Fanning the Flame #18 Things Are Changing

We had a congregational meeting last Sunday, and there was a difficult discussion.  Over the course of many years, people have designated part of their contribution to benevolence;  instead of giving this money away, it has been used as a cushion to help pay the daily expenses of running the church.  Worse than that, it became a crutch to allow ourselves deny the ugly truth that we’re not giving enough to sustain God’s church.  We need to repent and rectify this situation.

Fortunately we do now recognize this sin, and the council has a plan to wipe out our debt and give us a clean slate( a positive step).  This leaves us with the problem — how do we go forward without falling back into the same pattern?  We’d all like to pin the blame and the responsibility to fix the issue on somebody else.  If only EVERYONE would give more.  If only SOMEBODY would plan more fundraisers– etc., etc..

Then Beth Ann made a very good point.  FIRST we need to PRAY.  I have been at St. Paul’s for over thirteen years now, and I have never heard anyone say this in the midst of a meeting before.  This is a change.  I only wish we had taken it further and PRAYED right then and there.  It might have changed the whole tone of the meeting.  This morning God has put another conviction about this on my heart — we each need to pray, not for God to provide a miracle, or to make everyone else do the right thing;  we need to pray that God would show each one of us what we can do to nourish and sustain God’s church right here where we are.  I need to search my heart to see what God would have me do. I need to become a better steward, not just of my money, but of my spiritual gifts and my time.  I need to be like the little boy who trusted Christ with his few loaves and fishes.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  1 Timothy 2:15

I can’t change anyone else, but I can change myself.  I don’t want to stand before God, ashamed because I gave Him only the leftovers of my life.  I want to hear the words,

Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness! Matthew 25:23

I’m convinced we’re changing and moving in the right direction.  This is a sign that God is at work.  My prayer is that He will continue to change us by first changing me.  Pray with me, friends and readers … I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

 

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Fanning the Flame #16 Personal Spiritual Discipline

A few days ago my husband and I listed to a recording about personal spiritual discipline, given by Pastor Lynn Downing at an Embers to a Flame conference.  The sad thing I learned from this CD, is that according to a survey done by the Dobson organization, only 9% of professing Christians acknowledge that they are living their lives from a Christian worldview.  The vast majority of us are more influenced by the culture than by Scripture.

The only way to turn this trend around is to practice personal spiritual disciplines.  Although we in no way “earn” our salvation, it is Biblically reasonable that our growth in grace will be in direct proportion to how we use the disciplines of God’s grace which are available to us. These disciplines are a means (channel or process) through which God leads us into a deeper, richer, more intimate relationship with Him.* Here are the disciplines that Pastor Downing mentions:

  1. Scripture — the Supreme Court of decision making for every Christian
  2. Prayer — the most important subject in practical religion;  we should always respond to Scripture with prayer
  3. Fellowship — A get together where the Lord becomes the topic of our conversation
  4. Church Discipline of two types:  Formative (Discipling) and Corrective (sometimes we need another person to see the way we are living is detrimental to our family and the church)
  5. The Church — teaching, preaching and the sacraments

The big surprise and takeaway — personal spiritual discipline is not personal!  When we put our emphasis on the individual’s personal relationship with Christ, we are missing the point that we relate to our Lord as part of His body.  Many Christians are never told:

  • Salvation is more than individual — it is meant to further the growth of the Church and to demonstrate God’s righteousness for His name’s sake
  • Body (church) welfare trumps personal preference
  • True personal spiritual welfare results from serving the Body (church) in obedience to the Head (Christ)
  • To live exclusively is to compete against the Body (church)

This certainly ties into our theme of Spiritual Gifts.  I have always felt that God calls each of us to a congregation, just as He calls the Pastor.  We’re where we are because we have a gift that is needed in that time and place.  Yes, there may be times and reasons to change churches, but it should never be because of personality conflicts or a seeking after the personal programs that best suit or entertain us.  The big question in our church membership is:  Is this a place where I can work with others to serve God?

*Note to Lutherans:  Pastor Downing (a Presbyterian) categorizes all these things as means of grace;  according to the Lutheran definition there are only two items in this category:  God’s Word and the Sacraments.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t important ways to know and experience God.

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.

 

 

When We Say Father – Book Review

As Lutherans, we ray the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday – But do we really understand or even hear what we are saying – the power and reverence?  This book explains the power of prayer and what each line means.

I enjoyed this book and felt it gave great examples of how to construct our own prayers through the model of the Lord’s Prayer.  This book is written so that anyone wanting a more detailed explanation and help can follow along.

As always, I really liked the author’s personal experiences that relational to the passages.  I am a firm believer in “connection through confession” with others through our own experiences in the faith

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars – it is well written and easy to understand.

You may purchase this book at the link below

https://www.lifeway.com/en/product/when-we-say-father-P005796873

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.

Fanning the Flame — Debbie’s Story

I’ve asked some of the Fanning the Flame team members to let me know what they have been learning as part of the process.  This is Debbie’s story which she has allowed me to share with our readers.

When I first heard about Fanning the Flame I was anxious to find out what this could mean for our Church.

I have not been disappointed. I am excited with what we have been doing so far and am looking forward to all that is coming next.

One of the first things was looking at our prayer life individually and as a Church.  I have a much better understanding of the importance and necessity of my prayer life.  I really took an in depth look at my prayer life as it is today and what I want it to look like in one year from now. Just taking the time and really focusing on my prayer life for the first time was really an eye opener. I found my prayer life a was not what it should be and this has helped me change it and has made a huge difference.

I am working on my spiritual gifts survey now and I know this will help me find out what my true spiritual gifts are and will help guide me to do what God wants me to do.

We have been talking about repentance and how necessary that is as individuals and as a Church.  The Pastor just talked about repentance in his sermon.  True repentance for all of our sins is absolutely necessary in Christian life and restores our relationship with God.  I have come to realize that just asking God to forgive all my sins is not enough.  For true repentance I really need to think about all my sins when I repent and this has helped me focus on all my sins when I am asking God for forgiveness.

There are many strategies we have identified to best help our Church and fulfill God’s purpose for us.  I was asked to be on the FTF Strategy Task Force for Small Group Discipleship and we just had our first meeting.  We are looking at small groups ministry and the leadership of these groups and how these groups should look and what important aspects they should contain.  We are off to a good start and I am excited with what we are going to be doing.

FTF is definitely changing me and I am looking forward to what we will be doing as a group and as a congregation.  There are so many good and positive things in store for us.

Barbara G.’s Story on Repentance, part 2

We first started with learning how Jesus commanded us to go out into the world and spread the gospel to all parts of the world, but I wasn’t even ready to do it in my own little town. We need to know the scriptures so that we can explain things to people who want to know more of Jesus’ words and how they can help them.

We studied prayer and its overwhelming power and ability to help you and others who need help with their lives. We all realized how important it is to include prayer in your everyday life and to live by its power. Prayer is a very important part of my daily life and I can’t imagine going without praying.

We learned about the history of our church and why that’s so important to know our heritage. Our forefathers of this church sacrificed everything to build this building that we worship in every week. Sometimes I wonder what they would think of us now and our failed efforts to spread the word around the world.

We’re learning how to be good teachers of the word, to be good leaders for the church, to keep the right priorities focused on God at all times. We discuss so many facets of how we should dedicate our lives to Christ and his church. It’s not that Pastor hasn’t talked with us about some of these subjects in bible study or church but it’s just more intense with Mr. Weatherly from F.T.F.

He has walked us through some very important ways in which we can learn to begin a whole new way of dedicating our lives to Jesus Christ and our church.

In the world we live in now, it’s very different than our founders experienced. People were eager to come to church then but now we have to go out and find the lonely, the hurting, the hungry and those people who think that they don’t need any change like I did.

If you have a big splinter and it hurts, just tell God, because I promise you, He has the answer.