reading

What’s the main thing you need to be a pastor?

This both encourages and challenges me: the main qualifier for ministry is steady growth in love for God and others. Paul Woodson writes,

There is no one style of ministry that is productive and no one type of personality that represents good pastoral ministry. The sheer diversity of personality types among ministers is surely a sign that any particular personality type has little to do with the building of the Church. But the pastors whose ministries I particularly applaud (whether successful in the eyes of the world or not) are those whose love for the Lord Jesus is transparent and growing, whose ability to expound the Scriptures with devotion, clarity, practical application, and real unction is increasing, and whose love for people is not artificial or sentimental but self-denying and perceptive (this is essential to what is often called “pastoral care”), and whose desire to proclaim the gospel and work out its implications dictates the focus and priorities of their lives.

You can download this book, “Letters Along the Way” by D.A. Carson and Paul Woodson for free as a pdf by clicking here.

3 Reasons to Read “What’s Best Next” by Matt Perman

What's Best NextDoes God actually have anything to say about getting things done? Is it even possible to have a biblical perspective on such a practical subject like how to get things done? And should we even care about it as Christians, or is it unspiritual?

That’s the question Matt Perman wants to answer in his new book, “What’s Best Next.” It releases on Tuesday, March 4, and I want to commend it to you.

A short disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy to read and review, but am not being compensated in any way to provide a favorable review. These are my honest thoughts about what Matt has written and how it might interest you.

Here are three reasons that normal people (not just executives, managers, or productivity buffs) will enjoy this book:

1.It’s easy to read

Brevity: (Most of) The chapters are short, and this makes it a breeze to read.  A quick look at the table of contents will show you that the chapters are mostly 10-15 pages long, which means that the average reader can manage about a chapter a night. This helps.

Clarity: I would say that Perman’s writing style is informal, but precise. The most important ideas are easy to find, thanks to grayed-out boxes on the pages that highlight key terms, main points, and important quotes. This not a book that you’re going to struggle to understand. Most chapters end with a “core point,” “core quote,” and “immediate application.” I was never left wondering what to do with the stuff I’d just read.

2. It’s God-centered

It’s unfortunate, but the phrases “God-centered” and “gospel-centered” have become a bit of a buzz word in Christian circles. If you say that something is “gospel centered,” you’re in the club/circle. It’s also unfortunate that, in light of this, you can find yourself surprised when a book actually lives up to the claim, “this is a God-centered take on [insert an issue here].” What’s Best Next actually does. So, what does a gospel-centered perspective on productivity look like? Here are some quotes to give you a feel for the way it’s presented in the book:

As Christians, we are here to serve (Matt. 20:25 – 28). When we are being productive, we are actually doing good works, which is part of the purpose for which God created us (Eph. 2:10). A good approach to getting things done reduces the friction in doing good and also amplifies our ability to do good.

… getting things done, making ideas happen, and being productive are all ways to make a difference in people’s lives. As Christians, we ought to care about this and be excited about it, for it is not only exciting in itself, but one of the chief ways God is glorified in our lives.

And the paragraph that struck me most:

The essence of GDP [gosepl-centered productivity] is this: We are to use all that we have, in all areas of life, for the good of others, to the glory of God—and that this is the most exciting life. To be a gospel-driven Christian means to be on the lookout to do good for others to the glory of God, in all areas of life, and to do this with creativity and competence. Further, being gospel-driven also means knowing how to get things done so that we can serve others in a way that really helps, in all areas of life, without making ourselves miserable in the process through overload, overwhelm, and hard-to- keep-up systems.

Or consider Ephesians 5:17, the fundamental New Testament passage on time management. This passage speaks of time management as not being chiefly about applying correct principles to our lives but being about understanding “the will of the Lord” and doing it. Productivity is specifically about doing “the will of the Lord.” It’s about specifically orienting our lives and decisions around God’s will.

3. It’s practical

Theology ought to be the most practical thing in the world. What has more relevance to everyday life than the God who made it? In What’s Best Next, you’ll find a gospel-centered perspective on productivity that’s actually practical. This shouldn’t be noteworthy, but it is. Here are 2 things that Perman covers:

  • email. I’ve been using his system to deal with email for a few months, and have saved myself an absurd amount of time. He outlines this process in the book. If you’d like a preview you can find his blog post on it here, or get it as a pdf here.
  • weekly plans. This is one of the key ideas in the book. A whole chapter is dedicated to helping the reader figure out, “how can I plan proactively for the upcoming day/week/month so that I’m doing what I really need to do?” This is about as practical as it gets.

Get the book!

Again, I’m not getting paid to blog about this book. But I can’t recommend it to you enough. Matt Perman’s blog, which goes by the same name as the book — http://whatsbestnext.com/ — has been an enormous help to me as I figure out how to organize my life and work. My guess is that

  • if you’ve got more to do than you think you can handle
  • if you find youself fogetting important things
  • if you want to be able to more projects and tasks better

then you’re going to love this book. Pre-order it on Amazon here, or you can get it WTS books here for 4$ less!

God is love. Love isn’t God.

It happens in marriage:

…when we realize we’ve married someone selfish, we discard the dream and become cynical about the possibility of love. We set ourselves up for failure by overloading love with far more than it can bear. Married love as a source of life crashes on the rocks of human depravity. … But love and relationships were never meant to be the center. Love is not god. God is love.

Paul Miller, A Loving Life, pg 38.

And it shows up in the Bible:

St John’s saying that God is love has long been balanced in my mind against the remark of a modern author (M. Denis de Rougemont) that “love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god”; which of course can be re-stated in the form “[love] begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god.” This balance seems to me an indispensable safeguard. If we ignore it the truth that God is love may slyly come to mean for us the converse, that love is God.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, pg 6-7.

A Loving Life by Paul Miller

A Loving Life - Paul Miller

My wife and I are going to begin reading this book together in the evenings. After watching Justin Taylor interview the author, I’m really excited. Here’s what two men, Scotty Smith and David Powlison, whom I deeply respect, have said about Miller’s book:

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the most honest, timely, and helpful book I’ve ever read about the costly and exhausting demands of loving well. And at the same time, A Loving Life is the most faithful, alluring, and encouraging presentation of God’s love for us in Jesus I’ve fed on in years. …
— Scotty Smith

“The word love is often either a vague sentiment or just another four-letter word. But in Paul Miller’s hands, the quiet, compelling reality emerges. You will witness how love is thoughtful, principled, courageous, enduring, and wise—all the things you know deep down it should be. And even more than those fine things, you will be surprised and delighted at how true love is grounded in God.”
— David Powlison

A Few Resolutions for 2014

I promised a friend I would post my new years resolutions.

Here they are:

Read and understand one C.S. Lewis book every two months

abolition_of_man_791Over Christmas break I read John Piper’s tribute to C.S. Lewis (available for free here) and thoroughly enjoyed it. The small eBook is not a “biography” in the traditional sense. It’s more concerned with C.S. Lewis’ impact on Piper’s life than with Lewis’ life itself. Nonetheless, it exposed me to a sampling of Lewis’ works and gave me the bug.

I dived right in and just finished Lewis’ small (but weighty) book, The Abolition of Man and only understood about half of it. I’m sure that trend (and the requisite multiple readings) will continue once I get to Miracles, and The Four Loves. Thus the pace: one book every two months. Slow, but steady, is the goal.

Complete a “through the Bible in a year” plan

I hate having to rush through Bible reading. That’s why this year I’m using the “Discipleship Journal” reading plan. This plan gets me through the Bible in a year without taking an hour a day (which is about how long my old plan would take). I can linger in the places and scriptures that I used to rush through. I’m really looking forward to it.

Because the people who created this plan are undergoing website construction, I couldn’t find the pdf online. Anywhere. But I want to make it available, so I converted my pdf version to jpgs. Here they are:

Discipleship Journal page 1

Discipleship Journal page 1

Discipleship Journal page 2

Discipleship Journal page 2

You can also get it through OliveTree here. YouVersion has it here. If you’re on Android you can get it from Google’s play store here.

Study Luke’s gospel

That’s a hopelessly broad goal. If I were to leave it like that I’m sure that I’d accomplish nothing. So here are a couple sub-goals:

  • Record and answer every question I have about Luke’s gospel. I’ve already written and organized about 100 of these questions. In the coming months I might do some posts about what I discover.
  • Read through relevant sections of Darrel Bock’s commentary on Luke. I’m using a commentary because there are certain issues (like the political deliverance Jesus’ was expected to bring) that I simply don’t have the expertise to understand on my own. For that reason, Bock’s commentary has been indispensable so far. You can find Volume 1 on Amazon here, and volume 2 here.
  • Write small summaries of important sections. One example would be Luke’s version of Jesus’ sermon the mount/plain. I can’t tell you, as of this evening, what it’s all about. I hope to change that this year.

(Sidenote: The way I think about goals has been impacted significantly by Michael Hyatt’s article “The Beginner’s guide to goal setting.” I heartily recommend his counsel to you.)

So those are my goals. At least, the ones I’m willing to share with everyone here on the blogsphere. If you read my blog regularly:

  1. I hope you see these topics in future posts! That’ll mean I’ve actually followed through.
  2. I hope you get to read better posts. I want to write gooder. But it’s taking time to find my voice and style. Let’s all trust this year is one of growth. For your sake and mine.

2 Reasons to Read More Fiction

Giuseppe_Maria_Crespi_-_Buchregal_mit_Musikschriften_1725-30In previous posts I’ve mentioned that I’m reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings right now. I’m going through Volume 1, The Fellowship of the Ring, and absolutely loving it. I’ve noticed that after picking up a good piece of fiction like LOTR, I’ve gone on to read other books in a slightly different way. So, here are two benefits that I’ve experienced in my own reading, and I think most people would, if they read more fiction:

1. Reading fiction helps stretch our imagination muscle

When people hear the word “imagination” they usually think of something like “fable,” or “myth.” That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about your mind’s ability to construct a mental picture of something; the capability you have to image/envision what the writer wants you to. Take this passage from the beginning of Frodo’s adventure as an example:

“The woods on either side became denser; the trees were now younger and thicker; and as the lane went lower, running down into a fold of the hills, there were many deep brakes of hazel on the rising slopes at either hand. At last the Elves turned aside from the path. A green ride lay almost unseen through the thickets on the right; and this they followed as it wound away back up the wooded slopes on to the top of a shoulder of the hills that stood out into the lower land of the river-valley. Suddenly they came out of the shadow of the tree, and before them lay a wide space of grass, grey under the night.” Page 80, The Fellowship of the Ring.

What does you see with your mind’s eye? Hopefully something beautiful. One benefit of reading fiction is that it helps us to 1) realize that words on a page can vividly describe a place, and 2) actually imaginate (?) the place itself.

For those of us reading the Bible, this is an immensely helpful skill. It helps us to be aware of the fact that the Epistles were written to real people in real situations and need to be interpreted as such. Imagine the Galatians excitedly gathered to hear the letter Paul had written to them. Imagine the way they leaned forward with anticipation with what he had to say. And imagine how they reacted after the third, forth, fifth rebuke.

Galatians is not a tame letter. It is demanding. It is an affront to self-righteousness. We ought to read it with this imagination muscle in full stride, bringing up images of what it was like to hear this for the first time (even if it’s the twentieth time we’ve read it in devotions). Fiction helps us to practice this crucial skill.

2. Reading fiction helps us to read (OT) non-fiction narrative contextually

When you read a well-written book, the characters and setting and plot stick with you. If the author does his/her job, these things are deposited in your imagination (probably without you realizing it), and are available for withdrawal at just the right moment. We ought to read the Bible in this “imagination deposit and withdrawal” way too. For example, a fleeing and scared David sees a lone figure approaching his exile-camp (1 Sam. 22:20). It’s abiather. The lone survivor of Saul’s city-wide mass murder. This (probably) young man has been robbed of his entire family, and essentially all he’s ever known (1 Sam. 22:22). David takes him in, and later appoints him priest. Can you imagine how Abiather felt, coming from a city of priests, on that coronation day? It’s hard to imagine the tears and thankfulness that were shed by this sole survivor of a rampaging mad man. He owed David everything. But then during David last days Abiather is part of an insurrection against David’s appointed heir. What is that?! Why, at this moment of moments, does Abiathar, the man who found a home with the fleeing King of Israel, take part in a shoddy coup d’étatt?

We should carry this awareness of Abiather’s debt to David into this story of Solomon’s rise to power. The messed-up-ness of the nation is all the more clearer when we remember things that happened before. It helps us to see the sin into which the nation (made up of individuals like Abiathar) had plunged itself.

Free Jonathan Edwards Audiobook

This month only, christianaudio.com is giving away free audiobook copies of George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards biography. Simply follow the link at the bottom of the post, sign up for their monthly newsletter, and you get a free audiobook. Pretty simple.

Marsden is considered by many contemporary historians as our century’s premier Edwards biographer. In Justin Taylor‘s recent series of biography recommendations, Marsden’s larger work on Jonathan Edwards has been listed 6 times. For such a small field of study, that says a lot.

While the larger work is over 600 pages, this audiobook is based on the shorter 176 page version. That’s good news for reading featherweights like me (maybe you too).

Get it free here: http://christianaudio.com/free/?utm_source=ProdPage&utm_medium=420Banner&utm_campaign=CAfreeaudio

 

 

Wide and Shallow or Deep and Narrow?

A while ago I was listening to John Piper talk about reading. He mentioned advice given to him by Daniel Fuller, who said something along the lines of “John, you only have one life. There isn’t enough time to go deep with every thinker in the world. Pick one. And go deep with him [or her]. But don’t give a brief read to everything written by everyone.” I took the advice to heart because the same reality has begun to dawn on me: I can only take in (read and remember) so much in one lifetime. And so for the past few months I’ve been wondering, “Who will I choose to read deeply (and specifically) from?”

Then the other day I followed a link to this video by Thomas Schreiner. The point of the video is to see what he’d advise students to do in their seminary years. At one point he says, simply, “don’t just be a specialist. … the danger of specialization is that we can become narrower and narrower and forget about broader issues.” Schreiner tempers his point and admits that even though he’s in favor of reading broadly, no one can do everything at once. But the main thrust of his advice (especially the examples he gives) is that we all ought to read more widely.

So, wide and shallow or deep and narrow? Here are two seasoned thinkers emphasizing different ends of the spectrum. On the one hand there is Piper (quoting Dan Fuller) to the effect: Deep and Narrow. And on the other hand there is Schreiner pushing for (what I would call) Wide and Shallow.

Now, “narrow” and “shallow” might sound a bit pejorative. They’re not supposed to be. But aren’t they the effects of reading Wide and Deep, respectively? I think they are. They’re the poles we have to strike a path between – the outcomes of stressing each one heavily enough.

I think there’s room for a middle-way, a via media. But their differing and complementary opinions have given me cause for thought.

Deep and Narrow? Or Wide and Shallow?

What do you think?