Friday, January 12, 2018

Highlights of my Reading Challenge for 2017

In my last post, I talked about my endeavor to read 52 books in one year. So I thought I'd share some of the highlights of the year with some thumbs-up and thumbs-down. These are not necessarily in order of preference but some highlights of my year in reading. 

  • The Boys in the Boat. This true story is an inspiring account of a boy who overcomes the odds to be a part of the Olympic Team around the time of Hitler and WW2. Without giving too much away, it's a classic where the good guys win. Made me want to go row a boat, although I confess I haven't done it yet in the last year.
  • Right Color, Wrong Culture. Written toward the pastor or board who seeks change in their church or organization in regards to racial reconciliation and understanding, this book was a great read. Bryan writes this as a parable so it's an easy and entertaining read, although it filled me with angst at times. Highly recommended for church staff or anyone who wants to grow in their understanding of the dynamics behind racial prejudice.
  • Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill. Wesley identifies himself as a celibate Christian who struggles with homosexuality. This book will help you understand those who struggle and offers hope for the church without compromising Scripture. 
  • The Undoing of Death by Fleming Rutledge. This book is actually a collection of sermons about Passion Week. Fleming's prose is beautiful and it doesn't feel like you're reading a sermon. I read this during Lent and found it stirred my affections for Jesus and the Father. 
  • The Autobiography of George Mueller. This is a cumbersome read, written more like a daily diary. But the accounts of God's faithfulness to a man who had a dream to care for thousands of orphans will increase your faith and help you to pray for impossible things. 
  • The Power of Habit. I didn't want to like this book. I read it because the Reading Challenge asked me to read a self-help book. But I loved it. Duhigg shows how habits form and how we break them. I'd recommend this book for any counselor, mentor, or even disciple who wants to understand habits. Important implications for discipleship habits. Here's a quote: "A habit has three components," he says, "the cue which is the trigger for the behavior, the routine, which is the actual behavior and the reward which is how the brain remembers it." 
  • 7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness. Moderate to easy read with short bios and highlights of seven men. I also read the massive biography of Washington: A Life  this year and found Metaxes' shorter bio on Washington excellent. I recommend this book for any young men who need to be reminded of the cost of greatness and what it truly is.
  • The Kite Runner. Yeah, I just now read this. It's been hailed for years but I'm slow to jump on a book that everyone raves about. WARNING: It's graphic and not appropriate for some. I wouldn't recommend it without some caveats. But having been to lands not far from where this story takes place, I think it reflects the reality of terrorism and the caste system. In the end, love and forgiveness triumph.  
  • Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town. I wanted to read a book pub. in 2017 since I was challenged to. And I wanted to feel the angst of a small town affected by the shrinking manufacturing sector in America. The book does show you the heartbreaking impact of greed and owners that don't care about their workers or the town they call home, but it's so poorly written. The flow is awful and the overuse of cursing to make a point is needless. This story needs to be told but we need better journalism. 
  • A Walk in the Woods. I love hiking and I love the woods. And this book had rave reviews. But I didn't get it. I sped read through some of it and Bryson's arrogance and low view of personhood are appalling. He also writes like a journalist exposing hypocrisy and greed but fails to back up his research by claiming it's just his account of a hiking trip. Skip it. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

A BOOK A WEEK: "You're kidding right?"

A few years ago I heard about a guy who read a book a week. My friend talked about him in almost hushed tones..."That guy is well-read. You can tell it when he speaks. He reads...a book a week!" I remember thinking, "Who has that kind of time? He must be an extreme introvert with lots of margin in his schedule." But this reader was a pastor with lots of responsibilities...more than mine.

I've been a reader, yes. I have more books than the average dude. But I've always considered myself a slow reader. On my ACT, I struggled more with comprehension than almost anything. I've often found myself reading the same paragraph over and over and wondering, "How the heck would anyone read 52 books a year?"

I'm writing this blog entry to encourage the slow readers out there. I don't have speedy comprehension. But a couple of years ago, I discovered the reading challenge by blogger Tim Challies. I took a challenge to read more. I don't know the number...maybe it was 13 books in a year? Then last year, I took the dare to read 52 books in one year. I wasn't sure I could keep up the pace but I surprised myself and just finished my 52nd book yesterday. Here's what I've discovered.

1. Reading more, actually increases the joy of reading. This is the opposite of what I thought would happen. I thought I would collapse at the midpoint from the drudgery. Instead, I find myself actually looking forward to my 2018 reading goals. What Challies' reading challenge did for me was to expand the width and depth of genres in my reading. In the past, it was usually theology, leadership, then maybe a biography or a novel thrown in. The reading challenge has pushed me to read all kinds of literature and renewed the joy of reading for me. I now have a good excuse to read a page-turning novel, for example.

2. Comprehension can improve. I once thought that there are i) smart, great readers, ii) those who are mentally challenged or handicapped, and then iii) there's me.

Instead what I found is that over the course of the year, stretching my mind to read various genres, my comprehension has gotten better. Who knew? (Like a bicep gets stronger with use, maybe there's a reading muscle?)

3. One can read and still have a life. The average book is probably 200 pages. With a goal of reading about 40 pages a day, I can read a book a week and still have time with Jesus in the morning, and keep my other commitments as well. Not saying, I've mastered my calendar. Just saying, it's amazing how much time I must have been wasting, whether with TV or web surfing. I don't know just how, but the time for reading hasn't been as impossible to find as I thought.

So, if you're like me and you think there are super human people who can read and then there's the rest of us, I dare you to challenge that assumption. Join me in 2018 to read more. Start where you are and go from there. Maybe you've never read books. Then don't start with a book a week. Try a book a month for starters. That's about 50 pages a week or 7 pages a day.

If you've already done the book-a-month thing, then join me and take the challenge to read 52 books in one year! Stretch your mind! Challenge the rut you've been! Read something besides what you've always read, whether self-help or historical fiction. I dare you! Then, let's compare notes throughout the year.

Next blog, I'll highlight some of the books that impacted me the most this year.

Happy Reading!

[Check out the 2018 Christian Reading Challenge here. Also, let me know if you've discovered another type of reading challenge that has been helpful.] 

Monday, December 25, 2017

CHRISTMAS: More than words could ever say

So much can be said without words. A rolling of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulders. A hug…a single tear. Sometimes words can even get in the way of the deepest expressions of love. 

The mysteries of Christmas are countless. The virgin birth, the seemingly poor timing, the announcement to shepherds by angels and a puppet king Herod threatened by the birth of one baby among thousands. But here is one more: God says so much with as few words as possible. 

The best friend of Jesus, John the Beloved, tells us that Jesus was the Word before time, the One who spoke at creation. Yet in a manger this same Person is reduced to coos, cries and grunts. Willingly. Not because He had nothing to say, but because of a choice. Because God loved the world, His Son descends from the dominion of the universe to diapers. God the Eternal Word lies in the arms of a teenager…speechless. But oh… how that silence speaks. 

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Regardless of the popular idea that Jesus was born on a silent night that was calm, the world did not lie in stillness. It was chaotic. Political upheaval. Tax reforms and Jews who would not worship Caesar as god, were forced to travel by foot and hoove to their birthplace__to register so the government could know more than you wanted them to know about you. So a very young Momma and a courageous but shaken Dad travel 120 miles to Bethlehem to obey the law. No healthcare, no ambulances, no epidurals. Amid a crowded city with lots of noise, a speechless Savior is born to say so much. 

So think about that today as the kids run, as family quarrels break out over who will be at what house and when. When you watch as loved ones painfully move through pain and babies cry in bassinets, remember this: God became speechless and in that silence He has spoken more than words could ever say. Forever, our world has changed and Eternity will resound for endless eons at the wonder of God speaking into our chaos. Those so-called silent years from 0-30 of a Man named Jesus forever says to you, “I love you. Your Father, God.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Ever had one of those nights? I had one not long ago. Waking up after a dream or just waking up. Afraid to look at the clock because if I know what time it is, I’ll start thinking about what time it is and go from there. Trying to count sheep, trying all the tricks I know to turn my mind off. I need sleep. So I try harder but that unwanted intruder manages to break into my thoughts. That enemy who tells me he’s a friend. So I think, "Maybe it's 5:30. That's a bit early for me but I could go ahead and get up." But I finally look at the clock. It’s 4 a.m. 

Wrestling. Do I get up and pray or just lie there and…worry. 
  • A family member diagnosed with cancer,
  • A difficult conversation I need to have that I rehearse in my head,
  • Did I lock the door? Did I close the garage?

·       Sometimes it’s heavier stuff like what’s been in the News:
  • Guys with AK-47's in small quiet towns and shopping malls
  • Terrorists using a moving van like an armored vehicle in city streets
  • Record-breaking addictions to opiates and addicts giving birth to addicted babies
  • Dictators threatening our national security

Yes, that’s worrisome. But other times…it’s just stuff. The stuff of everyday life. Like a 4-yr old that just keeps tugging on your sleeve. Like a dripping faucet or a pop song you can’t quit singing in your head. Worry. If fear is a big hairy monster, worry is like the little bratty sister that won’t leave you alone.

John Ortberg says the recipe for worry begins with a problem with no simple solution. Do you have one of those? If you don’t, do you think you could find one? Or maybe you’re living with one??? 

A lot of us think the answer to no worry is no problems. Whatever I’m in now, when I get out of it, I won’t worry. Just a season. If God wants me to worry less, I just need less problems. I don’t think so. I’ve noticed something about me: If I don’t have a big problem to worry about, I will find someone else’s problems to worry about. 

I think most of us would say, I don’t like to worry. I’d like a switch to turn it off. It isn't that simple. But there is a solution to worry. How do you have peace when the world is falling apart?

"Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7, HSB)

We like this verse. Because it’s simple and clear... (but have you noticed that simple and clear doesn’t mean easy?) includes a command.

It seems the first stop is to take this Scripture seriously. Really? Really. Hear it like a command: Don’t worry about anything. Treat it like the SIN that it is. God doesn’t want us to worry because it hurts us. It can ruin your friendships, steal your sleep, affect your job performance. Excessive worrying can encourage panic attacks, and addiction to substances. Most of all, worry is a peace-stealer and it’s an offense to God.

Worry says, “I must be in control of everything. I must keep anything bad from happening. I’m responsible.” 

Yet Jesus says, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6.27) JESUS.  No. not me, not you. Jesus said that. 

So the first stop is a negative one: 
The second stop is positive: TALK TO GOD ABOUT EVERYTHING! 
Like Google Voice, Siri or Cortana...Heaven is voice-activated. Talk to God about everything.

“If it’s worth worrying about, it’s worth praying about.” Rick Warren. 

The result? And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus(Philippians 4.7 ESV)

How do you know it’s the peace of God and not just a temporary feeling? How do you know it’s not just because you had a little extra caffeine or an extra hour of sleep? Because it's more than a feeling. It’s a peace that “surpasses understanding.” It’s when you say, “I should be worried, but I have peace.” 

So friend, next time that unwelcome friend interrupts your sleep, say 'Sorry. No vacancy.' Then talk to God about everything. See if that helps. It is helping me. 

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Why Gossip is a Big Deal

So the conversation goes something like this, "I don't know if I can come if THEY are going to be here. I'm so frustrated with THEM because they ______________. In fact, there are many people who feel like I do." 


"I have to let you know that I have knowledge that he/she really has a beef with you. I know I would want to know if someone felt this way about me." 


"The word is that they have been doing some pretty inappropriate things. I think we should be concerned." 

What should we do with such information? It depends on the answer to these questions: 

In the first case, I ask, "Who are the MANY people who "feel like" you do? In the second case, "Have you approached this person to verify the truth?" And one more, "Why are you telling me this?" 

What I usually find is that in most cases, the person is unwilling to list the MANY people who feel like they do. And when they aren't, I ask for a time-out in the conversation and say, "I'm happy to listen to how you feel. But unless those others are willing to be here, I don't want to know how they feel." When I ask if they have approached the person who has questionable behavior, usually the answer is, "No." The third question will force the person telling the story to at least think about their motives and will help give you a good course of action for moving forward.  

A person coming to you with "concerns" is usually an attempt to create what some call the relationship triangle. Person A talks to Person B in the hopes that they will talk to Person C.  And here's why I don't think Christians should resort to such tactics. 

1. Gossip is a sin. If it isn't gossip, it's right on the line. Gossip is to tell secrets about someone else without their permission or knowledge. It isn't fair and, for Christians, it's sin. (Romans 1:29b-32)

2. Not only is gossip a sin, it's damaging to reputations. Most of us have been the victim of unsubstantiated rumors. And it stinks. On occasion, I have listened a bit too long and heard a rumor about someone I knew. But because the one who actually witnessed the incident was unwilling to step forward, it couldn't be substantiated. As a result, that shadow is now in my mind regarding that friend and it's possible that it was only gossip. That's sad for our relationship. Gossip hurts. That's why it's a sin.   

3. Gossip avoids 'speaking the truth in love' to the person who needs to hear it the most. Consider Matthew 18:15, "If your brother sins against you, go and confront him privately. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over." What I've discovered, is that because most of us don't like confrontation, we want someone else to do it. As a pastor, I've had countless people who want me to do their confrontation for them. And I will not do that. It's counter to Matthew 18 and if you know about the fault, you are the best person to confront them.

4. Gossip usually feeds pride. Often the people who say, "I think you ought to know how they feel about you" are only wanting to improve their image in your eyes. They want to be the 'person in the know.' They want to be the person you can confide in. And here's the truth: they are exactly NOT the person you should confide in. If they are confiding to you about others, you can be sure they are carrying your personal feelings to someone else! Their ego won't let them keep a secret. 

Don't get caught in the triangle. Don't let other people  make their relational problems your problems to fix. Let's "man up" or "woman up" and speak the truth in love.