Intentional Faith Development- Day 5

     When I was in my mid 20’s, I joined a group. It was a well-intentioned, long-standing group that we ALL have heard of and shall remain nameless. They do GREAT work, both locally and nationally, in a variety of ways. When I was invited to join, I immediately thought of Groucho Marx, who said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member!” Touche’, Mr. Marx… touche’! I mean really…what kind of club would WANT me as a member? They must NOT have very stringent membership guidelines!

     Anyway, I agreed to join. I went through the  initiation  process, got the secret decoder ring, and I was in like Flynn! Man oh man…time to sit back and enjoy the camaraderie! Or so I thought! What I found out (it crept up on me like saliva…slowly over a period of time!) was that, although they were GREAT at accepting new members, they really didn’t know what to do with them once them joined. The day I joined, I felt like Jimmy Cagney from White Heat, “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” But pretty quickly after that, I was persona non grata. I don’t think anybody intentionally ignored me or made me feel unwelcome…but the end result was the same. The excitement I had initially about being part of something bigger than me waned quickly. My attendance at events became more sporadic, and eventually I fell away altogether, never again to darken their door. 
     I fear that the Church does that same thing all too often. We are SO excited to get new people, and we treat them as such. But THEN, they have the audacity to want to join OUR Sunday School class, or prayer group, or Bible study, or whatever. And we are…well…established in those groups. We know everyone, and we have set routines and patterns we follow in those groups, and new people…well…they just throw the washer out of balance, so to speak. And so, the excitement they had initially about being part of something bigger than them wanes quickly. Their attendance at events becomes more sporadic, and eventually they fall away altogether, never again to darken our door. (Sound familiar?) 
     How can we be Radically Hospitable about our Passionate Worship? How can we make new folks feel welcome, not just right up front, but on an ongoing basis? What can we do to make sure that people who visit feel welcome, that they feel they can…and want to…come back? I think it starts when we put ourselves in their place- how do WE feel when we’re the newby? And what have people done for US that made us fee; most welcome? Once we can identify that AND apply it, I think we will be on to something good! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Intentional Faith Development- Day 4

     I started playing drums when I was 10 years old- I have been playing for 39 years. (YOU do the math!) The book I first used when I was learning how to play was The Haskell Harr Drum Book. I still have it…or rather a copy of it (the original copy I had wore out years ago!), and it is a hoot to look at. The “model” in the pictures is a young man with short blond hair, black “Buddy Holly” horned-rim glasses and an old-school black suit with a white shirt and a skinny black tie. It looks MUCH less like a kid playing the drums and MUCH more like a kid from 1963 getting ready for a school dance!

     In the book, it shows, among other things, how to hold the drumsticks. It shows one method, with the palm facing down, for the right hand and a second method, with the palm facing up, for the left hand. That may have been how folks used to hold drumsticks “back in the day”, but for me…and EVERY drummer I’ve EVER known, it is NOT a comfortable, workable way to hold them. SO…I started to hold them the way that felt comfortable to me. That is…until the next time I had my lesson with our band teacher! I started playing, and he immediately “called” me on the way I was holding my left hand stick. I explained how it was a much more comfortable, natural way to hold the stick. But he said, “You NEED to hold it the other way.” I was a rather compliant child (hard to imagine, I know!), but also had issues with authority (NOT hard to believe, I know!), so I said, “Why?” His response was, “What do you mean?” “I mean, why do I have to hold it that way, just because that’s the way the kid in the book holds it?” He spluttered for a bit, then said…no kidding…”Because that’s the way we’ve always done it!” (I continued to hold it the way I wanted to…and STILL hold it that way, 39 years later!)
     It’s so amazing how “married” to “we’ve always done it that way” we can be, isn’t it? We get SO used to doing something one way…we can’t imagine that there could possibly be a different…maybe even BETTER…way to do something. But my experience is that, if we are unable to consider trying other approaches…we simply cannot grow beyond  certain point. There is NO facet of our lives that is the same as it was 20 years ago…10 years ago…even 5 years ago. And yet, we try SO hard to hang on to those old ways. Now, don’t misunderstand, there ARE some “old” ways that are still GREAT ways to do things- I still fry chicken the way my mother-in-law’s GRANDMA use to fry chicken! But there are LOTS of areas of life where we can benefit SO much from embracing new… different… ways of doing things. (Frankly, why anyone would buy a paper map to drive from Point A to Point B when things like Mapquest and GPS exist is beyond me!)
     What areas of YOUR life need…refreshing? What are the things that you could stand to let go of, to move on to something new? I would wholeheartedly encourage you to A. identify those areas, and B. have the courage to make those changes…embrace them. Out of new ideas can come spiritual growth, and we are encouraged by our Creator to be intentional in our spiritual growth! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Intentional Faith Development- Day 3

     It was 1980- Spring to be exact. I was a Freshman at a small university in central Illinois. I was an acting major. (YEP, that’s right…I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Acting, thank you very much! In fact, I graduated with Honors! Graduating with Honors in acting AND 75 cents will buy you a Coke from most machines in the country!! I’m just sayin’!) We weren’t allowed to audition for “regular” shows as freshman, but there was this Senior who decided to direct a production of Godspell as her degree project. It was NOT a “regular” production, so I could audition…and I did…and I got cast. Problem? It’s a musical. You’re saying, “Yeah? So what?” Well…up to that point I had never…let me repeat that…NEVER sung in public before! Awww, snap! But I LOVED the show, so I was determined to be in it. 

     Once I was in the show, we had to find a song I could do. Sadly, I didn’t know how to read vocal music! I was ALL OVER instrumental sheet music, but I couldn’t tell my A flat from a hole in the ground! Eventually, we found a song that worked for me, I learned it by ear, and it came off great in the show! (At least that’s the way I remember it!) 
     One of the songs from that show (perhaps the best know song) is Day By Day. The song encourages those who hear it to make loving and following God a daily undertaking. At the heart of those lyrics is the notion that a relationship with the Creator needs to be intentional and ongoing. Intentional faith development is necessary if we are to deepen and strengthen our relationship with God. It won’t happen in a vacuum- we have to be intentional in our efforts. What do YOU do on a daily basis to deepen your relationship with God? I encourage you to be intentional about that- make sure that you daily make an effort to further your faith journey!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Intentional Faith Development- Day 2

     I LOVE the movie The Sting. You know…Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw? In fact, it MAY be my favorite movie of all time. CERTAINLY in the top five…four…three…! If you have NOT seen the movie, I’m going to try and address this…carefully…so I don’t spoil anything for you. If you HAVE seen the movie…you’ll know what I’m talking about!

     In the movie, Newman and Redford set out to run a scam against Shaw…to get him back for something he did. There are tons of twists and turns in the movie…it’s hard to know what’s going on, what’s real, what’s not real. Occasionally (especially near the end), there are some major “aha” moments…suddenly something happens that answers all sorts of questions. 
     Don’t you just love “aha” moments? Things aren’t clear, you have many more questions than answers, it’s hard to sort things out. And then, often  seemingly out the clear blue, something happens that brings clarity. It’s like the fog has lifted and you can see clearly. 
     It’s my experience that Intentional Faith Development often offers that same “aha” moment. When we are intentional about deepening and broadening our faith, when we set out to intentionally to study God’s Word…and listen for God’s word…God reveals things to us that we wouldn’t otherwise learn. And when that happens, when we have those revelations, some big, some small, we are able to grow in our faith. And the end result of that faith growth is that we are more able to reach out to others in the name of Jesus…we are more able make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Intentional Faith Development- Day 1

    Sunday, September 26th- Intentional Faith Development

At Sunday School they were learning about how God created everything, including humans. Johnny was especially interested when the teacher told about how Eve was created out of one of Adam’s ribs. Later in the week his mother noticed him lying down, seemingly in pain. “Johnny, what’s the matter?” Johnny responded, “I have pain in my side. I think I’m going to have a wife!”
We are in the 3rd week of our current series- The Five Practices of Healthy Congregations, based on the book by United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase.
The first week we discussed Radical Hospitality- the active desire to bring people to Jesus and His Church. Last week we looked at Passionate Worship- fresh encounters with God that transform lives. Today we will dig into Intentional Faith Development- learning together in community.
In Max Lucado’s book, Just Like Jesus, he discussed the motivation behind God’s desire to make us more like Jesus. “God loves to decorate. God has to decorate. Let him live long enough in a heart, and that heart will begin to change. Portraits of hurt will be replaced by landscapes of grace. Walls of anger will be demolished and shaky foundations restored. God can no more leave a life unchanged than a mother can leave her child’s tear untouched. It’s not enough for him to own you; he wants to change you. Where you and I might be satisfied with a recliner and refrigerator, he refuses to settle for any dwelling short of a palace. After all, this is his house. No expense is spared. No corners are cut. This might explain some discomfort in your life. Remodeling the heart is not always pleasant. We don’t object when the Carpenter adds a few shelves, but he’s been known to gut the entire west wing. He has such high aspirations for you. God envisions a complete restoration. He won’t stop until he’s finished. And he won’t be finished until we have been shaped “along the…lines…of his Son”.
As Christians, we’re called into a covenant relationship with God.  We are loved by a God that will not let us go and never leave us or forsake us. We need to know that God loves us, that we are of supreme value, that our lives have significance.  We need to know we’re not alone, that when we face life’s difficulties we’re surrounded by a community of Grace and we don’t have to figure out entirely by ourselves how to cope with family tensions, self-doubts, periods of despair, economic reversal, and the temptations that hurt ourselves or others. We need to know the peace that runs deeper than an absence of conflict, the hope that sustains us even through the most painful periods of grief, the sense of belonging that blesses us, and stretches us, and lifts us out of our own preoccupations.  We need to learn how to offer and accept forgiveness, how to serve, and be served. The church should be…ready?…a school for love, where we learn from one another…how to love. We need to know that life is NOT about having something to live on, or in, or around, or under, or over…but something to live FOR, that life comes not from taking FOR ourselves, but by giving OF ourselves. And that happens through Intentional Faith Development. So why would we do that? Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 9:19-24 
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law, so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law, so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
A Sunday School teacher said to her students, “We’ve been learning about how powerful the kings and queens were in Biblical times. But there is a higher power. Who can tell me what’s more powerful than Kings and queens?” Tommy blurted out, “I know…Aces!”
In the 1Corinthians passage, Paul talks about trying to be mindful of the needs of others- under the law, NOT under the law, weak…whatever they were, he tried to learn to be like them so he could better help them come to know the power and love of Jesus. He closed with, “run in such a way as to get the prize.” In other words…keep strengthening, keep growing, keep intentionally developing your faith, so that it may better impact both you AND others. Intentional faith development- the deepening of biblical and spiritual knowledge so that we may live a deeper, richer Christian life.
Faith development is God’s Spirit working in us, perfecting us, giving us the mind of Christ so that we are able to give love as we grow in our knowledge and love of God. Intentionality is deliberate effort, purposeful action and high priority placed on growing in Christ.   
Christian disciples should strive to develop and grow in their faith through study and learning. Studying the Bible in a group can open our eyes and reveal things to us that we never would have discovered by ourselves.

Jesus encourages us to develop our faith that way: together…with others, following a long line of those who lived and believed before us. Learning in community is exactly the model of learning He used as He taught his disciples. They grew in their understanding of God and matured in their awareness of God’s will for their lives as they listened to Jesus’ stories, instructions and lessons. And they did all this while gathering around dinner tables, on hillsides, and at the temple. Such things can’t be learned apart from relationships. Such things can only be learned with other Christians. Faith is best learned with others.

God’s gracious offer through Radical Hospitality invites and welcomes us. God’s transforming presence in Passionate Worship opens our hearts to Jesus’ pardon, love and grace. It creates in us a desire to grow and learn more. But growing in Christ

requires more than weekly worship. It’s through Intentional Faith Development-  studying and discussing the Word of God- that God’s spirit works in us, perfecting us in the practice of love and letting us grow in the knowledge and love of God.

Growing in Christ takes a lifetime. It’s dynamic, which is why Methodist founder John Wesley called people to practice faith through learning in community, so that we all can see God more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly…day by day.

Intentional faith development isn’t just about self‐improvement, but about putting ourselves in a position where God can shape us. It’s about intentionally opening ourselves to God’s Word, God’s call. God uses faith‐to‐faith, interpersonal relationships to change us. He uses other people- their strengths and weaknesses, their doubts and fears, their big questions in life, their strong convictions to shape and change us. Living in community…sharing, having Christian friends, walking the path together…keeps us strong. It makes us more courageous than we’d be on our own. We all can remember a time when it was only through the presence and the encouragement of a friend that we dared to do something that otherwise we would never have done. Someone who believed in us more than we did ourselves at the time, someone who helped us stretch, to reach something we would otherwise not have reached. Intentional faith development causes us to grow in our love of Jesus. As we grow in that love, it leads us to offer Radical Hospitality to those outside the faith. It leads us to a Passionate Worship that better connects us to God…not only on Sunday morning but throughout the week.

Faith Development comes through learning…both by yourself AND in community…it’s a two-pronged sort of thing. Churches that practice Intentional Faith Development look for ways to help form faith at every age. They look for needs not met and ask how they can better meet them. They train people to lead small groups, teach Bible studies, and coordinate support groups. They realize the power of special topics and interests to attract unchurched people, and they advertise and invite those beyond the walls of the church to come and be a part. They form affiliation groups such as grief or divorce recovery, substance abuse, parenting, etc. They explore new ways of forming learning communities– blogs, chat rooms, e-mail Bible studies, and downloadable materials. We need to continue to seek and find more ways to help people grow in the knowledge and love of God. Because ideas change people, and people change people; and God uses both of those things together to work on our behalf- to shape our lives in the image of Christ.

There are many ways to be practice Intentional Faith Development – Sunday School, Bible studies, retreats, short term topical studies, prayer groups, Vacation Bible School, training classes, camps, youth groups, shared interest small groups, mission trips, mission projects…the list goes on. My challenge to you is this- we can all be intentional about our faith development by committing to attend at least one Bible study or small group in the next 6 months. Try it- try ONE Bible Study or small group. Commit to it. Make it a priority. Give it your best…not your leftovers. See if it doesn’t make a difference. Healthy, vibrant churches are those which have a large percentage of adults who are furthering and deepening their relationship with Christ, who are growing and being intentional about faith development. They understand that the purpose of the church is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. They practice radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity.

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Passionate Worship- Day 7

     When I entered seminary, in the Fall of 1997, I was…Biblically illiterate. No joke. I knew almost NOTHING about the Bible. I knew there were two Testaments- an Old one and a New one. I new that there were four Gospels- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I knew that the first book of the Bible is Genesis while the last book of the Bible is Revelation. And that’s about it! There were SO many things I DIDN’T know about the Bible, about theology, and the language that goes along with all of that. I have shared before a particular term- exegesis (pronounced ex-a-jesus). It is, basically, reading the Bible and letting it speak for itself, rather than forcing preconceived ideas onto it. One day, the professor told us a story about a seminary student he once had who thought that they were saying “exit Jesus”. The student wondered why in the world they would be focusing on Jesus exiting! Everybody in the class laughed…but me! 

     For the first semester at least, I was a stranger in a strange land. I NEVER felt I really understood what we were talking about. I ALWAYS felt that I really didn’t fit there. In fact, at the end of the first year, I got a really LOUSY 1st-year evaluation. 
     But then…something happened. Things started to fall into place. I started “getting” it. I had the proverbial “aha” moment! So much so that my SECOND year evaluation was sparkling. I could do no wrong! what a difference a year made! And all because of an “aha” moment!
     When was the last time you had an “aha” moment? When was the last time you had the lightbulb come on and suddenly…things made SO much more sense? Have you ever had an “aha” moment about faith…about worship? Have you had a time when suddenly things that didn’t quite fit together, spiritually speaking, all come together and the epiphany happens? 
     Those are AWESOME…but what do we do with them? When you have one of those moments, SEIZE it! Don’t let it just come and go…do something about it!! Let those “aha” moments lead you to a deeper, more passionate sense of worship to God. Let the opening of your eyes lead to an opening of the heart, a thawing if you will that re-ignites the passion for God that smolders inside. 
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Passionate Worship- Day 6

     I was 6 years old. It was Sunday night, or early Monday morning. And I was asleep. Oh, and it was Christmas Eve! My brother and I shared the room at the end of the hall…the bigger room, thank you very much! My bed was positioned in such a way that, if I was laying on my right side, I was facing the door, and through the doorway could see all the way up the hall. Did I mention it was Christmas Eve?!

     To say I was excited would have been a GROSS understatement. I was juts beginning to wonder about this Santa character, but was afraid to NOT believe- I, after all, wanted presents! So, I went to bed with vision of sugarplums and all (although, to be honest, I have NEVER had a vision of a sugarplum!) and lay there, wide awake, unable to sleep due to the anticipation, the expectancy. I FINALLY nodded off, when my little 6-year old body could simply not stay awake another minute!
     Then, suddenly, I woke up. I have NO idea what time it was- we had no clock in our room. It could have been 3 minutes after I fell asleep, or it could have been early the next morning…Christmas morning…I just don’t know. All I DO know is that I woke up…and since I was on my right side, looked at the doorway. And there, in the dim light, was…Santa! I tried to focus my eyes better to get a good look, but it was REALLY hard to focus, between the dim light and having been asleep. Then, it hit me! Aw SNAP! If you actually SEE Santa in your house…he won’t leave you anything! I mean…EVERYBODY knows that! So, I snapped my eyes shut and lay REALLY still, hoping he didn’t see me. As I lay really still…I fell back asleep and didn’t wake up again until it was light outside. (Oh, and by the way, he must have NOT seen me, because I had presents under the tree!)
     There is nothing quite like the expectancy of a child at Christmas…but there should be! We should experience that same level of expectancy when we participate in worship. Imagine- we come to church from our ordinary lives, and we experience…the wholly extraordinary! We should anticipate that encounter. We should look forward to it. We should be full of expectancy when we walk into church. Why? Because the One who made us, the Creator of the universe, God almighty, is going to meet with us…in a very special way that we can’t get outside of church. How cool is that?! (Makes Santa pale by comparison!!)
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!