Tag Archives: spiritual growth

Blogging is a Blessing

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“I long to see you, that I might impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you–that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith,  both yours and mine.”  Romans 1:11-12

As I thought about this month’s theme, it occurred to me that the Lutheran Ladies blog has been quite a blessing in my life.  Each of us has God-given talents and spiritual gifts, and when we use them in a way that pleases Him, we feel His pleasure.  I never sit down to write a post with the feeling that it is a chore, or a burden.  I’m so thankful that God has given me an occupation in retirement that I enjoy, and that feels useful.

Writing for the blog has made me think deeply about each monthly theme, reading, studying and praying about it.  Often it helps me examine my own conscience and discover areas of my life that need improvement or attention.  It’s also interesting to hear how others think about these things, both authors and readers.  Certainly the blog has deepened my faith and understanding of God and His will for me.

Through our blogging together, I’ve developed closer relationships with the other Lutheran Ladies.  Although I knew them all before, and go to church with some of them( and went to church with others), in blogging we have shared both dreams and failures.  We’ve worked together to produce something none of us could have accomplished alone.  It has been my joy and my privilege to see each of them grow in their faith journey.

I hope and believe that this blog has been an encouragement to others, as this was our original vision.   The books we read, the quotes we love, the movies that inspire us, the songs that uplift us, the thoughts God places in our minds, and the emotions of our hearts, are all offered up to strengthen others.  As we open our lives to our readers, we are in turn blessed by the comments and kind words we receive back.  As Paul says in the quote above from Romans, we have been “mutually encouraged”.

So to all our authors and readers, today I am saying “Thank You!”  You have blessed my life in an amazing way.

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Is this Spiritual Direction?

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I found this quote which led me to wonder, “Is the Lutheran Ladies blog actually a form of spiritual direction?”  In sharing our experiences, insights, reading and more are we becoming to spiritual directors to our readers and to one another? I certainly think sharing my feelings in my posts has led me to confront my own sin, and the frequent lack of purity in my motives.  It makes me think and read deeply about each month’s theme. Hopefully,  this means it has led to some changes as well.  I would love to hear what others (authors and followers) have to say on this subject.

“When we speak with others about our experience in Christ, it sharpens our attentiveness to the voice and will of the Father. Sharing our stories helps us clarify the intentions of our hearts toward the fulfillment of his divine will. A small circle of friends also reminds us of the presence, power and protection of the Holy Spirit. Confiding in one another instills a sense of hope for the future as children who are dearly loved by their Father.”
Stephen A. Macchia, Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way

Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen & Rebecca J. Laird–Book Review

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Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest, author and teacher.  Offering spiritual direction was a regular part of his life.  In this posthumous book, two of his students use notes from his course in spiritual direction as well as some of his unpublished writing to outline Nouwen’s thoughts on the spiritual life.  At the end of each chapter, you will find questions and exercises for journaling and reflection.

Spiritual Direction by [Nouwen, Henri J. M.]

Spiritual direction is full of questions:

  • Where do I begin?
  • Where have I been and where am I going?
  • What is prayer?
  • Who is God for me?

According to Nouwen, we must develop “ears to hear” God.  This is difficult because it requires leaving empty spaces in our lives so that God can come in.  That can be frightening and unsettling to most of us who are accustomed to filling every moment up with something “useful.”  Nouwen goes on to say:

“But even stronger than our fear of the empty space is our fear of actually hearing the voice of God!  We know that our God is a jealous God who knows there is no other cure for our restlessness and deafness but finding our home in God.  We know that God’s mercy is a severe mercy that does not coddle or spoil but cuts to the heart of where truth resides.  And although we are unsatisfied and unfulfilled, we are not so sure that we want to go in the direction God might call us to go…”

This book is a wonderful introduction to the idea of spiritual direction, and the exercises, suggestions and questions it offers are a good starting point for anyone interested in going deeper.

PS. You can purchase a Kindle edition from Amazon for only 1.99!

Out of the Depths — Book Review

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Out of the Depths” is the autobiography of John Newton, author of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.”  Don’t pick this book up because you want to hear more about Newton as a hymnist — it’s just not there.  Instead, the book focuses on his spiritual journey.

Out of the Depths by [Newton, John]

Born to a devout mother who dies when he is seven, Newton strays from the faith.  As a young man he becomes willful, arrogant and disappointing to his father.  His life reads like some of the great stories of the Bible.  He is runs away like Jonah, is shipwrecked and beaten like Paul, and like the prodigal son finally comes home to God, his Father.  He experiences both wealth and want, becomes a sea captain, a slave trader, a servant (little better than a slave himself) and finally a pastor.

Here is what he had to say about his life:

“They (true believers) are as one body, animated by one spirit;  yet their experiences, formed upon these common principles, are far from uniform.   The Lord in His first call, and His following providential actions, regards the situation, temperament, and talents of each and the particular services or trials He has appointed for them.  All are tested at times yet some pass through the voyage of life much more smoothly than others.  ….We must not, therefore, make the experience of others in all respects, a rule to ourselves nor our own a rule to others.  ….My case has been extraordinary…it is to be expected that after such a wonderful, unhoped for deliverance as I had received, and after my eyes were somewhat enlightened to see things aright, I should immediately cleave to the Lord and His ways with purpose of heart and depend no more on mere flesh and blood.”

This book was a fairly easy read and I enjoyed it (the copy I had was revised and updated for modern readers).  Each of us, like Newton, has a faith journey and we should spend some time reflecting on it.  How has God led you to the place you’re at today?  I’d like to hear about that.

Fanning the Flame

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A few days ago our congregation had a meeting with Mr. Joe Weatherly, a representative from Fanning the Flame, a ministry of church revival.  A hard question was asked:  do we want to be light and salt to the world, or do we simply want our church to continue?  To survive and thrive, we must focus on Christ and serving others, not on ourselves.  I realize this is a challenge.  It is a challenge for me.

Hard work will be involved in completing the revitalization process.  There will be workshops and retreats;  people will have to take on jobs and be committed and accountable.  However, in the end, we will understand our gifts and have a number of strategic plans for using them.

I sensed people were interested and I hope inspired (I was).  I was heartened by a good turn out of our members and by the questions they asked.  Are we ready to make this big commitment of time and money?  This week or next we’ll have further discussion and voting.  Please keep St. Paul’s in your prayers.

What’s Your Soul Food?

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We all have things that feed us spiritually.  Certainly hearing and studying Gods’ word, attending worship services, and Holy Communion are our regular spiritual meals, the balanced diet we cannot live without.  However, as uniquely created individuals, we all have our “food” preferences, maybe stemming from our own interests and talents, maybe inherited or gained through experience.  So what’s your favorite spiritual food?  What nourishes your soul?

I remember a friend who told me, “I feel closest to God when I’m singing.”  Many people may identify with that.  Others get a spiritual charge from creativity — making a banner, decorating the church, designing a beautiful bulletin board or using carpentry skills to build a new altar or pulpit.  Some love to serve — they enjoy children, or nursing home residents or fellowship dinners.  My friend Nancy, and also my husband, love to teach.  They get excited to see how even those who know the gospel story well, can learn and grow in His Word. For me, it’s reading and writing.  I feel God speaking to me in all that I read and I feel Him speaking through me as I write.

The point is, we are fed by what God does for us;  we are also fed by what we do for God.  He doesn’t need the things we give Him, but we need to give them.   He made us to love Him and to give back to Him.  So what is it for you? That’s my question to our writers and readers.  I’d like to hear your thoughts.

 

Paul, Barnabas & Timothy

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Maybe you’re wondering what these three names have in common, or how I’m going to write one post that deals with these very different men.  Well, here goes.  I once read that every Christian needs three kinds of people to help them mature in their faith.  They need a Paul,  a Barnabas and a Timothy.

Your Paul is a person who mentors you;  someone who is older, or who has been a Christian longer and can guide you in making wise decisions.  For many years my Paul was my Pastor.  We met regularly and talked about what I was studying, my prayer life and ways I could serve.  He always encouraged me to stretch a little and gave me suggestions.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”  1 Corinthians 11:1

Your Barnabas is a spiritual friend and equal;  a person who walks by your side.  I’ve blogged about my friend, Nancy.  She has filled this role for me for many years now.  My reunion group sisters fall into this category as well.  These are the people who listen to me, pray for me, and support me.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  Proverbs 27:17

A Timothy is somebody you can teach.  I hope that my daughters and my granddaughter feel they have learned something about being a Christian from my example, imperfect as it is.  I actually think of myself as a rather “teachy” person, and I love nothing more than passing on whatever knowledge and understanding I have to others.  I see the Lutheran Ladies Connection as just one opportunity to do this.

“Only take heed, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life;  make them known to your children and your children’s children …” Deuteronomy 4:9-10

How about you?  Do you have at least one Paul, Barnabas and Timothy?

Inner Change

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Kate’s post yesterday reminded me of some verses our Bible Study group was discussing in the book of Luke yesterday. Jesus makes this statement after a Pharisee criticizes Him for failing to perform the ritual washing before a meal:

“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools!…For you tithe mint and rue and every herb and neglect justice and the love of God.” Luke 11:39-42

The Scribes and Pharisees were concerned with outer appearances.  They wanted to look good by following all the religious rules, while inside they were selfish and unchanged.  In another place Jesus calls them whitewashed tombs:  looking good superficially, but spiritually dead.  Their faith was useless to them and to others.

Here’s how the apostle James describes a living faith:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  James 1:27

It’s an easy trap to fall into.  We may go to church, tithe, attend Bible Study and serve at every church event, but have we allowed God to change us on the inside?  Do we feel compassion for the least of the least–or do we blame them for their situation?  Do we give sacrificially to the needy?  Or would we rather save our resources for our own benefit?  Do we feel true anguish for souls who are being lost?  Or do we secretly believe they are only getting what they deserve?  Like most people, I struggle with these issues every day.

I’ve been told that the actual meaning of the Greek word for repent is to “turn your guts around.”  That’s a real inner change, not an intellectual exercise or acceptance.  As Kate said, at the gates of heaven, God won’t ask you how good you looked on the outside.  He’ll want to know your heart.

“For the Lord sees not as man sees:  man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7

Image result for god looks at the heart images

 

 

I’m a Hypocrite

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Yeah, I came to this realization a few days ago.  Over the past several months I have been assaulted with negativity in the political arena, social issue arena and just about ANY arena you can think of.  I do okay with it for a while, but then it happened.  I allowed my human nature to transcend my spiritual nature by responding hatefully to a post on Facebook.    The worse part of this whole situation is – I was pretty proud of myself.

As a Christian, I believe that it is important to stand by my biblical beliefs, but as a Christian I should do that without being nasty – I should react out of love.  I failed in that terribly.  It took several days to come to this realization and several more to get the courage up to admit this terrible failing.  I am fortunate though, because, God still loves me.

I should state here and now, I will probably fail again – not probably but WILL – but remember to remind me that I am to act out of love and not condemnation. I may not agree with your stand on certain issues but I can allow you to have them without negativity from me, please afford me the same courtesy.

 

No matter how much of a total butthead I am being – Always remember

 

God Loves You And So Do I

 

Michele

Fruitful Gifts

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“Love is patient and kind;  love does not envy or boast;  it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on it’s own way;  it is not irritable or resentful;   it does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

You’ve probably heard these verses many times before.  1 Corinthians is known as the “love chapter” (my Bible titles it The Way of Love) and it is often read at weddings.  However, placed in its context, Paul is speaking these words to the Christian community and it follows a description of spiritual gifts.

It is certainly good advice about how to behave towards our spouse, but it is much more than that.  These verses tell us how we should behave as part of the church.  Love is the “greatest” gift and the one that will remain when all our works have ceased. Love is not just what we do, it is who we are.  Notice that love also encompasses the fruit of the spirit:  patience, kindness, self-control, joy.

Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians at the end of chapter 13 and in chapter 14 that love is an indication of spiritual maturity.  He advises us to put away childish things (13:11) and be mature in our thinking (14: 20).

So “pursue love” (14:1) and “strive to excel in building up the church.”(14:12).  The fruit of the spirit will follow and will be a blessing to you and to others.

God loves you and so do I!