“How is God present?” A Great Question for Parents and Guardians and Student Ministers

I have written a blog about the book Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus prior to this post. But the more I read this book, the more I am just impressed with the philosophy of Mark Yaconelli. The following is a section where he encourages student ministers (parents, guardians, etc.) to simply ask students, “How is God present?”

One way in which we can help in our discipleship is to ask questions. Jesus loved asking people questions. It is a great way to engage in conversations that are natural and reveal the actual thoughts and feelings of an individual.

The simple question, “How is God present?” is a great way to help students begin to look for and acknowledge him in their everyday lives.

Mark Yaconelli, in his book Contemplative Youth Ministry, gives four reasons why this is so helpful.

  1. “First, I’m reminding them that God is present and available.”

    This gives the students the reminder that God is actually with us (as the name Emmanuel is defined) and that He is intimately interested in our lives. Whether it is a soccer match, volunteering at the rescue mission, or simply taking a walk down the street, God is with us.

  2. “Second, the question also communicates that youth have the capacity to notice God.”

What an incredible thought! Your student has the capacity to notice God. This is the Creator we are talking about. The one that said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. Sometimes adults can give off the impression that students cannot understand God and the awesome privilege we have to relate to Him. By asking that simple question we affirm our belief that they have the ability to see God at work in their lives.

  1. “Third, I am helping them reflect on their real-life theologies and religious biases.”

    I’ll use Mark’s words to describe this one. He writes, “When I ask a young person, ‘How is God present in this moment?’ she may respond, ‘I don’t think God has anything to do with my school; God is just about praying and church.’ To ask youth to notice God is to invite them to reflect on their beliefs concerning God’s relationship to the world.’

  2. “Finally, when I ask young people to notice the Holy Spirit in their midst, I’m helping them develop their sensitivity to God.”

And what better goal as those to whom God has gifted us with the training and rearing of these wonderful students, than to help them ‘develop their sensitivity to God’? This is, and should be, our heart beat, to draw the hearts of our students to a deep love of our Father.
I am praying for you, as you have the most influence, the most time, and the most potential, that God would open your eyes to the many opportunities we have to point our students to ‘the Name’, as the Jewish people call Him.

Helpful Tips from the Banner of Truth

I am a subscriber to the Banner of Truth magazine. It is a great blessing, as many of the articles come from sermons preached. They challenge my thinking, warm my heart, and draw my attention and focus to God.

While catching up on my reading of them, I thoroughly enjoyed the July 2016 copy, issue 634. The article is titled, “Evangelising [sic] Muslims: Five Points of Entry” by Peter Barnes.[1] I do not want to review the article; rather, I want to share some of the insights that I gained. I also would like to draw attention to some of the ideas that I have been pondering but have yet to put to paper.

The introduction to the article was perhaps the best portion. Barnes writes, “In seeking to make the gospel known to Muslims, we will struggle if we simply follow the guidelines in the book of Acts.”[2] In my opinion, some Christians overemphasize the Scriptures. Now, before you write me off as a heretic please read my explanation. It is possible to follow the Scripture to such an extreme that it violates proper interpretation. For example, the Bible teaches that witches should be executed (Exodus 22.18). Some people attempt to place this command to the nation of Israel on followers of God today. Of course there is a lengthy discussion that should take place on why believers do not follow this practice, but many pick and choose what to follow from the Tanakh. Some people follow marriage advice from the Torah (such as the teaching on divorce and remarriage- see Exodus 24.1-4), or dressing advice (specifically the Scripture that commands men not to dress like women and women not to dress like men- see Deuteronomy 22.5), but they fail to follow the command to execute witches. On the same line, some people desire to strictly follow the teachings of the New Testament on the church. An example of this can be found in the first chapter of C. Douglas Weaver’s book In Search of the New Testament Church: The Baptist Story.[3]

In accordance with this desire to be Bible-based and Scripture-laced, people want to follow the ‘New Testament guide’. While I definitely believe that Scripture is the foundation of faith and is to be sought and practiced, I also see the truth that it is a book with historical grounding in a specific time and culture. This has profound implications on what we practice and how we practice. Zuck clarifies this thought when he writes, “In approaching the Bible it is a self-evident truth that the Bible is a book. Like other books it is written in languages spoken by people for the purpose of communicating ideas from the writers to the readers.”[4] This seems to have been forgotten by many individuals in the church today.

To bring this circle to a close, let us return to Barnes’ statement in his opening paragraph. “In seeking to make the gospel known to Muslims, we will struggle if we simply follow the guidelines in the book of Acts.”[5] It is helpful to remember that the main method of spreading the Gospel initially (see Acts 2-9) was primarily to and through Jewish individuals. Thus the preaching focused on the Messiah and the teaching of his suffering and death.[6] If we were to strictly follow the practice of the early believers found in Acts, our evangelistic efforts, specifically to the Muslim people, will be borderline impossible. My point is not to delve into the methods of evangelism to the people of Islam. Other writers have done an excellent job at this.[7] My point has more to deal with the need for creative and a freedom for believers to engage in different methods of evangelism. Barnes notes Paul’s various methods as referenced in 1 Corinthians 9.19-23.[8] We need to rely on God’s Word for everything. But we also need to realize that there is freedom within that.

Another part of the article that really impressed me was Barnes’ call for peace in discussions. He writes, “We must be kindly interest in them. We ought not begin with a frontal assault on the character of Muhammad or the integrity of the Qur’an.”[9] Since 11 September 2001 the treatment of Muslims has been poor at best and borderline hate crime at worst. And while Barnes’ article focuses on interactions with the Muslim community, the application can be made broader. People of different faiths, genders, sexual orientations, etc., are all treated with contempt and degradation. Paul encourages us to address people “in love”.[10] We commanded to love one another.[11]

Believers should be incredibly careful in their discourse, both personally and digitally. Disagreeing on an issue is not the problem, it is our demeanor. It is no wonder that people do not have a positive view of Christianity when its adherents are so demeaning, arrogant, and rude. Here are some helpful suggestions that I have utilized and have found to be helpful.

  • Never be rude- while this may seem simple, it is profound. I have seen posts referring to those who are voting for Hilary Clinton suggesting that they raise their hands and slap themselves because they are idiots. How in the world is this helpful? Does one actually think that a supporter of Hilary Clinton will see that and suddenly change his or her views? That is almost as ludicrous as posting such a mean-spirited image.
  • Ask questions- generally speaking, questions are much more helpful in interactive dialogue than statements. Of course, it is possible to be rude when asking questions. But assuming we are starting from that point, questions help further mutual understanding. It implies incomplete understanding, and it takes humility to acknowledge that. It also encourages questions from the opposite party, and thus differences and misunderstandings are greatly reduced.
  • Treat that person like you would Jesus- I do not mean bow down and worship them. I do mean that each person you interact with, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, race, age, height, weight, favorite band, and so on, is created in the image of God. That means that every human being you interact with in person or digitally is an image bearer of God Almighty. Treat them that way. Oh, and by the way, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. That is a hefty pill to swallow.
  • Study other people, faiths, etc.- Ignorance means “a lack of knowledge, understanding, or education.”[12] Ignorance is forgivable, but only for a time. If you are attempting to dialogue with another individual, learn as much as you can from that individual’s perspective. If you want to learn more about the Democratic Party, do not go to Fox News. Look into the original sources. Educating yourself on issues, beliefs, and practices will help you understand where the individual is coming from and will help to alleviate misunderstandings.

[1] Peter Barnes. “Evangelising Muslims: Five Points of Entry.” The Banner of Truth, Volume 7, Issue 634, 2016, 7-15.

[2] Barnes, 7.

[3] https://books.google.com/books?id=shbpTq7wqAIC&pg=PA9&dq=new+testament+churches&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjssOya0P3PAhVCGz4KHSugAY8Q6AEIRzAI#v=onepage&q=new%20testament%20churches&f=false. Accessed 28/10/2016.

[4] Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs, Cook Communications: 1991), 59.

[5] Barnes, 7.

[6] Simply peruse through the chapters referenced above and it will become painfully obvious what materials the early evangelists used to spread the good news.

[7] See Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross (Grand Rapids, Baker: 2002) and Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press: 2012).

[8] I preached a message on this titled “Pauline Advice on Blessing Your Block”. You can access that here under that title: http://tnova.org/media.php?pageID=22. Accessed 28/10/2016.

[9] Barnes, 8.

[10] Ephesians 4.15, NIV

[11] 1 John 4.7-21

[12] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ignorance. Accessed 28/10/2016.

Lectio Divina: A Wonderful Experience

“Situated between life as we know it and life in its hoped-for fullness, spiritual practices are imbued with a sense of our relatedness to God, others, and the earth.” [Griffth and Groome, 2012]

That is how the editors Colleen Griffith and Thomas Groome begin their section on ‘The Nature and Purpose of Spiritual Practices’. In my recent reading of the book Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus author Mark Yaconelli writes about “two basic, traditional forms of contemplative prayer to parents and people who minister with young people: lectio divina and centering prayer.” [Yaconelli, 2006] The practice known as lectio divina is of great spiritual value to those who can mine its wealth. Certainly there is wisdom in approaching this carefully, weighing each thought and prayer in balance with the Scriptures. Having that as an understanding, let us move into the practical benefits of lectio divina and the methods.

Yaconelli defines lectio divina as “holy reading”. [Yaconelli, 2006] There is a brief mention of this practice in Scripture (see Acts 8.26-39), and Schneiders describes it as “a rich practice of biblical spirituality of transformative engagement with the Word.” [Griffith and Groome, 2012]

Schneiders continues, “Lectio divina is a four-step process that begins with the slow, leisurely, attentive reading (lectio) and rereading of a biblical text. Often the text is committed to memory in the process. By internalizing the text in its verbal form, one passes on to a rumination or meditation on scripture bear witness to both the spiritual depth and the imaginative breadth to which the process could lead.” [Griffith and Groome, 2012] Schneiders description is brief, and unfortunately does not provide much practical advice.

This is where Yaconelli comes in handy. He provides a five-step method which I shall reproduce for you.

  • Preparation- find a passage of Scripture that can be meditated, contemplated, mined for its wealth. Set the ambiance, light a candle, place a cross or crucifix before you. Use bread and wine. breadwine-63ed983aThese are all symbols (and there are much more) that can bring to mind a thousand thoughts and accounts from Scripture.
  • Silence- Yaconelli recommends finding a quiet place in which you can communicate with God without noise or distraction. The Psalmist recommends being still (Psalm 46.10 uses a word that denotes a complete cessation of activity), so this is the first step.peaceful-place-park
  • Reading- This one seems to stand without saying, but lectio divina requires reading. This reading is different than our normal reading. Sometimes we read for information, other times for leisure. But for this we are “seeking to be with God.” [Yaconelli, 2006] So a short Psalm, a few verses in an epistle work perfectly.
  • Meditation- This step allows the truth of the Scripture to speak through the Holy Spirit about your life, your thoughts, your successes, your failures, you.
  • Oration- This is where you begin to speak to God, you thank Him, beg Him for help. “Honestly express your deepest thoughts, feelings, and desires in a dialogue with God.” [Yaconelli, 2006]
  • Contemplation- I love how Yaconelli describes this last step. “Finally, allow yourself to simply rest in God, like a child resting in her mother’s lap.” [Yaconelli, 2006]

There is a mystical beauty in this practice. Sometimes it may be hard, especially for our western, fact-based thinking. But I close with the story he offers as a magnificent description of lectio divina.

“My wife and I dated in college before the days of e-mail. During the summers, when we were apart, we would write letters to each other. I still remember the excitement of running to the mailbox after each workday, hoping to see a letter with my name written in Jill’s handwriting. Each time I received a letter from my beloved, I would run down to my room, close the door, and then slowly pore over her words. When I read a letter from Jill, it was very different from other forms of reading. I wasn’t seeking to catch up on the news as much as I was seeking to experience Jill. I was seeking to meet her in her letters, to receive her love, to feel her presence and be with her in some way.” [Yaconelli, 2006]