More books and writing

Swapping blogs for books

In 2017 I did a lot of reading. Some of that was books, but a large amount was articles and blog posts on the internet. As a result of consuming an estimated 3,650 written articles from the web last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that my time could be better spent reading books instead.

Some of the reasons for this conclusion are:

  • Many blog posts end up repeating much the same information as others (especially anything about how to do something with WordPress).
  • Due to the shorter format of even a long web article, reading off the internet is wide but shallow. Good books enable a deeper exploration of a topic.
  • Most web articles are not particularly well researched (there are exceptions and I love those).
  • Reading from a computer screen in the evening is detrimental to good sleep, something that is becoming more important to me as I get older.
  • I have a massive list of books I want to read!

Therefore, in 2018 one of my goals is to devote my evening reading time to books rather than web articles. In theory this should result in a jump in the number of books I read, and maybe even see me knock off some heavy duty tomes which I keep putting off diving into despite knowing that I will gain much from digesting them.

More writing

A sort-of related goal for this year is that I want to do much more writing. Last year I spent a lot of time tinkering around with websites. I consider this to have been valuable learning experience and don’t regret the time invested but have realised that I’m unlikely to become a web developer and want to improve my writing skills in 2018 rather than continuing to focus on web development.

The obvious way to improve my writing is to write more, so expect to see much more published on this blog in 2018 than over the last few years. Not all of what I write will end up here (be glad for that), some will be junk, some will be purely practise and some won’t be stuff I want to publish on the internet.

I do see the potential hypocrisy in wanting to read less from blogs yet intending to publish more on my own blog. However, nobody is forcing you to read my blog and it hurts no-one for posts to sit here lonesome and unread. In the long run if my writing improves any lonely unread posts will have been worth the effort.

Making the best of my time

Why do I give my time to that low-priority stuff which could easily wait at the expense what is immediate and important?

How many hours have I wasted catching up on blogs, social media and whatever else is new on the internet? Then I find it is very late, my sermon is not yet finished and I’ve not done the dishes either. Why is it that low-priority stuff which could easily wait is given my time at the expense of the immediate and important?

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15–17 ESV)

The section of Ephesians this sentence is taken from discusses the works of darkness in which we should not participate in as Christians. Such things as foolish talk, crude jokes, impurity, coveting, getting drunk, and general unfruitful pursuits. Often in the New Testament the idea of  fruitfulness comes up – our lives are expected to bear fruit for God.

Great, so I’m expected to be fruitful on top of working full time, being a father, a husband, and trying to maintain our house. Where am I supposed to find time to be fruitful?

Godly, organic time management

God’s time-management principles are simple: stop doing pointless and destructive things, replacing them with fruitful pursuits. This is an organic model which fits our humanity better than trying to cram every minute with action and scheduling life in a manner more appropriate to a robot than a person. Jesus talks of pruning unfruitful branches to make the tree as a whole bear more fruit, a principle we can apply to our own lives. Not just adding more stuff to do but cutting away all that is unfruitful so what remains will grow better.

Fruitfulness is also a lifetime assessment – no tree bears any useful fruit in its first few years – in fact God commanded Israel to not eat the fruit of a newly planted tree for 5 years (Leviticus 19:23-25). Similarly, a tree cannot control the seasons or growing conditions around it.

Sometimes life is hard and our focus has to be on survival. Then seasons change and the roots which that down deep seeking living water in order to survive a drought enable great fruitfulness which could have come no other way.

Image: iStock

Nothing to say

Due to my odd work hours, some renovation work being done at home, and life generally getting in the way, I have not been able to come up with anything worthwhile to write. Therefore I leave you with one of my favourite song verses:

You start a conversation you can’t even finish it.
You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?
(Psycho Killer by Talking Heads)

Quietness and trust

God waits for me to draw aside from the world and its distractions in order to seek Him, then He speaks to my soul.

a fawn lying in grass looking at camera

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
(Isaiah 30:15 ESV)

With each year that passes I become more aware of how little really matters. It is also evident how little what really matters gets valued, and how prized is that which doesn’t matter.

While God has the ability to easily get my attention by overwhelming all the other clamour in my life, He chooses not to. He waits for me to draw aside from the world and its distractions in order to seek Him, then He speaks to my soul.

Image of fawn in grass: iStockphoto

Netted recently, April 16

Burmese New Year celebrations – The Water Festival
Netted recently (and not so recently):
  • I Hate Hell is a sobering reminder from Tim Challies of what most of us choose to forget.
  • What Really Matters Most: How did you live your life today? What’s your plan for tomorrow? Are you neglecting people for the sake of “more important things”? Well worth taking the time to read this post. And if you are a Dad and feel like you don’t have time to read a long post then you need to read it!
  • People in Burma believe that pouring water over each other washes away bad luck from recent years and will bring  good luck for the year to come. See pictures of New Year festivities in Rangoon(link broken). Burmese New Year celebrations were on 13, 14 and 15 April this year.
  • Religious Conversion Worst Form of ‘Intolerance,’ Bhutan PM Says(link broken): I find this article challenging –

    The first premise [of seeking conversion] is that you believe that your religion is the right religion, and the religion of the convertee is wrong – what he believes in is wrong, what he practices is wrong, that your religion is superior and that you have this responsibility to promote your way of life, your way of thinking, your way of worship,” Thinley said. “It’s the worst form of intolerance. And it divides families and societies.”

    I have to agree with him in this statement, this is exactly what Christianity claims, and it is by nature an evangelistic faith, Christ commands us to make disciples and he said himself that he came to divide homes (Matthew 10:34-39). Yet I also agree that many of the aggressive means used by some Christians (not just oddball sects) are pushing the boundaries and verge on using fear or bribery to gain converts. This challenges me to ponder what Christian conversion really means and what role the evangelist should be playing; we cannot be be completely passive or no gospel is preached, yet if too aggressive the role of faith and the Holy Spirit in ‘conversion’ can come into doubt.

Interrupt your ‘to-do’ list

Having been away on holiday for a week the idea of returning to a schedule full of stuff to do does not appeal! (not that my own schedule is particularly busy compared to that of my lovely wife).

While we were away I read an amazing book by Ingrid Betancourt, Even Silence Has an End, which tells her story of being held as a hostage in the amazon jungle for six years. She comments several times about the torment of being forced to waste so much time out of her life and resolved to spend more time with her family if she ever escaped captivity. This seems to be a fairly common resolution when people are separated from those they love, but I recently encountered a strikingly different resolution from Billy Graham when asked what he would do differently if able to live his life over again:

I would study more, pray more, travel less, take less speaking engagements. If I had it to do over again, I’d spend more time in meditation and prayer and telling the Lord how much I love him and adore him and looking forward to the time we are going to spend together for eternity. –Billy Graham (Quoted on the Prayer Journal blog).

Then I read a cutting-to-the-heart post by Ann Voskamp on stopping to pray in which she finds the connection between work, time and idolatry:

“You okay, Mom?” Josh’s washing dishes, sleeves rolled up, elbow-deep in suds.

I whisper it out the window, ashamed … appalled… “The only thing that prevents me from praying more is me.

The sparrows line the hydro wires out by the mailbox.

It’s my own inflated sense of self-importance, the elevation of my work, of my agenda, that keeps me from prayer-communion.” I turn to face him.

“That’s called idol worship. I don’t pray enough because I’m practicing idol worship.

It is so easy to treat prayer as another thing I should do, like exercising or learning a foreign language, something I know would be worth the effort if I could find the time.

However, the most important principle of ‘time management’ that I have learned over the years is that the list of stuff ‘needing’ to be done will always expand beyond the time available to do it. Therefore it is a fallacy to think in terms of getting rid of that ‘to-do’ list and then having time for the important stuff in life such as praying. The list is never going to end! To find time to pray I have to interrupt the list with what is more important.

So please excuse me, I have important things to be doing!

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12 ESV)


Human mesenchymal cell

I have set myself to make 2011 a year of focusing on essentials. One of the most fundamental elements of our lives is how we spend our time. Don’t panic… I’m not going to start preaching about time management! I am more concerned about some of the junk I spend my time on. Junk such as Facebook and casual internet browsing. I can easily kiss goodbye to several hours in an evening on those two alone. It always feels important at the time, and often is interesting stuff I am reading, but that time spent keeping up with 20 blogs pushes more important things out – such as reading the Bible or praying for my own kids.

“One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”
John Piper

Therefore I have decided to put some self imposed limits on these things. I’m not going to tell you what my own time limits are, or what blogs I have dumped off my RSS feed, these are things specific to each individual and to the phase of life we are each in. I think the internet is a great tool, but there is no need for me to turn the tool into a time-wasting toy. I am choosing to be “intentionally uninformed” so as to leave time in my days to inform myself about God.

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.

(Proverbs 12:11 ESV)

In the end it is about focus. If I want to see God I need to focus my attention upon Him and purposefully block out other distractions. This is similar to how a telescope or microscope works – they each have lenses which focus light, they also have a tube (or equivalent) which keeps extraneous light out. The only light you want in a microscope is that which is directed through the sample and lenses, the stray light in the room reduces the clarity of the image and reduces resolution. This is especially so with fluorescence microscopy, good fluorescence images require a darkened room, meticulous sample preparation, a sophisticated microscope and a lot of skill. Obtaining a few high quality, informative images can take weeks of preparation – work that requires skill, concentration and focus, even through all the boring steps of what is a long, and at times tedious, process. Yet these images have opened up new ways of seeing and understanding the very basis of life – well worth the effort in my opinion.

So too with seeing the glory of Christ, it takes time, discipline and sometimes a bit of tedium, but the vista is far better than any microscope image!

2011: Essentials

When venturing into the wilderness areas of New Zealand there is certain gear that is essential for survival. Most of it is fairly obvious, but get caught in the mountains in bad weather without that gear and you will be very lucky to come out alive. This is one of the attractions to me of going into the mountains – life suddenly gets simplified back to the essentials and just surviving becomes the focus, all the seemingly important stuff filling my days back in town are forgotten as my existence is put into perspective by mountains, rivers, forests and weather. It is refreshing to be forced to carry only the essentials and to have my thoughts focused down to where I place my feet so as to avoid falling.

So when I encountered the idea of choosing a word as a focus for the year, it didn’t take long for me to decide that in 2011 what I need to concentrate on is essentials, avoiding what is unnecessary in regards to using my time, spending money, what I eat, what I read, what I do, what I think and what I feel. What the real essentials are is still a bit fuzzy to me (it is only the start of the year!), just as when I begin packing for a tramping trip I often throw some stuff in the pile of gear to take which are nice to have but turn out not to be essentials and are either left behind or regretted as I struggle to carry a pack which is far too heavy! So too I know even now that the fullness of my life is due to carrying some stuff that is not essential, it needs to be discarded as I identify what those things are.

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
(Mark 10:21 ESV)

As the year rolls on my intention is to keep coming back to my ‘word of the year’ and will post my progress as the non-essentials are identified and hopefully dumped.

Blog success in an upside-down kingdom

I am making a few course-corrections for the blog. After one year of blogging, now is a good time to review how things have gone and where I am aiming for the next year.

Since mid-November 2009 I have published 192 blog posts, learned loads about blogging and WordPress, done a smidge of CSS tweaking, and managed to break the blog once by messing with the php code. Most importantly, I have encountered God in the process of writing these 192 posts and in doing so attained one of my main objectives in writing a blog. My other key objective has been to write content that contributes to others being able to encounter Christ also. Obviously this is impossible for me to assess, all I can do is write what I think would be helpful to me and respond graciously to any feedback from others.

There are certainly ways of measuring statistics regarding numbers of visitors to a website, how long they stay, what search engines or websites they came from, and lots of other interesting stuff. Until a few days ago I used Google Analytics to track such statistics for Words of Eternal Life – it reassured me at least that I am not quite the only person in the world to visit this blog! However, herein lies a dangerous trap for someone trying to honour Christ – the danger of seeking validation and praise from my works rather than from Jesus. It is good to be encouraged but I need to be careful to give praise to God for enabling me to do whatever it is I am being encouraged about, and to seek validation from God, not a blog. In this I have learned the truth of what John Piper says:

John Piper says:
Tell them that it takes relentless intentionality to keep a Christ-exalting blog from become a clever blog. The temptation to entertain is almost irresistible.

I have also been greatly inspired by what Ann Voskamp said recently at the Relevant Conference about blogging in the ‘Upside-Down Kingdom’. Ann talked about serving Christ by going lower, by exposing our thrashing about, our searching in the darkness, and telling our ‘messy stories’ of knowing Jesus as fallen, forgiven sinners. Our stories engage others with theology, culture, circumstance and struggle all lived out in a real life of faith in Jesus Christ.

The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. She needs her again and again when she becomes uncertain – and this is the power of blogging in the upside down kingdom. This is the holy work of a blog, so don’t ever feel shy or ashamed or embarrassed that you blog. Because the body of Christ needs to speak to itself and it needs to speak to the world and this is the beauty of a blog. I get discouraged and I become uncertain and I fall down and His Word through your words is the connective tissue in the body of Christ and we need each other. Please. Keep. Writing. (Ann Voskamp)

So, out of all this I have made a few changes to this blog and set some goals for the year ahead:
  • Rather than concerning myself with numbers of visitors to this blog or increasing traffic, I want to keep in mind my main purpose in writing:
    for me blogging is not primarily about how many visits I get or how well this website ranks on search engines. The purpose of my blogging is to write about walking with Christ in ordinary life.
  • I am modifying the layout to focus more on the ongoing story of faith, with minimal distractions.
  • I will do my best to keep the content of this blog Christ-honouring and faith-building.
  • I will try to honestly tell my own messy faith stories in the hope they may help you as you read them.

John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.
(John 3:27-30 ESV)

17 November 2010
Voskamp has posted an excellent follow up article about what ‘success’ should mean as a Christian blogger on the incourage blog. The post is titled: Six Things Every Christian Blogger Needs to Know. If you found this post interesting, I highly recommend reading Ann’s post.