Tag Archives: Small Groups

Reading for fun once again

 

Somewhere along the line, I discovered I had lost fun reading in my life.  I know where it started over 11 years ago when I stepped into the Course of Study to be better equipped to serve as a local pastor.

 

At that time, I was working full time in a public school alternative program, trying to take the required courses, preparing for Sunday worship services, and so forth.  Time to read?  Only for the course work or the sermon.

 

Reading opened the world to me as an elementary student.  Raised in a small rural school setting, the books available usually lined a couple of shelves in the classroom.  Going to the library helped, but one book led to another book.  At that time, teachers expected us to read and to make book reports. I did.

 

I could not get enough. I read everything I could from my classroom’s library.  In the summers I read from the local library.  And I learned so much.

 

Thank goodness Mom and Dad approved, in fact I learned that if I had a book report to do, the chores took a back seat—now if that did not encourage me to read.

 

Quite a memory, I know, but when I left fun reading about a decade ago, I left out an important piece of my learning.  Therefore, I am reading again:  fun reading; not required for a class or a sermon.

 

I had picked up a book several years ago, The Yada Yada Prayer Groupby Neta Jackson.  I thought it sounded like fun to read with my college girlfriends—and it was on sale.  But I did not get it read.

 

Over the next few years, I found the book had spun out into a series, so I started collecting them—always on sale.  After reading the book, Talking with God, I knew I needed to read.

 

The first book I picked up was The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling.  I thought it was number one, but in reality it turned out to be number 6.

 

The point I am making is that I read.  And the reading is still connected to my faith journey.  The books share all the real life experiences that the members of the diverse prayer group deal with and how the prayer group keeps the focus on God.  I needed that reminder.

 

Therefore I am fun reading with a recharged sense of faith.  The inner thoughts of the main character sound terribly familiar.  The experiences of the women are just the same as so many I have experienced or know of others who have experienced them somewhere along their lives.

 

The amazing thing, though, is that through scripture, shared prayer, and worship—especially praise worship, one grows in faith.  I know that John Wesley struggled to understand whether or not he had enough faith, but I remember that his brother Charles told him to live like he did.

 

Sometimes we make Christian living sound so difficult, but in reality it is simple.  Love one another in the same way you want to be loved. Accept that bad things happen, but God never leaves your side.

 

Just stay the course (pardon the cliché), because as long as you continue to follow the scriptures, practice, practice, practice living the Golden Rule and praying.

 

Those inner nudges that you hear really are instructions from God.  Listen to them and check them against the scripture you know.  Check them with others in a small group—yes, a small group setting is Wesleyan and is proven to be a key part of one’s spiritual practices.

 

I may be in a season of recharging, but I have to say that reading for fun is fuel for the future. I am finding rest as I sit and read. I am finding confirmation in understanding the Holy Spirit.  I am encouraged that there is so much more to do.

 

Sunday morning’s sermon at Sedalia’s First UMC with Rev. Jim Downing reminded us that Paul told us to put on our armor.  That armor, outlined in Ephesians 6:10-20, may sound old fashioned, but continues to defend us from evil:

 

The Whole Armor of God

10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we[a] are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.[b] 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.[c] 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.[d]

19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.[e] 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. [NLT accessed at biblegateway.com]

 

Thank you to Rev. Downing for reminding us how important it is to read, to pray, and to worship in order to defend ourselves from the challenges of living in our secular world.

 

He provided the following prayer starter for this week:

 

Lord, I want to know what it means to be overtaken by your promises. Grant me the grace to remain obedient and faithful to you, never wavering in my faith in what you have promised.

 

We all need recharging in order to live in a world filled with evil and unexpected challenges or temptations.  We need to read—scripture, yes, but sometimes messages come in other forms such as The Yada Yada Prayer Group.

 

If you are unsure what to read, maybe the reading from this week’s lectionary will help:

  • 2 Samuel 11:1-15 or 2 Kings 4:42-44
  • Psalms 14 or Psalms 145:10-18
  • Ephesians 3:14-21
  • John 6:1-21

 

Whatever you do, find what arms you the best for your spiritual journey.  There is no telling what words God is speaking to you.  Just know that he is with you and wanting to talk to you.

 

Here is my prayer:

 

Dear God, The Word,

Thank you for speaking to me through words

   even when I am reading for fun.

Thank you for all that I can learn through words

   whether in scripture, in studies, or in fun.

Let my words help others in their faith journeys

   so they may experience your words in their lives.

Words of armor, words of guidance, words of fun

   are your words speaking to us.  –Amen

 

P.S.  I finished book one and started book 2 in the series. Sure is fun.

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Know What You Believe: John Wesley’s church

given on Sunday, September 25, 2016

Knowing what one believes certainly is not easy. The demands of our daily lives tend to eat up so much time that careful reflection on who we are or what we believe just seems impractical. Yet, who we are and what we believe are evident to others around us, so we should try to figure it out. Psychologists make careers out of it when life clashes with one’s personal identity.

Why is it important for Christians to know what they believe? Basically what one believes is the very operating system one uses in all the various relationships, work settings, home environments and even recreational times. The choices we make are connected and controlled by the belief system we live. Sometimes what we say we believe and what we do are not aligned causing friction within one’s self as well as friction within personal, professional, or casual relationships.

The relationship we maintain with God is the most critical one we have during our earthly lifetimes. A healthy relationship with God places us in an excellent position to develop and to maintain healthy human relationships. Plus life challenges are handled with less destructive force when God is part of one’s operating system.

United Methodists follow John Wesley’s inadvertently developed theology that could be termed ‘practical theology’ for his followers in order to take the Bible and move it into action. Wesley modeled how religion was a lifestyle rather than a Sunday-worship event. He delivered the Story to the unchurched, the poor, and the laborers in any way he could—even though he was raised in the Anglican Church attended by affluent and influential people.

Reviewing the various types of theology, I discovered how creation theology seemed be a positive fit for me; but knowledge not implemented fails God. Certainly knowing what one believes establishes one’s foundation, and God asks us to use faith knowledge as our operating system. We are to be God’s presence in this real world and that means we need a method to do God’s work. Wesley provides that structure.

Wesley was born into a faith-filled world. The son of an Anglican priest, the family environment placed Wesley in direct connection to religion. His family also struggled with the structure of the Church of England. Wesley saw the world around him and coupled that with Jesus’ model of living to develop the methods that put scripture into real life application. No easy task, for certain, but as he refined his faith and his methods, he demonstrated how the Holy Spirit works through God’s faithful.

Wesley lived what he read in scriptures, but he struggled with many of the same issues that Christians today do. How does God work in our lives? My perception of Wesley’s own story is that one simply must begin by living in the world as best as one can. He was fortunate that his parents were educated and determined that all their children were, too, despite the financial stress it placed upon the family. This history is repeated in Christian families throughout time.

Yet, Wesley struggled to understand God. He saw the poverty and the injustices in the world around him. As Wesley continued developing his faith, he could not ignore that world. He saw the people who were suffering and were unable to manage due to harsh work conditions, poor economic situations, and even deplorable health situations.

Wesley took God to the people. Not only did Wesley live his faith personally and actively within the community, he took God’s story to the people. He preached the Word. He demonstrated how to live faith actively and he studied struggling to fully comprehend God.

The practices that Wesley used became the structures of the Methodist denomination. Using small group study structures and the acts of piety and acts of mercy, he established the methods that put God’s words into action.

The Methodist denomination developed from Wesley’s disciplined approach to living his faith. The personal struggles Wesley experienced to discover what God’s grace means and how to live in a faithful relationship with God provides a model of holiness that continues to lead others to Christ and to transform the world one person at a time. In fact, God’s grace reaches out exponentially when Wesley’s model is implemented individually and corporately. This is a structure I want to follow.

Wesleyan scholar Hal Knight shares how God’s grace interacts in our lives: “Grace is relational, an encounter with the transforming presence of God’s love, eliciting our response.” The four levels of grace makes faith an active process, even developmental, which for an educator provides more clarity how growth in one’s faith leads to the Kingdom of God. Wesley outlines the four levels of grace as a map for our lives.

Born we are granted prevenient grace even before we can cognitively recognize it. As we grow, we become conscious of God’s presence in our lives. Educationally this might mean that the rote learning that attempts to develop an awareness of God’s presence begins to become an internalized knowledge, and with that new understanding the comprehension of God’s presence—justification.

Developing knowledge begins with introduction of an idea, which is then practiced and/or committed to memory one way or another. Once a knowledge base is in place, practice moves to different frameworks as the student sees the knowledge in different settings. For instance, number facts must be learned, but until the student begins using number facts in calculations the new knowledge is still unused. Now the student must begin applying the knowledge in real-life settings—sanctification when talking about one’s faith.

Sanctification moves the Christian into action. Developmentally the Christian is now able to take the awareness of God’s presence in one’s own life and aid others in the discovery of God, too. Sanctification, as Knight states, transforms Christians “. . . to be a loving person.” This leads the Christian to the final state of grace known as perfection. Knight states:

Christian perfection comes when the holy tempers of love for God and neighbor fill our hearts and govern our lives. While we never entirely do God’s will (“involuntary transgressions” remain), we can be freed from intentional sin and motivated by love. Wesley believed Christian perfection was a promise of God that could be attained before death, followed y continued growth.

 

Wesley articulated the developmental process of reaching the Kingdom of Heaven and argues that reaching such an internalized relationship with God is possible even within the confines of an earthly existence. This is a religion that makes sense in a world that battles evil continually. This is a religion that provides hope to those in the worst of circumstances. This is a religion that puts theory into action. This is a denomination that works now as much as it did in the past and will in the future. This what I believe faith is in my life.

As part of our community, knowing what you believe transforms you into the Christ-like figure you are. Knowing what you believe defines the quality of your life regardless of life’s challenges. Living what you believe draws others to God as they strive to be more like you and that is how we share God’s story and bring others to Christ transforming the world one person at a time.

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

How easy it is to live our lives with little thought about our faith.

We can become numb to the needs of others if we ignore You.

We fail to practice what we believe,

so we fail to fulfill your commandment.

 

Help us, Lord, to follow Wesley’s model of faithful disciplines.

Help us to see those in need, sick, lonely, and lost.

Help us to find ways to share what we believe

so others may discover your saving grace.

 

Thank you for loving us despite our failures.

Thank you for teaching us how to love one another.

Thank you for granting us the presence of the Holy Spirit

so we may serve as your disciples in our own community.

 

In the name of the Jesus Christ, amen.

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What happens when a church member is added to another church member?

given on Sunday, August 28, 2016

 

Scripture connection: Hebrews 13:1-3, NLT

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.[a] Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.

 

Reflection:

One plus one makes two. Right? Certainly that is basic math. Even multiplying one by one is a basic rule that does not change. But then start adding more and more to the formula. What happens then? The results actually can become staggering because when numbers are added together, the outcome continues to grow.

With that fact proven, one can easily wonder what happens when one church member is added with another church member. Suddenly there are two church members standing there side by side. Two church members may not seem very notable, but remember what Jesus said:

For where two or three gather together as my followers,[h] I am there among them.” [Matthew 18:20, NLT]

Now caution, that verse is one small verse out of the entire Bible, but the context does help answer the question about what happens when one church member is added to other church member(s). The verse comes at the end of the parable about correcting another believer. Jesus explains the process of how to correct another within the church. He tells them on the second attempt to take two or three as witnesses adding:

17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.

18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid[f] on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit[g] on earth will be permitted in heaven.

19 “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers,[h] I am there among them.”

Sometimes there is a need for one or more church members to be together, but the times two or more are ‘gathered together’ do not have to be for punitive purposes. When one church member is added to another one, the first step develops fellowship.

In today’s culture, finding those who have compatible values and beliefs is challenging. Stepping into a church that welcomes visitors whether strangers or not, is often the most crucial time to add one church member to another. Those first time visitors may be seeking others who believe the same as they do or they may be seeking to find answers they cannot find among those they work and/or play with in their community.

The value of creating a welcoming, hospitable environment in our churches provides those stepping inside the church door for the first time a sense of comfort. That same welcoming attitude can be carried outside the church doors, too, as invitations to family, friends, and neighbors, even strangers. What we find inside the church is so valuable that we want others to find it to.

Therefore, each time the doors to the church are open, others are invited inside. Church members know that God provides unconditional love and forgiveness for lives filled with challenges. When one church member joins other church members modeling those qualities, then others will come seeking that same sense of love and forgiveness–church members are the first evidence of what God provides. Christian fellowship among the believers can lead to even richer lives.

How does adding one church member to another church member go beyond fellowship? Curiosity or a desire to understand even more about God and living a Christ-centered life triggers church members to join in small groups for study or to seek practices more Christ-like behaviors.

When church members join together to learn more, their spiritual journey develops. The practice of meeting in small groups develops more strength in one’s faith. The small group becomes a covenant group that supports one another when life throws some unexpected obstacles or challenges into our lives. Certainly Bible study is an element of the small groups, but the design of the group can be as unique as the members who have developed a comfortable fellowship among themselves.

One church member who enjoys a personal hobby such as fly fishing or knitting can meet together to learn more or to share their experiences in a Christ-centered setting. Maybe standing in waders casting dry flies becomes a special prayer time when the group shares prayer concerns. Knitting groups often meet together to create prayer shawls or cancer caps while praying, studying, and sharing faith stories.

Fellowship may open the door to practices that enrich one’s life in a range of ways, but the small groups that develop within a church community also spearhead ministries that meet the needs of others beyond the immediate church congregation. The ministries that develop when church members join together can serve so many others in unexpected ways; God’s reach knows no boundaries.

This week alone, the Iowa and Missouri Methodist conferences have sent 1,400 flood buckets to Louisiana to aid in the cleanup of the record floods of the past month. These buckets were first provided by UMCOR when flooding hit these two states, but now they are needed in Louisiana, which is where the headquarters of UMCOR is located.

The Festival of Sharing is another example of how adding church members together, even other congregations and denominations, can provide ministry not only locally in our own state, but globally. The needs of people are evident nightly on the news. Yet one church member acting alone cannot possibly be as effective as when two or three or more add their efforts together.

When two or more are working together with the power of the Holy Spirit, the results grow exponentially. God is present when one church member is added to another developing fellowship that when enriched through study and growth in small groups leads to God’s ministry around this world.

Maybe one might not think it is possible for this to happen right here in our own community. It does happen and this past week we witnessed it once again. The process started a while back, but the outcome continues to be the same.

Tragedy hit one of our own members. The outpouring of love and concern has been tremendous. The fellowship of members reached out first in prayer and then in body to do whatever could be done. This week’s need was personal, but the power of church members working together is part of this community’s purpose to serve one another in unconditional love.

No special training is needed to serve one another, but one thing is needed—God. As we begin a new week filled with challenges, especially annual ones like the fair, we must add our efforts together with one purpose, one mind-set, and God will fill us with the Holy Spirit in ways we cannot plan ourselves. Add your Christ-like self to others and just see what exceptional results occur.

Closing prayer:

Dear all-knowing, all-loving and all-forgiving Father,

Each one of us has stood alone without Christian fellowship.

Thank you for inviting us to be part of your congregation.

As we discover the wonder of unconditional love and forgiveness,

Guide us to join with one another demonstrating those same qualities.

As we ban together in Christian fellowship here in our own community,

May we discover the blessings of serving others in love, too.

As we continue to learn and to grow in Christ-like ways,

Use us to help others in all the ways that you can.

May we reach out to others seeking Christian fellowship, too,

Guide us in finding ways to help develop one another’s faith,

And spark new ideas of ministry to others here and there. –Amen

 

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Why am I a church member?

given on Sunday, August 14, 2016

Scripture connection:

Ephesians 2:19-21 19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.

Ephesians 4:12-13 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Reflections:

 

How many of us have moved from one community to another? We are living in an extremely mobile society and communities are so different in our country that stepping into a new community is frightening.

When I first moved into Lexington, I knew it would be a challenge as I had always called Winter Wonderland in Montgomery County home. Certainly I had moved to Columbia for my college years, but home was still that farm about three miles from Buell, population around 30, and eight miles from Montgomery City, population around 2,400 and the county seat.

I knew the community and its people. I knew its values, it economic base, and the traditions that were all part of that community. Lexington was a state away and I knew no one on the west side of Missouri. I moved into the new community and felt totally alone.

The one place I recognized and knew was the Methodist Church, and that is where I felt safe and accepted. The church was my community even on the opposite side of the state from where I grew up. I stepped into the sanctuary and was at home. The stained glass window was the same one I had in my home church. The music was the same; the messages were the same. I was at home.

Belonging to a Methodist Church created a home wherever I was. Even the move from Lexington to Warrensburg was easier because I simply moved into my church. The setting was different this time as the stained glass window I knew was not there, but the music, the liturgy, and the messages were familiar.

The people there were still the same family members I had known in Lexington and in Montgomery. We all believed in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. My baptism as a child was just as valid in any church as it was in my home church. Only a request to change membership was necessary to be automatically included in the ‘new’ churches I attended.

When I hear someone ask why he or she should be a member of a specific church, I cringe. Church membership is not the same type of membership that one might have in a professional or social club. Church membership is merely a step in one’s spiritual journey that is unique to each individual.

Today belonging to a church may be more important than ever. Our 21st century culture brings each and every one of us into close proximity to each other. There is a global community and what affects us in our own homes may very possibly affect someone else half the world away.

The same sense of proximity makes the role of Christians even more critical. What we do can have a ripple effect that really can provide a positive—or negative—influence on someone in a different country with different life circumstances, different traditions or customs.

What we do in our church does make a difference and as a member of a local church community, we are empowered to make a difference that can be combined with other local church efforts to create a powerful difference in ministry.

Believing in God, our creator, and in Jesus Christ, our redeemer, is personal, true. But when joined together with other believers the power of community worship and service grows our faith journey in ways that can only be explained by understanding how the Holy Spirit works within us.

This is why we need to be church members—to make a difference as a body of Christ rather than as a lone believer doing all that one can do by one’s self. Stephen Covey, one of the most respected authors in time/business management, would say that working in a team creates synergy making the results more successful, more dramatic, and more lasting.

The value of being a church member depends on understanding what church membership means. Answering that can be as basic as understanding the principles of team dynamics, but church membership goes beyond a work setting or a sport competition.

Church membership places believers in settings that Paul and the earliest disciples knew first hand. Church membership is designed to spread the Word in ways that change lives and the world that one could not do alone.

John Wesley saw that working in small groups addressed spiritual growth in a systematic way holding each other accountable for their actions as well as assisting in understanding God’s Word and its application in one’s immediate culture.

Small group study leads to small group actions. Small group actions spread God’s love and grace more effectively than any person could do by his or her self. Small groups working collectively with other allows for God’s Word and work to grow even faster and further—mathematically it is called exponential growth.

Rick Warrens, even though he follows the Baptist doctrine, his message of living purpose-driven lives follows the Wesleyan format of using small groups or class meetings to grow in faith and in service, also. His spiritually successful movement is one our generation has witnessed.

In all of the small, early churches that Paul established to the Wesley’s class meetings and Warren’s small groups, the role of the church member is the same: live a Christ-centered life and do whatever you can to spread the Word and make disciples of Christ. At the same time, all the work that one does to meet the needs of others in all the different ways possible is what Christians do.

Being a church member looks like Jesus. Being a church member looks like being Wesley and Warren. Being a church member looks like the members of our church who have served one another in our own community with love and grace in so many different ways. We recognize them and we try to model their examples in our own lives.

Being a church member and working side by side with others who believe in God and serve as God’s emissaries in our own communities makes a difference in our own faith journeys as well as in the lives of those around us. As a church member teaming up with others in the church, God’s actions can reach out to others more effectively and efficiently.

Being a local church member provides us a personal safety net when challenges become so overwhelming we feel lost. We can turn to each other with confidence that our church family will guide us and put their arms around us to provide the grace and the love that we need as we struggle through the challenge.

Being a church member means we can join together to defend ourselves from evil but also work to keep evil from invading our community. As a team, we can rally to the needs of others struggling with financial battles, with addictions, with broken relationships, and with life challenges of raising families.

Being a church member creates a family when forced to leave one community and relocate in a new community. Church members hold in common the same values whether in one’s home community or whether located in a community in a different town, state, or even country because God’s love reaches everywhere in this world.

Question: Why are we church members?

Answers: (1) We are church members because we believe in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (2) We are church members because we can grow in our own faith journey through the small group studies, fellowship and Christian relationships. (3) We are church members because as a team we can make a difference in a world–whether local or global–that is challenged with all types of evil challenge whether man-made or nature-made. But maybe most importantly, (4) we are members of The Church because God commissioned us to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world; and working together we can accomplish more than we can by ourselves.

Closing prayer

Dear Lord,

The Word clearly tells us that we need to be in fellowship

with other believers.

Thank you for this community of faithful believers

with whom we join in fellowship.

Jesus demonstrated how fellowship and worship

with other believers strengthens our faith.

Thank you for those who lead our small groups

as we work to learn study and to serve.

The earliest disciples accepted their responsibility

to grow the church by telling the story.

Thank you for our brothers and sisters in faith

who encourage us in our local and global missions.

Faithful leaders throughout the millenniums

have guided The Church’s growth.

May we work together to learn and to grow

in our personal faith journey.

Today a revival is underway in order to spread the Word

in as many ways as we can whenever we can.

Guide us, Lord, to find the best ways to preserve

and to spread the good news of your grace and love.

In your holy name, amen.

 

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