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February 2009

February 28, 2009

Many weekends I like to post a prayer from that collection of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision. I do this because I need to learn to pray and because I know there is much I can learn from this book. Though it is not an instruction manual, there is a sense in which is serves in just that way. Most of us (perhaps all of us) learn to pray by imitating others. And the people who prayed these prayers and recorded them for us are worthy of imitation. These are not prayers to be read as if just reading the words has any power or worth; they are prayers to be prayed as if they were your own words. As you speak them, offering them to God, they become just that.

This is the prayer that gave its name to the book. It is called “The Valley of Vision.”

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

February 27, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

This week’s sponsor is Crossway Books. Crossway is offering five prizes, each of which will include three books by Sam Storms: More Precious than Gold, Hope of Glory and To the One Who Conquers. These are the three titles in a series of devotional books. One focuses on Colossians, one on Revelation 2-3 and the other on the Psalms.

In More Precious Than Gold, Storms combines years of life experience and his biblical and theological training to bring readers 50 brief, daily meditations that are both stylistically accessible and theologically substantive. Each meditation includes a historical or theological reflection on the psalm in context, a story that brings it alive, and creative tools to support the key idea. Storms also interweaves the words of such luminaries as Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, and John Piper to help readers better understand the concepts that are featured throughout Psalms: worship, prayer, joy, forgiveness, steadfast love, mercy, sin’s consequences, the law of the Lord, and our relationship with our enemies.

Books by Sam Storms

Rules: You may only enter once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. The giveaway closes tonight at midnight.

February 27, 2009

I was just opening up my blogging software to begin writing today’s article when I got interrupted by a Home Depot truck. After our basement got flooded a couple of weeks ago, we decided (after having the crack in the foundation repaired) to replace the old, ugly carpet with hardwood. We ordered everything from Home Depot and the delivery turned up this morning. The truck couldn’t maneuver to the front of our house, so had to drop the skid a ways away. I just spent an hour hauling hardwood and subflooring into the house (through the rain).

A little-known fact about this site is that 90% of the time, at least, I write what you see immediately before I post it. I know some bloggers write content days in advance and store it up. That method has never worked for me. I prefer to begin each day with an idea or even just a sentence. Then I sit down and see what happens. While this means that my writing is probably not quite as good as it could otherwise be (and why spelling and grammatical errors sometimes slip through) it does give it a freshness. I don’t know if anyone else notices this, but it is important to me. In the past when I’ve written something and held onto it for a long time before posting it, I’ve often felt like it’s stale or like I don’t really feel what I posted. And so I continue to write and post without planning weeks or even days ahead.

Today I had a sentence in my mind and had planned to begin writing about it to see if it would come out as a viable article. But Home Depot interrupted me and stole an hour of my day. Now it’s too late, so I’ll put that idea on hold until next week. For now, I’ll try to clear out a few of the little things, the miscellania, that have been piling up around here.

The Cross He Bore

This is your second notification about my plan to lead a reading of Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore in the days leading to Good Friday. It is a series of thirteen meditations on the sufferings of the Redeemer, beginning with Gethsemane and ending in the outer darkness. In his Foreword to the book, Edward Donnelly says, “in rereading these chapters, I found myself more than once compelled by emotion to stop - and then to worship. I cannot help feeling that this is exactly how they were written and that the author’s chief desire is that each of us who reads should be brought to gaze in fresh understanding and gratitude upon ‘the Son of God,’ who loved me and give himself for me.”

This book ranks on my list of all-time favorites and I look forward to reading it again this Easter. I’d love to have you read it with me! I assure you that you will find it well worth the read. And even if you don’t read it with me, read it on your own. The book costs only $3.75 when you buy it from MonergismBooks.com. So why don’t you purchase a copy (or two or three) and we’ll read it together. We can begin reading it on Sunday March 29 and read one chapter per day in the thirteen days leading to (and including) Good Friday. I will post a brief reflection on the chapter each morning.

Buy It Here.

Lying to Impress

It was quite a while ago that I bookmarked this little article: Many lie over books ‘to impress’. It is funny, isn’t it, that even in an age that up-plays video at the expense of the written word, people somehow realize the innate superiority of the written word. I don’t know anyone (beyond perhaps the occasional child) who says he watches movies or programs in order to impress others. But we do still lie about what we read, knowing that literacy, not television, makes us appear smarter (and, in fact, does make us smarter).

Collect Life Lessons as You Pass Go

And here is another interesting article. It talks about the great benefits of playing board games. It was not too long ago that we got rid of our cable TV access and used the money we had saved to buy a big stack of board games. While our interest has come and gone (and come and gone again) we have found that games really are beneficial. They teach patience, they teach us how to win and lose with grace, and they allow us to spend time as a family or as a couple. These are all lessons that tend to fall by the wayside when we turn instead to the television. Where television is a largely lone and silent pursuit, games demand conversation, negotiation and interaction. Speaking personally I can testify that we’ve received much more benefit from playing games together than we have from watching TV together. Of course this isn’t to say that I won’t miss watching HD broadcasts of the Blue Jays this summer…

Photoshop CS3

I have a copy of Photoshop CS3 for Windows that I no longer have a use for. If you are in the market for it, let me know. Yes, it’s one version removed from the latest and greatest, but 90% of users have no use for the extra bells and whistles that come in CS4. Plus, once you buy a full version, you qualify for upgrades for future versions. It is cheaper to buy the older version plus the upgrade. If you are interested, please let me know via email. Best reasonable offer takes it. It is just the standard Photoshop CS3 for Windows, full version rather than upgrade. It’s just the DVD, case and serial number (no box). It’s not Photoshop Extended and is not the full CS suite.

And now…stay tuned for Free Stuff Friday.

February 27, 2009
Support or Censure for Embracing Motherhood
WNBA star Candace Parker recently announced her pregnancy. The news was greeted with a great deal of anger and disappointment. This article explains why this is.
Honk If You’re Paying My Mortgage
Here’s a bumper sticker worth owning!
A Model of Biblical Proportions
A retired farmer has spent more than 30 years building an enormous scale model of Herod’s temple - and it is still not finished. The picture gallery is amazing.
Meet Ligon Duncan
C.J. Mahaney continues his interview series by talking to Ligon Duncan.
Great Deals on Great Books
This pastor is selling off a large part of his library on eBay. There are some great deals on books and commentaries.
Five Reasons You Need to Study Theology
“There are many reasons why Christian’s need to study theology. In no particular order here are five reasons you need to study theology, and hopefully some of these you won’t have considered before.”
Jay Adams on Turning 80
Did you know Jay Adams has a blog? This article, reflecting on turning 80, is worth the read. He offers this advice: “Prepare for old age. True, you may never make it; there are former students of mine who have died already. If you don’t have some activity that you can engage in for the Lord, you will probably end up a sour and regretful old person.”
Deal of the Day: What is Reformed Theology?
A gift of any amount to Renewing Your Mind (think R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries) will get you a copy of the DVD “What is Reformed Theology?”
February 26, 2009

I posted this last Thursday but wanted to offer this as another reminder…

Real Christianity WilberforceIt is time to think about the next classic book of the Christian faith that we will be reading together. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. This program allows us to read them together, providing both a level of accountability and the added of interest of comparing notes. Those who have participated in each of the programs will now have read Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I have benefited immensely from reading these books and know that others have, too.

Today I’d like to announce the next classic. My rationale for choosing this book was that it somehow just seemed to fit. Perhaps it had something to do with the media focus on race or perhaps it was something to do with recent celebrations of William Wilberforce’s life. But as I thought about what I wanted to read next, my thoughts were drawn to Wilberforce’s Real Christianity: Discerning True Faith from False Beliefs. Here is a brief description of the book: “William Wilberforce (1759-1833) came from a prosperous merchant family. A politician by age 21, his early years were relatively unremarkable, but his conversion to Christianity in 1785 soon changed that. Wilberforce committed himself to two ambitious callings: rousing professing Christians to understand the nature of true faith, and bringing about the end of slavery in England’s colonies. Real Christianity challenged the ruling classes of early 19th Century England more than any other writings. To this day, Real Christianity remains a compelling work that soundly teaches the tenets of evangelical faith and stirs the consciences of Christians.”

I do not think we can easily overestimate the impact of Wilberforce’s life. As I read biographies of him last year, as I watched the film that traced his life, I knew that sooner or later I would want to hear him in his own words; I’d want to hear that passion that drove him through year after year of conflict.

And so this seemed like a good opportunity to do just that. The book has just seven chapters so this will be just an eight week study (allowing a week to read the Introductory matter). But I trust it will be a valuable one. As always, you can buy the book at Monergism Books (and I believe you can also find it in various places online if you don’t mind reading electronically). If you scroll down a little bit on that page you’ll see two related books. If you would like a brief biographical sketch of Wilberforce’s life, Piper’s book is worth the read. The other book is (I believe) geared to children so may be worth reading to or with them.

We’ll begin reading Real Christianity on Thursday March 5 and continue reading one chapter per week until it is complete. Please read the introductory matter for March 5.

Buy It Here

February 26, 2009

As you might imagine, I receive a good deal of email from people who read this site. Probably the most common questions I receive (other than those mentioning The Shack) deal with books and reading. I guess I’ve established a reputation as a bookworm and people often ask just how I find time to read all these books, what books I recommend, and whether I’ve developed a system to help me retain information. Every now and then I try to jot down my thoughts and I thought I’d share those today. These are, then, some rather random thoughts on reading. And after I’ve jotted down all of my thoughts, I’d love to hear your tips on reading.

I love to read and have nearly always loved to read and ever since I learned how to do it, it has been a passion of mine; it has been my favorite hobby. When I was younger my parents gave me books by Christian authors like R.C. Sproul and encouraged me to read biographies of great men and women. They modeled a love for reading as both of them constantly read good books. While I merely toyed with the books they gave me dealing with spiritual topics, I positively devoured books on history, and in particular, military history. My love for this subject took me through university and into adulthood. About eight or ten years ago, though, I began to be drawn towards Christian books. As far as I can recall, the first of these I bought was Classic Christianity by Bob George (withhold your comments, please) and it was soon followed by Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur and Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? by James Boice. That began a trend that has only intensified as the years have gone by.

It just a few years ago that I decided, mostly on a whim, that I would try to read a book each week for what I hoped would be the rest of my life. Subsequently, I also decided that I would attempt to provide reviews of the majority of these books. My reasoning was simply that through these reviews I could help other people who are interested in reading only a few books per year focus on titles that are worth their while, while at the same time helping them avoid the mountains of trash on the bookstore shelves. I realized that if I were to live for another fifty years, this commitment would mean that I would be able to read over 2500 books before I die. The thought of being able to learn from what God has taught 2500 other people was inspiring. Since I set that goal I have found that I can actually read closer to two books every week, so now tend to read and review around 100 books a year. I suppose this raises the potential to reading over 5,000 books in the next fifty years. I’m going to need some more bookshelves.

What follows is some seemingly-random points about reading. I hope you may find something here a little bit helpful.

First, an encouragement for those who have difficulty with reading. The more I read, the easier it is to read; the more I read, the better I get at it. A few years ago I read four books that discussed godly principles for decision making. Three of them were based primarily on the fourth (and anyone who has read about this subject will know the book I am referring to). Needless to say, it became progressively easier to read and understand each subsequent book. I have found that this is true of any topic. It is also true of reading in general. The more I have dedicated myself to reading, the better I have become at it. I have often spoken to people who have given up on reading because they have found it difficult. To these people I offer this encouragement: press on. Like any discipline, reading will become easier as you dedicate yourself to it. Don’t give up!

A lot of the books I read are short. The majority of the books I read are under 250 pages, and quite a few have fewer than 200 pages. I generally do not discriminate against a book based on its page count, so this is either a product of coincidence or of percentages. It seems to me that the average “Christian Living” book weighs in between 160 and 200 pages. Biographies and books dealing with theology or church history tend to be longer and require greater effort. So obviously the quantity of books I read has something to do with the average number of pages.

I read all the time, or most of it anyways. I watch only very little television (especially after having cut cable), but even when I do, I usually have my nose in a book. I also try to get out of bed a couple of hours before everyone else so I can have some quiet time to read. When I go to the doctor or the barber, I tend to stick a book in my pocket so I can use that fifteen minutes doing something other than reading old copies of People magazine. It is amazing how many ten and fifteen minute periods there are in life that can be used for reading.

Speaking of which, for those who insist that they have no time to read, consider this (and excuse the vulgarity). If you were to read one page of a book per day, you would be able to read at least two of the average Christian Living books in a year, right? And, of course, a bathroom break is the perfect time to read a page or two of a book. So consider: if you were to keep a book in the bathroom and read only when you were, you know, using the bathroom, you could read two books per year. If you were to read only when you were brushing your teeth, you could read another book or two a year. So if you feel that you do not have time to read, why not keep a book in the bathroom and commit to reading it there? Two books a year is better than none!

One of my peculiarities, but one I have found helpful, is reading two or even three books at a time. I used to find that I would sometimes mistake physical fatigue for what was actually a fatigue brought about by dwelling too long on a particular subject. Sometimes when I put down that first book and begin reading a second book, I immediately feel refreshed. It turns out that my mind was tired and this was making my body feel tired. So consider keeping a couple of books on the go, and books that deal with completely different topics.

Here is a basic outline of how I read a book. I begin by giving the book a quick scan, hoping to understand what it is about, what the author is going to attempt to prove and how he is going to set about this task. I read the back cover and the endorsements. I skim over the table of contents and look through the end notes and bibliography. Having done that, I tend to linger a little bit over the introductory chapter(s), since I find this to be the most important section in the book. It generally lays out the basic framework of the author’s argument and lets me know what he is arguing against. I read with a pencil in hand (I buy those clickable Bic pencils by the box) and highlight liberally. I also tend to jot short notes and questions in the margins or at the end of chapters. Points that are important to the author’s argument tend to receive a *, and points that are exceedingly important receive a bigger, bolder *. I often also make a list of important page numbers and questions on the inside front cover of the book. In some cases I’ll make two or three columns of page numbers. By doing all of this, I am making the book my own and not just reading it, but actually interacting with it as I go. This is tremendously helpful for both understanding and retention.

I don’t know if there is an objectively good way of marking books, but I doubt it. So work on a system that works for you and stick with it. But don’t be afraid to mark your books. Again, books are meant to be interacted with.

I’ll be honest and admit that I forget a great deal of what I read. Anyone who tells you otherwise may not be telling the truth (unless he has a Spurgeon-like photographic memory). I used to be discouraged if, a year (or a month or a week) after reading a book, I could barely remember the content. I have since realized that this is inevitable. I focus on remembering what I can and trust that simply because I do not remember the complete outline of a book, this does not prove that a book has not been edifying to me. After all, if this was our standard, just about every sermon would be a complete failure. I trust that the Spirit works in me as I read good books and that He works despite my imperfect memory.

Reviewing books is an excellent way of driving home the main points of a book. It is as good a memory device as I can imagine. In fact, I would encourage every reader to review the books they read, even if those reviews will never be made public. It is a good discipline to think through the main points of the book and is as valuable a discipline to formulate thoughts on whether or not the reader agrees with a book. When you finish a book, why not jot down a short review, even if it is only a few lines, and stick it inside the book? You’ll be grateful later on.

Let me wrap it up this way. I see reading as a discipline, but a pleasurable one. I love it and have found it to be tremendously beneficial to my spiritual life. Reading and writing have together brought me untold benefit. I can honestly say that most evenings there is nothing I’d rather do.

I’ve said my bit. Do you have any tips or tricks or practices that might be beneficial to those who are trying to read, to read more and to read better? If so, leave a comment…

February 26, 2009
The Pornification of a Culture
Dr. Mohler: “The scourge of pornography is now so pervasive that it begins to define the culture at large. America is fast transforming itself from a society that allows and markets pornography into a culture that is pornographic. Boundary after boundary is being transgressed.”
The Future
This little cartoon captures something about our culture.
“Rabbi” Duncan
On the anniversary of “Rabbi” Duncan’s death, Fred Sanders offers a few of his best aphorisms. Example: “I have a great liking for many of Wesley’s Hymns; but when I read some of them, I ask, ‘What’s become of your Free-will now, friend?’”
Octomom Does Not Represent Big Families
Candance, writing at Boundless,org, says of the mother of octuplets “her headline-grabbing stunt seems to be turning a critical eye on large families who get that way (large) the old-fashioned way (one or two babies at a time).”
Deal of the Day: A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism
Reformation Heritage Books is offering a great discount on this book. “Ames’s method in this book is not an analysis of the Catechism itself. Rather, he chooses a particular text of Scripture that supports the main thoughts for a given Lord’s Day. While the exposition is directly from the Bible, Ames’s doctrinal conclusions interact with the corresponding Questions and Answers of the Heidelberg Catechism. ”
February 25, 2009

snapshots.jpgI have written a lot of articles through the past 6+ years of blogging. Within all of the “every day” have been a few that I consider favorites—articles that, for one reason or another, stick with me even months or years later. I’ve often thought about collecting some of those together and allowing this to serve as a kind of introduction to the site. I finally had opportunity to do just that.

And so I thought I’d offer this, Snapshots & Screenshots as a means of introducing myself and introducing what I write. It is a collection of twelve of my favorite articles; twelve of the ones I remember as I think back over the past few years. Those of you who have been reading the site for a long time may well remember some or all of those; I trust the newcomers will find something to enjoy as well.