Year in Review: Top Ten Books I Read in 2018

I like challenges. One of those challenges for 2018 was to read 50 books. Well, I did 54, and wanted to share a couple reads I found enjoyable. These are fiction and nonfiction titles.

Nonfiction

#1 The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning

I’m a grace junkie, and have always enjoyed Manning’s work on the love and grace of God. This book is a quick and easy read for spurring our affections for Christ.

The Furious Longing of God
By Brennan Manning

#2 Art and the Bible by Francis A. Shaeffer

Shaeffer is somewhat of a hero of mine. The way he connects art, culture, creativity, and the Scriptures is really helpful. If you are a Christian and an artist of any kind, this is a short and encouraging read.

Art and the Bible (Ivp Classics)
By Francis A. Schaeffer

#3 Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

In a distracted world digital technology is not helping our cause. Newport cautions about the overuse of social media, technology, email, and other time wasters, for doing our best work. Very challenging and practical.

#4 The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs

Calling all reader’s… please read, and read often. Don’t feel guilty about it either. A great book about the pleasures and necessity of reading.

#5 Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman

This book is thirty years old, and prophetically predicted what media would do to our souls and culture. Fascinating and important read.

Fiction

#1 The Body by Stephen King

I’m a sucker for a coming age of story. The Body is a short novel and the inspiration for the 80’s movie Stand by Me. Stephen King is known for horror novels, but his non-scary stuff is some of his best work.

The Body
By Stephen King

#2 Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

A Sci-Fi thriller where a guy is kidnapped and finds himself caught between two worlds. It is sparsely written and fast paced story, with tons of twists and turns. Great book! Check out Crouch’s other work too.

Dark Matter: A Novel
By Blake Crouch

#3 James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is my favorite children’s author of the past. I picked this classic up again, and it holds up even as an adult. Great for the kid’s!

#4 Finders Keepers by Stephen King

A crime thriller about a retired detective Bill Hodges solving a case involving stolen books. The book is part of a trilogy. It’s a deep dive into the lives of the characters and fast paced story. Lots of twists and turns. King at his best.

#5 Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

They’re called "brilliants," and since 1980, one percent of people have been born this way. Nick Cooper is among them; a federal agent, Cooper has gifts rendering him exceptional at hunting terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in - and betray his own kind.

Great book, and part of a trilogy.

Life Itself is Grace

Listen to your life.
All moments are key moments.

I DISCOVERED THAT IF you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day's work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

-From Frederick Buechner Now and Then and Listening to Your Life

A little more from Buechner on grace…

Why Do We Struggle to Keep our New Year Resolutions?

Creative Commons (pixabay.com)

Creative Commons (pixabay.com)

As 2018 comes to a close people will reflect and set new goals and resolutions for 2019. Some will balk at the idea and say they're stupid and a waste of time. Regardless of where you stand on the Resolution Train I think the practice is important for two reasons:

  1. Resolutions creates space to pause and reflect on the previous year and give thanks for the good, bad, and everything in between. And to adjust unhealthy patterns in all of life. Gratitude is the key to a happy life, but if we never pause to think about the good, we become cynical. 

  2. Resolutions fight against living a passive life. People often say: let go and let God. Or, just go with the flow. That’s fine. But God hasn’t called us to passivity. No one ever stumbles into godliness and joy, and no one ever loses weight, pays off debt, or grows their spiritual life or craft without a plan. 

We could add more reasons for the benefits of goals and resolutions but something larger looms in my head on the subject. Why do I stink at keeping them? What factors contribute to failing weeks into a goal?

I’ve gone down the weight loss rabbit hole and fizzled out around February many times. Other years I’ve planned to read the Bible in a year and lost steam around Leviticus. We’ve gotten our financial house in order for a few months before April came and the IRS said: pay up. 

So why is it hard to keep goals and resolutions?

Let me take a stab based on no research and mere conjecture and learning from past failures on my part:

1. Our goals and resolutions are too vague. 

Weight loss and getting healthy in 2019 is not a bad goal. But a better goal is to give a specific number and timeline. 20 pounds by July 1. When I think about failed resolutions and goals, they often swim in generic terms like: pay off debt, read the Bible more, get healthy, grow spiritually, or date my wife.

When goals are too vague, it takes the pressure off whether we fail or succeed. We have no way of measuring progress when possible. 

2. Our goals and resolutions have no plan of attack. 

Okay, so you want to read the entire Bible in the year. What plan will you follow? How many pages and chapters must you read per day to hit the finish line? Will you take days off?

Want to pay off debt... what is the plan? How will you determine the amount to pay each month? Will you get a side job to help? What do you need to cut back on?

Whether you are trying to lose a few pounds, spend more time with your loved ones, what is our plan of attack? Whenever I’ve failed on goals, I had no solid plan. 


3. Our goals and resolutions never go public.

Once your goals go public and shared with others things get real. It’s easy to downplay resolutions when you keep them to yourself. This doesn’t mean we have to share every detail of the goal. But having a community of people rooting you on is essential for keeping goals and resolutions. 

When you know your goals are not being attempted in isolation, it can be a huge motivator to keep going.When I’ve failed over the years I kept my goals secret.

My three reasons for not accomplishing goals and resolutions might seem obvious. We all know when our goals are vague we can take them or leave them. When a plan isn’t in place the probability of completing the goal slim to none. Not seeking accountability and support from others make them hard too. 

But one reason rises to the top. It’s something that has helped me accomplish goals and resolutions on a more consistent basis. And it simply is this: you have to know WHY?

Why do I want to pay off debt, lose weight, read the Bible, be more creative, build a business, or spend more time with the ones I love, serve my neighbors, and be more generous? Can you answer the question?

Losing weight is an obvious choice for many people in 2019. Most will say they want to lose weight to be more healthy. Okay. But why? Is there a bigger reason to be healthy?

How about so I can keep up with my young family? Health allows to serve other people and not be wiped out all the time. Maybe so I can play in the companies basketball league and get to know my coworkers. Being physically healthy also feeds into my spiritual life and the joy quotient. We are wholistic people of minds, bodies, and souls which work in tandem. They all feed off each other.

Knowing your WHY gives a weight and intensity to your goals and resolutions. I don’t want to just read the Bible for religious, academic, or guilt reasons. I want to read the Bible because it’s the avenue for cultivating a closeness and intimacy with God. It’s an opportunity to teach and encourage others to know God and follow his ways. If my only reason for reading the Bible in a year is because it would be good for me spiritually (which it is). You won’t keep going when Leviticus gets boring. You need to know your WHY?

I can’t answer your WHY? But this year if you’re so inclined and you jump on the Resolution Train. Consider your why, and may it be the launching pad to see these goals realized. 

If you’re not sure what your WHY is? Keep asking why… Why do I want to lose weight? To be healthy. Why do you want to be healthy? To keep up with our kid’s. Okay, why? If you keep digging and asking: why, why, why? You’ll find a greater motivation to keep going when times get hard. 

Find your why. Make it public. Get specific and have a plan. Do these things and you’ll amazed what you’ll accomplish in 2019. 

Now before I go, let’s practice what we preach. I’m going public with a couple goals for 2019. I won’t give the why, but you can hold me to these things:

1. Read 75 books. I read 55+ past year. 

2. Read the entire Bible in One Year. I didn’t do it last year, and instead read deeply in specific books.

3. Read the entirety of John Calvin’s Institutes. I read the whole thing in seminary, and would like to revisit this classic treasure of Christian theology. 

4. Pay off debts from 2018 (new kid, unexpected house expenses).

5. Be more generous than last year in money, time, and relationships. 

6. Okay, a cliche, but needed… get to 169 pounds.

7. Write 500,000 new words for the blogs, articles, and books. 

8. Reboot monthly date night with my wife. Finally out of the fog of a newborn.

9. Win the Super Bowl… got to dream big, right?

I have others… But here we go...

Happy New Year, and thanks for following along!

Ryan

Clemson QB on Faith and How to Fight the Post Holiday Blues

Freshmen quarterback Trevor Lawrence for Clemson University explains how he keeps calm in stressful situations. It’s part personality and part his faith in Christ. Lawrence nails the heart of Christian faith by finding an identity greater than football and circumstances. He knows his God and knows he’s loved regardless of the final score of the game.

Lawrence taps into something we all need to hear this time of year. Our identity shouldn’t be wrapped up in our performance or things that are temporal. 

Christmas and the holidays are coming to a close. We feel the hint of depression as the hustle and bustle of parties, gift buying/gift giving, school programs, church events, and work parties wind down. The schedule once full in December now empty in January. 

We reflect on 2018 and see the trials and everything in between. Did we lose the weight? Finish our Bible reading plan? Accomplish our financial goals? More time with real humans, and less time staring into the abyss of a screen?

How did we do? Good, bad, average…

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

We look to 2019 and set new goals, move on from the past, and focus into the future. Not all bad things. But they are all based in our performance. We base our worth and value and existence on how well we achieve, perform, and find success in whatever we’re trying to accomplish. 

Lawrence is right, we need an identity greater than our accomplishments and the roles we play. We need to know the Christ who performed on our behalf and loves us despite what the scale says, or how much the kid’s liked their gifts, or whether the family got along during the holidays.

I spiral into Post-Holiday-Blues when my identity is rooted in something other than Christ. When it’s planted in the temporal or the roles I play as a husband, father, pastor, writer, friend, son, and neighbor. 

Trevor Lawrence is only 19 years old. I wish I had half the wisdom and faith he does at such a young age. 

When our identity is secure in something eternal and rock solid is doesn't negate the desire to accomplish great things. It doesn't make us passive. But when things aren’t going well, our goals aren't met, and the pass falls to the ground as the clock expires, we aren't crushed either. 

That is the beauty of the gospel. And that’s what will carry us through 2019. 

Thanks for reading in 2018,

Ryan

Christmas Eve, 50 Year Anniversary of the Earthrise Photo, and a Reason to Worship

creative commons

creative commons

Today marks the fifty year anniversary of the earthrise photo taken by Apollo 8 in 1968. The first NASA crew to land on the moon.

Today is also Christmas Eve where millions of people will gather to remember the day the God-Man was born in Bethlehem. The one who made earth and the entire cosmos (John 1).

Most see this anniversary as a historical event to celebrate science and technological advancement. God sees it as a gift. A gift to the world to remind them who is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. The one who deserves all glory and honor and praise.

The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

2 Day to day pours out speech,

and night to night reveals knowledge. -Psalm 19:1-2

Merry Christmas!

Say No to the Algorithm Gods

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

I’ve blogged consistently since 2004. A variety of topics from angry seminary student and pastor-in-training explaining why the American Church is anathema. Later in 2007, I switched to post-seminary pastor focusing on leadership, theology, and productivity.

Now, I blog on whatever interests me. It could be the family, the writing craft, latest book projects, theology, technology, art, productivity, book reviews, or silly church signs I find along the journey. My blog is now a digital scrapbook for documenting life under the sun. An extension of what I’m thinking about, trying to understand, reading, or creating.

In the heyday of blogging from the early 2000s to 2008, blogs were a platform for people to share a bit of their lives, expertise, or something in between.

Now, blogging and personal websites are giving way to yes, you know, social media. Blogs are no longer documenting family trips and thoughts on your favorite band. The cemetery of neglected blogs is growing and growing with every new social media platform.

Social media is becoming the new blogging.

Is this good?

Yes, and no. Yes, people can still share family photos, favorite recipes, and interesting links to articles. Not a problem.

If the spirit should move you, share your thoughts on God, politics, or why your favorite football team needs new ownership. Freedom of speech makes America great.

But just like blogging platforms that used to be seemingly innocent with people sharing their photos from their trip to Canada. Now social media is a place where trolls and other sociopaths congregate to give their harsh critique on any opinion given from the existential things of God, philosophy, and politics, to why your opinions on movies are way off.

Sometimes this has a place, most of the time it leads nowhere good.

Before social media people did the hard work of finding and engaging with the content, they found interesting and important. You loaded up your RSS feed with blogs and websites you read on a regular basis. You controlled the content.

Social media is now algorithm based. You’re fed the things the gods of the algorithm think you will enjoy based on your likes, comments, and searches. We are no longer in control.

So now, our consumption of content from the social webs is determined on an outside force. This doesn’t mean we don’t have control of who we follow or not. But your feed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is driven by the algorithm machine.

Again, this doesn’t mean we have to interact, like, and comment on what comes into our social feeds. But it also means our temptation of jumping into the fray and commenting and lashing out and not having control of our media is lessened. That’s human nature.

So back to blogs and websites. Despite the billions of social media users blogs are making a comeback. And I think for good reason. People want control over the content they create and consume.

I used to post articles from my blog on social and they would get a lot of interaction. This was before the algorithm gods changed their metrics. Now 1–5% of my followers even see the stuff I make. The algorithm gods determine the worth of the articles based on the previous interactions of my content, likes, comments, and even whether they have images or links.

I’m at the mercy of the social media gods.

This doesn’t mean blogs and websites aren’t read. They’re now read primarily through links on social media sites.

Hossein Derakhshan argues what we have now is The Stream:

“The Stream now dominates the way people receive information on the web. Fewer users are directly checking dedicated webpages, instead getting fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex –and secretive — algorithms.

The Stream means you don’t need to open so many websites any more. You don’t need numerous tabs. You don’t even need a web browser. You open Twitter or Facebook on your smartphone and dive deep in. The mountain has come to you. Algorithms have picked everything for you. According to what you or your friends have read or seen before, they predict what you might like to see. It feels great not to waste time in finding interesting things on so many websites.”

Is The Stream good?

I don’t think so. It’s making us passive consumers who live at the mercy of our social media feeds. The gods of social are making guesses of who we are and what we like. Which can be so subjective especially when you consume something you wouldn’t normally interact with. Browse a book on Amazon you’d never read and watch how the same genre of books pop up in your search feeds.

They bombard us with content and images and video that form ideas in our minds. We make too quick of judgments, accusations, and assumptions because of the constant blasts of micro content.

The Stream will lessen our ability to think, reflect, and speak in winsome ways. The Stream will make our human relationships more shallow and our ideas about the world disconnected and fragmented.

Later Hossein says The Stream is just another form of TV:

“The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.

When I log on to Facebook, my personal television starts. All I need to do is to scroll: New profile pictures by friends, short bits of opinion on current affairs, links to new stories with short captions, advertising, and of course self-playing videos. I occasionally click on like or share button, read peoples’ comments or leave one, or open an article. But I remain inside Facebook, and it continues to broadcast what I might like. This is not the web I knew when I went to jail. This is not the future of the web. This future is television.” (source: https://medium.com/matter/the-web-we-have-to-save-2eb1fe15a426)

TV makes us passive and consumption focused. Reading, writing, and thinking is active and creator-centric.

I believe the blog and other websites will find a fresh voice in the coming years. Not that social media is going anywhere. Not that The Stream is going anywhere either. But people are seeing the addictive nature and waste of time social media is. We’ve been lied to that if you’re not constantly on social you’re missing out.

But the best things in life never happen on the internet, do they? I hope not.

People will find their own content and not be controlled by the algorithm gods any longer. Who wants to be controlled inside a media platform of what I have to consume, what I have to interact with, I want my freedoms back. It’s coming.

I’ve taken steps in my social media consumption. Last year, April 2017, I fasted from social media for 40 days. From that exercise, it showed me the unnecessary need for constant social media interaction. I still post on social, but spend little time interacting, and scrolling.

Has my life worsened?

Nope. Still have a great family, friends, church family, still know what’s going on in the world, and people still find my work.

I’m not an alarmist and I think social media sites have some value. But I think people are asking bigger questions for how we interact with media. What are the long term ramifications of our obsession with social media?

Maybe you’re like me, and you’re trying to scale back social media. Alan Jacobs gives an eight point response for your consideration:

1. I don’t have to say something just because everyone around me is.

2. I don’t have to speak about things I know little or nothing about.

3. I don’t have to speak about issues that will be totally forgotten in a few weeks or months by the people who at this moment are most strenuously demanding a response.

4. I don’t have to spend my time in environments that press me to speak without knowledge.

5. If I can bring to an issue heat, but no light, it is probably best that I remain silent.

6. Private communication can be more valuable than public.

7. Delayed communication, made when people have had time to think and to calm their emotions, is almost always more valuable than immediate reaction.

8. Some conversations are be more meaningful and effective in living rooms, or at dinner tables, than in the middle of Main Street.

(Source: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/the-8-point-social-media-apostasy-of-alan-jacobs/)

I hope we can have more meaningful conversations around dinner tables, cafes, and living room into the future. Don’t let The Steam win.

*Originally published on Medium.com

Neglected Christmas Songs, the Death of Trying, and Why the Baby Brings Joy?

christmas-2994383_1920.png

One of the most neglected Christmas songs of all time from a non-religious band is from The Band, Christmas Must Be Tonight. They suggest and ask the listener to consider a profound truth in the song:

(Chorus)

How a little baby boy

Bring the people so much joy

Son of a carpenter

Mary carried the light

This must be Christmas, must be tonight

How does a little baby boy bring so much joy?

I can’t answer that question for you, but it has something to do with what the baby came to do… namely save us from our sins, and heal the entire cosmos.

A great reason to have joy, right?

Another band, a favorite, is Big Star that sought to understand why we’re here, and what the life under the sun is all about. Unfortunately, they missed the heart of the gospel. Check out these lyrics from Try Again:

Lord, I've been trying to be what I should

Lord, I've been trying to do what I could

But each time it gets a little harder

I feel the pain

But I'll try again

Lord, I've been trying to be understood

And lord, I've been trying to do as you would

But each time it gets a little harder

I feel the pain

But I'll try again

Trying to be what I should… trying to be what I could…

The gospel is not about trying hard to please God, or striving to become something we lack. The heart of the gospel is Do vs. Done. We don’t earn or work for anything; it has been done for us in the baby that brings joy.

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing we're called to do considering our renewed relationship with God. Grace is opposed to earning, not effort. We obey and honor the ones you love. But trying and striving to be something or earn something from God will only lead us to frustration.
Maybe that was the heart behind Try Again? A man struggling to become what he thought God wanted, and couldn't seem to rest in grace.

The good news of Christmas and the message of Jesus that brings great joy… is everything we couldn’t do for ourselves has been done by the Anointed Son.

That’s a song I can get in to!

My Top 5 Favorite Christmas Movies

creative commons

creative commons

So, yeah, it’s that time of year. Netflix, cable, or whatever streaming magic you use, are riddled with Christmas/holiday movies. What are your favorites?

Sorry, Die Hard does not count as a Christmas movie.

My Top 5:

#1 Christmas Vacation

Clark W. Griswold is my inspiration for all things lights.

#2 A Christmas Story

“You’re gonna shoot your eye out…”

#3 Elf

Will Ferrell throwing snowballs at those kid’s in Central Park is funniest thing ever.

#4 Christmas with the Kranks

A friend plays a non-speaking role in the movie. Regardless, it’s an underrated Christmas flick.

#5 Home Alone

Still every kid’s dream to have your parents leave you, and have to defend the house against thieves.

What are your favorites?

I Want To Be Like George

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

The eulogy from George W. Bush to his father was quite moving.

When all is said and done, what do we want to be known for?

Big houses? Cars? Fame and fortune?

Or, to be known as a kind, generous, and thoughtful person, who cared about their spouse, kid’s, family, friends, neighbors, and tried to leave things better than we found them?

Bush Sr. was not a perfect man, nor a perfect President. But the testimonies of his kindness and generosity toward his family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors is inspiring.

I pray our country will have more role models like Bush in the coming generations. They’re a dime a dozen these days.

Christmas, Doubting Our Doubts, and Hope

Creative Commons (pixabay.com)

Creative Commons (pixabay.com)

Most people love the cultural vibe around the Christmas holidays. Time with family and friends. Parties. Egg Nog. Vacation. Exchanging gifts. The Elf movie. Sledding with the kid’s. 

All good things.

I also know the holidays elicit memories we’d like to forget. Loss of loved ones. Abuse. Abandonment. Divorce and separation. Loneliness. Pain. Poverty.

But in the shuffle of Christmas programs and Egg Nog and trips to Walmart do we ever ask: What is Christmas about?

No, not the commercialized and sanitized version we celebrate in America, with Santa’s, Elves, and Big Box Stores.  I’m talking about the Christmas that has roots in Christianity and the Messiah Jesus. 

It’s fascinating to think an entire culture celebrates a holiday that has roots in a baby born two thousand years ago to a virgin woman in Bethlehem, and yet most people say: pass the Egg Nog, and should we watch Christmas Vacation, or Santa Claus tonight?

What is Christmas really about?

Christmas is about all the things I mentioned above. Joy and sadness, community, and loneliness. The world is not what it should be, and we’re part of the problem.

The Christmas Story is wrought with the tension of life and death, joy and sorrow.

Jesus knew what he was getting into, he made the world after all. His own people rejected and abandoned the Light of the World. The Anointed One and his family ran for their lives from a Roman dictator. Jesus came into the world where it said: sorry, no room at the inn. 

Jesus came into a world we all know too well.

Yet, unlike us, Jesus didn’t throw up his hands, and say: good ridden’s. Instead, Jesus came with good tidings, of great joy!

God had not abandoned his people or world. He would not be a passive observer and sit on his hands. He would act. The Messiah born of the virgin came to save and restore what sin and death stole. The things that went against God’s original and perfect design. 

Jesus came to bring light and life, to heal, and restore all things. 

Christmas is about living with the tensions that we’re fatally flawed and the world is a dark place. Yet, we’re more loved, and have more hope, than we could ever imagine. 

The Story of Christmas is about deep sadness and extreme joy. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Christmas is about a gift that won’t fade when the next trash day comes. 

Christmas and Jesus says all of these things. 

I know people have a hard time with the whole virgin birth and babies saving the world. But nothing in the Jesus-story is asking us to toss our brains out the door. This is not a blind leap of faith into the dark. 

We have history on our side.

The prophets of the Old Testament had been telling the story of the Messiah who’d come as a virgin in Bethlehem seven hundred years before Jesus was born. God was not asking us to check our brains at the door. Christian faith is rooted in history, not fantasy, and rooted in a God who fulfills his promises.

Recently I read a Frederick Buechner quote that said:

“UNBELIEF IS AS MUCH OF A CHOICE as belief is. What makes it in many ways more appealing is that, whereas to believe in something requires some measure of understanding and effort, not to believe doesn't require much of anything at all.”

It’s easier to allow Christmas to just be another excuse to spend too much and drink too much. Christmas can be just another excuse to blame our terrible parents or a bad lot in life. It’s easier to not believe in anything, or just take Santa at his word. 

I get it. 

But I believe Christmas is an opportunity to consider the hope found in a baby born in a manger. We keep talking about Jesus, singing about him, and celebrating a holiday that has become more cultural and less spiritual, yet, is still all about the Messiah. 

Maybe this Christmas we doubt our own doubts and investigate the God who said: I am the Way, Truth, and Life. Anyone who believes in me will have eternal life. 

The world is too messy and beautiful to chalk it up as random chance and merely a science experiment gone wrong. 

I think there’s much more going on, and Jesus might have something to do with it.

Bitter or Better, Rock Versus Cancer, and Some Post-Thanksgiving Thoughts

Someone once said when you get older you either become bitter or better. I’ve been through some stuff, as everyone has, if you live long enough. Not to the extent of some, and maybe more than others.

But nonetheless, I’m thankful, and want to choose better.

Life is short, consider your days, the Psalmist says (my paraphrase). There’s wisdom here. Every Thanksgiving we have an opportunity to reflect and be thankful for what we have. Coming to the realization life is short, and a gift.

In my honest moments most of life is good, and I have little complain about. Yeah, people are annoying, and suffering is real. But I have many moments of rightness, goodness, and joy that’s hard to put into words.

I watched a short documentary about John Grabski III. You’ve never heard of him. But he was a musician who died of cancer in 2012. Instead of becoming bitter, he became better, and made more art. Rock versus cancer, and rock was going to win for John. Worth 18 minutes of your time.

A few days after Thanksgiving the midwest was hit with a snow storm. The kid’s were off school for a few days, and we went sledding. Bitter that we’re cooped up in the house, or better, that we’re alive, and I have these sweet kid’s to enjoy, and a beautiful and gracious wife.

Life is short, I struggle with bitterness, but I want to choose better for the next 40.

IMG_6661.JPG
IMG_6664.JPG
IMG_6666.JPG
IMG_6667.JPG

Why Do We Travel?

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Why our obsession with travel? 

The couple on HGTV wanting to live in a remote village in Guatemala because of their insatiable urge to experience new cultures, food, and explore parts unknown.

The young single hipster living on beans, rice, and their blog, to travel the world and take selfies on top of mountains. Not wanting to be tied down to one locale. 

Why do we travel? Why go to other places and explore other cultures?

No time in history has travel been more affordable and accessible. Past generations could only dream of leaving their homeland. Only the rich might board a ship and take months to visit another part of the world. Now all you need is a credit card number and a cell phone. 

Is our itch to travel based on the motto: “because we can,” or, “why not?”

I think traveling goes much deeper. We travel because all of life is taking us on a journey somewhere. We aren’t aways sure where, not sure what the final destination will be, but travel feels like we’re in control of finding the place we long to be. 

Frederick Buechner says this about travel:


“SOMETIMES WE TRAVEL to get away and see something of the world. Sometimes we travel just to get away from ourselves. Sometimes we travel to convince ourselves that we are getting someplace… Maybe at the heart of all our traveling is the dream of someday, somehow, getting Home” -From Wishful Thinking


The story of God revealed in the Scriptures is one of travel. God creating a people in his image and rescuing them and delivering them to a Promised Land. A long obedience in the same direction.

But along the way we know the land in which we inhabit is not safe, uncomfortable, and not built for the true longings of the heart. The people resist the leadings of God and want another home without God and without each other. 

We’d rather travel alone.

The writer of Hebrews said it well:

“12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” -Hebrews 13:12-14


The city we seek is illusive. It’s illusive because it’s temporary and not built for eternity. Jesus went outside the camp, traveled to the outskirts of the city and suffered and died, so we could find our true city, a city which never will fade and perish. 

I think our desire to travel is a desire for Home. 

Eye Candy, Smokescreens, and Accepting Mediocrity

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Do these numbers mean anything to you?

$219, 000, 000 +

$122, 000, 000 +

$118, 000, 000 +

They shouldn’t unless you’re a sports geek on cosmic levels. These numbers are the amount of money three NFL players have made in their career:

Eli Manning

Jay Cutler

Sam Bradford

Whether you watch football or care there’s something interesting about these salaries and the men who are paid gobs of money to play with a ball. It’s eye candy and smokescreens.

Eli Manning has won two Super Bowls, we’ll give him that. But has only made the playoffs 6 times in his career of 15 years. Will have a 59% completion percentage, and might have a 500 winning percentage.

Jay Cutler has also made gobs of money. Came into the league with much promise and natural gifts. But he has been average at best. Losing record 74-79, quite a few touchdowns, but a ton of interceptions. Played in 2 playoff games in 12 seasons.

Sam Bradford, oh man. A guy who can’t stay healthy and has been paid money we all dream about. A backup quarterback at best. Losing record, only played a full season twice, no playoff wins.

Smokescreens and eye candy. What we can learn from these examples is choosing the easy route for your life and organization. It’s easy to allow someone to be mediocre for years when from the eye test, everything appears good. At least they aren’t difficult to work with and don’t make a mess of things. Or, maybe, the person is better than the other options available.

But in all these examples these men have not put their organizations in a better place. They have set their clubs back many years because the investment was so high for eye candy, smokescreens, and mediocrity.

High salaries are proven to not motivate even the best employees. Can even work against the worker who gets comfortable and relies on past achievements. Not pushing themselves to be better.

Nothing against Manning, Bradford, or Cutler. This is not an attack on their character or blaming them for taking these ridiculous salaries with average results.

I get it. Everything is a risk and not everything works out.

But when a guy is asked to do a job for 8, 12, 15 years with mediocre results, maybe it’s time to move on.

I think a lot of decisions we make aren’t based on seeing the bigger whole and vision and settling for mediocrity. Well, they're a good guy or gal. They went to a good school. Who cares?

It’s easier to let the eye candy and smokescreen test fool you. Paying a guy who appears to “look” like a quarterback for many years to get average results.

The Seattle Seahawks won a Super Bowl with Russell Wilson who was working with a rookie contract. Patrick Mahomes is a second year player with a 9-2 record, and an MVP candidate. More money doesn’t equal results. And the eyes can deceive us.

Psalm 124: God is on Our Side

pixabay.com (Creative Commons)

pixabay.com (Creative Commons)

Life is hard and often we wonder where’s God. Are we left alone in our suffering and sorrow and joy and everything in between?

Psalm 124 is a path of hope. Nothing holds the staunch skeptic, atheist, and agnostic to the fire like the Psalms. John Calvin called them the “anatomy of the soul” because it represents every human experience and emotion in these prayers and songs.

The Psalms put to bed a cheap-grace Christianity filled with religious and moral cliches. The Psalms put guts and grit and reality on the human experience. No fill-in-the-blank faith and Five Steps to a Better You. The Psalms resonate with every human and any situation.

Psalm 124 doesn’t hold back any punches. Life is hard, suffering is real, but God is for us, God is on our side. Christianity is not a crutch for weak-willed people trying to navigate the painful world. Biblical faith is not escapism and pretending everything is okay when it’s not.

Christianity and biblical faith is rooted in reality. People are bad, evil is alive and well, life is hard, and God is with us. God is making all things new. God is on our side in the midst of the pain…

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—

let Israel now say—

2 if it had not been the Lord who was on our side

when people rose up against us,

3 then they would have swallowed us up alive,

when their anger was kindled against us;

4 then the flood would have swept us away,

the torrent would have gone over us;

5 then over us would have gone

the raging waters.

6 Blessed be the Lord,

who has not given us

as prey to their teeth!

7 We have escaped like a bird

from the snare of the fowlers;

the snare is broken,

and we have escaped!

8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,

who made heaven and earth. -Psalm 124

The waters are rising, the levy is breaking, but our God is on our side… we need to do one thing, cry for help!

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

We cry out because the God who sustains every molecule today, every star set in place, weather patterns, flow of history, and our beating hearts is with us…

The Lord of heaven and earth and Maker of all things, also cares about us. Oh, how easy it is to forget.

Glimpses of Grace: Pete Davidson Apologizes on SNL

Once in a while you get glimpses of grace in pop culture. Pete Davidson made a comment on Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live that caused a stir.

I know Davidson probably didn’t write the joke, and was at the mercy of his writers, yet, it still was a nice move and gesture toward Lt. Dan Crenshaw. Grace and forgiveness always wins the game of life. Lt. Dan, also took it well with a good sense of humor.

The Holiday Motel, Shootings, First Things, and the Human Element

I drive by the Holiday Motel every week. It’s on a street in Kansas City that’s rough, to say it nicely. And happens to be a street I live near with my family.

The Holiday Motel, Prospect and 53rd in Kansas City, MO.

The Holiday Motel, Prospect and 53rd in Kansas City, MO.

Whenever I drive by, I pray. I pray for the people I see going into her bowels. I know drugs and prostitution are rampant in the motel. I pray, and sometimes I don’t know what to pray. But when I drive by, I wonder about the stories of the people. What happened in their lives that they’d find themselves in The Holiday Motel. Which I’m guessing is no “holiday.”

This is not judgment. I know people who are prostitutes and they didn’t choose their vocation. It chose them because of the abuse and neglect they experienced as young people. If a different option and opportunity presented itself, they would be out. Everyone has a story.

Today, I heard of another shooting in Thousands Oaks, California. A seemingly safe and calm place. But here we are again, 11 dead. A man with apparent PTSD from the military shot up a bunch of young people hanging out in a country bar.

When I think about the Holiday Motel and the rampant shootings and political nonsense in our country, I think about humans, and the human element. We can talk about gun laws (important), we can talk about education (important), and we can talk about politics, sometimes important. But what about the human element? What C.S. Lewis calls first things:

“Put first things first and second things are thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.”

— C. S. Lewis

First things are loving God and people. Our first knee-jerk reaction is to go to politics and solutions and anger when someone shoots another person. These are second things.

First things are the human element. What happened in the life of a man that would gun down innocent people? Did anyone know of his struggles and dark night of the soul? Did he have friends and family to walk with (I’m not justifying his behavior)?

Why are people racist and angry? Who kills their wife and young children and shoves them in an oil barrel?

We want change in our world, and yet, we don’t want to love the people right in front of us. The families and neighbors who live next door, go to our kids schools, and image bearers in our churches and institutions.

Second things have become first things.

First things is about hearing the stories of others, entering their pain, meeting their needs, and not making judgements as a first response.

First things is about sacrificing our time, money, and energy for the benefits of others. In a country that majors on second things, lets become a first thing people.