The Survey, The Problem, A Solution, and an Ad

First Some Boring Numbers
I just completed another Wycliffe Associates promotional banquet speaking tour. Here are some numbers: 5 weeks, 6 states, 24 cities, 5,600 kilometres/3,500 miles. We started in North Dakota on the border of Minnesota, an hour’s drive south of the Manitoba border, then traveled south into Iowa and south-west to Colorado, 30 kilometres/20 miles from New Mexico, and as far west as 40 kilometres/25 miles from Utah.

The Reason I Bored You with These Statistics
Every night after I speak, I offer my books for purchase by guests as they leave. And every night people happily buy whole sets of the three printed books and the two ebooks. Very nice. Good for them. Good for me.

But what bothers me is that in city after city, along the entire route, many hundreds of people shake my hand and say,
“Your stories are so inspiring! Thank you so much for coming!” but when I invite them to buy my books with even more inspiring stories, they give me any number of reasons why they won’t.

Favorite Reason for Not Reading
A frequent one is “I am just so busy, I just don’t have time to read.”
I sometimes joke with them, “Buy my books and for only $10 more, I’ll pray ten times a day for ten days and ask God to give you time to read them.”

Others, especially older folk, mention poor eyesight, or extreme light sensitivity that makes reading difficult. Some tell me they love to learn by listening, but just can’t get anything from reading. A few confess they loved reading as a child but learned to hate it during their school years.

By far the most popular reason given is, “Sorry, I have too many books on my shelves already. I just can’t buy any more.”

A Suggestion That Will Work
I know what they mean. My wife and I, too, used to have many books on many shelves. But a few years ago, we asked ourselves, “Are we readers or librarians?”

We decided that we were readers and that books existed to be read and enjoyed, not just to sit on shelves and gather dust.

We started by pulling out books we had read and probably wouldn’t read again. We also culled books we had once thought we might like to read, but which had been sitting there for a long time and we probably were not going to read.

Two Out for One In

Two Out for One In

We are still working at it. Our current policy is, for every book we acquire we give away two books. This “two books out the door for each one coming in” is an excellent downsizing measure. Not only that, it keep us opening and reading books we really do want to read.

And have you noticed, when you open a book, it tends to open you?

***This is the end of my column***
Now here is the advertisement.

Just In Case You Got Inspired to Buy Books
My second ebook will be published this summer.

The Why and How of Bible Translation: What Every Christian Should Know, but few do . . . very few. In this ebook you will

  • Discover why in some instances Mark and Luke did not quote Jesus exactly as Matthew did, and why today’s translators need to follow their example.
  • Find out why it is sometimes essential for translators to clearly state explicitly in the target language what is merely implied in the Greek text.
  • Read why support for Bible translation would skyrocket among Christians if linguistics was taught as widely as biology, chemistry or physics.

Here are the links to my books—three printed collections of 52 easy-to-read, true-life stories, the kind of inspiring books you definitely will read. Order them through these links, and while waiting for them to arrive, make some room on your shelves by giving away some other books.

A Poke in the Ribs:
A Kick in the Pants:
A Bonk on the Head:
A Tickle in the Funny Bone: my first ebook, read it on your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iPad, tablet, laptop, or computer. Download it as many times as you want in whatever format you need. Yes, it is funny. It needs to be to counteract all those physically abusive titles of the print books.

What? Rest Before the Work is Done? No Way!

Jack the WordMan at Rest

Vacation time always gets me thinking about the theology of rest. All my life I have found it hard to rest when there is still work to be done. My upbringing focused on the value of work, not on the need for rest.

Working Versus Reading

My love of reading started as a child, but my mom reproved me any time she caught me reading a book during daylight hours. Our house rules were: First the house and yard chores, eat supper, wash dishes and finish school homework, then, if there is any time left, sit down, rest and read a book.

Even now, at age 74, it feels somehow wrong to be reading a book during daylight, even when it is on missions or writing, let alone a novel! Reading, even work related reading, relaxes me but it somehow feels wrong unless all my other tasks are completed.

Since my IN basket is never empty, and my TO DO list continues to grow, I never feel right about resting and reading. Besides that, I like my work—a great combination for keeping my fingers on the keyboard.

Startling Insight from Exodus

But this week, while preparing to teach a series on Spiritual Disciplines at a conference in Grand Cayman the Spirit drew my attention to something about the discipline of Sabbath that I had never seen before.

The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 have the line we all know, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, on the seventh day you shall rest.” This sounds right to me, “Do all your work, then rest.” It’s what my mom used to say.

But then I read a description of this law in Exodus 31. There the last line reads, “In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.” He abstained. Wait a minute!

To abstain means to withdraw from, to refrain from, or to go without. It’s like the discipline of fasting, when we abstain from food, stop eating, even when there is still food left, or the discipline of solitude, when we abstain from people. On the seventh day God simply stopped working and rested even though there was still work to be done—work left unfinished! Wow! Eye opener!

Change Mom’s Rule

So, my Mom’s rule needs some adjustment. We need to stop and rest, even read, in spite of all the work not being completed. Certainly once every seven days. And we need to take mini-breaks throughout the work week. A few hours of waking relaxation each day, a few minutes of rest during each hour of work.

This is an area of growth for me. Maybe for some of you too. Our North American culture glorifies work and accomplishment and doesn’t reward sitting quietly alone, resting, reading, thinking, and pondering.

Yet that may be our problem. It reminds me of the famous quote from Blaise Pascal: “All of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room”

Or the famous quote from the Almighty, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)

Over Half-Way to My First Million–The Charles Dickens Way

Would you believe I did NOT know it was Dickens’ 200th birthday last week? Yes, the very day I blogged on books and reading, with a picture of me wearing a Dickens shirt! What a wasted opportunity to make myself look good.

I also discovered this week that I am NOT alone in my addiction to reading. Dozens of you book junkies confessed your reading habit this week. Your emails were variations of a Readers Anonymous greeting, “Hi, my name is Bill, and I’m a bookaholic.”

Many of you living in book-packed homes said your spouse shared your reading addiction. Not surprising. Readers tend to get married to each other. A young woman once told me, “Of course we talk about books on dates! How would I know who to fall in love with unless I know what he reads?”

I remember Jo and me talking about Leon Uris’ Exodus shortly after it was published. That was when I learned something about Jo’s passion for standing up for the underdog. No wonder I married her a few years later.

Some of you sent me lists of your favorites or the books you are currently reading. Thank you. I’ve already added some to my Books To Read list.

Sir Francis Bacon famously wrote, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” In other words, reading gives us a good grasp of facts, ideas and insights, discussing them with others helps us express and refine our thoughts, and writing keeps us from forgetting the details.

Quite a few of you self confessed reading addicts also admitted to the urge to write. For starters, you all wrote me an email. Some told about keeping a record of books you read and how you felt about them. Others recommended books giving me a mini-review. And some of you, like me, are bloggers and authors. Avid readers often turn to writing. We write prayers and diaries to discover ourselves. We write blogs to enter into discussion with others. And we write memoirs so we won’t forget details. Remember the post about  writing God-Stories?

The Joy of Writing

I’ve written a weekly blog since 1995, many years before the term “blog” was invented. I sent them out as emails to a list of friends. When I publicly committed myself to write weekly I had no idea of the benefits I would reap. I learned some self-discipline. I enjoyed turning the steady flow of ideas into columns that provoked positive responses from readers. And I wrote well over half a million words, a third of which are now enjoyed by a much wider readership through my three books of collected columns.

I’m one of those writers who blogged his way into print, like Charles Dickens, the patron saint of committed bloggers. Dickens’ weekly output was prodigious! He wrote sections of five novels as serials for weekly magazines and ten novels in monthly magazines. He often worked on two monthly serial novels at once. Pickwick Papers overlapped Oliver Twist, which overlapped Nicholas Nickleby which overlapped the weekly serial The Old Curiosity Shop! In his spare time, he also wrote five short novels and fifty plays, poems and short stories.

Few of us reader/writers can match that kind of production! I certainly can’t. But when we commit to writing much more both we and our readers benefit.

Here’s how I start myself thinking about things worth writing about. I ask myself, “Jack, you are sitting at your computer knowing you have only 15 minutes left to live. What important things in your life do you feel deeply about? Write about these for your family and friends to read.”

Try it. You’ll be amazed at how the ideas and words flow when you begin to write. Then commit to write again next week, and the next.

If Francis Bacon were here today, I would expect to read this on his blog, “Read books, periodicals, and blogs to feed your mind. Blog your thoughts and ideas and discuss them with your readers to refine your thinking. Write your memoirs to preserve the details.”

I’d Rather Be . . . .

In January of 1966, I loaded my pregnant wife and our two toddlers into an old Volkswagen van and drove 6,600 kilometres (4,000 miles) from Edmonton, Alberta, to a jungle survival training camp near the Guatamalan border in the southern tip of Mexico.

As part of our training, we recorded everything we did each day for a week on time sheets, marked off in 15 minutes segments. The totals at the end of that week staggered us. The hours we spent in classes, private study, and working on academic projects were minimal. Time for recreation and entertainment was zero. The rest of the time was maxed out with chopping wood, hauling water, preparing food, washing clothes, and keeping the rain out of our makeshift shelter. Work, work, work, just to keep ourselves fed, clean, and minimally rested. I was deeply frustrated.

Today, forty-five years later, I still get aggravated at how much time I need to spend in work other than what I want to do. “I’d Rather be Writing” would be a good sign on my study door. No, I’m not chopping wood, but I do resent the time I must spend on learning to run the computer programs I need in my writing ministry. And organizing email lists, marketing my books, and keeping income and expense records.

I’d Rather be Reading

What is God’s plan for our ministry and work life? First, He has given each of us different embryonic talents and latent abilities which we develop through diligent practice. He also bestows spiritual gifts like faith, evangelism, insight or service. When we work within the area of our native abilities or spiritual giftings, we enjoy our work which motivates us to work at it more. Eventually we become very good at it.

The apostle Paul urged Timothy “to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you.” 2 Timothy 1:6 (NIV). God gave us our abilities and spiritual gifts and wants us to develop and use them fully in ways that make Him look good.

In my case, I’d rather be writing, or speaking to a group, or teaching at a seminar, or reading in order to do a better job of these things. But what comes along with that for all of us? All those little jobs that make us feel like we are wrenches or screw drivers forced to do hammer work. We’re just not good at these jobs, they don’t fit us and we don’t enjoy doing them.  

God has made us unique, but He has not made us to live as independents. That is the second part of His plan. He designed us to live inter-dependently, as a community, each of us operating in the area of our strengths, not only meeting our own needs but those of others. God wants people within a community to reach out and help each other. This concept directly contradicts our North American culture which glorifies rugged independence and the pride that comes when we can personally meet all our own needs.

The third part of God’s plan deals with times when we are forced to work in an area of weakness. It may be something we personally must do. Or maybe we are in a situation where there simply is no one around who can help us. That’s when we need to pray, “Holy Spirit, please give me the power and self-discipline to do this job well.” It’s a prayer based on the rest of what Paul wrote Timothy, “. . . the Spirit God gave us . . . gives us power . . . and self-discipline” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV).

Work in the area of your native abilities as much as possible, live inter-dependently within a community and when all else fails, trust God to give you the power and self-discipline to see you through.

Less frustration. More production. I like it.


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© 2011 Jack D Popjes

Ph: 780 948-0082