Encouragement From The Word

The Bible: As Handy As Your Cell Phone?

            If you’ve got email, you get things forwarded to you periodically.  It’s just a fact of life.  And, like snail mail, a fair bit of what you get is recyclable immediately, and some of it is worth reading (and maybe re-reading).  I got one of the latter-type of emails forwarded to me the other day, and I thought you might find it as thought-provoking and worthwhile as I did.


            It says:


Ever wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phone?

What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?

What if we flipped through it several time a day?What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?


What if we used it to receive messages from the text?

What if we treated it like we couldn’t live without it?

What if we gave it to kids as gifts?

What if we used it when we travelled?

What if we used it in case of emergency?

This is something to make you say, “Hmm…where is my Bible?”

Oh, and one more thing:  Unlike our cell phone, we don’t have to worry about our Bible being disconnected, because Jesus already paid the bill!

Makes you stop and think, “Where are my priorities?” And no dropped calls!



            Cell phones are common, everyday appliances now.  We take them for granted, but we still carry them around, because we use them all the time.  Wouldn’t it be great if, though we take the Bible for granted, we still used it all the time?


            The long-winded but profound and faithful writer of Psalm 119 penned, “Your decrees are wonderful.  No wonder I obey them!  As your words are taught, they give light; even the simple can understand them” (Psalm 119.129-130, NLT).  We know the Bible is wonderful.  Do we read it as the wonderful volume that it is?


            We might think that carrying around the Bible is just a little too holy for us, but consider that there are so many options:  “pocket” Bibles have been around for – get this – centuries!  The pocket Bible is not an invention of the 20th century publishing houses.  There have been ‘thumb’ Bibles and ‘finger’ Bibles – with print that would tax even the healthiest eyes – since pioneering days, and before.  Why?  Simple:  a ‘portable’ Bible allows us to carry God’s Word around with us, to spend time reading it when we are idle, to help us share truth with others.  Scripture exists in many different formats because God’s Word matters.


            What the Lord says to us in his Word is as much a matter of life and death as the 9-1-1 call you make with your cell phone.  Most of us wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without our cell phones; what about our Bibles?



Book Reviews

REVEAL: Where are You?

When it was announced to the Christian world in 2007 that one of the largest churches in North America was admitting to making strategic errors in its disciple-making process, a lot of people paid attention


Willow Creek Community Church, a suburban Chicago congregation that has blazed a trail for churches all over the world that yearn to reach seekers, realized that, while they were still growing – even putting up a new, larger worship space – they were at risk of sustaining significant losses from among the congregation’s most mature believers.  It was time to reassess.  That was 2004.


The staff, along with a market research consultant, took three years to look at how ministry was being done, and how it could be done more effectively.  Various surveys were conducted, both in-house and among six other ‘test’ congregations.  The results of this reassessment are summarized in REVEAL:  Where Are You? (Willow Creek Resources, 2007).


The biggest question that was faced was the matter of how one quantitatively measures spiritual development.  It was generally assumed at Willow that deeper involvement in church programs yielded more mature followers of Christ.  But that method, according to their research, was flawed.  Not only did they learn that involvement in many programs did not necessarily bring about a deeper life in Christ, they also learned that the more mature that the believer becomes, the less she or he tends to rely on the local church as a place for spiritual growth.


This is a short read – a matter of just a couple of hours.  The book is attractively designed with full-colour, easily-understood graphs and well-written text.  It leaves one wanting to read more.


Good news:  there is more.  The follow-up volume, FOLLOW ME:  What’s Next For You? is next on my reading pile.


I love the humility with which Willow Creek has undertaken not only to reverse the trend they were seeing in their own congregation, but to share it with the rest of the world, so that churches everywhere may benefit from what they have learned.  That’s a Kingdom mentality that would be amazing to see in more places.

Encouragement From The Word

Free Pass

Last Friday, my wife and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary.  There’s generally not too much hoopla in our house over our anniversary, though I usually try to surprise Diana in some way, usually with dinner.  I always tell her, when she asks where we’re going, that we’re going to Subway.  Of course, she’s smart enough to figure out that this is usually a decoy, since I’ve used the same shtick for several years now.

What I had planned was to take her to the Olive Garden.  The only problem with that is that the closest one is in Buffalo, New York.  So, when she was otherwise distracted, I took her birth certificate from its (thankfully) usual place, and at the appointed time, we went for a drive.  By the time we left the greater Toronto area, she was pretty sure we weren’t going to Subway!

By the time we crossed the border at Lewiston, NY, she had figured out where we were going.  We stopped for a little shopping, went to the restaurant, celebrated our life together, and then prepared to drive home.  For a change of scenery (as much as that mattered in the dark and the rain), we decided to cross back at Fort Erie.

The traffic was light, and there were no lineups to worry about at the border.  Then, when we stopped at the toll plaza to pay our bridge toll, we were greeted by a young woman with a big smile who said, “It’s your lucky day!  You can go ahead!  Somebody’s EZPass left the gate open for you!”

So we smiled, thanked her, and drove on – toll-free.

Several things entered my mind over this.

First, the young woman at the toll plaza could easily have charged me the $3.00 and pocketed it.  But she didn’t; she was honest.

Second, she could have charged me the $3.00 and put it in the till; she had the right to, since I had crossed the bridge and deserved to pay.

And third, isn’t that much like what God has done for us in Jesus Christ?  In this life, we deserve to pay for our sins.  We deserve nothing short of death.  But God, in his great mercy, provided the toll that needed to be paid in order for us to be free.  As Paul told the Corinthians, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5.21, NLT).

God could have made us pay.  But instead, he gave us Jesus.

Do you still think you can make it on your own merit, on your own strength?  You can’t.  Only Jesus could.  Trust him to pay the toll for your sins today!


The Demise of Christian Retail in Canada? Maybe, but…

I have heard and read today that as of yesterday afternoon, R.G. Mitchell Family Books of Willowdale, Ontario, has been placed in receivership.  Mitchell’s was the largest distributor-retailer of Christian literature in Canada.  This follows on the heels of the folding of Canada’s largest-ever Christian bookstore chain, Blessings Christian Marketplace, which has been whittled down to four stores in western Canada from a nationwide high of 27 stores.  (Make no mistake:  the way in which Blessings closed so many of its stores had an impact on Mitchell’s which has contributed to the loss of Mitchell’s.  This has been a multifaceted situation.)

Does this foretell the demise of Christian retail in Canada?  Maybe, but I doubt it – for a number of reasons.

Say what we will about the state of the North American economy, people still make sure that they have enough money for what they want to spend it on – and they will go to the greatest lengths to ensure that they get their money’s worth.  Thanks to online retailers like Amazon and Chapters, competition for book-shopping dollars has grown ever fiercer.  And with organizations like the Canadian Bible Society entering the online retail world through www.biblescanada.com, the competition can only get stronger.

The market for Christian products is small compared with, say, the market for 2% milk or the market for John Grisham novels.  And overhead costs contribute to the higher price of Christian literature.  But there’s nothing to endear a customer to a retailer – online or in-store – like good, old-fashioned customer service.

Customer service (either retail or wholesale) was not R.G. Mitchell’s strong suit, at least not in recent years.  What’s more, the online economy has redefined customer service, to a certain extent.  Speed of service (i.e. shipping) and reasonable prices are demanded by the customer today.  And, in the online community, if the vendor treats the customer like a human being, that goes a long way, too.

Now, I’m no marketer, and no expert in retailing. But I am a consumer, a customer.  And I know what makes me loyal to a vendor.  Mitchell’s did nothing to enjoin my loyalty, and if there were others like me, it is not much of a surprise that Mitchell’s is folding.

If you are in the Greater Toronto Area, you have alternatives!  There are fine Christian retail outlets at Speelman’s (Steeles Avenue just west of Kipling) and Crux Books (behind Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto, on Hoskin Avenue).  And, of course, for Bibles, there’s the Canadian Bible Society, one block west of Victoria Park and Lawrence.  There may be others – feel free to respond with your suggestions.

And if you’re a Christian retailer reading this?  I know that you face many difficulties, and you’re not getting rich on Christian retail.  With a distribution change, things may get better for you.  If you focus on providing excellent service to your customers, and sell at prices that are competitive, you will survive, maybe even thrive.  And if you consider an online presence, that increases your chances, in my opinion.

Another option, being tried by the Canadian Bible Society, is to ‘franchise’ Christian literature into churches, and perhaps other retailers, so that edifying material is conveniently available to people.

One thing we cannot give up on, and that is the dissemination of Christian reading material – the Bible, first and foremost – to people in a convenient manner and at an affordable price.  This can be a rallying point for Christians and churches all over the world.

Encouragement From The Word

That’s *Your* Interpretation!

            I can remember several quasi-theological conversations from my youth, when I was a new Christian.  When I first came to faith, I was filled with wonder about God, so I read the Bible as much as time would allow (which probably wasn’t all that much, I should admit).  But my enthusiasm allowed me to ingest a whole lot of information in a fairly brief time.  And as one who always had a willingness to share whatever information I had acquired, doing so led regularly to conversations about the Bible that, with some folks, would invariably end with, “Well, that’s your interpretation.”


            Chances are, you and I have either been on the giving or receiving end of a phrase like that at some point in our Christian walk – assuming we dare to discuss our faith with others!  How do we deal with it?


            In an age of moral relativism, where the society’s ethos expects that we will not believe in, let alone apply, moral absolutes, it can be quite challenging to attempt to set down moral absolutes, even in casual conversation.  Yet, if we dig down deep, any sane human being will admit that there have to be some absolutes in this life, or we would live in chaos.


            It has been famously noted that saying that there are no such things as absolutes is a statement of absolute, and therefore there must be such things as absolutes.  (It’s true:  read it again, slowly.)  Think for a moment what would happen if a red light at an intersection didn’t always mean “STOP!”  If I were to say that, “Red lights don’t always mean I must stop to let opposing traffic proceed,” I would very quickly sustain, and probably inflict, significant injury.


            Some people will respond by saying, “That’s different.”


            Oh?  How is that different?  Is it different because it doesn’t make us feel uncomfortable, or challenged?  That’s often where comments like “That’s your interpretation” come from – a sense of discomfort.


            How do we deal with comments like that?  Since the conversation is about the Bible, one could ask (with a winsome smile, please), “What’s your interpretation, then?”  If the person has spent time in the Scriptures, he or she may actually have a way of looking at the text that can illumine your understanding of the Bible, and that’s all to the good.  If the person doesn’t have an interpretation of the text, that will either end the conversation or offer you an open door for true dialogue – and we always hope for the latter.


            It’s also helpful for us to know how to read the Bible.  Many people are afraid of the concept of reading the Bible literally, because they fear that passages can be taken out of context and used to literally abuse people.  But that’s not what reading the Bible literally means.  To read the Bible literally means to read it within its original literary context.  For example, if Jesus begins a sentence with the word “Suppose”, it’s probably safe to say that what he’s about to describe probably never actually happened.  That doesn’t mean that the principle he’s teaching isn’t true, it just means that the illustration he’s using is merely that – an illustration – and not an historical fact.  It’s something that points us to a greater truth.


            We often find trouble when interpreting passages from the Old Testament.  If we think about the Old Testament ‘living codes’, they fell into three categories:  ethical, ceremonial, and social.  The ethical codes still apply, because they transcend culture.  The ceremonial codes were rendered unnecessary by the atoning work of Jesus on the cross.  And the social codes applied only to the culture of the time.   There can be some disagreement on what matters fall under which codes, but in general, they will be pretty obvious.


             This just touches the surface of what it means to interpret the Bible, as well as to dialogue with others about the interpretation of the Bible, but I hope that, no matter how you choose to help others understand Scripture, you will do so in a loving manner.  Our desire is not always to have someone else read the Bible exactly like we do, but to have them follow Jesus with a full heart.


            Jesus said, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come.  I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets.  No, I came to accomplish their purpose.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved” (Matthew 5.17-18, NLT).  Let us all, as we interpret Scripture, help its purpose to be achieved.

Bike for Bibles, Encouragement From The Word

Keeping Promises

            I like to be known as someone who keeps his promises.  Back in July, I made a promise.


            At the end of the Bike For Bibles Ontario Ride, I told our gathered throng of riders, roadies and supporters that if they raised $17,500 by the end of August, I would cut off the considerable handlebars that had grown on my moustache over the past year, and send a commemorative photo to every rider.


            I decided to practise a little grace, and stretched the rules so that I could include in that total any amounts that I knew were coming, but had yet to come in.  And with that in mind, our riders have risen to the challenge and have raised more than the goal set out.  Congratulations, riders!


            The Ontario Bike For Bibles ride raised funds for the provision of Bibles to new immigrants, and specifically students of English as a second language in church-based programs, under the title, “The Word of Welcome”.  Thanks to our riders, roadies, and supporters – including all our donors – these folks who are new to Canada, and new to an understanding of God’s love, will receive their own copy of the life-giving Word of God. 


            That, to me, is worth the loss of a few inches of facial hair.  Here are the before and after pictures (courtesy of my wife):




A promise about a moustache isn’t much of a promise, I know.  But if I hadn’t kept it, how trustworthy would I have been to keep a promise of some importance?


            Little things matter.  Jesus told the story of ten servants, each of whom was given a sum to invest for him while their master was away.  To the first servant, who brought back ten times as much as he had been given, the master said, “‘Well done!’… ‘You are a trustworthy servant.  You have been faithful with the little I entrusted to you, so you will be governor of ten cities as your reward’” (Luke 19.17, NLT).  Jesus wasn’t talking about rewards here as much as he was talking about the importance of being faithful, and keeping our word – as a means of honouring God.


            We’ve all met someone who has been less-than-faithful in keeping promises.  God is not like that!  God, by his very nature, keeps his promises.  Contrary to popular belief, there are a few things God cannot do.  One of them is lie.  Because if God were to lie, he would cease to be God.


            I’m grateful to those who are making gifts toward our Bike For Bibles cause (which you can still do at www.bikeforbibles.ca).  And I’m grateful that God always keeps his promises – promises that mean much more than a moustache!