Book Reviews Coming Soon . . .

©2011 – Horia Varlan

As I’ve reflected on my own spiritual growth; it’s quite clear that one of the primary factors was books. By reading a variety of books, I’ve been able to gain tools, ideas and encouragement that have helped me grow and develop as a Christian. Books give us an opportunity to listen in and learn from the messages the Holy Spirit is putting on the hearts and minds of others. It’s easy to read a book and then rush onto the next book or simply the next activity without taking the time to figure out the most important question, “Ok, now what . . How do I APPLY this to my life?”

My book reviews are going to be both overviews of the book – why I think it’s useful, who it will benefit, my favorite nuggets of wisdom and most importantly: how God is using it to challenge and grow me. This will hopeful be useful to you, the reader, but will also prove to be a profitable exercise for me. As I review my favorite books from over the years, I predict that it will be an amazing journey of growth for me, learning and re-learning lessons.

If you read or have read the books being reviewed it would be a good opportunity to chime in on what you found useful and share your wisdom as well.

Create a Devotional Plan for 2011 – #1

So often, we rush through life wanting to change, but are too busy to make plans. Life ends up being a whirlwind of busyness without moving toward the better future that we all hope and dream of living.

The most powerful method (that I’ve found) to produce lasting life change  is being strategic about my devotional life. Creating a strategic plan to grow closer to God and become more Christ-like. Christian’s hate to talk like this, because it seems so ungodly to speak of God like an item on a to-do list. Yet, by not adding God time as a must do item it ends up being a rarely do item. God wants us to actively and passionately pursue Him, which means being strategic about our time together. He wants us to desire to know him more and more . . . while becoming more like him each day.

The best way to actively pursue God is to make sure you are spending regular time with Him.

Tip #1: Decide on the amount of time you will give God daily.

Schedule an appointment with God like you would any other VIP. Decide on how much time you’ll spend with God and where you will meet with Him.

Be Prepared, there are going to be days when you ‘really’ don’t feel like waking up early or taking time away from something else to spend time with God (because it doesn’t ‘feel’ productive). That’s normal, but often these are the times when we need God most — and feel refreshed or more at peace afterwards.

The amazing part about spending time with God is that he slowly changes us to be more like Him in the process. It’s not magic, but you’ll soon begin to notice a change in yourself. This will usually be expressed in how you react or don’t react to stressful situations. Other changes may be in your words, your compassion for others, decreased anger or frustrations and a general greater sense of peace and patience.

Wanna Grow? Listen to Sermons Online

The main point of this blog is to encourage people in their walk with God and help them . . . Journey Deeper in Christ.

So, I’m going to include various things I do that encourage me in my faith and help me grow closer to Christ.

One of the things I often do is listen to sermons online. I’ve gained a lot of insight from different perspectives that I’ve found invaluable for growing in my faith.

My favorite churches to regularly listen to sermons from are:

Lifechurch.tv (Craig Groeschel) – I’ve been a loyal e-ttender since 2007! I have learned and grown so very much through the teaching of Pastor Craig that I couldn’t possibly recommend lifechurch.tv and their resources highly enough.

North Point Community Church – (Andy Stanley) – Andy Stanley is another favorite  pastor of mine, I’ve also learned a lot from his teaching.

Elevation Church (Steven Furtick) – young, fresh, inspiring, need I say more.

Church of the Highlands (Chris Hodges) – There’s something real humble and likable about Christ Hodges, so I also add him into the mix from time-to-time.

Another great place for sermons and Christian broadcasting Oneplace.com.

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For fun, I also listen to listen to Children’s radio programs. Even though it’s for kids, they can be really fun and useful to the kid in all of us  🙂

Your Story Time (I first listened to these when I was a kid, they bring back memories, but are also quite good!)

Adventure’s in Odyssey (radio theater by focus on the family)

 

 

Example: Goals and Bible Setup

Current Bible Reading Goals:

  • Read one Proverb / day.
  • Complete Old Testament (in NKJV Bible) by the end of the year.
  • Complete New Testament (in NIV Bible) by the end of the year.

To guarantee that I reach my goal I set daily, weekly, monthly and bi-annual goals. I setup my reading plans on a bi-annual basis (or sometimes more frequently if I’m in a rut and need to switch things us).

The goal amount is calculated using a simple calculation based on the number of pages in the Bible. Below is an example of my Old Testament reading goals (after the formula is my September Goals):

End Page = 1328

Pages per day = (End Page – Current Page) / (Days left in the year)

Pages per day = (1328 – 1140) / 122 = 1.54

For my actual daily goals I like to round-up to increase my likelihood of reaching my goals, since there will inevitable be one day of the week where my reading time is shortened. So, I set a goal of 2 pages / day.

Pages per week = 1.54 * 7 = 10.78

Pages per month = Pages per day * (Days in the current month)

Pages per month = 1.54 * 30 = 46.2

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Tracking my reading goals has been an area where I’ve tried lots of methods and finally found a system that works for me. In the past I  have written down my daily reading and that just seemed cumbersome to me. So instead I found a way to keep track of where I’m at with no writing required.

———–

If you are like me, you wake up a little groggy in the morning. You make some tea or coffee then sit down in a cozy spot for your devotional time. I can easily get a little distracted (cloudy headed) about what I to do once I have the Bible in my hand. So below is my low-brain approach for setting up my Bible.

Note: The only portion of my devotional time that I’m discussing here is  Bible Reading. I’ll detail the other aspects when we get to that portion of the study.

Old Testament Study:

Grab Bible, which I leave by ‘my’ chair  🙂 – This one is pretty new, so it doesn’t show my usual wear and tear. (I often grab my MP3 player as well to listen to audio w/ the reading.)

Turn to Tab #1 Shown above. Begin reading at the blue marker (which is set on the Proverb of the day). Set the Tab and Marker on the next Proverb of the day.

Turn to Tab #2. Begin reading at the blue marker.

Continue reading until (at a minimum) the orange marker is reached. Reset the Tab and Markers to the start and end point for tomorrows reading.

The Weekly Goal is shown by the above marker.

The Monthly Goal is shown by the above marker.

The 6-month Goal is shown by the above marker.

The Weekly, Monthly and 6-month goal marker are updated once they have been reached.

This is a lot of explanation for a pretty simple system that doesn’t require any writing or tracking. It helps me always know what I’m wanting to accomplish and keeps me in the Bible on a daily basis.

Example: Current Bibles that I use.

Often when people talk about goals they give general information, but never specific examples of how to apply it to my life.

Since, I think daily Bible reading is so very important I wanted to give an example from my own life in the hope that it might be helpful to you.

First I’ll begin with what Bibles I’m currently using:

I typically change Bible versions / editions every year or so.

The current Bible I’m reading the Old Testament in is:

I can’t speak to the content of the Bible notes, because I rarely read them. The main reason I purchased this Bible is practical and shallow. I wanted a NKJV Bible to use with the Word of Promise Audio (practical) and I wanted a blue leather cover (shallow) 🙂 .

———-

The current Bible I’m reading the New Testament in is Divine Health (this is also a NKJV Bible):

I like the tips and the zine version is ‘different’, but I think it’s a good kind of different. I’m very visual, so the color and pictures help present the message in a new way.

———-

I frequently like to listen to the Word of Promise (WOP) audio mp3s while reading the Bible. Reading and listening is a great way to focus your mind on God’s word and allows the passage more depth to speak into your life. The WOP audio Bible is truly one of my favorite audio Bibles.

I loaded all the MP3s onto my ipod and created playlists by Bible book so that finding the correct file to play is very easy.

———————

Now that we have clarified the Bibles I use the next post will give an overview of how I organize my Bible and my current Bible reading goals.

Read the Bible – Goal Setting

One thing I’ve noticed is that most of us are more consistent in making goals in all other areas of life, but not related to our Spiritual life.

I know, I know . . . Goal setting and God, just don’t seem to go together.

I’ve heard people say:

  • “I don’t want my Spiritual Life to feel forced.”
  • “I prefer to spend time with God when I’m in the right-mindset.” “
  • “I want to give plenty of room for the Spirit to lead.”

All of these are good points, but . . . more often than not when we don’t plan a consistent devotional strategy, it simply means that nothing is done. When it comes to handle our physical health or finances most people recognize the need for a plan of action. Yet, in the very critical area of spiritual health – this is forgotten.

What kind of goal should you set?

SMART ones:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Decide in advance what your study plan will be, some examples are as follows:

  • Read-thru Bible
  • Study all verses in Bible that relate to a specific theme.
  • Follow a Bible Study / Devotional Book + the Bible

A typical goal is to complete the Bible in a year. The best way to start is to calculate the milestone; how many pages would need to be completed daily, weekly, monthly, bi-annually.  Then day-to-day work toward reaching your goal.

Lesson 2: Read It!

How to Delight in God’s Word — Read It!

Printable Overview of Lesson 02

Printable Leaders Guide to Lesson 02

I know it sounds pretty obvious to say “you can’t delight in God’s word unless you read it”, but this was something I was quick at understanding and slow at applying. I remember when I was a new believer,  there were many weeks that I’d hunt for my Bible Saturday night (so I could be ready for church on Sunday) and fine it left in my car from the previous Sunday. It was no surprise I wasn’t enjoying or delighting in the Bible, because I was not reading it.

After I began to schedule a daily time with God (to pray and read his word) . . .  slowly .  . . over time. . . my quiet time was transformed. It wasn’t a chore, but instead it became a pleasure and privilege.

Joshua 1:8: “8Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

God tells us to read, meditate and ‘do’, which will be the next three things we’ll be focusing on in order to delight in God’s Word. But, what’s exciting is that this comes with a promise you can claim and that is that “then you will be prosperous and successful.” This prosperity and success could be manipulated by many to mean a guarantee of worldly power or wealth, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Following God’s wisdom can lead to financial blessing, but this is not a promise, instead as we read, meditate and do, God’s fruit will spring forth in or lives and we will have an abundance of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control (Gal. 5:22).

Another key to success in reading the Bible is finding a translation that is understandable by you. I know many people have gotten overwhelmed by the King James Bible and yet, others enjoy the prose and wording. This is important to find a Bible that you will regularly use, perhaps a study Bible, Devotional Bible, Audio Bible, etc. The key is choose a Bible that you enjoy reading, while being mindful to not choose a ‘paraphrase’ version as your primary Bible.

Acts 17:11 (NLT) “11And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to check up on Paul and Silas, to see if they were really teaching the truth.”

We need to follow the Bereans two part example the first is to approach God’s Word with eagerness and enthusiasm. It’s important to have enthusiasm for God’s Word and look forward to learning more about and hearing from Him. Second is that they tested what they were taught by others to see if it was the truth according to the Scriptures. There is nothing wrong with learning from Bible Teachers or Books, but it’s important to check and double-check what is taught to make sure it lines up with what the Bible says.

Avoid the attitude that Bible study is a burden and something you can never miss or you will not learn to enjoy it. Satan will attack you if you miss a day and tell you you’re a failure, that God doesn’t love you and a bunch of other lies, because that is what he is — a great big liar. Then you’ll be discouraged and want to stop studying the Bible altogether.

1 Peter 5:8-9 “8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

Satan wants to destroy us, and there is nothing he wants more than to keep believers away from the power that is in God’s word. So If you have not been studying the bible be aware that you may face trials and difficulties as you begin this discipline.

James 1:2-3: “2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

These trials are a necessary part of the maturing process.

So we all need to make reading the Bible a priority, but you also need to give yourself Grace whenever you miss time studying and just pick up wherever your at.

Avoid viewing the Bible as a rule book full of Do’s and Don’ts or you won’t delight in it.

I once heard the statement in regard to parenting that “Rules without Relationship equals Rebellion”. It’s the same with the Bible, if we see the Bible as a book of Rules and we don’t have a relationship with the Author then nobody would want to continue reading it and it’s much easier to rebel against the truths of the Bible.

That’s why Satan wants people to believe the Bible is just a rule book and for us to forget about grace, love, forgiveness and a relationship with God.

Instead we need to view the Bible as a love letter written from a loving heavenly father to his children wanting to give them everything they need to know while in this difficult and trying human existence. He wants to help us avoid undue difficulties caused by sin and He wants us to know that even in the worst of circumstances He’s still with us and we can trust in Him.

Lesson 01: Application

If there is anything I want you to take away from this lesson is a simple process:

  1. Pray First: Start this very day praying before you begin studying the Bible. Ask God to give you wisdom and understanding. Ask him to soften your heart so that you will receive the truth that he has for you.
  2. Focus: When you begin reading, don’t focus on the quantity of what is read (# of chapters), but instead focus on ‘What is God trying to tell or teach you through His word?’
  3. Pause & Discuss: Pause for a moment and talk to Him. Ask Him questions or discuss what you are learning.  If you feel convicted and know you need to ask forgiveness, stop and do it — right then, don’t wait!

I want you to have your Bible reading time to be a conversation. When you do this then God’s story begins to be woven into your life and it becomes your story as well. You’ll remember years later how certain verses sustained you through difficult times. How you were strengthened and challenged by your conversations over the Bible. It will be amazing how God can use a simple phrase or even just a word to speak into your life — if you’ll let Him!

Lesson 1: Exercise

Exercise on praying the Scriptures:

This exercise consists of a few simple and familiar verses. Read the verse and use it as a starting point for prayer or reflection. Ask God how to apply it to your life. An open heart + the Holy Spirit’s guidance (applying it to your current circumstances) can lead to many possible applications and prayer needs.

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) “29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”

Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV): “4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Galatian 5:22-23 (NIV) “22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Lesson 1: Pray over it . . . and through it.

How to Delight in God’s Word — Prayer

Printable Overview of Lesson 01

Printable Leaders Guide to Lesson 01

This seems simple and obvious, but I always considered prayer and Bible Study separate disciplines and never realized how important they were to be incorporated together.

I begin my quiet time by simply praying and asking God for wisdom and guidance and for him to soften my heart to receive his truths. Just by adding prayer before studying the Bible I found that God was faithful to hear my prayer and give me a deeper understanding of his Word.

1 John 5:14-15 (NLT): 14And we can be confident that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in line with his will. 15And if we know he is listening when we make our requests, we can be sure that he will give us what we ask for.

So we know that if we ask God for something AND it’s according to his will, he will be faithful to give it to us.

James 1:5 (NIV) tells us: 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

We can see in this verse that wisdom is something that God tells us to ask for and he promises to give it generously, but we must believe and not doubt that God will provide it to us. This gives us confirmation that praying for wisdom and guidance before we study the Bible is indeed a prayer according to God’s will that He will answer.

The second thing I learned was to pray as I read the Bible. As I read God might reveal an area I need to change or I might learn something new from God and I pray immediately to respond to the message I have received. It may be that I need to ask for forgiveness; I’ll want to stop and praise him, to thank him, or whatever I feel I want to tell him, I do it right then and there.

Have any of you ever had a pen pal or other long distance relationship through the mail?

Did you find it more difficult to sustain a deep and meaningful relationship compared to in- person communication?

This is what my relationship to God was like a loving, but long-distance relationship through letters. I would tell him everything I wanted to say in prayer and then at a later time I would read what He had to say. It was never immediate or back and forth like a real in-person relationship is and therefore I could not reach a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Him.

Have you ever felt like God was distant?

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