What is a Church?

,My husband, who is our pastor, wrote this article for a recent church newsletter, and I thought it was worthy of sharing.

What is a church, or specifically a congregation? Have you ever thought seriously about this?

Well, the first thing we say, of course, is that it is a gathering of the people of God in a certain place. People may gather at schools or work places or gyms, or ball games, but none of these places can be a congregation because they lack the one defining requirement, the people gathered there must be people who follow Jesus.

Now we have to admit that not all people who have their names on the roll of a congregation are people of God. As the Lord points out in the parable of the wheat and the tares, some are not who they seem to be. They are not really part of the true congregation. At least, not yet.

As the people of God gathered together, a true living congregation seeks always to grow in grace and faith in the Messiah. I don’t care how big your gathering or what the name plate on the door says, a living congregation must be a spiritually growing congregation. No one achieves full sanctification in this life, but those who truly confess Jesus as their Lord strive to attain that goal.

A living congregation has living Christians at the core. And living Christians are those who grow in their faith lives through ever increasing understanding of what it means to confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord.

Congregations where there is no faith growth or signs of life are dead gatherings and the Holy Spirit is not at work among them.

Dead gatherings might survive for a time, but they will eventually fail, for if the Lord doesn’t bless those who call on His name there is no hope.

So the question for St. Paul’s, and for all congregations is this — will you be living or will you be dead?

Charles Stanley on Bearing Adversity

” Adversity is not simply a tool. It is God’s most effective tool for the advancement of our spiritual lives. The circumstances and events that we see as setbacks are oftentimes the very things that launch us into periods of intense spiritual growth. Once we begin to understand this, and accept it as a spiritual fact of life, adversity becomes easier to bear” Charles Stanley

For more quotes by Charles Stanley see:

:A Quote About Spiritual Gift

Free to the Max

Discernment by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird–Book Review

This book is the third and final volume of Nouwen’s posthumous spiritual trilogy. I have already reviewed the first two, Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen & Rebecca J. Laird–Book Review and Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen–Book Review. It is concerned with reading the signs of God in everyday life through books, nature, people and events.

To Nouwen, discernment is both a spiritual gift, and a practice. He says:

Discernment is a spiritual understanding and an experiential knowledge of how God is active in daily life. Discernment is faithful living and listening to God’s love and direction so that we can fulfill our individual calling and shared mission.”

Nouwen does not give pat answers, but guides the reader through the process of discerning vocation, presence, identity and time. Throughout he uses both biblical texts and examples from his own life as illustrations. At the end of each chapter there are questions that could be used for journaling or group discussion.

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

At the end there are several appendices with essays by Nouwen that delve even deeper into the topics of discernment and spiritual friendship.

Nouwen is a Catholic, and I did have a few theological issues with this work. However, for the most part, I found it both engaging and helpful.

VERDICT: 4 STARS

For more about Henri Nouwen see:

Henri Nouwen on the Blessing of Poverty

Henri Nouwen on Traveling

Are You a Spiritual Person?

What makes a person spiritual?  Too often these days “spirituality” is associated with New Age or Eastern beliefs, and some even insist that “I am spiritual, but not religious.”  For Christians the true meaning of spirituality is inexorably linked to the Holy Spirit, who indwells all believers.  In our most recent class on the Holy Spirit we learned how the Spirit works in the lives of individual Christians.  The Spirit convicts us of our sin, brings us into fellowship with God and others, and works through our sanctification to make us more Christlike.

According to the Bible, there are three types of people:

  1. The natural person — this is how we are born
  2. “People of the flesh”– people who know Christ, but are still living as spiritual infants
  3. Spiritual people– those who are led by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:11-12); who are spiritually minded

Every believer receives spiritual gifts for the building up of the church (1 Peter  4:10-11) as well as spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3).  Believers are meant to be spiritual stones, built into a spiritual house where they dedicate their lives fully to God. (1 Peter 2:5).

Herbert Lockyer, (1886–1984) a minister and best-selling author of more than 50 books, lists these characteristics that identify a truly spiritual person:

  • They are misunderstood by most people
  • They show signs of development in their faith life (spiritual growth)
  • They accept the truth of Scripture
  • They are discerning, able to correctly understand spiritual truth
  • They are compassionate, putting their faith into action
  • They live a life that is confident in the knowledge of victory in Christ

Take a close look and evaluate yourself.  Are you a spiritual person?

For more about spirituality see these posts:

Streams of Living Water by Richard J. Foster–Book Review

Developing Spiritual Habits

What Damages our Spiritual Life? (according to Hannah Whitall Smith)

 

 

 

The Other Half of Church by Jim Wilder & Michel Hendricks–Book Review

Is something missing in your journey toward spiritual maturity?  According to the authors, it could be because the usual discipleship model is only utilizing half of your brain — namely the left half.  Left brain discipleship focuses on beliefs, doctrines, willpower and spiritual disciplines.  The idea is that if we understand the truth and think correctly, we will make wiser choices and grow spiritually.  Although this is certainly part of the equation, it ignores right brain skills such as loving attachments, joy, emotional development and identity.  Often the result is Christians who know what is right, but often don’t behave that way.

The remedy, according to Wilder and Hendricks is to practice and improve the “neglected soil” that most of us are growing in.  By adding joy, relational attachments, and a healthy group identity to our Christian communities, they will be able to correct members in a way that leads to growth in Christlike character.

There are group discussion questions at the end of each chapter, which would make this book a good choice for a small group to study together.  At the end are a number of appendices including:

  • Soil Assessment Questions (for evaluating your group or church)
  • Joy on Demand Exercises (to help reset your default emotional state)
  • Pseudo-Joy Checklist (things you may be substituting for true joy)
  • Enemy Mode Checklist (to identify how your “relational circuits” are working}
  • Maturity Stages (a list of the needs and tasks of each maturity level)

This book appealed to me because I’m very interested in brain science.  It’s definitely food for thought.  Are we putting the cart before the horse in training disciples?  Should we be working on the culture and climate of our communities at least as hard as we work at educating our members?  The answer is probably yes.  The difficulty will be in persuading Christians to change old habits and ways of pursuing spiritual growth.

VERDICT:  4 Stars.  I liked it and would enjoy reading more about this topic.

If you would like to purchase this book, follow the link below:

https://www.moodypublishers.com/the-other-half-of-church/

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

 

Everyday Faithfulness by Glenna Marshall — Book Review

Think like a farmer.  This is Glenna Marshall’s advice when it comes to persevering in spiritual disciplines.  Just as a farmer must plant the seeds, water, fertilize, weed and wait, our spiritual growth is a slow process.  It requires steady attention even when we’re not seeing or feeling the results.

What is everyday faithfulness?  It’s pretty basic.  Follow Christ through regular Bible reading, prayer and corporate worship.  That’s it.  It’s nothing fancy and complicated.  Nothing that, as Christians, we don’t already know we should be doing.

Why is it important?  Here’s what Glenna has to say:

“I know now that unless we all commit to regular, daily faithfulness to Christ, we’ll be confessing our prayerlessness and dusty Bible covers for years to come ….”

If we aren’t persistent in incorporating spiritual disciplines into our daily routines, we’ll never grow and mature in the faith.

There are nine chapters which explain how to live faithful lives during challenging times.  For example:

  • When it’s difficult to remain disciplined
  • When you’re busy
  • When you’re waiting
  • When you doubt
  • When you’re suffering
  • When your spiritual life feels dry
  • When you sin
  • When you grow old

At the end of each chapter, Ms. Marshall gives a brief description of a woman she has known who exemplifies perseverance in the particular season of life described.  It’s not always easy to find the time, energy or motivation to read the Bible, pray and attend worship and other church activities.  However, the rewards of continuing them even when we don’t feel like it are great.  Once we learn to “think like a farmer” we’ll reap a plentiful harvest of peace and righteousness.

The theology is spot-on.  Ms. Marshall is quick to point out that God not only plants our faith in us, His Holy Spirit encourages and assists us in sanctification.  She also quotes from a number of sources that will encourage further reading on the topic.

VERDICT 5 STARS:  I loved it!

For more on this topic:

Bulls Eye!

Developing Spiritual Habits

Fanning the Flame #16 Personal Spiritual Discipline

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

If you would like to purchase this book, follow the link below:

https://www.crossway.org/books/everyday-faithfulness-tpb/

 

Do This Every Day

Edward Meyrick Goulburn (1818-1897) was an English churchman and writer.  He offers some good advice for all of us in the quote below:

“As, on rising we should hear Him saying to us ‘Take this yoke upon thee, my child to-day,’ ‘Bear this burden for me and with me to-day,’ so before retiring to rest, and collecting our mind for our evening prayer, it were well to put these questions to our conscience, ‘Have I, in a single instance this day denied myself either in temper or appetite, and so submitted myself to the Saviour’s yoke?’  And again, “Have I, in a single instance, shown sympathy or considerateness for others, borne with their faults or infirmities of character, given time or take trouble to help them, or be of use to them?’  If so, I have gained ground;  I have made an advance in the mind of Christ to-day, if it be only a single step.  Let me thank God and take courage.  A single step is so much clear gain.”

Love Or Charity?

I came across this quote I wrote down in my journal a while back.  It’s from The 9 Best Practices of Youth Ministry:

“Spiritual growth is a lifelong process of loving God more and loving people more.”

I think sometimes we forget that spiritual growth, like everything in the Christian life, is not all about us.  It’s about us and others.  Here’s where the charity part comes in.  In various versions of the Bible, the Greek word agape is translated sometimes as “love” and others as “charity.”  I think charity is actually a better choice.  For most of us today, love is a feeling.  It changes.  We may love something or someone one day, and take an aversion to it later.  Love is focused on us.  Charity, on the other hand is defined as kindness and tolerance in dealing with others.  Even if we don’t have that warm, fuzzy, “love”  feeling, we can behave charitably toward those around us.  That means trying to understand them, seeing their point of view, controlling our tongue, thinking the best of them.

The famous “love” verses in 1 Corinthians 13 have a lot to say about attitudes and actions, rather than feelings.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

So, test your spiritual growth.  Are you behaving more and more like this?  Are you loving and charitable to others? Are your decisions and actions leading you into a better relationship with God and with those around you? Do you understand the true meaning of agape? Or are you following momentary feelings?

True agape love expresses itself through charity.  This is the love that will remain and will enable us to see through the eyes of Christ — clearly!

 

Groups: the life-giving power of community by John Ortberg, Laurie Pederson & Judson Poling –Book Review

This is one of a series of bible studies published by Zondervan and entitled “Pursuing Spiritual Transformation.”  In my opinion, it is an excellent choice for small groups.  It includes an overview of the series along with what you will need to have and do in preparation for each lesson.  The core values of spiritual formation are also listed.

This particular study guide has seven lessons based on the topic of community.  They are:

  • This Is A  Friendship
  • Love Pays Attention
  • Knowing And Being Known
  • When Community Breaks Down
  • Forgiveness
  • Building A Passionately Inclusive Church
  • Being “For” One Another

Each lesson includes questions that lead the participant to examine his or her own life experiences in light of the Scripture.  There are also spiritual exercises for each section, encouraging each person to put what they’ve studied into practice.  It can be challenging — but that’s a good thing!  As Paul writes in the book of Philippians we should:

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

There are also leaders’ notes for each session at the back of the book.

Finally included are suggestions and formats for planning retreats:  either individually or with the group.

I worked through the material on my own and enjoyed it so much that I plan to suggest in to my own small group for our next session.

Others in the same series are:

  • Fully Devoted:  Living Each Day in Jesus’ Name
  • Grace:  An Invitation to a Way of Life
  • Growth: Training vs. Trying
  • Gifts: The Joy of Serving God
  •  Giving: Unlocking the Heart of Good Stewardship

VERDICT:  5 Stars!  If you have a small group I recommend you take a look at this material

For more on small groups, see these posts:

Small Groups Made Easy – A Book Review

Fanning the Flame #19 — Small Groups of Saints

Small Groups of Saints #2 — Joan’s Experience

 

 

Admonition

The origin of admonition is from the Latin word admonitio, which means (cautionary) reminder. Further the word Admonish means: to warn or reprimand someone firmly.
Why do I bring this up? Because a couple of the many ‘one another’ verses tells us to do just that. Admonish one another. Romans 15:14 and Colossians 3:16.
Still this word seems harsh to our modern ears. No one likes to be reprimanded, it feels like an insult to our ‘be true to yourself’ culture. We want the freedom to indulge in our vices and pleasures of this world. Much like a brooding teenager, we bristle at anyone who might dare tell us a thing is not good to do. And often an attempt to warn someone else (these days) will end in an argument or a one sided verbal lashing.
Why then do we read in Romans 15:14
“And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”
How can we be ‘full of goodness’ and reprimand someone? Isn’t that just people wielding whatever power they might have over someone else? Like a boss or parent wagging their finger at us?  But why shouldn’t we want and welcome constructive criticism? Don’t we need to know our weakness if we are to improve, learn and grow? It appears we can’t have it both ways. If one doesn’t want to be admonished then they have that right; but they will then find themselves in a rut. No longer seeing what it is that may be keeping them from personal growth. Similarly if you accept admonition, you must also accept that a change in habit (or complete halt in activity) must take place.
As is said in Proverbs 9:8 “Don’t rebuke a mocker, or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.”
Why? Because a wise man knows rebuke equals improvement. They also know that improvement makes us feel better. There is a huge difference between pleasure, and happiness. Everyone is capable of indulging  in some sort of pleasure, but pure, content, happiness eludes many.