(Note: 10/24/18: I wrote this article following the defense of my doctoral dissertation in 1998 at Andrews University. It was originally published in Ministry, April, 2000. The focus of the article is equipping the members of a local congregation through biblical principles of organization and Holy Spirit-led leadership. However, in the light of recent denominational developments in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it seems appropriate to share it once again.)
EMPOWERING THE SAINTS FOR SERVICE AND MINISTRY
© Loren L. Fenton, D.Min.
Business leaders face the ever-daunting challenge of inspiring their employees to maximize production and enhance the company’s bottom line. Many wise managers have discovered that their success is dramatically increased when they empower the people closest to a task with (1) broad, autonomous decision-making authority, (2) enough resources, and (3) all the appropriate training needed to do the work. Business firms founded and operated on these kinds of principles are creating shockwaves of productive change in the world of commerce.1
Although the church is by no means a business per se, church leaders can learn much from the experience of successful business operations. The single most difficult task confronting a local church pastor is to put the members to work in an effective, meaningful ministry. The purpose of this article is to explore how that can be done in such a way that members are inspired and empowered for a lifetime of service and ministry.
Historically, evangelism, witnessing, and giving Bible studies have been the focus of “putting the members to work.” In recent decades, a spiritual gifts-based ministry has become popular. NET events and witnessing by videotape are currently in vogue, allowing skilled professional evangelists to do the preaching via projector and VCR. But despite promotions ad infinitum, worldwide satellite seminars, “how to” clinics, classes, and impassioned calls for commitment, the laity has yet to take up the gospel torch en masse for a last-day Pentecost. The question must be asked, Why are we still languishing in the doldrums of lukewarm Laodicea? Could it be that we preach but not really practice the doctrine that all believers are the priests of God? Are we perhaps unwittingly obstructing the work that God would do through His church by disempowering members instead of empowering them for service? What would happen if we could find away to release the power of the laity, the true priests of the New Testament of grace, instead of trying to control it? To accomplish this, it is necessary for us to radically change our way of thinking about ministry in general, and church life in particular. In this article I am writing specifically about the internal relationships within a local congregation, and our need to release the necessary components of empowerment back to the people.
As Protestants, we believe that every member is a priest of God, a dispenser of grace to a world filled with ungrace and towering need. This is a key biblical concept. At Mt. Sinai God declares to Moses and the nation of Israel, “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:5b-6a, NIV). In the New Testament, John proclaims that Jesus “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (Rev. 1:6, NIV), and the apostle Peter, writing to God’s elect scattered throughout the world, says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV).
The “priesthood of all believers” doctrine taught by Martin Luther and other founders of Protestantism focused primarily on the right of every individual to confidently approach God’s throne of grace “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16, NW). This Reformation doctrine was indispensable to the success of the movement. Sweeping away the medieval system of lay bondage to professional priests and prelates, the message of individual spiritual freedom fueled a gospel fire that could not be quenched. Through the centuries since the beginning of the Reformation, the “priesthood of all believers” has remained a cornerstone in the belief structure of all Protestant churches and continues as such today.
Little emphasis, however, has been given to the other side of priestly function. A priest also dispenses God’s gifts to the people. The New Testament priesthood makes every believer everywhere into a primary delivery conduit, anointed by the Holy Spirit to dispel the darkness of the world through living God’s love in service to others and in ministry to their needs. A church is composed of two or more believers (New Testament priests) who assemble themselves into a unified body for worship, fellowship, ministry, evangelism, and discipleship.2
In the early 1960s, a Quaker named Elton Trueblood described the church as “the company of the committed” in a book published under that title.3 In this landmark book, Trueblood developed the concept that every Christian is called to a vocation of witnessing for Christ. The believer’s primary calling is to ministry and service in behalf of the waiting world, for bearing witness to the saving power and grace of God. The church, Trueblood contended, is thus a gathering, or fellowship, of ministers. In a later book, The Incendiary Fellowship, Trueblood develops the idea further.4 Trueblood’s view of the church is that it is a society of ministers working from a base, going out into the world to serve the needs they find there, and returning periodically to the base for renewal and rest.
The question we are faced with is how to create and nurture an empowering church environment where members are energized for ministry and pastors can fulfill their biblically mandated role as equippers and coaches, as Ephesians 4:12 describes. Before this question can be answered, however, we first need to understand the nature of power itself, and what constitutes true empowerment.
Ultimately, all power comes from God, the Creator. In the creation of the universe, and more specifically our planet, God imbued the elements with power to function according to His design. “He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:9, NIV). By the same creative power, He filled the earth with life in all its many forms. He defined each “kind” by placing unique powers within them to act in distinct, definable, and predictable ways. In His crowning act of Creation, to a limited degree, God gave human beings the Godlike power to give other people power. He empowered us to empower others.
Three dimensions of empowerment can be identified: (1) The granting of authority; (2) Providing resources and raw materials; and (3) Giving the education and training necessary to use the authority and resources properly and effectively.
First, to “empower” means to grant decision-making, problem-solving authority to the holders (stewards) of responsibility. Jesus spoke of this kind of empowerment when He said to His disciples, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). The NIV translates the word “power” in this text as “authority.” It is the Greek word exousia. People placed in positions of responsibility, but who have no authority to make decisions or execute plans are powerless puppets, only acting out someone else’s agenda. Nothing is more pitiful, or more frustrating, than to have straw men and women filling church offices but afraid to move without first getting permission from some authoritarian person or board who holds the reins of power. Effective, empowered ministry requires the freedom and authority to make major decisions relative to the conduct and success of the ministry. True empowerment grants authority equal to the responsibility.
Second, to “empower” also means to provide adequate resources for the work. Raw materials are essential to empowerment and success. Workers who run out of spare parts on an assembly line are forced to shut down production. They have to have the right supplies, or they simply cannot do the job expected of them.
The story of the Israelites enslaved by the Egyptians is an example of this. An irritated Pharaoh commanded his foremen, “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota” (Exod. 5:7, 8, NIV). The heartless demands of Pharaoh created an intolerable condition for the Israelite slaves, calculated to distract them from their desire to worship their God. The effect, however, was not what Pharaoh expected or wanted. His rash requirement stirred up even greater resistance and rebellion against his rule in the hearts of all the Israelites. The result was the greatest mass labor walkout in history.
In stark contrast to Pharaoh’s treatment of the Israelites, the empowerment received by the disciples of Jesus on the Day of Pentecost was full and complete. On the Mount of Ascension, Jesus told the disciples,” ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NIV). The word dunamis is used here to convey the meaning of dynamic, explosive, earth-moving power. The implication in this promise is that the Holy Spirit will supply whatever it takes to accomplish the goal of carrying the gospel message to all the world. The second chapter of Acts describes the fulfillment of this promise. The disciples were given all the resources necessary to accomplish that purpose. They were empowered by the Holy Spirit.
A third aspect of “empowerment” is the provision of education and training for a task at hand. Popular wisdom accepts the maxim that “knowledge is power.” Authority in control of resources but devoid of knowledge is either totally powerless or totally dangerous. God says through the prophet Hosea, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee” (Hosea 4:6).
On the other hand, authority supplied with resources and endowed with knowledge can accomplish anything. King Solomon declared, “By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew” (Prov. 3:19, 20, NIV). It was God’s knowledge that enabled Him to create the earth. In human endeavors, it is the presence of knowledge that enables people with authority to make effective use of whatever resources are at their disposal.
Thus, true empowerment for church members means giving them whatever Authority, Resources, and Knowledge (the “ARK” of empowerment) is needed for the job they are asked to perform. If there is not enough money in the budget to cover the costs of a project, give them permission to raise it. To empower the saints for service and ministry means to support them in every way possible, including staying out of their way so they can work effectively without interference or micro-management from above.
A good leader-coach doesn’t play the game for the team on the field. Instead the players are invested with whatever they need to reach the goal. A good pastor-coach must be a person of integrity, vision, and personal spirituality, someone who lives by the deep values of a character ethic. Living and working from a principle-based philosophy creates authenticity and fosters trust.
The truth is that trust is the single most important element affecting the entire process of empowerment for every-member ministry. When doubt and distrust prevail through domineering attitudes, then discouragement, discord and entrenchment soon follow. The weeds of fear and protectionism choke out the Christian graces of love, acceptance, and forgiveness. As trust dies the church dies. If the church is to revive and survive, trust must be revived and restored. Trust is an absolute necessity for organizational life and health.
Trust cannot be created. It can only be cultivated. Trust flows from trustworthiness and reliability. An atmosphere of trust within a church will thrive as pastors and other church leaders cultivate the principles of empowering ministry, showing themselves to be trustworthy and reliable. Trust is multiplied by trust. Within a networking, member-empowering church, all information related to whatever ministry of the moment must be shared with everyone involved in that ministry. The empowerment process moves forward driven by the engine of trust, fueled by openness. It allows unrestricted access by all to all information relevant to the mission.
Many church members truly want to make a difference. God has inspired them with genuinely worthwhile ideas and has given them wisdom to make right decisions. When church members see that they can contribute to deciding the focus of ministry they respond with enthusiasm. The people who are doing the work usually have the most direct knowledge of the needs and challenges they face. They must be given the freedom to meet those needs with their own vision. When teamed up with other member-ministers who have similar interests and passions, the rank-and-file church members work tirelessly for the cause.
There is need, however, to bind the church members together in a common vision of purpose. Michael C. Armour and Don Browning, in a book written to address the problem of unifying congregations filled with people who all have different ways of thinking, put it this way: “Because an empowerment model, by its very nature, disperses decision making, the absence of a uniting vision invites every ministry to go its own way. Like Israel in the days of the judges, everyone does what is right in his or her own sight (Judges 21:25). The result was chaos and anarchy in Israel. The same thing will happen in the church.”5
Here is where a praying, visionary pastor, or other local church leader, becomes indispensable in the empowerment process. It is their calling to lead the congregation, perhaps steeped in local as well as denominational tradition, through the process of change so that the church becomes a robust, permission-giving body.
This ministry calls for dedication, vision, patience, understanding, love, and abundant grace. The pastor must first clearly understand the path the church needs to follow, and then present a clarion call, a blinding vision of what can be. Inspiration gained through personal Bible study, prayer, and wide reading must fire the soul of the church leader, who then can touch the lives of the people in the congregation.
True empowerment comes from God. Nevertheless, even as the life force God gave to Adam continues to flow through generation after generation of human beings, so the ability to empower other people with Authority, Resources, and Knowledge also flows through generation after generation of believers. The challenge of leading congregations to become centers of empowerment for individual members and ministry teams is a calling worthy of a lifetime. To reach this divine purpose, God empowers pastors to release the energy He has given to the saints for ministry and service.
1. For example, see Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline; The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization (New York: Doubleday Publishers, 1990); and James A. Belasco and Ralph C. Stayer, Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead (New York: Warner Books, Inc., Publishers, 1993).
2. These five arenas of church life are explored in depth by Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995).
3. Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed: A Manual of Action for Every Christian (San Francisco, Calif.: Harper & Row Publishers, 1961; Harper’s Paperback, 1980).
4. Trueblood, The Incendiary Fellowship: How the Church Can Be Set Aflame Today as it Was in the First Century of Christianity (San Francisco, Calif.: Harper & Row Publishers, 1967; Harper’s Paperback, 1978)39.
5. Armour, Michael C., and Don Browning. Systems-Sensitive Leadership: Empowering Diversity Without Polarizing the Church (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Publishing Company, 1995).
(Note, 10/14/2018: I decided to copy and paste this article into this blog from where it was previously posted in our “Things We Love to Share” blog. These are two different blog sites with two different purposes. In the future, opinion/viewpoint article will be posted here, while other miscellaneous things of interest will be posted at the other site.)
(Note 10/15/2018: This is an article I wrote in February, 2006. It was published at that time in our church newsletter. In the light of the vote taken yesterday at #GCAC18, it seems timely to share it once again. LLF)
Canyonville Seventh-day Adventist Church
I’ve been reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, which my daughter sent to me as a Christmas gift.
Here’s a quote from pp. 207-208 I thought was very insightful, especially in the light of numerous situations in the social/political arenas of our contemporary world:
When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters – first and foremost – how they behave.
This is called the “principle of legitimacy,” and legitimacy is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice – that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another. (All bold and underline emphases mine.)
Can you name any situations in the forefront of today’s news cycles where this might be profitably applied?
Please share your thoughts!
I saw this sign hanging on my doctor’s exam room wall today. I immediately knew I had to share it with you.
He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of the earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory is a benediction.
Attributed to Mrs. A.J. Stanley
(Note: You can listen to an audio presentation of this article by clicking HERE)
Three Reasons Why I Believe in God
By Loren L. Fenton, D.Min.
Importance of the Topic
What we believe about God – His nature, purpose, abilities, etc. – provides the foundation for all subsequent beliefs. Our entire philosophical, theological, and spiritual bearings are summed up in this one question: Who is God? Even avowed atheists and agnostics cannot escape this reality. Their answers – “God doesn’t exist” or “I don’t know if God exists” still provide the underlying bedrock for their belief systems and resultant practices.
What we believe about God has a direct influence on our day-to-day choices, lifestyle habits, and all other relationships. The very quality of life we experience on a daily basis is the product of life’s primary orientation – our ideas about God. Thus, this topic is of utmost importance as we seek to live meaningful, productive, worthwhile, fulfilled, and satisfying lives.
To that end, here are three bedrock reasons for my convictions that God not only is real, but that He personally cares for you and me.
The Fact of Being
The Universe is. It exists. Our solar system is a celestial fact. The Earth and all the planets obey strict operational laws of gravity and motion, and we who are part of this planet cannot deny our own presence with any force of reasonable logic. We are here. We exist. And, what an existence it is!
You may have heard it said from time to time that the human body is worth about 97 cents or so. However, a few years ago I read that recent studies show that if all the materials included in a human body were to be synthesized and sold at their market value, each human being would be worth over six billion dollars! And that is just the cost of the parts, not to mention the mystery of how the parts are put together or how they work.
Even the simple cell is impossible to find. Many years ago J.T. Bonner, a biologist at Princeton University, said that the average sized cell contains about 200,000 billion molecules. He said, “Enlarge the cell to the size of a reasonably large room, then each molecule within the cell would be about the size of a pinpoint. This staggering thought so severely taxes the imagination that any idea of seeing how this bagful of millions of molecules can work seems out of the question; there are too many parts to the machine to ever make any sense out of it.”
But, work it does! The information contained in the DNA molecule of a fertilized human ovum guides the growth of every person reaching adulthood through an amazing succession of six billion steps until some sixty trillion cells are formed into a unique person with personality, physical features, abilities, and powers to reason which are distinctively his or hers alone.
A nearly identical quantity of DNA guides the development of the sperm whale until it weighs over 100 tons. Another leads to a giant sequoia more than 300 feet tall. And still another becomes the microscopic flagellate Euglena, whose single cell carries on all the functions of life.
Couple the fact of BEING together with the fact that the being WORKS, and I have to believe that (a) what exists had to come from somewhere, and (b) something – or Someone – had to set it in motion. There simply cannot be another way.
The Fact of Morality
Let’s go a step further.
Human beings are more than just machines in motion, filled with all sorts of whirling gismos that carry on the functions of life. People think. People act. People do things. Furthermore, whatever a person thinks, acts or does, no matter how tiny or great the action, it is always done against the backdrop of some standard of right and wrong. Even the most primitive of jungle tribes in New Guinea or South America operates by group law. Without it they would soon vanish, and so would our sophisticated society in the post-modern world. We humans MUST have enforceable moral codes of conduct or we will cease to exist. The violent exhibitions of anarchy, destruction, and personal greed displayed at times of natural or man-made disasters only serve to underscore the point. Contrary to the fondest dreams of evolutionary theory, mankind in its natural state does not reach out to bigger and better things, but is instead the most destructive force upon the face of the planet. Moral laws are absolutely necessary for survival.
But, why should we want to survive? Why should some things be right and some be wrong? If we are no more than fancy boxes filled with highly advanced electro-chemical equipment that has just happened to evolve from eons of nothing into what it is today, why make any fuss about how the matter is arranged? One arrangement is as good as another. Who cares if someone’s hatchet splits someone else’s skull so that the killer can rape his victim’s wife and steal his goods? What difference does it make?
Yet we do care! We recoil in horror at such heinous atrocities, especially if the victim is particularly helpless and defenseless. Child molesters and abusers are close to the bottom rung on our collective list of despicable human rabble. We can’t help but care about their innocent victims, and some people can even bring themselves to care about the criminal himself! Every human being has a built-in “caring system” that speaks to his inmost soul. We want to care for others, and we want others to care for us. The “caring system” operates in the heart of every man, woman, and child, even though it may be nearly obliterated, grossly distorted, or warped beyond recognition. We care, and we can’t deny it.
For instance, what is there about a well-told story that absolutely compels a reader to find out what happens next? The skilled writer simply tells about a character with such charm that we’re enchanted, enough weakness to see ourselves in him, and puts him in enough danger that we’re scared silly over what might happen. Together we will send thousands, if not millions of dollars to the pockets of the writer and publisher. That is, if it is done well enough to really appeal to our sense of caring. We will laugh, cry, shout, get angry, and thrill with excitement. Then we’ll tell someone else about the fantastic story we just read or saw or heard. All because we have the ability to care built into the very fiber of our being.
So, then, because we do care, we make laws based on morality. There is no way to explain the fact of morality except that a moral Creator made us with caring hearts. A matter-in-motion machine will never care – but a person does! A caring Creator gives us – who are creatures made in His image – moral standards by which to live. Thus the existence of moral law is in itself evidence for the existence of God. Without God, there would be – in fact could never be – moral laws for mankind.
The Fact of Communication
It is because of morality and caring that my third reason for believing in God is so extremely important. Caring must be communicated to be of any value at all! It is no mean accident that the greatest conglomerate empires in the business world are those that major in communication. Intelligent communication between living persons is as basic to life as breathing and a beating heart. Clinical experience has demonstrated repeatedly that without some kind of communication happening in a patient’s life, the life itself is in extreme danger. Old people in nursing homes pine away and die because their families have abandoned them. Life becomes totally meaningless when there is no word whatsoever from family or friends. When a marriage disintegrates into total blockage of all messages, no matter what the form or content, more than one heart-broken soul has jumped from a bridge or put a bullet through his own head. The wise friend who sees a severe communication crisis in someone else’s life will do everything he can to let that person know that someone cares. A listening ear could save a life. Communication means life.
Communication can only take place between living, intelligent persons. Machines don’t talk to each other. Even those that seem to communicate, like computers, are not really speaking as one mind to another. They are merely tools created for the purpose of assisting human minds to analyze data and make decisions. Computers can only do what they have been programmed to do. People think. Genuine communication, even on the subliminal level, happens only when genuine thinking happens.
Nevertheless, thinking does happen, and so does communication. This, too, is undeniable.
The only viable answer to the fact of COMMUNICATION is that a thinking God created thinking creatures. There are no other reasonable possibilities. Even given unlimited time, unlimited space, and unlimited accidental arrangement of matter in space, never – never – never will impersonal rocks, dust, gases, or whatever produce a personal being that thinks, chooses, and acts. Only a personal being can create another personal being. The original Personal Being has to be God.
Now comes the best news.
God, who created the Universe, and us as part of it, loves and cares for each one of us personally. He knows you and me and cares for every detail of our lives. His heart understands all about every trial we are ever called to bear, every struggle, every ache and fear. He yearns to communicate with us and let us know that He cares. He even sent His Son, the Word of God, as the ultimate, infinite, complete statement of His own love and care. “The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NIV). We know this “Word” as Jesus Christ.
Complete harmony with God and all of His Creation is available in Jesus. Communication is not complete until that which is sent is received. Through the person of the Holy Spirit, God sends His son Jesus to us. As we receive His divine statement (the “Word” of God), we receive His message of love and care, forgiveness and grace. By accepting Him we receive His power into our lives and become complete, fulfilling His design and purpose for our being.
 Bonner, John Tyler, The Ideas of Biology, New York, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962, page 3.
What I Learned From Drying Dishes
By Loren L. Fenton, D.Min.
A Sacred Ritual – Every Day – Every Meal!
I honestly don’t remember how old I was when someone first put a dishtowel in my hands. Doing the dishes was a sacred ritual at our house. Absolutely every meal – breakfast, dinner, and supper – ended with Mama running hot water into pans she placed in the kitchen sink, then start gathering dirty plates, bowls, silverware, and other items from the table.
Everybody had a job
Mama directed the subsequent events like a master choreographer, spelling out instructions to her crew with precision and clarity. We all had our assignments. One child would wash, one would sweep the floor, another would deliver the dirty stuff from the table to the washer. My job was to dry.
Fifty-some years later I’m still drying dishes! I never knew it way back then, but apparently it was one of those life commands that forms our character and determines our destiny. I was thinking about this the other day and realized that, in fact, I’d learned many important things from this humble activity. With apologies to Robert Fulghum, since I didn’t go to kindergarten, everything I really needed to know I learned while drying dishes.
The Lessons of Life from Drying Dishes
Here are a few of those life lessons:
- Working together is better than working alone
- Big bowls stack better on the bottom
- Order is better than chaos
- Organization doesn’t happen by itself
- The dishes don’t wash or dry themselves, either
- Even monster jobs can be completed one step at a time
- Accidents happen. Don’t worry if something breaks. Just get the broom and clean it up.
- It feels good to finish the job.
Jesus, The Gift of Heaven
Pastor Loren L. Fenton, D.Min.
Memories of Christmas Past
In my childhood Christmas Eve was without doubt the most exciting moment of each year. Early in December the countdown started, published every day in the local newspaper: “15 . . . 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . more shopping days ‘til Christmas.” My excitement grew with every passing day. Some years the stack of presents under the tree in the living room grew large and colorful with brightly wrapped packages. Other years the realities of dirt farming kept the tree and number of gifts more modest. There were actually a few years when no tree appeared at all until the very last. But always, without fail, after supper on Christmas Eve our family gathered around the tree to give and receive the hidden treasures.
The Rules of the Christmas Tree
There were rules, though. The routine was always the same. I guess it must have been written somewhere in stone, but being the youngest of four children I didn’t ask questions.
- First, the outdoor chores had to be done. The animals were always cared for before we washed up for our own supper.
- When the meal was finished the table was cleared, dishes were washed, dried, and put away.
- The floor was swept and everything had to be in order.
- Then we changed into our nice clothes before gathering around the tree. This was an important ceremony!
The gifts were usually of a practical nature. A new shirt, warm socks, that type of thing. I don’t really remember very many of the gifts themselves. The most important thing was being together – a family tradition that bonded us with love and loyalty.
The Greatest Gift of All
As the years have unfolded from those long-ago Christmas memories, I have come to realize with ever-growing conviction that the heart of God was revealed in His gift of Jesus to us. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6,7 NKJV). “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NLT).
The greatest story ever told is the story of Jesus coming to our world as a tiny, helpless baby born in a rough stable, cradled in a manger bed, and worshipped by shepherds and wise men. But it wasn’t just about the Baby Jesus, or Mary, or Joseph. The heart of God longed for connection with the people He loved. Jesus was the way. Sin and rebellion caused a great gulf separating man from God. Jesus was given to all humanity so that through Him we might once again be united with the Father. The Word of God became Immanuel, “God with us,” for all time and eternity, reuniting the family of Earth with the family of heaven. What an unspeakable gift! What indescribable love!
Thank You, Father, for Jesus
It is only a few more days ‘til Christmas. When you give and receive your gifts this year, don’t forget to give thanks to our Father in heaven for Jesus, the greatest gift of all!
We are preparing our annual year-end personal newsletter
If you’d like to be on our list, please send us your name and current email address so we can be sure it gets to you!
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We love hearing from all of you each year, and we have a lot of fun getting our stories and pictures ready to share.
We’re looking forward to hearing from YOU!
Blessings abound. 🙂
Loren and Ruth Fenton
My 7 Daily Prayer Requests
By Loren L. Fenton, D.Min.
(Note: It came to my attention the previous posting of this blog entry did not show the entire article with the link I provided. Hence, I am reposting it here in its entirety for those who may wish to read the full article. Thanks for your understanding. LLF)
Many years ago I learned that prayer is a conversation with God. We can talk to him just as we talk with a close friend. We can share our heart’s deepest needs. But that’s not all! God is also always there to hear our prayers and respond with mercy and grace.
The seven daily prayer requests I list in this article are basic to my personal spiritual survival. I share them not because I think I’ve “got it all together” spiritually, but because I need God to give victory, hope, and healing in all these areas of my life. I hope (and pray) that you also will be blessed and encouraged as you read.
1. Purity in My Mind
Living in a Moral Swampland
It doesn’t take much to realize we live in a moral swampland. The social environment of our society is pretty much a garbage dump of sleaze, hyper-sexed movies and TV shows. No matter where you turn you can’t find an escape from it. Of course, this isn’t anything new. It has been around ever since sin started in the Garden of Eden. However, even in a fallen world, the Bible’s call to Christians is to live “unspotted from the world” (James 1:7). How in the name of the Lord (I ask this reverently) are we supposed to accomplish that?
The Truth is that We’ve all Drunk the Swamp Water!
The first thing we have to do is admit that so long as we inhabit these earthly mortal bodies we simply can’t escape the swamp on our own. Even as hard as we might try, it is impossible to bring purity out of pollution . . . and we’re all polluted with the sludge of sin. The Apostle Paul said, “There is none righteous, no not one,” and “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23). A thousand years earlier the Old Testament prophet Isaiah said, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Yep, that’s us. On our own, we’re dead meat if we want purity.
How to Survive in the Sleaze
Survival is possible! Paul speaks again, this time to the believers in Philippi. “Let this mind be in you,” he says, “which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Jesus was “tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). By asking, we can receive Christ’s purity in our mind. Just like salvation, the Holy Spirit gives us this gift freely to all who ask and choose to follow. Once again, Paul tells the Philippian believers, Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected (Philippians 4;8 NCV).
Our lives are literally the product of what we choose to think about, so out of my own deep sense of need I begin my daily prayer time asking God to give me purity in my mind. Without this gift I am totally at the mercy of the evil in the world around me, and there is no mercy.
2. Righteousness in My Heart
An Awesome Promise for Hungry Hearts
As I noted above, the Apostle Paul is pretty specific when he says, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). And Isaiah chimes in again with, “We all have wandered away like sheep; each of us has gone his own way” (Isaiah 53:6 NCV). Still, there remains a “God-shaped hole” in the spiritual heart of every person that can only be filled by Him, and here’s the good news: in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6 NIV; Emphasis mine).
How the Hunger Works
According to Jesus, then, if we hunger and thirst for righteousness in our heart we can have it! But how? How do we get righteous when we are altogether unrighteous according to Paul and Isaiah? The key is choosing to recognize and embrace the hunger.
What is that unsettled feeling I have when I choose to do something or go somewhere I know isn’t what God would approve? I believe it is a spiritual anxiety produced by my willful separation from God’s will. I chose to disobey the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit, insisting instead to do what I wanted to do just because that’s what I wanted to do! But what happens almost immediately following my act of rebellion? Guilt! Big time guilt. But it is good guilt – righteous guilt. Why is this guilt good? Because it makes me aware of my wrongness and creates in me remorse, repentance, and the hunger for wholeness, i.e. “righteousness.” Embracing (owning) the guilt is the first step toward experiencing the wholeness of restoration that God alone can provide.
This Promise is for You (and Me)
What a thrill it is to realize the truth of Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled!” That promise is for us! I want it, I need it, and I can’t live without it! I don’t want the damning distortion of unrighteousness dominating my life. That is nothing but slavery to the evil designs of the devil. NO! The promise of Jesus is for freedom! Freedom to choose the wholeness and restoration He offers for daily living.
Yes, I hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ to be a reality in my life. I can’t survive a day without it. Jesus also says, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7 NIV). So today, and every day, I take Him at His word and ask for His righteousness in my heart.
3. Integrity in My Life
What is Your Life’s Purpose?
Wouldn’t it be cool to have your own motto, something like those ancient Latin maxims on European family crests? I’ve always thought so, so a few years ago I did a little research about heraldry on the Internet. A quick Google search revealed some great examples of the family mottoes:
- A Deo et rege “For God and king”
- Dant vires gloriam “Strength gives glory”
- Facta non verba “Deed not words.”
There are literally hundreds of these family mottoes. Every coat of arms has one. Except, in all my looking I could never find one for my ancestral family that I liked! I’m a “melting pot” American, so my ancestry is a mishmash of many streams, some of which are quite unknown or indefinable. Scots-Irish, English, and Welch, and maybe some Dutch and Norse thrown into the mix for good measure! None of the mottoes that I saw ever really clicked that said, “Yes! That’s me!” After a while I decided to just write one for myself . . . my own personal motto for life.
Not a bad idea, right? Right. So . . . What should this motto say?
Searching for Just the Right Words
I have to admit, that question really forced me to do some deep dredging in the riverbed recesses of my soul. Who am I? What am I about? How do I want to live? What guiding principle, expressed in only three or four words, would capsulate the defining purpose of my life?
I thought about that for a long time. Eventually, I settled on this:
To live with integrity
And, just for fun, I looked up how to write my motto in Latin. Here it is:
Vivere Cum Integritas
Cool, huh? Well, I think so anyway.
Getting Serious about Transparency
But, honestly, I’m not so interested in “cool” as I am in the serious truth of my chosen motto. I do genuinely want to live with integrity. I want to be a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” person in all my relationships. No hidden agendas. No secrets or cover-ups. No trying to manipulate others into compliance with my ideas about decisions they should make. Just be real!
And then, once again, I realize my own weakness and inability. In my own carnal life I simply cannot reach my heart’s desire to live with true integrity. Thus, once again, I must pray for strength, wisdom, consistency, and focus that comes from outside myself. That’s the only way. I claim the promise of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (NIV).
4. Joy in My Spirit
Grumpy’s Got to Go!
Have you ever known someone who is always grumpy? Those negative people have a way of raining on everybody else’s parade. I don’t like being around people like that, and I doubt that anyone else does either. Furthermore, I don’t want to BE one of those people! Instead, I want to touch the lives of people with cheer! I can’t really do that if I trundle through life with a sour spirit.
One of life’s great discoveries is that we get to choose our attitude every day. I once knew an elderly lady who looked in the mirror and said, “I don’t look happy! Christians should be the happiest people alive. I’m going to choose to be happy!” After that, I never saw her without a smile on her face. She had a lot of aches, pains, and other physical problems of old age, but that didn’t stop her one bit. Her broad smile was a bright ray of sunshine for everyone. You couldn’t be around her for one minute without feeling a little more positive.
That’s the Kind of Person I Want to Be, Too!
The Old Testament prophet Nehemiah nailed it when he told the people, The joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10)! The Lord’s joy is a deep, abiding positive force that flows as constantly as a massive river draining a continent, and continues even when bad things happen. I believe that’s what Jesus meant when he told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, “The water I give [you] will become in [you] a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 NIV).
Yes, Lord! Please give me this joy, this water of life, today . . . and always!!
5. Strength for My Body
Ah, For the Days of Youth!
When I was a young teenager I was in pretty good shape physically.
- My abs were rock hard. Once I challenged several of my classmates in P.E. class to punch me in the belly as hard as they could. They did. One time. No one tried again.
- I could toss an 80-100 lb. hay bale to the top of a stack several feet above my head. Piece of cake.
- Walking was just normal everyday life for farm kids. I thought nothing of walking 3 or 4 miles just to visit friends. To get there faster I would sometimes run the distance of two telephone poles and walk one, run two, walk one, run two, walk one. That way we’d have more time to play our favorite game of “kick the football” (our version of “kick the can”). Of course, I’d have to walk the same distance later when I had to get home to do my evening chores. No problem. It’s just how we lived.
My, oh My, How Things Have Changed in the Last 5 Decades!
Yes, I’m knocking on the door of “old age” now. I’ve had a good life. But aches and pains associated with advancing years now get my attention much more often! Old injuries from 9th-grade football and wrecks with bucking horses let me know they’re still lurking in my body. A knee replacement and lower back fusion (to relieve that horrible sciatic pain) solved some issues but left others. I can walk a mile if I have to, but not quickly. The dog likes to go, and I like to take him. We’re growing old together!
Praying for Physical Strength
So, more and more these days I pray for physical strength. I’m thankful I can still drive my truck, mow the lawn, lift and propel a wheelbarrow filled with bags of wood pellets, work in my shop, and walk the dog. But I’m not going to get on the roof to clear rain gutters, or try running for exercise. Some things just aren’t wise.
God’s Great Promises
I am truly blessed to serve a personal God who knows and understands the strengths and weaknesses we each live with every day. The Bible tells us that He knows our frame, that we are created from dust ( see Psalm 103:13, 14). But here is another verse that also contains an awesome promise:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you (Romans 8:11 NIV).
Wow! I love it! I believe the gospel story in the Bible that says Jesus was raised from the dead after his crucifixion. And I believe the promise he made to the disciples, that he would send the Holy Spirit to be their comfort and guide. So, I believe I can also pray in faith, “Lord, please give life and strength to this (aging) mortal body!”
And he does just that.
6. Wisdom for My Counsel
Wise King Solomon Says . . .
- Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom(Proverbs 4:7).
- The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7).
- Wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you (Proverbs 2:10, 11).
It seems to me that down deep inside we all wish we could be truly wise all the time, but way too often we just go ahead and choose stupid instead. How many times have you done something you know you shouldn’t, but you did it anyway, simply because you wanted to? I confess, I’ve “been there, done that!” – and usually paid a dear price later.
Wisdom is Needed Every Day
But, what do you do when you are faced with a fork in the road? Sometimes difficult choices have to be made when there simply is no good answer. When you’re forced into a situation where you absolutely must decide a question one way or the other, what do you do?
Choices inevitably produce results – for good or bad – a reality Robert Frost expressed so eloquently in his 1920 poem “The Road Not Taken:”
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
So, how do you know which road to take? That’s when you need divine guidance.
God Has the Answer!
God has an abundance of wisdom just waiting for you to ask for it. Check out this awesome Bible promise: If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him (James 1:5 NIV).
I Need It!
I’ve lived long enough on this planet to know that I need divine wisdom every day, all day, without fail! I love that promise from James quoted above. It gives me hope and encouragement. Furthermore, I have claimed that promise countless times and found that God is faithful. I don’t claim to be a Solomon, or anything like that, but I do know that I have been blessed when I actually listened to God’s still small voice prompting me in the right direction. Ask. Believe. Claim.
7. To be a Godly Influence in the World
What’s Left When We’re Gone?
I heard this poem read at a memorial service I attended recently, and was struck with its profound message:
By Helen Lowrie Marshall
I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when day is done.
I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways,
of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve to dry before the sun
of happy memories I leave behind when day is done.
Our Influence is Our Only Real Legacy
I asked myself a question a while back . . . and came to a rather startling awareness: The only thing we leave behind us when we’re gone is our influence – either for good or evil. Nothing else remains, at least for very long. A generation or two passes into eternity and those who follow know little or nothing about them. Maybe some names, vital records, or places of origin, but not much more. Real people who lived and loved and laughed and cried are reduced to a few lines in some dusty archive of a genealogical record. If we’re lucky we might be able to find a few documents from their lives, such as a grandfather’s last will and testament, immigration records, or affidavits of property ownership. But especially after several generations have disappeared into the dust bins of history they are gone and long forgotten. Except for one thing . . . their influence remains . . . and that influence ripples through the lives of their offspring generation after generation after generation – even when subsequent generations have no idea where many of their ideas, emotions, or values originated.
You Can’t Unspeak a Word
So it comes down to this: once a word is spoken it can’t be unspoken. Once an act is performed it can’t be undone. Sure, apologies can be made afterwards, damages often can be repaired, relationships may be healed. But every word and action will carry some influence, large or small, good or bad, out into the wide, wide world, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to control when, where, or how far it goes. The only control we have lies in choosing what we say and what we do BEFORE we say it or do it.
Placing Our Influence in God’s Hands
The trouble is, many times it is impossible to know the effect of our words or actions on the lives of people around us. We might say something with all good intentions, and have what we said taken in totally different ways by different individuals. One has a positive impression, another finds it negative. There is no way we have any control over that. All we can do is give our influence to God, and ask Him to use it for His purposes, as He sees fit, in the lives of everyone it eventually reaches.
So, my list of daily prayer requests ends with, “Father, whatever my influence might be today, I pray that it will only count for Your Kingdom.”
Truly, this is the deepest desire of my heart of hearts.
To God be the glory. Amen.