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



Interactive Study Blog – Hebrews Chapter 6

Most people like cake – There is a lady at my church who thinks the best part is the frosting. The sweeter the better. This chapter is again telling us about maturing in our faith, so I figure that I will compare it to eating cake. I like cake, I like frosting but to get the entire taste experience you need to eat both, I mean German Chocolate cake without the pecan & coconut frosting would not be that great.

What I am saying is that we cannot just live by the parts of the Bible we like, we have to live by all of it. We cannot pick and choose the rules, we have to adhere to them all.

We cannot grow in our faith (mature) unless we eat ALL the words, not just the parts we like. I hope this makes sense.

God Loves You And So Do I

Michele Edgel

Interactive Study Blog – Hebrews Chapter 5

Okay everyone – I am sorry this is taking so long to post between chapters, bear with me, we will get through this together.

In this chapter we are given more information about Jesus as the Great High Priest. At the end of the last chapter, we are introduced to this role of His and how He can sympathize with our weaknesses because, He himself, has suffered and triumphed over the same. We are told that a High Priest is selected among men (Jesus was fully human) and is also selected by God (Psalms 110:4). We are also being told that Jesus learned obedience through His suffering. The chapter ends with a warning that we are to constantly immerse ourselves in the spiritual food of the Word to mature in our faith or we are nothing more than infants in our comprehension of God’s many gifts. We should never let down our guard against evil, for if we do, it will slowly creep in until it permeates the very fiber of our life and faith.

Wow, this is something that I am not really good at. I have been studying the Book of Hebrews, but can I honestly say that I immerse myself on a daily basis? No I don’t, but I can always try to do better. How about you? What do you do to immerse yourself daily in God’s word? I want to know, leave a comment and tell me.

As always, thank yous o much for reading and following this and all the blogs.

God Loves You And So Do I

Michele Edgel

Peaceful Surrender

If you have been following our blog then you already know what a Via de Cristo weekend is. I walked on my first “pilgrim” weekend in April 2007, a week after I was baptized at the age of 33. That week of time was my rebirth, my spiritual transformation and the surrendering of my life to Christ. Christ took me from my old life and made it clear that he wanted to show me so many things about life, love, mercy, God, myself, my relationship with my husband, and most importantly His grace and forgiveness. My life since then has not been one continual “spiritual high” but one with many valleys. The difference is how I handle what life throws at me.

On my Via de Cristo weekend, God made it clear to me He gave me the gift of words for His glory…and the words started flowing. Since then I have written tons of poetry, given talks at women’s conferences on various subjects, written an article for the Lutheran Ambassador publication, and was invited to join this blog by some very awesome Christian women whom I love dearly. God has impressed it on my heart to write a book…He and I are still working on that! I never thought in a million years I would become a published author.

When I was young, I was taught children are to be seen, not heard. Being very opinionated, and vocal about it, got me in a lot of trouble as a kid. I spoke my mind and was always told I talked too much. I would start a conversation with anyone who would listen. As I got older, I felt I had to suppress my thoughts because it seemed to be more trouble than it was worth, until I was 15. My mother was diagnosed with a rare cancer, one that had already found its way into most areas of her body. She died the following year after a 14 month long battle. During her illness was when I began writing. It was the only way I could express my feelings in a positive way and one that wouldn’t get me into trouble. I would sit with my mom on her hospital bed (stationed in our family room) and read her my poetry, short stories, or whatever I was writing at the time. I still have all of those things I wrote and would read to her in a notebook.

Four years later, I was married with our first child on the way and a year and a half after that, our second child. With life as a mom of an infant and toddler, any thoughts of writing just seemed to be erased…until my Via de Cristo weekend. When I gave my life to Christ, it was a peaceful surrender, one in which I wrote a poem about just after chapel visit that evening.

Peaceful Surrender

All things are possible through God’s Son, Jesus Christ,

Who gives me the strength to get through the night.

He is here to relieve me of all worry, pain, and fear,

He helps me to be still, to seek Him and hear.

Hearing the words He whispers to me, learning to let go and being set free.

Free from the struggles we all go through, delivered from the storm with a joy renewed.

The peace that comes with surrender and the fire lit eyes on my face,

His light now shines from my soul because I have been given His grace.

Never give up on God because He never gives up on you. Remember, your life and what He created you for will be revealed in His timing. Be open to letting God transform you to be more like Him, through whatever means he shows you. We are created unique for a reason. Our transformation, our rebirth, and our spiritual journey will also be unique to whatever purpose God has for us individually here on this earth. Embrace it and know that Christ is walking along side of you always.

God loves you and so do I,

Leslie Winston

Rebirth and Transformation

When I think of rebirth, the description that comes to mind is transformation. The Bible tells us that “Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new creation. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) But how do we become a new creation in Christ? Jesus gives us the instructions in Matthew 10 “If you cling to your life you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” It begins with sacrifice. Throughout the Gospel accounts, Jesus is trying to get the message across that His presence demands a decision. Some of us will choose to follow Christ and some of us won’t. When we choose to take up His cross and follow Him, we are making a command decision and commit to striving to be more Christlike. Our decision elevates us to a higher calling, one that is not self-serving but serving others, even those who have not chosen this path. To take up our cross and follow Him means that we will face opposition and persecution just like He did. It means that we need to be ready to face suffering, and even death, for the sake of the Gospel.

After we make this decision, then what next? By surrendering our lives over to Christ, we begin to allow God access into our very being and He changes us on the inside by the renewing of our heart and mind. This begins the process of sanctification. Romans 12:2 is an awesome verse for understanding transformation. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (NLT)

A lot of Christians choose to eliminate worldly behaviors from their lives, which is wise. But our refusal of worldly behaviors must go deeper than that, it must be planted in our minds, allowing God to transform us into new people by changing our thinking. While abstaining from worldly behavior is good, there can still be behaviors in us such as, pride, jealousy, gossiping, covetousness, selfishness, greed, stubbornness, arrogance, lust, and vengeance to name a few, that interfere with us truly being transformed. Many Christians want to “act” like they are better than those who don’t cut out certain things from their lifestyle, but they are blind to see other areas of sin in their own lives that hinder their spiritual growth, and all too often those around them can see through the hypocrisy. People call themselves pietistic because they don’t do “this or that”, but its really is a form of legalism, a “better than thou” mentality. Piety simply means transforming your life to Christ. Sanctification is a lifelong process and starts when we make that commitment to Christ, when we are “born again”. Everyone is on different parts of their journey at different times and it is important we remember that so as not to judge another’s progress.

John MacArthur, famous author and evangelist says this…

“True sanctification begins with the renewing of your mind. You must know the Truth, plain and simple. There is no premium on ignorance in sanctification. You are not going to get there through some emotional or mystical experience. Spiritual growth doesn’t happen through osmosis- it requires the discipline of constantly putting God’s Truth in your mind. Don’t confuse childlike faith with childlike thinking. There are no short cuts in sanctification- a lack of biblical knowledge with always retard your spiritual growth. Apart from the truth of Scripture, there simply is no mechanism to restrain your sinful flesh. Legalism can’t do it. Pragmatism can’t do it. Same goes for mysticism or sacramentalism. The only certain method for true spiritual growth starts with absorbing God’s eternal Truth. Cognition lead to a second step; conviction. As you grow in your understanding of the Bible, you begin to develop convictions our of that understanding. Those convictions or beliefs determine how you live, or at least how you endeavor to live. As God’s Truth takes over your mind, it produces principles that you don’t desire to violate. That’s sanctification- it’s the transforming of your heart and your will that compels you to obey God’s Word.” MacArthur; Grace To You

Have you made a conscientious decision to allow God the opportunity to transform your mind into the likeness of Christ?  Do you soak up God’s Word like a sponge with childlike faith? If your answer is yes, I encourage you to keep learning and seeking God, keeping your eye on the prize…eternity with Him in Heaven. If your answer is no, I encourage you to choose Christ and find yourself in Him, who God created you to be. There is no time like the present because with God, all things are possible.

God loves you and so do I,

Leslie Winston


Be Transformed

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12:2

Last month we talked about sacrifice, and this verse comes right after the one about being a “living sacrifice” to God.  I think that’s interesting.  When we present ourselves sacrificially to God, our minds are renewed and transformed.  We are able to better discern God’s will for our lives, instead of giving in to what the world tells us is right.

How does our mind become renewed?  Although we are reborn in our baptism, and justified with God through the sacrifice of Christ, our sanctification is a process in which we participate.  Renewal of our mind is part of our sanctification.  We learn to see things through the mind of Christ, we learn to do the things the Bible tells us are right, we have a different viewpoint than we had before.  There are many tools that may help us to “renew” our minds.  This past weekend some of my fellow bloggers were on a Lutheran Via de Cristo retreat weekend.  I am hoping this week they will blog about how their weekend was a renewal and a transformation.

A Via de Cristo weekend is three days of concentration on the fundamentals of Christianity, concentrating on the teachings of Jesus Christ and how individual believers can influence the environment of their homes, communities and churches.  It is not just academic, there is much fellowship and singing;  there are times of worship.  Often participants come back feeling they have changed.

So, I am asking those who have attended a Via de Cristo weekend to send us your comments on how this experience renewed and transformed you.  (There are similar retreats in other denominations:  Cursillo, The Walk to Emmaus, Tres Dios )

Switched On, Continued

I have to admit, I’m obsessed with the brain. I fail to see how anyone can believe this complex organ simply “evolved” without divine plan (but that’s a subject for a different post). Anyway, in case you didn’t know, the brain has a quality called plasticity, which means your brain can change! Sometimes after an injury, or stroke, different parts of the brain learn to take over for the area that was damaged. If we practice something over and over and over, it causes new pathways to form in our brain. The truly amazing thing is, an experiment showed that people who thought about playing the piano showed the same changes in their brains as those who actually did it! In the book, Switched On, John Elder Robison describes how after experimental TMS treatments, he “heard” music differently and his son “saw” brighter, enhanced colors.

Here’s where I am going with this: when we are reborn spiritually, I believe our brains actually change. Yes, the Bible talks about this. When we think spiritually, we “hear” and “see” in a new way:

                                                                                                            .                                                           “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, The Lord has made both of them” (Proverbs 20:12).


When Jesus teaches his disciples, he tells them, “…blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”(Matt. 13:16). He also tells them that many …”shall indeed hear but never understand, and …see but never perceive.”(Matt. 13:14). When God said, “… I am making everything new. ”Rev. 21:5, that included the transformation and renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). When we are reborn in Christ, we put Him on, He lives in us! Our brains are changed!  For some of us, this happens in an instant, for others it is a process.


Have you experienced this brain change? Let us hear about your experiences.