Encouragement From The Word

Instructions Help

In August, my wife and I were given a gently used gazebo by our friends.  We were thinking about getting one, so the price was right, and we were glad to go and pick it up from them!

The catch? No instructions.

With the exception of one hand-drawn sheet from our friends that showed how the corners went together – which was immeasurably valuable, as it turns out – we had to figure out how somewhere around 50 pieces of metal fit together. It involved a lot of standing and staring last Saturday afternoon, and a fair bit of finger-tightening and finger-loosening and finger-tightening again.  (There’s no point in fully tightening something you’re not sure fits in that spot, right?)

Well, 3.5 hours later, we successfully completed putting all the pieces together where IMG_4640they belonged.  The photo gives proof.  Now we just need to get it covered – a task which might get accomplished in the next few days.

I figure that if I had had the assembly instructions, this task could have been accomplished in approximately half the time.  But that extra time is a small price to pay for a free gazebo!

It got me thinking, though, how human beings try to get through life without instructions.  The old joke is that men never ask for directions, and that if Moses had asked for directions, the Israelites would not have wandered in the desert for 40 years! Yet even if we are willing to read a map (old school!) or input an address into a GPS and follow it, in an attempt to get to a specific place, we often are reluctant to follow instructions to progress in day-to-day living.

Someone has said that the word “Bible” is an acronym for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.”  I’m not sure it’s all that simple, but it’s also not all that complicated, either. If we want to put together a puzzle, we look at the picture on the box.  If we want to put together a bookshelf, we read the (wordless) directions from IKEA.  The manufacturer provides instructions that make the process better.

That is, in part, what Scripture is for us:  instructions provided by the manufacturer that make the process – of living – better.

Struggling in life?  Read the Bible – especially the Psalms, wherein you will find every possible emotional response to God – and let the Lord speak into your life through his Word.

How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey.  Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life.  Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119.103-105, NLT).

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Biblical Messages

Near to the Father’s Heart

If you want to know God, you need to know Jesus, who is near to the Father’s heart.  And we know Jesus by reading Scripture.  Listen to, or watch, this message based on John 1.15-18.

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Encouragement From The Word

(Don’t) follow your heart

I’m going to make this short and to the point.

“Follow your heart,” the world says.

And sometimes, the church says it, too.

But what does the Bible say?

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.    Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17.9, NLT).

So pay more attention to your Bible than to your heart.  Your Bible will point you to God.

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

It’s also about us

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was a Jewish Rabbi whose writing was and remains immensely popular.  Last week, I learned a paraphrase of something he said about the Scriptures:  the Bible is not a book that humanity wrote about God, but a book that God wrote about humanity.  Of course, Heschel was writing about the Bible he knew, which we call the Old Testament.  But I think it can be equally applied to both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, from our perspective.

It’s natural for us to turn to the Bible to learn something about God – and we can do just that!  There are two kinds of revelation known to followers of Jesus.  General revelation is the creation around us, the belief that just looking at a snow-capped mountain or a lake as still as glass should lead us to believe in the existence of a benevolent Creator.  Special revelation comes to us in the Word – the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ, and the Word written, which testifies to him.  The Bible does tell us everything we can know about God the Holy Trinity.

But, as Heschel intimates, the Bible is also about us.

When you look in the mirror, you see an accurate reflection of your physical being.  When you read the Bible, you can see an accurate reflection of your spiritual being.  When we read the stories of the people of God in the time before Jesus, we see our own rebellion in theirs.  When we read the Psalms, we see our own emotions reflected in the ancient words.  When we read the New Testament, though, we see something more:  we see an image of what we are called to be.  In the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, we see a reflection of the ethics to which he calls us; in the words of Paul and the other New Testament writers, we see a picture of who we are invited to become as the people of God, individually and collectively as the church.

It may be challenging at times to carve out time to read the Bible, but I encourage you to do that every day.  There is no part of God’s Word on which we cannot reflect.  Every part of the Bible is equally inspired; of course, it is not all equally applied, but the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom, along with the tradition of the faith in which we find ourselves, to discern how best to grapple with any and every part of the Word.

When you read the Bible, look for God.  And look for yourself.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3.16, NLT).

Biblical Messages

THE TALK: 3. Latitude in Gratitude

A hard talk about sex on Thanksgiving Sunday might seem difficult or awkward, so I opted today to talk about the biblical foundation on which we base our Christian sexual ethics.  Based on Psalm 119.97-112 and 2 Timothy 3.10-17, you can listen to the message here:

As a response to the message, everyone was invited to come forward with a ‘leaf’ each had been given at the beginning of the service, on which a treasured Scripture verse had been written.  Here is the result!  thumb_IMG_1871_1024

Book Reviews

Book Review: “Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer” by Rowan Williams

On a Facebook recommendation, I pre-ordered, and received quickly from Amazon.ca, the latest publication by Rowan Williams, entitled,  Being Christian:  41YEga+-9rL._SL500_AA300_Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Eerdmans, 2014).  It is a surprisingly small book, at under ninety pages.  And it is a quick read; it arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon, and I had it completed before going to sleep (with several other needful things done in between).

I recommend this book for those looking for a basic refresher on some of these fundamental aspects of what it means to follow Jesus.  As the subtitle suggests, he writes (about twenty pages on each) about the meaning and implications of the sacrament of Baptism, how we read (or hear) the Bible, what it means to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and then gives a brief summary of three views on the Lord’s Prayer (from Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Cassian, all classic Christian writers from early [pre-AD 600] Christianity).

Williams is clear, concise, and accessible in his writing style.  He writes with a modest Anglican bias, which the reader would only expect coming from the immediate past Archbishop of Canterbury!  But even with that ‘filter’, Williams could be read quite satisfactorily by an inquirer, or by a believer from any branch of the church.

There were six especially helpful learning points that I noted for myself in the book:

  • In the Eastern Christian tradition, some icons for the baptism of Jesus depict Jesus up to his neck in water, with river gods, representing chaos being overcome, beneath the water.  The old ways are always trying to claim us back.
  • The Bible is, in a way, our own story, so history matters when reading Scripture.
  • In the Eucharist, Jesus is telling us he wants our company.
  • Prayer is about changing your attitude.
  • Prayer is a promise to God.
  • This one deserves to be quoted:  “[Prayer] is opening our minds and hearts and saying to the Father, ‘Here is your Son, praying in me through the Holy Spirit.  Please listen to him, because I want him to be working, acting and loving in me'” (p. 80).

Reflection and discussion questions are provided at the end of each chapter for use by individuals or groups.  This is a short and helpful read, and I recommend it.

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).