Read between the lines

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Sometimes what God’s Word does not say is as significant as what it does say.

Colossians 4:2-4 HCSB (with my comments)

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.

At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah, for which I am in prison,

(…not that you should pray that I get out of this prison, this is my mission field. The closed doors here for me are open doors for the Gospel…)

so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak.

(…not as my theological training may have prepared me, but as God has prepared their hearts, He will give me the words…)

How many of us if in prison would send the request: “Pray to God that He would get me out of here!” Many of our situations are much milder than prison, but perhaps we are missing the open doors to the mission that God has for us.

Is there something that you or I are trying to escape from that may really be our most effective place of ministry? 

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God believes in you!

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The other day I was counseling a teen who had been physically and psychologically abused by her father all her life, The beatings and insults had taken their toll; her self-esteem was non-existent. She had also observed her mother and siblings being abused in the same way. She showed me her arms, where she had cut herself repeatedly with a razor, wishing to take her life but not having the strength to go through with it.

As we finished the session, I encouraged her to talk to her heavenly Father, to trust that God would help her in her difficulty. Her response: “I used to believe in God, but I don’t anymore with all that I have been through.”

I thought for a quick moment, and heard myself reply, “That’s too bad, because God still believes in you.”

The idea took her by surprise. She didn’t respond with words, but her expression was enough to tell me that she hadn’t thought of that before.

I hadn’t really thought of it that way before; I believe that the Holy Spirit gave me the words she needed to hear at that moment.

As I left the office, I reflected on how her faith had been stolen from her. Her words lingered in my mind as the fragrance of smoke from a burned building. What a victory the enemy must have believed he had won, to hear her say that. Years of violence had worn her down to where she had lost consciousness of God’s presence in her life. I wanted to weep.

Later on, I realized that my quick comment was basically what we are told in 2 Timothy 2:13: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.” 

Our persuading, our arguing, or our reasoning are not enough to produce faith in someone else. We must have faith in God, in His faith. Believe that He will work through our lives, our words.

God’s faith in a person is all the spark that is needed for their dying faith to burst into flame.

God believes in you! What is your response to Him?

As the tree is bent…

Image“We need more security guards, more police protection.” “There should be more punishment for offenders.” “The police department is too corrupt.”

So many comments, solutions offered for the problems of crime that we live with daily in Guatemala. It has gotten to the point that I rarely bother to read the local newspaper any more; page after page of murder, extortion, kidnapping, robbery, rape. Perhaps in your city it isn’t much different. (I hope yours is different.)

And the solutions? Mostly band-aids, putting out fires, struggling to keep our heads above water and survive the onslaught of violence outside our door. For many, even inside their door.

The overcrowded prisons are just a breeding ground for more violence. “UC”: University of crime. If those convicted can’t pay the amount specified to avoid imprisonment, they return to society much worse than before. Obviously this is not a solution.

But these criminals are human beings, made in the likeness of God. What happened to them? When did it happen? How can we stop focusing so much on putting out fires and do something to prevent them?

I have an idea. I’m sure it isn’t original but it is possible.

A child is born as a blank page. What is to be written on their heart and mind is determined by their family, school and society. At what age does a boy become a criminal? At what stage of life does a girl turn into a kidnapper? These changes are not conscious decisions made when a person is grown, but a result of their experiences from birth on. “As the tree is bent, so grows the twig.”

I know that this is no great revelation. It seems to me more like common sense. But I do have a proposition to do something about it.

I am working on an idea, a way to instill scriptural character and values into homes, schools, and day care centers. Scriptural concepts are powerful whether or not the chapter and verse are quoted. These concepts can be packaged in a way that we can share them not only with children, but also teachers, parents, grandparents and other caregivers. Here, most schools would be open to this type of help. We can work to convince those responsible for children’s development to promote that which will develop good character and values, and avoid the negative influences that are so prevalent in the media. Academic study is not enough.

This will not be a fast or easy process, but an investment of time and energy is necessary to make a better future. I believe we can plant seeds that over the next generation will bear fruit. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. (Matt. 5:9)

Unscriptural?

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“We do everything by the Book.”

How many times have I heard people say that, especially preachers. It seems that they are referring to mostly moral values, or social/religious norms according to the way that they want to interpret the scriptures. This has been the pretext for legalism, erroneous church government, stifling of spiritual gifts, and the rejection of people in need of God’s love.

The Church has let tradition rise above the authority of God’s Word. Some claim that times have changed and that the first-century believers’ ways are no longer valid. Others simply apply current traditions and definitions back onto the Biblical accounts of church life. Both approaches are damaging to our growth as a community of believers.

I began thinking about this the other day when I had just led worship in a church meeting. (Actually, I was leading the songs, hopefully the Spirit of God was leading people’s worship.) I noticed quite a while back that “worship leading” is not in the Bible, not as we generally see it done. And that a whole lot of things that we do in our meetings have no Biblical example.

But does that automatically make them wrong? Just because a practice is not mentioned in the Bible does not necessarily make it wrong. Modern inventions, such as cars, phones, sound systems, or computers are not “scriptural” in that they are not mentioned in scripture. But rather than use the term unscriptural, I would like to suggest that we think of such things as either anti-scriptural or extra-scriptural. Obviously, anti-scriptural would apply to things that are opposed to scriptural principles. Extra-scriptural could apply to practices that are not mentioned in the Bible but are not detrimental to Biblical purposes. Like driving your car to a church meeting, or playing your guitar while you are there.

If we really examined each element of our meeting together as believers, we might be shocked to realize that many, or perhaps most of our practices are actually detrimental to the scriptural purposes for the meeting. Few traditional patterns foster a participatory meeting – all of the “one anothers” that we read in Acts and the epistles – whether these traditions have to do with buildings, seating arrangements, leadership, or the program. However, the solution is not necessarily to imitate the exact practices of the early church. Rather, we should make sure that everything we do fulfills the same purpose: edifying and encouraging one another, provoking each other to love and good works. 

So the next time that I am invited to “lead worship”, what will I do? I will pray that the Spirit will move through me to be a catalyst for participatory ministry.

What other steps can we take to return to scriptural principles in our worship?