The Dancing Puritan

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Charles Spurgeon: A Life of Reading and Writing Pt. 1

I have often asked leaders how they spend their time. Realizing that their success is inseparably connected to their daily disciplines, I am interested in their schedule. It is always the case that excellent leaders are diligent readers.

The work ethic of the British Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) is well known. Spurgeon would often work eighteen hours a day. Yet it was not his work ethic alone that created the man that is still so honored. His reading fueled his work.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his fascinating book Outliers, writes about the importance (in various fields of work) of time, place, and family regarding a person's success. Gladwell's argument could be made in the case of Charles Spurgeon. When Spurgeon was only 18 months old he was sent to live with his grandparents. He would live with them for five years. His grandfather James Spurgeon served as pastor of Stambourne for 54 years. While living with his grandparents, Charles was exposed to the life and practices of a faithful evangelical minister. As he grew older he often heard his grandfather and other preachers engage in deep theological discussion around the dinner table. He was also exposed to his grandfather's library. That library fascinated Spurgeon and very early in his life he learned to read.
Charles was still a child when he first became aware of books. One of the bedrooms in the manse led off into a small dark chamber . . . . this chamber held an old Puritan library, and Charles was probably no more than three when he began pulling volumes out into the light and looking at the illustrations. Arnold Dallimore, C. H. Spurgeon: The New Biography, Moody Press 1984.
When Spurgeon was five or six years old he moved back into his parent's home. His father was also a pastor who had a solid library. He said of young Charles:
Charles was a healthy child and boy, having a good constitution and was of an affectionate disposition, and very studious. He was always reading books--never digging in the garden or keeping pigeons, like other boys. It was always books, and books. If his mother wanted to take him for a ride, she would be sure to find him in my study pouring over a book. He was clever, of course, and clever in most directions of study. . . . G. Holden Pike, The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 6 vols. (London: Cassel, 1898), 1:17.
When Spurgeon was six years old he read John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. It is estimated that he would read that one book 100 times before he died. Bunyan's classic gave Spurgeon a vast storehouse of vivid imagery through both its illustrations and its numerous word pictures. Those pictures would saturate Spurgeon's daily conversation and his preaching for all of his life. The appeal of Spurgeon, to the millions of people who would hear him preach in his lifetime, was not his physical appearance or charisma but it was, among other things, his ability to communicate beautifully.

The story of Spurgeon's success is built on a foundation of good books. His grandfather and father invested a portion of their resources in building libraries that would serve them and that would serve Charles well. Charles Spurgeon built his own library that, by the time he died, contained over 12,000 volumes. He would also become one of the most prolific authors in English history. It cannot be denied that Spurgeon's life of reading was instrumental to his life of writing. To be continued.

Ray Rhodes is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries. Ray is well known for his teaching and writing about marriage and family. He leads marriage retreats and Bible conferences. He is engaged in an ongoing research project on the marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon. If you would like to schedule Ray to speak for your next event, send him a message at

Friday, August 15, 2014

27 Years of Knowing: An Anniversary Recollection

August 15, 1987

I was late. You were waiting. It didn't seem to matter. Off we went, new friends headed to an evening of food and dancing. We were in for a surprise. Something happened. Perhaps it was a little bit like Emile de Becque and Ensign Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. They met at a dance and they knew. It does not always happen like that, does it? But did we know something, on that enchanted evening? Did we worry, as they did, that our feelings might not be shared by the other?   

Some enchanged evening
You may see a stranger,
you may see a stranger
Across a crowded room
And somehow you know,
You know even then
That somewhere you'll see her
Again and again.
From South Pacific

And so it began; so we began. Did we ever really feel uncomfortable with one another? Yes, there were moments of discomfort but those had more to do with circumstances than with one another. You laughed so much. Did I really bring a bit of happiness to you? Do you remember the salad, left over from a restaurant? I never liked tuna fish sandwiches but somehow with pickles and chips stacked on top, it was good. Or maybe it was good simply because you made it.

To think that I sometimes complain about a meal. Why? How can I be so foolish?

Do you remember singing at Georgia Tech? Or watching birds and squirrels while sitting on a bench at seminary? Or the day we found wild flowers growing beside hot asphalt? Do you recall picking those flowers and taking them back to our small apartment? You put them in a vase and our room came to life.

And then there was that morning. The city had closed in on us. We had to escape. The big-city-noise of New Orleans was left behind and Mississippi embraced us. The last verse of the final hymn was done. Her hair was gray, her eyes so sweet, she walked over. "You are going to my house for lunch today." She left us no choice. What a wonderful lunch. Though we had never met her, she took us in for the day. God gave rest.

The days turned into months, the months into years, and our nest grew. Sweet babies were cradled, nestled, and became ladies. Life got busier, faster, and sometimes my joy was not easy to see. 

27 years. Time has etched its marks on me. Spinning plates have taken their toll. I have made some choices that caused you grief. Grace. God's grace. Grace that pardons, forgives, and restores. When you look at me, do you see God's grace to a chief of sinners?

Our relationship has changed. It is deeper, I pray. Somehow you do not look 27 years older. You are wiser and more beautiful. I enjoy looking at your photograph on my desk. You are draped in white, wearing the wedding gown that you spent hours preparing for that day 27 years ago. You looked glorious! I still remember. I remember the kiss. I think that I had to wipe away a tear from your face. 

The other day, while you were napping, I looked at you. You were restful and so lovely. The burdens that we carry together were set-aside for the night. I was convicted. I am sorry that I do not tell you more often how beautiful you are. Yet, you never complain. Grace!

27 years. Can we do this for at least 40 more? Across that crowded room, 27 years ago, something happened. God gave grace. God provided. He knit our hearts together. We never have to wonder if God loves us. Let us never wonder about one another. And when we fail, let us hang on to grace.

Take my hand. Walk with me. Let's dance in the living room, sing on campus, and pick flowers together. Let's press our noses against the door of the chocolate store and savor the sweet aroma. Let's get in the car and drive away. Let's kiss in the kitchen and see if the children will come in close with us. Let's listen to Norah Jones sing love songs. Let's clean, mow, fix, cook, and play with our children and grandchildren. Let's go to a play. Lets get breakfast at that little shop in Dahlonega. Let's go to a sparsely attended movie and sit on the back row. The movie does not matter much. You know. Let's take one another by the hand and ask God to help us and to direct our steps. He will.

And when evening comes, let us look deep into one another's eyes. Let us never miss a kiss nor fail to say, "I love you." 

Across a crowded house, children run and play. I see you standing there. It is all so enchanted. Somehow I know. Somehow you know. I see it in your face. You see it in my eyes. Yes, we know. We knew then. 27 years of knowing. Happy Anniversary.

27 years of knowing!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Reading to Change Your Life

You are a reader. You read because you want to change in some way. I offer you an additional way of reading that does not require too much extra time. I assume that you have a main book that you are reading. You may have several main books (I do). By your main reading I mean that you are regularly working from beginning to end through a book. Not that you necessarily read every word, but you are dipping into the book enough to grasp the main idea and core principles related to that idea. You may be reading your main book for personal growth, understanding of a concept, or primarily for entertainment. All reading can be entertaining but much of your reading is for purposes beyond mere entertainment. Reading for mere entertainment (like going to the movies) is more of a dessert than a main course. Dessert is good but too much of it and your brain will decrease while your waist-line increases.

A practical way of additional reading is to read short sections of helpful books, journals, blog posts, and magazines related to a particular topic that you are pursuing. Here is an example from one of my recent reading experiences: I was reading Psalm 119 one morning. The writer of that Psalm is concerned to walk in the way of God and to avoid wrong. He writes in verse 11, "I have stored your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." Reading those words stirred up within me a desire to learn more about how to avoid sin. Here is what I did:

1. Read portions from Psalm 119 and engaged in a bit of artwork. I took a sheet of paper and wrote in the center of a circle, "avoiding sin." I then connected lines to the circle and wrote on them principles from Psalm 119 that, if applied, will help me to avoid sin. (The kind of artwork that I used is often referred to as mind mapping.)

2. I searched my library for 4-5 books that deal with the subject of sin and temptation. I chose, The Christian in Complete Armor by William Gurnall, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices by Thomas Brooks, Temptation by John Owen, and The Sinfulness of Sin by Ralph Venning.

3. I did a quick scan through the chapter titles in each of the books, made a selection, and then read one page from that section. I simply added four additional pages of reading to the main books that I was reading that day. It took about 5 minutes. Because I chose excellent books, I found each one of the four pages rich with insight that helped me to learn more about how to battle against sin and temptation.

It is my goal to trust God, to do what is right, and to avoid the wrong path for my life. I could simply try to wish such a goal into reality but that would not help me to be successful. I could only pray and ask God to help me to do right. However, I must not only pray; I must put forth maximum effort in my pursuit of doing what is right. Each day brings numerous temptations to take an exit ramp off of the right road and to follow allurements that exit signs offer. Every day is a battle. And just as no Commanding Officer would send his troops into battle without preparation, skill, and weapons; so no Christian should travel down the road of life, unprepared. 

I want to start my day prepared. Reading is essential in preparing my heart and mind, and in equipping me with the strategic weapons that will be required to fight off temptation. Do some additional reading in an area that you are in need of particular help. You can do it in 5 or 10 extra reading minutes per day. You will be helped. I think you will be changed. Take the challenge and send me a note, I would love to hear from you.

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries (NITW). He is a conference speaker and author. To learn more about Ray or to schedule him to speak to your group, contact him here: .Contact

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Purposeful Reading

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Psalm 119:33
King David was a man in pursuit of knowledge. However, his passion for knowledge was not that he might write books, give lectures, and be regarded as an expert on truth; He desired knowledge that he might follow God. Knowledge is vital but knowledge that is not implemented does not produce change. 

Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great puts it like this:
Indeed, we found no evidence that the good-to-great companies had more or better information than the comparison companies. None. Both sets of companies had virtually identical access to good information. The key, then lies not in better information, but in turning information into information that cannot be ignored. (79).
I agree with Collins that information alone is insufficient for one who is seeking to grow. Information must be put into practice, if there is to be life-change. That being said, information is foundational. If one does not have the right information then they will not have the tools for implementation. Collins would agree that there can be no implementation without information and information without implementation serves no great purpose. 

In Psalm 119:11, David wrote: I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Why did he store up God's word in his heart? God's word was his strategic means of doing the right thing. He was not content just to deposit God's word in his heart so that he might boast of having knowledge. No! David stored up the word that he might put the word into practice. He could not practice what he did not know and he had no interest in knowing what he had no plan of practicing.

The way to read is to read purposefully. One of the things that I love about Tim Sander's book, Love is the Killer App, is that he is invested in purposeful knowledge. In the book he recounts a story of a work associate who wanted and needed to change. Sanders writes: "He admitted that he'd been repeatedly taken off projects, and he now realized that his peers disliked him." Tim offered his friend some excellent counsel:
Be a lovecat. And that means: Offer your wisdom freely. Give away your address book to everyone who wants it. And always be human. I then told him about the advantages of being a lovecat, and the three necessary steps to getting there: sharing your knowledge, sharing your network, sharing your compassion. (2-3).
The first thing that Sanders did was to help his friend "organize his reading." He writes:
 Just as the reason we own things is to share them with others, the reason we acquire knowledge is to share it. Otherwise, we don't truly distribute love. . . .Too many people internalize their new information, turning it into private wisdom that cools in their intellectual cellar. Their wisdom gains no distribution. . . . The best part of sharing knowledge: The more you apply it, the more you get in return. (91-92).
Knowledge is to be internalized, practiced, and distributed to others. To have knowledge and not practice it is foolish. To have knowledge, practice it, and pass it on to others (humbly, of course) is a great act of love. Love always involves investing in the ultimate well being of others. 

Next time I will share with you a way to read purposefully that involves just four pages of reading per day. This purposeful reading can change your life and make a difference in your friends.  

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is president of Nourished in the Word Ministries. He is an author, pastor, and conference speaker. He enjoys time with his wife Lori (27 years) and his children and grandchildren. To schedule Ray to speak to your group send him a message here: Message Ray

Friday, August 8, 2014

Enjoying Your Books

A section from my library

Sometimes I take a tour of my library just for a fresh look at my books. All of them have a story beyond the message of the book. Many were purchased while rummaging through old bookstores with a friend. Musty smells of bookstores come to mind mixed with the sweet aroma of friendship. I have purchased books from library sales, retail stores, outlet malls and mail order catalogues. Many books have been given to me over the years. If my books could talk, what stories they would tell. When is the last time that you browsed through your library? Even if you just have one shelf, taking a look at your books again can be a refreshing experience. 

Tim Sanders in his book, Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends has a lot to say about books (see yesterday's post for more). Sanders underlines the importance of encoding the books that we read. By that he means "that you've intelligently and completely digested your knowledge meal." Books are like food, they are to be taken in, tasted, chewed on, and digested. Sometimes there are sections that must be discarded. However, even that which you will not digest and make your own as a matter of practice, can still be helpful to you. For example, you may encounter a falsehood that is sold as a truth. When you do, argue your way out of the lie. You will be stronger as a result. Of course be discerning because error is tricky and you don't want to get tripped up.  

To digest or encode a book, you need a place to read. One of the things that I recommend is to always have a book with you. You will find moments of time throughout the day that can be captured for reading. The book you carry will likely be the main book that you are working through. Other books that you may not need to give as much focused attention to can be strategically placed around your home and office. Therefore, if you find yourself separated from your main book you can pick up another and read a page or two. Sanders writes:

Find spots where you like to read, or where you have time to do so. If you're on a plane, a train, or even a taxi, get used to reading a book. You will begin to associate places where you eat, sleep, travel, and even when you're stuck in traffic with places where you read. Soon you will find that reading becomes second nature whenever you have a spare moment in any of these locales. Unlike computers, books boot up instantly. . . . One of my friends recently stopped driving to work so he could take the train and create a one-hour-a-day MyPlace to read. (76-77). (Sanders coined the term MyPlaces as places to read)

Friends and acquaintances will often tell me that they just don't have time to read. Though they are not intentionally lying, their stories just don't measure up. Like Sanders says, it is important "that reading becomes second nature whenever you have a spare moment." I have heard of people reading while they shave. When I am at the gym I sometimes see a person reading while they are on the treadmill. Audio books are great while driving to work. Recently I was on the road for seven hours and listened to The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway. 

Even though you want reading to be second nature, and you want to be prepared to read anywhere and anytime, it is still nice to have some devoted space for reading. By devoted space I mean a place where you can curl up with a cup of coffee and have some undisturbed time (it might be only 10 minutes) for reading, savoring, chewing, and digesting a book. 

An illustration from the wine world might be helpful. Wine connoisseurs say that the way to drink a glass of wine is to smell, saturate, swish, and swallow. This is how they might describe it: After pouring the wine, bring the glass close to your nose and take in the smell. Then put the glass to your lips and take a little bit into your mouth, just enough to saturate your taste buds. Next, swish it around. Finally, swallow the wine. I like to do something similar with coffee. I only grind the beans that I will use for the day. I open the bag, smell the beans, pour them into the grinder, and grind them to a fine texture. Then I take the ground beans and smell them again prior to making the coffee. I enjoy smelling the coffee as it drips, pouring it into the cup and smelling the finished product, and then taking a small drink before consuming it all. The process of making a cup of coffee is fun and it causes me to slow down and enjoy the sights and smells before I drink and feel the effects.

Do something similar with a book. Read the dust jacket (remember we prefer hardbacks), get to know the table of contents, flip through the chapters, and then begin the journey. Smell, saturate, swish, swallow, and digest the book.

I will have more to say about this later but for now, go browse your shelves (or shelf). Take a book and begin the process. I would love to hear from you as to how you have made reading second nature and also anything that you want to share about your reading experiences. Feel free to send me your questions.

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is president of Nourished in the Word Ministries. He is the author of several books and a conference speaker. To contact Ray visit him on Facebook and send him a message here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Reading as a Means of Loving People

I typically do not dip much into business books. After reading Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends by Tim Sanders, that may change. When the book was published, Sanders was the Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo!. I learned of the book through another excellent book, What's Best Next by Matt Perman (Zondervan, 2014). Perman points to chapter two, "Knowledge" in Sanders' book. In this chapter Sanders encourages business relationships that are focused on building a stronghold centered on people rather than on the corporate structure.  He writes:
To create that stronghold, you have to put in some real work. By that I mean: Accumulate enough knowledge that you can share it with others--so that you can enable them to profit from your knowledge as much as you do. (67)
Sanders believes that: "The first step in cultivating value is to make sure you possess knowledge." Knowledge is "consequential." (67).  The knowledge that he is referring to is not the local gossip. It has everything to do with distributing knowledge that helps people. His favorite way to pass on knowledge is through reading and getting to know good books. Sanders wants readers to produce readers. He writes of the value of books:
Books should be your diet's staple because they are the complete thought-meal, containing hypothesis, data, research, and conclusions, combined in a thorough attempt to transfer knowledge. (69)
Sanders captured my attention with this:

And by books, I don't mean just any book. I mean hardcovers. A paperback is made to be read. A hardcover is made to be studied. There's a huge difference. I don't read a book just to say that I've finished it. I read it so that when I'm done, the inside covers are filled with enough notes that I can use this book for as long as I need to.  True, hardcovers are more expensive. But I'm talking about your career. If you can afford to party, or to buy new techno-gadgets, or to eat at fancy restaurants, you can afford a few hardcover books. And if that extra cost makes it a barrier-to-entry for your peers, remember that there are barriers-to-entry in any competitive field. Not only is this one you can easily overcome, but by removing those barriers you give yourself the chance to shine. The books you read today will fuel your earning power tomorrow. (70-71).

Do you want to help a friend? Read, pass on knowledge, and do what you can to help your friend become a reader. This is one way to love your neighbor and you will benefit as well. Thinking in business terms, reading can help you to grow, advance, and earn. And when you are growing then you can help someone else in their development.

For years I have believed in the superiority of hardcover over paperback books. Therefore, every time Sanders plugged hardcovers he won my heart a little more. He writes:
Simply put, hardcover books are the bomb. They are fun to hold. They become personal the first time you mark them up, the first time you bend back the binding. There's something wonderful about the sound of rustling pages. There's something exciting about writing down the ideas that interest you. Soon your book becomes more than just pages between covers. It becomes your ticket to success. Congratulations! You've just achieved traction as a student. (71).
How do you know what to read? Though Sanders focuses on business relationships, application abounds for every area of life. Regarding business he states, "Read books so that you own your job just like Deion Sanders owned his." (72)

As a Christian, I want to know God. Therefore, the book, above all books for me, is the Bible. I want to be so saturated with Scripture that, to use Charles Spurgeon's description of John Bunyan, if you were to prick me you would find that my blood is Bibline.  Since I am a pastor, it would be inexcusable, and a horrific neglect of duty, to not spend substantive time each week reading the Bible. Beyond that, I need (and want) to read theology, history, and biography. I then read in various areas that interest me. If I am interested then I will better be able to help others. For example, I want to become a better conversationalist and therefore a more interesting person. If I am a more interesting person, lovingly gaining the ear of friends, then I will be able to better help them. To be a good conversationalist I need (and want) to read very broadly. One of the books that I recently ordered is Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast. I discovered this book after visiting a local coffee shop and doing some research on how to roast coffee beans. Learning more about coffee will put me on the front-lines of a topic that a lot of people are passionate about. This will further connect me to people that I may have the opportunity to influence (and be influenced by).

There are many ways to discover good books. A fun and very practical way, that Sanders recommends, is to visit bookstores. He writes: "Wander through the aisles. Be sure you have plenty of time. Look at books carefully. As you do, search for a set of key words that are important to you." (73).

Visiting bookstores is a lot of fun. Recently I was at Carmichael's bookstore in Louisville, Kentucky. I had a fantastic conversation with a lady who works there. Of course, we talked books. I mentioned to her that I had learned about author Wendell Berry through professors at Southern Seminary. She told me that Berry sometimes stops by the store and that the book, My Bookstore:Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, has a section from Berry in which he mentions Carmichael's as a favorite bookshop. Well, guess what? I ordered a copy of My Bookstore. I love adding such books to my library and I am excited that my children have the opportunity to enjoy my selections. I want my library to be a fun and helpful place for family and friends. It is one way that I hope to love my family now and to invest in future generations.

Though Tim Sanders is not necessarily writing from a Christian perspective, his message is certainly one that Christians need to hear. Reading is not just about personal growth and development. Reading is an act of love. It is a way to help your friends to grow and develop. When you pass on knowledge, out of a deep concern for the well-being of others, then you are making a difference. Sanders would call you a "lovecat."