September 11, 2018

August 28, 2018

PRAYER: How Praying Together Shapes the Church


In the book PRAYER, which Crossway kindly sent me to review, author-pastor John Onwuchekwa examines how communal prayer shapes the life of a church and is as necessary as breathing. I love the analogy! But, sadly, the flip side fits, too – for example, if we think of Christians holding their breath, waiting for God to DO something!

As the first chapter, “Breathe Again,” reminds us:

“Where prayer is present, it’s saying something – it’s speaking, shouting. It teaches the church that we really need the Lord. Where prayer is absent, it reinforces the assumption that we’re okay without him…. It leads a church to believe that there are plenty of things we can do without God’s help, and we need to bother him only when we run into especially difficult situations.”

The truth, however is that, “…prayer is among the most vital keys to a successful ministry. It’s as necessary as breathing. It’s not meant to replace work but enable it. If we care to see our churches thrive in faithfulness to God, then our churches must pray like their lives depended on it. We must learn how to breathe together.”

What’s wonderful about this is that breath, air, wind, Ruah, Holy Spirit power know no denominational lines! And neither does the “Lord’s Prayer” or “Our Father.”

As the author points out in the chapter, “The World is Yours,” Jesus shows us what to ask for as we pray “Our Father” in unison and follow that potent example, corporately.

Conversely, notice how Jesus speaks to the individual in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and other biblical areas where He teaches on morality.

“But when talking to this same crowd about prayer, all of his pronouns are plural.”

Our corporate prayers are to draw on scripture and lean on the Lord as we: “Populate the prayer list primarily with kingdom, whole body, and major life concerns.”

The chapter, “Lean on Me,” also includes biblical examples of how the early church prayed as one corporate being, and, as the Body of Christ today, we still have access to that prayer power! With prayer a priority – a mission – an outreach guided by God – we can effect change and draw closer to God.

May this book give our churches the CPR needed to have a lively, healthy prayer life and breathe easy in Jesus’ Name.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer


PRAYER: How Praying Together Shapes the Church, hardback





August 13, 2018

A small fee can bring a big improvement in your writings


Writing in solitude may be part of our job as communicators for Christ, but improving our work often takes outside help. Anyone who likes you can give you a free pat on the back, of course, but if you would like an honest, courteous, and professional response to your manuscript with workable, practical suggestions from a longtime freelance poet, writer, and editor -- and lifelong reader of the Bible -- I'd be glad to hear about your writing project.

If you want to check me out first and see more about my current books or bio, visit my website.

Then, receive my feedback (for the same professional fee I've had for decades!), send $25 via PayPal. What's cool is that little fee for one critique of one project can help you to recognize what to improve, how to do it, and why in other manuscripts you've written as well as those yet to come!

Email marysayler(at)bellsouth(dot)net with your Word attachment of 3 to 6 double-spaced pages of poems, devotionals, sermons, prayers, or short manuscript for children. If you prefer to use snail mail, so do I! Just send your check and manuscript pages to me at P.O. Box 62, Lake Como, FL 32157.

Either way, use a plain 12-point font with text typed flush left.

Include your name, email and/or mailing address with a little about your writing goal and intended audience.

May God bless you and all you've been given to do in Jesus' Name.

Mary Sayler


...

August 8, 2018

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: a book review


In the book Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life published by Crossway, who kindly sent me a copy to review, present-day psychiatrist Michael S. Lundy updated the 17th century writings of Rev. Richard Baxter, who was well-known for his godly counsel on depression.

Theologian J.I. Packer began the Preface by letting us know that:

“Sooner or later most of us experience some form of this, maybe fleetingly as the product of trauma, strain, overwork, or something of the kind, maybe in a more long-term, habitual, deeper-rooted way, and we are told to expect that two-thirds of North Americans will at some stage need and seek treatment for depression.”


But what does that mean? What occurs? As Dr. Packer explains:

“Still generalizing, we say: fretful heaviness seizes the mind, sometimes slowing it down to a point of virtual paralysis where thought ceases, sometimes driving it into unfruitful randomness, or a fixed attitude of gloom, or an incessant harping on things felt to be incurably wrong. Depressed persons feel themselves isolated and distant from others - even their nearest and dearest - and from projects in which hitherto their hearts had been fully engaged. Conduct may become eccentric, randomness or inaction may set in, focused creativity may fade away, or sadness may become habitual. Feelings of anxiety, worthlessness, and hopelessness develop, and defensive pessimism takes over.”

These symptoms have not really changed since Rev. Baxter first wrote about depression, but in the chapter that summarizes that ministry and perspective, Dr. Michael S. Lundy writes:

“What has fundamentally changed is how we live our lives….”

“...Belief and behavior were inextricably linked for Baxter…. What you believed determined how you thought about matters and predetermined how you would respond to possible choices along the path of life. Distorted beliefs would inevitably lead to wrong interpretations of circumstances and so to wrong choices and unethical behavior.”


In the chapter, “Advice to Depressed and Anxious Christians,” Rev. Baxter provides tremendous insight into “melancholy” as it was known in his day. I especially recommend that caretakers read his interpretations of these “signs” associated with depression to get a better understanding of where the person is coming from and the thought processes typically encountered.

Later, in the same chapter, Rev. Baxter offers a number of “Directions” for the person in crisis, beginning with, “Be sure that a theological error is not the root of your distress,” followed by a list of mindsets to consider and, hopefully, replace any erroneous thoughts that hinder healing.

As a lifelong student of the Bible, I found Rev. Baxter’s words to be very wise and aligned with scripture. However, I also found it regrettable and highly offensive that the current producers of this book saw fit to leave in a comment dating back to the aftermath of the Reformation!

In Chapter 4 page 131, under “6. Unskilled teachers (of Scripture) cause grief and perplexity for many,” the paragraph retained these words:

“Being wicked deceivers themselves, they blur the distinction between good and bad, and may even take the best for the worst. Others, again, unskilled in matters spiritual, put inordinate emphasis on things that are not even duties, as the Roman Catholics do in their many inventions and superstitions, and as do many sects through their unsound opinions.”


Perhaps the prejudices of the time blinded the Puritan pastor to the fact that the Bible initially came to us through the Roman Catholic Church, and - then as now - many misunderstandings occur through assumption, hearsay, and, frankly, ignorance. The same, of course, could be said in reverse, but the point is that 500 years have given us time to “reform” our thinking and get over ourselves! Unless we accept that all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are Members of One Body - the Body of Christ - we’re dis-Membering and dishonoring Him.

One of the many things I find of special value in this book is the author’s acknowledgement of individual limitations and the need to respect that for healing to occur. For example, he writes (with bold-type my emphasis),

To the degree that you can, direct your thoughts toward these four matters:

a.the infinite goodness of God, who is more full of love than is the sum of light;
b.the immeasurable love of Christ in redeeming mankind, and the sufficiency of his sacrifice and merits;
c.the free covenant and offer of grace, which give pardon and life to all who neither prefer sin nor obstinately refuse them to the end;
d.the inconceivable glory and joy that the blessed have with Christ, and that God has promised with his oath and seal to everyone who consents to the covenant of grace and are willing to be saved and ruled by Christ.”

Although, as Baxter, says, those thoughts will alleviate depression, the reverend also reminds us:

“When the disease itself keeps them
(depressed persons) from helping themselves, then most of their help from God will come through others.”

Besides an Appendix on“The Duty of Physicians, the last chapter offers excellent suggestions for caretakers, ending with this thought:

“All said, holy faith, hope, and joy are the best medicine of all.”

Amen.

Mary Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer


Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom From Richard Baxter, paperback


August 4, 2018

3 ways to get closer to God

3 ways to get closer to God

Each of these spiritual disciplines provides the basis for a sermon, article, or beginnings of a book. May God guide you as you communicate - clearly, accurately, and lovingly - for Christ.

July 5, 2018

Preaching By The Book


The title drew me to request Preaching by the Book: Developing and Delivering Text-Driven Sermons (Hobbs College Library) from B&H/LifeWay Bloggers. As God-incidence would have it, the book became available right when I needed help – fast!

With no pastor in sight, my church needed people willing to do sermons during the Sunday worship service, and I got volunteered. To be honest, it took no coercion because God had already been preparing me for something. I just didn’t know what.

In a way, preparation begin decades ago when a Sunday School teacher urged me to read the Bible every night. I did, and, as an adult, I kept reading and studying God’s Word. But then, a couple of years ago, God drew me to reading one translation of the Bible after another and another. I wondered why, but with no idea, I kept on reading.

About the time I’d finished reading most of the major versions, our small rural church was informed we’d no longer have a pastor, but we could stay together if we wanted. We did. Although none of us had received theological training, several members agreed to take turns leading the worship service each week until we can become a full-fledged church again. Meanwhile, some plan to give personal testimonies. Some will seek a retired pastor who’s willing to come occasionally. And some will do “Bible talks” during the sermon slot.

Despite my reluctance to get up and “preach it,” I realized God had been preparing me to expound on the scripture readings determined for that week. But how to prepare the talk itself was somewhat a mystery. And then this book arrived.

Divided into three sections, Preaching By The Book covers:

Part I. The Foundation
1. Inspiration
Speaking the Truth
2. Investigation
Surveying the Truth

Part II. The Framework
3. Interpretation
Studying the Truth
4. Implementation
Synthesizing the Truth

Part III. The Finishing Touches
5. Introductions
Drawing Them in
6. Illustrations
Drawing Them Pictures

7. Invitations
Drawing the Net

8. Conclusion
Final Thoughts

Name and Subject Index

Scripture Index


With the Bible and the chapter “Inspiration” as my guide, I read how “the Spirit of God who inspired the Scriptures enables us to interpret them, fills us to proclaim them, opens the hearts of the listeners to receive them, and supernaturally applies them to their lives.”

Edified by those words of reassurance and the statement, “God has always worked through the power of his Word!” I believed God could and would steady my voice and my knees and give me the ideas and examples with which our church family could relate. He did.

As this handbook explains: “If we define theological truths with who God is, doctrinal truths can be characterized by what God does.” With that biblical concept clearly in mind, there’s less danger of presenting a set of lifestyle principles or psychological “how-to’s” as the emphasis remains on what the Bible says and shows us about God, ourselves, and others.

Although I highly recommend this book for anyone who’s called to serve from a pulpit, I do have a couple of suggestions for future printings:

Don’t assume the pastor is a man.

Don’t assume people still come to church as they did for centuries! Instead, be aware that churches are closing because the congregation didn’t go to the people.

Don’t assume an altar call to give one’s life to Christ is the only cause for calling!

The traditional altar call is crucial, of course, in a revival meeting or on holidays when visitors are more apt to come, but Sunday after Sunday, regular attendees may need an invitation to come up for prayer, intercession, or renewed commitment to help in various ministries.

Most important, “Final Thoughts” recollects the seven vital steps discussed in the book and recapped in the paraphrases here:

1. Prepare with prayer.
2. Get very familiar with the scripture you’ll be using.
3. Ask God to give you insight and help you discern the meaning.
4. Examine key words and concepts in the Bible passage.
5. Build a bridge from the historical text to contemporary context.
6. Apply the text in practical steps people can follow.
7. Consider your audience and timeliness of the occasion.

As the “Conclusion” assures us, “God’s faithfulness to accomplish his will in his ways through his Word… provides us with all the assurance we need to proclaim boldly his truth and, by faith, to trust him confidently for supernatural results.”

Count on those words as God’s pledge to you – even if, like me, you would rather be behind the scenes or slinking down in a pew than in a pulpit. Honest!

Mary Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer


Preaching By The Book, hardcover





June 18, 2018

Leading a Major Change in Your Ministry


When B&H/LifeWay Bloggers offered a review copy of Leading Major Change in Your Ministry by Jeff Iorg for my always-honest review, I ordered the paperback book eagerly since my church is going through unexpected changes, requiring those of us who regularly worship and study to step into leadership positions or close our doors.

I discussed our situation in a previous post, “Rejoicing in misery?” but frankly, I hope you won’t be compelled to go through such drastic changes for similar reasons. We had little choice, so deciding if we should make a big change wasn’t the problem we faced. Our need was and is for practical advice on how to lead our church family through a difficult time.

Although this book does offer ways that lead us into leading, those steps are not the primary focus as the title suggests. If, however, your church fellowship has begun to suspect a need for change, this book can help you discern what changes might be needed and when it’s time to put those decisions into action. For example:

“The key diagnostic questions are:

1.Is the change essential to the mission?
2.Is there shared urgency about the change?
3.Is relational trust high enough to sustain the change?
4.Is the timing right for the change?
5.Am I willing to see the change to completion?”


To show how those concerns might be dealt with, the author discusses transitions in his own church life and reminds us that major changes cause grief -- something our church family is still experiencing as we pray for God to lead us through each step, whatever that might be.

Mary Sayler, ©2018


Leading Major Change in Your Ministry, paperback




June 16, 2018

Armor of God: Gearing Up for Team Jesus

Armor of God: Gearing Up for Team Jesus

Gear up! Dress out! Put on the armor of God, and get in uniform for Team Jesus (as prayer-a-phrased from Ephesians 6.)

June 1, 2018

10 tips for sermons that keep everyone awake

10 tips for sermons that keep everyone awake

Sermons aren’t meant to be lullabies or long songs that drone on and on, lulling people to sleep! The idea of a weekly message is not to offer advice or tell people what to do but to show the relevance of God’s Word as you work and pray for a Christian faith community of Christ-like love.

These tips will help you get to the point, be concise, and, most important, encourage Christlike lives and actions.

May 25, 2018

Living with a loved one’s memory loss


It comes and goes.
It’s disturbing. It’s worrisome.
It happens in some degree to almost everyone.

Whether we experience memory loss in ourselves or someone close to us, the saddest part is a loss of identity or recollecting past experiences that made us who we are.

But we are who we are.
We’re still here.
We can still say, “I am!” “You are.” “S/He is.”

To lessen the grief or frustration that inevitably occurs:

 Pray! Seek God’s wisdom and guidance.

 Slow down. Be willing to wait, to listen.

 Talk with a trusted doctor about tests and options. A physician may need to establish a baseline to chart progression or regression before prescribing accordingly.

 Become a health advocate. Check with a pharmacist or physician to see if herbal aids to circulation, such as Gingko biloba, can be safely used with medications. Some Internet sites provide reports of potential conflicts, which often occur when herbs and drugs are used for the same thing and/or taken too closely together.

 Assess a typical day’s nutrition. Plenty of water (6 to 8 glasses), foods rich in omega-3, B vitamins, zinc, and other minerals and vitamins can help to improve memory. White flour products and sugar cannot!

 Allow ample time to rest. Adequate sleep gives the body time to restore itself and replenish cells.

 Encourage activity. Physical exercise increases circulation. Mental challenges such as word puzzles or games can help to stimulate the mind.

 Lower the frustration level by avoiding explanations. If a loved one asks the same question over and over, answer as briefly as possible without going into detail. A simple “yes” or “no” may be all that’s needed.

 Avoid complicated conversations, pronouns, and vague references.

 Keep sentences short, sweet, and simple.

 Some days will be better than others. Enjoy times of reconnecting, however short they seem.

 Use touch when appropriate. A hug, a kiss on the cheek, a hand held, a loving phrase, a soft tone, a timely prayer can embrace, bless, and strengthen your loved one and you.


Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

May 7, 2018

Rejoicing in misery?


Our 130-year-old church is being closed.

This isn’t for lack of love or money, interest or prayer, but for lack of children, lack of growth, and an increasing lack of members as people die off or leave our retirement area to go into assisted living.

We’ve prayed. We’ve pleaded with authorities in our denomination, which will remain unnamed as this situation is reportedly happening in many other denominations as well.

We’ve written letters. We’ve passed around a heavily signed petition in hopes of keeping our doors opened, and we’ve failed.

This became apparent yesterday after worship service followed by an emotionally-wrenching 3-hour meeting with church decision-makers. So, when today’s Bible verses from Bible Gateway told us to rejoice, I did a double-take!

No, we have not been rejoicing, but oh, what joy we’ve had in Christlike fellowship with one another for a blessedly long time! What we must remember now is that, even though our church home will soon be a thing of the past, the need for deliberate, concentrated, consecrated rejoicing is ever-present and meant to go on and on.

We have been praying for God’s will to be done, but we haven’t wanted to give up. And so, what we must remember now is the need to relinquish to God our wants, our loving family, our presence in the community, and our heritage, knowing that we can trust God to take care of us. Regardless how grieved or frustrated we are, we can choose to let go of the past and thank God for this present day and the ever-amazing presents of Christ Jesus, which He surely gives.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says it all:

Keep on rejoicing!
Keep on praying!
No matter what happens
thank God,
for this is God’s will
concerning you
in Christ Jesus


Amen. So be it.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018, prayer-a-phrased these Bible verses from many of the translations found on Bible Gateway.