Monday, July 31, 2017

Read, Read, and Then Read Some More

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." Dr. Suess, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut

According to Pew Research, the typical American reads five books in a year, at least as of a few years ago, and I could not find any more recent statistics. Now, we could (and I almost did) start to rail about how that is terrible and how TV, Netflix, etc. are taking our attention away from books and destroying our minds, but there are probably a lot of reasons for why the typical American reads so little. Maybe they do not like to read, which is probably a lot of people, and I am not sure how to convince them otherwise. Maybe people are just too busy, which will be somewhat addressed in this post. Or, maybe people just do not feel like they can read a lot, perhaps because, like me, you are a slow reader and your comprehension is not the best. Well, hopefully this post will be an encouragement to you.

Let me say up front: I am a slooooow reader. I could go into why, but that is not really relevant and will sound like I am making excuses. But, because I am a slow reader, I have struggled to read as much as I would like to read. In seminary, my greatest struggle was not tests or papers but finishing all the reading that was required. It felt like torture because I had to read about 625 pages per week. I am a slow reader.

But, I have made some changes to my reading habits this year, and I have already read 31 books this year, and I am on course to read probably more than 50. And, by the way, in most of July, I have not had much of a chance to read for a few reasons that are not really important, which has slowed my progress a little, but I think I am picking up steam again. The point is, however, that if I can read 31 books in about six months, you can too because I bet you are a faster, better reader than me. Most people are. Here are the ways I have changed my reading habits that has helped a lot:

Reading Categories

I realized earlier this year that my reading was somewhat haphazard and directionless, so I decided to divide my regular reading into categories that covered the major areas of responsibility in my life: being a Christian, being a husband, being a father, being a pastor/preacher, being a youth leader, and being a human who likes to be entertained (i.e. fiction books). I try to be reading a book in each of these categories at any given point in time. This is not always the case (e.g. currently, I am not reading a youth leading book but have one I plan to start soon), but having these categories gives me direction when I finish a book. I do not just go to a "best seller" list looking for any old book, but I ask, "What category am I missing currently?" and I go looking for a book in that category.

Reading Books in Parallel; Not Series

And, no, by that I do not mean series of books, like The Chronicles of Narnia series. I mean: I read several books at once (parallel); not one book at a time (series). (These are circuit terms, but they still apply well here.) So, I try to be reading a book in each category (see above) and a few others books (see below) at once. For my regular reading categories, I try to do a chapter of one book a day (e.g. a chapter of a Christian life book Monday, a chapter of a marriage book Tuesday, etc.).

In my opinion, this has the advantage of keeping me engaged in my books and not getting bored with my reading. I do not know about you, but because I am slow reader, when I read books in series (i.e. one at a time), I got bored with the same book after a while. Reading books in parallel helps me to keep from getting bored while I read at my pace.

Now, you might think, "Doesn't that mess up your comprehension? Don't you forget what you read the last time since it could be a week or more before you read another chapter?" Well, it might, but I have one other habit with this: at the end of each chapter of a book, I summarize it in a paragraph and write that on the last page of the chapter. This helps me in two ways: 1) it allows me to remind myself of the content without going over highlights, which takes more time and 2) it actually helps me retain information better because I have to summarize the chapters, thus forcing me to bring the point to a few sentences.

Books for Groups: i.e. Accountability for Some Books

Another habit I have gotten into is reading groups or accountability for reading, however you want to put it. Nothing helps reading like knowing you are going to have to show up to a group and discuss a chapter of it it or lead a discussion on it. These are generally books I do not read regularly (see above), though sometimes they cross over with the regular category books, so sometimes, I might be in one of these books for months, but the reading and summarizing (see above) still helps me to grow. Furthermore, the discussion with others propels growth even more. For example, currently, I am reading three books this way: one is a book I am leading my high school youth group in discussing, and the other two are for a theology reading group I am in with other pastors.

Books for Certain Times or Places

In addition to my regular reading books and my group books, I have several books that I read only in certain times or places. They are a kind of "filler" books that I use to fill blocks of time that I might normally fill with useless activities.


At the beginning of this year, I decided that using my commute to listen to books would be better than using it to listen to music or even podcasts, though I do take a break from my audiobooks sometimes for music, podcasts, or prayer. Most of the time, however, during my commute I listen to an audiobook. With Amazon's deal with Audible, you can get the Kindle and Audible together on a lot of books, and usually only costs $7 extra for the Audible upgrade (if it is available, which it seems to be about half the time, in my experience). (It used to be about $3 extra, but recently Audible and/or Amazon jacked their prices up, but that is still a lot better than buying the Audible book by itself.) Then, if you want to read it on a Kindle reader you can, and your progress is synced across Kindle and Audible.

Now, with these books, you want to choose the right book to be your audiobook.
  • It cannot be a book on which you would need to concentrate or in which you might want to take notes or make highlights. You have to be comfortable not "reading" these books with comprehension and retention equal to actual reading with a highlighter in hand. Generally, I try to choose books that I want to get a taste for and may reread later for better retention, or sometimes these are books someone asked me to read in order to give my opinion of it.
  • I also recommend you choose a book with chapter lengths that are either shorter than your commute one way or about twice as long. For example, if your commute is about 10-15 minutes like mine, I try to choose books with chapters that are 30 minutes or less, for that way I can at least listen to one chapter a day (to and from work). I have found that I often cannot remember where I am in the flow of logic of the author if I let the chapter roll over to the next day. One of the best books for this, is In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson. It is, first of all, one of the best modern books on the Christian life (maybe the best), and, second of all, its chapters are about seven minutes long. By the way, I recognize that I am blessed to have a short commute. If you have a longer one (like I did when I lived in Atlanta, GA), you have a lot more options of audiobooks because you do not have to find ones with really short chapters. 

"10,000 Steps" Book

Have you heard of the "10,000 steps" idea for exercise? The idea is that if you make good use of your walking habits, you can easily get in 10,000 steps a day: park at the back of the parking lot, take a little longer route around the grocery store, run with your kids in the house (my boys run laps in the house often), etc. You try to fill time that you would normally use standing still with steps, and if you do 50 here and 65 there in little increments throughout the day, by the end of the day you can do 10,000 steps.

Well, I am always reading a Kindle book that is my "10,000 steps" book. This is a book I read when I am waiting in line at the coffee shop, waiting for my lunch companion at a restaurant, or when I have a few moments of waiting pretty much anywhere. Even if I can just read a couple of paragraphs, if I do that 20 times a day, I may have read most of a chapter or a whole one. This, by the way, is why I make this a Kindle book, for I will always have it on me since I have a reader on my smart phone. You can do this with a physical book, but then you have to remember to take it with you everywhere.

Now, as with the audiobooks, you have to spend a little time choosing the right kind of book for this one. It needs to be a book with short, intentionally-demarcated sections or, better yet, short chapters, and it needs to be another one for which you do not feel like you need to have great comprehension and retention. But, since this one is one you can highlight in or make notes, you can do a little better in that area. A good example for this is How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas. It is easy to read, has short sections, and is easily retainable.


Get one or two daily reading devotionals and just do the page for each day. Yes, it will take you a year to read these books, but they can be very edifying and it adds one or two more books to the number you read a year. This year, my wife and I are both reading New Morning Mercies by Paul Tripp in the mornings and The One Year Praying through the Bible for Your Kids by Nancy Guthrie in the evenings, both of which I would highly recommend. Some other good ones are D. A. Carson's For the Love of God books (two volume set).

Be Okay with Dropping a Book

I used to feel like if I started a book, I needed to finish it, but it hit me this year that kind of attitude can waste loads of time and really derail your love of reading. You waste time because you are reading a book that is not worth it when you could be reading one that is worth it, and it derails your love of reading because it is a major chore to try to finish the book. Listen: it is okay to say, "This book stinks" and drop it. I have done that three times this year myself.

Track Your Progress

Finally, tracking your progress through your books with a service like is hugely inspiring. I look forward to logging into Goodreads once or twice a day and recording my progress, for it helps me to see that I am getting somewhere. Just trying to visualize your progress in a stack of books is not really helpful, but looking at your list of "currently reading" books in Goodreads and seeing you are 51% of the way through one, 67% of the way through another, etc. is really encouraging and inspiring. Plus, it feels really, really good to click the "I'm Finished" button and leave a quick review. It also has the benefit of reminding you about those books you might have forgotten to read in a while.


Well, there you have it. That is how I, a really slow reader, have read 31 books so far this year and may end up reading more than 50. Hopefully, this has been helpful to you and not sounded like bragging. I am serious when I say that I am pretty sure you could easily outdo me here. You probably read a lot fast than me, and so if I can do as much as I have with these habits, you can do a whole lot more.

So, go out there and read... a lot.

By His Grace,

Friday, June 16, 2017

Holding the Phalanx of the Christian Life

22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! ~ Ro. 7:22-25a

As I was reading through my devotional for this morning (which is New Morning Mercies by Paul Tripp, and I highly recommend it), I was struck by something in Ro. 7 that I had never really thought about before. In vv. 22-23, Paul brings out how sanctification is a war in the Christian life. Yes, that is not really new, but the way I thought about it this morning was new to me. Sanctification being a war of sin, temptation, the world, my flesh, and the devil against my my union with Christ requires me to hold the phalanx of the Christian life and march forward always.

The Phalanx

The phalanx was an ancient battle formation that was really brought to its penical by the Spartans in ancient Greece. In the above photo, you get a pretty good picture of what it looked like (though, that photo is from the movie 300, which was really not representative of Spartan battle strategies in any other way than this one scene). The front line of soldiers would line up with shields in their left hand and spears in their right. The shields would overlap, so part of your shield protected you and part of it protected your comrade to your left. Then, the next line would do the same thing, putting their shields right up against the backs of the front line, and so on and so forth back--many ranks deep. Then, they would face another army, and the line would never break. The the Spartans would often just march over entire armies this way or even push entire armies off a cliff, if that was available.

Christian Life Warfare

Since sanctification is a war of sin, temptation, the world, the flesh, and the devil against my union with Christ and since that means I must hold the phalanx of the Christian life, it is then something constant and spiritually exhausting, when we do it in our own strength. Do you ever get tired of resisting temptation to the same sin over and over again? Do you ever get so tired that you give in? Me too. Holding the phalanx can be exhausting, and we often make the same tragic outcry Paul makes in v. 24, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

Holding the Line

Yet, what is Paul's answer to his outcry? It is that we never actually do hold the line on our own. We are never meant to! "Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord... There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Ro. 7:25-8:1) Our Savior--who is the only human ever to hold the line without it breaking ever in His life--delivers us and strengthens us; not just at the moment of our salvation but in every moment that follows throughout our whole life. He beckons us, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mt. 11:28) He gives us rest, even in the midst of holding the phalanx in the spiritual battles of this life. A phalanx held by me will fail, but one held by faith in Jesus will hold until the end (cf. Php. 1:6).

The Shield of Faith

So, now that you know what the phalanx is, do you see why Paul used the metaphor of a shield for faith? In his metaphor about the Christian life and the armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20), he says, "In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one." Faith in Jesus providing the strength we need is what protects us and what allows us to hold the phalanx, even in the midst of battle.

In Sparta, if you were a soldier, you could be caught without your sword or your spear during a time of war, and you might only receive a minor punishment. If you were caught without your shield, however, that was a capital crime. Why? Because being without your sword or spear would merely mean you could not go on the offensive in the phalanx, but if you did not have a shield, you were a weak point in the phalanx that might cost the whole army the battle. Your shield was absolutely essential, and you had to have it on you all the time during wartime.

For us, the shield of faith is something we cannot let drop for even a moment. We live by faith (Ro. 1:17) and walk by faith (2 Co. 5:7), for we must always acknowledge our need of Him and His gospel every moment. The war of the Christian life is not made of two or three "big" moments in life where temptation comes in a huge assault but of a million "little" ones in our daily, hourly, minutely life--the war is constant! And, we can face none of those moments on our own and hope to succeed. We must submit them all to Christ and His strength, praying that the gospel would drive us, strengthen us, and motivate us in Him to hold the line through them all. That is why Paul ends his metaphor of the armor of God by saying, "...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication." (Eph. 6:18)

Holding the Line Together

There is one more thing I want to bring out: the phalanx was not a one-man line. That is obvious, but we need to think about the implications for us as believers. We hold the line against temptation with our shields of faith as a community of believers. I stand beside my brothers and sisters in Christ, and sometimes their shield of faith is what encourages me to keep mine up against the enemy. They might do this through their own prayers for me, through accountability, or simply through encouragement, but whatever way it is, one of the ways Jesus strengthens us to hold the line is through His body. We hold the line together.

O Lord, make this true of us today!

By His Grace,

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: The Greatest Love Story

As mentioned in the previous post, we are bringing this series on the book of Joshua to an end with the sermon on Jos. 24 in this post. I hope you have enjoyed this book and learning about living the Christian life as much as I have. I hope God has used it to bless your soul as much as He has used it to bless mine.

To introduce this sermon, let's review ever-so-briefly: This book shows us the Kingdom of God spreading physically into the land of Canaan as the people follow Joshua and Joshua follows God in the conquest of the Promised Land. And, again, as we have said almost every week as we have gone through this book, they had to fight by faith in God who truly fights for them. Well, in a similar way, our lives are mirrored but spiritually; not physically. Today, we’re following Jesus—the Commander of the Lord’s army to whom Joshua points us—we’re following Him as He spreads the Kingdom spiritually in our hearts and throughout the world. Yes, for us it’s spiritual and our enemies are not literal people like they were for Joshua and the Israelites, but our battles are no less real. And, their battles, just like ours, rested on spiritual principles—fighting by faith—and those principles are the same throughout space and time. So, we’ve learned a lot so far about faith and living by faith from this book as we’ve worked our way through it, and here the story of this book ends with God’s people coming together before God one more time to renew the covenant. And, this covenant renewal shows us the greatest love story of all time—a love story that not only draws us to Jesus but motivates and compels us to live for Him.

If you want to hear more, you can listen to the sermon here or read the transcript here.

I pray that God will use it and this whole series to magnify His glory in your heart and fortify you for the battles of this Christian life.

By His Grace,

Friday, December 16, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: Recounting the History of God's Grace

Well, we have made it through the book of Joshua. This Sunday, the sermon posted will look at the final chapter and see how God and Joshua end this wonderful book that teaches us how to fight the good fight of the faith.

In the previous sermon, we saw Joshua's final words to the leaders of Israel that teach them about living by faith. In this final chapter of the book, Joshua leads the people in renewing the covenant with God, which is an act of rededicating themselves to His service before Joshua passes into glory and they are on their own. The way the covenant renewal ceremony is laid out in this passage is very similar to the covenants of the other peoples of the ancient near east surrounding Israel. God chose to make His covenants with them in a way that would be familiar to them (in and of itself and act of grace!).

The ceremonies generally opened with a preamble where the parties making the covenant introduce themselves, and then they go on to a "historical prologue" where the history of the relationship between the parties is recounted (i.e. everything that is leading up to the covenant ceremony). The covenant renewal ceremony in Jos. 24 follows that pattern, and it is the historical prologue that I want to focus on for this devotional. We will talk about it a little Sunday, but we will not be able to go into detail there. So, here are a few theological highlights from the recounting of the history of God and His people to this point (reading Jos. 24:1-13 first would be helpful):
  • Unconditional Election: Joshua starts out by reminding them that God took Abraham from Ur while Abraham was still a pagan. And, Abraham was chosen; not his brother Nahor, yet Abraham deserved it no more than Nahor. Abraham was no saint when God found him. He was plunged into pagan worship probably just as much as the Canaanites. Abraham did not become a believer because he was somehow inherently better than his father or brother. Abraham did not deserve it any more than anyone else. No, it was because God "took" him and "led" him. God loved Abraham when he deserved only wrath. The fact that Israel exists at all is simply an act of God's free grace and unconditional election. And, this is consistent with the rest of Scripture. The Bible constantly reminds us of who we were, but it is not to bring us to despair but to show us the incredible grace of God. Francis Schaeffer once wrote:
Whether studying the Old Testament or the New, we are reminded that we are not where we are because of a long, wise, and godly heritage. We come from rebellion. Individually, we are children of wrath. After we are Christians, we must look at others who are still under God's wrath and always say, "I am essentially what you are. If I am in a different place, it is not because I am intrinsically better than you, but simply because God has done something in my life." There is no place for pride.
  • Slow growth: Joshua tells us that God multiplied Abraham's seed, but it was really, really slow. He only gave him Isaac. Isaac only had two sons, one of which would not produce people of God (i.e. Esau). Finally, with Jacob's twelve sons, things start to speed up. So, we see from this that God does what He promises, but sometimes it is so gradual that we do not notice until it has been going on for a long time. We need to keep this in mind and walk by faith; not by sight. As one commentator says, "We easily lose sight of what Yahweh has done by demanding too much too soon."
  • Rough spots: Joshua also points out that Esau and his people (not God's people) get their inheritance right away but Jacob and his sons (God's people!) go to Egypt and become slaves. What? Why do the covenant people get slavery while the others get their land? Sometimes history seems to conflict with God's design, which is, again, why we have to walk by faith and not by sight. God always accomplishes His design, but sometimes it is not at all when we would expect it (cf. e.g. He. 11:32-38). The Scriptures are realistic about this and do not hide the "rough spots" from us, and that shows God is honest, realistic, and always faithful. God showing us the "rough spots" and confusing parts of history is not to make us relish the difficult aspects of the life to which He has called His people but to show us that He is faithful to hold us in and bring us through the "rough spots."
  • God's power: In vv. 5-12, Joshua recounts God's incredible power to deliver His people from Egypt (the greatest power in the world at the time), conquer the kings east of the Jordan, and conquer the Promised Land. Joshua sums it up with telling the people that it was not by their sword or bow that all this was accomplished but by God's mighty power. Time and time again God's people are outnumbered, outgunned, or even completely helpless, and God fights for them by His mighty power. This shows us what Jonah learned in Jon. 2:9: Salvation is of the LORD. Paul also tells us this in 2 Co. 4:7. This is not to say that we just "let go and let God," for God uses our struggles, as we fight by faith, but it does show us that our struggles would be nothing, useless, futile without God's mighty power. (We will talk more about this in the upcoming sermon.)
  • God's provision: If we look at vv. 7, 13, Joshua shows us God's provision in necessity and abundance, but also note that His provision is the basic stuff: manna, grain, towns, houses. It, with the exception of the manna, is ordinary stuff that we take for granted every day, but it is all of God's grace. God always provides for His people, but we need to remember too that God isn't some kind of genie that just grants our wishes. He gives us our needs; not necessarily our desires. And, most often He does it through the normal, ordinary means of a job, a family, etc.
You see, Joshua does not recount their history just to show them their past but to show them the great God whom they serve. That is the basis for the rest of the covenant renewal ceremony, which we will talk more about on Sunday. Until then, think about your own history, and I bet if you think long and hard enough, you could find some very similar displays of God's grace, faithfulness, power, and provision even during the rought spots, and if you do that, it will refresh your soul.

By His Grace,

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: Living by Faith

In the previous post, we talked about calling in the Christian life and how God has called the vast majority of Christians to ordinary but faithful lives that glorify Him and bring them joy. In today's sermon, we are going to look at Jos. 23, which addresses a similar topic: living this Christian life by faith. Really, this has been the topic of this whole series: fighting the good fight of the faith, but in this chapter, Joshua sums up living by faith for us really, really well.

Have you ever thought about what you want your final words to be? We probably don’t think about that often, if at all, because that means thinking about our death, which we don’t like to do. But, in order to die well, perhaps we should. The Puritan, Edmund Barker, summed up the Christian life by saying, “Every Christian hath two great works to do in the world: to live well and to die well.” Our last words in this world before we cross over the Jordan River Jesus has parted for us are our greatest and final opportunity to glorify God by impressing upon those around us what’s most important in this life. Moses’ final words, for example, encouraged God’s people in His promises, “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph! Your enemies shall come fawning to you, and you shall tread upon their backs.” Right before he died, Moses reminded the Israelites that they had been redeemed by God and God would fight for them as they entered the Promised Land.

In our passage, we have Joshua’s final words to the leadership in Israel. They’re not technically his final words before he died, for in ch. 24, he will lead the whole nation in renewing the covenant with God, but they are his final exhortations to the leadership that will succeed him—his last opportunity to impress upon them what’s most important. In fact, this passage is very similar to Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders before he left for Jerusalem or the book of 2 Timothy—his final words to Timothy before he died. Just as Paul told the elders in Ephesus and Timothy what’s most important in leading the church, so Joshua here tells the elders, heads, judges, and officers of Israel what’s most important in finishing the settling of the Promised Land and establishing the Kingdom of Israel. And, what’s so amazing about Joshua’s final words (as well as Paul’s), is that they aren’t what we might expect at all.

Joshua was a military general who’d been leading God’s people in the conquest of the land of Canaan for years, and yet his final words weren’t about military strategy or leadership skills, as we might expect. They’re about remaining faithful to God and warnings of temptation. So also, Paul was the greatest church-planter of all time, but his final words to the Ephesian elders or Timothy weren’t about church-growth strategies or theories of church leadership, as we might expect. They too were about remaining faithful to God and warnings of temptation. This, I think, should surprise us, yet it should also show us what’s truly most important for God’s people, whether they’re trying to finish settling the Promised Land by faith—like the Israelites—or simply to live faithfully in everyday life in a hostile culture like all of us. For the Israelites, the most important thing wasn’t military strategy, and for us, the most important thing isn’t appeal in the eyes of the world or culture. It’s maintaining a healthy relationship with the Lord—living by faith in God.

If you want to hear more, you can listen to the sermon here or read the transcript here.

I pray that God will use it to magnify His glory in your heart and fortify you for the battles of this Christian life.

By His Grace,