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).

Encouragement From The Word

What does the Bible say?

October 31 is an important day, but maybe not for the reason you think.

Yes, October 31 is also the day candy sellers and dentists everywhere look forward to each year, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

October 31 – tomorrow – marks a very important day in the history of Christianity. It was on October 31, 1517, that a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther decided to post 95 ideas he had derived, as a result of reading the New Testament, for reforming the church from within.

Now, when I say, “post”, I’m talking old school here: he did not post them on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram. He literally nailed these notions to the big wooden door of the cathedral church in Wittenberg, Germany. It wasn’t all that odd; it was the normal way of disseminating information. It was the social media of the day. (Remember, even the printing press was a relatively new innovation at this point.)

The idea was that other scholars would read what Luther had written, and there would be dialogue and debate about how to make these ideas work for the benefit of the church.

However, some ordinary folks (read: not scholars) got hold of these ideas, because someone had taken them down and sent them to a printing press for wide dissemination. And when the ordinary folks got hold of these ideas, they ran with them, and went even further than Luther wanted to go.

Thus began the Protestant Reformation, on October 31, 1517.

Luther’s idea wasn’t to start a new church, but to make the Roman church better. And though Protestantism, and its many denominations, saw birth in the Reformation, there was good that came out of it for the Roman church, too, as it reformed from within.

It depends on one’s perspective, I suppose, but while some would see the Reformation as a celebration of the breakup of the church, others see it as a call to get back to the Scriptures. Much of what has been emphasized in Protestantism has been a call to ask, “What does the Bible say about this?”

As you mark Reformation day tomorrow (perhaps with copious amounts of candy), think about the many matters that go through your mind, and on which you must make decisions. Then ask yourself, “What does the Bible say about this?” That will be an apt celebration indeed.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119.105, NIV).

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).