I just published an article on LinkedIn reflecting on some lessons learned over the past 16 days of being in a new (to us) house, and how the experience compares to joining a new online community. I invite you to read it here.
I don’t normally think too much about my age. I’m a busy guy who loves my life and my work and the many opportunities to engage with friends, family, church, work colleagues and others every day. My health is good and I’m thankful that I can do just about whatever I choose to do when I choose to do it. While I grieve at the direction my country seems to be heading in a number of ways, I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I do not take such blessings for granted.
Nevertheless, passing my 59th birthday this past January and starting the countdown to 60 has impacted me more than I expected. More time is spent thinking about the next decade, changes I’m experiencing or want to experience to position myself to live life as I envision it being in the coming decade. Some changes are forced on me by health and aging. For example, I’ve noticed the last couple of years that my body demands a lot more sleep than before. For decades, 5-6 hours of sleep a night was adequate, but now the body wants 8+ hours a night (which I’m still not giving it, but at least I’m closer to that number than before). There are a few consistent aches and pains with feet and joints that remind me I haven’t found any magical fountain of youth. Reminders are frequent that I can’t continue indefinitely the pace I’ve kept for decades.
So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about slowing down – about hitting a few reset buttons in life that signal a shift in gears or direction to something more suitable for life in my 60s. That does not mean retirement in the typical American sense of the word. I just don’t see anything biblical about ceasing to live a productive life and turning nearly hedonistic for the last few decades God gives me on this earth. That isn’t an option for me financially, anyway, but even if it was, there are too many needs around that I can do something about to sit back and live life as though I’m the center of the universe the rest of my days. (Here’s a good interview with John Piper on that subject.)
The slowing down I’m thinking of might be analogous to a road trip in a car. We started slow from our place of origin, picked up steam and cruised along for decades at a pretty high speed, only occasionally slowing down to rest. Now we are closer to our destination. Because of that, it’s time to exit the fast lane, get off the highway, take a slower ride through the remaining neighborhoods, and settle in to a new routine. It’s not the end of the road, but the end is more in view than ever before.
I have several reset buttons in mind that I can see myself pushing in 2016 as part of the path forward to life as I imagine it in my 60s. The first is to leave the wonderful home we’ve enjoyed for the past 28 years – the home we raised our boys in and dearly love, full of memories that will last a lifetime. We agreed in January to purchase a Victorian home in Old Louisville currently undergoing a total renovation. It should be ready in another month or so. It was built in 1900 and has stood empty and lifeless for a number of years – a blight on an otherwise wonderful block just two streets away from the church we’re so invested in. To that end, we listed our cozy Cape Cod home in St. Matthews (Louisville) and just accepted a contract to sell it a few days ago after 69 emotional days on the market. Closings won’t happen for another 1-2 months, assuming all goes well, so the limbo continues somewhat but with far more calm than before the contract.
That major reset button of being in our new home does several things. It puts us very close to my work, my wife’s work, our church, and my mother-in-law – basically where most of life happens for us on a day-to-day basis. It gives us a dream home that many may think is unwise for folks our age due to its size and three floors of stairs to climb, but which we love the idea of having for many reasons. At the top of the list (besides proximity to work and church) is the opportunity to use the home for hospitality on a regular basis with different groups, especially from the church and, we hope, the neighborhood. At some point down the road, it also gives us the ability to keep in the family many cherished items that now reside in my parents’ large, pre-Civil War home. Those pieces of furniture don’t work in a Cape Cod home like we live in now, but they work in our new home, and this gives us the chance to keep them in the family for at least one more generation.
There are two other reset buttons in view for me that deal with finances and work, but the details of both are still uncertain at this point. Time will tell whether I push them and what happens if I do. One reset button at a time is more than enough for now and the current one concerning our home will keep us occupied for the next several months.
The most important parts of life are the present and what has yet to happen. We can’t stay in the past because life just doesn’t move that direction. Regardless of one’s age, we ought to be thinking about and planning for the future, reinventing ourselves occasionally, making the most of our abilities and opportunities, adjusting as needed to the realities thrust upon us. I’m thankful for nearly 60 years of a blessed life with opportunities most people on earth don’t enjoy. My mind, though, is focusing on the decade to come and what changes I should make in the journey now to position myself to be where I should be, doing what I should do, in this next important chapter. It’s exciting! I thank God for the journey and the possibilities ahead, and I trust him to work them out as he knows best.
I’m looking forward to the journey ahead.
p.s. – It’s good to get back to blogging. I’ve missed doing so for the past two months while buying & selling homes was a major distraction. A lot of thoughts have built up and need to come out. Thanks for reading.
[edited April 1, 2016]
Having read the book Praying the Bible earlier this month, and having attended a conference last weekend at my church on the subject led by the book’s author, Dr. Don Whitney, and having practiced this method of Bible meditation and prayer since the beginning of the year, I’m eager to share this post which will be more than just a book review. It will be a personal testimony as well.
First, some background…
There are a number of spiritual disciplines which Christians encourage in the practice of their faith. (Dr. Whitney has a book on that subject as well.) Prayer and Bible study are among the most practiced and encouraged. While no day goes by without me engaging in some degree of prayer and Bible study, I sensed in 2015 that of all the spiritual disciplines, prayer was where I was most lacking. I prayed daily, but I knew I needed more both in quality and quantity.
When my church in Louisville, Kentucky – Walnut Street Baptist Church – announced late in 2015 that Dr. Whitney would be leading a weekend conference on praying the Bible at our church in mid January, I was immediately interested. It was also good timing because I finished my latest reading of the Bible and was interested in choosing a different method for my next reading of it. So I purchased Dr. Whitney’s book and read it over a couple of evenings at the beginning of the year and immediately put its teachings into practice. Two weeks later was the conference led by Dr. Whitney which greatly reinforced the teaching and provided a shared experience with many others on the practice.
Dr. Don Whitney is a Professor of Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. He travels nearly every weekend speaking and holding conferences on praying the bible, scripture meditation and biblical spirituality. He is a godly man, a great communicator, and a person whose obvious passion is for the people of God to more closely experience God in their daily lives. His writing and teaching clearly demonstrate that passion.
The book Praying the Bible is a small, 106-page book easily digested in a few hours. The concept is simple, but the impact of practicing what it teaches is quite profound.
Dr. Whitney begins the book by stating the problem many Christians have with prayer – that they don’t enjoy prayer as much as they wish they did, and that this leads to not praying as much as they think they should or as they really wish they would. Numerous times in the book and during the conference he reiterated that we tend to pray the same old things about the same old things, so we get bored and we just don’t choose to spend much time doing what we think is going to bore us.
Assuming, though, that the person really does have the Spirit of God living inside, Dr. Whitney proposes that the problem may not be the person, but the method of prayer that is boring and unsatisfying, and that a different method – praying the Bible – can be a solution to the problem. The problem isn’t so much that we pray about the same old things because our lives are made up of pretty much the same old concerns from one year to the next. The problem is more in our pattern of how and what we pray about those same old things that bores us.
If there is to be a solution to this problem, Dr. Whitney explains that it must be very simple because it must work for all Christians of all cultures and backgrounds worldwide. What is the solution? “When you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm” (p. 27). How do you do that? Simply go through a Scripture passage line by line and stop whenever a word or phrase stands out or a thought comes to mind that you can turn into a prayer to God. Take God’s word and turn it back to Him as a prayer. When you’ve prayed all that comes to mind about a line or verse or passage, read some more and then stop to pray again whenever a thought comes to mind that can be expressed to God as a prayer. Keep doing that until you run out of Biblical text or out of time.
The purpose of praying the Bible is not to study the Bible and intake its meaning as intended for the original hearers or readers. The purpose is not to concentrate on biblical interpretation. This practice is intended to focus on prayer, but uses God’s Word as the starting point to keep us focused on what God has already said to us. It enables us to keep from going off on tangents that surely all of us have done many times praying. It provides a biblical vocabulary and basis for what God’s Spirit will then bring to mind for us to pray back to Him. It doesn’t matter how many verses or passages you get through in a session. You just keep going until you run out of passage or you run out of time. Then you stop.
It is a remarkably simple and profound process.
Dr. Whitney highly encourages praying through one psalm daily and he provides a simple method of determining which psalm that should be in a way that exposes you over time to all 150 of the psalms. You can read a recent article he wrote on five benefits of praying the psalms here. The psalms are especially suited to use in prayers, but all of Scripture can be used this way because it is all God’s Word that can be turned Godward in prayer by any of His children anytime. In fact, I’m going through the latest edition of the Reformation Study Bible using this method and simply started at the beginning of Genesis with a goal of averaging one chapter per day praying my way through the whole Bible. It’s January 23 and I’m on Genesis 23. At this rate it will take me about 3.5 years to work my way through, but that’s OK. My desire is for the experience and not to force a condensed time frame on the experience as I have in previous annual or biennial readings that were focused more on learning the Bible.
Dr. Whitney’s book contains plenty of samples of what one might pray while reading various passages of Scripture – both from the psalms and from other types of Scripture. The chapter called “The Most Important Part of This Book” forces the reader to stop and actually do it rather than just keep reading (as much as a book can force someone to do anything). This was the practice in the conference as well when Dr. Whitney pleaded with us to be present for the first 10 minutes after a break because it would be the most important part of the conference. It was during this time that we paused to choose a psalm and privately pray through it. Our shared experience in the conference mimicked the testimonies discussed in the book. Dr. Whitney could have told us what our many reactions would be before we practiced it at the conference because he hears the same reactions everywhere he teaches the method. He shares these common reactions in the book.
One of the key takeaways from the book, the conference, and the experience of praying the Bible the past few weeks is stated succinctly in the book when it says “if you have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, you have all the equipment necessary to profit satisfyingly from the Word of God and to experience a meaningful prayer life” (pp. 72-73).
The book contains other informative teachings about people who have prayed the Bible with tremendous spiritual results and even explains how Jesus must have prayed the Bible. It gives suggestions for praying the Bible with a group as well as alone.
In my personal practice of this discipline since the first of the year, I have learned and experienced several things:
I guess I’ve read through the Bible 30+ times in my life, but I’ve never prayed through it until now. This may be the most meaningful pass through God’s Word of my life to date. I am eager to continue the practice and to cherish those times daily of communication back and forth with God. He is talking to me through His Word and I am turning those words back to Him in prayers of the heart. What could be more meaningful?
If you have never read Whitney’s short, little book Praying the Bible, I plead with you to do so. You can finish it in an evening. Then practice what it says. You may just discover that your prayer life has elevated to a deeper, more meaningful level that you ever imagined.
While you’re at it, check out Whitney’s website and follow him on Twitter. If you have the chance, attend his conference or take his seminary class on the subject. This is the kind of teaching where afterward you’ll wonder “How is it that I’ve been a Christian ___ years and this is the first time I’m hearing of this?”
May God bless you in your path of following and daily communicating with Him in prayer.
It has been my practice for about 40 years to take a different edition or translation of the Bible each 1-2 years and read all of it. I suppose I’ve done so about 30 or more times now, although I haven’t kept track so I can’t say for sure. Most times I read it through within a year’s time. Sometimes I’ll take two years to read it. I recall one that I spent three years reading. It’s a great practice of exposing myself to nearly all of the translations of the Bible available and to the wealth of commentary and notes available in study Bibles that are filled with articles and nearly as many notes from scholars as Bible text itself. As long as one remembers that the primary content is the Bible text itself and the eternal Author behind that text, it never hurts to glean from the insights and wisdom of others who have spent far more years studying particular books of the Bible and periods of history than you or I ever will.
For 2015 my goal was to read through The Reformation Study Bible for the first time. At the time of purchase in late 2014, the latest edition available was a 2012 printing, so that’s what I got. I chose to go with one that uses the English Standard Version (ESV) translation since it is one of my personal favorites. It has over 1950 pages of content, so reading 3-4 Bible chapters a day along with the corresponding study notes and commentary accomplishes the year-long goal on schedule. (OK, I confess I finished it on January 1 and not December 31.)
It did not take long into my 2015 reading before I knew I had finally found a study Bible that I was very much at home with in terms of its theological outlook and commentary – one I was inclined to settle in with for multiple readings over many years. I’ve read several other study Bibles and benefited from each, but this one stood out as… well… outstanding to me. With the general editor being R. C. Sproul – pastor, theologian, author, and founder/chairman of Ligonier Ministries – I already trusted as biblically sound the general editor and looked forward to reading the work of the 50+ additional editors and contributors.
The introduction to The Reformation Study Bible explains why it is so named:
“The Reformation Study Bible contains a modern restatement of Reformation truth in its comments and theological notes. Its purpose is to present the light of the Reformation afresh. The Reformed accept the Christian faith as expressed in the ecumenical creeds and believed by Christians everywhere. The distinctive ideas of the Reformed are the result of accepting the Bible as the supreme authority for faith and practice. The words of the Bible are true and its message is powerful. It conveys the infallible promise of God, its Author, that it will not return to Him empty, but will certainly accomplish His intended purpose.”
Since some of my personal study in recent years has been about the Reformation and Reformed theology, this study Bible seemed a perfect match for me at this particular time, and it was.
Let me provide two caveats up front before I discuss more of the specifics of this study Bible, especially as a warning to my fellow Southern Baptists and like-minded folk:
Now, on to more about this study Bible…
In addition to the Bible text of the ESV, you’ll find the following as listed in the Table of Contents of The Reformation Study Bible:
Each Bible book contains its own introduction with sections discussing author, date and occasion, interpretive difficulties, characteristics and themes, title, and outline (although not all books will contain all sections). The introductions are fairly brief – usually 2-3 pages.
The text on each page is split into two columns (something that has changed with the 2015 Reformation Study Bible) with a center column for the ESV cross references and footnotes at the bottom of the second column. Study notes are at the bottom of each page except for the theological notes (brief articles) mentioned earlier that are inserted into the main text as needed.
I purchased the brown imitation leather binding and find it attractive with a good feel and very sturdy. After a year of daily handling, it hardly looks used at all from the outside. On the inside, my only complaint is that the pages are so thin that the simple task of underlining with a mechanical pencil would with some regularity start to punch a hole in the page – nothing really noticeable and something I easily stopped each time before doing any damage, but still annoying. It may just be the size and sharpness of the lead I use, but I don’t recall experiencing that with other Bibles I’ve read through in recent years using the same pencil.
One minor content annoyance relates to the ESV footnotes and not the unique writings of this study Bible’s contributors. I’m referring to the repetition of some ESV footnotes in full countless times as you read through books. It seems like there is an unnecessary quantity of notes repeated in full in each chapter of the same book or at least once per book where relevant. That’s an ESV decision, though, and not a decision of the editors of The Reformation Study Bible.
Saving the most important unique quality for last, the content of the introductions and study notes from The Reformation Study Bible contributors are superb. They are informative, helpful, consistent across the books of Old and New Testaments, and a pleasure to read – a great source of knowledge and inspiration. I did not read any Bible book’s notes or supplemental material where I thought there was a noticeable and unwanted difference in the quality of scholarship as I did in 2014 reading through The Apologetics Study Bible. Any reader will learn much about the biblical text by taking the time to read these notes along with the related biblical text. It is a spiritual exercise well worth the time.
I’ve read several study Bibles – ESV Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible, Apologetics Study Bible, Evidence Bible, and maybe a few I’ve forgotten after too many years – and I can say without reservation that The Reformation Study Bible is at the top of my list of preferred ones. I suspect that is because it came at a time where its theological foundations and mine converged around the Reformed tradition.
For 2016 and beyond I have purchased the newest Reformation Study Bible that was released in 2015. It has about 500 more pages of notes and resources such as the text of numerous historical confessions of faith and more. I look forward to tackling this version over the next 1-2 years. I won’t commit to reading it all in one year because I’m taking a different approach in 2016 of Praying the Bible rather than trying to read it all in a specific time frame, so however long it takes me this time is fine with me.
It’s important for Bible readers to focus on the primary text of scripture and not on what others say about that text. Only one Author is perfect and infallible and He has arranged it so that all who read His word seeking to know Him and His will can understand what He has written through the inspired human authors. It’s also helpful, though, to continually learn new insights that come from the shared research and writings of others who have devoted their lives to such study and scholarship.
If you are looking for a new Bible to read or just a great one to add to your shelf of Bible study resources, I heartily recommend The Reformation Study Bible. Why let it just sit on your shelf, though, for special studies? If you get it, read it all. You’ll be glad you did.
As we celebrate another Christmas this week, I want to take a few moments to share some thoughts with all who will take the time to read this, especially to my non-Christian friends…
Those of us who profess to be Christians don’t always act like the Christ we claim to adore. We are sometimes impatient, angry, hurtful, and even downright mean to others. We do stupid things that we ought not do. We fail to do some things we should. We disobey the commands of the Lord we claim to follow. We have days where things seem to be on the right track and where our thoughts, words and deeds faithfully represent Christ, and then there are other days when we stumble and fall far, far short. Unbelievers looking for such inconsistencies to discredit the faith and reject Christianity don’t have to look too far at times to see so-called believers acting in very unchristian ways.
To my non-Christian friends, please accept my apologies for such inconsistencies. Know that I along with another billion+ Christians around the globe deal with the same struggles you do, the same temptations, the same desires to do what is expedient or easy or pleasurable or selfish or acceptable to those around us, even when such desires are at odds with what our Lord Jesus Christ commanded and modeled in his time on earth. We are human like you.
We are imperfect.
We won’t be perfect this side of heaven, either. Since we aren’t perfect, our churches aren’t perfect. But we know that if we abide in Christ and his Word, surrendering daily to his lordship and leadership, then our lives today ought to look more like Christ than they did a year or two ago. Our lives a year or two from now ought to look more like Christ than they do now. So please try not to judge us (or at least our Lord) by the momentary ups and downs of our day-to-day lives. Look at the pattern of our lives over the long haul and see if we are becoming more like our Lord. If we are – good. If we aren’t – tell us. We need to know. Please understand that we are a work in progress and God isn’t through with us yet. Also know that not all who attend a church or have some Christian background in their family or history have had a life-changing, living experience with Christ. Without that, there is no chance such a person will grow in Christ-likeness over time because they aren’t through relationship with Christ the new creation he promises to make of all who are truly his. In the midst of our imperfection, remember this…
Jesus is perfect.
He is perfect even if we are not. Don’t reject him because of our poor imitation of him. He is worthy of all of our lives, all of our focus and attention, worship and service. If his followers don’t represent him well and you are therefore tempted to reject him, please first go to the only faithful and true written source that reveals him perfectly – the Bible – and seek him. If you seek him, you will find him. Read the Gospel of John if you haven’t done so. You’ll find that his time on earth 2000 years ago was also surrounded by imperfect followers who messed up like his current followers do. But that makes him all the more different and holy and glorious and worthy. He is the focus of our faith – not us. He is the perfect one – not us. He is the object of our worship – not us. He is the one we are all called to yield our lives to that we may gain the eternal life only available through him.
I wish we Christians weren’t known so much for what we’re against as for what we are for. Our passions on social and political issues can be unhelpful distractions that shift the focus away from Christ and to other topics subject to extreme, divisive emotions. I’m as guilty as anyone in this. There are times when I know better, but I sound off anyway about some issue when I ought to just keep my mouth (and my keyboard) quiet. But I beg of you not to reject the perfect Jesus revealed in the Bible because of imperfect followers like me.
At Christmas we celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world – God himself in the flesh. He came to live a perfect, sinless life, to die a horrible, cruel death on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and to rise again to provide a way for imperfect, sinful people like you and me to be made right again with the God from whom we were/are estranged. He offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who turn from their sin and place their trust solely in him – in what he did for us that we could not do for ourselves. All who come to him in repentance and faith then embark on that unending journey in this life to grow in holiness and become more like him. All of his followers are at various points on that journey.
It’s nice to hear the Christmas story and to imagine a sweet little baby in a manger. Who doesn’t like babies? But Jesus didn’t come to stay a baby. He came to be the Savior of all who will surrender their lives to him. He is the only way to real life. He is the only path to true peace. He is the only one perfect and worthy of all we have and all we are. He is the only one who can forgive sin and grant eternal life. He is the only one all of us will face on a coming day of judgment.
My plea this Christmas for my non-Christian friends is this: look past us imperfect Christians and look to our perfect Savior, Jesus Christ. He is worthy – not only at Christmas, but every day – now and for eternity.