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Faith and Encouragement

Matthew 6:33

¿Es cierto que todo pasa por alguna razón?

“Todo pasa por algo”. “Dios tiene un plan para todo; Él está en control”.  Estas son las típicas frases que muchas personas bien intencionadas dicen cuando algún amigo o pariente se encuentra mal o está sufriendo por cualquier causa.  ¿Pero son ciertas estas palabras?  ¿Realmente son Bíblicas? 

Muchas personas quieren encontrarle una razón a todo lo que pasa y se preguntan: “¿Por qué esto me pasó a mí?” o “¿Por qué Dios permitió que sucediera?”

En vez de apoyar a los que están sufriendo, abrazarlos o escucharlos, tratan de explicar los sucesos a su manera y hacer que todo tenga sentido.  En un esfuerzo por “consolar” al afligido, quieren hacerles entender por qué este acontecimiento terrible les pasó.  Me entristece decirlo, pero muy a menudo, le dicen a un doliente que “Dios se ha llevado” a su ser querido, o que de alguna manera, fue parte de “Su plan”.  ¿Pero realmente debemos explicarlo así?

¿Es cierto que Dios controla cada detalle de nuestras vidas?  Muchos cristianos creen que Dios planifica y controla todo lo que pasa en el mundo, lo que les lleva a pensar que cuando las cosas salen mal, es porque era el designio de Dios.

Ahora bien, es importante recordar que desde que Adán y Eva fueron expulsados del Jardín de Edén ya no vivimos en un estado perfecto bajo la guía de Dios.  De hecho, al comer la fruta prohibida, Adán y Eva se rebelaron contra la soberanía de Dios y eligieron vivir de manera independiente.

Cuando Jesús vino a la tierra fue tentado tres veces por el diablo, en una de esas ocasiones, “le llevó el diablo a un alto monte, y le mostró en un momento todos los reinos de la tierra. Y le dijo el diablo: A ti te daré toda esta potestad, y la gloria de ellos; porque a mí me ha sido entregada, y a quien quiero la doy.  Si tú postrado me adorares, todos serán tuyos.” (Lucas 4:5-7)

Si esto no hubiera sido cierto, Jesús, que es la verdad personificada, hubiera replicado que no podía ofrecer lo que no era suyo.  Sin embargo, ¿por qué no respondió así? Porque sabía bien que “el mundo entero está bajo el poder del maligno.” (1 Juan 5:19b).

Si decidimos creerle a la Biblia y aceptar que este mundo se encuentra actualmente bajo el poder del diablo, las cosas empiezan a tener mucho más sentido.   Al ver las noticias o estudiar la historia y saber de masacres, abuso infantil y guerras, comprendemos que no es Dios quien causa esas cosas, sino que es Satanás, como gobernante de este mundo, el responsable de lo que sucede en él.

Afortunadamente, la historia no termina allí.  La Biblia muestra que Dios no permitirá que Satanás sea “el dios de este mundo” para siempre (2 Corintios 4:4ª).  Después del regreso de Jesús y de la batalla de Armagedón[1]  Satanás será atado y arrojado al abismo por mil años como leemos en Apocalipsis 20:1-3.

Algunas personas creen que desde la muerte de Jesús en la cruz y su resurrección, el diablo ha sido conquistado.  Es cierto que “Para esto apareció el Hijo de Dios, para deshacer las obras del diablo.” (1 Juan 3:8). No nos cabe duda de que Cristo es más fuerte que el diablo y que no tenemos por qué vivir con temor a Satanás.  Sin embargo, la batalla espiritual no ha terminado aún.  Si el diablo hubiera sido completamente vencido cuando Jesús murió en la cruz no tendríamos que preocuparnos por vestirnos con toda la armadura de Dios, para que podáis estar firmes contra las asechanzas del diablo.” (Efesios 6:11). Además, ¿por qué existiría esta advertencia a los cristianos en 1 Pedro 5:8?: Sed sobrios, y velad; porque vuestro adversario el diablo, como león rugiente, anda alrededor buscando a quien devorar”.

Parte 2: ¿Cómo consolar?

Es muy común que repitamos frases que hemos escuchado porque pensamos que pueden consolar a alguien, pero de hecho no nos hemos detenido para considerar el verdadero impacto de aquellas palabras o si se encuentran en la Biblia o no.  Por ejemplo, muchas personas le dicen a los que sufren que “Dios no dejará que seas probado más de lo que puedas soportar”.  Pero puede ser muy hiriente escuchar esto, puesto que muchas personas consideran que el sufrimiento que experimentan ES más de lo que pueden soportar.  Además, no es lo que dice el versículo Bíblico.  Si volvemos a las escrituras veremos que el pasaje en 1 Corintios 10:13 dice: “No os ha sobrevenido ninguna tentación que no sea humana; pero fiel es Dios, que no os dejará ser tentados más de lo que podéis resistir, sino que dará también juntamente con la tentación la salida, para que podáis soportar.”

Caer en tentación y ser “probado” son dos conceptos muy diferentes.  Con respecto a la tentación, leemos en Santiago 1:13-15 que: “Cuando alguien sea tentado, no diga que ha sido tentado por Dios, porque Dios no tienta a nadie, ni tampoco el mal puede tentar a Dios. Al contrario, cada uno es tentado cuando se deja llevar y seducir por sus propios malos deseos. El fruto de estos malos deseos, una vez concebidos, es el pecado; y el fruto del pecado, una vez cometido, es la muerte.”  Esto no tiene nada que ver con la experiencia de una persona que, por ejemplo, sufre tras la muerte de un ser querido o enfrenta una enfermedad incurable.

En ciertos círculos evangélicos es común escuchar a la gente jactarse con las palabras: “Todo lo puedo en Cristo que me fortalece!!!”(Filipenses 4:13), citadas fuera de contexto o con un énfasis innecesario en la primera parte del versículo “Todo lo puedo” y no expresando con humildad el énfasis en el resto del versículo “en Cristo que me fortalece”. 

Creo que es importante leer este texto en su contexto: No lo digo porque tenga escasez, pues he aprendido a contentarme, cualquiera que sea mi situación. Sé vivir humildemente, y sé tener abundancia; en todo y por todo estoy enseñado, así para estar saciado como para tener hambre, así para tener abundancia como para padecer necesidad. Todo lo puedo en Cristo que me fortalece.” (Filipenses 4:11-13) Si no leemos estas palabras en su contexto creamos falsas expectativas para nosotros mismos y para otros, asumiendo que podemos llegar a ser una especie de superhéroe en Cristo, capaces de hacer cualquier cosa.

Volviendo al tema principal, las personas que sufren no desean oír una lección de teología, ni una charla motivadora que los haga sentir mejor.  Más bien, necesitan nuestra compañía en su dolor, nuestro abrazo, nuestra empatía y ayuda práctica.  La Biblia dice: “Gocémonos con los que se gozan y lloremos con los que lloran.” (Romanos 12:15).  Que Dios abra nuestros corazones al sufrimiento de otros, para poder compartir su dolor, escucharlos y ser capaces de llorar con los que lloran, tal como Cristo lloró al lado de la tumba de su amigo Lázaro cuando había muerto[2]. Cuando los otros lo vieron, exclamaron: “¡Miren cuánto lo quería!”[3] Con la ayuda del Espíritu Santo, podremos demostrar a los demás cuánto los queremos y que podemos acompañarlos en su dolor, esto es más consolador que cualquier palabra.

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[1] Apocalipsis 16:14, 16, Apocalipsis 19:11-21

[2] Juan 11:35

[3] Juan 11:36

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Does everything happen for a reason?

“Everything happens for a reason”.  “God has a plan for everything; He is in control”.  These are the kind of things that many well-intentioned people tend to say to a friend or family member when they are suffering or grieving.  But are they true?  Are these sayings actually Biblical? 

Many people seem to like to find a reason for everything, they like to have the answers to the “why” questions, such as: “Why did this happen to me?” and particularly: “Why did God allow this to happen to me?”  Instead of reaching out to a friend who is suffering to offer wordless comfort and practical help, they sit down to try to make sense of things.  In an effort to “comfort” a grieving friend, they try to help them understand why this terrible thing has happened to them.  It saddens me to say it, but far too often in Christian circles, a grieving family member is told that “God has taken” their loved one, or that somehow all this was part of “His plan”.  But is this how it should be explained?

Is God in control of every detail of our lives?  Many Christians believe that God plans and controls what happens in this world, which leads them to think that when things go wrong that it was somehow part of His plan.  But it’s important to remember that since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, we no longer live in a perfect state under God’s guidance.  However, when they ate the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s sovereignty and chose to live independently.

When Jesus came to earth he was tempted three times by the devil, who finally invited him to “fall down and worship” him, promising: “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.(Luke 4:6).

If this had not been true, Jesus, who is truth incarnate, would have replied that the devil couldn’t offer something that wasn’t his.  However, He did not respond in that way, as He knew full well that: “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19b).

If we decide to believe the Bible and accept that this world currently lies in the power of Satan, things start to make a lot more sense.  When we watch the news and study history and learn of horrific massacres, child abuse and war, we understand that it isn’t God that causes these things, but Satan, the ruler of this word.

Thankfully, this is not where the story ends. The Bible shows that God will not allow Satan to be “the god of this world” forever (2 Corinthians 4:4a).  After Jesus’ return and after the battle of Armageddon[1], we read in Revelation 20:1-3 that Satan will be seized, bound and thrown into a pit for a thousand years.

Some people believe that since Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection that the devil has been conquered.  It is true that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8) and that God “gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)  We have no doubt that Christ is stronger than the devil and that we don’t need to live in fear of Satan.

However, the spiritual battle is not over.  If the devil had been utterly defeated when Jesus died on the cross and rose again, we would not have to be concerned with putting on “the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11).  Moreover, there would be no need for this warning in 1 Peter 5:8: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Part 2: Consoling others

Often, we repeat things because we have heard others say them and because we think they sound comforting, but we haven’t actually stopped to consider the real impact of these words or if they are in the Bible or not.  For example, many people say to those in pain: “God will not allow you to be tested beyond what you can endure”.  Not only is this is an incorrect quotation of scripture, it can also be deeply hurtful for people to hear who are grieving and sincerely feel that what they’re going through IS more than they can endure.  If we go back to Scripture we will see that the actual text in 1 Corinthians 10:13 reads: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Falling into temptation and being “tested” are very different concepts.  Regarding temptation, we read in James 1:13-15 that When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” This has nothing to do with the experience of a person who is grieving after the loss of a loved one for example, or facing an incurable illness.

In certain evangelical circles it’s common to hear people boasting: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me!!!”(Philippians 4:13) quoted out of context and with an unnecessary emphasis on the first part of the verse “I can do all things…” without emphasizing the rest of the verse with humility: “through him who strengthens me”.

I think it’s important to read this text in context: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”(Philippians 4:11-13)  If we fail to read it in context, we create false expectations for ourselves and others, assuming that we can become a kind of “superhero” in Christ, capable of anything.

Coming back to our main topic: those who are suffering have no desire to hear a theological explanation or “pep talk” to make them feel better.  They want our company in their grief, to be able to count on us, our empathy and practical help.  The Bible tells us to: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) May God open our hearts to the suffering of others and enable us to cry with those who cry, just as Christ cried bitter tears at the tomb of his friend Lazarus who had died (John 11:35).  When the others saw him, they cried out: “See how he loved him!”[2]  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to show others how much we love them and accompany them in their pain, which is more comforting than any word we could speak.

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[1] Rev 16:14, 16, Rev 19:11-21

[2] John 11:36

Let it go…

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Before I got married, I was desperate for someone to give me some advice.  I thought that there would be some kind of pre-marital counselling or advice course, but we were offered nothing….  All I had were two books: “Men are from Mars…” and “The 5 Love Languages”.  I must say that these books have served me well and that without them, my marriage would be significantly different, but some verbal advice from another human being would have been nice too.

However, after 3 years of marriage and rather too many ups and downs, I now feel confident to give some advice of my own.

The first thing would be:

“Let it go.”

It’s such a human desire to bite back when someone hurts or criticises you, but this only leads arguments to escalate.  Let it go. Instead of biting back, bite your tongue and breathe.  Try to imagine what has motivated the bitter comment that has wounded you, then continue the visualization exercise by imagining what your spouse’s response to your answer will be. In my opinion, arguments are usually very predictable.  With a little imagination you can script the dialogue in your head before it even happens.

This doesn’t mean of course that you bypass communication or keep the dialogue all in your head, but it will help you to realise HOW futile arguing really is.

The other day my husband was angry with me and we would have argued, but I was working and so instead, he wrote me a  letter, expressing his feelings.  When I finished working I sat down to read it and was able to listen to his words in a very powerful way, which never would have been possible if we had been arguing.  When he arrived home later I was still upset by his words and in a very mixed frame of mind. Part of me wanted to apologise for the hurt I’d caused him, whereas the rest of me felt indignant and was picking fault with him; I wanted to respond to every point of his letter with a justification or an attack on him. I felt so incapable of expressing myself honestly that I remained silent…

I went back to work after lunch and by the time I’d finished my shift I was in a much calmer state; I was able to approach him gently and apologise and we talked together about what had happened.

I had prepared a list of grievances against him in response to his letter, but I decided to just let it go, as it wouldn’t lead to anything.

In marriage you have to let things go.  Let them go and pray that God will help you forgive and forget them, as we’re not generally very good at doing this ourselves.

 

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The POWER of listening to others

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I think we all feel that we could be better listeners, don’t we?  Or at least many of us do. But do we realise the true impact of listening from the heart when someone we know is upset or in distress?

I hadn’t really thought about this so much until it happened to me the other day. To give you a little context I’ll just explain that I had woken up in the night around 3 am and couldn’t sleep, and for some reason I started investigating online into alcoholism.  I’ve seen a lot of very serious, “far gone” alcoholics in parks and squares etc, who sleep rough, and I was wondering if they could all become sober, or if some physically couldn’t survive without the alcohol in their system.  I was thinking about it because I remembered a conversation with one homeless man who explained to me that when he drank water he would throw up and that the only thing that would “normalise” his body was alcohol.  I didn’t understand this at the time, but after my late night investigation, I’ve come to comprehend it a little better, by reading this article about the about the “myths and realities of alcoholism”: http://www.lakesidemilam.com/alcohol-drug-addiction/under-the-influence/a-guide-to-the-myths-and-realities-of-alcoholism/

Anyway, back to the topic in hand: listening.  When I woke the next morning I was very distressed by what I had learnt, as I have a close family member who is an alcoholic, and I felt so bad that I hadn’t understood their condition before and that I had been judgmental towards them.

Thankfully, my husband was at my side, ready to listen carefully to my inner suffering.  I asked him to close the computer and to put away his phone and that he look at me.  I know that all sounds very demanding, but I found that I physically couldn’t tell him anything of importance unless he gave me his undivided attention.  And when he did, it was like a soothing balm to my spirit.  When he looked at me and listened and understood I felt such relief and healing; I was able to unburden my sorrows and feel so much lighter afterwards.

One of the reasons why it is so important for me to feel listened to is that my “Love Language” is Quality Time. I don’t know if you have studied or even heard of the “5 Love Languages”, if not, I recommend you investigate them as they are extremely beneficial too all, not only married couples.  This is a nice little video in which Dr. Gary Chapman gives a brief overview of the 5 Love Languages and their importance:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp5TUhTsxPw

Everyone feels better after being listened to without interruptions, unwanted advice or judgement.  However, those of us whose “Love Language” is Quality Time need to be listened to in this way in order to stay emotionally sane.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of labelling someone as “attention seeking” or “immature” when they tell us to put down our smartphone / newspaper or turn off the TV / computer and give them our undivided attention.  But it’s not that at all.  I can tell you that when I’m not listened to I feel ignored, unloved, frustrated and alone.  But 5 – 10 minutes (or more!) of being listened to in a meaningful way can make a HUGE difference; a world of difference.  It’s very powerful.

Serve God and not Religion!

religionI love God over all things and I desire to serve him with all my heart, “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

I want to preach the Gospel as Jesus commanded us to (Matthew 28:18-20)

I want to proclaim “the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah” (Revelation 12:10, Daniel 2:44, Psalm 2) as the only solution to humanity’s problems.

I want to be part of a brotherhood in which we are all equal, like in early Christianity.

Obeying the Bible as our authority and not “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:6-9)

Serving God and neighbour with sincere love and not hypocrisy or selfish ambition.

Not making money from the Word of God nor living off tithes and offerings.

Doing good, consoling others with the Word and giving to poor as our Lord did.

Not asking for anything, but giving generously.

Not judging, but consoling.

Not ordering others about, but encouraging them in love.

Not tearing down, but building up.

No more religion!!!  Christ is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Juan 14:6), only He can lead us to the Father and only His sacrifice can make the forgiveness of sins possible.

Religion is guilty of inciting people to kill and hate each other (Revelation 18:24).

Religion is the lair of false prophets and charlatans (Revelation 18:2)

Religion is like a shop that sells salvation, but without a guarantee.

Religion enjoys “excessive luxuries” (Rev 18:3), making a profit from the faithful.  It proclaims itself to be “the house of God and the gate to heaven”, “Noah’s ark”, the way to salvation.  However, her corruption is self-evident and we know that “God has remembered her crimes”.  This is why the Bible warns us to “Come out of her, my people,’ so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes”. (Revelation 18:4-5)

If you share my thoughts or some of them, please write to: vengaturreino@gmail.com.

May the grace of God the Father, the love of Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit illuminate and guide us!

 

 

Legalism

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At certain points in my life, I have fallen into legalism. Legalism gives you a set of rules to live by, but it’s not only that; legalism is when you become confined and even trapped by those rules and seek to trap others too. Extreme legalists, like the Pharisees of the Bible, develop such a love for these rules and laws that they seek to destroy those who do not comply with them.

My own legalism was more subtle. I feared, for example, that if I did not get up early to pray then God would not bless me that day, as if such “tit-for-tat” with God were even possible… We need to be careful of not falling into the attitude of: “I’m doing fairly well spiritually; I managed to get up at 5am every day this week!” or “I tithe 10% of everything I own every month, so God is sure to bless me!”

We cannot force God’s hand in this way. The Scriptures tell us: “I want mercy, not sacrifice!” (Matthew 9:13,  Hosea 6:6)  The danger is that  the more we sacrifice, the less merciful we become.

The best antidote to legalism is the deep awareness that we are sinners. Not just the knowledge, but the consciousness in our hearts. We need to know that no matter how early we get up or how much we scrimp and save to be able to hand over that 10% every month, we have never “arrived”. That we are not “good/true Christians”, that we will always fall short.

The best example of legalism versus grace is found in the parable of the Pharisee and the repentant tax collector:

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

The other danger is to look up to other Christians and consider that they have “got it”, or that they lead spotless, holy lives.  No! They’re just struggling on just as we all are, with their own faults, defects and pride.

Sadly, sometimes we can focus so much on exterior “holiness” that we become like the teachers of the law that we read about in Matthew 15:1-9:

“Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”  He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God commanded, ‘Honour your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honour his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honours me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”  

How often do we fall into the trap of following “commandments of men”?

In order to be free from legalism we need to strive to keep an open mind. Instead of following and believing everything our church leader tells us, we should ponder on it and consider if it is really so by seeking in the Bible and in prayer. Because every pastor and church leader is just as flawed and sinful as we are, and just as capable of believing or teaching “commandments of men”.

Why is this concept so important? The reason is that if we stop analysing and questioning the sermons we hear and the messages we read (yes, including this one!) we risk of letting go of our capacity for independent thought.

When we hear or read Christian messages, we should always consider: is this message in agreement with the greatest commandments of all?  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37)

And we need to be more self aware in analysing our own thoughts and actions too, through the lens of love.

However, Legalism prevents that. If we stop looking at others with eyes of love and mercy, and instead judge them according to our set beliefs and rules, then we have become legalistic.

Legalism is insidious; it’s very hard for any human being to admit that they may be acting or thinking legalistically. It has its roots in pride. It saps us of joy.

We all need to consider humbly that we probably have some legalistic attitudes and open ourself to God’s Spirit, praying honestly:  “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24

Do you analyse the Bible?

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All too often, we analyse our actions, our hearts and minds, but not the traditions handed down to us by the church.  “Who am I to question the church leaders and centuries of theologians and tradition?” we could ask, humbly.  So, we decide to trust them.  We trust them because they have studied more than we have, because they seem to know all the answers whilst we’re still floundering with countless questions.

Perhaps we read the Bible to show us how to behave, how to become more holy, but we don’t often read it to learn more of the everlasting truths we profess to believe.  I was like that for many, many years.  Since I became a Christian at age 15 I developed a hunger for the Word and I would read it for many hours, honestly asking God to test my heart, to show me where I was sinning, and help me to become more like Christ.  Every time I would read a passage I would ask God to show me how to apply it practically in my life.

I think this kind of Bible reading is beautiful and very important.  However, there is also a place for more analytical Bible study, in which we read it to learn more about God’s character and scriptural doctrine.  Although the kind of Bible reading that I carried out was extremely important for my own personal growth as a Christian, I feel that I sometimes fell into “narcissistic reading”; i.e. I read and I found MYSELF in every passage!  Every blessing that God promised to the Israelites I took for myself.  Every criticism I read of the “fool” in Proverbs I took to be a comment on my own character.  I’m not saying that Christians can’t find encouragement or discipline in the Old Testament, but I think that all too often we read the Bible and our ego blinds us from analysing deeper truths.

I still read the Bible and ask God to use it to show me how I need to change and grow, but I also concentrate on learning more about HIM.  Of His character, rather than my own.  When I read of the Israelites and His never-ending patience and forgiveness towards them, I marvel at His mercy.  I now spend longer over the more difficult passages that speak of His divine plan, His nature and what that passage tells me of certain doctrines that I’ve come to believe or doubt.

My husband once told me: “Read the Bible without doctrinal prejudice: open your heart and let it teach you”.  I started to do that around eight years ago and I really feel that my analytical eyes have been opened.  I now read, not only to apply behavioural teachings to my life, but also to UNDERSTAND.

And, of course, that process leads to a myriad of questions.  “What does this passage really MEAN?” I frequently ask myself.  And not content to let the question pass, I spend time investigating in the Bible, in prayer and in conversation with other Christians to help me to shed light on this issue.  This is an active process and a very personal one.  I do not accept that one human being, leader or religion will be able to answer all my questions.  I am no longer willing to listen to an answer and accept it because it sounds nice or because I trust the person who is speaking to me.  I have to become convinced in my own heart and mind after listening to their opinions and searching for myself in the Bible and after much prayer.  And I try not to become “calcified” in my understanding of doctrine; my desire is to remain open-minded and reasonable.  In fact, that is the definition of the word “disciple”, which means “learner”.  How can I be a disciple if I have closed my mind to questioning and doubts and refuse to accept any other interpretation other than that which I have arrived at?

I encourage you to do the same: read, question, investigate.  Rather than leading you away from God this process will bring you to your knees before Him.

The Art of Evangelism

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I think that when many Christians consider evangelism, they start to break out in a cold sweat.  “What will I say?  What will they think of me? I don’t know what to say or how!”  Evangelism is akin to public speaking in many Christians’ minds: high up on the fear list.  I don’t say this to condemn or even criticise; I just think that it’s important to recognise that many people feel that way so that we can encourage them.

The most encouraging words, in my opinion, come from Jesus himself: “do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19-20).

The Apostle Paul said this about his own evangelistic style: “And my message and my preaching were very plain.  Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:4)

When many people think of the Holy Spirit, they consider first the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, which is all well and good, but I would like to bring to our attention Jesus’ parting words to the disciples about the role of the Holy Spirit: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

I’ve been reading through the book of Acts searching for clues about how to carry out our ministry and learn from the apostles. Time and time again I’ve been impressed and inspired about how the apostles’ lives were shaped by the power of the Spirit; the confused and unreliable disciples we read of in the four Gospels are now faith filled men of God, not because they suddenly “got it”, but because they had received the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised them.

In my opinion, the disciples didn’t receive that power because they got up really early in the morning every day to pray, or because they lived spectacular, holy lives, it was because they were open to it, painfully conscious of their own weaknesses.

That’s why I don’t think that it’s a bad thing or something to be ashamed of that we find evangelism scary.  We mustn’t hide that or put on a brave face and share the Gospel with secretly trembling hands.  We need to confess our fears and weaknesses to God and ask him humbly to fill us with his Holy Spirit, so that we can share the saving message of Christ with power.

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