June Book of the Month: Practicing Affirmation

Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree (Paperback $10.19, Kindle Edition $3.99)

God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are not God

It happens in marriages, parent-child relationships, friendships, workplaces, and churches: Communication falters, friendships wane, teenagers withdraw, marriages fail, and bitter rifts sever once-strong ties. Christian communities are no exception. Why do so many of our relationships suffer from alienation, indifference, and even hostility?  Author Sam Crabtree believes that often at the heart of these breakdowns is a lack of affirmation. He observes in Scripture that God grants mercy to those who refresh others, and in life that people tend to be influenced by those who praise them. Crabtree shows how a robust “God-centered affirmation ratio” refreshes others and honors God.

Practicing Affirmation sounds a call to recognize and affirm the character of Christ in others. When done well, affirmation does not fuel pride in the person, but refreshes them and honors God. All who are discouraged in relationships will find wisdom and practical insight in this book.

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Reading Priorities

I hope you’ve decided to take on the 2012 reading challenge – if you haven’t done so yet, why not jump on board? We’re only a few days into 2012, so there’s plenty of time!

If you’re currently reading our first challenge book, Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books (Kindle edition here), you are no doubt benefiting from some sound, biblical wisdom as it pertains to the things we read. Perhaps it’s obvious, but I wanted to start with this book to give us a good framework for the rest of our reading, and to help you develop a framework for your own reading priorities.

In Chapter 7, Reinke shares his reading priorities and how he groups them. This is a practice I have engaged in for several years and find it tremendously helpful in weeding through the millions of options that are available to read. Reinke has 6 categories (which I assume means he has all 6 types of reading going on consistently/simultaneously – this is also how I read):

1. Reading Scripture

2. Reading to know and delight in Christ

3. Reading to kindle spiritual reflection

4. Reading to initiate personal change

5. Reading to pursue vocational excellence

6. Reading to enjoy a good story

I like his categories and think they offer good diversity. My personal categories are as follows:

1. Reading Scripture – This year (and probably into next year) I am reading individual books of the Bible entirely, 20 times each, until moving onto the next one (to include a chapter of Proverbs every day).

2. Reading devotionally – (Tabletalk Magazine, Valley of Vision, Morning and Evening, etc.) – probably similar to Reinke’s #2

3. Reading for study – books related to what I’m teaching/preaching now or in the future.

4. Reading to counsel and be counseled – (Books on marriage, parenting, depression, relationships, etc.) I always want to know how to better counsel my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I want to grow in my sanctification. Reading a wide range of books related to the hearts/minds of sinful people has proven helpful to me and has given me much to recommend to others when they have specific needs. Books in this category have proven helpful in identifying specific areas of sin in my life, and the Lord has used these books for my sanctification.

5. Reading theology and ecclesiology –  (Books on God’s nature, attributes, works, etc. and books about God’s Church) All Christian reading is inherently theological, but this category is for specific works that relate to systematic theology, biblical theology, and ecclesiology.

6. Reading biography and autobiography – I think it’s important for Christians to regularly read about the lives of other Christians and non-Christians. I like biographies and autobiographies and always have 1 going.

7. Reading to learn something new – I have a lot of hobbies and interests. I like to learn new things. In this category I read about all sorts of different things: Beekeeping, gold/silver investments, politics, golf, running, music, education, business – it’s a catch all category that doesn’t specifically relate to Christianity/theology.

8. Reading fiction – I don’t spend much time in this category, but I’ve increased my fiction reading a bit. I resonate 100% with Reinke’s statement: “In all honesty, it has taken me many years to simply delight myself in beautiful books. Now they provide me with relaxation, pleasure, and a delightful weapon to foil the devil.” I have mostly found fiction to be a waste of time, but there is good fiction and, if nothing else, I like to read good writing no matter what it’s about, so there are some gems of fiction worth reading. The last fiction book I really enjoyed was Peace Like a River (Kindle edition here) by Leif Enger.

Of these 8 categories, I usually have 5-6 of them going at one time. But, I realize that’s not going to work for everyone! Some people need to read one book to completion before picking up another. Others read a lot of different books, but perhaps haven’t discovered the joy and importance of categorizing and prioritizing them. So, let’s look at Reinke’s challenge:

“Now make your own list of reading priorities. First, look at the books you have read over the last twenty-four months that have benefitted your life. Create categories for those books. Second, include any category that you don’t currently read but would like to add, perhaps something mentioned in [chapter 7]. By now you should have a list of two to five categories. Start small and be realistic. Third, begin making book selections informed by your reading priorities. Invest the time you need to define a purpose to why you want to read books. Once you have an answer to this question, you will find it much easier to choose your next book from the twenty-eight million attractive options.”

 

So, what are your reading categories/priorities?

Bible Reading Plans

One of the questions I get every year around this time is about Bible reading plans for the new year. I want to offer a few thoughts on reading plans, and then provide a list of different plans that might be of use to you and your family.

Bible reading plans are great – I highly recommend them, especially for Christians who struggle with organization and/or memory. A reading plan is a wonderful way to maintain structure throughout the year as you seek to meet your Bible reading goals, whatever they may be. I would recommend reading a 1984 article by John Piper about the importance of a Bible reading plan. But, there are a few things to keep in mind when using a structured reading plan:

1. More important than successfully completing your plan is actually reading the Bible. If you find that the plan you’ve picked is too ambitious, try another one, or ditch it all together. While I think it’s important to systematically work through books of the Bible and to work through different sections of the Bible throughout the year as to get a full picture of the Bible’s story line, this can be accomplished without a structured plan. The goal is to be changed by Scripture, not simply to finish working through a reading plan.

2. I recommend changing your reading goals each year. One year, plan on reading through the Bible from cover to cover. The next year, plan on reading through the New Testament 6 times. After that, perhaps through the Old Testament twice. There are countless ways in which to read the Bible – mix it up, it will make you more well rounded in your biblical understanding and will help you remember the text. This is, in my experience, one of the cures to “I know it’s in the Bible somewhere…” To know the Bible you must read the Bible widely.

3. You are justified by grace, through faith, apart from works of the Law. Jesus doesn’t love you more if you read the entire Bible 5 times in 2012, nor does He love you less if you miss a day or two and fall short of your goal at the end of the year. Your standing before God is based upon the righteousness imputed to you through Christ, not upon your ability to maintain a strict schedule of spiritual disciplines. Of course, these things are important and necessary for our spiritual growth (sanctification), but they are not the means of our salvation. Let us not confuse justification and sanctification.

Here are several reading plans for you to choose from – this list was mostly generated by Justin Taylor and posted on the Gospel Coalition blog:

  • Stephen Witmer’s two-year plan to get through the entire Bible.
  • The Gospel Coalition’s For the Love of God Blog takes you through the M’Cheyne reading plan, with a meditation each day by D. A. Carson related to one of the readings. In one year, you will read through the New Testament twice, the Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once.
  • George Guthrie’s Chronological Bible Reading Plan. Guthrie has also made a a booklet version of the Read the Bible for Life 4+1 Reading Plan. In this plan, you read four different places in the Scriptures and a psalm a day, thus cycling through the psalms twice in the year. This plan is semi-chronological, placing the prophets and the NT letters in rough chronological order.
  • Don Whitney has a simple but surprisingly effective tool: A Bible Reading Record. It’s a list of every chapter in the Bible, and you can check them off as you read them at whatever pace you want.
  • For the highly motivated and disciplined, Grant Horner’s plan has you reading each day a chapter from ten different places in the Bible.
  • There are 10 Reading Plans for ESV Editions, and the nice things is the way in which Crossway has made them accessible in multiple formats (web, RSS, Podcast, iCal, Mobile, pdf).

Is that enough to get you going? If you have another idea in mind of how you’d like to read the Bible this year, let me know and I will help you develop a reading plan.

Leave a comment below and let us know how you’re going to read your Bible this year! I am going to work through the Mastering the English Bible ideas of James Gray.

2012 Reading List

Below is the list of books we will be reading each month in 2012. Below each title I have included the publisher’s description. I have chosen each book based on several criteria, and have either already read or been wanting to read them myself. I read a lot of books each year, so I’m excited to read a few of them in community in 2012! I have tried to pick books from a wide spectrum of focus that are not too lengthy, almost all coming in under 200 pages. I have also provided links where books can be purchased on Amazon.com, and when available, a link to the Amazon Kindle edition for those Kindle owners out there. If you are a member at Ephesus Church, I may be able to purchase the books for you at a discounted price, or already have them available on our book table. If you’d like for me to handle your order, please let me know, I’m happy to do so.

January: Lit! by Tony Reinke ($9.46, Kindle Edition $8.79)

A Christian Guide to Reading Books

I love to read. I hate to read. I don’t have time to read. I only read Christian books. I’m not good at reading. There’s too much to read.

Chances are, you’ve thought or said one of these exact phrases before because reading is important and in many ways unavoidable. Learn how to better read, what to read, when to read, and why you should read with this helpful guide from accomplished reader Tony Reinke. Offered here is a theology for reading and practical suggestions for reading widely.

February: The World-Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips ($12.23, Kindle Edition $9.99)

Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight

The first generation of Christians were not popular. They were ridiculed, persecuted, yet according to Acts 17:6-7, they “turned the world upside down.” As a result, their message was communicated louder and clearer than any message before or since. Even with today’s social medias, big-name celebrities, and shiny evangelism techniques that add glitz and glamour to the gospel, today’s Christians fail to communicate as effectively as the first followers of Christ. Simply put, the early church turned the world upside down, but today’s church has been turned upside down by the world.

March: Children of the Living God by Sinclair Ferguson ($8)

Jesus Christ taught his disciples to call God ‘Our Father’, and to live as members of his family. Although simple enough for every Christian to understand this is also so profound that its implications take a lifetime and more to explore fully. Children of the Living God shows how the Spirit of sonship, Christian freedom, divine discipline, prayer, and the sacraments all contribute to our experience of the love the Father has for his children.

April: The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard ($8)

Striaght Talk About the Power and Defeat of Sin

Drawing from Indwelling Sin and The Mortification of Sin by Puritan John Owen, Lundgaard aims for the heart with a battle plan for radical spiritual transformation! He offers insight, encouragement and hope for overcoming the enemy within.

May: The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge ($9.85, Kindle Edition $7.99)

Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence

With humor and honesty, Stephen Altrogge helps us do battle with discontentment by steering us back to the central truths of the gospel. He addresses issues such as complaining and idolatry, reminding us of all that we have, and will have, in Christ.

June: Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree ($9.71, Kindle Edition $7.69)

God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are not God

It happens in marriages, parent-child relationships, friendships, workplaces, and churches: Communication falters, friendships wane, teenagers withdraw, marriages fail, and bitter rifts sever once-strong ties. Christian communities are no exception. Why do so many of our relationships suffer from alienation, indifference, and even hostility?  Author Sam Crabtree believes that often at the heart of these breakdowns is a lack of affirmation. He observes in Scripture that God grants mercy to those who refresh others, and in life that people tend to be influenced by those who praise them. Crabtree shows how a robust “God-centered affirmation ratio” refreshes others and honors God.

Practicing Affirmation sounds a call to recognize and affirm the character of Christ in others. When done well, affirmation does not fuel pride in the person, but refreshes them and honors God. All who are discouraged in relationships will find wisdom and practical insight in this book.

July: The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges ($10.08, Kindle Edition $7.99)

Turn to the Liberating Power of the Cross…Every Day

The gospel provides for our eternal salvation, but how does it benefit us day to day?

August: Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh ($11.28, Kindle Edition $9.99)

Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture

Introverts are called and gifted by God. But many churches tend to be extroverted places where introverts are marginalized. Some Christians end up feeling like it’s not as faithful to be an introvert. Adam McHugh shows how introverts can live and minister in ways consistent with their personalities. He explains how introverts and extroverts process information and approach relationships differently and how introverts can practice Christian spirituality in ways that fit who they are. With practical illustrations from church and para-church contexts, McHugh offers ways for introverts to serve, lead, worship and even evangelize effectively.

September: The Consequences of Ideas by RC Sproul ($10.63, Kindle Edition $9.59)

Understanding the Concepts that Shaped Our World

The greatest thinkers of all time are impacting us still. From public-policy decisions and current laws to world events, theology, the arts, education, and even conversations between friends, history’s most influential philosophies have wrought massive consequences on nearly everything we see, think, and do. It is critical for Christians to understand the ideas that are shaping them. The greater their familiarity with the streams of thought that have saturated Western culture through the ages, the greater their ability to influence this culture for Christ.

October: Broken-Down House by Paul Tripp ($11.16, Kindle Edition $7.99)

Living Productively in a World Gone Bad

Sin has ravaged the house that God created. This world sits slumped, disheveled, and in pain, groaning for the restoration that can only be accomplished by the hands of him who built it in the first place. The bad news is that you and I are living right in the middle of the restoration process. The good news is that the divine Builder will not relent until everything about his house is made totally new again. Emmanuel lives here with us, and he is at work returning his house to its former beauty.

Someday you will live forever in a fully restored house, but right now you are called to live with peace, joy, and productivity in a place damaged by sin. How can you be an active part of the restoration at the heart of God s plan? The book  will teach you to live productively in the here and now.

November: Developing a Healthy Prayer Life by James and Joel Beeke ($10, Kindle Edition $4.99)

Is your prayer life characterized by such things as sincerity, urgency, and delight? Engagement in prayer is a vital part of our communion with God, making a profound impact on our growth in grace. In this book, you will find thoughtful meditations on prayer in the life of the believer, as well as ample encouragement to cultivate this spiritual discipline in your own life. If you want to be more devoted to prayer, or simply want to assess the health of your prayer life, read this book. It provides both a helpful examination and a needed tonic for those concerned about growing in godliness.

December: Getting Back in the Race by Joel Beeke ($9.99, Kindle Edition $5.99)

The Cure for Backsliding

Drawing from the wisdom of the Scriptures and aided by the insights of godly Bible teachers through the centuries, Getting Back in the Race addresses the age-old problem of backsliding. Backsliding is a season in the life of a professing Christian when his sin grows stronger and his obedience to God declines. Even though our backsliding insults Him, dishonors Him, grieves Him, and pushes away His love, still He calls us to return to Him. When you grasp hold of God’s methods by faith, you discover that Christ has grasped hold of you. Our spiritual Physician has potent medicines to heal His people from their injuries and get them back on track to finish the race. This book is a wake-up call to careless Christians and an encouragement to all believers to keep running to the Lord.