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December 11, 2009

The end of the year is drawing close and, if you’re like me, you’re already beginning to think about what you’ll do differently (and, hopefully, better) next year. When it comes to my daily devotions, I’ve been thinking about putting myself on some kind of a reading plan. I have only rarely done those in the past and don’t know that I’ve ever really stuck with one all the way through to December. But next year I think I will give it a go. I have also been thinking about daily devotionals—something I could read either by myself or with the family. I’ve drawn up a list of a few notable devotionals. There are hundreds available so this is represents a drop in the proverbial bucket. But I think if you are considering a devotional, you are likely to find at least one here that would appeal. Do let me know if you know of others that would be worth investigating.

Daily Readings from the Life of Christ by John MacArthur. This two-volume set is recently published by Moody and focuses on the life of Christ. “In this daily devotional by highly acclaimed author John MacArthur, your hungry heart will be focused on God and His Word. With insights on the life of Jesus, thoughts to ponder, and wisdom gleaned from years of careful study, this devotional will feed your daily walk.”

Voices from the Past edited by Richard Rushing. This volume, brand new from Banner of Truth, offers daily devotional readings from the Puritans. It does not follow any particular order (that I can see) in the Scripture passages accompanying each devotional.

Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. This is a classic devotional that offers two daily readings, one for the morning and (you guessed it) one for the evening. Again, the accompanying Scripture passages do not follow any set order. If purchasing it as a gift for someone else, there are attractive gift editions of it available.

For the Love of God by D.A. Carson. This two-volume devotional contains a systematic 365-day plan, based on the M’Cheyne Bible-reading schedule, that will in the course of a year guide you through the New Testament and Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once. To accompany the reading plan Carson has also written comments and reflections regarding each day’s scriptural passages. “And, most uniquely, he offers you perspective that places each reading into the larger framework of history and God’s eternal plan to deepen your understanding of his sovereignty—and the unity and power of his Word.”

Through the Bible Through the Year by John Stott. “John Stott has assembled a new book that will guide readers through the Bible according to the church calendar. Seeking to renew a Trinitarian approach to Scripture, Stott divides these daily reflections into three sections. From September to December, Stott focuses on how God the Father revealed himself in the Old Testament. From January through Pentecost, he focuses on the life of Christ in and through the Gospels. And between May and August, Stott looks at the Holy Spirit in Acts, the epistles, and Revelation.”

DayOne Publications has an ongoing series that offers readings from the writings of a number of well-known Christian pastors or theologians. Currently available are:

365 Days with Calvin edited by Joel Beeke (brand new).

365 Days with Newton edited by Marylynn Rouse .

365 Days with Spurgeon edited by Terence Peter Crosby (there are 4 volumes available).

There is also a volume with readings from William Wilberforce (edited by Kevin Belmonte) but it seems a bit more difficult to come by.

Walking with God Day by Day by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. “Walking with God Day by Day offers brief daily devotionals that engage the mind and the heart. You will not just find spiritual nourishment in its pages; you will learn about God and the great themes of the Bible. Robert Backhouse has compiled excerpts from choice passages in the writings of Dr. Lloyd-Jones according to monthly themes. By reading this devotional, you will grow in your understanding of God and learn to apply the truth of His Word day by day.”

Faith Alone by Martin Luther. “Freshly translated from the original German into today’s English, this book contains a treasury of devotionals taken from Luther’s writings and sermons (1513 to 1546), conveniently divided into daily readings to point readers to the Bible and a deeper understanding of faith.”

Daily Dose of Bible Knowledge. Though I have this book, I have not yet read through all of it. I mention it, though, because I really like the idea behind it. The book “helps you start every day with a fascinating exploration of the Bible. The book includes 365 inspiring one-page articles that delve into everything from the Ark of the Covenant to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The articles are grouped into 52 weeks, with each day of the week dedicated to a particular subject area.” So it is not a devotional, per se, but still a helpful day-by-day kind of book.

Tabletalk Magazine by Ligonier Ministries. If you’d rather receive a monthly publication than buy a book, consider Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk. In each monthly issue it offers daily devotionals along with a good number of articles written by many respected pastors, theologians, authors and the occasional Canadian blogger.

November 15, 2009

A little while ago I read Warren Wiersbe’s book 50 People Every Christian Should Know. Just the other day I was tidying up my bookcases and noticed a toothpick sticking out of the book. I opened it to the page marked by the toothpick and found a quote I guess I must have been hoping to come back to. Turns out it’s a good one. It comes from a chapter devoted to Alexander Whyte. Here it is:

*****

The sales manager of a successful Christian publishing house tells me that pastors are not buying books. “Most of the books sold in Christian bookstores are sold to and read by women,” he said. If our pastors are not using their valuable time for study, what are they using it for? Perhaps Whyte had the answer: “We shroud our indolence under the pretext of a difficulty. The truth is, it is lack of real love for our work.”

Alexander Whyte loved books, and he read them to his dying day. The Puritans in general and Thomas Goodwin in particular were his main diet. But he also thrived on the mystics and the princes of the Scottish church, such as Samuel Rutherford. Whyte constantly ordered books for himself and his friends in the ministry. However, he cautioned young pastors against becoming book-buyers instead of book-readers. “Don’t hunger for books,” he wrote a minister friend. “Get a few of the very best, such as you already have, and read them and your own heart continually.” Whyte often contrasted two kinds of reading—“reading on a sofa and reading with a pencil in hand.” He urged students to keep notebooks and to make entries in an interleaved Bible for future reference. “No day without its line” was his motto. He wrote to Hubert Simpson: “for more than forty years, I think I can say, never a week, scarcely a day, has passed, that I have not entered some note or notes into my Bible: and, then, I never read a book without taking notes for preservation one way or another.”

July 03, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I said that I was Monitoring Mohler (so to speak), reading through his entire suggested summer reading list. At that point I had read The Unforgiving Minute, With Wings Like Eagles, Hunting Eichmann and World War One. Since then I’ve read several of the other titles on this list and thought I’d check in.

December 24, 2008

A couple of days ago I was a guest on a radio program, discussing my favorite books from 2008. At one point the host asked what books I am looking forward to reading next year. I thought I’d share just a short list here. This is based only on books that have been announced or that I’ve somehow discovered in my online wanderings.

As you probably know, 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. Hence we are going to see several Calvin biographies. It is actually surprising how few there are today; I’ve little doubt that this will be remedied next year. So for those of us who are indebted to Calvin but who know little about him, next year should offer a bounty of good resources. I hope to read at least two or three of those biographies.

2009 also marks Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday. The New York Times says “Throw in the fact that the next president of the United States, like Lincoln, is a former state legislator from Illinois, and an African-American who says he has been reading the writings of the man who wrote the Emancipation Proclamation and you have, well, Lincoln-mania.” Because his birthday is in February, we can expect several biographies and other resources in the early months of the year. It’s not like we are suffering from a lack of top-notch biographies on Lincoln, but I expect to see the field grow even more crowded. Ronald C. White’s A. Lincoln: A Biography looks as if it may be the best of the bunch.

There are two books releasing on almost the same day (and for almost the same price—only $0.01 separates them) titled Finding God in The Shack. I’ll probably read them.

We will undoubtedly see a deluge of good Christian books next year. Some of the ones I am looking forward to are:

  • The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington (disclosure: I’ve already read it and written an endorsement for it. It’s a very good book)
  • Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will or How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random … Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. by Kevin DeYoung. Of the writing of books dealing with God’s will there is no end; but this one looks both interesting and unique.
  • Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God by Bruce Ware.
  • The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness by Albert Mohler.
  • This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence by John Piper. He waited many years to write this book and I’m looking forward to reading it.

How about you? What books are you looking forward to reading next year?

November 24, 2008

When I turned to the readers of this site and asked for questions I could answer or topics I could address, I noted (without much surprise) that many people were interested in the subject of reading. One person sought a basic “Why, what and how of reading Christian books.” Others sought advice on how to read more and how to read better. This is a subject I have written about before but I thought it would be valuable to return to it today. Here is a list of ten tips to read more and to read better.

Read - We start with the obvious: you need to read. Find me someone who has changed the world and who spent his time watching television and I’ll find you a thousand who read books instead. Unless reading is your passion, you may need to be very deliberate about setting aside time to read. You may need to force yourself to do it. Set yourself a reasonable target (“I’m going to read three books this year” or “I’m going to finish this book before the end of the month”) and work towards it. Set aside time every day or every week and make sure you pick up the book during those times. Find a book dealing with a subject of particular interest to you. You may even find it beneficial to find a book that looks interesting—a nice hardback volume with a beautiful, embossed cover, easy-to-read fonts and beautiful typography. Reading is an experience and the experience begins with the look and feel of the book. So find a book that looks like one you’ll enjoy and commit to reading it. And when you’ve done that, find another one and do it again. And again.

Read Widely - I’m convinced that one reason people do not read more is that they do not vary their reading enough. Any subject, no matter how much you are interested in it, can begin to feel dry if you focus all of your attention upon it. So be sure to read widely. Read fiction and non-fiction, theology and biography, current affairs and history, Christian and non. You will no doubt want to focus the majority of your reading in one broad area, and that is well and good. But be sure to vary your diet.

Read Deliberately - Similar to reading widely, ensure that you read deliberately. Choose your books carefully. If you neglect to do this, you may find that you overlook a particular category for months or even years at a time. Al Mohler, a voracious reader, divides books into six categories: Theology, Biblical Studies, Church Life, History, Cultural Studies, and Literature and has some project going within each of these categories at all times. You can draw up categories of your own, but try to ensure you are reading from a variety of the categories on a regular basis. Choose books that fit into each of these categories and plan your reading ahead of time, so you know what book you will read next and you know what you’ll read after that. Anticipation for the next book is often a motivating force in completing the current book.

Read Interactively - Reading is best done, at least when enjoying serious books, when you work hard at understanding the book and when you interact with the author’s arguments. Read with a highlighter and pencil in hand. Ask questions of the author and expect him to answer them through the course of the text. Scrawl notes in the margins, write questions inside the front cover, and return to them often (and, if the questions remain unanswered, even seek to contact the author!). Highlight the most important portions of the book, or the ones you intend to return to later. As Al Mohler says, “Books are to be read and used, not collected and coddled.” I have found that writing reviews of the books I read is a valuable way of returning at least one more time to the book to make sure that I understand what the author was trying to say and how he said it. So interact with those books and make them your own.

Read with Discernment - Though books have incredible power to do good, to challenge and strengthen and edify, they also have the power to do evil. I have seen lives transformed by books but have also seen lives crushed. So do ensure that you read with discernment, always comparing the books you read to the standard of Scripture. If you encounter a book that is particularly controversial, it may be worth ensuring that you can reference a review that interacts critically with the arguments or that you can read it with a person who better understands the arguments and their implications. You do not need to fear any book as long as you read with a critical eye and with a discerning mind.

Read Heavy Books - It can be intimidating to stare at some of those massive volumes or series of volumes sitting on your bookshelf, but be sure to make time to read some of those serious works. A person can only grow so much while living on a diet of easy-reading Christian Living books. Make your way through some Jonathan Edwards or John Calvin. Read Grudem’s Systematic Theology or David Wells’ “No Place for Truth” series. You will find them slow-going, to be sure, but will also find them rewarding. Commit to reading some of these heavy volumes as a regular part of your reading diet. Consider joining in one of our Reading Classics Together efforts to add some interaction and accountability in reading one of the classics of the faith.

Read Light Books - While dense books should be a serious reader’s main diet, there is nothing wrong with pausing to enjoy the occasional novel or light read. After reading two or three good books, allow yourself to read a Clancy or Grisham or Peretti something else that never changed anyone’s life. Allow yourself to get lost in a good story every now and again and stay up way too late insisting that you’re going to read just one more chapter. You will find that they refresh you and prepare you to read the next heavy book.

Read New Books - Keep an eye on what is new and popular and consider reading what other people in your church or neighborhood are reading. If The Secret is selling millions of copies, consider reading it so you know what people are reading and so you can attempt to discern why people are reading it. Use your knowledge of these books as a bridge to talk to people about their books and what attracts them to the ones they read. Use your knowledge of these books to understand what other Christians are reading and why.

Read Old Books - Do not read only new books. I cannot say this any better than C.S. Lewis: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.” So be sure to read old books, whether that means classics or whether that simply means books that come from a generation or two before your own. And be sure to read history as well, since there is no better way of understanding today than by understanding yesterday.

Read What Your Heroes Read - A few years ago, while at the Shepherds’ Conference, a young man who was in ministry but had not had opportunity to attend seminary asked John MacArthur what he would recommend to this man so he could continue learning and continue growing in his knowledge of theology. MacArthur’s answer was simple: He said that this pastor should find godly men he admires and read what they read. So do that! Find people you admire and read the books that have most shaped them. Visit the web sites of your heroes and you may just find that they have already compiled lists of their most formative books. Read these books and see for yourself how they shaped your heroes.

October 25, 2008

Apparently Oprah loves Amazon’s Kindle reading device. She loves it so much that she featured it on her show. Amazon responded by whipping up a coupon code which will remove $50 from the price of the Kindle should you decide to order one (something they, for some reason, chose not to do when I reviewed it). I’m not sure how long this promotion lasts, but I can’t imagine it will be more than a day or two. So if you’ve been looking at the Kindle and haven’t been able to decide whether or not to get one, well, perhaps this will help your decision.

Simply click here or on this little banner:

Once you’re on the payment screen, look for the coupon code area. Enter OPRAHWINFREY and $50 will be taken off the price. Shipping is also free.

September 22, 2008

I have often expressed my love of biographies. I consider them to be among the most helpful of resources in helping equip Christians in their lifelong quest for Christ-likeness. We can learn much from the examples of those who have run the race before us. We can learn from what God taught them, learn from their triumphs and learn from the times they were defeated. I have a passion for biographies. I also have a passion for the English language. I love to see how we can use the language to craft works of art. I cannot express myself in the fine arts - music and art are both disciplines that escape me. But I consider myself a wordsmith-in-training. These two loves come together in Jack, a biography of C.S. Lewis written by a veritable master of the English language.

May 31, 2008

My recent travels allowed me another opportunity to really put my Kindle to the test. (Because I live in Canada, several of its best features are only available to me when I head south of the border.) And having done so I can’t deny that I like it better than ever. Beyond the benefits I laid out in my recent review of the Kindle, here are five good reasons to own one.

Thousands of Free Books

Just about any book that is available in PDF (Adobe Acrobat) or in e-book format can be read on your Kindle. That gives you a vast library to build upon.

If you would like to build your library of Christian classics, visit CCEL. Browse through the library and download any of the books in PDF format. You can download books by Edwards, Bunyan, Augustine, Chesterton and just about any other classic author you can think of. There are literally thousands of titles there for the taking.

If you are a fan of John Piper, visit Desiring God and download any of Piper’s books for free in PDF format.

If you would like to catch up on classics or just browse other free e-books, visit Feedbooks. They have thousands of great titles available, all of them entirely free. Go there to download your fix of Orwell, Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy, Hawthorne…

How do you get these books to your Kindle? Easy. When you buy a Kindle, Amazon gives you an email address (your-username@kindle.com). Simply email the file to your address. Amazon will covert it and for $0.10 send it immediately and wirelessly to your Kindle. Want to save the dime? Then send the file to your-username@free.kindle.com. Amazon will convert the file (for free) and send it back to you via email (for free). You then simply copy it to your Kindle using the USB cable.

Buy Books Anywhere and Anytime

While enjoying a brief break at a recent conference, and while sitting in the back row of a university chapel, I felt the urge to buy a new book that I could enjoy while traveling home (and something that would be a little lighter to read than the Banner of Truth titles I had stuffed into my suitcase!). Within sixty seconds, using nothing but my Kindle, I had purchased a book and had begun reading it. Just like that. Using your Kindle you have access to well over 100,000 books at any time and any place.

You will also never have to worry about books going out of stock. When books run out of stock at Amazon or your local bookstore, they are always available on the Kindle. Anywhere, anytime. When the books go out of print, I suppose they’ll still be available for download to your Kindle.

Check Your Email Anywhere—For Free!

Many people pay a lot of money for the ability to check their email via their cell phone. With the Kindle you can actually check your email remotely and entirely free wherever you can get a Sprint cell phone connection. The same technology that allows you to purchase books anywhere allows you to check email anywhere. And it’s entirely free. You may wish to purchase the $3 e-book How to Use the Amazon Kindle for Email & Other Cool Tricks: Read and Answer Email Anywhere, Anytime on the Amazing Amazon Kindle… to read instructions on how to do this (and to learn some other interesting tips and tricks…like how to play Minesweeper on your Kindle).

Free Wireless Internet Everywhere

It’s true—you can use the Kindle to surf the web wirelessly…anywhere. Anywhere serviced by Sprint, at any rate. Granted it’s not going to look wonderful since the Kindle does not do color and isn’t meant to display pretty graphics, but it you want to visit sites you like to read (and remember, the Kindle is a reading device) you can do so from anywhere using the same cellular service for which everyone else pays $60/month.

Read the Bible

A quick search turned up at least eight different Bible translations already available for the Kindle (ESV, KJV, NIV, NASB, etc). They all cost less than $10. This article outlines some good suggestions for using the Kindle for Bible study. As with any other book, you can take notes, highlight passages, search for words and phrases and otherwise interact with the text of Scripture.

May 27, 2008

320px-Kindle2.gifA few weeks ago I cracked open the box for my new Kindle, Amazon’s wireless reading device. Since then I’ve had ample opportunity to use it and I’d like to provide a short review based on my experiences with it. I believe that reading reviews of this product will greatly enhance your enjoyment of it because you will know what to expect. I believe many of those who have been disappointed by their Kindles have been disappointed because they have expected it to be something it is not.

Because I read so much and because I read many books in manuscript format, I wanted to gauge the Kindle’s effectiveness in two broad areas. First, I wanted to determine how effective it is as medium for displaying e-books. Though I love to read printed books, I was eager to attempt reading paperless books as well. Second, I wanted to determine whether it is an effective medium for displaying books in manuscript format (which is typically an Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word file). While the Kindle’s functionality goes beyond these tasks, I had little interest in those other areas. For example, because I have near-constant access to my PC, there is no reason for me to read blogs or newspapers on this device. Neither did I wish to use it to play MP3’s or browse Wikipedia. The Kindle does all of these things, but I have not adequately tested its abilities in these areas.

The Reading Experience

Though it is difficult to explain the experience of using the Kindle, I will attempt it as best I can. The device is about the size and weight of a small paperback (it is 7.5” x 5.3” x 0.7” in size and 10.3 ounces in weight). Looking at it, it is clear that Amazon’s engineers invested more effort in functionality than in beauty; it is rather utilitarian and certainly would not be mistaken for an Apple product (though the packaging was rather snazzy and did evoke memories of unwrapping my first iPod). The screen is 6” in size (diagonally) with 600 x 800 resolution. It is grayscale and utilizes a groundbreaking e-ink technology that offers a couple of benefits over a standard LCD screen (like the screens on a laptop): it uses very little power which in turn preserves battery life; and it is not backlit, removing the difficulty with eye fatigue that can plague those who read on LCD screens. It amply mimics the “feel” of ink on paper.

The box includes the Kindle, a power cord used to recharge the battery, a USB cable for connecting the Kindle to a computer and a leather cover or folder that is used to protect it.

KindleReading books is as simple as clicking the Next Page and Previous Page buttons. It involves no scrolling through pages—text never waits “below” the viewable area as it often does on a web page. Instead, a click of the Next Page button will refresh the screen (which takes about one second) and display the next page of text. Text is very easy to read and there is more than adequate contrast between the text and the background. Any pictures or diagrams within the text will display in grayscale. The device includes a full QWERTY keyboard and using this keyboard you can take notes on any portion of a book. You can also “highlight” portions of the text (the highlighting appears as a box around the selected text). Notes can be easily exported to your PC (though highlighted portions cannot). And, of course, you can bookmark your last page to return to it quickly and easily.

Buying and Adding Books

There are two ways of adding books to the Kindle. The first way involves purchasing books directly from Amazon (this can be done through the Kindle or through Amazon’s site). There are already more than 120,000 books available in Kindle format and they are priced significantly lower than their printed counterparts. By way of comparison, my book is priced at $11.89 for the printed version and at $7.99 for the Kindle version. Bestsellers are all available for $9.99 or less. Purchasing through Amazon uses their 1-Click method. As soon as you purchase, the book is sent wirelessly to your device through cellular networks and should arrive in less than one minute. Alternatively, you can download the file to your PC and move it to your Kindle using the USB cable provided for that purpose. Because I am outside of the United States I cannot take advantage of the wireless method, but find purchasing quick and easy nonetheless.

The second way of adding books to the Kindle involves adding books that are in some kind of file format—Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, and so on. In such cases the files need to first be converted to the e-book format. Amazon will do this for you and either deliver the file via email (free) or send it wirelessly to your device for a small fee ($0.10). There are also downloadable free programs available that will do this conversion should you wish to do it yourself.

My Experience

The Kindle met or exceeded all of my expectations as a reading device. I have found it a pleasure to use. It took me a little while to grow accustomed to the speed with which I’d have to click the “Next Page” button but I caught on quickly. I can now read as quickly as I do with regular books. My eyes do not grow tired as I read and it’s a pleasure to be able to take an entire library of books with me in one very small package. My Kindle travels with me!

v2-all._V4948253_.jpgI have found it an effective means of reading books purchased from Amazon and have also enjoyed it as a way of reading manuscripts. Having said that, I do think it has its limitations and those limitations revolve primarily around interacting with a book. These are not so much limitations with the Kindle as they are inevitable with any reading device. I am an interactive reader, always making notes and using my highlighter. While the Kindle does support both notes and highlighting, it is not easy to run back and skim the book looking for notes and highlights—or certainly not as easy as it is with a book. While I love the Kindle for lighter reading, I do not think it would be as effective for me when it comes to more dense reading; for those situations I would still want to have my book, my pencils and my highlighter. Then again, I can sit on an airplane with an entire library at my disposal on my Kindle, even if I cannot adequately highlight. It becomes a matter of weighing pro’s and con’s.

Conclusion

My conclusion, then, is that the Amazon is very good at its primary function and, as long as the prospective buyer ensures that he knows what it does (and what it doesn’t do) he should be well pleased with it. It is exceptionally effective at displaying e-books and at providing a medium to read books on something other than dead trees. It is a far better option than reading on a computer screen, on a PDA or on other similar devices. The secondary functionality is, well, secondary. Though it may be useful functionality for some, it does not much interest me. I love my Kindle and have no regrets about buying it.

NOTE: If you plan on buying a Kindle, make sure you find your way to Amazon by clicking on the banner or link from a blog you enjoy (not necessarily this blog!). Amazon pays out an affiliate reward of $40 to sites that refer a person who actually purchases a Kindle. You can make someone’s day with your purchase.

May 20, 2008

Here is a quote sent to me by a reader of this site. It is drawn from Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks. It is well worth pondering (and, in a case of good timing, was something I was pondering this morning as I opened the Bible to Psalm 19).

Remember, it is not hasty reading, but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee’s touching of the flower that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time upon the flower that draws out the sweet. It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest, and strongest Christian.

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