Book Review: A Testament of Devotion — Thomas R. Kelly

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I didn’t know what to expect when I first opened Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion. I knew the book was listed among the best in Christian spirituality but I didn’t know anything about the book.

I didn’t know that Kelly was a Quaker and that the essays within the book were taken from talks that he gave. I didn’t know how much my favorite Christian writer, Dallas Willard, was influenced by Kelly.

I also didn’t know that I would need to read it more than once to fully appreciate it. The first time I read it, I was underwhelmed and slightly disappointed in the overtly Quaker teaching. I mean, I am a Baptist, and any talk of the light within makes me think of Shirley MacLaine and “woowoo” New Age stuff. But then I read it a second time and appreciated it so much more. I began to take in some of the rich passages that were inspiring and convicting. For example, he mentions that “complete obedience” is our goal not “amazing revelations.” I particularly liked his discussion of having the “simplicity of the trusting child.”  And Kelly’s explanation of the “Holy Now” was excellent.

Finally, I really appreciated his moment to moment approach to the spiritual life. Highly influenced by Brother Lawrence‘s The Practice of the Presence of God, Kelly detailed the experience of connection with God in the midst of everyday life. This is a very good point and one that gets completely ignored in Evangelical circles who never seem to take the spiritual life beyond morning BIble study and prayer.

I don’t know if I would recommend this book to a young believer but for a seasoned disciple looking for a challenge to live “the other half,” this book would be much better than 90 percent of what is coming out of Christian bookstores.

Re-Hacked: Pick It Up And Read

I have found myself at times, reading the study notes in a Bible first and then reading the scripture they reference. What happened to just reading the Bible?

I have several Bibles around the house and the one I have been reading lately has no study notes or reflections. The only feature that it provides is wide margins for me, not someone else, to write notes and make observations. I wonder about the simplicity of doing what the voice told Augustine and just “pick it up and read.” To read for no other agenda but to hear God’s story and read His words.

I marvel at the students I see at thecollege where I work who just have a Bible open and are reading. They don’t seem to have an agenda or a plan they are just reading God’s word. I use scripture too often as a tool for my latest mission or blog project rather than using scripture as an entry way into the presence and knowledge of God.

Join me in simply picking it up and reading.

Re-Hacked: My Scripture Top 6-10

Yesterday, we looked at five scriptures passages that have not only been enriching to me but also key transition points to other passages. Today, I list the rest of my top 10.

6. 1 Samuel 16 – By the time I had become taken by the Sermon on the Mount and many of the other passages in my top 5 it was becoming clear to me that God is obsessed with the makeup of the heart. When he changes a person it is through a formation of the heart from the inside out. So when I re-discovered the story of Samuel anointing the future king, David, and here God tell Samuel that “man looks on the outside but God looks on the heart” I knew exactly what he was talking about.

7. Galatians 5:19-25 – Another well-known passage, this one discusses the Fruits of the Spirit. The best words of scripture are ones that inspire and convict. This one convicts me every time. I often ask myself, what am I doing to foster the development of the Fruits of the Spirit?

8. Psalm 1 – ‘Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.’

Before God broke me down and changed me, I would have read verse 2 with dread. How do you delight in law? And who would want to meditate on the law day and night? But I understood the law to be not a just set of rules but a God ordained way of nourishing my soul. Could I delight in the Sermon on the Mount? In the Ten Commandments? In 1 Corinthians 13? Yes. And I had already meditated on these “laws” and found meaning and strength for my life.

9. Galatians 2:20 – All that I had learned and processed through the previously mentioned verses kind of culminates with this verse. From a salvation stand point, I understood the new life found in Christ but this verse showed me the ultimate step in discipleship. “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.”

10. Philippians 3:10 – All of the New Testament falls into these few words. The life of Jesus, his crucifixion, the mystery of the resurrection, discipleship; it is all there and just bursting off the page. This verse will take a lifetime to comprehend and live out but through the process of my Top 10, I can think of no other worthy cause for my life.

So there it is, the 10 passages of scripture that have had the most impact on me and renewed, not only my interest in scripture reading and study, but also my life. Next time, I will demonstrate how you can develop your own Top 10 and what benefit you will gain from it.

Early Returns On The Year of The Word

I have mentioned on this space that I am making 2012 the “Year of the Word.” I am taking an entire year to study, learn, meditate,

A bible from 1859.

Image via Wikipedia

reflect, and most of all, READ the Bible. I want to know more about God by studying his word. I want to know more about myself by studying God’s word, and I want to know more about the world. Two months into this project, I have some thoughts.

1. What you tell yourself about the Bible matters – Now that I am paying better attention to the Bible, I am recognizing what people say about it. Renovare describes the Bible as a book about humans being “with God.” Others list the Bible as God’s revelation about himself. For me, I have discovered that prayer, worship, and experience matter but the easiest way of finding out more about God is through his word. Why haven’t I accepted this obvious truth before?

2. You can’t read every part of the Bible the same – This is another obvious observation that seemed to go over my head for much of my life. Though I have been critical of “read the Bible in a year” programs because they become more about achieving something than discovering something, I now realize that certain parts of the Bible need to be read in large chunks. The gospels, Psalms and much of the New Testament deserve the short treatment while the historical books and books of the law are better handled in larger chunks.

3. The Bible is so rich, it is going to take a lifetime to appreciate it fully – I have never thought about this before but part of my frustration with the Bible in the past has been the sheer volume of truths and insights into Christ and the Christian experience found within its pages. I often felt like  a hiker who never climbs up a small mountain because, “I am never going to make it up Mt. Everest so what is the point of climbing a smaller one.” But that is the beauty of the Bible. Within its words are a gigantic collection of truths, lessons, discoveries, and insights that reveal themselves by multiple readings, by meditation, and by the teacher that is time. One year of the Word is not going to do this book justice.

“OK, I Get It Lord”

On Jan. 5, I posted on this blog the following, “I want to discover the scriptures in a fresh way. God is found in his book and the best place for me to discover him and learn from him is within his word. I know this and I need to put my fear and guilt aside and embrace the wonderful treasure that is God’s word.”

This was my declaration that 2012 was going to be a year of discovery and emphasis on God’s word. January 5th was last Thursday and by Friday, I already had confirmation from God that I was on the right track. It was on Friday that I learned that our church would be going through the Read the Bible For Life curriculum. Then on Sunday, in the first few lines of his sermon, our Pastor stated that 2012 at our church would be the year of the Word as we collectively place an emphasis on reading Bible.

Was the church staff reading my mind? Did they know that this was going to be an area of emphasis for me as well?

Do you have these experiences where God keeps feeding you a similar message in various forms over a short amount of time? Maybe, the conversation you had with a coworker is the exact topic of your next Bible Study lesson. Or the point of a recent movie is discussed by the pastor the next time you visit church. Are the scripture passages you are reading, that you thought were seldom discussed, suddenly on every Facebook status and email message?

God knows we are not very perceptive and are easily distracted and clouded by countless things in our head. So, when he wants us to be aware of something he doesn’t just present it to us in one sitting but often multiple times and in multiple ways. At least this has been my experience.

So I get it Lord. You want me to focus on your Word this year. You have confirmed this in a timely way. Now I must respond by doing my part to read, study, and pray. If this is the journey that God wants me on, then I need to be accepting of whatever God has in store for me. Pray that I will stay committed to this emphasis.

This week, pay attention to the scripture, the songs, and the messages from God’s word that have come your way. Don’t be weird about it but try to see if there is a pattern or an emphasis that appears to be surfacing. Put up your spiritual antennas and see what you might pick up.

What Has Technology Done To Bible Reading?

I have done it. Me, a harbinger for the book and critic of the misuse of technology, almost decided to bring my daughter’s iPod to church yesterday because the Bible app would be a simpler choice over the oversized Bibles I seem to have at the house. I have often scoffed at the people in our Bible Study class who followed along with the passage for that week on their smart phones. Now, I was about to become one of them.

Has technology been good for Bible reading? In some ways, yes. I can have a Bible passage and a devotional sent to my email box every day of the week. Web resources such as Bible Gateway make locating scripture a breeze. And those Bible apps mean that as long as I have the ubiquitous phone, I also have the Bible with me. Also, my wife has been pleasantly surprised by the impact that the scriptures she posts on Facebook have on her friends. Khloe Kardashian was even quoting scripture on Twitter a few weeks back.

But what are the downsides? In the July/August 2008 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, writer Nicholas Carr, who later wrote a book on the topic, described the effect that the Web has had on his ability to concentrate and think:

When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.

Carr then quotes technology and medicine blogger Bruce Friedman, “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print.”

At this point, pet peeves about the proper use of a smart phone and the loss of the printed word become less important when placed up against the reality of web use altering our brain’s ability to process information and handle what we are reading. Think about what this might do to our ability to read the Bible. Reading the Bible is best done in slow, meditative ways, not in the scan and click approach we take to our web reading. And since many of us are starting to do most of our Bible reading online, are we able shut off the scan approach and actually consider what the scripture is saying, not only to our heads but also to our hearts?

The fact of the matters is, Bible reading has to be handled differently from other types of reading. This will take proper teaching and direction and will force Christians to seriously consider their use of technology and how it affects their spiritual life.  Thousands of years of effective use of the scriptures now may be changing. Perhaps we should put down our technology and consider what the future of Bible reading should look like.

What I Missed While Doing All That Running

Though I have talked at length about the spiritual benefits of training for a marathon, there were many aspects of my spiritual life that I either neglected or simply couldn’t get to because I was in training. Here is a list of things that I look forward to now that I have a little more extra time and energy:

1. Reading my Bible – Of course I read my Bible when I was in training but it wasn’t consistent. I have had a desire for a long time to discover the Bible in a fresh way. I would suspect that this journey to discovery will appear on this blog occasionally.

2. Sleep – I believe that sleep is a spiritual discipline in the same way that fasting or the Sabbath are spiritual disciplines. Getting more rest is our way of saying that we do not have to conquer the world because it will still be there when we wake up. I have a problem with overdoing and undersleeping. I hope to get more rest in the coming months.

3. Quality Recreational Reading – One way that I remove myself from the busy and mind jumbling environment of work is to take a book of fiction and get out of the building where I work and read during my lunch break. Being a committed marathon trainee, I spent most of my extra reading time on books on running and marathons. I look forward to finishing life redeeming works of fiction such as Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.

Pick It Up And Read

Saint Augustine

Image via Wikipedia

I have found myself at times, reading the study notes in a Bible first and then reading the scripture they reference. What happened to just reading the Bible?

I have several Bibles around the house and the one I have been reading lately has no study notes or reflections. The only feature that it provides is wide margins for me, not someone else, to write notes and make observations. I wonder about the simplicity of doing what the voice told Augustine and just “pick it up and read.” To read for no other agenda but to hear God’s story and read His words.

I marvel at the students I see at the college where I work who just have a Bible open and are reading. They don’t seem to have an agenda or a plan they are just reading God’s word. I use scripture too often as a tool for my latest mission or blog project rather than using scripture as an entry way into the presence and knowledge of God.

Join me in simply picking it up and reading.

Good Words

Article: Eugene Peterson – the Joyful Environmentalist

oxforddictionary.com

Study: Internet addiction can cause brain damage.

Blog:  Soulgardeners – a beautiful looking blog about spiritual formation and missions.

Travel Destination:  Thorncrown Chapel

Quote: “If you think of reading as a means of uploading data, then reading will ALWAYS seem too slow.” ALan Jacobs


How to Handle Technology

"Technology has exceeded our humanity"

Image by Toban Black via Flickr

Here are three steps to manage technology so that it does not become a detriment to your spiritual life.

1. Refuse to feel behind. No one wants to feel as if they are out of touch or behind the times. The truth of the matter is no one is completely up to date on technology. Even the person with the most advanced smart phone may not have a Blu Ray HD/3D Television with web capability. Make technology something that makes your life easier and more enjoyable but if you find yourself chasing after fads, you will quickly be stretched thin and constantly wanting. Be satisfied with what works.

2. Always choose relationships over technology. If you have a habit of texting during family dinners or checking Facebook more than twice an hour then you might be choosing technology over relationships. The people in front of you need your attention and time, especially if you have kids. Studies have shown that parents often spend more time handling email than time with their kids.

3. Read scripture slowly. The information overload of the internet era has made us all masters at skimming and scanning online material. We are losing the art of reading for deeper understanding. How is that going to affect our reading of scripture? Will we lose the ability to concentrate for long periods of time on God’s word? How are we supposed to fully consider and take in God’s word if we have no experience with meaningful reading.