Stretch!

What do you do when you first get up in the morning? Stretch? What do you do when you get up from sitting a long time? Stretch?

Stretching. We talk about stretching our body. We talk about stretching our mind. I wonder if we ever need to stretch our spirit.

“Stretching our mind” refers to being challenged in our thinking; expanding our thinking. “Stretching our spiritual mind” does the same thing. As we go about our day, we can be influenced by the world — by the attitudes of others, conversations of others and through media. When we read the Bible, worship together, and study God’s Word together, we stretch our minds to hear God’s voice. What does God’s Word have to say about our experiences and our cultural influences? God’s Word challenges us to think differently; for our minds to be renewed.

Physical stretching increases blood flow to the muscle. Perhaps spiritual stretching can increase our spiritual blood flow. When I think of blood flow, I think of the heart because the heart is what pumps the blood. We also refer to the heart as the seat of our emotions (i.e. “I love you with all of my heart”). Prayer, God’s Word, and worship are a few things that increase our spiritual blood flow. They stretch us by leading us to love God with all our heart. They stretch us to love with God’s love. They stretch us, challenging us to serve with compassion, and to speak in love and humility.

Physical stretching improves flexibility. Spiritually, improved flexibility means we are ready for whatever comes our way. Yes, there are surprises for life, but we serve a God who knows all things and is in control of all things. God teaches us to be more flexible, relying on him in his great power and love for us.

Lastly, one article on physical stretching says, “Don’t consider stretching a warm-up.” Morning devotions are not a warm-up. They are a solid part of starting your day and sustaining and leading you through your day! Morning devotions are the way to take God with you, acknowledging his presence with you, all the day long. Physical stretching, like any physical exercise, is a discipline. That’s why we call spiritual things like morning devotions, prayer, Bible reading and study, worship, and even serving, “spiritual disciplines.” We discipline ourselves to practice these things regularly … and we are stretched.

Let God stretch you! Perhaps you need to stand up right now and stretch your body, and at the same time stretch your spirit by saying a sentence prayer to God.

Here are four suggestions

  1. “Thank you, Jesus, for this day.”
  2. “Jesus, help me with this project, or this relationship, or this circumstance (name it before the Lord).
  3. “Thank you, God, for your great love for me; let me know your presence in my life.”
  4. God says: “I am the Lord your God.” (Introduction to Ten Commandments, Exodus 20)

Protecting Your Church

On Sunday, I challenged our church family to protect the church. I read several statements from The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.

Warren begins, “It is your job to protect the unity of your church.” He notes …

Unity is the soul of fellowship. Destroy it, and you rip the heart out of Christ’s Body. It is the essence, the core, of how God intends for us to experience life together in his church. (161)

Unity in the Body of Christ matters. Warren contends …

Nothing on earth is more valuable to God than his church. He paid the highest price for it, and he wants it protected, especially from the devastating damage that is caused by division, conflict, and disharmony. If you are part of God’s family, it is your responsibility to protect the unity where you fellowship. (162)

Warren offers six pieces of practical advice

  1. Focus on what we have in common, not our differences.
  2. Be realistic in your expectations.
  3. Choose to encourage rather than criticize.
  4. Refuse to listen to gossip.
  5. Practice God’s method for conflict resolution. (Matthew 18.15-17)
  6. Support your pastor and leaders.

On criticism, Warren suggests, “It is always easier to stand on the sidelines and take shots at those who are serving than it is to get involved and make a contribution” (164). He writes …

The Bible calls Satan “the accuser of our brothers.” It’s the Devil’s job to blame, complain, and criticize members of God’s family. Anytime we do the same, we’re being duped into doing Satan’s work for him. (165)

Warren defines gossip as “passing on information when you are neither part of the problem nor part of the solution.” He warns, “Listening to gossip is like accepting stolen property, and it make you just as guilty of the crime” (165).

Warren concludes the chapter with the challenge, “What are you doing personally to make your church family more warm and loving?” He states …

There are many people in your community who are looking for love and a place to belong. The truth is, everyone needs and wants to be loved, and when people find a church where members genuinely love and care for one another, you would have to lock the doors to keep them away. (168)

How strong would the church be if we all took our responsibility of protecting it seriously?

Equipping Vital Congregations

At the 2015 Annual Conference of the Susquehanna Conference, I had the honor of being part of a team presentation on Equipping Vital Congregations.

The presentation was facilitated by Janet Durrwachter (First UMC, Williamsport). Other team members included Jaime Carpenter (Christ UMC, Selinsgrove) and Rev. Rich Morris (Hicks Memorial UMC, Duncansville).

Jaime talked about “Passionate Connections.” Rich reminded us, “It’s all about Jesus!” And, Janet encouraged us to “Stay the course!” My challenge was, “Reach out!”

For my 6-minute segment (plus 3-minute video testimony), I briefly shared the story of what God is doing at Centre Grove, then highlighted three elements from Acts 6

  1. Proclaim the Word!
  2. Mobilize people for ministry! (The Matthew 28 Initiative helped us; see my post, The Matthew 28 Initiative In Review)
  3. Pray to be empowered!

The session lasted one hour; my segment starts at 19 and a half minutes.

We hope and pray that leaders are encouraged to move toward greater vitality!

Every Stronghold Must Come Down!

We sang many songs in worship at Centre Grove on Sunday. Some words from “Victor’s Crown” really resonated with me …

Every high thing must come down. Every stronghold shall be broken!

We don’t want anything to prevent us from experiencing and accomplishing all that God desires!

There are spiritual forces at work. Paul writes in Ephesians 6 …

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we 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. 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. (Ephesians 6.10-13, NLT)

We have spiritual enemies. They are not flesh and blood. Rather, they are “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world.” They are “mighty powers in this dark world” and “evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

But, God is greater than our enemy. Jesus told Peter, “upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16.18, NLT). Paul writes, “Our weapons that we fight with aren’t human, but instead they are powered by God for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Corinthians 10.4, CEB).

If we want to be victorious, we must be “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” We must “put on all of God’s armor.” We must stay connected to Jesus and “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5.17, CEB)!

If we do those things, “we (will) win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us” (Romans 8.37, CEB).

Yesterday was a pretty intense day at Centre Grove. We have a sense that some strongholds did indeed come down. If so, I truly look forward to what God will do next, in us and through us!

Please pray for us!