How to Read Better This Year

stink-pickle-398375-unsplashOne of the goals many people have each new year is to read more. As someone who loves to read and believes in the importance of it, I always enjoy hearing people make an effort to read more themselves. But the goal of reading is not just reading more books. An important part of growing as a reader is understanding it’s not just about quantity but also about quality. With that in mind let me offer up a few suggestions on how you can read better this new year with both quantity and quality in mind.

Set a goal. Just making a goal to “read more” won’t cut it. A lot of people make that their goal and end up reading the same amount of books they have always read. If you want to read better, which includes reading more books, you need to set a goal of how many books you would like to read this year. Be sure to take into account your schedule and pace of reading when doing this. Don’t just copy what others are using as their goal. Set a goal that is attainable for you but will also require you to push yourself throughout the year.

Make a reading plan. Having a goal without a plan is futile. Stephen Covey said it like this: “Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.” Let me share a few ways to go about making a reading plan. One way you can make a reading plan is by listing out the individual books you want to read throughout the year. This is by far the easiest and simplest way to create a reading plan. All you’re doing is making a list of the books you want to read. I did this for many years and it worked well. Another way you can make a reading plan is by making a list of the categories of books you want to read. This is what I like doing the best and will be doing this year (click here to see my reading plan for the year). If you’re doing a plan like this make sure you have a good variety of categories so you are forced to read many different types of books. More on that later. One more way you can make a reading plan is by using one that is already made. There are many reading plans you can find online but one I’m pushing people towards this year is the 2019 Christian Reading Challenge by Tim Challies. This plan includes multiple options based on the number of books you want to read as well as forces the reader read from a variety of book categories. The most important part of having a reading plan is to use it. Don’t throw it out mid-year or give up when you get behind. Stick with it and as you do you will experience better reading throughout the year.

Read broadly. This is one of the reasons a plan is so important. Most of us naturally lean towards reading certain types or categories of books based on our interests, careers, or favorite author. Those aren’t bad things but one of the ways to read better is to broaden your reading. This means reading books you don’t normally read. For example, I have found I often don’t read books by women. I don’t have anything against women authors but over the years I’ve noticed the books I tend to migrate towards are written by men. So this year and last year I intentionally put on my list to read a book written by a woman. Another example from my own reading is church history. I don’t enjoy the subject of church history as much as other subjects within Christianity so I don’t naturally pick up church history books to read. So this year I have on my list to read one church history book. Don’t get stuck reading one type of book this year. Make sure your plan forces you to read more broadly.

Read differently. I came across this blog post a few years back that really challenged the way I read books. Basically the idea is that you shouldn’t read all books the same. Some books require more of your attention and time while others do not. Determining how you read each book will not only help you read more but will also help you read better. I’d encourage you to read that post.

Keep a list. I once had a pastor, who reads a ton of books each year, tell me that he keeps a running list of all the books he has read. He said this helps him not only remember what books he has read but also allows him to use it as a tool to recommend books to others. I started doing this as well (click here to view my list) and I have come to understand what that pastor was saying. It’s been super helpful for me and if you plan to read more I’d suggest you keep a list for your own reference as well as to recommend books to others.

These are just a few ways to read better this year. I hope you not only increase your reading in quantity but also quality. Happy reading!

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Book Review: Kingdom Come by Sam Storms

17328232When I started my ordination process one of the areas of theology I knew I needed to firm up on was eschatology. I knew enough to get by but if I was going to really defend this area of theology and clearly state where I fall on some of the finer points of eschatology I had some work to do. One of the major areas of tension for me was where I stood on the issue of premillennialism versus other views of millennialism as well as the topic of dispensationalism and the views related to it. These were the views I was taught in my younger years as a student in a Christian school as well as my time as a student in Bible college. I was presented with the other opposing views but dispensational premillennialism was the one championed as the correct view. I basically accepted this view as the correct one and leaned heavily into it until the last few years.

As I started to rethink where I stood on this area of eschatology I read three books that started to reshape my views. The first one was What is Reformed Theology by R.C. Sproul. This book really helped me understand the strengths of Reformed Theology (which I confidently hold to now). One of the chapters in particular helped me see the difference between dispensationalism and covenant theology. This chapter started showing me some of the areas of dispensationalism I couldn’t hold with confidence anymore (one example would be the separation between Israel and the church). The second book was Four Views on the Book of Revelation which helped me see some of the different ways to interpret the book of Revelation. Then lastly I read Sam Storm’s book Kingdom Come which stands in my opinion as the best defense for amillennialism out there when it comes to books. All three of these books, especially the last one, has helped me not only better understand, but lean heavily towards amillennialism in my own view of eschatology.

I want to highlight of few things about this book as way of recommending it to you.

Critiques the popular view of dispensational premillennialism. He starts by explaining this view very clearly but then does a great job of showing some of the weaknesses of it. He does so with great humility and with great scholarship. In this critique he shows some of the weaknesses in both the pre-tribulation rapture view as well as premillennialism. Many people have grown up in a church culture that held and taught these views and they have come to adopt it as their own without any critical thinking. This section helps the reader do just that.

Gives clear explanation of views the author doesn’t hold as his own. Of course much of this book is a defense of amillennialism. However, Storms spends some of the book explaining other views that he himself doesn’t even hold as his own (as seen in the example above). I think this shows Storms scholarship as well as respect for others who hold different views. In one chapter he explains very clearly the view of postmillennialism. Many times this view is seen as an evil third view of millennialism but Storms does an excellent job at showing some of the things this view does well. As much as I disagree with this view my understanding of it and respect for those that hold to it grew. He also has a section where he explains view of preterism.

Honesty. Many times throughout this book Storms admits he hasn’t arrived at all the answers. By doing this it shows the complexity of eschatology. At points in the book he admits he is still searching for where he lands on certain issues. At the end of one chapter he says this about the difficult passage of 2 Thessalonians 2: “I had hoped to be more definitive in my conclusions concerning the meaning of this passage. I had hoped that by studying the text closely I might contribute something substantive to the never-ending attempt to identity the ‘man of lawlessness’ or at least expand our grasp of what he will do upon his appearance. Alas, I fear I have failed in this regard. As much as I hate to say so, I feel compelled to agree with Augustine and say, ‘I frankly confess I do not know what Paul means’ in this text!” That’s humility and it shows throughout the book.

Strong defense of amillennialism. As I said before, as far as books are concerned this seems to be the strongest defense of amillennialism. It’s thorough, clear, and compelling. I’d even argue the conclusion where Storms sums up all the points he made for amillennialism throughout the book is one of the best reference guides for this view.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in better understanding amillennialism and eschatology in general. I’d highly recommend this book no matter what view of eschatology you hold to. It will give you a great understanding of all the views as Storms covers a lot of ground in this book by explaining and critiquing many views found within eschatology.  It will stretch you and at times confuse you but will be worth the work to digest the material offered up by Storms.

Sermon – Sacred/Secular Split

Currently we are in a series at Redemption Chapel called “Christian Atheism.” The idea behind this series is that many times as Christians there is a contradiction between what we say we believe and how we live our lives day in and day out. Many times we claim to be theists but in reality we live like atheists. I had the privilege to preach during this series and dived into the idea of having a “sacred/secular split” lifestyle. Below is that sermon. I hope it’s a blessing and a challenge to you.

Book Review: 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me

41nz6oBmELL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Seminary was a great experience. I gained a ton of knowledge about the Bible, theology, and ministry practices. However, I quickly learned that full-time ministry came with a host of things seminary never prepared me for. There are some things you can’t learn in seminary and the only place you’re going to learn them is in the thick of ministry.

That is what this book is all about. 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me is an easy read that includes short chapters from various writers on topics you will not learn in seminary. These are topics you will only learn as you pursue ministry in the local church. Some of these topics are things like what to do when your church is dying, leading your wife, managing volunteers, handling conflict, and knowing when to leave your church. All these topics and more are talked about and the reader is given practical insight into each of these important topics.

I really enjoyed this book and there are few things stood out to me about that I’d like to mention. First, it has a Gospel and Biblical focus. The writers are not just talking about these topics and giving their opinions on what to do. The advice and application given in each area is Gospel-centered and based upon Scripture. The writers call the reader to remember the Gospel frequently and encourages them to obey God’s Word in these areas. Second, the chapters are short and practical. The topics are not beat to death but instead hit on in a timely and focused manner. Each chapter includes a ton of practical things the reader can apply to their own ministry context. Third, seminary is upheld as an important thing but not the only thing. The writers don’t bash seminary. They instead talk highly of it but are honest about its weaknesses and shortcomings. One writer says, “We do not intend to denigrate the valuable work of seminaries. Rather, we want to help young pastors, seminary students, and other aspiring ministers learn from our experience how God fits a man to be a faithful and effective minister” (page 145).

I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is either in or has attended seminary and desires to go into local church ministry. I would also encourage those currently in ministry to read this book and gain some practical insight on these important topics.

Marks of a Christian in the War Against Sin

hugo-jehanne-543575-unsplashEven though Christians are forgiven of their sin they still struggle daily with the indwelling sin that remains in them and will remain in them until the Lord returns. This is why Colossians 3:5 calls us to “put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” Christians are called to not tolerate or put up with sin but instead make war against it every single day through the help of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13).

One of the places we see this ongoing battle with exemplified is in Romans 7:7-25 when Paul shares his own struggle in this area. Some interpreters have taught that this text refers to Paul’s life before coming to faith in Christ but a careful reading of the text seems to reveal this is referring to Paul’s present life as a follower of Jesus. There are a few things he mentions in his fight against sin that are true of every Christian and those are what I want to highlight in this post. Christians will struggle with sin but there are some characteristics that will always be present in their war against sin.

A desire to practice righteousness. Every Christian will have a deep desire through the work of the Spirit to obey God. Part of the regenerating and saving work of Jesus is to put in us a heart that longs to practice righteousness in our lives. So no matter how strong the battle against sin is in the Christian’s life there will always be a abiding desire to obey their Lord. Through this passage you can sense Paul’s desire to do what’s right even though he says he often fails to do it. He highlights that desire in verse 18 when he says, “For I have the desire to do what is right…” That’s a mark of a true Christian in the ongoing fight against sin. It was true in Paul’s life and will be true in ours as we follow our Lord while making war with the sin that remains within us.

Delight in God. This is closely tied to the point above but Christians will delight in God. That means delighting in His presence, delighting in His commands, and delighting in our growing relationship with Him. When Christians find themselves consumed with sin and delighting in things of the world they will be unsettled. They will sense the conviction of the Spirit and will be uncomfortable. A true Christian will be miserable the longer they walk in disobedience to their Lord. They have been given a heart that delights in God and delighting in anything else doesn’t cut it. Paul mentions this in verse 22 when he says, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.” He goes on to say that even still he sees the sin that remains in him that is constantly pulling him away from delighting in God. However, when Christians find themselves delighting in anything other than their Lord there will be a sense of conviction. There will at times also be correction from the Lord as we see mentioned in Hebrews 12:5-11.

Inner battle between the flesh and the Spirit. This is where all the stuff explained above comes together. The Christian has two natures abiding within them and those two natures are at constant war. There is the new man and the old man and they are going at it daily to gain ground in our hearts and lives. The presence of this conflict is not a sign that someone isn’t a Christian. In fact, it’s completely opposite because this conflict actually indicates someone is a Christian. If someone wasn’t a Christian this conflict wouldn’t be present. It’s precisely because they have a new nature that there is an inner war happening every single day. If you read through this passage you see this battle between the flesh and the Spirit happening in Paul’s life. Christians throughout history have had and will continue to have this conflict going on within them.

The good news for Christians is this battle with sin is only temporary. There is coming a day when our sin will be completely done away with. Until then we keep fighting and along with Paul we proclaim “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 24-25).