Being disciplined about disciplines

holding-bible-lr

At the beginning of the year, I decided to try out a couple of different ideas on how to read my Bible this year. All of these have revolved around short, attainable goals (something my friend Steve McCoy has been strongly advocating of late).

The whole purpose of this isn’t to make life easier when it comes to disciplining oneself, but to create momentum. So many of us set goals planning to read the Bible in a year and wind up throwing in the towel within three to six months for one reason: the long-term goal doesn’t create check-points along the way. So if you miss a day, it’s harder to adjust. If you miss a week, it’s a lost cause. It’s hard to keep up any sort of momentum without having somewhere to stop, catch your breath and say, “Yep, I accomplished this thing.”

This has been really helpful for me since it’s allowed me to be a little more focused and intentional with my reading of Scripture. So, I fired up Logos and started making a couple of different plans:

In January, I did an overview of the Bible’s big story, hitting key points from Genesis through Revelation. Although the plan’s choices of passages weren’t always my favorite (I think it missed a few key ones, like most of Isaiah), it was still super-helpful, not because I don’t know the big story, but because it’s so necessary to keep it fresh in my thinking. All of us can become so consumed with minutiae or on a particular cause that we forget that the Bible really is a story about God’s redemption of His people.

Take the issue of poverty, for example. When we’re focused on the cause—caring for the poor—we tend to read passages in isolation. But if we don’t read Isaiah 58 in light of Israel’s idolatry problem and the economic aspects of the Mosaic Law, or Isaiah 61 as being explicitly Messianic, or the Beatitudes without the backdrop of Genesis 3, what do we have? Moralism. We wind up putting ourselves at the center of the story, and determine that it’s our job to fix the world . In other words, we have a thoroughly gospel-less—and therefore thoroughly anti-Christian—approach to the subject.

But putting the issue of poverty into the context of the redemptive story changes how we approach it—we see ourselves as being poor, and Christ being extravagantly generous, pouring Himself out on our behalf. We begin to have less concern for trying to save the world (for the world is not ours to save), and greater concern for how caring for the poor is a matter of worship, something we do in response to how great and wonderful Christ is.

(And for more on that, I’ll direct you to this book over here.)

In February, I started a pretty aggressive reading goal: to read the entire New Testament in 31 days. (I’m a couple of days behind, but hey, 33 days is pretty darn good, I think…) This has been a really great exercise, not because I’m trying to retain anything in major—when you’re reading between up to 16 chapters in a day, you’re not really shooting for comprehension—but because it allows you to see the consistency of the New Testament.

By reading Paul’s epistles in big chunks, you get to see patterns and particular emphases you might miss when reading in isolation. You get a better sense of the challenges he faced as a minister of the gospel, and the delicate balance he strikes on so many issues that we find offensive in our day. Just as importantly, you get to see how consistent Paul is with Jesus in the gospels. If you want to put silly notions of pitting Jesus against Paul, all you have to do is read the New Testament. It’s seamless in what it presents. And this is a very good thing indeed.

I haven’t settled on what I’m going to do after I finish my read through of the New Testament (I’m guessing I’ll wrap it up by Friday)—I’m currently leaning toward reading through Isaiah or Jeremiah in four weeks. But wherever I wind up, it’s going to be fun. Setting short, attainable goals has been incredibly helpful and rewarding for me, even at this early point in the year. Being disciplined about spiritual disciplines really matters, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where things go as the year continues.

Read The Pilgrim’s Progress with me

One of my favorite parts of the day is reading books with my kids, especially with Abigail (our eldest). While I love reading with the younger two, Abigail’s old enough that I get to start reading cool stuff with her.

Last year, we read through The Chronicles of Narnia in its entirety (it took about three or four months). I’ve just introduced her to Calvin and Hobbes (and soon the complete collection will become part of our family library). More recently, we’ve been working our way through John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.

pilgrims-progress

And I’ve been having such a good time reading it with her, I wanted to invite you to read it with me, as well.

Why this book?

One of the major reasons is this is one of the few books outside the Bible all Christians should read. In fact, historically, it’s been the most widely-read book outside the Bible, although this is not the case today. It’s a book that was instrumental in the faith of Charles Spurgeon and countless other believers. And it’s one of which’s influence is in danger of being lost. J.I. Packer wrote:

For two centuries Pilgrim’s Progress was the best-read book, after the Bible, in all Christendom, but sadly it is not so today.

When I ask my classes of young and youngish evangelicals, as I often do, who has read Pilgrim’s Progress, not a quarter of the hands go up.

Yet our rapport with fantasy writing, plus our lack of grip on the searching, humbling, edifying truths about spiritual life that the Puritans understood so well, surely mean that the time is ripe for us to dust off Pilgrim’s Progress and start reading it again.

Certainly, it would be great gain for modern Christians if Bunyan’s masterpiece came back into its own in our day.

Have you yourself, I wonder, read it yet? 1

The way this reading project will work is pretty simple:

  • We’ll read one chapter a week, starting the first week of March.
  • I’ll be sharing some reflections on the chapter in a new post, along with some additional questions for discussion.

Like I said, pretty straightforward, but I promise it’ll be worth it.

So how about it? Will you read The Pilgrim’s Progress with me?  

Links I like (weekend edition)

links i like

Water under the bridge?

Ray Ortlund:

Glib slogans like “That’s water under the bridge,” “I’ve moved on,” or misquoting the Bible with “Forgetting what lies behind . . .” – these are not evidences of salvation.  They are strategies of denial and self-justification.  We might as well scream out, “The cross means nothing to me.  I must establish my own rightness.  So I cannot face myself.”

But real repentance, filled with a wonderful sense of Jesus, has the courage to go back and make wrongs right again in honest, humble, creative ways.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here’s a round-up of this week’s Kindle deals, along with a few new ones:

What does it look like to open your own Bible for the first time?

HT: Justin Taylor

Srsly

More goodness from Adam Ford:

8 Ways to Reverse the Decline of the American Book Lover

David Murray:

I struggle to find time to read. Yes, I read plenty during working hours for lectures, sermons, etc, but in terms of reading books of choice in my leisure time, I confess I often go to bed disappointed in my use of the evening hours. It’s so much easier just to tap around on the iPad or read blogs. So here are a few strategies I’ve recently been trying to follow to increase my reading.

Links I like

Reading the Bible Like Jesus

Thabiti Anyabwile:

Reading the Bible is difficult work. Or at least it can be if we intend to do more than simply read it for enjoyment or duty. There are many things we have to overcome in order to read effectively: the flesh, fatigue, distractions, time pressures from various sources, cold hearts, clogged ears and so on. Even when we overcome all these obstacles of the world, the flesh and the devil, we still find our Bible reading needs adjustment in order to read as Jesus read.

6 Ways to Look Godly While Not Growing

Carl Lafterton:

This time last year, I mentioned six ways to look godly while not growing in your faith — and then spent 2013 battling them, falling for them, and finding several other ways, too. So here, for 2014, are six more ways to look great while doing little…

Save 50 percent on WTS Books’ bestsellers of 2013

Westminster Books has put a ton of their bestselling titles of 2013 on sale for 50 percent off. Sale titles include:

This sale ends January 15th.

5 Reasons We Get Angry

Mike Leake:

In Ephesians 4:26 we are told, “in your anger do not sin”. The question is not how we prevent anger; the question is what we do with anger once it crops up. We all get angry—occasionally righteously angry but mostly not.

Is the Enemy of My Enemy My Friend?

Albert Mohler:

At this point, very careful and honest thinking is required of us. At one level, we can join with anyone, regardless of worldview, to save people from a burning house. We would gladly help an atheist save a neighbor from danger, or even beautify the neighborhood. Those actions do not require a shared theological worldview.

Links I like (weekend edition)

The four Ps of faithful Bible reading

Michael Krahn:

Yes, reading the Bible can be an exercise in legalism, but approaching it with discipline and commitment is not legalism. And why should we do this? Is it just so we can pump our heads full of knowledge? Is knowledge the end goal? No. Knowledge is the first goal, but knowledge is not the end goal.

A certain kind of revival among evangelicals

Interesting piece Mark Oppenheimer:

Calvinism is a theological orientation, not a denomination or organization. The Puritans were Calvinist. Presbyterians descend from Scottish Calvinists. Many early Baptists were Calvinist. But in the 19th century, Protestantism moved toward the non-Calvinist belief that humans must consent to their own salvation — an optimistic, quintessentially American belief. In the United States today, one large denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, is unapologetically Calvinist.

But in the last 30 years or so, Calvinists have gained prominence in other branches of Protestantism, and at churches that used to worry little about theology.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here’s a recap of the deals that’ve come up during the last week (plus a few others):

B&H’s New American Commentary Studies ($4.99 each):

Dealing with Alcoholism

Ed Stetzer:

So, I recently was in a conversation with an old friend of mine. We’ve known one another for a long time, and I knew of his journey.

Over the years, he changed his view on alcohol, moving from an abstentionist position to a more moderationist one. But, he found that, like a consistent percentage of people who intend to drink in moderation, he could not. He would later call that “alcoholism.”

Some studies show that 30% of Americans will struggle with alcohol in some way. That does not mean they are all alcoholics, but there are real issues to be addressed. And, if more evangelicals are going to accept beverage alcohol, we are going to need to have this conversation more frequently. (Even if the views don’t change, there are still many secret alcoholics—so let’s have the conversation either way.)

So, here is an interview with an anonymous evangelical pastor who is a recovering alcoholic. I’m hoping it might help someone see a problem that they might be ignoring, in themselves or in a friend.

Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books

Albert Mohler:

In the course of any given week, I will read several books. I know how much I thrive on this learning and the intellectual stimulation I get from reading. As my wife and family would be first to tell you, I can read almost anytime, anywhere, under almost any kind of conditions. I have a book with me virtually all the time, and have been known to snatch a few moments for reading at stop lights. No, I do not read while driving (though I must admit that it has been a temptation at times). I took books to high school athletic events when I played in the band. (Heap coals of scorn and nerdliness here). I remember the books; do you remember the games?

Links I like

The Soil of the Prosperity Gospel

Jonathan Baer:

It is a tempting and intoxicating brew, appealing to basic human inclinations and culturally conditioned desires, offering a quick high but a nasty hangover. And it’s extremely lucrative for its purveyors, since one of the principal ways to demonstrate faith is to sow financial seeds, which is to say, give gifts to prosperity preachers or purchase their products. The resulting fleets of luxury automobiles, massive homes, and Italian suits might strike critics as garish, but prosperity preachers retort with a smile that their lives and bank accounts merely verify the truth of their messages.

How did we get to a place where such a clearly debased form of Christianity holds sway with so many people?

Restoration as a gospel priority

Ray Ortlund:

“Aim for restoration” was highly relevant to this community in Corinth. They were broken at multiple levels. They were making progress, but there was much good still to accomplish. So, “aim for restoration” was ideal as an all-encompassing intention.  For any gospel-defined church, then or now, restoration is an obvious priority.

But is it obvious? Or, is it obvious to us today?

Get 1-2 Peter in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get 1-2 Peter by R.C. Sproul (ePub) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Hell teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steven Lawson (ePub)
  • Creation and Re-Creation, the 2013 Fall Conference at Reformation Bible College (audio and video download)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In addition to yesterday’s giant list, here are a few other ones to consider:

How to read the Bible in 2014

Justin Taylor:

The average person reads 200 to 250 words per minute; there are about 775,000 words in the Bible; therefore it takes less than 10 minutes a day to read the whole Bible in a year.… Audio Bibles are usually about 75 hours long, so you can listen to it in just over 12 minutes a day.

But the point is not merely to read the whole thing to say you’ve done it or to check it off a list. The Bible itself never commands that we read the Bible through in a year. What is commends is knowing the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and meditating or storing or ruminating upon God’s self-disclosure to us in written form (Deut. 6:732:46;Ps. 119:1115239399143:5).

Links I like

Is All Sin Equal in God’s Eyes?

Tim Challies:

There is a sense in which all sin is the same. Every sin is an act of rebellion against God. Any sin, no matter whether it is an angry thought or outright murder, is a declaration of independence from God, a means of saying, “I am going to do this myway instead of your way. I choose my will rather than your will.” In that sense every sin is sufficient to justify an eternity of separation from God. Every sin grieves God and arouses his just wrath. God hates sin because his very nature is contrary to sin. This is not God being mean or arbitrary, but God simply giving us the wages due to our rebellion.

However, it is equally correct to express that some sins are more serious than others.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

How Long, O Lord? by D.A. Carson—$4.99

The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper—$2.99

Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views—$3.99

Come And Welcome To Jesus Christ by John Bunyan—99¢

A Reading Plan for Augustine’s The City of God

Justin Taylor:

The City of God must be read against the backdrop of the sacking of Rome, where critics argued that Rome fell after it embraced Christianity and lost the protection of the gods. Augustine argued that the pagan critics were defining goodness on the basis of the satisfaction of their own desires, rather than the true definition which sees that the ultimate good is found in God alone. Augustine shows that everything in history happens for good purposes, if goodness is rightly understood. He pointed to the pagan desire to return to the city of Rome, and argued that their desire was right but their destination was wrong. True happiness could only come in the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God.

One of the reasons that Augustine’s work remains unread today is because of its length and digressions. In lieu of an abridged version, Michael Haykin of Southern Seminary offers a selective reading guide to the book, which I’ve included below for those who want to take up one of the great classics of the Christian tradition.

Groceries only take one trip

Love it:

Calling yourself friendly doesn’t make you friendly

Good advice from Jeff Brooks for airlines and ministries alike:

I fly quite a lot. Mostly on United. So when I started seeing United’s new ad campaign in airports, all I could manage was a weak scoff.

Flyfriendly

Three reasons to diversify your reading

I probably spend too much time considering my reading habits, but what’s a guy to do?

Every year, I give myself a challenge to read 100 books in the year (one I usually meet well before the year ends). A lot are books on theology and Christian living for reviews—but as much as possible, I try to include some material to break it up with a few biographies, a bit of history, some fiction, some marketing books, and the odd bit of sociology. Because I live increasingly in a Christian bubble—I work with Christians, I minister to Christians in a variety of ways, I primarily review books written for Christians—this is not only helpful, but necessary for me in order to have some sense of what’s going on “out there” as it were.

If you’re like me, you should probably think about doing the same. Here are three reasons why:

1. Escaping the “Bubble.” As I pointed out above, it’s really easy for Christians to get caught in the so-called Christian bubble (in fact, studies indicate that the longer we’re Christians the less likely we are to have non-Christian friends). Reading a little more broadly

2. Opportunities to Engage Others in Meaningful Discussion. Reading more broadly allows you to have another connection point with non-Christians that helps you to have meaningful discussions (whether at work, the gym, traditional or online book clubs or Starbucks) that can also lead to opportunities to share the gospel.

3. Enjoying God’s Common Grace. God has not reserved all the “good” ideas for Christian authors. Indeed, in His common grace, He has allowed many non-Christians to have amazing insights into the human condition, given them tremendous literary gifts and fantastic storytelling abilities. If you’re not reading a little more broadly, you might be missing out on something really interesting.

These are a few of the reasons I enjoy reading more broadly. Now it’s your turn: what are your reading habits like—how do you keep yourself from getting stuck in reading only one kind of book?


Updated June 2014

 

Are You Studying or Skimming?

I’ve been thinking about a number of things since reading The Next Story, but perhaps the biggest issue for me continues to be distraction. Distraction is everywhere. As I’m typing this message, my email is open, I’ve got a number of additional tab open in Safari and I’m sure my iPhone is somewhere reasonably close by.

But do these things help me actually get anything done? Should a relatively simple blog post sometimes take all night to do—merely because I get sidetracked watching a video on YouTube or reading another blog or checking out something my wife wants me to look at? (And as any good husband will tell you, the only one I should answer “yes” to is that last one, just in case you were wondering.)

One of the things that really caught my attention, though was in this passage (note especially the highlighted portion):

All of this distraction is reshaping us in two dangerous ways. First, we are tempted to forsake quality for quantity, believing the lie that virtue comes through speed, productivity, and efficiency. We think that more must be better, and so we drive ourselves to do more, accomplish more, be more. And second, as this happens, we lose our ability to engage in deeper ways of thinking—concentrated, focused thought that requires time and cannot be rushed. Instead of focusing our efforts in a few directions, we give scant attention to many things, skimming instead of studying. We live rushed lives and forget how to move slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully through life. (The Next Story, p. 119, emphasis added)

Because I do read a lot and there are a great number of books that are either sitting in my Kindle app, on my nightstand, dining table or coffee table (or mantle or…). Unfortunately, because there are so here, it sometimes can feel pretty daunting—and at times almost like I don’t have time to read as deeply as I want to with so much that I “have” to get to.

I know it’s just me being ridiculous, but am I the only one that feels this way?

How are you, in this digital age, with so much choice and so many distractions available to you protecting yourself from information overload? Are you taking the time you need to study or are you only skimming?

What Are You Reading this Summer?

Summer’s getting frighteningly close (after all, winter ended a week or so back, right?) and that means it’s time to think about vacations! A little time off does everyone good and also gives us the opportunity to do some reading!

A few days ago, Joe Thorn offered some great recommendations for what you might want to read this summer; his focus was on fighting sin and temptation and I’d encourage you to read any number of those ones. As I’ve been looking at what I want to be reading this summer, my list is certainly not going to be quite as focused, but I’m hoping it’ll be interesting:

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

Machens classic defense of orthodox Christianity established the importance of scriptural doctrine and contrasts the teachings of liberalism and orthodoxy on God and man, the Bible, Christ, salvation, and the church. Though originally published nearly seventy years ago, the book maintains its relevance today. It was named one of the top 100 books of the millennium by World magazine and one of the top 100 books of the century by Christianity Today.

(Incidentally, this is the selection for the latest edition of “Reading the Classics Together” over at Challies.com. That might be a really helpful way for you to get into this book if you’re interested.)

Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ by Russell Moore

Although temptation is a common and well-acknowledged part of the human experience, few realize the truth behind temptation and fewer still know how to defeat it. Tempted and Tried will not reassure Christians by claiming that temptation is less powerful or less prevalent than it is; instead, it will prepare believers for battle by telling the truth about the cosmic war that is raging. Moore shows that the temptation of every Christian is part of a broader conspiracy against God, a conspiracy that confronts everyone who shares the flesh of Jesus through human birth and especially confronts those who share the Spirit of Christ through the new birth of redemption.

Moore walks readers through the Devil’s ancient strategies for temptation revealed in Jesus’ wilderness testing. Moore considers how those strategies might appear in a contemporary context and points readers to a way of escape. Tempted and Tried will remind Christians that temptation must be understood in terms of warfare, encouraging them with the truth that victory has already been secured through the triumph of Christ. [Read more...]

Around the Interweb

Should You Read 100 Books in 2011?

Trevin Wax offers a challenge:

Last year, I challenged Kingdom People readers to set a reading goal in 2010 and I offered some tips for how to reach that goal. Because I chose a high number (100) in the post title, I received some pushback from readers who thought my challenge was unrealistic or unhelpful. I responded by affirming the benefit of setting a goal and clarified that the actual number is not what is important.

This year, I’m not asking the question “Can you read 100 books in 2011?” Instead, I’m asking a different question: “Should you read this many books?” Is it wise to set a high reading goal? Is it beneficial?

Read the rest.

Also worth reading

Trevin Wax: An Open Letter to Steve Jobs

Free stuff: ChristianAudio.com’s free audiobook of the month is The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges.

Theology: Know Your Heretics – The Gnostics

Mark Altrogge: The Sure Sign of Self Sufficiency

Contest winners: The winners of the Slave contest are… A.W. Hall, Ricky Kirk, Nathan Harbottle, Ryan Higginbottom and Darrin Trammell. You’ll be receiving one copy of Slave for you, and another to give to someone else. Congratulations and thanks to all who entered!

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Slave by John MacArthur

John Piper: Will We Worship or Will We Curse?

A.W. Tozer: You Are What You Worship

Dear Song Leader…

J.C. Ryle: All About Doing, Never About Believing

An update on my Memory Moleskine: Memorizing Philippians 1:1-11

The Classics You Just Don’t Get

There are a lot of books that are, by and large, regarded as classics. They’re the ones you just have to read—and if you don’t, you’re depriving yourself of great literature.

But are you really depriving yourself?

Really?

I’ve read a number of books that are considered classics (whether modern or legit), and some, like Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, are absolutely worthy of being called classics. But then there are others that I just don’t get the appeal.

I have at least two examples.

I cannot stand Moby Dick. Cannot stand it. I know that Melville is supposed to be the greatest novelist that America has produced, but I really didn’t find it to be that engaging a read. I first read it in high school as part of an independent study project, and nearly every time I picked it up, I fell asleep.

A few years later, I did give it another shot. I didn’t want to assume that I didn’t like it simply because I had a bad experience with it in high school. The experience reading it as an adult was not unlike pushing a boulder up a steep hill.

In a snowstorm.

Without pants.

“Call me Ishmael.”

Next one: Some time ago, I attempted to read The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. I say attempted, because, this devotional classic kept putting me to sleep. I think I managed to get 150 pages in before I put it on the de-read pile. I have not, as of yet, taken another stab at it. In fact, I think I finally purged it from my library.

Now I’m not saying these are bad books… they’re just books that I just could not get into, no matter how hard I try.

No doubt we all have them.

So what about you, dear reader?

What’s the classic you just couldn’t get into?