Have you ever wondered how well we really know each other in the church? Even at Heartland Community Church, as much as we love each other and seem to enjoy being with each other, how well do people really know you? I recently have had several conversations with people where I have shared how much I struggle with reading. Reading is a difficult task for me and one that requires constant work. When I share my struggles, most people are surprised as they assume that I have always loved to read and that it comes easily to me!
The reality is, I have simply come to realize how important it is for Christians to read. Over the years I have noticed that many of the preachers I look up to, (both living and deceased), have at least one thing in common; they read-and extensively at that. So while reading takes great effort for me, I have discovered it a task worth laboring for and one that produces great spiritual fruit. Therefore, while it still does not come easily, I seek to read on a regular basis and the labor has proven to be profitable for my spiritual life and those whom I pastor.
However reading materials of substance such as the Bible and other “soul-fattening” books (ie: works that will increase your knowledge, your love for the Lord and your confidence in Scripture), is an art that seems to be quickly disappearing; even in the church. The culture around us is doing everything it can to encourage us to no longer think deeply, but rather to be satisfied with being entertained; to simply give in to what we want to do or think we ought to do without examination. Let’s face it, it is much easier to give in to cultural pressures & expectations than fight for what would foster spiritual maturity.
But in Romans 12:2 we read,
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 NAU)
Paul commands us to give ourselves wholly to God because of His saving grace and the way we do so is by the renewing of our mind. Therefore, as Christians we are to give ourselves to the reading of God’s Word and other spiritually edifying teaching (i.e. “soul-fattening” books). So in light of these truths, this month I would like to recommend several resources that may encourage someone who desires to develop the habit of reading. I think you will find each of these quite manageable, and yet quite edifying. Many of these resources have been useful to me in developing daily habits of reading books with substance, and very enjoyable in the process as well! Here are my selections:
A Long Line of Godly Men edited by Steven Lawson — The first set of books that I would like to recommend is a series of biographies of great Christian men. The series is entitled A Long Line Of Godly Men Profile and put out by Ligonier Ministries. This series highlights different godly men, such as John Calvin, Martin Luther, George Whitfield, Issac Watts, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, John Knox and John Owen. What makes these biographies so unique is that the first chapters usually outlines the events of the man’s life and the rest of the book speaks of his contribution to the church. I am currently reading Owen’s biography that addresses his emphasis on the Trinity and how this impacts the life of the believer. Approximately 150 Pages. http://www.ligonier.org/store/collection/long-line-godly-men/
Other books I would recommend for your consideration are:
The Faith Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton – This is one of my favorite books to recommend to people. The chapters are intentionally brief and packed with biblical teaching to encourage and challenge both younger and older Christians; and above all to point us relentlessly to Jesus Christ ‘the founder and perfecter of our faith’. Which is important as the life of faith is not easy. The Christian is engaged in an unrelenting warfare with the world, the flesh and the devil. Every step forward will be contested. The one thing that will keep the believer on track and pressing on is moment by moment trust in God, in his word, in the goodness and perfection of his purposes, and in his exceedingly great and precious promises. ‘This is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith’ (1 John 5:4). I have used this book in my personal daily worship; reading through a chapter a day. It is concise, yet thought provoking. 160 Pages. http://banneroftruth.org/us/store/christian-living/faith-shaped-life/
Catching Foxes by John Henderson – This book/workbook is one that my wife and I use on a regular basis for pre-marital counseling with engaged couples because it is designed to guide couples toward a Christ-centered and Christ-exalting paradigm for marriage. While meant for couples, I think it could be adapted by parents as well who seek to train & equip their young adult children for marriage. 282 pages. http://www.amazon.com/Catching-Foxes-Ph-D-John-Henderson/dp/1105894096
Reformation Heritage Study Bible by Joel Beeke, Michael Barret, and Gerald Bilkes (editors) – I recently got this Bible for Christmas and love it. It does come in KJV only, but the thousands of study notes with integrated cross-references; the articles on key Christian teachings; concordance, color maps, daily reading plan; overview of twenty centuries of church history; ancient creeds, confessions and catechisms with introductions; articles on how to live the Christian life and guidance on how to experience the truths of the Bible make it an excellent study Bible. In addition to all that, I like that they have included discussion questions for each chapter of the Bible that can be used for personal or family worship. It is available in print or digital formats. 2216 Pages. http://www.heritagebooks.org/categories/rhb-publications/bibles.html
The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard by Kara Tippetts – While this is the story of a PCA pastor’s wife who struggles with stage four cancer, it is written to everyone, not just those who struggle with cancer. Because every Christian experiences difficulties in life, this book has something for everyone. Kara doesn’t offer answers for when living is hard, but she asks us to join her in moving away from fear and control and toward peace and grace. Most of all, she draws us back to the God who is with us, in the mundane and the suffering, and who shapes even our pain into beauty. 192 pages. http://www.mundanefaithfulness.com/the-hardest-peace-book/
Puritan Treasures for Today series – As you have probably noticed already, I really enjoy reading Puritan writers. One reason is that they think deeply about Biblical truths that they might love God and others more completely. They exhibit a passion and love for God that I only aspire to. But often, reading these giants of the faith is a bit unnerving. The Puritan Treasures for Today Series seeks to overcome that barrier by presenting Puritan books that are convenient in size and are not intimidating in length. Each book is carefully edited with modern readers in mind, smoothing out difficult language of a bygone era while retaining the meaning of the original authors. Books for the series are thoughtfully selected to provide some of the best counsel on important subjects that people continue to wrestle with today. Titles in this series include Triumphing Over Sinful Fear by John Flavel; Stop Loving the World by William Greenhill; The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith by George Swinnock; Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory by Jeremiah Burroughs and can be found at Reformation Heritage Books. Approximately 150 pages. http://www.heritagebooks.org/categories/RHB-Publications/Puritan-Treasures-For-Today/
If I may be of any assistance to you in your reading venture, please let me know. I would love to know of others who are joining with me in seeking to increase their reading habits, and assure you that you will not regret doing so! I pray that you may grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as you grow in your habit of reading God’s Word and “soul-fattening” books!