muscles!    Get uncomfortable!

So freaking true. If you arent getting uncomfortable you arent growing. I can remember a handful of times in my life when I took the easy way out of things to avoid feeling uncomfortable. You know feeling embarrassed scared like an outcast type of uncomfortable. Looking back on it I never really learned anything from those experiences because I always stopped myself from doing anything other than my normal routine. I was stuck and so close-minded about what a little discomfort could do to my li

Know Yourself/Know God

This is another quote from my daily devotional.  The author is E.B. Pusey, who was an English Anglican theologian.  It reminds me that as we go through the Fanning the Flame process at our church, we’re learning to understand ourselves better, and that leads us to understand more about God — what He made us to do, where we fit in His Kingdom, how ever-present He is in our daily lives.  I hope you like it, too.

“God knows us through and through.  Not the most secret thought, which we most hide from ourselves is hidden from Him.  As then we come to know ourselves through and through, we come to see ourselves more as God sees us, and then we catch some little glimpse of His designs with us, how each ordering of His Providence, each check to our desires, each failure of our hopes, is just fitted for us, and for something in our own spiritual state, which others know not of, and which till then, we know not.  Until we come to this knowledge, we must take in all faith, believing, though we know not, the goodness of God toward us.  As we know ourselves, we thus far, know God.”

Fanning the Flame #21 More on Small Groups

Last Saturday a number of our members gathered to learn more about what our Small Group Task Force has been learning and planning.  Members of the task force and our pastor gave brief talks on topics such as:

  • The Biblical basis for small group ministry
  • The Importance of small groups
  • What small groups will look like at St. Paul’s
  • Qualities of small group facilitators
  • Group dynamics
  • Relationship evangelism
  • Doctrinal issues which may arise

and more!  There was plenty of time for questions and discussion.  There were some important take-aways.  One for me was:

Relational structures like Biblical small groups are an integral part of “being” the church and not just “doing” church.  The consumer mentality rampant in our culture has distorted our understanding of community.  People tend to focus on what they are going to get out of going to  church …. rather than what God is going to do in us and through us …

I hear many people talk about finding the right church which has the best programs and services that will help them.  Instead we need to remember that the best church is the one where we can serve effectively!

Another thing I learned is that a good small group facilitator does not have the same qualities as a good teacher.  Here are the differences:

Teaching                                                               Facilitating

Teaching                                                                Leading

Teacher Centered                                                  Student Centered

Passive for Group Members                                  Active for All

Ownership belongs to the Teacher                        Ownership is shared

Telling                                                                     Asking

I’ve always felt that although I can teach, it isn’t my strong point.  Now I know that my spiritual gifts make me a much more gifted facilitator.

We’re going to be forming a couple of “practice” groups that will meet and give participants a chance to try out being a facilitator, and also see the benefits that will affect all the participants.  I’m looking forward to being a part of that, and learning some things that will help me as one of the Adult Sunday School teachers (Sunday School is, after all, a small group).

Look for more as we proceed, and keep praying for us, readers!