Encouragement From The Word

God’s Love Letter

How do you read the Bible?  By that I mean, do you read it to gain information, or do you read it to hear God speak to you?

These two are by no means mutually exclusive; I love it when, in my reading the Bible in preparation to preach, for example, God also takes the passage and speaks to my heart.

Most of the time, we tend to read Scripture to “get something out of it”, like the consumers the world has shaped us to be.  Too often, though, our desire to get something out of it comes with an agenda.

What if we could read the Bible, and let God set the agenda?

Think of the Bible not as a newspaper to be scoured, only to line a bird cage later; think of it as a love letter from God.  We read love letters differently than we read newspapers.  There is more interest; there is deeper engagement.

There is an ancient practice in the Christian tradition that in Latin is called lectio divina; in English we just call it ‘holy reading’.  Once we prepare ourselves with silence and peace, there are five movements in the process of holy reading (thanks to Ruth Haley Barton for the alliteration):

  • Read.  Read the passage you’ve chosen slowly, allowing the words to sink in.  Perhaps a word or phrase may jump out at you; take note of it, and after theimages-1 passage is finished, keep a few minutes’ silence to pray over that word or phrase.
  • Reflect.  Read the passage once again, and keep silence to ask how that word or phrase you identified speaks into your life right now.
  • Respond.  Read the passage yet again, and in silence, respond to your reflection; pray with and over your word or phrase, to let God know your feelings about it.
  • Rest.  Read the passage a final time, and use your time in silence to rest in the Lord.  Soak in his presence, and be open to how God may move.
  • Resolve.  This final step encourages you to live out the experience you have just had, letting that word or phrase stay with you for the day or the week or however long God may want it to stay with you.  Let it live in you as you let the Holy Spirit live God’s life in and through you.

This process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours if you want it to.  Give it a try; read the Bible like a love letter from the One who loves you unlike anyone else can.

“…you are precious to me.  You are honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43.4b, NLT).


Summer Reading 2013

Summer is often a time when we can slow down and do things we really enjoy.  For me, one of those things is reading.  It’s been a while since I suggested some good summer reading for you, so I’ll take the opportunity to do that now.  Of course, you could read these at any time of the year you wish!  But here’s a short list of books that will help build your faith and encourage you in your growing walk with the Lord.  I put this list in our church’s summer edition of the newsletter.

Ruth Haley Barton,  Invitation to Silence and Solitude (InterVarsity Press, 2010)

Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms (InterVarsity Press, 2006)

Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership (InterVarsity Press, 2008)

These three books by Barton give a good introduction to practical ways to be formed spiritually in the Lord.  It is her video study we’re doing throughout much of June and July at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton.  I have heard her speak in person, and her writing is just as compelling.  She has been a ground-breaking writer in the field of spiritual formation for many Christians.  Her writing style is easy to read and you’ll find great helps for building your faith.

Michael Mangis, Signature Sins (InterVarsity Press, 2008)

Mangis’ thesis in this book is that the seven “deadly” sins, as they once were called, can be seen as the foundational sins from which our typical sin patterns emerge.  It’s likely, he says, that we each have a “signature” sin from among the seven.  What we often find ourselves confessing is not sin but symptoms of sin, and that, as Dallas Willard said, we tend to engage in sin management more than anything else.  Each chapter closes with useful questions for reflection, and there is a group study guide at the back.

Robert Mulholland, Invitation to a Journey (InterVarsity Press, 1993)

While this book is by no means new, it is an excellent overview of what it means to be formed in Christ.  Mulholland correctly identifies that our spiritual formation is not something we do just for ourselves, but that it happens for the sake of others.

These are just a few books that can accompany you to the real or virtual hammock this summer.  Enjoy the rest, and remember to keep growing!

Biblical Messages

CHRISTIANITY 101: Encore! Encore!

We don’t hear much about the second coming of Christ in the church nowadays.  Maybe it’s because the church has patiently waited for so long, we have lost our enthusiasm about it.  Yet Jesus speaks about it with some frequency, and the other New Testament writers expected his return within their lifetimes.  We do well not to ignore it!

This message is based on Matthew 25.1-13 and can be listened to by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

The gift of silence












Did you enjoy that moment of silence?


Of course, if you’re like me, you probably scrolled through quickly and wondered what was wrong with the way I posted today’s Encouragement.  I did it intentionally!  I wanted to give you a moment of silence in your day.  Most of us don’t get that, do we?


In a world filled with noise, good and bad, silence is a foreign thing to us.  Some folks are afraid of silence; they feel the need to fill each moment with some sort of sound.  Silence, though, can be said to be God’s first language.  Certainly my experience is that I can hear from God best when I open myself to a time of silence.


Do you build time for silence into your day?  For those who are introverts or who live alone, it can be easier to do; irrespective of our preferences or living arrangements, though, God invites us to times of silence.


Be still, and know that I am God”, said the Lord through the Psalmist (Psalm 46.10a, NIV).  That phrase “Be still” can also be translated, “Let go of your grip.”  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I look down and find my hands clenched into fists for no particular reason – it’s as if I’m holding on for dear life to something, but there’s nothing there!


When we let go of our grip, we can give up control to the God who made the world and made us for a relationship of love.  When we are still, then we can truly know that the Lord is God.  When we are quiet, we can engage in relationship with the Lord and hear him speaking into our souls.


Why not take a few minutes, right now, to be still, to let go of your grip, and to know that the Lord is God?  Give yourself five minutes; time it if you feel you need to.  Perhaps begin yours silence by inviting the Lord to speak, as Samuel did:  “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3.10b, NIV).  When you’re done, write down in a journal (or whatever scrap of paper is handy) how the Lord spoke to you through that time.


Here’s some more space for silence.












God’s best for your weekend.  Maybe you can set aside some time for silence again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day…

Encouragement From The Word

What do you want Jesus to do for you?

At St. Paul’s, Nobleton, we have a small group discussing a video series by Ruth Haley Barton entitled Sacred Rhythms, based on her book of the same title.  In lastBlind Bartimaeus Mark 10:46-52 night’s introductory study, we looked at the story of Bartimaeus in Mark 10.46-52.  In it, Jesus asks a deeply probing question:  “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51).

Most of the time, when we read Scripture, we read it to gather information.  Yet we can read Scripture to shape our lives.  As I’ve been known to say, information fills the mind, but formation shapes the person.  We can read the story of Bartimaeus to learn about the plight of the blind in the first century, and we can read it to place ourselves in the story, even opening ourselves to have Jesus ask us, “What do you want me to do for you?

Have you ever considered that?  Have you ever opened yourself to express your deepest desires to Jesus?

Because Jesus is God, he already knows our deepest desires, but there is something powerful, something intimate, about expressing them ourselves.  It’s like telling our spouse what we want to experience sexually – it’s that intimate, and arguably more so.

Perhaps that can be, today, your entry point into a more intimate relationship with the Lord.  Sit quietly as you ponder what you most want from the Lord.  Take time to tell him your deepest desires.  Allow yourself to be shaped by the Holy Spirit as you express them.

Why not do it right now?

Encouragement From The Word

Living close to God’s heart

As followers of Jesus, we often hear about the importance of knowing and following God’s will.  Yet, it seems so elusive, doesn’t it?  Like looking for a needle in a haystack – or a lost coin or a lost sheep or a lost son.  After all, we aren’t born with an owner’s manual; we don’t know exactly what we’re designed to do.  So often, that is discerned by trial and (lots of) error.

That said, we do have the Bible as God’s written Word to us.  While it may not contain every specific thing for our lives (there is no index telling us whether to buy a particular house, for example), it does contain some general principles that help us know God’s will for us.  Indeed, there is no other written source by which we may know even a hint of God’s will!

Of course, God can speak to our hearts through other sources, but those other sources will either underline or corroborate biblical principles.  Our goal, in the end, is not for us to properly fulfill some sort of divine checklist of things we’ve done that are “God’s will.”  Instead, our goal is to become more like Jesus.

David Benner is a Christian spiritual writer who lives on Vancouver Island; I commend any of his books to your interest.  He has said, “Learning to desire God’s will is not something we can accomplish by resolve and willpower.  It occurs only when we live so close to God’s heart that the rhythm of our own heartbeat comes to reflect the divine pulse.”  Perhaps you know what it’s like to be so intimate with someone that you can feel the beat of that person’s heart.  We can experience that with God, too.  God longs for us to share that degree of intimacy with him.

When we pray – when we enter God’s holy presence at more than just mealtime – we have the opportunity to grow in intimacy with him.  When we serve the poor, we have the opportunity to grow in intimacy with him.  When we read the Scriptures and learn from biblical teaching, we have the opportunity to grow in intimacy with God.  Anything we do that drew the passion of Jesus in his ministry as recorded in Scripture can draw us closer to God’s heart, and have us living in God’s will.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NLT).