Encouragement From The Word

Bible reading: it’s not a race

Among the masters of marketing in the Christian world are Bible publishers.  Name your favourite Bible teacher, theological preference, addiction, colour, binding material, or translation, and there’s a Bible published with that target audience in mind.  For the most part, my thought on this is, Hey, if it gets people in the Word, go for it.  But there is one that can, sometimes, do less good than we think.

It’s the “one year” Bible.

Now, I know that the editors and publishers are of noble intent; their goal is to get people to read the Bible every day for a year, and they’ve created a one year biblerubric to make that happen.  And I’ll gladly admit that I’d rather someone read the whole Bible in a year than not read it at all, or read it only sporadically.

My quarrel with this approach is simple:  reading the Bible isn’t a race.

My contention – not original, by any means – is that the Bible is intended to be a love letter from God.  And the last time I checked, nobody speed-reads a love letter.  When we get a love letter, even a card, we hang on every word, reading it over and over again, so we can take into the depths of our being the intended expression of the writer.

Too often, reading through the Bible in a year seems more like a task to be accomplished and ‘checked off the list’ rather than a delight in which we savour every word.  Don’t get me wrong:  I am glad to see people read through the Bible, and I encourage it.  But I would rather see someone take 5 years to read through the Bible, listening for God to speak through his Word and prayerfully lingering over passages as the Spirit guides, than to rush through it and simply say it’s been done.

By all means, follow a Bible reading guide if that helps you; different options are available from organizations such as the Canadian Bible Society.  But if it takes you longer than a year to get through it, don’t beat yourself up.  It could be that the Lord prompts you to read the same passage every day for a week; if God has a message for you from that passage and it takes a week for you to absorb it and begin to apply it in your life, so be it!  There’s no ‘best before’ date on the Bible – all of it will still be there when God prompts you to leave one passage and move on to another.

Linger over the Word prayerfully.  If God encourages you to spend time meditating even on a phrase, or a word, then do it.  It is time well spent if that’s how the Lord is going to speak to you.  In that intimate time, you might even find yourself memorizing some or all of that passage, and that’s God at work in you, too – if my own experience is any gauge, you’ll probably find that memorizing a passage comes in handy for a situation in which you’ll find yourself later on.

Do read the Bible every day, but don’t feel you need to get through it in a specified period of time.  Savour the Word.  Enjoy the Word.  Let God speak to your heart through it, and your relationship with him will be deepened even more.

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119.10-11, NIV).

Encouragement From The Word

Who makes headlines in your life?

Sometimes, I’m amazed at how shallow news reporting has become.  Yesterday, there were two stories that made top headlines on radio and justin-biebertelevision news where I live:  the arrest of Justin Bieber in Florida for driving while intoxicated and street racing, and the delay of a speech to be given by the Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, because he was stuck in a hotel service elevator for 45 minutes.

To certain demographic groups, these were important stories:  namely, teenaged girls and elevator repair personnel (and maybe Toronto city hall reporters).  Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, real, life-altering stories continued to unfold.  Protests in the Ukraine which may lead to a coup d’état are taking place; and the slaughter of innocent civilians in the civil war in Syria persists.  There are countless other atrocities taking place across the globe in these days, but we find ourselves concerned with celebrities instead.

Attempts were made to create a celebrity of Jesus.  Folks wanted him to make headlines in whatever was the version of the Jerusalem Post in the first century.  But he would have none of it.  He wasn’t into self-glorification.

Yet the irony is that Jesus was the only person ever to walk this earth who had every right to glorify himself!  He was God in the flesh, for heaven’s sake (and for ours)!  Who better to bring glitz and glamour to the realm of faith than the fully human, fully divine God-man Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ?

But Jesus didn’t come to be part of a stage show.  He came to unveil the Kingdom of God.  It would take many pages to explain (in our own limited way) what it means to unveil the Kingdom of God.  But Jesus came to do just that.

Yet, even in the first century, people preferred sizzle to steak.  People followed Jesus everywhere he went, but most of them were not looking for the unveiling of the Kingdom of God; they were looking for a miracle.  And they often misunderstood Jesus and his motives.

We have the advantage, living as followers of Jesus today, to be able to read the Bible and get a clearer picture of Jesus’ motives and ministry.  This enables us to follow him not because he is a celebrity, but because he is God’s one and only Son, Saviour of the world and revealer of the Kingdom.

Let’s face it:  it’s easier – meaning, more socially acceptable – to cheer for Bieber or not cheer for Ford than it is to follow Jesus.  It was easier then, too.  Remember Barabbas?  The crowd called for the release of a known criminal and for the crucifixion of the One who came to show them what God really was like.

Those making headlines today are not giving us even examples to emulate, let alone eternal salvation in the presence of the Creator of the universe.  Who will you follow?

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118.9, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Who do you say I am?

Jesus asked this pivotal question in an important location:  Caesarea Philippi, at the foot of Mount Hermon.  It was a centre of pagan worship.

The story is recounted for us in Matthew 16.13-20.  Listen to the message here:

A few photos referred to in the message:

The Gates of Hell: the grotto of Pan at Caesarea Philippi, November 30, 2013
The Gates of Hell: the grotto of Pan at Caesarea Philippi, November 30, 2013
Niches carved into the base of Mount Hermon, November 30, 2013
Niches carved into the base of Mount Hermon, November 30, 2013
An artist's depiction of Caesarea Philippi in the time of Jesus
An artist’s depiction of Caesarea Philippi in the time of Jesus
Encouragement From The Word

Scrapbooking the spiritual life

Lately, my wife has busied her evenings with scrapbooking.  She’s not one of those scrapbookers – you know who you are! – who work meticulously and carefully on the exact placement of every photo, who scour the Internet to find exactly the right design and paper and theme, and, and…  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

No.  She creates a scrapbook for a singular purpose:  to create an authentic memory of an experience that she can look back on, and share with scrapbookothers.  Yes, she spends a bit of time on it, and it looks amazing when she’s finished, but it’s more about creating a memory than a piece of art.

When I meet with people seeking spiritual direction, I sometimes ask if they keep a journal.  For some, it’s a passion.  For others, it’s a ‘binge’ thing.  For still others, it’s an unknown discipline.  I like to think of journalling as a form of scrapbooking the spiritual life.

Like scrapbooking, everybody who journals does so in her or his unique way, and there’s no prescribed right way to do it:  it is, after all, a form of personal expression.  The biggest difference is that our journals are not normally shown to others.  They are our own visual dialogues with God.

Journalling can be a helpful discipline for those who struggle to pray; writing out a prayer in one’s journal can be a way of focusing the mind on the task at hand.  It also helps to expose what our common prayer pattern can be.  Is our prayer more like a love letter or a grocery list?  Is it more like a lecture or a lament?  Or something else?  Achieving balance in our prayer life is a good goal toward which to move, and journalling our prayers can help us review what our prayers are like.  Ideally, it is helpful to spend time, when we pray, praising God for who he is, confessing our sin, giving God thanks for what he has done, and offering our requests and concerns.

When we are intentional about including these different aspects of prayer, it can make us want to pray even more.  And when we journal these prayers, we can, as we would with a scrapbook, look back on it in years to come to see how our relationship with God has changed over time.   For me, as for many people, this leads to more prayer – especially thanksgiving.

I know some people who draw in their journals, expressing their thoughts to God pictorially.  Not all of them are necessarily even ‘artists’, as such, but they believe God gives them the drawing, and they share it as an expression of faith.

Have you ever thought about scrapbooking your spiritual life?

And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21.5, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Trust It’s Enough

Jesus took five loaves and two fish, thanked God for it, and fed 5,000 with it – and had leftovers!  Do we trust God with what he gives us?

You can listen to “Trust It’s Enough”, based on Mark 6.30-43, here:  


Here are the photos from the Holy Land that I showed in the message:

A mosaic in the floor of the Heptapegon, at the Tabgha Benedictine Monastery.
A mosaic in the floor of the Heptapegon, at the Tabgha Benedictine Monastery.


The altar in the Church of the Heptapegon, covering the rock on which Jesus blessed the loaves and fish.  Notice the mosaic of loaves and fish on the floor below.
The altar in the Church of the Heptapegon, covering the rock on which Jesus blessed the loaves and fish. Notice the mosaic of loaves and fish on the floor below.

The northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, looking toward Tabgha.

The northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, looking toward Tabgha.