The death of reading is threatening the soul

This well-written online article appeared at The Washington Post on July 21, 2017, and was penned by popular Christian author Philip Yancey. Following the recent lead of other avid readers and writers, Yancey too laments the loss of “deep reading” in his own life, the loss of which, he says, endangers the soul, especially for Christians.

Below are a few paragraphs from his thoughts on this important subject (find the full article at the link at the end). I reference this article along with others like it, not simply to mourn the loss of good reading habits among Christians, but to encourage us to think think seriously about this matter and then inspire us to change our habits so that we may read more and better.

May you too, as I have, profit from Yancey’s lament. Don’t be sad; rejoice at the opportunities before you and get reading!

My crisis consists in the fact that I am describing my past, not my present. I used to read three books a week. One year I devoted an evening each week to read all of Shakespeare’s plays (Okay, due to interruptions it actually took me two years). Another year I read the major works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. But I am reading many fewer books these days, and even fewer of the kinds of books that require hard work.

The Internet and social media have trained my brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around. When I read an online article from the Atlantic or the New Yorker, after a few paragraphs I glance over at the slide bar to judge the article’s length. My mind strays, and I find myself clicking on the sidebars and the underlined links. Soon I’m over at CNN.com reading Donald Trump’s latest tweets and details of the latest terrorist attack, or perhaps checking tomorrow’s weather.

So what can we do to overcome this? Here are some more thoughts, from a positive perspective:

…Charles Chu calculates that at an average reading speed of 400 words per minute, it would take 417 hours in a year to read 200 books—less than the 608 hours the average American spends on social media, or the 1,642 hours watching TV. “Here’s the simple truth behind reading a lot of books,” says Quartz: “It’s not that hard. We have all the time we need. The scary part—the part we all ignore—is that we are too addicted, too weak, and too distracted to do what we all know is important.”

Willpower alone is not enough, he says. We need to construct what he calls “a fortress of habits.” I like that image. Recently I checked author Annie Dillard’s website, in which she states, “I can no longer travel, can’t meet with strangers, can’t sign books but will sign labels with SASE, can’t write by request, and can’t answer letters. I’ve got to read and concentrate. Why? Beats me.” Now that’s a fortress.

I’ve concluded that a commitment to reading is an ongoing battle, somewhat like the battle against the seduction of Internet pornography. We have to build a fortress with walls strong enough to withstand the temptations of that powerful dopamine rush while also providing shelter for an environment that allows deep reading to flourish. Christians especially need that sheltering space, for quiet meditation is one of the most important spiritual disciplines.

Source: The death of reading is threatening the soul

Resurrection: The Benefits of a Reset – D. Murray

Reset-DMurray-2017This past Sunday I spent part of the day reading the last chapter in David Murray’s practical and profitable new book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

You will recall that each chapter calls us (men in particular) to bring the “car” of our lives into various “repair bays” to have us recheck and reset the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our lives. The final chapter is headed by the words “Repair Bay 10,” but it is really a summary of all the benefits we receive when we reset our lives biblically. Which is why its main title is “Resurrection.”

There are so many good sections in this last chapter – just the headings give us men encouragement about the changes this reset can bring to our lives: new pace, new conscience, new honesty, new contentment, new selectivity, new energy, new joy, new theology, and so on. Let me quote from two of the sections that I find representative and encouraging.

The first is “new sensitivity,” where Murray writes in part:

Reset garage produces a much better and humbler understanding of our humanity. We now keep our eyes on the dashboard and know which warning lights to look out for and what they mean – warning signs that we previously would have ignored, minimized, or resented. We’re sensitive to physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational changes, and collaborate more knowledgeably with the biological rhythms of our bodies. We sense the monthly mix, the weekly beat of six days of work and one day of rest, the daily cadence of work and sleep, the regular tempo of hunger and thirst, and even the pulses of dynamic energy that peak a few times a day, enabling us to find our flow state and do our best work. Going forward, we are much more attuned to this God-given rhythm, and, instead of fighting it, we have gotten with the groove and beat of God’s order in our lives [pp.180-81].

The second is the last section, “new horizon,” where the author points us to our great hope:

Prior to Reset garage, many of us hardly ever looked up. We just saw the next to-do item, put our heads down, and plowed through it. We saw the next meeting, the next report, the next business trip, the next sermon, the next book, the next counseling session, and so on. But we never saw the next life.

Reset garage has resurrected resurrection hope. The mini-resurrection we’ve experienced has given us a taste of the ultimate resurrection ahead, when every ache and pain, every cry and depression, every loss and weakness will be no more. It has also slowed our pace enough to allow us the time and space to look ahead and enjoy that view, to anticipate that final destination, where we will experience that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed’ (Rom.8:18). A grace-paced life transports us into a grace-and glory-filled eternity [pp190-91].

And with that in view, Murray calls us with the inspired apostle to run our race, so that we may receive the prize of sovereign grace – eternal life with our heavenly Father in Christ.

Reset: Refuel (Yes, watch what you take into your bodies!)

Reset-DMurray-2017This Spring and Summer we are looking at the practical and profitable thoughts of Dr. David Murray in his newly published book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

Writing especially with men in view, Murray has us take the “car” of our lives into various “repair bays” to have our lives rechecked and reset.

Today we consider “Repair Bay 8,” which is titled “Refuel”. In this chapter Murray calls us to examine the food we eat, the medications we take, and the energizers we use.

There are many practical and edifying thoughts in this chapter, and for our purposes let’s take a quotation just from that first section. Concerning the food we eat, Murray says,

I’m a theologian, not a dietician. That’s why “The Murray Diet” begins with theology: ‘Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor.10:31). This profound Scripture verse tells us that there is a way to glorify God not just by what comes out of our mouths in praise and prayer, but by what goes into our mouths by eating and drinking. In other words, every choice we make about what to eat or drink either magnifies or minimizes God.

…When we pray ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ God graciously answers not only by giving sufficient and suitable food for our physical and intellectual life, but also by calling us to take responsibility for the quantity and quality of food and drink we consume. We can’t expect our minds to function well if we are stuffing our faces with junk. And remember, God works through our minds. He does us spiritual good by imparting truth through our brains. Thus, if we are not caring for our brains by giving them sufficient and suitable fuel, that will ultimately damage our spiritual lives as well [pp.142-44].

Reset: Reduce by Planning and Keeping Routine

Reset-DMurray-2017We continue to consider the helpful thoughts of Dr. David Murray in his newly published book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

Having us take the “car” of our lives into “Repair Bay 7” (remember, the author is writing mainly with men in view) Murray points us to the need to reduce the stress and busyness  of our lives by reducing our work and schedules.

There are many helpful thoughts in this chapter, but here are a few. The first involves planning:

It’s not enough to have a purpose [the previous point]. We also need plans; we have to figure out the steps we need to take to get to our goals. If we want to strengthen our marriages, what steps will accomplish that? If we want to visit all the seniors in our congregations, how many a week will we visit, what time in the week will we do it, and where will we record progress? If we want to have more time with our teenage sons, where, when, and how will we do this? It’s not going to happen without a plan. That’s why I make sure that my calendar has time set aside each week for advancing my life purposes. If it’s not on there, it’s not going to happen. If it’s not on there, I’m clearly not serious about accomplishing it.

Scheduling also helps us stop overpromising to ourselves or others. Overpromising is the fatal result of an overoptimistic view of our abilities plus an unrealistic estimate of our available time plus a well-intentioned desire to please other people. The result is megastress in the one making the promises and usually huge disappointment in the ones receiving the promises [pp.131-32].

The second thought involves keeping a routine:

‘Tell me your daily routine.’

Uh, I don’t have one. Every day is different.’

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that conversation with burned-out pastors and depressed Christians. What came first – the depression or the chaos – is sometimes difficult to trace, but they seem to go together, each one feeding off the other.

That’s why one of the first things I do is to get them to draw up and commit to a basic routine of sleeping, worshiping, eating, working, studying, and so on. God is a God of order, not of confusion (1 Cor.14:33), and as his created image-bearers, we glorify him – and feel much happier – when we live regular, orderly lives. He made our world and us in such a way that we flourish when our lives are characterized by a basic rhythm and regularity. That’s why those who make the most progress toward their lives goals are those who work on them at the same time each day or week. That’s also why those who have the most routine in their lives are healthier and happier [p.133].

Reset by Rethinking about Ourselves

Reset-DMurray-2017We continue to consider the helpful thoughts of Dr. David Murray in his newly published book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

Having us take the car of our lives into “Repair Bay 6” (remember, the author is writing mainly with men in view) Murray calls us to “rethink” our identity, that is, the way we think about ourselves.

After going through a number of ways in which we might see ourselves (“Andrew the Adulterer,” “Fred the Failure,” “Simon the Strong,” “Peter the Perfectionist,” and so on), the author points us to the proper way to “recover our true identities.” Part of that process (looking at ourselves biblically in Christ) means that we must “reframe” our failures.

As Murray points out, we men do not like to talk about our failures, but we have all experienced them and we need to look at them properly if we are to see ourselves in the right way. Here’s part of what he has to say about this sensitive subject:

Learning to fail well is a vital part of the Christian life. A pastor said to me recently, ‘The first ten years of ministry is all about being broken and stripped!’ I must have had a crash course, because it took me only five years to be broken, stripped, and branded a failure in the ministry! These were dark, dark days. Yet I know that my ten months in the school of ministry failure gave me my most valuable degree – a master’s in how to fail well. As one man admitted to me, ‘I shudder to think where I would be today if God had not let me fail. My failures may have been painful, but unbroken success would have been deadly. Failure is one of God’s greatest gifts to me.’

In that light, Murray goes on to say,

If we have failed well, we have realistic expectations of ourselves and our callings. We do not soar too high on success, and we do not sink too deeply upon setbacks. We take all our failures to our unfailing Lord for his full and free forgiveness, and we experience his unchanging and unconditional love. Then we reemerge – humbler and weaker, but wiser and happier too. And eventually we see how God can transform our ugly failures into things that are profitable and even beautiful. Breakdowns can become breakthroughs. [p.118]

Reset: Take Care of Your Body!

Reset-DMurray-2017We have been pointing you to a new book from local author David Murray (Puritan Reformed Seminary) published by Crossway – Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (2017). It is written with men especially in view, men in danger of burnout, as the title intimates.

After chapters on doing a “reality check” (repair bay 1) and performing a “review” of our lives (repair bay 2), Murray takes us into repair bay 3, where he taught us the practical importance of sleep (“Rest).

Now in chapter four he has us take the “car” of our lives and pull into “repair bay 4”, which he titles “Re-create.” This is a chapter about taking care of our bodies, not now in terms of sleep and rest but in terms of proper diet and exercise. But he starts once again with a “body theology,” which is a brief exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:9-20. Part of that includes this:

Your body is for the Lord (vv.13-14). The apostle replaces a false slogan the Corinthians were using to abuse their bodies – ‘foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods’ – with a true slogan to bless their bodies: ‘The body is… for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.’

‘The body is for the Lord.’ God has given each of us a body to give back to him. He did not give us a body so that we can give it to anybody and everybody in immoral sexual relations. He did not give us a body so that we can give it to overwork or sloth. He gave us a body to give back to him. The body is for the Lord.

‘The Lord is for the body.’ He made it , cares for it, and maintains an eternal interest in it. He even took on a body, suffered in a body, and rose again in a body. he has a body to this day. The Lord is for the body. This is not of minor importance. Our future resurrection shows how much honor God puts on the body and how much we should honor in the meantime what he will honor for all time [p.75].

And then Murray goes on to apply this “body theology” with subjects such as “stand up (on posture and care for our backs),” “exercise,” and “manual labor.” Let me take a snippet from the section on exercise for our benefit, men.

Moderate physical exercise helps to expel unhelpful chemicals from our systems and stimulates the production of helpful chemicals. It strengthens not just the body but also the brain. Research has shown that walking just two miles a day reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia by 60 percent. And aside from the long-term benefits, exercise triggers the growth of new brain cells in the hippcampus and the release of neurotrophic growth factors – a kind of mental fertilizer that helps the brain grow, maintain new connections, and stay healthy. Exercise and proper rest patterns generate about a 20 percent energy in crease in an average day, while exercising three to five times a week is about as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression [pp.78-79].

Good thoughts for us in the middle of the work week. Life is busy. Work is demanding. Time is elusive. But our bodies are the Lord’s, bought with a precious price. What are we doing to care for them the way He wills?

Reset: Take Time to Rest

Reset-DMurray-2017We have been calling attention to a new book from local author David Murray (Puritan Reformed Seminary) published by Crossway – Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (2017). It is written with men especially in view, men in danger of burnout, as the title hints.

After chapters on doing a “reality check” (repair bay 1) and performing a “review” of our lives (repair bay 2), Murray takes us into repair bay 3, where he points us to the need for “rest.” And the rest he has in mind in chapter 3 is that of sleep – real, physical, lasting, fulfilling sleep. Which is deeply spiritual at the same time.

For as Murray points out, there is a “sermon we preach in our sleep,” and “few things are as theological as sleep” (p.54). To demonstrate this, he states that if we are boasting about being able to get by on five hours of sleep a night, for example, we are proclaiming the following five point “sermon”:

  1. I don’t trust God with my work, my church, or my family.
  2. I don’t respect how my Creator has made me.
  3. I don’t believe that the soul and body are linked.
  4. I don’t need to demonstrate my rest in Christ.
  5. I worship idols [p.55].

If you are a busy man who is sleep-deprived (self-induced, that is!), that theology of sleep hurts. Because the truth always hurts. And those five points convict us of what is going on in our souls while we are depriving our bodies of the rest we need and were created for.

But Murray carefully eases the pain by directing us to the benefits of longer sleep (physical, intellectual, emotional, financial, moral, and spiritual, etc.) and providing some helpful “sleeping pills” (discipline, routine, exercise, contentment, faith, humility, napping [that’s one of my favs – the “power nap” after supper!].

And he ends where he started, with “sleep theology.” Here, I will quote the author more extensively, for this too we (I!) need to hear:

Ultimately, sleep, like everything else, should lead us to the gospel and the Savior. First, it prompts us to think about death, that we all shall close our eyes in sleep, and wake up in another world (1 Thess.4:14).

It also teaches us about our Savior. The fact that Jesus slept (Mark 4:38) is as profound as “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). It reminds us of Christ’s full humanity, that the Son of God became so frail, so weak, so human that he needed to sleep. What humility! What love! What an example! What a comfort! What a sleeping pill!

It illustrates salvation. How much are we doing when we sleep? Nothing! That’s why Jesus used rest as an illustration of his salvation. ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matt.11:28).

It points us toward heaven. There remains a rest for the people of God (Heb.4:9). That doesn’t mean heaven is going to be one long lie-in. It means it will be a place of renewal, refreshment, comfort, and perfect peace [p.70].

Isn’t this a much-needed tonic for us as we end this week? After a busy week and a beautiful spring day today in which I again tried to cram too much in, my body – and soul! – are crying for rest. Yes, I did have my power nap. But I need more. More sleep and physical rest. But also, more of the theology of sleep. I need the gospel of grace. I need Jesus. I need His rest. I need heaven. What about you?

Which reminds us that tomorrow is God’s wonderful rest day. The Lord’s Day! Precious, wonderful rest is waiting for us in Christ. A glimpse of glory.  A foretaste of our forever with the Lord. Will we enter into it by faith and receive and rejoice in its benefits?

It will help us to spend tonight in sweet sleep.

I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. Psalm 127:2

Redeeming the Time – Rev. J. Mahtani

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer (Jan.15, 2017) is once again filled with a variety of interesting and instructive articles (cf. cover below).

sb-jan15-2017-cover

One of these is found under the rubric “Strength of Youth”. Rev. Jon Mahtani, pastor of Cornerstone PRC in Dyer, IN and a new writer for this rubric, has a timely article for the new year titled “Redeeming the Time.” In it he explains and applies – especially for the benefit of Christian young people, but applicable for all ages – the Word of God in Eph.5:16, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

Here is part of what he has to say:

In Ephesians 5:16, God does not call us to buy cars, clothing, jewelry, appliances, or homes, but time. The word for “time” here however, does not refer primarily to the duration of time—the seconds, minutes, and hours going by on our clocks. Rather, “time” refers to “opportunities” in our life.

…But wait! Stop! Before you go off to buy every opportunity that comes your way, remember what a good buyer does. First, he senses or discerns the more valuable from the less valuable. Just as not every product on the market is of equal worth, so not every opportunity is equally worthwhile. Just as you cannot purchase everything online, so you cannot buy every opportunity that presents itself!

How do you determine which opportunities are most valuable? As a child of God, with the wisdom of His Holy Spirit and His word, you should know that the most valuable opportunities are measured by spiritual profit! No, we do not discern valuable opportunities by asking, “What is most fun? What is most entertaining? What feels the best? What is good for my reputation, my career, my bank account?” Instead, the golden opportunities are determined by prayerfully asking, “What is best for my soul?”

Prioritize your life. What is more valuable? Devotion time or sleep time? Bible society time or sporting event time? Church fellowship or what I already put on my schedule? Overtime at work or quality time with the family? Homework time or your primetime T.V. show? Time to pray or time to play? We may be able to see some value in all of these opportunities, but a good buyer of time first senses and chooses which is most valuable.

Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time – D. Whitney

BiblestudypicIt’s a new year! Time to establish goals, resolve to get them accomplished, and dig in with renewed zeal. Including getting your (our) spiritual disciplines in order, such as devotions. Yes, family or couple devotions, but personal devotions too.

Then, again, you probably don’t need to bother with that. Why put all that stress on yourself to spend time with the Lord in His Word and prayer? You are busy and I am busy; we can’t be in two places at one time; the Lord understands that. And besides, we are already quite mature in our faith. We know the Bible pretty well and we already pray regularly with family and church. We hear some fairly meaty sermons on Sunday each week; that’s food for the week. And isn’t it legalistic to think that if I don’t have my quiet time with the Lord I should feel guilty? This year I’m going to just relax when it comes to my spiritual life. But, man, am I going to hit the gym and get this body in shape!

That’s the tongue-in-cheek approach Donald Whitney takes in his article for the rubric “Heart Aflame” in the January 2017 Tabletalk. Which is why it has the title it does: “Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time.” But to each of these poor reasons to pass on a regular devotional time, Whitney gives a solid biblical answer. And that is why you ought to read his article. So that you can determine to have a quiet time on a regular basis in 2017.

I needed this article, and I trust you do too. Read it and be motivated to start the new year with the godly resolve to be in the Word and in prayer daily.

Here is how he ends his article:

Third, even until death, the Apostle Paul wanted to saturate his soul in Scripture. In the last inspired letter he wrote, Paul pleaded with Timothy, “When you come, bring . . . the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). These writings almost certainly included a copy of the Old Testament. If a Christian as spiritually mature as the Apostle Paul required the regular intake of Scripture until death, dare we ever think we’ve “outgrown” the need for it?

Fourth, we are called to imitate spiritual heroes. In Hebrews 13:7, God commands us to remember, consider, and imitate Christian leaders of the past. We’re told, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” The consensus of the spiritual giants of Christian history that testifies to the indispensability of a believer’s devotional life should not be forgotten nor their example forsaken.

Fifth, rightly motivated devotional habits are never legalistic. Neither the strictest obedience to the Word of God nor the most zealous pursuit of holiness is ever legalistic if one’s motives are right. The measurement of legalism is not the consistency of one’s devotional practices but the heart’s reason for doing them.

Finally, you’ll likely never be less busy. If you can’t make time to meet God through the Bible and prayer now, it’s very unlikely you will when—if—life does slow down.

Significant changes in your life may indeed be needed. But think: How can less time with God be the answer?

 

Source: Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time by Donald Whitney

When I Feel Stuck (or Handling “Wet Wednesdays”) – Neil Stewart

TT-April-2016This fine article from the April 2016 Tabletalk on how to deal with seasons of discouragement and depression in our lives is worth your reading, in my estimation. And worth passing on to a friend or family member who also struggles with these very real things in his/her Christian life.

I give you a portion of it here; you will find the rest at the Ligonier link below.

Stewart begins by describing the condition we experience:

The soul knows its own wet Wednesday afternoons. All prodigals, we walk home through a world blighted by Adam’s choice. Fallenness dampens every joy. Burdens heavy with guilt, shame, and regret bite into our shoulders. Fears within and troubles without loom black like thunder. We yearn to hear more of the running footsteps of a welcoming father, his strong arms wrapped around, his tears warm and salty on our cheeks. But disappointed longings follow us as constant companions. Our best moments are always interrupted, and like the weekend for the midweek schoolboy, heaven can feel far enough away to seem forever away.

The worst of these times go unexplained. No particular sin, failure, or mistake stands out as the culprit. We feel “blah” and don’t know why (Ps. 42:5). In this far place, we fall easy prey to a dark theology built upon feelings. A depressing inevitability follows: We don’t feel God speaking, so we stop reading our Bibles. We don’t sense God listening, so we stop saying our prayers. Inertia dampens everything; we go nowhere. What to do?

Indeed, what to do?! Here is part of his answer:

First, remember: you are not alone. All God’s children have trodden these paths before. How often the psalmists felt abandoned, yet they still reached for God in song. David cried out: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Ps. 13:1). The Sons of Korah asked, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (42:1). These saints were coming before the Lord and asking how long God would hide His face from them. There is a lesson here: good men often feel worse than they are. These men begin in a moment of dark despair, but they do not end there. As the psalmists agonize, their hearts leak Scripture. In the darkness, back beneath the sense of dereliction, God is still there, giving them words, helping them Godward, inspiring the Bible. Yahweh is always nearer to us than we feel.

Yes, that “first” is truly first! “Hope thou in God!” Psalm 42:5

Source: When I Feel Stuck by Neil Stewart