Struggle is the friend of learning

What do you do when faced with a new or unfamiliar task that turns out to be more challenging than you first thought? Do you dig in your heels, roll up your sleeves, grit your teeth, [insert your favourite idiom here] and stick with it until it bows to your superior might? Or do you find some more pleasant way of spending your time?

The second half of last week was one of mental struggle for me as I tried to figure out (a) how to get a piece of software to do what I wanted it to do, and (b) why it wasn’t doing what I expected it to do. To add to my frustration, I had a deadline looming. Good thing for me I’d read these articles, and knew to not to discount my struggling:

  • A Really Hard Test Really Helps Learning – “When we struggle to learn something, and fail, the moment we finally get the answer it imprints itself more deeply on our mind than it would have had struggle and failure not preceded it.”
  • Why Floundering is Good – “The more you struggle and even fail while you’re trying to master new information, the better you’re likely to recall and apply that information later.”
  • Struggle for Smarts? – “For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength.”

The thought that comes to my mind is whether this struggle is a product of the fall. Will the inhabitants of the new heavens and new earth have new intellects that will grasp everything at the first? Or will there still be learning curves? Or will there be nothing left to learn? I can only wonder…

How to read lots of books

It’s the fourth week of January, which means that not a few New Year’s resolutions are suffering from severe neglect. I long ago resolved not to make any resolutions, but to cultivate good and beneficial habits regardless of the time of year. Obviously, that isn’t a guarantee for success. For example I wish I could put myself out as an example for the title of this post…

Halfway through last year, I got all fired up over how reading for fifteen minutes a day could translate to 15 books a year. Since last week I’ve been taking advantage  of the increased traffic during my morning commute to read long form material, and that’s the closest I’ve got to my goal (and no, I’m not the one driving 🙂 ).

Think you don’t have time to read? Here are some practical pointers. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to read old books and keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through your mind. And finally, I understand that in some life stages, reading oodles of books just isn’t possible.

Pssssst! Want a free study Bible?

Yes, completely free.

You may be wondering what the catch is. As far as I can tell, it’s that the Faithlife Study Bible will probably never be available in print. It can be downloaded onto your iPad, iPhone or Android device, or accessed online at

I’ve had the Faithlife app for a little over 6 months now, though I used it more frequently back when I led Bible studies. Faithlife is aimed at a non-scholarly audience and its greatest selling point (pun intended) is its social aspect, which I haven’t had a chance to use. You can set up public or private groups  and share Bible verses, notes, reading plans, etc. amongst the members.

What I have used are the notes, maps and infographics that come with the study Bible. The package also includes photos and videos. The former I haven’t spent much time on and the latter have, in my experience, never worked.

Despite those glitches, I think it’s an excellent resource to have. So go on and get yourself one of the 2.5 million copies that are being given away!

Links before Christmas

Just thought I’d share these before the world ends on Friday. Because it would be devastating if you didn’t see this stuff before the earth disintegrates or burns up or whatever 😉

You’ve probably been told that the date of Christmas was determined by co-opting a pagan holiday. What if it wasn’t? Here’s a different take: Calculating Christmas.

Two days ago, I posted about the location of Jesus’ birth. Here’s an essay in two parts written by an American residing in Jerusalem that builds on that concept: Tonight in Bethlehem part 1, part 2.

Also two days ago, I briefly mentioned the shortcomings of a Christmas song I like. Here’s another song dissected:

  Merry Christmas to all!

A different way of dealing with doubt

And have mercy on those who doubt (Jude 1:22)

When a person is having doubts about the Christian faith, the usual course of action is withdrawal accompanied by listening to critical and dissenting voices. That usually doesn’t end up affirming belief in Christ. What if instead of withdrawing the person got even more engaged?

Read the article Dealing with Doubt in a Fallen World to understand the reasoning behind this suggestion. (The article is long—around 8 pages when printed out.)

An explanation for Jesus’ singleness?

The dust has long settled on the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ wife. I believe that had Christ been married, we wouldn’t have to wait until the fourth century for documentation on that. The New Testament gospels tell us a lot of things about His life ministry, much of which was ridiculous and/or ignominious to the original audience.

I’ve heard a few explanations for why Jesus was single, but the only ‘natural’ one I’ve heard is from David Instone-Brewer (‘natural’ as opposed to ‘spiritual’, e.g. He had a great mission to accomplish that excluded getting married). Listen to this interview (recorded some months back) in which Instone-Brewer touches on a number of issues, including why Jesus wasn’t married (towards the end).  Does his explanation convince you?

The Crusades: Probably a lot more than you wanted to know

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Growing up, I detested history. I didn’t see why I had to learn about people I cared nothing for, and most of all, I had no patience to memorise all those dates (which would inevitably turn up on some exam). I escaped taking the subject in the last two years of high school only to have an unavoidable head-on collision with it in university. Incidentally, one of the first YouTube channels I subscribed to earlier this year was Crash Course World History. I’ve come full-circle. (Maybe it’s because I don’t have to sit history exams any more) 🙂

That said, I probably wouldn’t have looked into the history of the Crusades out of my own volition. In part, it would be because I wouldn’t know where to start looking: it’s not a topic we Christians like to talk about. Good for me that a follower of this blog, Eric Costanzo, recently completed a 6-part series on the Crusades:

  1. Deus Vult: Pope Urban II Calls for the First Crusaders in AD 1095 – Were the crusades an unprovoked attack by Latin (Western) Christians on the Muslim world?
  2. The First Crusade and Reclaiming the Holy City (AD 1096-99) – How things went very wrong very fast, and continued downhill.
  3. Bernard of Clairvaux and the Second Crusade (AD 1144-53) – The Latin Christians lose a key city, and consequently many lives and much land.
  4. Lionheart and the Third Crusade (AD 1187-93) – Saladin takes Jerusalem from the Christians and the Pope calls for a new crusade.
  5. The Fourth Crusade & Children’s Crusades: Perhaps Christendom’s Lowest Point (AD 1198-1212) – Those on the fourth crusade attack Eastern Christians, and the Pope rightly condemns them. Someone comes up with the idea that innocent children would succeed where adults had failed, with appalling consequences for the children.
  6. Final Crusades and Final Results (AD 1215-91) – What was there to show for 2 centuries of crusading efforts?

(Yes, I know my little summary statements are rather negative. Sorry.)

Some quick, random, incomplete observations:

  • Those Christians living 1,000 years ago needed to hear the quotation at the head of this post. Despite the slim successes they had, they kept on assembling armies to head East.
  • I’m struck by how quickly noble intentions were replaced by base and vile ones. Is it possible that we do things today under a thin veil of upholding Christ’s glory?
  • The crusading armies, it seems to me, engaged in selective reading of their Bibles. (I smiled at the report of the re-enactment of marching around Jericho in the first crusade.) It looks like they missed the part about Christ’s kingdom not being of this world (John 18:36).
  • The Latin Christians were, as I understand it, reacting to a loss of power and possessions.  Christendom was the dominant force in Western Europe and the concept of being a powerless minority (as in New Testament times)  was utterly unknown.
    As Christians in the 21st century see the reversal of society to pre-Christian, pagan norms  I hope and pray that we would respond in a manner worthy of the Saviour we profess.