Top 10 Books of 2019

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places – Eugene Peterson
Eugene does what few modern theologians can do he weaves theology and poetry and finishes each thought with pastoral application. I found Ten Thousand Places challenges to live what you believe. The challenge in the evangelical church is there is much theological understanding without application and on the other side pragmatic seeker strategies striped of theological distinction. Peterson pushes us towards a more gracious orthodoxy as well as a more theological deep approach to reaching those far from God. “Spiritual theology is the attention we give to lived theology — prayed and lived, for if it is not prayed sooner or later it will not be lived from the inside out and in continuity with the Lord of life. Spiritual theology is the attention that we give to living what we know and believe about God. It is the thoughtful and obedient cultivation of life as worship on our knees before God the Father, of life as sacrifice on our feet following God the Son, and of life as love embracing and being embraced by the community of God the Spirit.”
– Eugene Peterson

Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
Digital Minimalism was a reminder of how much of a chokehold our cell phones in general and social media, in particular, has on us. “Digital minimalism definitively does not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools.” Many of Newport’s suggestions I will be implementing in the new year. His approach was powerful as he built the case against digital extremism and then offered solutions that were not based on fear but in proper proportion. Does this technology help my higher values of family, faith, and friends? If so then how specifically if no then let it go.

The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Brothers K is the story of three brothers who each represent a part of the tripartite Plutonic soul. Dostoevsky uses the story of their suffering to show the nature of happiness and the road of redemption no matter how God has uniquely wired you. Very few authors have the combination of poetic imagination, philosophic tradition, and theological persuasion. I found the story compelling and his understanding of grace convicting. It is a book I want to read again and now having read it once I am ready to read it again for the first time.

The Road Back to You – Ian Morgan Cron
The enneagram is controversial in the fact that so many of it’s founders are mystics. I don’t feel that it is witchcraft or a culturally acceptable way to blame shift my sinful tendencies on a system. I found the Road Back to You at a crucial time in my life this year. This year has been one of the more personally challenging years I have faced in over a decade. The Road Back to You helped me see something that I have always known to be true, we think everyone is like us so we talk to them that way. The Road Back to You helped to remind me God made each of us uniquely and if I am to honor that design and work better with those around me I need to learn how to talk to them in a way they understand rather than only communication in a style I prefer

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts – James K. A. Smith
This book was not what I expected but was exactly what I needed. I am a huge fan of both Augustine and James Smith. When this project was announced I couldn’t wait to read it. I was not disappointed. Smith distills the essence of Augustine’s work in the Confessions and applies it to Post-everything America with such skill that the 1600 year gap is nearly seamless. Smith cuts to the heart of the perennial issues Augustine address that allows us in our modern setting to reorient our faith and to see our need for rightly ordered love. Such a powerful book. His chapter on fatherlessness was profound, personal and prophetic I have been reflecting on it often since reading it earlier this month.

The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges
This book was easy to read and yet theologically profound. Bridges has a gift of making theologically deep truths accessible and challenging to any level reader. This is not to say that his content is simplistic but rather that he is a thoughtful and talented writer. The topic of holiness is so misunderstood in the evangelical church and because it is too often a topic that is neglected. This is the first book I read by Bridges but it won’t be my last.

The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis
This is my second time reading Screwtape. I read it this year for a Seminary class I took on Lewis. This book is genius. It is a book that could have only been written by Lewis. His command of the English language, his understanding of both mid-evil literature and theology make this book the classic it deserves to be.


A Gospel Primer – Milton Vincent
There are few things more important to do for a Christian than to “Preach the Gospel” to yourself daily. Vincent’s short work helps you do just that in such profound ways. The first part of this book is a 30 devotional that walks you through a daily application of the gospel. The next section is “prose” a telling of the gospel is story form. The final section is a poetic proclamation of the gospel. This book is simple, short, beautiful and convicting. We leak and need to be reminded of the truth the gospel proclaims this small book is a beautiful way to do just that.

A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems – Jim Scott Orrick
I don’t read enough fiction or poetry. This is something I used to view as a waste I now see as a weakness in me. I need to develop my poetic imagination, I am not just a thinking thing I am the refection of the loves of my life. In my renewed pursuit of poetry, a few standouts have immerged because they have a poetic imagination and a passion for the gospel. Out of the group, Herbert is my favorite. He was a pastor whose poems were published posthumously. His pastoral heart and passion for the gospel seep from every line he writes. This book is a great introduction to his larger body of work.

  • A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems – Jim Scott Orrick
  • On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts – James K. A. Smith
  • The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
  • Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell
  • Enemy of the State – Vince Flynn
  • The Survivor – Vince Flynn
  • The Wisdom of Eachother – Eugene Peterson
  • An Introduction to the Old Testament – Tremper Longman 
  • Irresitible – Andy Stanley
  • Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
  • The Common Rule – Justin Earley
  • Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes – E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
  • Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor
  • The Path Between Us – Suzanne Stabile
  • The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb – Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
  • Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity – Eugene Peterson
  • Chasing Francis – Ian Morgan Cron
  • The Road Back to You – Ian Morgan Cron
  • Tell it Slant – Eugene Peterson
  • The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges
  • Letters to the Church – Francis Chan
  • Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places – Eugene Peterson
  • The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture – Brevard Childs
  • The Prophecy of Isaiah – Alec Motyer
  • Openness Unhindered – Rosaria Butterfield
  • ReSet – David Murray
  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  • Andy Catlett – Wendell Berry
  • Be a Writing Machine – M.L. Ronn
  • Letters to Children – C. S. Lewis
  • Sex, Dating, And Relationships – Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas
  • Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
  • The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis
  • One to One Bible Reading – David Helm
  • The Problem of Pain – C. S. Lewis
  • Romans 8-16 For You – Timothy Keller
  • A Gospel Primer – Milton Vincent
  • On the Incarnation – St. Athanasius
  • Befriend – Scott Sauls
  • On the Apostolic Preaching – Irenaeus of Lyons
  • The Great Divorce – C. S. Lewis
  • The Duties of Parents: Parenting Your Children God’s Way – J. C. Ryle
  • Women of the Word – Jen Wilken

A Thanksgiving Prayer

God thank you for who you are
Remind me today of my limits
in Prayer, in love, and in Christian service
Remind me today of your limitlessness
in love, in goodness and in forgiveness

Thank you for Jesus.
Remind me of the power of the cross
Of my need for the cross
Of the reach of the cross
Of the totality of the cross
Oh the wonders of God in the cross of Christ.

Help me today never forget
Your benefits and my sins
Your beauty and the ways I betray such beauty for selfish gain
Your bounty and my need
Your blessing and my want

Thank you for salvation
Thank you for Jesus
Thank you for the million ways
you protect
you provide
you preserve
of which I am only aware of two or three.

Preserve me that my life may be a praise of your mercy.
Protect me that my ways may be a testimony of your power
Provide for me that I may confess my lack and your unending sufficiency all the day of my life.

Thank you for the Holy Spirit my helper, my guide and revealer of Christ
Thank you for Jesus crucified, risen, ascended and coming again.
Thank you, Father, you are and always will be. That you are all in all for the glory of your name.

Amen

Dear Dads, Please Stay

Growing up in the 80’s MTV used to be music videos all day long. I have always had a fascination with music videos. I could watch them for hours the combination of music and story is utterly compelling to me. I haven’t watched that many recently but yesterday I stumbled upon Coldplay’s newest music video. I was sitting in the Airport in Dallas I nearly missed my flight home because the video was so emotionally compelling. It’s a single called Daddy from their forthcoming album and is probably the most moving music video I have ever seen.

The music video is shot in a stop-motion cartoon style and tells the story of a small girl whose dad has left her. It is utterly heartbreaking. I scrolled through the comments and wept because the song hits a nerve we don’t address often enough. Fatherlessness.

Fatherlessness is an epidemic in our country we often don’t have the courage to discuss. Gun control is more politically satisfying yet every mass shooter with only one or two exceptions grew up without a dad. The chances of kids dealing with depression, anxiety, and mental illness skyrockets when dad isn’t there. We ignore it because it is too pervasive too painful, and we feel powerless to change it.

In two decades of pastoral ministry to kids and families, there are few things more painful I have had to do than to sit in a living room with a mom and her kids and tell them their dad is never coming home. The pain in their eyes is beyond description. The wake that event created in the lives of those kids is so pervasive that everything is marked by it.

Divorce is a painful reality that is often thrust upon women by men who leave. Dads who think they deserve something better than what life has given them. Divorce in scripture is not an unpardonable sin. It is, however, something that should be entered into rarely and after every path to reconciliation has been exhausted.

One of the biggest lies people believe is that kids are better off with parents divorcing rather than fighting. This is a lie adults tell themselves to make themselves feel better. Every kid I have ever talked to from divorced families cry themselves to sleep at night praying their dad will come home. No dad is always worse than an angry distant dad. If you are a dad who is divorced fight to be there for your kids. I know you want to move on but don’t leave your kids.

Dads hold your kids close. Put down your phone. Show up when they don’t ask you to be there. If they ask you to be there make sure you do your best to be present. Love your kids enough to show them a love that isn’t perfect but a love that perseveres a love that is faithful because God in Christ loved you when you were unfaithful. Model to your kids the love God has for them by imperfectly loving them the best you can and at the same time point them to a perfect father who is never far away. The gospel doesn’t demand perfection it models it and provides forgiveness. Something every dad needs to hear.

Dads the cards are stacked against you in many ways. I beg of you please stay. Please stay. Pray that God will help you to be faithful when you feel like running. When everything in your head is screaming run. Stay.

Are Our Kids Going to be Ok?

I came across a video the other day that as a parent of four digital natives shook me. It was an ad where three generations of a family were asked: “When you were a kid what did you do for fun?” The resulting answers are sobering, to say the least. Watch the video below and we will talk after.

Smartphones are a gift in that they allow us to present with those we love. They are no longer a gift when they isolate and separate us from those who God has entrusted into our care. They make life easier but rather than provide more time to love those God has placed us with the very device that frees us and our time turns on us and devours the very time it freed for us.

Andy Crouch says it this way in his book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place “Technology, with all its gifts, poses one of the greatest threats ever conceived by human society to the formation of wise, courageous persons that real family and real community are all about.”

Technology is not evil when it serves us. It becomes devastating when we serve it. The single most devastating element of Technology is it isolates us and creates for us a virtual community of people who we can only know casually and never know intimately. We call people who share the same political ideals on twitter friends and go months without driving across town for a barbeque with the best man from your wedding.

We were made for presence, but so often our phones are the cause of our absence. To be two places at a time is to be no place at all. Turning off our phone for an hour a day is a way to turn our gaze up to each other, whether that be children, coworkers, friends, or neighbors. Our habits of attention are habits of love. To resist absence is to love neighbor

– Justin Early The Common Rule

Parents this is something we have to get right. Yet it is something that is so difficult because the very devices choking our children have a stranglehold on us as well. We have become so pleasure focused and pain averse we don’t even see the fact that we are numbing ourselves and making ourselves unable to feel unable to love the very people God has placed us in community with. We are unable to be present because we have forgotten who we are.

When we can’t answer the question of who we are in silence, we can’t answer it in public either, and our insecurities spill out into the world in the form of manipulations. We hide our confusion behind a posture of perpetual offense. If we are opposed to someone or something, that’s enough to create our identity for the day, which is to say we use others so that we can get the temporary identity we need. We don’t know who we are, so we make others feel the pain of our insecurity.

– Justin Early The Common Rule

Parents if we want our kids to answer the question of what did you do for fun as a kid differently we have to give them a different example. We have to give them a better story. Rather than teaching our kids to numb their pain electronically teach them, they were made for the love of God and love of neighbor. Kids remember what they see far more than what you tell them.

“Imitation is a far stronger principle with children than memory. What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told”.

– J.C. Ryle

If we want our kids to live a different story we have to practice the gospel and preach the gospel. To apply the gospel to the lives or your kids you need to know what they are facing so you can point your kids to Jesus. The problem in so many families is parents are too distracted scrolling Instagram to listen to their kids and kids are to distracted by games to talk. We need to give our kids the gift of boredom. When you are bored you eventually create a creative way of escape. This is how kids develop critical life skills. When you as a family put down your devices your kids will get bored they will eventually start talking to you and you will actually listen because you are bored too.

Our electronic addiction is not the worst problem our world has faced because there have been many others that are far worse. It is, however, one of the more sinister problems because so many of us don’t see it as a problem. We were meant to be more than the amount of like we can manufacture with just the right angle of our selfie. We were meant for real lasting eternal connections with the family God has placed us in.

At the end of his book challenging families to rethink how they use technology, Andy Crouch ends with this sober challenge to be present.

We are meant to build this kind of life together: the kind of life that, at the end, is completely dependent upon one another; the kind of life that ultimately transcends, and does not need, the easy solutions of technology because it is caught up in something more true and more lasting than any alchemy our technological world can invent. We are meant to be family—not just marriages bound by vows and the children that come from them, but a wider family that invites others into our lives and even to the threshold of our very last breath, to experience vulnerability and grace, sorrow and hope, singing our way homeward. We are meant not just for thin, virtual connections but for visceral, real connections to one another in this fleeting, temporary, and infinitely beautiful and worthwhile life. We are meant to die in one another’s arms, surrounded by prayer and song, knowing beyond knowing that we are loved.

We are meant for so much more than technology can ever give us—above all, for the wisdom and courage that it will never give us. We are meant to spur one another along on the way to a better life, the life that really is life. Why not begin living that life, together, now?

Andy Crouch

So how do we change our kid’s story? Here are a few practical suggestions.

1. Filter your internet – Our family uses Circle by Disney it is a game-changer.
2. Limit your time – decide how much time is appropriate for adults and kids and keep each other accountable. – We don’t use screens at all on the Lord’s Day and when we come home from school and work we put our phones in a box still on so we can have undistracted availability.
3. Turn off all notifications – I did this a while back and it has been a game-changer for me. I only get notifications of text messages that’s it.
4. Delete apps that take up lots of your time. – I enjoy social media but when I look at my screen time report on my phone and see that I am spending more time than is wise for me to spend or am in a season I need to focus, rather than deleting the social media accounts I just delete the apps on my phone that make them so easy to access.
5. Remind yourself that restraint and control create freedom, not oppression. – You are free to use your phone for its many good purposes when your phone isn’t using you. The control allows you to love God and love neighbor. It allows you to treat your phone as a good gift rather than as a poor functional savior.

Here are a few resources I have found helpful.
The Tech-Wise Family
The Common Rule
Parent Chat
Liturgy of the Ordinary
You Are What You Love

Why I Teach My Kids Not to Believe in Luck.

In the month of March this while our youngest child was in Kindergarten my wife knew that her class would be making crafts and setting leprerhacon traps. And in anticipation for St. Patricks day my wife talked to my youngest daughter about what she was going to write down on her paper when they asked why she is lucky. My wife asked my youngest why are you lucky? She said “Mom, we don’t believe in luck” My wife smiled and thought to ask “Baby, what do we believe?” Our youngest looked at my wife and said: “Providence..we believe in Providence.” My wife beamed and said “You just melted your father’s heart” and she did. (Disclaimer: We are not super parents. We taught her this but we also taught all the other kids this and they never said this at five it’s just who our youngest is.)

In Greek mythology the Greek goddess of luck is Tyche. She gave people who served her good fortune and when things didn’t go your way she is to blame. The Romans referred to her as Fortuna “fortune”. The difference between these understandings of their gods and the one true God is the Greek and Roman gods handed out good and not so good fortune but they did so indiscriminately or in response to human action. The God of the Bible the one true God isn’t caprcious or trite he doesn’t just hand out blessings or punishment based on a whim rather he does what he does according to the preordained plan of God.

Luck is a resignation to fate. Fate is very different than providence. I love the way Spurgeon explains the difference between the two.

“I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”

When Spurgeon was challenged that this is nothing but fatalism and stoicism, he replied,

“What is fate? Fate is this – Whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, Whatever God ordains, must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains anything without a purpose. Everything in this world is working for some great end. Fate does not say that. . . . There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with good eyes and a blind man.”

Charles Spurgeon

Luck says whatever is…is. Providence says whatever God ordains must be. When kids understand the providence of God when bad things happen they know it wasn’t by chance and it wasn’t random like with the Greeks and Romans it is a personal God working everything out for our good and His Glory. When things go well we don’t say we are lucky but God did what we can not explain or understand he fought for us and because this is true we are filled with huimily rather than pride. Luck says things happen randomly providence says that every particle that floats in space is where it is because we have a caring loving thoughtful creator who knows that for our world to work best that particle must be exactly where it is.

Providence gives us confidence in difficulties and humility in our triumphs. Because the outcome of our lives is not ultimate because of our effort or cosmic randomness it is the result our plans but ultimately God’s direction. Kids need the assurance providence gives. In a world that is increasingly chaotic kids need to know that whatever God ordains is right.

A song I listen to often that talks abut God’s providental care is called “Whateer My God Ordains is right” I hope it ministers to you as you read it as it does to me when I sing it.

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Holy His will abideth.
I will be still whate’er He does,
And follow where He guideth.
He is my God,
Though dark my road.
He holds me that I shall not fall
Wherefore to Him I leave it all

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
He never will deceive me
He leads me by the proper path,
I know He will not leave me
I take, content,
What He hath sent
His hand can turn my griefs away
And patiently I wait His day

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Though now this cup in drinking
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it all unshrinking
My God is true,
Each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart
And pain and sorrow shall depart

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken
My Father’’s care
Is round me there
He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him I leave it all

Fellow Christian you are what you are where you by the grace and mercy of a providential God who is working everything in your life for your good and His Glory. We have no need for Luck we have the unceasing providential care of a loving God.