Turning 30: The Most Impactful Books I've Read

Simple letters on a page. Shades of black against a crisp white background. All lined up neatly in rows and flowing smoothly from left to right. Forming words, sentences and paragraphs that take you anywhere you have a mind to go. Whether its love, adventure or bold ideas, those simple little letters contain far more power than a quick glance reveals. Such is the power of books. 

Stretched out on the couch, propped up in bed or sitting in a leather chair reading is one of my favorite pastimes. Reading has been a passion since I was a little tike. When I was in elementary school, the book fair was my favorite time of year. Row upon row of books to read. Some about a teacher who was really a vampire, and others detailing the adventures of some crime solving youth. Whatever the book, I most likely wanted to read it. 

Fast forward a few years and getting lost in a well told story or wringing all I can from a helpful resource, books remain one of the primary ways I relax, unwind and learn. They are life giving, challenge the way I think and cause me to pause and take stock of my life. 

Over the years I've consumed hundred of books, yet there have been but a few that have marked me in a real and positive sense. Today, I want to share them with you. These are not my favorite books but simply those that have had a true and lasting impact on the way I think and who I am. 

Desiring God is the most impactful book I have ever read. It changed the course and pattern of my walk with Christ in a powerful way. It helped me see that God in Christ is after my joy. He isn't some cosmic killjoy but rather a loving father who is intensely concerned with my joy.

Too often the picture we form of God casts Him as disconnected, cold, unconcerned or the enemy of fun. In short, we far too often have a view of God and who He is that is starkly and surprisingly unbiblical. This remarkable book found its way into my hands at just the right time, took me on a journey through God's word and brought me to the glorious discovery that delighting in Him is the great and wonderful duty He has give us.   

Law & Grace
By Alva J. McClain

The relationship between the law and grace. How do they interact? Are the two mutually exclusive? Are Christians still under the law? Are there additional works that must be performed of me now that I've placed my trust in Christ? All these questions and a dozen others find their answer in this small but powerful book.

Reconciling the grace of God in Christ with the call to personal holiness can be hard. We so much desire a set of rules and regulations to live by. We clamor for a list that says, "Do this and don't do that, and you will go to Heaven." Our sinful hearts are obsessed with doing. Law And Grace helped me understand more fully the power of the gospel and the truth that it really is finished. There is no need for us to add our works to the finished work of Christ. He really did pay it all. Our attempts to do so only serve to cheapen the gospel and reveal just how desperately we need to be reminded of it each and every day. 

Knowing God
By J. I. Packer

Every now and then you catch a glimpse of someone who has lived life so incredibly well. You stop and pause to breath it in. You study it and look at the way they carry themselves, the weight of their words, and their impact on others and long for the same qualities to found within yourself.

J.I. Packer leads such a life. It draws its power and flows from the deepest of wells, a deep abiding relationship with Christ. It is the most important and defining characteristic of his life. I hope and pray the same will be said of me when my days are complete. Knowing God, there is nothing so sweet, so wonderful. This modern classic helps us move beyond simply knowing about God but endeavors to guide us to meeting Him, loving Him and embracing Him for all He is for us in Christ. 

Each of these books has had a profound impact on my life, but why? Why these relatively few books compared to the vast others I've consumed?  

1. They found me at the right time. Timing matters when it comes to reading. A book you completely hate at one time might be one you absolutely love at another. When a book hits your desk is just as important as anything else. Reading the right book at the wrong time, won't help you any more than the wrong book at the right time. 

2. They addressed a question or issue I was already wrestling with at the time. There are plenty of books that I have loved reading. In fact, there is a small list of books that I've actually put down and stopped reading because I just couldn't take it anymore. However, just because I enjoy a book, doesn't mean it is one that's impacting me deeply. Some of my favorite books have been those I've read for no other purpose than pure enjoyment. 

3. It had a unique contribution to make. It wasn't a rehash of dozens of other books on the subject, each made their own contribution to the topic. It can be frustrating to pick up a book, begin to read it and then realize that the author has nothing new or unique to add to the discussion. While this doesn't happen all the time, it happens far more often than it should.  

5 Proven Steps That Will Transform Your Bible Study

Twitter might be a gigantic time waste to some but it changed my life. Several years ago I responded to a tweet from Brandon Barker who was on staff at The Village Church. He had asked if there were any men looking to be discipled. I quickly shot Brandon a reply and a few weeks later met Matt Hummel. Over the next year and a half Matt would fundamentally transform how I studied God's word. 

I knew daily bible reading was important and sought to make it a daily habit but wasn't always sure what to do when I opened my bible. I needed direction and help in going deeper in God's word, and Matt was who the Lord used to help me do so.

Each Monday we would gather around Matt's kitchen table to discuss what we read, the things that stood out and to learn a ton of new skills. Today I want to share a few of the tools I learned regarding studying the bible. I hope you find them as helpful as I did and that they help you swim deeper this year. 

  1. Read the book all the way through several times.
  2. Put together a broad outline of the book.
  3. Study the background of the book. Think authorship, audience and purpose.
  4. Observe the text. Ask yourself, "What do I see?"
    1. Underline all verbs
    2. Circle key words or phrases
    3. Highlight repeated words or phrases
    4. Box connecting words
    5. List primary themes
    6. Make at least two observations about what you're seeing in each verse
    7. Ask interpretive questions
  5. Interpret the text.
    1. Use the context
    2. Compare multiple translations
    3. Look up keywords
    4. Study cross references
    5. Look up background information
    6. Tackle tough questions step by step
      1. List all the options
      2. List pros and cons for each option
      3. Choose the most likely option
      4. Decide on your certainty level

That year spent gathered around Matt's table is one I look back on with great fondness and am so grateful I had the opportunity to do. I learned a great deal as a result and can barely scratch the surface on the difference this approach to studying the bible has had in my life.

If you are looking to go deeper in God's word in 2016, I hope you apply these five steps to your study and that they serve as real game changers for you.

For additional resources I can not commend the bible study tools and resources produced by Grace Bible Church in College Station, TX strongly enough. They provide great instruction on how to develop the above skills. 

How To Read Your Bible & Get More Out Of It

Is one of your 2016 goals to read your bible more? You know its important but can't seem to find the time or develop the habit of daily reading. You're not alone. I talk to people all the time who desire to spend time reading God's word but for one reason or another can't make it happen. 

Not a Christian, I still commend reading the Bible to you. No other book has had such an impact upon the world. Its impact can not be overstated nor can the help it offers to every area of your life. Whether its your business, marriage, relationships or any other area of your life, the Bible offers you timeless help. 

But exactly how do you start? The Bible is after all quite large. Knowing where to begin and how to proceed can be confusing. 

In this post, I would like to share with you how I read the Bible. The tips I share aren't the only way to do it, but have served me well for sometime and therefore I commend them to you.

Set a time and a place

Over the years I have learned the hard lesson that what gets scheduled gets done and what doesn't get scheduled consequently doesn't get done. Create an appointment with yourself on your calendar for Bible reading and just like any other appointment establish a meeting place. These two steps are the foundation for developing a habit of Bible reading and will go a long way to helping it stick. 

Personally, I like to read the Bible first thing in the morning before my day has the opportunity to distract me. And just about every morning I read in the same place, my office. I am easily distracted so this is a nice quiet place I can shut the door and spend time in God's word before starting my day. 

Create a plan

Ok, so you've set a time and a place to read, but what will you actually read. Are you banking on the old flip and point method? I've used that one myself in the past, but have since come to find that like most areas of life a little planning ahead goes a long long way. 
Do you want to read a particular book of the Bible, a specific topic or do you want to read through the entire Bible in a year? Once you know what you want select a plan to guide you. It is great to create time and space in your schedule but you must have a plan for what you will do with this time. 
For daily Bible reading, I have found Join The Journey to be a great and helpful tool. If you're looking for a place to start, I'd reccomend giving it a look. There are also several other plans availible online for you to download and follow. Tim Challies has a list of several reading plans; Justin Taylor also has yet more options for you.  

Read with pen in hand

Just as I have reccomended reading other books with a pen in hand, it goes double for the Bible. The whole point of reading the Bible is to interact with what it says and have it inform your thoughts and ways. I can think of no better way to do this than to physically or electronicly mark up the text. Underline verses that stick out, circle paragraphs that you find especially impactful, and write notes in the margins.  
I do the majority of my Bible reading using the Olive Tree Bible Study App. I love this app for several reasons among which is the ability to highlight verses in different colors. This past year a good friend of mine encouraged me to use more than one color and I soon adopted the highlighting guide, below: 
Purple = Promises
Green = Commands
Yellow = Noteworthy
Pink = Things to avoid or guard against
Blue = Things of heaven or to imitate

You might benefit from using different colors or writing in the margins but whatever method you choose you will benefit greatly from interacting with the word of God and seeking to understand it more deeply. Track God's ideas after Him and see how it changes you in 2016. 

Capture what you're learning

It does you little good to read, and learn if you don't have some sort of a system to help you capture what you're learning. I don't know about you but I can't remember everything and need a little help from time to time. This is where a great note keeping app like Evernote or One Note can come in handy. Write down what you're learning. This archive of learning helps you retain far more of what you read. 

This is perhaps my favorite feature of the Olive Tree Bible Study App. It allows me to create and pin notes to particular verses. This is super helpful! If I'm reading and something stands out I can not only highlight it but pin a note to the verse about what I read, how it impacted me and have that note with me wherever I go. Whether you use an app like Evernote, OneNote or Olive Tree or simply a spiral notebook, figure out a way to capture what you are learning and reference it often. 

Involve other people

Just like a work out partner can come in handy at the gym, a group of people can come in handy with reading your Bible. They can encourage and hold you accountable and help you process what you are reading. When you know other people care and are going to check in with you, you tend to follow through more often. 

What does this look like for me? Well first and foremost, my wife is a huge encourager and helps me stay on track with reading God's word. We also have great conversations about what we each are studying throughout the week. I also talk reguarly with family and friends about what we are reading and how it is shaping us. 

You don't have to be married to involve others in your study of God's word. All you need is a few trusted people in your life that you can talk to and process with. Tell your friends what you are learning, discuss it with them and ask them to hold you accountable throughout the year. 

It is my hope that these quick tips are helpful as you seek to read your Bible this year and that doing so absolutely transforms your life.