Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Other 41 – Part II

To read the Top 11, click here. To read The Other 41 - Part I, click here.

21. Why Work [Stinks] and How to Fix it by Ressler and Thompson- Excellent book that offers a different way to think about work. Previously reviewed here. - A

22. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – I've always wondered why so many outcasts felt drawn to this book, but I've hesitated to read it until this year, when a friend of mine convinced me to read it with him. This friend was my roommate when joining Campus Crusade for Christ staff. We've maintained a friendship and have had discussed a variety of books over the years, including the un-abridged versions of War and Peace (probably my favorite novel) and Les Miserables. The attraction of Catcher remains a mystery to me. - C

23. Lincoln by David Herbert Donald – Excellent bio of one of America's greatest presidents. Gives insight into many of the forces at work in America politics shaping Lincoln's decisions. Shows how he was wise and witty with his down-home colloquialisms. Increased my respect for his bravery and endurance to stand for the right thing no matter how hard it was. - A

24. Manhunt by James Swanson – This is the story of the chase for Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. The most amazing part of this story was the reality that Booth most likely would have escaped if not for breaking his ankle when jumping from the presidential box at Ford's Theater. Since most news only traveled as fast as horseback at this time, he was able to stay ahead of the story for a while, until his broken body could last no longer.

I read this book as the result of a tradition my mother and I have enjoyed over the last two years. It happened that she was in town both years near Mothers Day, so we carved out some time to peruse the local bookstore together, discussing our favorite hobby, books. Last year we (or I should say she) purchased three books: Manhunt
(reviewed by another person here), Team of Rivals (which was also on President Bush's list), and A World Lit Only by Fire. Our plan was to read the three and share what we learned with one another. Mom made quickly plowed through all three. The last was an outstanding book by another one of my favorite authors, William Manchester.

This past year, after much deliberation, we settled on Brave Companions, which we have since completed (reviewed here).

Manhunt is a gripping book that is worth reading - A

25. The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter – Written in 1656 by the Puritan author, Richard Baxter, this book gives practical wisdom and insight into how one should approach ministry. Baxter understood the importance of personal piety and ministry in the home, and structured his ministry accordingly. For instance, he made it his personal goal to visit in the homes of every family in his town every year and personally help guide their spiritual development. This activity alone completely transformed this town. - A

26. Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni – A leadership fable on a more efficient way to run meetings. A fast read and valuable book. - A

27. Lost Mountain by Erik Reese – A must read for everyone with a social conscious – especially if you live in Kentucky. Reviewed here. Visit the author's site here. - A

28. Heloise and Abelard by Etienne Gilson – Story of one of the greatest theologians of the Middle Ages who falls in love with the young girl he is tutoring. She gives birth and they marry secretly. Unfortunately, her father is the most powerful man in the region, and he sends a group of bandits to Abelard's home to make sure he's no longer equipped to impregnate. If you're not already familiar with some of this story, then I would not recommend this book on the topic. So much of the details are assumed by the author who spends the bulk of the book dealing with the results and the motives that drove Heloise and Abelard for the remainder of their lives. However, these details are also inspiring, as you see two people living separate lives of piety, seeking to redeem their past mistakes. A good reminder that brilliance is ignoble without self-control and wisdom. - B

29. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell – Unpacks the way the mind works when required to make snap decisions, with limited information. Gladwell utilizes many seemingly unrelated studies and examples to illustrate how accurately the mind can make decisions in the blink of an eye. - A

30. Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath – Why do some ideas 'stick' in people's minds and others do not? Gives examples of urban legends that everyone can cite (drugged people waking up in tubs of ice with missing kidneys; or kids being poisoned with Halloween candy) which have never been verified. Helpful for preachers and teachers to think about the way scripture is presented to people. The book reinforces Jesus' approach to teaching, using stories and parables to convey the bulk of the truths he taught. - A

31. Stop Dating the Church by Josh Harris – after reading this book, I started writing a 'brief' response which has since turned into the beginning of a book length response. I appreciate Josh Harris on so many levels, but I think his fundamental assumptions about Church and its role in spiritual development are wrong. - C

32. Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard – Another leadership fable on how to run a customer first company, one that builds true 'fans', instead of just 'customers.' Many principles would be helpful for ministry leaders as well. - A

33. Collected Works of Flannery O'ConnorA good friend of mine has raved about Flannery for a while now. Having never read her works, I picked up a copy at the library and read about 10 stories all of which I found fascinating. I don't think I've ever felt such a mixture of emotions as I did while reading her stories. I wept after The River, and chuckled to myself off and on for days after reading A Good Country People. Her literary skills are clearly excellent, though I found her stories come to such a quick climax that they must be read carefully at the end. Much of her works emphasize the hypocrisy of many parts of southern culture. Interesting note about her: When showed up to study under a professor in Iowa, her southern accent was so thick that he could not understand her. After repeating herself 5 times, she eventually had to write out her words for the professor. - A

34. Execution/The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Bossidy and Cham – Written by the former CEO of Allied Signal and a high level management consultant. Excellent book on how to make decisions and keep projects moving forward. The authors are constantly driving towards productivity – making sure that all systems help leaders make decisions. - A

35. Faith Begins at Home by Mark Holmen, and…

36. Building Faith at Home by Mark Holmen – Skimmed both books before approaching this publisher about my book (since the titles seemed of similar content). The first is worth skimming. – B, C

37. Everyday Talk by John A. Younts – Another good parenting book based on Deut 6.6-7. I especially appreciated his insight on the horrible habit of "Parentspeak" (i.e. talking without listening) that all parents practice unconsciously. - A

38. Quitting Church by Julia Duin (pronounced 'Deen') – Religion editor at the Washington Times, Duin wrote this book because of an interesting trend she noticed among faithful Christians that had stopped attending church regularly. She cites a wide array of statistics and examples building a case for why those who have left have had good reason to do so. - A

39. Executive Power by Vince Flynn
(see #13 of previous list). - B

40. The Master of Geneva by Gladys H. Barr – A novel based on the life of John Calvin that gave me a new appreciation for the work he did to advance the gospel in his age. The most amazing part for me was to consider that he wrote his massive work on the Institutes of Christian Religion, large commentaries on almost every major work of the Bible, wrote other books as well, all without the aid of computers or typewriters, while facing the constant pressure of persecution, and giving leadership to the city of Geneva. A must read if you can find a copy. – A

41. Life After Church by Brian Sanders – Finished #52 with two days to go! Good book for those who are frustrated with the ineffectiveness of their church. Sanders gives wise words to consider when making a decision about the next step one should take. - A

Two Other Books I Started in 2008 and Plan to Finish in 2009

1. The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote – if you enjoy military history, Foote is the master of the civil war narratives. His flowing prose invites the reader to stay for long portions. First in the trilogy. Highly recommended - A

2. Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm – I picked up this book because of a church history professor, Ed Blumm, I had at Phoenix Seminary. He was one of the most amazing and well read people I have ever met. He led the translation team for the Holman Christian Standard Bible and is also lead editor for the Study Bible they are developing. I always like knowing what books have shaped people, and he listed off a number of works by Bernard Ramm as some of the most influential in his life. This is a great book for learning more about rules for interpreting the Bible. It is the kind I enjoy nibbling on, taking in a few pages a week. – A

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lewis on Books - Part II

Read Part I here.

"This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are not studying St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas, but [instead they study]
Niebuhr or Sayers or even myself.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o'clock a conversation which began at eight you will often no see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why - the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversations have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed "at" some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. "

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lewis on Books - Part I

In preparation for 52 Men Trying, I started reading On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius, the first Church father to be featured in 2009. This particular translation has a foreword by C.S. Lewis, which has some pretty powerful words on the value of reading old books. Below is an excerpt, with more to follow.

" There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.... The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand [Plato]. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavors as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Other 41 – Part I

This is the first half of the rest of the 52 books I completed this year, listed in the order which they were read. As a note of encouragement, if you find it difficult to make time to read even a few books a year, check out this article about the reading competition between the most powerful man in the world and his chief of staff.

Though the following books didn’t make the top 11 list, many are still worth reading. I’ve rated them A (worth reading), B (so-so), or C (don’t bother).

1. Preaching the Old Testament by Scott M. Gibson – Read for a seminary preaching class. Fair, for a preaching book. The best preaching book by far that I read in seminary was The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, edited by Haddon Robinson. Lots of practical tips, real life experience and examples (even audio). - B

2. The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel – Chose this book because of the “Puritan Challenge” organized by this blogger. He summarizes John Flavel’s life and work here. - B

3. Federal Husband by Douglas Wilson – Excellent book about what it means to truly love and lead your wife biblically. I’m not in agreement with all of his statements, but find the book encouraging. – A

4. Playing for Pizza by John Grisham – An interesting story about an American football player that finds true happiness in a small town in Italy. A fast read that resulted in more personal reflection than any of Grisham’s previous works. Picked up this novel because I needed something light to read to help digest all I was reading in my final semester of seminary. The non-fiction work that saved me at the end of 2007 was David McCullough’s book on the Panama Canal. Reading a few pages a night helped slow down my mind before falling asleep. - B

5. Preaching with Variety by Jeffery D. Arthurs – another preaching book for seminary. See #1 for a better recommendation. - B

6. Teach Them Diligently by Lou Priolo – Parenting book that gives practical tips on how to incorporate the scriptures in your discipline and instruction with your children. Deut 6.6-7 is the basic structure for the book. Very helpful. - A

7. Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell – Engaging book from a former navy seal that survived an attack in Afghanistan. Previously reviewed here. - A

8. I Sold my Soul on eBay by Hemant Mehta –An atheist decides to “sell his soul” on ebay, meaning that he offers to attend any church of the highest bidder. He ends up attending a variety of churches and chronicles his experience. Very helpful for all Christians and church leaders to read. - A

9. Perspective on World Missions (a reader) ed. By Ralph D. Winter – read various articles from this book while taking a class on missions (World Outreach). The book was tremendous, especially the article on William Carey, and the class was even better. After taking the class, my eyes were opened to the centrality of missions to the health of the church in a fresh new way. Before then it was a peripheral notion, since it has become central. - A

10. Run with the Vision by Sjogren and Stearns – Another book for the missions course. - B

11. Galatians, a commentary by Richard Longenecker – A fair commentary on Galatians that is on the more technical end. To find the best commentaries available on any book of the Bible, go to this amazing website. - B

12. Dark Tide by Andrew Gross ­– Interesting corporate greed thriller. - B

13. Transfer of Power by Vince Flynn –Began reading shortly after finishing seminary and gorged myself on Flynn books in the month of June (reading three of his books in 2 weeks). Very addictive CIA/spy type thrillers. Interesting note on VF: He self published his first book after receiving sixty rejection letters. - B

14. The 12-Second Sequence by Jorge Cruz – Health/fitness book that offers a slow method of weight conditioning that increases tension on muscles, allowing use of lower weights and decreasing the chance of injury. Also includes a dieting plan, schedules and recipes. A great starter approach for those looking to try out or get back into weight training or just shake up a stale routine. - A

15. The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris – a young entrepreneur summarizes life lessons while caught up in the Silicon Valley craze. He gives tips and a pathway for freeing up your time to do more of what you want. Though he is agnostic, it’s interesting to see him recognize that money and possessions are not the most important things in life. Experience is king in his world, and all of his life is aligned with this goal. - B

16. What ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know… by Kevin Trudeau - one man’s journey to keep the weight off using a risky procedure. C

17. The Third Option by Vince Flynn (see #13)

18. Act of Treason by Vince Flynn (see #13)

19. Good to Great in God’s Eyes by Chip Ingram – A book on what it means to pursue Christ with excellence in all areas of life. Ingram was a pastor in Santa Cruz, California when Julie and I were there for a summer with Campus Crusade for Christ. He recently presided over Walk thru the Bible, started by Bruce Wilkinson of Jabez fame. He now runs a teaching and discipleship ministry called Living on the Edge. I have a ton of respect for Chip Ingram and highly recommend his books and teachings. - A

20. Protect and Defend by Vince Flynn (see #13)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Stay out of the Dog House

If you're a man trying hard to get the right gift for your special lady this year, then make sure to think carefully before buying. For help, follow this basic tutorial on gift giving.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Top 11 Books from 2008

Below are the top 11 books that I read in 2008 and recommend you consider reading in 2009. The list is varied, with books from about every major genre except chick lit, comic books, and travel guides. Genre of the books reviewed is in blue-bold. The list of the remaining 41 books is in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2.

1. Jack: C.S. Lewis, his Life and Time by George Sayers – C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors and biographies are my favorite type of book. Probably my all time favorite book is his auto-biography Surprised by Joy. This bio, Jack, by one of his former students (and lifelong friends) helped shed light on much of Lewis’ writings and on some of the confusing statements he made in SBJ. Wish I would have read it years ago, soon after reading SBJ.

2. UnChristian by David Kinnaman: A very important non-fiction book for all Christians to read. Kinnaman, who now runs Barna research, uses surveys to try and understand how Christians are viewed by the broader culture. The results are not pretty.

From Publishers Weekly: Younger generations (late teens to early 30-somethings) believe Christians are judgmental, anti-homosexual, hypocritical, too political and sheltered. Rather than simply trying to do a PR face-lift, Kinnaman looks at ways in which churches' activities actually may have been unchristian and encourages a return to a more biblical Christianity, a faith that not only focuses on holiness but also loves, accepts and works to understand the world around it. (Thanks to Tim Casteel for the blurb).

3. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – probably the most gripping book I’ve read this year with one of the more fascinating plots. I could not put it down - literally read it over a weekend. This Novel is the story of a Russian state police member whose eyes are opened to the tragedy of the fear machine he has helped perpetuate. This leads him to question everything – even the basis of his relationship with his wife. Framed for a crime he did not commit, he is banished to a distant city on the Siberian railroad to assist the local police. There he works to solve the mysterious gruesome deaths (and the details are rather gruesome) of young children in cities along the rail line. Loosely based on the story of Russia’s most notorious serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo.

4. The Swastika and the Cross by Fredrick Grossmith – AMAZING memoir of the Nuremberg chaplain who ministered to the Germans standing trial for WWII war crimes. Reviewed here.

5. On the Mortification of Sin by John Owen: Teachings from one of the most prolific and challenging Puritan authors on how Christians should view sin and live in light of our fallen state. He unpacks The King James of Romans 8.13 “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify (i.e. put to death) the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” How does one put to death the deeds of the body? What does that mean? Owen attempts to give answers to this difficult question.

6. Brave Companions by David McCullough : McCullough is my favorite history author, and this comparatively short book, by his standards, gives a glimpse into the lives of more than a dozen key figures who have shaped American culture. I previously reviewed the book here:

7. Practical Religion by J.C. Ryle: This is the best spiritual disciplines book I’ve ever read. Though written in the late 1800’s, Ryle addresses issues that have hindered Christian growth since the ascension of Christ. I started reading this book off and on in the mornings in 2004. When I hit the half-way point early this year, I could not put it down and blasted through the rest to the end. It offers much encouragement and challenge to persevere in the midst of a hostile culture.

8. I am a Man of God by Chris Beasley: A friend sent this to me (it is self published and can only be purchased here). It is a 30 day devotional for men. I do not agree with everything in the book, particularly with chapter 3, but I really appreciated his message and writing style. I think many men would find this work challenging, fun to read, and appealing. Beasley writes in a way that lets you know he is deeply committed to the spiritual health of the reader. He really cares about men learning to live the abundant Christian life.

9. The Starfish and the Spider by Brafman & Beckstrom: Nonfiction/Business: Why were the Spanish able to conquer South and Central America with such ease and yet could not make headway against the Apaches? The same reason that Starfish replicate when cut apart: a starfish has no central nervous system (as opposed to a spider) that can be crushed and killed. The concept has great implications for the modern church, which often elevates one personality as the primary growth plan, faltering when that person fails or moves on. Instead a ‘viral’ organization can grow and multiply regardless of what happens to any individual cell.

10. The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes: A short work by a Puritan that turns the stereotypical image of harsh, relentless, religious zealots on its head. Sibbes teaches on us that God is not a harsh task-master, rather he is one that cares deeply for our spiritual health and nurturing, and will work in our lives to bruise, but not break us , in an effort to sanctify his children. Based on Isaiah 42.3 “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.”

11. FallingWater Rising by Franklin Toker – This book is a biography of a house, the legendary home built by Frank Lloyd Wright in the woods of Eastern Pennsylvania. This book described the merger of two men seeking fame through the design and building of this house. The saddest part is the emptiness of their lives in the midst of their immense talents and ambitions.

One more book – one that I’ve started reading this year, but have not finished

1. The Institutes of Christian Religion, vol. 1 (of 2) by John Calvin – No other book that I have read in my life has offered as much spiritual encouragement as this. It is a large work – this volume alone is 800 pages - but it is worth the effort to read through it. I’m about 200 pages into it and am deeply grateful for having picked it up. I encourage you to find a copy (Per Wayne Grudem, I purchased the two volume set that come together in this set edited by John T. McNeil. Though pricy ($25/book), it is worth every penny – for what better thing to spend money on than the nourishment of your soul? Skip a night out at the movies (easily $50 these days) and put it toward this book.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

52 Men Trying

When it comes to finding inspiration and motivation for being a man that keeps trying, there are few things as compelling as the stories of the faithful saints of the past.

But many of these stalwart examples are lost to the modern man, relegated to the dim hallways of seminary bookshelves. Thus, In 2009, One Man Trying will highlight one historic figure a week, particularly emphasizing the way these men remained faithful to following Jesus. Most of these fifty-two fine fellows will be referenced from the book A Concise History of Christian Thought. You can pick up a copy and read more about each person in a few pages.

Fifty-two is also significant in that I accomplished my goal of reading fifty-two books this year. By the end of the year I will post a list of all fifty-two along with a synopsis of each book. This will be followed with the top ten that I recommend you consider reading in 2009.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Key to Success

There is a contingent of dedicated, no, religious Dr. Pepper drinkers in the world today. Personally, I find the flavor intriguing, but not addictive. This week I had an epiphany related to Diet Dr. Pepper. I learned through a trusted source that John Piper drinks Diet Dr. Pepper like a maniac. I can also testify from personal experience that Dennis Rainey is borderline addicted to Diet Dr. Pepper. Finally, I've observed Wayne Grudem drinking Diet Dr. Pepper at least one time - i think you can see where this is going.

Application: If you want to be a spiritual stud, you better start drinking Diet Dr. Pepper.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

G-dub on T-day

"It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favors."

–George Washington, Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dam Thankfull

There is a rather large dam in south-central Kentucky that has been leaking since 2005. To say this is a problem is an understatement; Nashville is not too far downstream and Lake Cumberland has enough capacity to cover the entire state of Tennessee with three inches of water.

In response, the Army Corps of Engineers dropped the water level 40 feet and started making repairs. As the water dropped, islands disappeared, and trash and debris emerged, clinging to the widening shore line like dehydrated marshmallows on the inside edge of a hot chocolate mug.

Who knew what was hidden in the depths? During a fishing trip in the summer of my 7th grade year, I remember watching a friend of mine submerge his empty 7up bottle, sending it to a watery grave on the lake floor. We watched the descent together, staring silently as if attending a junk food funeral. As the shades of green merged and it faded out of sight, he reasoned, "Who will ever see it?" Twenty years later the Corps estimates there is about 84,000 cubic yards of trash to be cleaned up. That would have been enough to fill the first five floors of one of the World Trade Towers. I guess a bunch of other 7th graders had the same idea.

So now we have a leaking dam, with a $300-600 million repair bill, and mounds of trash to clean up as well. Many people much smarter than myself have concluded that the country's financial systems are in a similar situation: the long ignored cracks are seeping seemingly beyond repair and there's a big 'ole mess left behind to clean up. I'm sure many of you have already felt some of the strain of the financial crisis, but this is not the first time our nation has hit upon hard times.

During the great depression, Harry Truman was serving his first term as a senator. He believed that the underlying problem was avarice, or "wild greed."

We worship money instead of honor. A billionaire, in our estimation, is much greater in these days in the eyes of the people than the public servant who works for public interest. It makes no difference if the billionaire rode to wealth on the sweat of little children and the blood of underpaid labor…. We worship mammon; and until we go back to ancient fundamentals and return to the Giver of the Tables of Law and His teachings, these conditions are going to remain with us…. There is no magic solution to the condition… but one thing is certain – no formula, however scientific, will work without men of proper character.

While reading the Bible with my son one morning this week I was encouraged by Paul's example in the midst of crisis. When locked in prison for proclaiming the peace of Christ, what did he do? He sang hymns of praise and thanksgiving. He was a man of character, with his hope firmly rooted in the "Giver of the Tables of Law."

Giving thanks is such an amazing antidote to so many ills we face. Upset that you wrecked a car? Give thanks that you live in a country that has cars. Perturbed that your spouse burned dinner? Give thanks for an oven. In a lousy job? Give thanks for a job! Most of us are so overwhelmed with material blessings that we don't have a proper perspective on what is and what is not a crisis (this is a real crisis).

As we approach this Thanksgiving, our family wants to be intentional to give thanks for all God's favor in our lives and continually recognize his goodness. Here are some of the things we are thankful for:

  • That in the midst of so much unknown he has given us the opportunity to adopt a baby boy in January.
  • That we can serve with a ministry seeking to heal some of the hurt that so many families have suffered. This will become increasingly important as many families suffer extra strain during times of financial difficulty. I’ve been working to help update our small group studies to give couples more tools for strengthening their marriage. I'm also helping with a new video based marriage conference. We hope to have a pilot ready in January, so pray for wisdom.
  • That there have been 13,000 people attend a Weekend to Remember conference since August, with 500 of those indicating a salvation decision. One couple sent this comment after attending: "Five years ago our marriage was in serious trouble and through your morning broadcasts I was encouraged to pray for my husband. He was involved in a relationship I was not aware of. We went to a Weekend to Remember and things started to turn around slowly. Thank you for your resources and wisdom."
  • My Son told me this week that he is thankful that it is "finally cold outside." Day time highs in Phoenix are still in the 80s.

This Thanksgiving, take time with your family to give thanks. While you're eating, take turns around the table to express gratitude for something. We've found Barbara Rainey's book, Thanksgiving, a Time to Remember helpful. Read all or portions of it. If you have lots of preschool children, paraphrase the story. The important thing is to remember why we celebrate Thanksgiving, and for each person to be thankful.

Monday, November 24, 2008

One Man Trying on the Radio

Last week, One Man Trying was featured on the "Phoenix Seminary Presents" radio program, sharing about male spiritual leadership in the home. The program is in two one hour sessions.

For all the guys who are 'trying', you can download the programs here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A First Time for Everything

This morning I was given this book by a homeless man who was digging through our dumpsters.

We had a nice conversation, discussed some Phoenix history, and he informed me of the best dumpsters in the area, such as the motherload of book dumpsters just a few blocks from our house. His advice? "Head over there, get some books, and start building a library." If he only knew. As we parted I asked him his name, and he just mumbled "I'm only a bum." But he stopped to riffle through his well organized shopping cart, reaching to the depths of the basket to extract the above book. He handed it to me in a way that said, "if you were smart, you'd get over there right now, and this book is proof that you are missing out on your calling in life."

All my paradigms for homeless people continue to be blown away here in Phoenix. I can honestly say this is the first time I've ever been given anything by a homeless person.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Politics or Family

As you prepare to vote today, keep these words in mind:

I hate the negative advertisements just like everybody else.
But those advertisements work on the ignorant, and it gets simple thinkers heated up. We just have to have the discipline to be civil. Many of my friends will vote for McCain, and members of my family too. But it doesn't matter to me. Family comes first, and so do friends. When I'm on my deathbed, Barack Obama and John McCain won't be there, but my friends and family will. So they come first, and they are more important. I just won't let myself get too heated about this stuff. It's not worth it.

These are the words of Donald Miller, popular Christian author, who is actively campaigning for Obama. I don't agree with all of Miller's political views, in fact, I think he has many factual errors in this interview (read the second comment for a response to Miller's statement about Obama actually working to reduce abortions), but i certainly appreciate Miller's perspective on the priority of politics. Keep it mind to day as you vote and discuss politics with friends and family.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Airport Reunions

If you spend much time in Airports,
you'll love this post.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Serving His Country... and His Wife

This post is to honor my brother, Michael Majors.

Here he is with his wife and daughter.

For the last three years he has faithfully served our country in Germany, playing Bassoon (notice the two wood instruments standing tall near the left side. He is holding one of them)

and Bass guitar (he's on the right side) in the Army band.

Here he is with our mother (manly men love their moms), standing in front of the most AMAZING castle in Heidleberg, Germany (look how thick the walls are!)

Within the last month he moved his family home, to the U.S.A., and they are so excited to be back in the mother land. I'm proud of his service, but more importantly, I'm proud of the way he loves and serves his wife.

The following photo, which inspired this post, shows him hard at work, loving and leading his family by mowing his yard. They just moved in and he's already on top of it, fighting the free flowing fescue from the first moment of occupation.

may seem like a small thing, but let me tell you, it's a huge way to love on your wife, especially if you grew up disdaining those perpetually whirling blades of tortuous, mind-numbing activity which left you feeling as if what you just did mattered oh so little in the grand scheme of things (oh how I wish there were mp3 players 20 years ago).

Thank you, Michael
, for serving your country and for being a model of service to men all over the world. I'm proud to call you my brother. I'm proud that you are one man who is "trying."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lost Mountain

I will preface this book review with a number of statements: I LOVE the outdoors. I grew up camping and hiking all over the great state of Kentucky. I fell in love with the Red River Gorge and the Dairy Queen in Stanton long before I knew my future wife lived there. (Clarification: my wife did not live in the Dairy Queen, nor in Stanton, but rather in Clay City, Stanton's neighboring metropolis of 1,303 residents.)

There are few things I enjoy as much as standing in the middle of a cold river with a fly rod in hand, many miles removed from cities, houses, bait shops, and yahoos. I love nature, but I'm not a tree hugger (Mulch piles are beautiful too). I believe that humans are meant to responsibly "subdue the earth" (key word being 'responsibly', i.e. in a way that doesn't destroy it).

With all that said, This is one of the saddest books I have read in a long time. It exposes so much about human depravity. This book tells the plight of strip mining in the Appalachian region; specifically in Eastern Kentucky. The author is a teacher at the University of Kentucky and spends a year tracking the demise of one mountain top, ironically named Lost Mountain.

The author notes that many scientists believe the Appalachian region is host to one of the greatest forests in the world - even referring to it as the "rain forest" of North America. So the decimation of the forest alone is worth being up in arms over. When I say decimation, I'm not implying that a few trees are cut down so some coal can be cut out, rather everything is turned upside down and poisoned with chemicals. Families that have lived in 'hollers' for generations and have learned to survive off the land are now scared to drink their own well water and can no longer grow food in their gardens. The land becomes completely unusable except for growing field grasses or building box stores - but where is the demand for box stores in the depths of Appalachia?

Sure there are safe strip mining practices. Europe has regulations that require companies to re-establish the previous contour of the land and re-apply the top-soil layer. There are no such regulations in Eastern Kentucky (or they are easily disregarded). Poor people with very little land rights get pooped on because they don't have the means to stand up to the machine. And the worst part of the entire story is the hypocrisy. There is not one strip-mining mogul who would stand for such practices to occur within 100 feet of their estates (which is the legal limit), let alone 100 miles!

How is it that men can so easily disregard Jesus' statement to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you?" Why do people become so careless just for coal? Is making a profit from coal really worth destroying someones home and land, even if it is 'legal'?

I'd encourage you to read the book - especially if you live in Kentucky. In fact, this is a MUST READ for every Kentucky resident. Kentucky has to be one of the most beautiful places on this earth, yet this beauty is being destroyed so that more office buildings can leave their lights on at night. This is a painful book, but very well written and engaging. He writes the story as if the mountain is a family member, or even a girlfriend, and with each explosion, he exposes the ensuing pain in his heart. He visits the families that have been affected, gets to know them and tells their stories. By the end of the book, you feel as if you have spent some time with them as well.

Erik Reece, I applaud you for having the courage to write this book. I'm sure you will receive all kinds of grief from all strata of government and even your own University (with an excellent mining engineering department).

Do I hate all strip mining and all people associated with strip mining? By no means! In fact, I can think of at least one friend that I have much respect for that sells mining equipment. But the process in Eastern Kentucky is broken and serious changes and improvements are needed. Now of course I'm well aware that there is always two sides to every story (Proverbs 18.17). But if even half of the information in this book is true, then this is a serious problem that must be turned around.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Puppy Eyes Don't Evangelize

The college campus is a place of eternal youth, where you are an "old man" at 25. Stroll through the cauldron of culture at your own risk. Frisbees fly by your head. Bikes barrel down the path before you, begging you to play chicken with their rotating rubber weapons. Two young lovers rub noses on the park bench, oblivious to the heat, rain, snow, or whatever elements may surround them.

It is in this environment my wife and I landed to do ministry in 1999. What better place to share the gospel! I was inspired by hearing Bill Bright say on multiple occasions, "If you change the campus, you change the world." How true. Most of our political and business leaders were reared on the University bottle. But the task of reaching the campus was not simple. Eighteen-year olds would stand in line to sign up for a credit card and a complimentary 2-liter, yet walk right past our free pizza.

But we were not the only old dogs on campus. Other groups also tried to share the gospel to these young, open-minded men and women. One group owned a building in the heart of the campus, and their evangelism seemed to consist of standing outside the building and inviting people inside. Various tactics were employed; impromptu volleyball games and free food, both with a heavy dose of sad puppy eyes that cried "won't you come inside… please?" Most students learned to steer clear of that building by week three of their freshman year.

The ministry we served with had no building, so we worked hard to mingle with the students on their territory. In the cafeteria, in the gym, outside of classrooms, in the student center, wherever they gathered, we were there getting to know them, hunting them down, receiving their "who is this old guy?" looks with joy.

One observation has stuck with me from that experience: Buildings are not a good ministry strategy. Sure they have some value, but it seems that merely owning a building creates an unhealthy dependence upon that building.

How shocking when we arrived at a new church and heard the constant refrain to "invite someone to church with you." Why was this the primary evangelistic strategy? Don't they know it does not work! Sure, people may come to the building, but they need something more than a sermon to experience change. Think about the state of our culture: there is an unprecedented amount of information available. People are seeking help for their marriages and life in a wide variety of places.

But even with all that is available, the problem remains. Families are still struggling. A recent poll showed that 44% of women consider leaving their husbands occasionally, some daily. The Census Bureau reports that 6.4 million couples are cohabiting, up from 1 million in 1980.

Lots of information is available, but information alone is not enough to bring about transformation. I know plenty about the negative effects of cheesecake on my waistline, but I still eat it. Smokers cannot avoid the Surgeon General's abundant warnings, yet people still smoke. Information is not bad; it is just an incomplete solution. If information is not enough, then what is it that people need

· Engagement with other people around the Scriptures.

· Experience and wisdom from other couples.

· Encouragement to persevere.

· Examples of success.

Bottom line: People need relationships, and one of the best places for people to experience relationships is in a small group setting. People are starving for relationships. Because of this hunger, many people that would never enter a church building will visit your home. With home based small groups your church can begin to push ministry out into the neighborhoods, where people already gather, instead of relying on a building.

Maybe you are not up for starting a small group yet. Start with having some neighbors over for dinner to get to know them. Or invite another couple to the movie Fireproof with you. Think of ways to begin connecting with your neighbors and loosen your dependence upon the church building for evangelism.

Our church has been emphasizing the power of shared experiences. Having people in your home, and attending movies together are both ways to create a shared experience. It is these shared experiences that lead to conversations about the gospel. Take a step of faith and pray for wisdom for how you can take a small step towards a neighbor this week.