Always Amending, YBH?

Many Christians will agree with the idea that we should be “always amending” our lives, but there is still what I call the YBH question — yes, but how? In order to become a better person, a more worthy disciple, we must take some action. What should we do and how?

I think the key is to form habits. If you’re dissatisfied with the time you spend in prayer, reading your Bible, or serving others, you can work to make these things habitual parts of your daily routine. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Start small. Read a chapter of the Bible a day, pray for ten minutes, take on one ministry that really interests you.
  2. Have a “cue.” For example, tie your activity to something you already do regularly — for example, I will read the Bible while I enjoy my morning coffee, or I will pray every evening right before I get in bed.
  3. Need to make time? Some people get up earlier, stay up later, or use their lunch hour. If you start with a small goal, this will work.
  4. Have a Plan B, if you miss your regular “cue” when will you fit the activity in?
  5. Do it with friends. A Bible study group, prayer or ministry team, or an accountability partner will help you not just have a plan but stick with your plan.
  6. Don’t give up! When you fail (and you will), just get back to your routine as soon as you can.
  7. Don’t expect immediate results. Take stock after six months or a year, and you will probably see that some things have changed. Then you can set a new goal.

We all have limitations, and we’re not perfect. We won’t be able to achieve complete sanctification in this life. but we can always improve. Thankfully, our salvation does not depend upon our works, but on God’s grace! He loves you and so do I!

For more about developing spiritual disciplines see these posts:

What Do You Practice?

Fanning the Flame #16 Personal Spiritual Discipline

Prayer Disciplines Part 1

Deeper by Dane C. Orland — Book Review

Subtitled, “Real Change for Real Sinners”, this book is about the process of sanctification. At first, I found it a bit simplistic — but that is actually the author’s point. We all need to go back to the basics in order to grow. Real, positive growth happens when we go deeper and deeper into the basics that we may have known for years.

The first step, if we’re growing in Christ, is to know what Christ is like. Then we need to despair — despair of being able to save ourselves on our own. We have to see and admit the sin that is always with us. When we collapse into the love of Christ, we are united with Him. We’re transformed, and our future is no longer bound up in the sinful Adam –we’re a new creation in Christ. All of this is the necessary foundation that leads to the dynamics by which believers change. We have been acquitted, or justified and are now reconciled with God.

The author then turns toward the question of how we practically, absorb the truth of our salvation into our daily lives. He focuses on two tools which he considers most important — the Bible and prayer. Our relationship with Christ must be nurtured and fed.

So, yes, this is a book about basics, and the most basic instruction is this — Look to Christ. We need to reminded, and to follow His teachings and example every day.

VERDICT: 5 STARS.

The Lutheran Ladies received a free e-copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CPR 255.

For more book reviews see these posts:

Pure In Heart by J. Garrett Kell–Book Review

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger–Book Review

Every Which Way to Pray by Joyce Meyer–Book Review

The Power of the Holy Spirit

I came across this quote in my devotional reading, and it reminded me of the great power of the Holy Spirit.

“Why do we grow so little in grace?  It is because we do not use our intellect to meditate upon the forces of the unseen world amidst which we live, or our will to draw upon them.  We know that we are weak, and sin and Satan are strong, and we know the truth.  But there is a third power stronger than either our weakness or the forces of evil, which we commonly forget, and which will never disclose itself except in our using of it.  We must stir up the gift within us.  Within us we have the Spirit of power, the Spirit of Jesus, the life of Jesus. It remains to us to appeal to it;  in constant acts of faith to draw upon it and to use it.  Thus it will become to each of us as much a truth of experience as it was to St. Paul, and no vague language of metaphor, that ‘it is no longer merely I that live, but Christ that liveth in me.'”

Charles Gore

Paul was indeed aware of the power of the Holy Spirit in His life. He acknowledges His own lack of ability and dependence upon the Spirit in Ephesians when he says:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”  Ephesians 2:1-5

By all accounts Paul was a short, bald man with poor eyesight.  He insists here and in other places that he is not a polished speaker.  His own sin caused him to persecute the Christians.  Only the power of the Holy Spirit could make him into the apostle he became.  You and I have that same power within us.  A power to do good, and speak God’s truth.  Are we using it?

 

Sick of Me by Whitney Capps–Book Review #2

This book was previously reviewed by one of our other authors, Michele (Sick of Me – Book Review).  It sounded interesting, so I thought I would take a look for myself.  Here’s the book in a nutshell:

  • Whitney was “just plain sick of myself”
  • The cure for being sick of yourself is to become more like Christ
  • Becoming more like Christ is a process called sanctification

This is repeated in different ways throughout the book.  According to Whitney, most of us are quite happy to be “transparent”…. i.e. to admit to our sins.  The problem is, we’re also pretty happy to stay the way we are!  This is not the life God wants for us.  We’re called to be holy, not happy.  We’re called to be at odds with the culture, not adapt our behavior to it.  We’re called to mature in the faith, not stay spiritual infants.

In an engaging, easy to read style, Ms. Capps defines and helps her readers understand a number of important theological terms:  regeneration, justification, sanctification, condemnation and conviction. If you don’t know what they are when you start, you will by the end of the book.  Her emphasis is on the need for Christians to go beyond recognizing their sin to a true transformation in the way they live.  This isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight.  In fact, none of us will be totally sanctified in this life.

I found her style a little flippant for such a weighty topic, but many will like it.  It makes for an easy read, but one that is also meaty and informative.

VERDICT:  4 STARS.  I didn’t learn anything new, but well presented and clear.

Are You a Grown-Up?

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:14-16

It’s the goal of Christian life to grow up and become more and more like Christ.  This is true of the Church, Christ’s body, and also for each of us as individuals.  I’m currently reading a book (is anyone out there surprised?) called And Then We Grew Up by Rachel Friedman.  It’s not Christian, but it made me think about this topic.  When Rachel was a youngster, she played the Viola and was very good.  She even went to a summer camp specifically geared toward music and other creative arts.  She dreamed of becoming a professional musician, but in college she became so anxious about performing that she quit.  Years later, as a writer she decides to investigate other children who went to the same camp to see how and if they fulfilled their creative potential.

Here are some of the things she learned about growing up and becoming a successful adult, along with my comments about how we can use them as we follow the pilgrim path.

  • Self- discipline — if you want to be good at something, you have to put in the hours.  Some studies say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become very proficient at an activity.  If applied to Christian living, sitting in church for an hour a week won’t cut it!
  • Balance — Rachel found that some of her classmates gave up the idea of an artistic career when they found it impossible to lead a balanced life — home, friends, children– and still succeed.  As Christians, we’re not called to neglect our families, friends and jobs.  This means that at different seasons of our life, we’ll do different things in the church.  When I had children, I was on the altar guild — a job that allowed me to do the work on my own schedule, and alone.  Later as they grew older, I could serve on the Council, attend more Bible studies, etc..
  • Flexibility–the first career path some of Rachel’s friends tried didn’t always work out.  We need to be willing to try different ways to serve, study and pray until we find the one that fits our personality and schedule.
  •  Know yourself— (this goes with the comment on flexibility).  The more we know about our own aptitudes and temperament, the better we’ll be able to decide what to do, how to study, when to pray — sometimes this comes through trial and error (flexibility) but we can help that along by taking a Spiritual Gift Assessment or using other similar tools.
  • Take risks–sometimes we must be willing to step out in faith and take a risk.  This could mean being willing to feel foolish the first time we pray out loud, committing more than we can easily afford to a worthy ministry, or trying out a task that feels a bit scary
  • Find a companion — it helps to have a friend to work with us, encourage us and help us.  In the church this should be a no-brainer.  We are meant to be one body and do our part, not all the parts of Christ’s work on earth.
  •  Maintain focus — God called us to be faithful, not successful.  If you’re doing the right thing, the thing you love, worldly standards of success become less important.

This one’s not in the book, but for Christians:

  • Depend on Christ — He is our strength and our God.  We can’t accomplish anything without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit

Are you on the way to fulfilling your potential in God’s Kingdom?  Have you grown up yet?

For more posts on maturing as a Christian, see these:

Becoming More Saintly

Bearing Fruit – A Book Review

Clearer and Clearer

 

Sitting is the New Smoking

I’ve taken some health classes at the local senior center recently, and the title of this post seems to be the new mantra.  Evidently it’s been found that it is not only bad to do something clearly destructive to your health (smoking)– it’s just as bad to do nothing to improve it.

Recently it occurred to me that this is just as true of our spiritual life.  Sometimes Christians, especially we older Christians who consider ourselves fairly mature in the faith, start to feel that we have “arrived.”  Now, I don’t mean to imply we think we’re perfect — we know we’re not.  However, we have our particular routine for spiritual health, and we stick to it.  Maybe we go to church, Sunday School or Bible Study.  Maybe we have a quiet time, or read a devotional every day.  Maybe we have certain tasks we do around the church — we’re on the altar guild, or teach a class– and we’re comfortable with all that.  We don’t think we need to try anything new.

WRONG!!  To keep our brain healthy, we need to learn new and complex tasks now and then.  To keep our faith lively, we need to mix it up and step outside our comfort zones.  This is something I learned from our Fanning the Flame process.

I don’t know what that means for you, because I don’t know where you’re “sitting” right now.  I do know you can get up and walk around.  Read some new books and talk to your Pastor or another Christian about the ideas.  Join a small group.  Take a spiritual gift assessment, and try something new that corresponds to your gift mix.  Start following (or even writing) a Christian blog. Try a different way of praying.  Listen to some new music and sing it out loud!  There are a million different ideas out there, so there’s no excuse.  Stop sitting still!

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,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:12-14

Fanning the Flame — Barbara R.’s Story

We all know that Fanning the Flame presents a new way of living, which, like any life-changing protocol takes time.  I believe that we, as team members, are already beginning to feel this change stirring within our lives as we seek God’s will through steady and heartfelt prayer.

We and God are in this together.  As team members we are opening up and becoming more honest and vulnerable as we share our prayer visions and seek to understand our God-given gifts.  A sense of trust has sprung up among us, as well as a sense of unity of purpose.  Individually we are growing and striving to be the people God wants us to be.

People make comments such as, “Sounds like a lot of work!” and “we’re not even sure what you are doing.”  Well, yes, it is a lot of work!  We’re committed to work for the Kingdom of God…an immeasurable response to the work He has done for us.  We’re learning to put our trust in Him as we evaluate the needs of the church and understand how He wants to see St. Paul’s grow.  Though we are a small group, we are in the process of figuring out how all members of the congregation can join into this effort to become one in Him.  We see a future where small groups like ours will also want to come together–to trust each other as their trust grows in Him.  I know in my heart that every member of our congregation desires a personal relationship with the Lord–why else would we bother to attend church?  Nothing in our life is as important, and if it takes the work of praying, reading the Word and sharing His love with others, then it is really not work at all…it is a gift and an opportunity from which no one should be excluded.

Please be unified with us in this opportunity and realize that the growth we see at St. Paul’s may not necessarily be in numbers, but in spirit.  I know you’ve heard this phrase:  “the family that prays together, stays together.”  Well, St. Paul’s is a family and we all want to stay together and grow together.  Please pray that the Flame of the Spirit will become contagious and that each and every member will be on fire in a new and life-changing way.

Practicing Piety

After a Via de Cristo weekend, participants are encouraged to form or join an accountability group.  In this group, we meet on a regular basis to discuss our plans for growing in God’s grace.  Since a balanced Christian life includes piety, study and action, group members take turns talking about how they are doing in each of these areas.  To mature as a Christian, we must practice spiritual disciplines.  Disciplines that increase our piety include:

  1. Congregational worship and communion
  2. Morning offering/evening thanks
  3. Devotions, meditation and prayer
  4. Examination of conscience
  5. Altar or chapel visits
  6. Family prayer
  7. Blessings before meals
  8. Spiritual direction

Maybe you’re not even sure what some of these mean.  I didn’t before my weekend.  (That may be the topic for another post).  Maybe you think it sounds a little mechanical, or even legalistic (Those are dangers, for sure.  It is possible to become a “routine Rita” simply doing Christian things without really thinking about what they mean).  However, like any other support group, banding together with others who want to go in the same direction helps us keep on track.  Knowing I have to “weigh in” next week encourages me to complete the task/s I’ve assigned myself.  It is also an opportunity to hear what works for others, and it’s helpful to learn all the creative ways my friends have learned to pray, to get recommendations for devotionals and just be held up in prayer.

At the end of the piety section there is a question to answer:  “What was the moment you felt closest to Christ?”  Maybe it was during a worship service;  maybe it was listening to a favorite hymn or song;  maybe it was an insight that seemed God-sent during prayer;  maybe it was a simple feeling of gratitude for time with family.  Sometimes I wonder if I would even notice these moments of grace if I didn’t have my reunion group meeting to make me think about them each month.

You don’t have to go on a Via de Cristo weekend to practice piety.  You do need others, though.  It’s too hard to go it alone.  Find a friend or friends.  Pray together;  study together;  talk about our Christian walk;  laugh and cry and vent when you need to;  do ministry together.  You won’t regret it, and you’ll look back years later to see where all that practice has led.  It will be higher ground.

God loves you and so do I!

Fanning the Flame #6–Seeking God’s Will

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me, and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'”  Jeremiah 29:11-13

Beth Ann finished the vision narrative, in which she compiled all the thoughts and ideas that came to individuals on the team as we prayed and meditated on our future, shaping them into what our church might look like and be doing ten years from now.  All I can say is, every time I read through it, tears come to my eyes.  This is the church I want us to be!  This is the church that we can be with God’s help.

The word picture Beth Ann has painted depicts a praying church;  a church where virtually everyone is involved in the ministry of prayer.  Members are growing spiritually, through small groups and individual mentoring, gospel preaching, and Bible Study.  This church is active in many aspects of the community–welcoming in our neighborhood and assisting other community groups and churches in their ministries. They also encourage and sponsor foreign missions and missionaries..  Everyone is encouraged to serve as the hands and feet of Christ to others.  It is a light in the dark world.

Yes, some of our dreams are “big” ones, ones that will really stretch us.  Yes, some of these plans may change as we grow and develop according to God’s timing and will;  but many are baby steps, things we can start doing and changing now.  I’m humbled by the thought of what He might accomplish through one little congregation.

Great things happen when God mixes with us!

P.S. Beth Ann, I’m waiting for your post on what this process was like for you.

It’s Your Choice

“This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” Jeremiah 6:16

We Lutherans believe that we do not choose salvation;  God chooses us.  However, we can choose how and whether we’re going to progress in our Christian walk.  We can stay at a very basic, elementary level in our understanding and faith;  or we can grow into a greater knowledge and understanding of God’s ways and His will for us.  The way is marked out for us — we have the Holy Scriptures and we have the example of Jesus Christ.  We can study and learn, attend worship regularly and pray;  or we can be content to just coast along.  According to the prophet, Jeremiah, in the verse above, the “good way,”  the way God desires for us will bring rest for our souls.  Too often, though, we refuse to walk in it.  We’re busy.  We want worldly success.  We want to use our free time to amuse ourselves.  This is the easier way, but it doesn’t lead to maturity or bring true peace.

 

The unknown author of Hebrews chides his readers this way:

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.  You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”  Hebrews 5:12-14

The choice is yours —  will it be milk or meat?