Why You Should Read Good Books this Summer

Why You Should Read Good Books this Summer

Word in Season

When a sunny and summery reprieve finally came a couple of eons ago, I dug out my garden gloves and headed outside to tend to our long-neglected lawn and garden. Even though I had cleaned it all up in the fall, a few months of snow and wind had left a mark. Sticks and leaves and trash had blown in, and even dog poo was left here and there, courtesy of our neighborhood pals. We weren’t paying attention and look what happened! Spring came and exposed a mess that happened gradually, all by itself. That’s a simple fact of life for you: things left to themselves tend to get messy.

You can’t expect good things to sprout without planting, or thrive without consistent pruning and care. Only weeds do that!

Yard work (and housework) has always reminded me of the work that we, as children of God, are called to do on our minds: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Without constant and ongoing transformation, our minds fall into default mode: we become world-admiring and God-forgetting. You can’t expect good things to sprout without planting, or thrive without consistent pruning and care. Only weeds do that!

Which is why I want to make a case for putting some good books on your summer reading list! Reading good books is a big part of transforming one’s mind. And by “good” I mean a book that will encourage you in your faith, help you get better at loving others, and help you grow in your knowledge of God.

Here are some ideas (along with a lot of helpful links!).

  • Read Christian biography this summer. Looking at the life of someone who served God and finished well and seeing how God worked in difficult situations and “made all things work together for good” is incredibly encouraging. Reading biographies was helpful to me in our transition years when I didn’t have a mentor close by. I can still hear Amy Carmichael’s lessons in my head, 15 years later.
  • Read books on Christian growth. There is never a point when anyone can say: I know enough about God and the Christian faith. Our minds constantly need the fertilizer of knowledge and the pruning of solid advice.
  • If you are carrying some sort of ministry, summer is a great time to get refreshed and spurred on. As my husband says, “we’re not awesome”. We need constant input, new ideas and the examples of others. Ministry was never meant to be accomplished alone. Are you a Bible teacher? Pick up some books on Bible study this summer. Does your heart ache for the unsaved? Read books about how people from different worldviews think. Are you a parent who wants more ideas on how to instruct your children in the Lord? Read good parenting books written by godly and wise people. Do you find yourself in a lot of heavy conversations with people going through difficult times? Maybe a book on people helping or Christian suffering will help. Whatever your ministry – don’t do it alone, read a book. (Click here for a few other suggestions).
  • Read Christian classics! Books become classics not only because their messages endure, but also because these books apply to so many different settings and cultures. There may be centuries between us and John Bunyan, but I promise you, your heart will resonate with his writing as if he is your best friend, no matter where you live – Africa or Nebraska.

“But I am not a reader”, you say, “where do I begin?” Here are a few tips:

  • Very few people in our society are total “non-readers”. Most of us read something, and our brains are capable of learning new tricks. Find a 15-minute pocket of time in your day, and spend that time reading. You’ll be surprised how much you can read by reading only 15 or 20 minutes a day. What a great habit to form.
  • Read and highlight sentences that will define the lesson you can take from that book. It is impossible to remember everything the author offers. What is the one thing that is helpful for you today? What resonated with you and encouraged you?
  • Read and talk about it! Share at your dinner table, on a hike, on a playdate. You will be surprised at how this will enrich your fellowship. Remember that when you grow, others grow around you!

So this summer, instead of checking out mentally, how about nourishing your mind, tending to your soul, and planting good things in your garden by reading good books? Paul reminds us: “whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).

At the end of this summer, what will you be reaping?

How to Study the Bible, Part 3

How to Study the Bible, Part 3

Word in Season

After discerning the meaning that was originally intended by the author, it is time to ask the question: how is this relevant to me? How do I respond to this today, in my context?

This is what the last step of Bible study is all about: application!

Without application all the effort you put into observation and interpretation is just vapor that will dissipate as soon as you close your Bible and notebook. The Word of God, written for you thousands of years ago, will fall flat if your mind and heart and practical life are not transformed by it. Think about it – the Word of God falling flat!

In 2 Tim. 3:6-7, the Apostle Paul warns about people who are always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. In other words, it is possible to take in all the teaching and enjoy the intellectual exercise but do so in an empty way: with one’s life still marked by sin and various passions (2 Tim. 3:6).

So how do we “arrive at a knowledge of the truth”?

As we seek to apply a certain passage, we need to remember an important principle: the way we respond to a passage must be shaped by the main idea of the passage.

There are usually many ways to apply a given passage. And the specific ways one will apply a passage will vary depending on his or her age, background, and place in life. Even so, a legitimate application will always have something to do with what the author actually meant for us to come away with.

Thankfully, there is not a situation in my life that the Bible doesn’t address in some way! But as I seek to apply the Bible to various situations, I have to consider what the author was driving at.

In the last post, we determined that the main idea of Hebrews 3:12-14 can be said like this:

Because of the real and present danger that unbelief poses to Christians, the writer of Hebrews urges Christians to exhort one another every day in order to help each other continue holding on to our original confidence, and thereby show that we have truly shared in Christ.

How do we apply this? When we think “application”, it may be helpful to think about three areas: 1) the head, 2) the heart, and 3) one’s practical life. Let’s walk through those three areas.

Respond at the Head Level

What are some truths in the passage that I am to believe? What are some lies that this passage brings to light? What truths about God expressed here am I finding difficult to believe? Believing means more than simply affirming a set of statements. It means embracing them as true.

In our passage, some truths are made clear. For example, the sin of unbelief is deceitful, and it has a heart-hardening effect. Do I really believe that?

What is the original confidence that I am to hold onto? Surely, this refers to the gospel – the very foundation on which my new life with God began. Have I added something to that along the way? What I am hearing around me or in my culture that undermines that original confidence?

Respond at the Heart Level

How does the meaning of the text affect my affections and attitudes of my heart?

Do I feel the weight of the warning, and the urgency in this passage; the danger of not holding on to my original confidence firm to the end? Do I sense that danger for myself, and for those around me?

I need to think of the Christian faith as a marathon, not a sprint. A famous Bible teacher once said: “Don’t make 5-year long plans. Rather, think of yourself in 60 years: where will you be?” That is in line with this passage – will my original faith be deep and strong and shareable in 60 years from now?

What things must I do today for that to happen?

Respond at the Practical Level

How will this passage shape my personal life? How will this shape the way I relate to my friends or family or with the people I disciple?

And since all sin is rooted in unbelief, a clear way to apply this passage is to fight sin! So, I will fight that unbelief by saturating myself with the Word of God and surrounding myself with people who can discern in me a hardening of heart and exhort me to grow in my faith.

Hear the imperative in this passage: “Take care and exhort one another” (v. 12,13). Do I love my brothers and sisters enough to warn them against a hardened heart? Do I love God’s people to the point that I don’t miss opportunities in friendships and relationships, but instead use every opportunity to build others up?

Application: the Final Step

Application is the final step in Bible study. And, like the rest of Bible study, application has to be done correctly. And without this crucial step, the entire process of Bible study will fall flat. So let me exhort you today to apply the Word of God! 😊

Note: This is the 3rd of a 3-part series on How to Study the Bible. For part 1 of this series, click here. And click here for part 2.

Resolve to Apply the Bible in 2019

Resolve to Apply the Bible in 2019

Word in Season

So far, we have talked here about the importance of being in the Word, whether through personal reading or studying it in a group setting. Of course, that is very good. But it will have no value if the time we spend in the Word doesn’t produce fruit in our lives and in the community around us. And not only will it be of no value – as if it were merely wasted time; according to James, it is even worse than that.

Listen to what James says: “…Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:21b-22).

What do you mean, James, when you say deceiving yourselves?

Do you mean that after I listen to a sermon on Jesus being the King and nothing changes in the way I live my life or how I leverage my resources, I am living a lie?

That if I sit through a Bible study that clearly calls me to love others with a steadfast kind of love that doesn’t seek its own, and nothing changes in my relationships, I may be deceiving myself?

That if I read, in my reading plan, Romans 3:23-26 on being justified by faith and I don’t grapple with the hard questions and ask: “Lord, show me where I am relying on my own effort to win your favor?” – I may be okay with what Jesus vehemently opposed; namely, self-righteousness?

That if a mentor shows me the words from Matthew 16:24: “follow Jesus… take up the cross… lose your life”, and I stick with my old ways because that is how I roll (and besides, everyone has issues!) I may be, in fact, following the father of lies, who is bent on keeping me blind to the truth?

C.S. Lewis (among others) noted that the worst kind of deception is self-deception. It is the worst kind because we are masters at talking ourselves out of what is true and best for us. And unless we let God’s Word transform us, this self-deception will continue blinding us to truth. The answer, then, is to not be deceived and instead to be doers of the truths that God is purposefully sowing into our hearts each day, each week, and each month through his Word.

What does being a doer of the Word look like? Consider a few hypotheticals… 🙂

When you sit under a series of sermons on the Kingship of Jesus, don’t just hear the words. Instead, ask hard questions and ask for God’s help! Am I holding on to my own kingdom? Lord, give me the strength to surrender to your rule in real ways. Show me how to use what you have given me in ways that show genuine submission to your Kingdom. And then be practical – look hard at your schedule and expenses (and etc.) and consider ways to leverage your resources so that you aren’t just serving you and your family. For the Kingdom’s sake, make some room in your life to serve others.

When you go through a study of Colossians and the words from Colossians 3:13 jump out at you: “bearing with one another”, instead of doing what you always do – listing the reasons why a certain someone in your life is, and shall remain, unbearable – think about how to obey the words that are there: “Bear. Set your mind on Christ. Let His peace rule”.

When a friend prays over you the words from Matthew 6:25-33: “Do not be anxious… For your heavenly Father knows”, don’t dismiss this as a platitude. Instead, cling with all your soul to these words and fight to keep your thoughts in check and flowing in one direction: the Father is good. He knows. Don’t be anxious. Trust.

Being a doer of the Word is more than just showing up on a Sunday morning or attending a Bible study. It is more than reading passages each day from a reading plan. This process requires submission to his rule and relying on his strength to do it. It requires frank and gritty honesty. And it depends on the Body of Christ because, as we come together, we remind each other and spur each other on to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel. To be doers of the Word. And this is profoundly good for us. Because, according to James, being a doer of the Word will make you a blessed person (James 1:25).

So yes, by all means, resolve to read the Bible in 2019. And yes, yes, yes; resolve to study the Bible in 2019. But above all, resolve to apply the Bible in 2019!