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Why I Thank God for My 6th Grade Teacher

Teachers are powerful people.  This month thousands of teachers will be recognized.  Few will be appreciated as they deserve. As I think over my elementary, junior high, high school, college, and seminary years I remember quite a variety of teachers, and realize that God used each of them to help shape my life in some way.

A few months ago my mother called and said that she had found an old book of mine at home and was sending it to me.  (My wife was very excited that I would have one more book to add to the collection around the house!)  This book was not a biography, a theological treatise, or one of the classics.  No. It was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

Don’t laugh!  I am keeping this book forever.  My 9-year-old son thinks the story line is great, but that is not the reason.  In the front cover of the book there is a handwritten note from my sixth grade teacher.  It says:

Dear Scott,

Thanks for all the times you relieved me during story time.  You did so well.

Mr. Hess

P.S.  Use that talent for the Lord!

There is no way Mr. Hess could have known how God was using him to prepare me.  Each afternoon our popular teacher read from some book for a few minutes to our class.  It was a welcomed reprieve from the rigors of the day.  One afternoon Mr. Hess walked to my desk, handed me the book of the week, and informed me that I was reading to the class.  This became a regular practice.  Looking back now I can see more of God’s unconscious preparation in my life.

Reading aloud each afternoon taught me several things…

  • I learned a deeper love of books.
  • I learned how to read with emotion and emphasis, not just to get through the story but to communicate it.
  • I learned to stand before peers and speak clearly.
  • I learned confidence.

I learned many things that year.  The following summer God called me to be a preacher.  Every week of my life I stand before people to read the Bible and speak.  When I do, I thank God for my sixth grade teacher.  I thank God for Mr. Hess and pray that someone will remember me someday the way I remember him.

Read more about the influence of teachers here.

5 Must-Read Biographies

W. Robertson Nicoll, a famous author in his own right, once said, “I have for years read every biography I could lay my hands on, and not one has failed to teach me something.”  When he died there were more than 5,000 biographies found in his personal library!  Perhaps we have too quickly assumed that the reading of biography was simply reading for hobby, when in fact it is reading for help.  The lives of great men become our classroom; their successes and failures our teachers.

It is understandable that one man’s “favorite” is not always another man’s favorite.  The timing of the reading of a book is often most important.  At many junctures in my life God has used a biography to shed some light on my own path.  As you read the life of George Mueller of Bristol you discover that biographies were a key in his own experience with the Lord.

My habit has been to season other reading with some regular reading of biography.  This “light” reading has often brought great blessing to me.  The following list is not exhaustive in any way.  It is personal.  Here are biographies that have encouraged me and I recommend them with the hope that they may help you as well…

  • Borden of Yale by Mrs. Howard Taylor

I read this classic for the first time when I was twenty-five years of age – the same age that William Borden finished his course on this earth.  It profoundly affected my life.  Here was a life of “no reserve…no retreat…and no regret.”  The world called Borden a fool but this young man had learned that “he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:17).  The book is full of Scriptural nuggets (like the footnote on page 122!) that are worth the price of the book.

(For years this book was out of print.  Crown Christian Publications has now reprinted the book in its original format through their Crown Christian Classics Series.  You may order this and other titles here.)

  • George Muller of Bristol by A.T. Pierson

Pierson’s account of this man of faith is rich.  The author gives an overview of Muller’s remarkable life, but also spiritual observations and reflections about the principles that his life was built upon.  This is the kind of book that you don’t just read quickly.  Read it meditatively.  Ponder on a few pages during your daily quiet time.  Pray your way through it.  God’s way is revealed “from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17).  Allow this man’s example of faith to encourage your own!

  • Abandoned to God by David McCaslandphoto

Millions regularly read Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest but few know the life behind it.  McCasland tells the story of Chambers from Scotland to London.  He records the travels and ministry of this Bible teacher in America and Japan.  The book shows the work of his Bible Institute and final war-time labors with the YMCA in Egypt.  The title of the book is enough reason to recommend it!  Chambers truly was a man Abandoned to God.

  • All Things for Good – The Steadfast Fidelity of Stonewall Jackson by J. Steven Wilkins

It is not just the lives of pastors and missionaries that make a difference.  Biographies of men like William Wilberforce and Winston Churchill have made a deep impact on me.  One such story is the life of General Thomas J. Jackson.  This book is full of military strategy and historical interest, but the greatest portion relates to the Christian character found in this gentle man.  The record of his last moments and final words will stay with you.  He lived and died by Romans 8:28.

  • The Shadow of the Broad Brim by Richard Ellsworth Day

Like so many good books I have read through the years, this volume was reprinted and recommended to me by my Pastor, Clarence Sexton.  His affection for Charles Spurgeon has been contagious.  Day’s biographies of Spurgeon, Moody, Finney, John Jasper and others will stir your heart.  The present recommendation is one of the finest surveys of the life of “the prince of preachers” that has ever been penned.

Good biography is both instructional and inspirational.  While I enjoy reading all types of books, I most enjoy reading biography because of what it does for my heart.  The story of God working in and through others stirs my soul to believe Him for more in my own life.  My prayer is that these noble lives will affect yours as well.

10 Books to Read This Year

One of the men who works in our ministry came to me a few days ago.  He has determined to do more reading this year.  Personally I believe this is a worthy goal for all of us!  As I have done so many times to others, my friend asked if I could recommend several books that would be worthwhile to read.

old-books-11281939505MsrnHere is the list that I gave to him.  Perhaps it will be of some encouragement to you as well.  Solomon was accurate when he observed, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12).  You cannot read everything.  You should not.  Recommendations have often helped me to know what books to read, what books to skim, and what books to avoid.

There is no substitute for the Bible.  Yet books are helpful tools for personal growth.  (Read more about the discipline of reading and the developing of a library here.)  Paul asked Timothy to “bring…the books” (2 Timothy 4:13).  Choose the books that influence you carefully.

While I have learned that what affects others does not always affect me the same way, the following books have been used of God in my life and I pray they will be in yours…

  • They Found the Secret by V. Raymond Edman.  This biographical sketch of men and women who learned the secret of the Spirit-filled life has been a special blessing to me.  Edman was a missionary statesman and a spiritual man.  This book will instruct and inspire.  God used it to open my eyes to what I have in Christ.
  • Disciplines of a Godly Man by R Kent Hughes.  A pastor friend gave me a copy of this book several years ago.  It is a book to read and reread.  Discipline touches the inner man, relationships, character in every area of life, and Hughes shows the connection with each.  This is not exclusively for men but it is especially applicable to them.
  • 50 People Every Christian Should Know by Warren W. Wiersbe.  This volume combines several earlier books written by Wiersbe.  It contains a wide variety of people and provides a wonderful overview of their lives and ministries.  One distinctive of this book is that it serves as a resource for other good books.  Wiersbe highlights both the authors that influenced these men and women and writings that they themselves produced.
  • Tally Ho the Fox by Herb Hodges.  Few people know Hodges or this powerful book, but it is one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read. It is a call to return to the New Testament pattern of making disciples as a way of life.  It is not just for preachers; it is for every believer.
  • The Making of a Man of God by Alan Redpath.  While most contemporary literature is consumed with making leaders and making success stories, Redpath’s study of the life of David reveals how God makes His men.  This is a heart searching book and must be read prayerfully.
  • The Example of Jesus Christ by James Stalker.  Stalker was a a Scotsman and a prolific writer.  His best known work is on The Life of Jesus Christ.  The Example of Jesus Christ examines how Christ serves as the perfect example for believers in every area of life.  Stalker writes thoughtfully and he makes the reader think.
  • In Tune with Heaven by Vance Havner.  This collection of Havner’s articles for the Charlotte Observer is one of the finest devotional books you will ever read.  Havner uses Scripture, history, nature, and life experience to teach deep spiritual truths. It is a pleasure to read and very convicting.
  • Point Man by Steve Farrar.  Anything written by Farrar is helpful to husbands and fathers.  He writes to strengthen the home and is enjoyable to read.  This book is a classic on a man’s God-appointed responsibility to lead his family.
  • Power through Prayer by E.M. Bounds.  There are many books on prayer that I have benefited from but none have warmed my heart like Bounds.  This little book should be read again and again.  It will keep your soul stirred to seek the Lord.
  • The Saving Life of Christ by Major W. Ian Thomas.  One of my dear friends gave me a copy of this book years ago.  It is a powerful read for every Christian.  Thomas’ book on The Indwelling Life of Christ is also very helpful.

Most of these books for the new year are not new at all.  Many of them have been proven over time to be a continual blessing.  The list is not exhaustive and the recommendations are not endorsements of every thing these men have every written.  It is my prayer that you will join me and my friend this year as we seek to “give attendance to reading” (1 Timothy 4:13) those things that will make us more the men God saved us to become.

For additional recommendations see Pastor Clarence Sexton’s recommended book list here.

A Daily Habit Everyone Should Form

All of my books have my name in them.  They are like members of the family (just ask my wife!).  In part, I put my name in the flyleaf of my books because I enjoy sharing them with others, but I always want to get them back.  To share a good book is to invest in the life of another.  When I am with friends one of my first questions is: “What have you read recently that is good?”

There is no book like the Bible.  It is God’s Book and unparalleled by anything man has to write.  Yet those who study the Bible will tell you that one of the best things you can do for your mind and your inner man is to cultivate the habit of reading.  Even the Apostle Paul nearing the end of his life was careful to ask Timothy to “bring the books” (2 Timothy 4:13).

I have written a few thoughts on books and reading in a previous post.  My goal in this article is simply to challenge you to read.  Begin.  Start a new book and read a little every day.  Even ten minutes carved out of the day for reading a good book is a powerful influence in a person’s life.

Reading leads to reflection and this is the secret of thoughtful men.  Edmund Burke wrote, “To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”  Reading is more than a healthy pastime; it is a way of “priming the pump” that so often runs dry.  It awakens the mind and stirs the heart.

Last week I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes talking with a fine single adult man.  He is growing and working hard to become the person God wants him to be.  He is hungry to make a difference with his life.  Like most busy people he confessed to me that he does very little reading.  We have all been there at some time.  It was a joy to share with him how reading great books had changed my life.  Before we left one another I passed along a good book for him to read.  (Yes, it had my name in it.)  You don’t have to build a huge library.  Find one book.  Ask someone you trust for a recommendation and begin there.

J.C. Penney gave these thoughts on the discipline of reading:

The reading of good books is one of the most helpful ways in which young people can develop themselves.  One of the saddest mistakes I made in years gone by was utter neglect of reading.  I realize now what I have missed by not having read and studied more.  

Young men and women who are seeking to learn all they can, have minds capable of receiving and retaining new impressions.  There is nothing that will strengthen the mind, broaden the vision, enrich the soul, like the reading of good books.  One can find or make no better friend than a good book.

Go make a friend today.  Find a good book to read.

By the way, the above excerpt is from a volume compiled by Charles E. Jones, The Books You Read.  I heartily recommend it.  Perhaps in the future I will recommend a few more books that have made an impact on me.  Until then, my recommendation is simply this: start.  Today.  You will always be glad you did.

An Encouraging Word for Preachers: Preaching out of the Overflow

A fine young man was driving me to the airport in another state recently.  We had a pleasant conversation about many things.  He is soon to be married and has much to look forward to in life and ministry.

He reminded me of so many young men that I have the privilege to work with every week.  He reminded me of me.  Trying to figure it all out.  Soaking up what older preachers had to say.  Watching.  Listening.  Appreciative for those men who would invest in a young preacher.

During the course of our talk he asked me several questions.  At one point we talked about physical exercise and he told me that he spent some time every morning working out.  “I think I’ll stop that soon.  Too many other things to do,” he said.

Not a good idea.  I laughed and informed him that guys my age wondered why we had stopped when we were his age!  Bodily exercise does profit a little and should be continued.

The question that has stayed with me from our time together was related to preaching.  What is one distinctive of the way we train young preachers to handle the Word of God?  Good question.

Many things came to mind.  Truths that others have taken time to share with me.  Lessons that failure alone has taught me.  I am learning more every day and realizing how much I do not know.

Was there just one thing that I could share with this young man?

In a phrase it is this: learn to preach out of the overflow.

Preaching is not to be “worked up.”  It is to be the natural (or perhaps more accurately, supernatural) overflow of God’s work in your own heart.  It is not about “getting a sermon” or finding an outline.  It is God’s message to others through His work and word in you.

Live close to the Shepherd and you will say with David, “my cup runneth over.”  Those around you will be the blessed beneficiaries of that overflow.

Those who make God known are those who know Him best.  He must real to us before He can be real through us.

Many a minister is trying to draw Living Water out of an empty well.  God never intended it to be that way!  In fact, Jesus said that as the Holy Spirit worked in the heart of the believer “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).  Let the river flow!  As He overflows your banks, His truth will flood those around you.

  • Preach out of the overflow of your own meditation on Scripture.

Read God’s Word devotionally and slowly.  Think on these things.

Robert Murray McCheyne said, “Workers cannot begin their work without a passage of Scripture for themselves. William Burns, when asked on one occasion to speak, said, ‘No, I have not yet got a morsel for myself.’ Try to act upon this principle, and remember it must be fresh manna, just gathered. I should feel ashamed to take withered flowers to the sick.”

Men who preach without great dependence on notes are typically men who are preaching out of the overflow of much preparation.  The key to saturation is meditation.  (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 77:12, Psalm 119:99, John 5:39, Acts 17:11, 1 Timothy 4:13-16).

Selah.

  • Preach out of the overflow of what others can teach you.

The man who only says what comes to his mind will not say much.  Read widely.  Ask questions.  Listen to others.  Be a student and you will always have something to teach.

He gathers who listens.

He spends who teaches.

If we spend before we gather,

We will soon be bankrupt.

My dad, my pastor, and a host of other men have been and are my teachers.  None of us ever arrives but we must always be pursuing.

  • Preach out of the overflow of your own personal experiences with God.

This is the part that no other man can do for you.  God teaches us things day by day as we follow Him.  These lessons are not for us alone.  Paul wrote that we “comfort them which are in any trouble, with the same comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Reflect on what God is doing in your life.  Record your experiences.  Relay them to others as God prompts you.

  • Preach out of the overflow of private prayer.

Direct communion with God brings fresh understanding and power like nothing else can.  Ask Moses.  Let Paul testify.  These were men who spoke out of the overflow of much time alone with the Lord.

G. Campbell Morgan used to tell the story of a Welsh preachers who was mightily used of God in preaching.  He only had one sermon but under it countless souls had been brought to Christ.  A fellow preacher traveled a great distance to visit with him.  His question was simple: “Where did you get that sermon?”

Morgan told how the quiet, country preacher took his friend to a room where the carpet was worn near the window.  He said, “one night I got down to pray and asked God to give me a message for others.  I prayed through the night.  The morning came and the sermon came.  That is where I got that sermon.”

You don’t get that from the Internet.  Walk with God and you will have a Word to share with others.

Preaching out of the overflow is not confined merely to the preacher’s study.  It is the product of his whole life and the Lord who is guiding him.

Perhaps the best summary I could share comes from the writings of H. Griffith Thomas regarding preaching:

1. Think yourself empty.

2. Read yourself full.

3. Write yourself clear.

4. Pray yourself clean.

5. Enter your pulpit and let yourself go.

Stop trying to get a sermon.  Tap into the Fountain.  Remove every obstacle.  Let the river flow.

The Greatest Method of Bible Study

Weeks ago I received a message late one evening from a fine teenager in our youth group.  This young lady has been a great encouragement to me and my wife.  She is growing in the Lord and serious about knowing Him better.  Her message was to the point: “I have been reading the Bible but I don’t know how to study it.  Can you help?”

My mind flooded with ideas and suggestions – all helpful things.  We have an entire college class at Crown College on “Methods of Bible Study!”  But how could all of that be conveyed to a senior in high school in a brief period of time?

imagesCould it be that the greatest method of Bible study is not found in a book, not given in a theological course, or spelled out in a clever formula?

Is it possible that the greatest method of Bible study is built into God’s original design for His children?

Bible study is to be part of a two way communication with the Author.  God speaks to us and allows us to speak with Him.  Prayer and Bible study must never be separated.  The most profound secret of Bible study is wrapped up in the simplest truth: the greatest method of Bible study is prayer.

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask…” (James 1:5).

In the words of Martin Luther: “To pray well is to study well.”

The Bible is in itself a prayer book!  In Scripture we are commanded to pray over 250 times.  Prayer is mentioned another 280 times.  This is no accident.  This is God’s way of saying, “Talk to me and I will talk to you.”

1.  Pray before you open the Scriptures.

Specifically ask the Lord to open your heart and mind.  Psalm 119:18 is a wonderful prayer, “Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”  The expectant heart is never disappointed with God.

Understanding Scripture is not about being smart; it is about being led by the Holy Spirit.  He illuminates our understanding and there is nothing as exciting as when God turns the light on!  Ask Him.

2.  Pray through the passage you are reading.

Slow down.  Think through every phrase.  Then turn the verse back to God.  Talk your way through the Scriptures – talk to God about what He is telling you!

Allow your time in the Word of God to become a vibrant, dynamic conversation with the Creator God of the universe.  Is there a sin you need to confess?  A promise you can claim?  An instruction you need to apply?  A question you would like to ask?  You won’t take God by surprise.

What do you learn about God Himself in the Scripture you are reading?  Stop and thank Him for being who He is.  Praise and love Him.  He loves that and He loves to reveal Himself to His people.

Bible reading is good, but it is a place to start, not a place to stop.

3.  Pray the very words of Scripture.

This is one of the most revolutionary truths I ever learned.  Pray God’s words back to Him.  This does several things.  First, it increases our faith.  You know you are praying in the will of God if you are praying in agreement with the Word of God.  Second, it gives substance to your prayers.  No longer are you just praying about the things that come to your mind.  Now you are praying about the things that have come from God’s mind!

One example of this is to take the prayer of the Lord Jesus in the Gospel according to John, chapter 17, and pray it for your loved ones.  It is the prayer He prayed for His disciples and for us.  Surely Jesus knows what to pray for!  Or take the prayers of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians and Colossians and make them your own.  This will add a spiritual richness to your prayers.

And all the while you will be entering into a deeper understanding of God’s truth.

Yes, there is much more for all of us to learn about studying the Bible.  It is the adventure of a lifetime.  I am thankful for faithful Bible teachers and a library full of books and resources.  Yet, in the end, the Lord has made it so that the hungry heart, seeking Him through prayerful meditation, can know the truth of God and the God of truth.

Be still.  Commune with the Author.  He lives inside of you.

Thank God for Teachers

Today I had the opportunity to be with a group of the elementary children in our Academy.  What formative years!  As I watched the wonderful teachers that God has given us I was reminded again of the powerful influence a teacher has in the life of a student.

It was a kindergarten teacher that led me to Jesus Christ.  A very kind high school teacher made it his business to encourage me when I believed God wanted me to be a preacher.  Teachers are powerful people.  For me, they were divine appointments.

Between my elementary and high school years God brought a godly man across my path.  Perhaps because 6th grade is such a critical time, or perhaps just because of his heart, Mr. Hess stands out in my mind.  He was a very humble man, who loved teaching and loved his students.  I was thirty years old before I realized what a tremendous impact he had made on my life.

One of Mr. Hess’ sons was my best friend.  This gave me the opportunity to see him outside of the classroom.  Even at home Mr. Hess was a sincere and genuine man.  Having grown up now, I can appreciate the fact that this man was strong and gentle at the same time.

While I am confident that many of the young men in Mr. Hess’ 6th grade class most enjoyed the fact that he loved sports, it was something more long lasting that affected me.  Each afternoon after lunch Mr. Hess would spend a few minutes reading a good book to the class.  One day he asked me to take his place.  This was the first of many afternoon “reading assignments” that I was given.  Only now am I beginning to fully appreciate all that this instilled in me.

One of the things that I learned was to love good books.  Young people learn to love reading by reading.  Books are exciting things.  They take you on a great adventure and stretch your mind.  To this day I love books.  (Ask my wife!)  My library is filled with good books and my mind is being filled with the truths learned from them.  Much of this was set in motion by my 6th grade teacher.

While reading aloud I learned to place emphasis and use expression.  There is nothing quite as boring as monotone reading.  My Pastor speaks often about God’s unconscious preparation of our lives.  This childhood experience, while unconscious to me, was preparing me for what God wanted me to do with my life.  In reality, as a 12 year old boy I was being trained to speak with feeling and expression, to articulate and communicate clearly.  It was the summer after 6th grade that God called me to preach.

Perhaps one of the most profound encouragements was the confidence Mr. Hess placed in me.  Standing in front of my classmates and reading strengthened me.  Young men need experience; they need to be asked to lead.  We all learn through trial and error.  Of all the things I learned in 6th grade nothing stands out like these lessons.  No curriculum impacts students like a teacher with a personal interest.  Mr. Hess made an investment in my life that will never be forgotten.

I want to be a better teacher because of this.  I want to encourage every teacher I know to stay with it.  Thank God for teachers!