My 5 Top Reads of 2017

Happy New Year!

This past year I made the goal of reading 36 books (I only got to 35, and that with binge reading the week between Christmas and New Year’s!) I stepped it down from 2016’s 60-book count because I had a hard time recalling many of the books that I had read. I didn’t want to just push through a booklist for a numerical goal and not remember the journey. If you read my list from last year, you know that I try to read broadly. I look for books that catch my curiosity, and no genre is off-limits (though my favorites are children’s/young adult books).

Here’s the list of my 5 favorites of 2017. Note: these are not books that were published in 2017, but books that I happened to have read this past year. I’ve also tried to give a little plug as to why I enjoyed it.  Continue reading

Thanksgiving Conversations

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family. As you prepare to travel, cook, host, visit, etc. I hope that your weekend will be filled with more than just football on TV and polite dinner conversation (or hostile conversations). In an age where technology is causing us to lose the ability to engage meaningfully, I wonder if we can some time – whether at the dinner table or otherwise – to share a bit more deeply, to get a glimpse into one another’s hearts?

If that sounds too abstract for you, let me give you an idea. I have really enjoyed Ken Sande’s weekly blog, RW360 (Relational Wisdom). He always has very practical and relatable discussions about living with more empathy and wisdom in our relationships. I found his Thanksgiving encouragement to be really encouraging.

He suggests 10 Ways to Connect More Deeply at Thanksgiving. Here’s 10 conversation starters he gives.

Tell a story about a person God placed in your life …

  1. Who loved you in a way you’ll never forget.
  2. Who showed you amazing kindness or forgiveness.
  3. Who kept you from making a big mistake.
  4. Who changed the course of your life.
  5. Who reassured you when you were afraid.
  6. Who taught you an important lesson by example.
  7. Who has been especially loyal to you or others.
  8. Who is a remarkably good listener.
  9. Who inspired you by standing up for what is right.
  10. Who gave you courage to do something difficult.

I’m going to print out his PDF, and have our friends pick a number from 1-10 to answer. We’ll spend a little time before dinner sharing our answers, sing “God is so Good” (my dad’s favorite), and then eat.

How will you engage meaningfully this Thanksgiving? Leave a comment and share an idea below!

Happy Thanksgiving!

What Happens In Vegas Won’t Stay in Vegas

Dear Church,

We woke up this morning to learn about the deadliest shooting in U.S. History. This time it was in Las Vegas. A man opened fire on unsuspecting concert-goers from the 32nd floor of his hotel. As I read about the tragedy, I couldn’t help but think, “not again.” I experienced a weird mixture of sadness, anger, frustration, and also apathy. I’m running into what some call compassion fatigue. I think it’s the response our hearts resort to when life just seems too unbearable for too long with no sign of getting better. It’s why we stop reading the news, or turn the TV off in the middle of the report. We get tired of the all the bad news. And there’s been plenty of it recently: Charlottesville still burning in our conscience, hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico and Houston, an administration that keeps making misstep after misstep, and now this – what do we make of all this destruction and hostility in the world?

I wish I could play the prophetic role for you. I wish I could say, “Thus saith the Lord…” and explain how 1-for-1, all of these events are the direct result of some prior action on someone’s part somewhere. We would see the cause and effect, nod our heads in resignation, and go on until the next tragedy unfolded. Obviously, I can’t do that. And what long-term good would it really do? In a funeral sermon for his daughter, John Claypool exposed the weakness of explanations, “it is always futile and unproductive to try to explain tragedy in some comprehensive way.”

So I won’t give you explanations, but I will try to give you some encouragement. As you process this latest (but certainly not last) tragedy, what postures and gestures should we assume? Here’s a couple of thoughts:

  1. Cry before you blame/solve. Resist the urge to get sucked into the pundit discussions about who is to blame for this and what public policies/measures need to be put into place to prevent it from happening. God’s Word tells us how wicked and depraved our hearts can be. God’s Word tells us how the world is so out of whack and how humanity is broken in the way it relates to one another. As I think about the family members of those who were murdered, as I think about the family members of the shooter who have to deal with the shame of being related to someone who has done such heinous evil, I can’t help but cry. Over the state of a world where someone can’t go to a concert without fearing for his/her life. Over the state of a world where someone is so angry and hurt that they will resort to such violence to express it. Over the state of a world where people are forced to say goodbye to loved ones in such sudden and terrible ways. This is awful. It’s totally within the biblical vocabulary to say so.
  2. Fight apathy. It’s easy to just shut our ears and hearts to what happened. There’s certainly enough distractions in our world to move us to the next headline. In some circumstances, we may need to mute all of the various perspectives on the event (see above). But fight becoming stoic and hardened to the pain of the world. How? You may want to pray for specific families affected. You may want to give to a survivor’s fund. You may want to talk with a friend or in your small group about how you are feeling and what it’s making you pray/do. Whatever you do, don’t just let it drift off into background.
  3. Remember why we are here. At the risk of getting a bit philosophical, C.S. Lewis once remarked that the world has always been a place of senseless tragedy, unspeakable violence, and unending sadness. Human history overflows with unexpected loss and grief. If it has always been this way, he goes on, what would make someone attribute the world’s creation to a good and just God in the first place? His conclusion is that perhaps the state of the world is the surest sign of the truthfulness of God’s goodness because from everything we’ve seen/experienced, no one would come up with that conclusion on their own. And maybe there’s an authentic way forward here. We know that this world is out of whack. In fact, everyone who’s feeling the pain of this is wondering the same – both Christian and not. We are here to tell the world through our tears, our powerlessness, and our frustration that this is not how it should be, but it’s the very world that Jesus entered into. And because he entered into this broken world and suffered the worst it could dish out, there’s another world that is now possible. Rather than having an immunized stance of explanation, we weep with the pain of the world and remember that Jesus knows this pain too.

In fact, the cross where Jesus died is also a place of tragedy. It, too, is a place where brutality and injustice was manifested for the world to see and feel. Yet, God was in the midst of it – both as a subject and an object – making it possible for real transformation to take place. And isn’t that what we really want? Not just prevention, but transformation. We long for a world where individuals are so healed and whole that this kind of violence is extinct. We long for a transformed world where systems cause human flourishing. We long for a world where God will say once and for all – NOT AGAIN. So in the meanwhile, keep on crying, keep on believing, keep on working, and keep on hoping. What we long for isn’t just our personal take on it. It’s what God has promised and will bring about. I can hold onto that even in the tears and frustration of it all.