Becoming More Saintly

How Come It’s Taking Me So Long to Get Better? By Lane Adams—Book Review

This book was recommended by our Fanning the Flame coach, so I decided to read and review it. Although I have some theological differences with the author (mainly along the lines of people “accepting” Christ, altar calls and the like), overall this is an excellent resource on the topic of sanctification – which we might also call growing more saintly.

Lane Adams begins by explaining that we often expect too much of other Christians, even ourselves; sanctification, or maturing in the faith, is a process. Instead of showing patience, we believe that becoming Christians means that we will stop sinning; that our personal lives will match our professed ideals. We become disappointed and dismayed when this fails to happen. To illustrate, Adams uses the example of the Apostle Paul. We remember Paul’s conversion experience on the Damascus Road and then immediately jump forward to his missionary trips, his theological letters, his imprisonment in Rome and so on. In actuality, Paul spent three years in the desert (presumably studying and meditating) and then about ten years in Tarsus (probably pastoring a church, before he grows into the hero of faith we admire. Reading carefully reveals Paul was not always successful either: remember his poignant lament:

Adams likens the Christian life to warfare – once we become a Christian, Christ has established a beachhead within us, but there are many more battles to be fought! Some of these are things we are not even aware of at the beginning of the journey.

He also touches on topics such as legalism, religious experiences, our testimonies, spiritual gifts and marriage. Most Lutherans would agree with his explanation and take on these important issues in the walk of faith.

VERDICT: I liked this book very much, and have recommended it to my husband as a resource for training Elders and other church leaders. It is not too long, or technical and will encourage serious thought and discussion as well as help in relating to other Christians who are at different points in their walk.

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What is Piety?

What is piety, really?  One dictionary defines it as the quality of being religious or reverent.  My Bible dictionary calls it “holy living.”  Various Bible translations identify it with “the fear of the Lord” or “righteousness.”  It’s not a word we use much anymore.  In fact, it’s gotten a rather bad name because it’s so much easier to recognize false piety (in other words, hypocrisy) than true piety.  Often we think of  truly pious people as “goody-goodies,” prudes, or those who are “so heavenly minded, they’re of no earthly use.”  Or maybe we regard piety as an unrealistic goal for most of us — something a few great saints might possess, but not attainable for most of us.  Maybe we don’t even want to try to be pious because in our culture, it would set us apart as strange or different.

Here’s what Philip Spener, a German Lutheran theologian who has been dubbed ‘the Father of Pietism’ has to say:

“Students should unceasingly have it impressed upon them that holy life is not of less consequence than diligence and study, indeed that study without piety is worthless….whoever grows in learning and declines in morals is on the decrease rather than the increase … everything must be directed to the practice of faith and life.”

or as James, the brother of Christ puts it:

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” James 2:26

Christian study, worship and fellowship should lead to a life that is increasingly pious, or holy.  Lutherans (and I’m sure lots of others) call this process sanctification, and although we’re never finished,  it’s not a pie-in-the-sky goal either.  Piety is what the Christian life is all about.  I look forward to exploring it further with our authors and readers this month.

 

 

 

Book Learning #2

In my last post, I promised to share some of what I have been reading lately.  I read widely and eclectically.  I read because I’m curious, and I like to know how and what others think.  I don’t always agree with everything I read, and so I don’t want our readers to necessarily take this post as a recommendation or endorsement of every book I mention.

First of all, in our weekly Bible study, we’re doing Acts this year.  I can certainly recommend this book!  Acts is exciting reading.  It includes miraculous events, travel, interesting people, sermons and even a ship wreck!  Written by Luke (the gospel author), it can be seen as a bridge between the gospels and the epistles and also between the work Jesus did on earth, and the work He continued to do through the Church.

In our Sunday School class, the material we are using comes from Concordia Publishing House (good if you are looking for solid Lutheran teaching, I recommend you look at their website).  This quarter we are studying kings and prophets.  Our first lesson deals with Solomon, David’s son, and his prayer for wisdom.

I’m also reading two books from our library and both are fairly new.  The first is My Utmost:  A Devotional Memoir by Macy Halford.  I chose it because I’m fond of what I call spiritual autobiographies.  I enjoy hearing about the spiritual journeys of others.  Ms. Halford was raised as a Southern Baptist;  when she was twelve, her grandmother gave her a copy of My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  She has read this daily devotional through every year since.  Wow!  That was the greatest take away for me — I never thought of using the same devotional over and over.  I tend to use one for a year and then it remains on my bookshelf forever, seldom touched.  This is an idea I may try.  I admit I have never used My Utmost for His Highest, but I know our author, Leslie has, so maybe she’ll chime in to tell us more about it.  (hint, hint).  I learned a lot about Oswald, who was definitely not a Lutheran.  According to Ms. Halford:

“Attempts at pinning Oswald down generally failed:  ‘He was a sort of proto-Pentecostal mystic, and Wesleyan in his theology,’ wrote an anonymous commenter on Puritanboard.com.’ That was as close to correct as one was likely to get, but it still wasn’t entirely correct.”

He definitely tends toward the Holiness traditions (Methodist and Wesleyan) and my husband and I had a lively discussion about the difference between how the Lutheran view of sanctification differs from the Holiness churches– they believe in the possibility of entire or complete sanctification” — Lutherans, I guess, believe sanctification is always incomplete, on this side of heaven.  (Maybe my friend, Nancy, who is Methodist would like to comment on this).  At any rate, according to the book, someone can read the My Utmost devotional without even noticing Oswald’s views on this.  (If you enjoy theological debates, the book also covered different views on the end times — post and pre millennial, the rapture, etc.).  The author says My Utmost has been called “the little black dress of books”  perfect for every occasion.  I liked that.

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My Utmost: A Devotional Memoir                          An Oasis in Time: How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life by [Marilyn Paul]

The second book I am reading is written by a Jewish woman named Marilyn Paul and it’s called, An Oasis in Time:  How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life.  I haven’t gotten too far into it — just reading a chapter a day– but it is about the importance of taking a Sabbath day of rest, and she talks about Christian and Muslin traditions, as well as her own.  I found it interesting to realize how much our life revolves around a weekly routine –on Monday, we plan the things we want to accomplish, and by Friday we’re assessing how we’ve done and winding down.  Rest is an important part of the routine (built into us since creation, when God “rested” on the last day).  Without rest, we lose that routine and become more and more burned out and stressed.  There are suggestions at the end of the chapter and exercises to help learn how to celebrate a day of rest.

Well, that’s it for me and what I have read, studied and learned about this week.  I’d like to hear from other writers and readers:  what are you reading?  What do you like/not like?  What has been edifying?  I want to hear your suggestions, too.

 

 

It Takes Time

There was a recent article in our local newspaper, featuring a couple who had been married 74 years!  Wow, what an accomplishment!  My husband and I have a long way to go to top that (we’re babies at 45 years of wedded bliss).  It made think about how unity grows over time.  Yes, there is probably an instant attraction and feeling of compatibility, but over time two people work together, learn how to complement each other, come to understand one another more and more, until finally the union becomes so complete that it’s hard to imagine life alone.  When my husband is gone for a few days, I start to feel uncomfortable.  My routines are disrupted;  there are things I want to share or ask.  Life just isn’t right.  When he’s teaching Bible Study, I’ll make a comment or ask a question and he’ll say …”You’re jumping ahead….I’m getting to that very topic …in a minute…”  We’ve trained our brains until we think along the same lines.  Of course, we’re don’t always agree.  He supplies the logic, I supply the feelings.  We complement one another, and have come to rely upon the other in areas where we are weak.  We’ve had to adjust who does what chore depending upon both personal preference, and time and job constraints.  We’ve balanced two careers, two children, and two large extended families as well as we could.  It’s been quite an journey and it’s not over yet.

I’m sure everyone won’t agree, but I think our union with Christ and His church grows, too.  There is often an original event — for many of us it is our baptism, but it can be one of those “aha” moments when we realize that God has taken hold of us, and we’re His for good.  Like our marriage, we start to do things together:  we pray, study His word, worship and sing.  We become active in the church, we use our gifts, we serve Him with others.  We learn what we’re good at, and where we need help.  We understand more and more until we can’t imagine life without Jesus and the family of God anymore than we can imagine life without our spouse.  In fact, as much as I love and depend upon my husband, I love and depend upon Jesus even more.  Lutherans call this journey sanctification, and it’s never complete in this life.

So readers, what do you think?  Does unity happen like a clap of thunder, or with a process of continuing cultivation?  Or both?  I’s like to hear your thoughts.

Good and Bad Fruit

” You will recognize them by their fruits.  Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?  So every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” Matthew 7:16-18

In the second Chapter of Acts, we learn about the coming of the Holy Spirit to the believers.  In Galatians, Chapter 5, we find a list of the fruit that flows out of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  There is another list, the list of “bad fruit.”

“Now the works of the flesh are evident:  sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these…”Galatians 5:21

The fruit of the flesh comes naturally to us;  when sin entered the world, it became our default position.  The fruit of the spirit comes from being rooted in God, and is part of being born again and transformed as Christians.  As we become more like Christ (sanctification) the good fruit will be evident in our lives.

Which kind of fruit is growing in your life?  Are you walking the walk, or just talking the talk?  Remember, the world will know what Christianity means by the fruit you display in your daily life.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit…”  Galatians 5:29

 

All the Glory to God

This is the talk given by one of our congregational members during a recent workshop held. The amazing thing about this is that he is young and autistic, but he managed to grasp the concept better than some adults. The Lord was definitely speaking through him, It is with his permission that I post this. Thank you Nicolas for a heartfelt look into the Glory that should always be God’s.
Worthy Are You
Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. Revelation 4:11.
The topic I have chosen is Glory to God. For my starting point, I would like to acknowledge that some people without knowledge of the Lord and his works might think its “selfish” of God to expect us to give glory to him. So I would like to start off with “why” should we give glory to God, and I will try to explain his works by putting them into perspective to do so.
Let me start off in the Old Testament with the Israelites. God’s people were in slavery in Egypt, but Moses did as God told him, and was able to lead them out. God even provided them with food and water in the wilderness. They still disobeyed God however, and were stuck there for 40 years. But even so, God still provided for them, and even allowed them to conquer Jericho as time passed. History went on with a similar cycle, that being: God lets Israel thrive and prosper, they disobey God and are disciplined for it, and God forgives and lets them prosper again and so on. There were several more specifics and details, but that sums up most of it until Jesus came. No matter how much they disobeyed, God always made things well in due time, he constantly forgave without limit.
Now let me talk about my own life for a bit. My Mom and Dad didn’t mean to start a family, they didn’t even love each other, and obviously this was a dysfunctional family. Eventually, they divorced, and took turns with the kids. One hand, you have a guy with a really loud and scary voice, coupled with a short temper. On the other hand, you have a woman who has anxiety, and is now has low income working day care. Combine both with two 6-8 year olds with autism, and a big sister to boot, and that will not go well with my Dad’s temper, or my Mom’s anxiety. They were put in this situation in the first place by disobeying God, by being intimate before marriage. But just like with the Israelites, God provided. My Mom got remarried to the ultimate male role model that is my stepdad, and is now so very happy. My brother & I were also put in a small Christian school, and a social skills group. It’s safe to say we have been much happier, and become more mature ever since. Also just like the Israelites however, I have done and said many things that I regret, and overall sinned against God, and I’m sure my family has too. And just like the Israelites, God has always forgiven me. To ensure that, he has his own son, Jesus, die on the cross, taking my sins with him. At this point, I hope it’s really been put into perspective.
Not only did he send his son to die so myself, and all of you can have a reserved seat in heaven with our names on it, because no matter how much I endlessly sin and disobey, he endlessly forgives me to no end! On top of that, he takes the time to provide for me and my family, and makes hard times good while we’re still here on earth! He did this exact same thing with the Israelites over 2000 years ago, and is still doing that now with no signs of stopping or slowing down in sight! He provides for us all, even when we sin, we may have to be disciplined, but he always forgives and continues to provide no matter what. He’s been doing that forever at this point.
The amount of mercy, grace, and love it takes to do that is so massive, it’s far beyond comprehension, and always will be. Every human has a breaking point for that sort of thing, a point where they snap, but God has been doing this for years and counting for everyone on earth! That’s a lot of tolerance, a lot of mercy, and most of all, a lot of love. For him to love, give, and provide unconditionally for thousands of years, for all his servants at once, deserves far more glory than we could ever give. If that doesn’t deserve the highest amount of glory we could possibly give and more, than nothing will.
Now we know, and hopefully understand why we should give glory to God, now we ask “how do I do it”? Well, to put it simply, we should thank, praise, and acknowledge God in everything we experience and do. We can lead by example doing God’s work, and by that, I mean showing Gods love to everyone around us, and making sure to acknowledge it is God’s love. To do that, we are to humble ourselves, if we are not acknowledging that it is God’s love we are showing, we would be getting all the credit, therefore glorifying ourselves, not God.
One simple, but effective way to glorify God is simply by thanking him for everything we have. An important thing to note however, is that even if we glorify God, that doesn’t mean everything is just going to be unicorns and rainbows in our lives. However, just like I mentioned earlier, when times are bad, God will still provide. So when we are in these times, it is important that we still take time to glorify God. If you glorify him in the good times, but neglect him in the bad, then did you really mean any of it at all?
So, in short, we show Gods love to our neighbors, acknowledging that it is God’s love, and thanking God for everything we have, any chance we can get, no matter our current situations. Those are just some examples, but the main point, is that we are to be “channels” of God’s love and glory to others, not sources of our own glory.
However, many Christians today misunderstand glorifying God, it is important to note things we should not do, as to not misunderstand. There are three main points I will mention, however, all can stem from one thing, pride.
The first is idol worship; idol worship is putting anything above God. An example for me, and probably many of you, is most forms of entertainment. Think for a moment, are there any movies or shows you watch, games you play, or books or stories you have read, that God would not be a fan of? If you’re like me, chances are there is for all three of those categories. For me to use these, is basically me saying “well, I suppose it couldn’t hurt, it’s just a game/show/book”. By me thinking that, it’s basically me saying “I don’t really care enough”. I’m putting my own interests over Gods, and that is my own pride at work. There has to be a line, where if we cross it, we just say no, and turn it off.
The second is hypocrisy, or judging, they fall into similar categories. This seems to be the most noticeable problem Christians of today have. We say we should obey the law, but many of us drive 5 miles higher than the speed limit on the highway. We say to turn the other cheek when wronged, yet we often feel the need to provoke another when they insulted us. There are more examples that many modern Christians tend to condemn. Homosexuality or transgender, abortion, believing in evolution, and many others. We know all of these things are not what God has willed, but if we see others doing these things, we should not condemn, or look down upon them in any way. Not to mention God can forgive any of those sins if asked, just like he can forgive any of ours. Even though we have not done those things specifically, if he can forgive them all the same, then what reason do we have to condemn them, and not our own sins? When we judge others, we think we are better than them. That is your own pride taking over, but that’s not the only sin here. By judging others for their sins, it gives others the impression that God is a God of condemnation and hate, which is not true. By doing this, we are not glorifying God, we are tarnishing his name.
The last of these things is lying. When we lie to others, it is most likely to protect ourselves or our reputation. But if found out, what does that say about God? It gives the impression that our priority is our own wellbeing, rather than that of God’s, which is not true. By lying, you are putting your own reputation above Gods reputation; you think you’re better than him. You know what that is? You guessed it, pride.
When we glorify God, it is important to not let our own pride get in the way. If you do, it will lead to various other things that do not glorify his reputation, but tarnishes it. If we are humble, and acknowledge it is all God’s work and love, we are most definitely glorifying him, but letting pride take over, does the exact opposite.
Now, are we expected to always do this without fail? Of course not, we may be the channels for Gods glory to others, but we are not God. We will make mistakes, we will disobey him, and we will do things that tarnish Gods reputation. Why? Because we are human! We have a sinful nature by heart, so we will continue to sin, that’s why it is important to keep a level head, and be understanding. If someone does bother us, if we lose our temper, and get angry or upset, we are more likely to have an irrational way of thinking. When in this state, we are more likely to say, and do things we will regret, and do things that tarnish God’s reputation.
So, in summary, to glorify God, we must keep a level head, be humble, understanding, and free of self-pride, acknowledge God in all things, at all times-good or bad, and show his love to others, through us.
Now, is this something we absolutely have to do to gain God’s forgiveness or salvation, in other words, are we forced to glorify him? No! We shouldn’t think we give glory to God because we have to, we should as a way to thank him for all he has done for us, it’s the least we could do. And after seeing, hearing, and experiencing Gods love firsthand in our own lives, what joy it would bring to show that same love of God to others who don’t know, haven’t seen, or don’t realize it yet. It makes God happy, and it makes us happy too.
Glory be to God everyone, it’s the least we could do, and it will make us and others happy too.

By: Nicholas Marquez

Caring for the Body

For no one every hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cares for it, just as Christ does the church because we are members of his body.”  Ephesians 5:29

In a number of places in the Bible, the church is called the Body of Christ.  Think about the verse above and how you care for your own physical body.

Do you nourish it? (most of us do that only too well).  What about Christ’s body?  Do you nourish it by participating regularly in worship and Holy Communion?

Do you exercise your body so it will stay healthy? Maybe you walk or spend time at a gym. How about Christ’s body?  Do you keep it healthy with disciplines such as studying the word of God?  Do you practice good deeds in an effort to grow stronger and more mature in Christ?

What do you do to keep your body looking good?  Do you buy nice clothing, use “lotions and potions”, go tanning, have your hair styled? What about God’s house?  Do you contribute to its’ maintenance with your money, time and talents?  Or do you just take for granted that it will always be there for you?

When your physical body develops an illness or weakness, you probably go to the doctor for advice.  How about the church?  If there is a problem there, do you take it to the Great Physician in prayer?  Do you give it some extra tlc and attention so that the difficulty can be resolved?  Or do you walk away and avoid the issue?

What about bad habits? Many of us have given up smoking, eating certain foods or drinks, etc.  when we discover it is having a bad effect on our body.  What about the body of Christ?  Are we willing to give up “all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and all slander.”?(1 Peter 2:1)

The Church is Christ’s body and He loved it(and all its’ members, including you) enough to die for it.  Do you love it at least as well as your own body?  I hope I remember to do this.