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 #12

As I reviewed my Via de Cristo talk on Environment, I began to see what our Fanning the Flame project is really all about.  Our team has been called together to change our environment, and just as we are told in the talk, that change must start with us.

First and foremost, we are learning to be more prayerful people; to rely upon God and look for His leading.  We are discovering our spiritual gifts and how we can use them to help others, in our church and in our community.  We are being taught how to become better planners and to work with a goal in mind – the goal of bringing Christ into the lives of those around us.

None of this is easy.  It means changing old habits and stepping out of our comfort zones.  There are not many of us; most of us are not young; all of us have other responsibilities.  It is a daunting responsibility.  However, we have one big thing going for us, and that is the most important thing of all.  As long as we are seeking to God’s will, He is on our side.

As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:31b-32:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

And as the angel told Mary,

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Luke 1:37

I ask our readers to continue in prayer for us, and our church.  May we follow God’s leading and be molded in accordance with His will for us.

Peace Is Flowing Like a River

On a Via de Cristo weekend, the speaker chooses a hymn or Christian song which everyone sings right before their talk.  This was the song I chose for my Environment talk, and I think it expresses the idea that when God’s peace, love and joy is inside of us, it will overflow and affect everyone we’re around.  Enjoy listening!

Changing Your Environment — Joan’s Story, Part 1

When I went to work at Frederick Memorial Hospital in 1990, I wasn’t especially happy to be there, but our family needed the income and benefits the job would provide.  There were five of us in the Purchasing office — two buyers, two clerical people and our director.  One of the clerks was angry that she wasn’t promoted into the buying position I got, and the other buyer was threatened by the fact that I had a college degree and she didn’t.  The atmosphere was, to say the least, not very warm.  In addition, there was a lot of bad language, off color jokes and sexual innuendoes.  I was miserable and wondered how I would ever stand to work there.  However, as a stubborn German type, I figured I could tough it out and would last longer than those who didn’t like me, especially the young woman who wanted my job.  I’ll call her “Amy.”  As a Christian, I prayed, but my prayers were more along the lines of “deliver me from evil” than “make me your instrument.”  I was working with some difficult people, but my attitude wasn’t all it should have been either.

Several months into the job I attended a Lutheran Via de Cristo weekend and that helped me change my focus.  Every morning I sat in my car for a while before work, reading my Bible and praying.  I even prayed for Amy.  My heart softened towards her as I realized her life wasn’t very happy.  Her life was filled with possessions that were important to her, but lacking in love and stability.  She was angry and took her anger out on others around her — she wasn’t singling me out.  I stopped taking her behavior personally, and found it didn’t bother me as much.  I tried to be friendly and invited Amy and her little daughter to some church events.  She didn’t come, but shared that another coworker she seemed to like and admire, had also invited her to church.  I encouraged her to give it a try, and I wish that I could say that Amy became a Christian, but I don’t know.  She left our office soon afterwards.  Our conversations may have had an influence on her life, and I continued to pray that God would send someone into Amy’s life who would show her where true happiness lies.

In the meantime, there were other changes.  I’m not a gifted evangelist, but I had ways to let others know I was Christian.  I talked about church, had a Christian calendar on my bulletin board, and often wore a cross.  These things were noticed.  People began to ask me questions–everything from “what is Shrove Tuesday?” to “what does your church believe about life after death?”  Most of my coworkers had some sort of church background or attachment, and as I talked about my faith, they began to share, too.  Then one day our director told me he was going to bring up the language being used in the office at a staff meeting, and would I support him in asking that we clean up our act.  Although I hadn’t complained, I guess just not joining in made an impact.

To be continued…..

Environment #4–Transforming an Environment

Environments, even bad ones, can be transformed by people with ideals and drive.  Many of you have probably heard the story of Corrie Ten Boom.  Corrie and her sister Betsie were incarcerated in a prison camp during World War II because the family was caught hiding Jewish refugees.  In the camp barracks, conditions were dirty, crowded and cold.  The women were ill fed and forced to work long hours.  Most became angry and quarrelsome.  Corrie and Betsie had managed to smuggle their Bible and a bottle of vitamins into the camp when they arrived.  They started a Bible Study which attracted more and more prisoners.  They shared their vitamins with the sick and weak –miraculously that bottle of drops never ran out!   Betsie, particularly, prayed constantly.  She even gave thanks for the crowded conditions which helped them reach more women with the good news of Christ’s love, and for their suffering, because it gave them a greater appreciation of the hardships Jesus endured for our sakes.  The terrible conditions didn’t change, but the attitude of the women did.  They became gentle and helpful with one another.  The conflicts gradually ended.

Most of us will never find ourselves in prison, but we can still take the following steps to change our environments for the better.

  1. Know the environment. You must know the people, circumstances and nature of your surroundings in order to influence them.
  2. Study the spirit of the environment. What is the ideal or motivating force?  How do the traditions, organization, and structure of the group play in?
  3. Study the individuals.  In every environment you will find several types of people.  There are followers.  They are satisfied with imitating others.  There are the impulsive.  These folks are wish-washy and lacking real conviction.  Finally there are leaders.  These are the people who can be agents of change.

The leaders are the people you need to be most concerned about.  These people will use their abilities to achieve what they believe is worthwhile  Once you determine who the leaders are, get to know them in order to understand their ideal.  Is it power, accumulating possessions, or something else?  Can you influence them and lead them closer to Christ?

More about transformation coming up on my next post ……

Environment #3 How Environments Influence People

The workplace is one of the many environments most of us have experienced.  My husband, Terry, for example, worked for many years as a stockbroker.  His first job as a broker was with what is called in the industry, a wire house.  In this situation, a large number of brokers work in the same office and each one develops his own client base.  Those with the most influence are the “high producers” and their primary motivation is making money.  Terry found that the atmosphere was one of competition, secretiveness and distrust.  It was hard to be open and friendly because the person sitting next to you might steal your ideas or your client.  Later, Terry worked for a bank.  He was the only broker for three branches.  The employees at each branch were required to give Terry a certain number of referrals each month in order to meet company goals.  When Terry did well, it made the branch managers look good, too.  Of course, it was to Terry’s advantage to get along well with fellow employees in the branches, because the more they liked and trusted him, the more helpful they were and the more referrals he got.  This environment fostered cooperation and teamwork.  Both were motivated by sales, and both could be stressful places to work– but each created its own distinctive environment.

This example illustrates how our environment impacts us as individuals, and how easy it can be to conform to the spirit we find there.  But as Christian leaders our gal is to influence our environment, rather than allow the environment to influence us.  When our daughter, Kate, was in elementary school, we had a meeting with her teacher.  Miss Vance read to her students every day, and she told us that one day Kate brought a Bible story book for the reading hour.  Of course, in public schools, teachers are not permitted to read the Bible to their students, and Miss Vance explained this to Kate.  She also told her she could read anything she liked during the free reading time students were allowed each day.  The next day Kate brought her Bible, and within a few days two other students were reading Bibles during this period.  Miss Vance said we hear so much about negative peer pressure, it was nice to see this example of a child positively influencing her peers.  Kate did not passively conform to her environment which discouraged reading the Bible–instead she acted in a way that created change in those around her.

To be continued …..

Environment #2 — What is the Environment?

So what exactly do we mean by Environment?  It’s a word that’s become commonplace in daily language and usually refers to our surroundings.  In Via de Cristo, when we say environment, we mean people–the family, work and social situations we find ourselves in every day.  These groups influence the attitudes and ideals of those within them.  Each group has a certain spirit, and each one can be different.

People live out their lives as parts of groups, and they act and react differently depending upon the group of people they are with.  If you are a parent, you have probably had the experience of speaking with a family friend or teacher who described your child as unfailingly courteous, helpful and obedient.  Puzzled, you wonders, “Can this really be the same sulky, headstrong young person who lives at my house?”  Within our family, the love, tolerance and acceptance levels are high, and we tend to express our emotions, positive and negative, more freely there.  The family environment is different, and so we are different with our family.

In every group we are part of, certain attitudes are accepted and certain types of behavior encouraged.  Ideals emerge which are a combination of the vision and motivation of the people involved.  This spirit, which exists when people get together is the environment.

To be continued ….