Monday, September 17, 2018

Five Ways to Watch (Read) the News

I can't watch the news late at night. If I do, I lie awake trying to solve the world's problems. Not my wife. Actually, I might say, she WANTS to see the news at night. I finally learned that trying to convince her otherwise wasn't good for our marriage. So now, I simply, go to bed or read! 

Recently, I finished the book "Factfulness" by Hans Rosling. It reminded me why I struggle with watching the news. Let me first go on record by saying that I don't believe all news is fake news. But after all, they are selling something. Their survival is based on viewership. 

Rosling makes the point throughout his book that humans are drawn to fearful news. We all know that positive news can be boring. i.e. "Nothing to report today. All is well." While we say we'd love to have a newscast like that, probably none of us would tune in. 

It's been a month or more since I read the book but since then I've found myself applying some of the principles he suggests. While these aren't necessarily from the book, here are some thoughts about watching the news:

1. Be skeptical of reports that use words like: biggest ever, massive, shrinking, etc. Digging down into these reports, you often find sketchy stats. 

2. Remember that bad things have always happened. We just never were hearing these things from the four corners of the earth in a matter of seconds. (Thank you, technology.)

3. Don't be a cynic, but don't be duped either. No report is completely unbiased. Even if it contains facts, it is still shared from a point of view. 

4. Try to watch or read opposite points of view. We tend to like news reports that share our worldview.  But we don't always get the full story. The truth is often somewhere in the middle. 

5. Read a biography or some history then watch the news. You think American politics is divided today? Read some pieces about life during the American Revolution and the Civil War. What candidates say about each other today will sound like Girl Scout banter by comparison. 

6. I know I said "Five Ways" but here's one more: Catch up on the news some time besides late at night. You'll sleep better!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Under the Sun

"I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun..." Eccl. 8:9 NLT

Awhile back I had lunch in a place that overlooked a stretch of water, complete with scraggly-looking Cypress trees, moss, and the sort of brownish greenish water that you see in the bayous of Louisiana. Eating crab cakes and looking at that setting gave me warm fuzzy feelings. Those are my roots.

Many of you have never seen that setting nor eaten chicken gumbo or crawdads. It sounds gross to you and the brownish water with Cypress trees would not look pretty to you. You don't find beauty there. I do because I'm from there.

So it is with life and God. When you search for beauty that you can't seem to find in what you do, where you live today, it may be because you were made for a different country. If you're Peter in the Chronicles of Narnia it's Aslan's Land. If you're Frodo, it's the Shire. If you're human, it's anywhere Jesus is.

As humans, if we're honest, we admit that we desire things that simply can't be found "under the sun." Vacation doesn't quite do it. Drugs only mask the discontent. Beauty, wherever we find it, only beckons us but we are never fully able to embrace it. Everything leaves us a bit unsatisfied.

That's because you were made for more than can be found "under the sun."

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world (C.S. Lewis)

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.”