Optimize Your Commute

downloadYears from now, historians will look back at our day and observe — among other things — the disproportionate amount of time we spent commuting to work. I’m blessed that my commute is only about 15 minutes each way (depending on traffic), but I know many whose daily traverse eats up hours each day. I’ve recently been convicted that these hours should not be squandered away, but can and should be exploited. Your morning commute can become a very productive part of your daily routine.

Here are a few suggestions for improving your commute:

1. Audiobooks

If you’re like me, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to read everything you want to. I’ve started taking advantage of several inexpensive (and even free) ways to listen to great books. I once listened to half of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers on the drive into the mountains. Another time, I listened to Dostoevsky’s 800-page classic The Brother’s Karamozov in about three weeks during my daily commute.

Most public libraries now have audiobooks on CD you can check out for free. I’ve recently discovered the iPhone app OverDrive. With it, you can download eAudiobooks right to your phone and listen for up to 21 days. I’ve also downloaded several free, montly audiobooks from Christianaudio.com. There are also inexpensive audiobooks available at PaperBackSwap, a great resource for any book lover.

2. Podcasts, Sermons, Classes and Teachings

I also regularly use my iPod to listen to sermons, teachings, courses and podcasts that are specific to areas in which I want to grow. You can use your commute to sharpen yourself vocationally and socially, as well as spiritually. Consider areas of your life you’d like to grow, and look for resources you might be able to listen to. Personally, I’m always looking for wisdom on interpersonal communication, leadership, teaching and writing, and I have discovered several great resources.

3. Scripture

Keep an Audio Bible in your car and listen to the Scriptures. I prefer the ESV Hear the Word Audio Bible. This has been a great aide to my study and teaching. I was once teaching a class on James at church and listened to the book upwards of 20 times as part of my preparation. It was a pretty easy way to become very familiar with the book. I recently committed to a focused study of the Prophets. I’m going to start it by listening through a few times. Reading through the Prophets feels daunting. Listening to them feels much less daunting.

4. Prayer

The daily commute can be a good time to pray over your day. I spend many mornings praying over my deadlines and projects. It’s amazing how quickly prayer can disarm worries and anxieties. Many blog ideas and solutions to problems I’m dealing with have come to me during a prayerful commute. Coincidence? I think not. (Disclaimer: Boundless strongly recommends driving with your eyes open.)

5. Silence

As a general rule, our lives are too noisy. Some avoid the uneasiness of silence altogether, but we are wise to remember silence has long been considered a valuable spiritual discipline. I don’t do silence well or as frequently as I should. But I do recognize that regular times of silence are beneficial. Take a morning once and a while, and spend a portion of your commute in silence.

There are certainly other productive ways to optimize your commute, but most will find a little intentionality goes a long way. If there are audiobooks, podcasts, sermons, classes or other resources you’ve recently benefited from, please recommend them below. I’m always looking for new resources to add to my own commute queue.

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Marriage Preparation Is Heart Work

Married HeartAre you ready for marriage?

It’s that time of year again. People seem to be pairing off like rabbits (at least in my newsfeed). Facebook has been lighting up with pictures of brides and bridal parties, and it is fun to see all the smiles and happy celebrations. Occasionally, an engagement announcement will pop up, and my first thought is, I wonder if they’re ready? I don’t mean it in a judgmental or even critical way. I just wonder what makes a couple ready for marriage.

Certainly, no one enters marriage with complete confidence that they are ready for all that awaits. There are all sorts of unknown variables that even the most calculating person couldn’t possibly anticipate. One of the great mysteries of marriage is that it’s a commitment made in trust. You must trust yourself, your new spouse, and God — the giver of marriage. But are we left to only trust and take the leap? Or is there a way to know if we are really ready for marriage?

I believe there is a good test we should keep before us on the road to marriage. It’s a test we should regularly take and retake, working daily as we grow. In fact, Jesus himself assessed those who came to Him by this same test. Of course, I’m talking about the state of the heart. On the road to marriage, it is extremely important to have an accurate understanding of your own heart and the heart of your future spouse. To misjudge the heart is not only foolish, it is downright dangerous.

The struggle with determining what is in the heart stems from the universal capacity to cover and hide what is really there. Jesus pointed this out when He said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Think of the surprised looks when He said this. Jesus knew what was in their hearts and he saw when they were faking it. They were putting on a show and duping many, but Jesus wasn’t interested in how things appeared. He drilled right down to what was in their hearts.

As we prepare for marriage and look for a person to marry, we ignore the heart issue to our own hurt. We must protect and nurture our hearts consistently and expect the same of those who we commit ourselves to. I’m not looking for a perfect heart, but a growing heart. I want to find someone who knows of the weaknesses in their inmost being and is fighting daily to grow into the image of Jesus Christ. I fear far too many work only to mask whats really in their heart, instead of working to purify it.

On your road to marriage, here are a few heart questions to contemplate about yourself and the one whom you’d marry.

1. Do you habitually soak your heart in God’s Word?

Having a regular, organized time in God’s Word is essential for purity. Jesus made a habit of reading the Scriptures and asked God to sanctify His people in the truth of God’s Word (John 17:17). Paul wrote to the Ephesians that Christ makes His church holy by, “cleansing her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). God’s Word is compared to both food and water, because eating and cleaning are things we must do regularly. Your heart — much like your body — needs regular care and maintenance. In the same way you wouldn’t go days and weeks without a meal or a shower, you shouldn’t go long without feeding and washing your heart in God’s Word.

2. Do you habitually commune with God?

We must also recognize that heart work is ultimately the work of God in us. As Job wrote, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one” (Job 14:4). We cannot purify our own hearts, but we can plead with God to purify them for us. Ultimately, we need God to do a heart work in us. Those who would be pure must pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Spending regular time alone with God, asking Him to purify our hearts, is a sure way to grow a heart ready for marriage.

3. How do you respond to stress, pressure and exhaustion?

The heart often shows its true colors at points of stress and difficulty. If you want to know the state of a particular heart, pay attention to how it responds when life cracks around the edges or falls apart. The sinful attitudes, words and actions that flow from our hearts in these moments may reveal that we’ve been neglecting our hearts or need to refocus our efforts.

4. Are you aware of the sin in your heart, and do you quickly repent of it?

One of the key indicators of our heart’s position before God is how we respond when we sin. Those further along in their sanctification will quickly identify sins, confess them and turn from them. This process of intentionally abandoning sin is called repentance, and Jesus regularly used this word when calling people to himself. As Peter taught, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Be wary of heart tendencies to hide, negate, negotiate, or rationalize sin. Pure hearts turn from sin quickly, thoroughly and often.

5. Do you prefer the company of the pure in heart?

Lastly, the pure in heart will draw close to others who are pure in heart. In the same way “bad company corrupts good character” good company promotes good character. Look at a person’s closest friends and you will learn something about the state of their own heart. Many have found growing in Christ has meant finding new friends. Those who are growing closer to God will naturally surround themselves with others growing in the same.

It’s important to regularly consider the state of your own heart. Much like the cultivation of anything of great value, it requires intentionality and diligence. Those who are heading toward marriage should look closely at their own heart and at the heart of the one whom they might marry. Our culture tends to overemphasize what we can see with our own eyes, but the unseen quality of the heart is far more significant. No one will ever perfectly reflect the heart of Christ in this life, but let us be attracted to those who are doing the careful work of becoming pure in heart.

Originally published on Boundless.org.

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J.I. Packer on Salvation and Repentence

This may be the best couple paragraphs J.I Packer ever wrote:

To the question; ‘what must I do to be saved?‘,

the old gospel replies: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

To the further question; ‘what does it mean to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?’,

its reply is: it means knowing oneself to be a sinner, and Christ to have died for sinners; abandoning all self-righteousness and self-confidence, and casting oneself wholly upon him for pardon and peace; and exchanging one’s natural enmity and rebellion against God for a spirit of grateful submission to the will of Christ through the renewing of one’s heart by the Holy Ghost.

And to the further question still, ‘how am I to go about believing on Christ and repenting, if I have no natural ability to do these things?’,

 it answers: look to Christ, speak to Christ, cry to Christ, just as you are; confess your sin, your impenitence, your unbelief, and cast yourself on his mercy; ask him to give you a new heart, working in you true repentance and firm faith; ask him to take away your evil heart of unbelief and to write his law within you, that you may never henceforth stray from him. Turn to him and trust him as best you can, and pray for grace to turn and trust more thoroughly; use the means of grace expectantly, looking to Christ to draw near to you as you seek to draw near to him; watch, pray, and read and hear God’s word, worship and commune with God’s people, and so continue till you know in yourself beyond doubt that you are indeed a changed being, a penitent believer, and the new heart which you desired has been put within you. The emphasis in this advice is on the need to call upon Christ directly, as the very first step . . . So do not postpone action till you think you are better, but honestly confess your badness and give yourself up here and now to the Christ who alone can make you better; and wait on him till his light rises in your soul, as scripture promises that it shall do. Anything less than this direct dealing with Christ is disobeying the gospel. Such is the exercise of spirit to which the old evangel summons its hearers. ‘l believe – help thou mine unbelief': this must become their cry.

(J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness)

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40 Resolutions You Should Consider Making in 2014

Not everyone likes making New Year’s Resolutions. What could be worse than setting yourself up for failure once a year? But resolutions can be helpful. We should expect some difficulty when establishing new habits and setting new goals. Success is learning to press on and push through in order to become a better version of ourselves.

Here are a few resolutions you might consider making in 2014.

1. Read a Proverb a day. There is no substitute for biblical wisdom. Learn a little every day from one of the wisest people who ever lived.

2. Savor good food. So many people go on strict diets at the beginning of each year. While these can be helpful, it’s also important to learn to slow down and enjoy the food you do eat. Have a little chocolate and take your sweet time enjoying it.

3. Organize your internet consumption. I use Feedly.com to keep up with almost 50 of my favorite blogs and websites. I use it to keep up with my interests, but I also use it to be well-informed for my job. Feedly saves me hours every week.

4. Go on more walks. Find a few favorite places to walk and schedule regular time. Walking is a good way to clear your mind or listen to a good audiobook, podcast or playlist.

5. Aggressively attack debt. Most young people have some form of debt. The more aggressively and quicker you pay it down, the more money you’ll save yourself in the long run. You might also consider making a visual progress chart to boost your motivation.

6. Learn to use a Crock-Pot. The Crock-Pot is one of the greatest cooking tools known to man. Get in the habit of throwing a bunch of ingredients in before work and coming home to a delicious, home-cooked meal. The leftovers make for a great lunch the next day.

7. Listen to classical music every day. Classical music has long been known for its ability to improve IQ and boost creativity.

8. Make a habit of reviewing your finances. At least once a month (but probably more often), sit down and review your finances. Be honest about where you are and where you can improve.

9. Always thank God before you eat. Food is a good gift from God (no matter how much you paid for it). Make it a habit to thank God before eating.

10. Move vigorously every day. I’m stealing this one from Dr. Oz. He once said that the people who live the longest are the ones who do some type of vigorous activity every day. He might have been joking, but if not, it’s certainly worth a try.

11. Network. Have lunch or coffee with someone who can sharpen you and vice versa.

12. Start a club. One of the best things I did in 2013 was start a reading club. I read more literary classics in the past year than I’ve read in the previous 10 years combined. I’m better for it. Start a club of your own, doing something you love with people you love.

13. Get more involved in your church. The fellowship of believers is one of the greatest earthly blessings we have in Christ. Go to church looking to get more involved and to enjoy deeper fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

14. Encourage at least five people on Facebook every day. Use social media to bless other people. Don’t flatter, but praise and encourage your Facebook friends with sincerity from the heart.

15. Organize your commute. I wrote a whole blog post on this one.

16. Write a Boundless blog post. Boundless has started publishing readers’ writing. Put together your own post and submit it. Your wisdom and advice may be just what the Boundless community needs.

17. Cultivate some new friendships. The older (and busier) you get, the more you’ll have to work to make time to cultivate friendships. Make this a priority.

18. Pay yourself first. One of the greatest pieces of financial advice is to automatically save 10 percent of all you earn throughout your life. Invest this money and let it grow. Shoot me a thank you when you are a millionaire.

19. Plan a trip. Make a list of places you’d like to visit and then start planning your next trip. Even if you can’t afford it for a year or so, you’ll never go if you don’t make a plan. If you’re looking for a place to go, come visit us next summer for the first-ever Boundless event.

20. Learn to make delicious food. I’m always on the lookout for cheap, healthy, delicious recipes. They do exist. Becoming a better cook can only add pleasure to your life (and the lives of your family and friends).

21. Floss. My dentist says this is important.

22. Get some Facebook pen pals. I have several Facebook friends who live in various corners of the world. I love seeing posts from places I’ve never been. It reminds me how big and small our world really is.

23. Be cleaner. The world has too many messy people. Your future spouse will thank you for learning to be clean.

24. Start a thankfulness journal. Regularly list (and date) all the things you are thankful for in a journal. Someday your grandchildren will enjoy reading them.

25. Read a novel. Scientists recently found reading novels make you sharper.

26. Stretch more. Add some relaxing times of stretching to your life. I personally like to stretch to the ambient music of Enya. Please don’t tell anyone.

27. Pick a deeper devotional. Last year, I suggested these deeper devotionals. A whole year later and I still recommend them. They are that good!

28. Spend time with old people. One of the greatest things you can do to sharpen yourself and grow in wisdom is spend time with wise people. God-fearing folks who have lived long in the land have a wisdom you can’t find anywhere else.

29. Recruit a mentor. Always be on the lookout for people that might be a mentor to you. Most people who achieve great things have great mentors guiding them. Surround yourself with great people.

30. Give one percent more to the poor. Most of us can afford to give a little more to the poor. Be strategic and give to an organization doing great things to serve those with the greatest needs.

31. Just say no to selfies. This phenomenon has run its course. Make the world a better place. Just say no.

32. Read at least 30 minutes every day to grow in your primary calling. Identify the best books in your particular field and read a little every day.

33. Use to-do lists. Most people get more done with to-do lists. Learn to enjoy checking things off.

34. Set a governor on your entertainment time. Self-impose limits to how many television shows, movies, video games, etc. you will enjoy in a given day. Your future spouse will thank you.

35. Always give thanks. Never ever receive something without giving thanks. Become the king or queen of the handwritten thank you note.

36. Join Amazon Prime. What could be better than free two-day shipping?

37. Organize your prayer life. Make a list of all the people you want to pray for in a given week or month and make your own personalized prayer calendar.

38. Drink more smoothies. Everyone knows the nutritional value of a well-made smoothie is unsurpassed.

39. Be punctual. I’ve read several blogs recently commending the importance of being on time. Whether we like to admit it or not, being perpetually late will eventually cost you. Being late communicates something else was more important.

40. Learn something new. If you could become the world’s foremost expert in any topic, what would you choose? Well, what are you waiting for? Start studying it on your own.

Resolutions can be great ways to calibrate your life. It’s wise to ease into them. No one could or should do all of these. Instead, pick a few and work at them. If you fail, keep going. Perseverance is not the absence of failure, but the ability to pick yourself up after failing and continuing on.

Feel free to suggest some resolutions of your own in the comments below.

Originally posted at Boundless.com.

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J.C. Ryle on Christian Happiness

The only way to be really happy, in such a world as this is to be ever casting all our cares on God. It is the trying to carry their own burdens which so often makes believers sad … There is a friend ever waiting to help us , if we will only unbosom to Him our sorrow, – a friend who pitied the poor, the sick, and sorrowful, when He was upon earth, – a friend who knows the heart of a man, for He lived thirty-three years amongst us, – a friend who can weep with the weepers, for He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,  – a friend who is able to help us, for there never was earthly pain He could not cure. That friend is Jesus Christ. The way to be happy is to be always opening our hearts to Him. (J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion, p.81)

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M’Cheyne’s Advice to Pastors

Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s word to a fellow pastor is one we should all heed:

Use your health while you have it, my dear friend and brother. Do not cast away peculiar opportunities that may never come again. You know not when your last Sabbath with your people may come. Speak for eternity. Above all things, cultivate your own spirit. A word spoken by you when your conscience is clear, and your heart full of God’s Spirit, is worth ten thousand words spoken in unbelief and sin … Remember it is God, and not man, that must have the glory. It is not much speaking, but much faith, that is needed… (Memoirs & Remains, p.93)

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Recommended Devotionals

Here are some of the richest devotional materials I’ve come across.  I think its beneficial to have a devotional work or two to plow through year-by-year.  These Bible-saturated works have worshipfully ushered me into the presence of the Lord time and time again.  I thank God for them!

Voices From the Past

Scholar Richard Rushing spent 10 years compiling these devotional bits from the the great Puritan thinkers (Baxter, Bunyan, Charnock, Edwards, Owen, Rutherford, Sibbes, etc).  I walked through it day-by-day a few years ago and always found fresh, deep, provocative reflections. This is one of my favorite devotionals available right now. I have a copy on my desk at work and another on my desk at home. It’s that good!

Morning by Morning (C.H. Spurgeon)

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Spurgeon was a master at balancing his sophisticated intellect and pastoral heart.  His daily offerings from various verses throughout the Scriptures are always practical and gospel-saturated.   Few share his ability to go so deep so quickly, never wasting a word.  This new ESV edition, edited by Alistair Begg is my personal favorite.

The Letters of Samuel Rutherford

Samuel Rutherford was one of the Scottish divines who lived in the 17th century. A significant part of his ministry included writing letters to those under his care. In them, Rutherford encourages his people by pointing them to take comfort in Christ. Rutherford was uniquely qualified to comfort the afflicted as he lost his beloved wife only two years into their marriage. Spurgeon wrote of these letters, “When we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford’s Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men.”

Memoir & Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a Scottish minister in the 19th century. He ministered faithfully for eight years and then died of typhus at age 29. His memoirs were published by his close friend and college companion, Andrew Bonar. Spurgeon said of this volume “This is one of the best and most profitable volumes ever published. The memoir of such a man ought surely to be in the hands of every Christian , and certainly every preacher of the Gospel.”

Letters of John Newton

I discovered the letters of John Newton when Tim Keller put them on his 2008 Summer Reading List. As Keller put it, “These letters are classics of spirituality and devotion.”  This famous slave trader once converted, became a minister of the gospel and wrote of the beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace.” These letters are worth reading and rereading.

The Valley of Vision

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This collection of Puritan prayers is excellent.   Capturing the tenacity with which the Puritan pastors and thinkers pursued their personal faith, they stir the heart with their depth of passion.  Much like the Psalms, these prayers will add vocabulary to your prayer life.  If growing in prayer is your aim, then The Valley of Vision must become part of your repertoire.

The One Year Book of Christian History (E Michael and Sharon Rusten)

one-year-of-christian-history

Not merely for the Church History buffs, this work takes some of the finest moments in the last 2,000 years and makes them accessible day-by-day.   The spiritual benefits of reading the biographical snapshots of faithful brothers and sisters over the centuries makes this book a great place to start (or continue) a growing appreciation of Church History.

Posted in Church History, Journaling, Practical Christianity, Reflections, Valley of Vision | 3 Comments