Jan 9, 2017

My 2016 Reading List

I love the quote from George R.R. Martin in his book A Dance with Dragons. One of the characters says, "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one." Someone else once told me that reading is an act of love. While reading we are listening to one man or woman's story, thoughts, perspectives, hopes, dreams, fears, ideas, and anecdotes for hours on end. We let them have the floor. Theirs is the only voice we hear. And we don't talk back. (Well, some of us do talk back to our books...just be careful doing that in public.) We surrender our right to be heard in order to truly listen to the other. We give them our full mental capacity and concentration. Many of us even experience the real world grow more distant as we follow the author into the world inside their head.

It breaks my heart to hear about people who never read. We've probably all seen the statistics. A very large percentage of the adult population never reads a book again after college. I would gather that a large percentage never even read a full book throughout their high school or college careers. What a shame.

Anyway, I refuse to be one of those people. Several years ago I set a goal for myself to read at least 2 books a month. I have kept that goal going every year since. Some years I have read way more than that. Other years, I'm barely at my quota. 2016 was not a big reading year for me. But I did manage to read more than 2 books per month. My wife puts me to shame on this, but she is a much faster reader than I am, so....yeah.

Here is a list of the books I read last year in order of completion. Some were great. Others not so much. A few were life-changing. Others were rather forgettable. Regardless, we become the sum total of the stories we experience.

  1. The Day I Met Jesusby Frank Viola and Mary Demuth
  2. Man of Godby Charles Stanley
  3. How to Start a Riot, by Jonathan Storment
  4. More or Less, by Jeff Shinabarger
  5. God's Pursuit of Man, by A.W. Tozer
  6. Magnus Chase: The Sword of Summer, by Rick Riordan
  7. Taking Theology to Youth Ministry, by Andrew Root
  8. Jesus > Religion, by Jefferson Bethke
  9. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
  10. King of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence
  11. Emperor of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence
  12. Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans
  13. All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, by Brennan Manning
  14. Love Does, by Bob Goff
  15. Jesus Creed, by Scot McKnight
  16. Accidental Saints, by Nadia Bolz-Weber
  17. Paper Towns, by John Green
  18. A Farewell to Mars, by Brian Zahnd
  19. Deeply Odd, by Dean Koontz
  20. The Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Golan, by John Flanagan
  21. The Ranger's Apprentice: The Burning Bridge, by John Flanagan
  22. Finding God in the Waves, by Mike McHargue
  23. Saint Odd, by Dean Koontz
  24. The Road Back to You, by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile
  25. Magnus Chase: Thor's Hammer, by Rick Riodan
  26. The Trials of Apollo, by Rick Riordan
  27. Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon
  28. The Deborah Club, by D.W. Pierce
  29. The Bible Tells Me So, by Peter Enns
So that's my list. Looking back, I can remember where I was in life while reading these books - trips I was on, emotions I was wrestling with, how I was growing and changing as a person. When reading a book, a little bit of that author remains with you, becomes part of you - just like eating a meal.



Some books I look forward to reading (or am currently working on) this year: 
  • Water to Wine, by Brian Zahnd
  • God's Favorite Place on Earth, by Frank Viola
  • How to Survive a Shipwreck, by Jonathan Martin
  • The Day the Revolution Began, by N.T. Wright
  • Present Over Perfect, by Shauna Niequist
  • In addition to reading the whole Bible in somewhat chronological order
What would you add to that list? What good books have you read that you would recommend?

Jan 2, 2017

NCYM | For Status or From Significance

The National Conference on Youth Ministries got underway today in Daytona Beach, FL. The theme this year is "CREATE." Youth ministry should be inherently creative. More than some other ministries, we have creative freedom to reach as many teenagers as possible. I'm looking forward to what the week has to offer.

As we got started, Luke Norsworthy of the Westover Church of Christ presented the opening keynote. To be honest, his message was a punch to the gut. I'm one of those people who feels the need to achieve my goals, to appear successful, to impress others with my skills and knowledge. When things go wrong or when people don't respond how I think they should, I take it very personally.

Luke challenged us to minister out of our own God-given significance. It's not a pursuit of status. We already have status. We are children of God. God loves us and is pleased with us before we ever do anything to deserve it.

He pointed us to the baptism of Jesus. During that sacred moment, God's voice boomed from heaven, "This is my son whom I love. With him I am well pleased."

But do we realize that God said this before Jesus ever preached a sermon, performed a miracle, or began his ministry?

Jesus didn't have to do anything to earn God's love or favor. Jesus had God's love and favor already because he was God's son. Period.

My own boys don't need to do anything to earn my love or my favor or my pride in them. They already have it. They're my sons, whom I love. With them I am well pleased.

And we are God's sons and daughters, whom God loves and is well pleased.

Yet here we are, constantly thinking we have to perform in order to earn God's love and grace. And ministers are by no means immune to this tendency. In fact, I would argue that ministers are probably more susceptible to this than others. We may begin our ministry careers with the right motives. But then the compliments roll in, the pats on the back keep coming, the number of those in our care increases, and our ego gets fed. We begin to connect our own self-worth to our success, and it feels good.

Really good.

Until it doesn't.

This can't last. It's not a sustainable source of self-worth for ministers or anyone else. Because the success will eventually turn to failure. Attendance will drop. Compliments will be replaced by criticisms. And if our self-worth is tied to success, we can take these failures as personal attacks.

Speaking from experience, this is not a fun or fulfilling way to live.

Luke challenged us, "When you learn to live out of your God-given significance, everything changes. The voice that says, 'You are my beloved,' will be enough."

Then we will be free to create, innovate, and grow in ways we never through possible.

Jul 22, 2016

These Are The Days | JUBILEE

So lift your voice *WOOO* it's the Year of Jubilee
And out of Zion's Hill salvation comes

I don't like to get too political. I tend to lean away from either party and toward the middle. The Libertarian Party appeals to me more than either the donkey or the elephant. I watched bits and pieces of the RNC this week - mostly second hand through late night comedians who help us laugh to keep from crying. I did manage to catch at least some of Trump's speech last night, and it became very clear to me just how strong the shackles of fear have us in their grips.

According to the speakers at the RNC, we have nothing to fear except everything. And "the only one who can fix it" is Donald Trump.

So what Trump is going to do is cancel all debts. All credit cards and student loans will automatically have a zero-balance. Everyone's mortgage is going to be paid for. Those living on food stamps will automatically earn a living wage. Healthcare will be offered free of charge to everyone, including corrective eye surgeries. Schools will become fully funded, especially those in lower class areas. Higher education will become available to all who desire to learn. All prisoners (except for those convicted of violent crimes) will receive a presidential pardon and will be released at the earliest opportunity. Those will mental illnesses will be given the absolute best care available in the world.

Doesn't that sound amazing? A little too good to be true?

Obviously no president (especially NOT Trump) would ever make those sorts of promises. No president would run on the idea of completely reversing all social orders, canceling all debts, and equalling the playing field for every single person. Because those with all the money and power would never go for it.

In Leviticus 25 we read about God's plan for Israel's economy. Every 50 years there would be the "Year of Jubilee." During that year, families could return to their homeland. Property could be redeemed (bought back) by the original owners. And those who had sold themselves as slaves would be released. All debts would be cancelled. All property would return to its original owner. The whole system would get a hard reboot. This would ensure that no one ever got too poor or too rich.
But guess what? There is no historical or biblical record of the Year of Jubilee. As far as we can tell, Israel never honored this 50th year celebration. It's kind of sad, but also kind of understandable.

Who would the Jubilee benefit the most? Those who are poor, displaced, and oppressed. Who would the Jubilee hurt the most? Those with the money, the land, and the power. Who gets the say in what happens in a nation's economy? Those with the money, the land, and the power. So it's not hard to understand why the people of Israel never celebrated Jubilee.

But that doesn't mean God forgot about it and scrapped the whole thing. Quite the opposite in fact. Through the prophet Isaiah God remind the people about "The Year of the Lord's Favor." It's like the Jubilee, only bigger and better than ever.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3
| NIV)
The people of Israel may have forgotten about the Jubilee, but God steps in and tell them that it's going to happen whether they like it or not.

Fast forward a few hundred years to the time of Jesus. For his first sermon of his ministry in his own hometown he opens up the scroll and reads from Isaiah 61. Jesus reads this passage, sits down, and tells them that this ancient prophecy is being fulfilled right here and now (Luke 4:16-30). The Jubilee is happening whether they like it or not. But Jesus takes it even further than Isaiah did. Jesus asserts that not only is the "Year of the Lord's Favor" for the Jews, but it's also for the gentiles. Jubilee is happening, and it's happening for everyone!

And everyone celebrated with cake and streamers and a disco ball, making Jesus the hometown hero. Right?

Not exactly. Instead they tried to throw him off a cliff!

We haven't changed much socially as a species in the two thousand years since Jesus. If any political candidate tried running for office on the platform of Jubilee, they'd be booed off stage in seconds.

We can't just cancel debts!
We can't just give everyone free healthcare!
We can't release prisoners from jail!
We can't provide quality education to those in extreme poverty!
We can't offer free treatment for the mentally ill or victims of abuse!

But what have we seen from the Lord's church throughout the centuries? We've seen God's people fight to end poverty and slavery and human trafficking. We've seen God's people start hospitals and colleges and mentoring programs. We've seen God's people advocate for justice and work to free those wrongly incarcerated. We've seen God's people build orphanages and dig wells and teach marketable skills and trades for people in developing nations. We've seen God's people work to free people from drug addictions and alcoholism.

Everything our politicians say can't be done, God's people HAVE done and ARE doing.

The Jubilee is happening whether you like it or not, whether you see it or not. Jubilee is not, as it turns out, a once-every-fifty-years tradition. It's not just a one time event, or a year-long celebration. Jubilee is a reality in which we, God's people, choose to live. It's a reality we work to bring about a little bit each day.