Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Reading (page 1 of 2)

Writing and Pastoral Ministry

themelios37 3Many pastors I know have a love-hate relationship with reading and writing. We love reading and we hate that we can’t read more. For the most part, that’s across the board: though there are exceptions, most pastors love reading soul-invigorating, heart-stirring, theological-reflection-inspiring books.

Writing, on the other hand, creates a little more of a divide. While some pastors seem to find all kinds of time to write (some even blog everyday, and write books on top of that!), other pastors can’t seem to scratch out the time, and others just don’t want to.

Lately I have been reflecting on the pros and cons of writing in the life of a pastor as I try to discern whether or not God is calling me to do more of it. Because I haven’t been convicted of my need to write I hardly ever make any time for it. And yet, I always seem to sense a unique blessing in my spiritual life and a help to my pastoral ministry when I devote more time to writing.

But is that just feeling-level hoogly? Am I just putting too much weight in sentiment and what I feel when I write? Is my writing what will really benefit the people of Grace Fellowship Church the most? Those are tough questions. That’s why I’m so thankful that in the most recent edition of Themelios Peter Schemm Jr. has taken the time to write-out some very convincing reasons why pastors should write.

In his very helpful article, Schemm answers at least three questions that I think every pastor would do well to think through for himself:

1. Why would I write when I’m no Augustine or Luther or Calvin or Lewis? Will anyone care?

Surely this is one of the first things I have to work through in my heart. I’m no Sproul or Piper or Challies. Why write when it’s unlikely I’ll get published and even more unlikely that anyone will read what I write, even if I did get published? Schemm answers in two ways:

I am not suggesting that every pastor ought to publish journal articles and books. I am suggesting that pastors write. Writing is a spiritual discipline that holds promise for all pastors. This should not, I think, be said of publishing.

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Summer Reading

I’ve Always Hated Summer Reading Lists

I always read other people’s summer reading lists and immediately feel guilty and dumb. Guilty because I don’t read nearly that much (especially not in the summer) and dumb because I don’t read at nearly the same academic level or with the same proficiency as them. Then you throw into the mix the fact that summers have historically been one of the busiest seasons for me, and therefore I don’t have much time to read, and I feel even worse. So typically I respond by refusing to come up with a summer reading list. Mature, right?

Anyway, this year my schedule is a little different through the summer and I’m trying to deal with some of the obvious sin in my heart of wanting to measure up to the intelligence of proficiency of others. So I’ve actually planned some reading to do over the next little while and I thought I’d share what my plans are here. I figure this will give me some accountability and hopefully some benefit to one or two of you who might be looking for something to read. (Or, you might just even be encouraged that there’s someone else out there who is happy to just read simple books.)
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Bible Reading Plan for 2011

Pretty much any Christian who has lived for a little while as a Christian can look back at their lives and recognize that the seasons of life when they’ve known the most blessing are those seasons when they’ve been most faithful to read through the Bible. That’s certainly been the case for me!  You look at life through an altogether different set of eyes when your mind is being renewed and transformed by the word of God.

What better New Years resolution could there be than to spend more time hearing from God in his word?

As you may or may not remember, last year I posted a Bible reading plan that I had put together. I was thrilled to have a few brothers and sisters eager to use it. I even got the big thumbs-up from uber-blogger extraordinaire, Tim Challies.

This year I made a few revisions to that plan (largely to the order of the reading for the NT books). As I’ve had a couple people ask, I thought I’d post the new plan here for this year for any more people who are still looking for a Bible reading plan for 2011.

You can download the 2011 Bible Reading Plan here.

While there are certainly myriads of Bible reading plans out there, I’ve found this one pretty helpful. Here are some of the features of it.

  • You will find that you are reading through the OT and the NT simultaneously. That helps keep you from getting too bogged down at certain points.
  • OT prophets are placed in (roughly) where they would have ministered chronologically. This helps break up the monotony of reading through huge chunks of narrative and prophets, by intermixing the two. It also helps you understand the historical and redemptive context for the prophets.
  • The NT is organized into bodies of literature. You begin with the the Petrine body of literature (Mark, which was sourced from Peter’s eye-witness account, and Peter’s epistles). Then you read Matthew and the other books written particularly for Jews. Next, with Luke-Acts and Paul’s epistles, you read through material written for Gentile audiences. You will conclude the year with the Johannine body of literature (all the books written by John).

Overall, the variety and structure hopefully helps to ‘change things up’ enough that it doesn’t feel like every other time you’ve tried to read through the Bible.

Let me know if you’ve got any questions / comments / suggestions for improving the plan for next year!

And just as a PS, here’s Piper talking about the Bible. I offer it as a little ‘kick in the pants’ to get reading! 🙂

Bible Reading Plan for 2010

Pretty much any Christian who has lived for a little while as a Christian can look back at their lives and recognize that the seasons of life when they’ve known the most blessing are those seasons when they’ve been most faithful to read through the Bible. That’s certainly been the case for me!  You look at life through an altogether different set of eyes when your mind is being renewed and transformed by the word of God.

What better New Years resolution could there be than to spend more time hearing from God in his word?

As you may or may not remember, last year I posted a Bible reading plan that I had put together. I was thrilled to have a few brothers and sisters eager to use it.

This year I made a few revisions to that plan and we’ve offered it to the whole church to see if anyone would like to read along with us. I thought I’d post the new plan here for this year for any more people who are still looking for a Bible reading plan for 2010.

As with last year, there are two versions, one for reading through the Bible on your own and one for reading through the Bible with your spouse.

While there are certainly myriads of Bible reading plans out there, I’ve found this one pretty helpful. Here are some of the features of it.

  • You will find that you are reading through the OT on your own, and the NT together (if you do the couples plan)
  • OT prophets are placed in (roughly) where they would have ministered chronologically. This helps break up the monotony of reading through huge chunks of narrative and prophets, by intermixing the two. It also helps you understand the historical and redemptive context for the prophets.
  • The NT is organized into bodies of literature. You begin with the the Johannine body of literature (all the books written by John). Then you read Matthew and the other books written particularly for Jews. Next you read through Luke-Acts, you read through material written for Gentile audiences. Finally, there is Mark and Peter.

Overall, the variety and structure helps to ‘change things up’ enough that it doesn’t feel like every other time you’ve tried to read through the Bible. The main changes from this year over last year are the ordering of the NT books and some of the prophets have been placed differently.

Let me know if you’ve got any questions / comments / suggestions for improving the plan for next year!

Reading Leviticus

If you’re on my Bible reading plan (there are at least two of you that I know of :)) or any other similar plan, there’s a good chance you’re finding yourself smack-dab in the middle of Leviticus right now. That’s not an easy place to be.

For most Christians, the new year’s zeal and the intruiging narrative which kept us on schedule through Genesis and the first half of Exodus has lost its power. Somewhere around Exodus 25, when Moses was receiving the instructions for the building of the tabernacle, it became tough-sledding. 

Do we really need to read it all? What difference do all these laws make to us now? Was it really a temptation for them to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk? Why did God inspire this? These are all questions that plague us as many of us find it hard to make it through this section of Scripture.

Here are three things I’ve found helpful for getting through:

  1. Buy an ESV Study Bible. This is going to sound funny, but it’s not intended to be: There are pictures in this Bible. It seriously helps. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. I feel like I understand the layout of the tabernacle better now than after any other time making it through Exodus. 
  2. Look for Patterns. When going through a book like Leviticus, it is easy to get caught up in the details and miss the big point. For example, did you notice any recurring phrases as you read through the last 3/4 of Leviticus? From chapter 11 on the phrase ‘I am the Lord’ is repeated 49 times. That’s significant. You’ll want to read the book noticing those kinds of patterns and asking, ‘Why is this said so many times?’ That will help you understand the book as a whole.
  3. Read it as Literature. While there are so many lists of laws, they are not randomly strewn together. There are particular narrative incidents given in between particular laws and commands. Why? What’s the point in putting that particular story right where it is, after that particular event? Those are the types of questions that will help you benefit from Leviticus, because they’ll keep you focused on big picture issues, rather than particular case laws.

And don’t give up! Keep on going! Every single word that is there is God-breathed, and it is all useful. The soul who perseveres will be blessed!

Thinking About How You Read

A few years back I was struck by the realization that the way I read the Bible was being handicapped by the way the pages were laid out. Here are just a few examples.

  • The pages are laid out in columns. What other book is laid out like that? When I read the Bible, I was subconsciously aware I was reading the Bible, and that affected the manner in which I read. It occurred to me that I couldn’t really read the letters like they are letters or the stories like they are stories because I was thinking ‘this is the Bible’ while I was reading.
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  • There are chapter and verse numbers everywhere. This means that all the problems from above apply, and more. Now I’m subconsciously inserting breaks in thought in wherever there are numbers on the page. But the writers of the Bible didn’t put the numbers there, and so very often the numbers are in awkward spots, creating divisions where there shouldn’t be one. I wasn’t seeing connections between sentences and paragraphs because my eyes were reading artificial breaks into the text.
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  • There are paragraph headings. While these are sometimes useful if I’m trying to find something in a hurry, they are a pain more often than not. They tell me the point of what I’m about to read before I read it–which necessarily limits my own ability to process the text and analyze it on my own, which would result in better learning, and longer-lasting ability to recall what I’ve read.
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  • The spelling is wrong. This only applies to those of us north of the border, and you can call me crazy or say I have OCD or whatever, but I do notice when a book spells words the American way (i.e. ‘Savior’ instead of ‘Saviour’). It just catches my eye and distracts me.

And then on top of these things, there is never enough room on a page of the Bible to write any good notes or draw lines connecting thoughts, or things like that.

So what have I done about it? I’ve taken matters into my own hands and created my own Bible. Sacrilegious as it sounds… it’s not. I go to the ESV website, adjust the preferences so that it doesn’t show chapter & verse numbers or paragraph headings, and then display a whole book. Copy and paste that into your word processor with Canadian spell check and bingo-bango, there ya go.

Once the doc is in your word processor, you can lay it out on the page however you want. I generally will do 1.5 line spacing, and leave large margins on the top, bottom, and sides of the page. Hit ‘print’ and you’ve got your own copy of the book to read, mark-up, and learn from.

Try it once and I guarantee it changes the way your read the book.

The way you lay out the words on the page will have a lot to do with your personality and the way you like to read and mark-up your Bible, so try a few different ways. Think hard about what distracts you from focusing on the words on the page and try to eliminate those to enhance your ability to freely read and understand the biblical text.

The only thing you need to do is respect copyright laws. Don’t distribute copies of your books. I think you’re okay to do this for your own personal use though (from the little I understand of copyright laws).

I’ve uploaded a couple pages of the book of James of my version, so that you can see it, if you like. I’ve only done the first little bit of the book here though, because I can’t reproduce more than 50% of the book.

Download the pdf of the first part of James.

Let me know if you meet with any success!

Thoughts on Reading the Psalms

Here are just a few things that I find helpful on a very basic level with regard to reading the Psalms as a Christan.

  1. Read the Psalms regularly. One of the reasons the Psalms can be so little help to some Christians in their time of need is simply this: We’re not familiar with them. They’re a different type of literature than we’re used to reading or hearing preached (usually a gospel or an epistle). When times of hardship and suffering, or feelings of guilt and depression, or seasons of joy and exuberance come, we don’t know how to use the Psalms because we don’t know where to look in the Psalms to find a suitable song for our emotions. Familiarizing ourself with the basic contents of the book and the different types of songs in the book will help us be quicker to flee to the Psalms in whatever season.
  2. Think hard through the Psalms. There are some tough passages and some tough expressions of anger, some strong words of love, some passionate promises to God… how much of this can we agree with? Can we apply it all? How much of what David writes is simply poetic expression (i.e. hyperbole, simile, metaphor, merism, etc.) and how much of it is ‘literal’? Is it appropriate to pray these particular things as a member of the New Covenant? These are good questions to ask regularly–they are tough issues that each Christian will need to work through. Unfortunately, since there are some tough questions attendant with reading the Psalms, this often scares some Christians away. But it shouldn’t!
  3. Develop a plan for reading the Psalms. Here’s mine, that I’ve used several times. To read through the whole book of Psalms (a seemingly daunting task) really isn’t that hard. You can do it no problem in a month. On the first day of the month (i.e. July 1), I read Psalms 1, 31, 61, 91, 121. On the second, I read Psalms 2, 32, 62, 92, 122. Today I read Psalms 3, 33, 63, 93, 123. There are 150 Psalms, so 30 days at this pace will get you through quite easily. Reading this intensely will help with both 1. and 2. above as well.
  4. Get help. Pick up a commentary if you need to. Ask one of your elders or a mature Christian you know well to help you through some of the tough questions that will come up.
  5. Pray. It’s the word of the Lord, and therefore, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to illuminate and to apply. Ask him in faith, with no doubting, and he will.
  6. Ask to identify, not just understand. Sometimes we can become accustomed to just trying to ‘understand’ the words of the Bible. The Psalms will have nothing of that. If you’re not affected in your heart by the truths of God and his work in revelation and redemption, then the Psalms won’t make sense to you. Pray that the Spirit of God would give not just insight, but a heart that is genuinely affected by what it sees. Hearts affected by God’s truth, for God’s glory is the goal of the Psalms.

Hopefully I’ll be able to post more on the interpretation of Psalms and how to ‘get to Christ’ from the Psalms shortly.

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