Friday, December 2, 2011

Pure Salve for the Soul

Some friends and I have been gathering to discuss the Puritans on Tuesday mornings. In the midst of the discussion I came upon the opening line from Thomas Brooks' book Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices.
"Christ, the Scripture, your own hearts, and Satan's devices, are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched. If any cast off the study of these, they cannot be safe here, or happy hereafter."
On its own, this is a valuable paragraph. Yet it holds an even weightier meaning in my heart after hearing yet another story yesterday, of a pastor of a large church in a large city who had bailed on his wife and kids. The man who told me this story had been best friends throughout seminary with this couple. Never saw it coming. Lord, strengthen all of us men who are trying - that we not, as Thomas Brooks said, "cast off the study of these..."

Lead Me

Last summer Sanctus Real came to Little Rock to give a concert for the FamilyLife staff as a part of our all-staff summer meeting. I'm usually pretty skeptical toward those who are well known in the Christian music industry and was anxious to see how they would do leading worship. I was pleasantly surprised: these guys are the real deal. The lead singer, Matt Hammitt, was appropriately reverent, focused on leading others toward the cross, rather than simply performing and showing off his talent. He happened to walk by me shortly afterwards and I spent some time thanking him for his leadership. That lead to about a 15 minute conversation about life and ministry; again, another surprise. I expected he would dash off as soon as I said my piece, but he appeared truly appreciative and encouraged and eager to chat more.

Later that afternoon they rocked the house with their own set of songs. I have to tell you I was so much more interested in what they had to sing about after the morning. Bob Lepine also did an informal interview on stage where they shared some very intimate things and some fresh wounds - again showing their transparency as a band. Later that afternoon we recorded their story for FamilyLife Today. You can check out the program here. It's an encouraging story, especially since he talks about his wife's role in calling him up to do a better job leading his family - which led him to write this song:

Matt talks about the inspiration from the song here as well:

Saturday, November 12, 2011


70 amazing photos from 1939-1943. Made this era come to life like nothing else I've experienced.

Two of my favorites below. Click here to enjoy them all.

(Thanks to John Salyer for the link)

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Week of Bonhoeffer

For the last week or so I've worked on the radio show prep for FamilyLife's interview with Eric Metaxas, the author of a very engaging biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This involved summarizing about a 600 page book into a 27 page document, and developing enough questions for two days of radio interviews.

It about killed me (and my family, I think) trying to squeeze it in around my other work, in the evenings and weekends, but it was a GREAT privilege that deeply enriched my soul. Being saturated in the story of Bonhoeffer's life was inspiring to say the least.

It was also a privilege to meet Eric and to get to know him during our 37 minute ride from the airport to his hotel. Yes of course we're close friends now. He even committed right there on the spot to preach at my future grandson-in-laws wedding! What a guy.

One of the things that impressed me about Eric was his diverse background. He has written for Veggie Tales, for Chuck Colson, and a number of other children's books as well. He also wrote a biography of William Wilberforce that my mom just finished and adored.

It was pretty encouraging to watch this video of his testimony to hear how he came to faith out of college, after having a very aggressively secular experience at Yale University.

He has also started a group called Socrates in the city. it's a gathering of people in New York City that want to hear talks on different faith related topics. He recently edited a book that compiles some of the best talks from those meetings and it is very interesting and funny. The introductions he gives to the speakers are really the highlight of the book.

Now,we didn't get to discuss it but I learned afterwards that he also helps lead a meeting of men that gather on a monthly basis to discuss how they can do a better job of leading their families. That, of course, is a deep burden of mine and I'm excited to see another man pursuing that issue, especially in a place like New York City.

Eric Metaxas is Another Man Trying

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

E100 Challenge

I was introduced to a Bible Reading plan this year called "E100." It is the "Essential 100" passages from the Bible that tell the basic story of the Bible. Great approach for getting the big picture of the Bible in our head.

I have really enjoyed reading through E100 with some guys on the street. We've had some great conversations and the men have enjoyed the extended time reading scripture. You can purchase the cards here. They also have a guide with discussion questions for each section and a 'commentary' on each section to help guide your study.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Affair Proofing Marriage

Catching up on FamilyLife Today podcasts: Listened to Ron and Nancy Anderson, who have written the book, Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome.

She was in a bad marriage, was unhappy, and began having an affair. Upon asking her dad for advice, he said,  "I didn't raise you to be happy, I raised you to behave."

After confessing the affair to her husband one night, together they called the man she was having an affair with and told him she would never see him again. She said to him, "I am choosing to love my husband, even though my feelings are otherwise."

Reminded me of the line in Fireproof "You've got to lead your heart." The heart is wicked, deceived, easily pulled after vile things. "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool..." Prov 28:26

Great message for today. You can listen at the following links:

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

You can also buy the book here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Books with Mom

Mom was in town recently. Had to buy some books. The first and third on the left made it through the initial rounds and went home. Mom is reading Bloody Crimes and I am reading Churchill's War.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What is the Home for?

I've been reading quite a bit of Wendell Berry lately. Some friends visited the other night, and we began discussing the state of marriage and family today, which reminded me of the following quote, which we read aloud and discussed:
What Are People For?: Essays“Marriage, in what is evidently its most popular version, is now on the one hand an intimate ‘relationship’ involving (ideally) two successful careerists in the same bed, and on the other hand a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be constantly asserted and defended. Marriage, in other words, has now taken the form of divorce: a prolonged and impassioned negotiation as to how things shall be divided. During their understandably temporary association, the ‘married’ couple will typically consume a large quantity of merchandise and a large portion of each other.” - From What Are People For? p180.
After reading the quote I was also reminded of another:
“The modern household is the place where the consumptive couple do their consuming. Nothing productive is done there. Such work as is done there is done at the expense of the resident couple or family, and to the profit of suppliers of energy and household technology. For entertainment, the inmates consume television or purchase other consumable diversion elsewhere.”
These quotes shed much light on the problem of parenting in the modern household for me. Most couples have no inherent concept in their minds of the purpose of their home. It has by default been defined as a place to escape from work or school, rest from work in various forms (TV, yard work, video games, read), or catch up on extra work from the office. But the home in and of itself has very little productive function for the family. It has little unifying effect on a family, in fact, most families are highly divided in their own home – each person slipping off into their separate spheres of escape. (Thus the modern generational divided church is really just a natural result of what has already been occurring in the home for decades.) It should come as no surprise then that many adults and children want to escape the home altogether, chasing children and their activities all over the city. For many it is easier to escape the confusion of the home than to fight for unity among the family in the home.

It should also come as no surprise that it is incredibly difficult to engage children with household chores, as there is no immediate connection to such work and meaning in their lives. There was a day when if one did not engage in household work (gather eggs, milk the cow, can the vegetables, etc.) then you very well may have starved, or at the very least have been very hungry. Now the solution, if one is hungry, is not to work harder at home, it is to go make a purchase.

What is the Home for? This is the problematic question any couple must wrestle with. For us, the home is a place where we certainly do some of the above time-wasters, but predominantly in our minds, our home is a place for fostering relationships with each other and with neighbors with the hopes that some may come to know Christ. It’s almost like the neighborhood pub, but with sweet tea on tap instead.

That night our friends lamented the way one couple they know are so scattered by their kids activities. I concluded, "I don’t think your friends that are smothered and scattered by child sports will be able to change their behavior until they wrestle with the question of the purpose of their home, until they can answer together, 'What is our home for?'"

Back on the Bike today

With the temps dropping, gas prices rising, and belts tightening, it's time to get back on the bike...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Bike...

In honor of full disclosure, The bike is back in the garage...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Popeye, Kidnapping, and Addictions

PopeyeRecently our family watched the movie Popeye, featuring Robin Williams with huge plastic forearms, singing through clenched teeth. I have a soft place in my heart for this movie, as it is the first feature film I recall  seeing at the theaters - and if my memory serves me correctly, we even went TWICE (must have been a rough month for mom - or, more likely, I was especially well behaved. Mom, please don't spoil my memory with the facts in the comments).

In the movie, Wimpy, who has a weakness for hamburgers, is enticed by Bluto to steal Swee'Pea, Popeye's son, who was recently-acquired-by-basket-delivery. Bluto is secretly plotting to use Swee'Pea's uncanny ability to predict the future for his own gain, by making money off the mechanical horse races. But Popeye follows in hot pursuit, foiling Bluto's plan. A gripping plot indeed.

When Wimpy handed the baby to Bluto, my son asked, "Why did he steal the baby?" My response: "Because he is addicted to hamburgers." (My son did not see Bluto slip Wimpy a hamburger during the trade-off). We then discussed addictions and the nature of addictive behavior for the next few minutes. The final lesson?

Addictions will cause a person to do crazy things.

Addictions lead to all sorts of crazy behavior. Whether one is addicted to coffee, sugar, comic books, literature, country music, cleanliness, messiness, movies, sit-coms, soap-operas, truck-stop-junk-food, health food, Internet, cell-phones, solitude, diet coke, exercise, or sloth, when one is addicted, you are more likely to make sacrifices for that addiction, to serve that addiction, to neglect more important things for that addiction, to think about that thing and how you get more of that thing all the time, to do things that if you could step back and look at yourself, would seem absurd and silly, like swapping a baby for a hamburger.

Addictions will become such a part of a person that they will no longer be able to separate themselves from it. Their addiction becomes part of their identity. They will no longer be able to objectively look at themselves as they are - they become blind to the addiction.

John MacArthur in the book When Sinners Say "I Do" had this to say about this tendency:
Christians are rapidly losing sight of sin as the root of all human woes. And many Christians are explicitly denying that their own sin can be the cause of their personal anguish. More and more are attempting to explain the human dilemma in wholly unbiblical terms: temperament, addiction, dysfunctional families, the child within, codependency, and a host of other irresponsible escape mechanisms promoted by secular psychology.
The potential impact of such a drift is frightening. Remove the reality of sin, and you take away the possibility of repentance. Abolish the doctrine of human depravity and you void the divine plan of salvation. Erase the notion of personal guilt and you eliminate the need for a Savior. 
Explaining away sin with more convenient terms has become the sanitized way of dealing with the unholy. One of the better books I've read this year on dealing with sin and "putting your sin to death" has been The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard. On pages 85-88, he offers the following encouragement and a few steps for the battle with sin:

“One of the means God has given us to overcome the power and deceit of the law of sin in us is to put our minds to work not just for obedience, but against sin. These are some ways you can use your head to weaken the flesh:

1. Thinking about the sovereignty of God.  Think about the great Lawgiver who forbids sin. This helped keep Joseph out of bed with Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:9). When you come face to face with the lust of the flesh, think, “It is God who forbids this; the great Lawgiver, who rules in sovereignty over me, on whom I depend for every breath of life, and from whom I can expect my lot in this life and the next.”

2. Think about the punishment of sin. Keep in mind that “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 10:29). To forget this or ignore this is to slap God in the face (Romans 1:32). Jesus counseled us to fear him “who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

3. Think about all the love and kindness of God, against whom every sin is committed. When God’s love touches your soul and moves you, and you know that every sin is against the Lover of your soul, you will not sin.

Is this the way to repay the Lord,
O Foolish and unwise people?
Is he not your Father, your Creator,
Who made you and formed you? (Deut 32:6)
4. Think about the blood and meditation of Christ.
For Christ’s love compels us… And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Cor 5:14-15).
 5. Think about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If you fully consider how sin grieves the Spirit, how it defiles his dwelling place, how you lose and forfeit his comforts by it - this works against the lusting of sin.”
Try using the above steps to wage war against sin in your life - particularly in the arena of your mind. Begin by refusing to describe sin as anything other than sin. And know your limits and stick to them. Wimpy started small - by promising to pay for that which he could not afford ("I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Hamburger today.") He had no idea where that slippery slope would lead. Be watchful with sin, or it is only a matter of time before you'll be holding up signs at highway intersections that say "Will kidnap babies for food."

Monday, May 23, 2011

New book by David McCullough

The Greater Journey: Americans in ParisDavid McCullough, one of my favorite writers, has a new book about Americans in Paris in the late 1800's. A brief glimpse of the key characters he addresses reveals much about the French influence on American culture during this period. People like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Blackwell (first American woman doctor), P.T. Barnum, Samuel Morse (telegraph inventor), and James Fenimore Cooper (author of The Last of the Mohicans) all spent significant time in Paris during these years.

Check out the book website, where you can read a short summary of the book view the book trailer (different from the above video), an interactive time-line, and order the book (due out May 24th).

Friday, May 20, 2011

Do not move the ancient boundaries

My father's office building sits on the edge of the Ohio river in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. The Ohio is near its widest here, stretching a mile between Kentucky and Indiana, flowing with more volume than the mighty Mississippi at their confluence. From the rear of his office, one has a panoramic view of the river and it's many sites: the canal & locks, the Colgate clock, the falls. It is a mysterious and majestic section, giving credence to the name "Ohio", which comes from the Iriquoian "oyo" meaning "beautiful." Thomas Jefferson agreed with their assessment and wrote "The Ohio is the most beautiful river on earth. Its current gentle, waters clear, and bosom smooth and unbroken by rocks and rapids, a single instance only excepted."

But with the beauty comes the risk of feeling its power all too intimately. My father has a front row window to the battle of the bulging river in these flooding days. He recently sent me this picture of the river's elevated stage:

On the left (out of the picture) is the Muhammed Ali Museum. if  you look carefully in the middle of the picture, you can just see the TOP of a STOP sign. And the water was still rising.

My brother commented the following on this picture: "Even though it's dangerous, it's still really beautiful to see the river temporarily claim territory that's up for grabs."

That has always been true. The power of the river is amazingly seductive, and has always drawn me in with its mystery and strength. The memory of living close to this river inspired the following poem:

The mighty Ohio re-stakes its claim
Pouring over the plains
that man has mistakenly assumed
were always his domain
and now wait
for the mud laced parks to drain

While the Ohio flows on
And will not let us forget
There are boundaries in life that must be respected.
Though the water creeps back down
The slopes that direct it

Memories fade and are lost with time.
But tragedy comes again to those
That disregard the message sent long ago.
Living near a river like this serves as a regular reminder that there are real boundaries in life that must be respected. Want to build your house on the bank of the Ohio? go ahead. It is really beautiful. It also tends to flood, in a big, big way. Yeah, I know it is easy to forget about the flooding, even though it happens almost every year. And every decade or so it gets real messy. And every century or so it comes into the heart of the city.

Why is it that we so quickly forget the power that lies behind the river? Something within us tends to assume that the worst is not really possible, even though we own insurance of all types. Proverbs 22:28 says, "Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set." Do not discard the wisdom of those that have gone before you. There is much to learn from the ancients.

There is a reason that all over the coast of Japan there are stone markers, placed hundreds of years before, that read "Do not build below this line." (read the article about them here). No one knows who placed these markers. Who were these ancient people? They were a people that loved their land and cared for the future generations. Yet many ignored the warnings, building below the line, where the water destroyed mercilessly.

We bought flood insurance this year for the first time. The former home owner was very assuring that the little creek trickling along the back edge of the property had never risen to the fence line, not in the entire forty year history of the home. Forty years is a long time for a man, yet a short history for a creek. Let us pray that those forty are a good representation of the last 4,000.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

One simple way to help your kids be nicer and get better grades.

The other night I put my son to bed early. He was being disagreeable. I was at the end of my fuse as well. The great slumber torture chamber seemed like the best way to deal with the problem at the time. But a funny thing happened: he slept later than normal, and we went to bed earlier than normal, and we slept later than normal. We were all severely sleep deprived and didn't realize it. The crankiness was really a symptom of a deeper issue: Sleep deprivation.

Sleep: it's something that no one can do without for very long, it is critical to life. Yet for some strange reason, it is also seen as a sign of fortitude to be able to avoid sleep. Those who sleep the least are praised the most.

Well here's a little secret that will finally give you the freedom to drive those screamin' demons to their cages with no regret: if you want your kids to be nicer, to be more alert, to get better grades, to not be overweight, and to be better athletes, there is one simple thing you can do: make sure they get more sleep.
NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children
Po Bonson, in his book Nuture Shock makes the case that kids today are getting one hour less sleep a night than kids did 30 years ago. Adults say, "no big deal, they'll get by - I do - they can too. What's one hour?" But the loss of sleep for adults is not nearly as critical as it is for a child.

Bonson points out that Children spend 40% of their sleep in the "slow-wave" stage, while adults spend only 4% in this stage, when the brain converts experiences into long-term memories. Children spend ten times as long in this important stage than adults do, so for every minute of sleep a child misses, they are cutting into a significant portion of their memory making, which will affect their school work, and it will do so in amazing ways. Bonson cites one study showing that the average A student sleeps 15 more minutes a night than a B student, which sleeps 15 minutes more than C students, and so on down the line. The hard part for adults here is that 15 minutes doesn't seem like much time. Kids are so good at dragging out the ritual for just a few more minutes - just one more drink of water, or trip to the bathroom, or body-slam on the couch won't hurt, will it? But when you start to think in terms of a LETTER GRADE, the difference stands out. And if you are well rested, you can do the math here - losing an hour of sleep a night turns an A student into an F student.

He also found that overweight kids had one thing in common - more than video games, inactivity, junk food - the one common denominator was that they got less sleep than the thin kids.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg on the results of losing sleep. Grab Bonson's book and read his short chapter on sleep - you will be astonished.

The NBA is also on to the relationship between sleep and performance. Studies done with players at Stanford show sleep loss affects free-throw percentages, reaction time, turnovers, and many other key parts of a player's game. Some NBA teams have re-structured their practice schedules to allow players to catch naps in the middle of the day, since most of their 'work' days go well into the night. You can listen to an interview with the NBA's sleep doctor here.

Two time MVP Steven Nash, almost 38 years old, credits his extended career in the NBA with discovering the art of napping. The sleep doctors also point out that your body does the most important injury repair work while you sleep, as well as muscle building/recovery.

Sleep also comes in handy when you find yourself irritable. Sometimes a short nap, just 15 minutes, will do wonders for a cranky parent. When I was a youth, I remember a minister at our church telling me he would take a nap whenever he was having an argument with his wife. Aside from the inherent dangers associated with increasing the tension in your marriage, ("Honey, in know you're upset right now and want to figure this out, but I tell you what, I really need to catch a few Z's. I'll be back in a few minutes."), this seems like a wise strategy, reminding me of AA's H.A.L.T. warning system: You are most likely to fall of the wagon when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or TIRED. Something as simple as sleeping can set your emotional balance right again.

Yet the stigma of our culture remains. You can surf the internet on the job for an hour and appear to be working, but if you drop your head down on the desk for 5 minutes of recharging, you risk your job. But the doggone President of the United States takes naps (at least many have been known to do so), so I say, follow our fearless leader.

But back to the issue of your kids. Sure, getting them more sleep is a great idea, but how do you do so? How can you outsmart the little midnight manipulators? Here's some tips to try:
1. Begin by reading more on sleep to help convince you of the importance of it (both for your kids and for you). Once you have your gumption screwed up, look in the mirror and repeat to yourself "I am the adult. My kids DO need sleep. I get to pick the bedtime. I am the adult. My kids DO need sleep. I get to pick the bedtime. I am the adult...." Repeat this as many times as necessary or until your wife calls the white coats.

2. Resist the pull to have your kids in every activity offered in the city. Will it really matter that your child won third-chair-violin for the 4yr old age bracket in the south-west corner county chamber orchestra? I don't think that will land on their college resume. But many have bought into the myth that kids have to be in every activity under the sun to be "well rounded." What did Abe Lincoln's dad do to make him well rounded? Handed him an axe and told him to split rails. Cutting out activities will allow you to be home in time to get everyone ready for bed without making you crazy.

3. Set a realistic bedtime FOR THE KIDS and stick to it.

4. Develop a nightly routine. Start winding them down gradually. We do this by reading at the end of the night. I try to get all their rigorous activities out of the way (wrestling, running, trampoline, wood-cutting, gravel-crushing, etc.) earlier in the evening and then have a gradual decline in activity toward bedtime. We sing and pray together, and I allow a little individual reading time before finally shutting out the lights.

5. Set a realistic bedtime FOR YOURSELF and stick to it. A friend of mine in college was bemoaning his inability to get up early and study his Bible, yet he couldn't get in bed till after midnight. Yes, you can cheat sleep for a little while, but it will eventually catch up to you. It becomes and endless cycle if you are always going to bed late and getting up too early. None of us are superheroes. You need sleep.

6. Make sure everyone is getting quality sleep. Make bedrooms as dark as possible. Use blackout curtains. Turn off all night lights, even dim any bright alarm clock lights. Use sleep masks if possible (this revolutionized my wife's sleep). Don't drink caffeine late at night. Make sure to drink lots of water throughout the day. Don't watch TV or check email late at night, which overstimulates the brain, making it difficult to wind down. Try sleeping without an alarm clock to see how much sleep your body naturally needs.
Sounds so simple doesn't it? Grandma used to call this "common sense." Yet we have so much cultural baggage to overcome these days. If you are not sleeping enough right now, something has to give. You have to make some hard choices about your schedule. That is probably the toughest choice that lies ahead.

Well, I'd say if you made it this far with this post, go reward yourself with a siesta!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Effective Communication for the Smallest Organization

In a previous post I relayed some leadership principles from a pastor in Phoenix. One of the concepts was the following...
You HAVE to communicate. You have to explain why you're doing something, what will happen if you DON'T do it, and what you hope will happen if you DO do it. People often will not understand even your very simple ideas until you are sick of talking about it. That is when they are just beginning to hear it.
Why is this the case? Why is it that communication is so difficult in an organization? I mean, if the person leading the organization says something, even just once, every one should listen closely and respond, right? It is a strange reality that even when people are motivated by money, (i.e. listening to my boss may directly affect my pocketbook), they often still do not hear the mantras, the clear, obvious, repeated statements that shape an organization. (For example, try stating the 'core values' for your business/company right now.)

But this really shouldn't come as any surprise. Take the smallest organization that exists, the smallest unit of society, the family, and evaluate the way communication occurs there.

I love my wife, she loves me, we like each other, we live together, we share so much of life, yet  we still mis-communicate. We still do not always understand or fully comprehend one another's vision for life moving forward. We may not always talk about it, and even when we do we may not listen. Or we may avoid talking about big issues for a season out of fear, hurriedness, awkwardness, or uncomfortableness. We still have disagreements about little things like where empty recycling items should rest in the kitchen before departing for their epic journey to the elusively placed recycling bin in the garage. We manage to miss each other on some of the more obvious things, and this doesn't even include communicating well with our children. All the above sounds slightly dysfunctional, yet I would say, based on my extensive research of other families, which means watching/stalking and piously judging all my friends and their marriages, that we're on the above side of average when it comes to communication.

Communication, even within your own family can be difficult, but as I quoted Dennis Rainey in the previous post, communication is the life-blood of an organization. Communication is the means by which you lead, love, guide, and direct your family through life. If you are going to lead your family well, you must learn to foster good communication.

Here are some tips for improving your communication with your family:
1. Do a weekly date night: Even if you can't get out on the town, set aside at least 1 hour to just sit on the couch and talk with your wife. Listen to her. Nod regularly. look into her eyes. Ask clarifying questions. Talk about things that seem to creep up and take your family by surprise. Right now our set up is for Thursday nights. One of those a month we go out, two of the other three we talk about finances and ministry (separate nights). The final night is a catch-all - no predetermined subject. Our consistency since moving (for the last month) has not been as great as I'd like - but that's my job to make sure we hold to it.

2. Plan out your week together on Sunday night: On Sunday night, I try to take an hour to think through my week. A few times lately I have sat in the kitchen while my wife does the same and we end up having GREAT conversations about the week. We never really planned to do this, but it has developed naturally over time.

3. Go to bed together WITH NO TV, INTERNET, OR EMAIL, in the room (but books are ok): It is amazing how many good conversations occur as you are drifting off to sleep. Last year I broke this rule and spent many nights working late into the night to meet some deadlines. It was out of necessity, but I am glad it is over. It has been good to return to our routine of going to bed together, and it has helped me get more sleep! It is a simple connection point, but the connection can be strong. If you have electronic devices in the room, there's little chance of conversations occurring. They numb the mind and prevent good conversation. Books are OK, however, mostly because I like books and want to self-justify my actions and have you join me, but also because they are easier to put down when someone starts talking.
4. Pray with your spouse every night: The simple act of praying together can make a huge difference in your communication.
5. Plan a yearly get-away: Weekly and daily communication is a must, but you also need to get away from the rut and routine of life once a year and talk about big picture items that cannot be solved in one evening. Things like schooling, vacations, dreams for the future, mission trips, ministry activities, and family sports/activities. Putting a plan in place helps your family focus on the main priorities for the year. FamilyLife offers a book called Getting Away to Get It Together to help you plan such a weekend.

6. Milestone celebrations with your kids: Whenever your child hits a key milestone, plan a celebration of some sort. FamilyLife has the Passport to Purity kit to help you plan a weekend away with your pre-teen to talk about purity. Last year I did an event with our son before he became an older brother. These events give you an opportunity to reinforce values that are important to you and also allow you to go deeper with your child.

7. Develop a list of family values: I have not done this one, but it is something other speak highly of. Steven Covey talks about the process for establishing these values in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Communication is hard, even with a small group of people. The only way it will ever happen well is if you are intentional. But it is worth the work. The other choice is to just passively allow your family to plod along with no clear direction from you. And just as with any organization, this leads to chaos, frustration, confusion, and eventually, a break down of relationships. Try starting one of the above items this week. If you have not done any, then start with #1 or #4, or whichever seems easiest to you.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Biking to work

Recently I started biking to work three days a week. It is a seven mile journey each way which provides a good workout, time for processing the days events, and the margin to prepare the mind for home. I ride a mountain bike (for the terrain is varied) so my progress is slower than it could be. It takes 30-40 minutes, depending on the direction, weather, and the degree of tenderness that lingers within my backside.

I was partly inspired to ride by my brother Michael, who serves in the Army in Atlanta. He lives on the far north side, and commutes by utilizing his bike, the bus, and light rail system. I first thought he was a bit loopy for this - but then we visited his home and witnessed the results. The journey had made him both a better man (stronger, fitter, sharper of mind) and saved his family the added expense of another vehicle.

I was also partly inspired by the writings of Wendell Berry, which I have been consuming at a rapid pace over the last few months. One of the results of reading his works has been to think more about how to de-compartmentalize my life. Everything in life has a cost. Yes, all our machines and gadgets bring speed and efficiency to our lives, but at what cost? We often fail to consider, let alone count the costs of our daily lives. Berry tells the story of a neighbor, "I knew a man who, in the age of chainsaws, went right on cutting his wood with a handsaw and an axe. He was a healthier and saner man than I am. I shall let his memory trouble my thoughts."

Which reminded me of our days cutting and stacking wood at my parents home to heat their house. Swinging an axe brings a certain serenity and strength that stands apart from other activities. This is part of the reason I gave up my gym membership this year. I could never quite reconcile in my heart and mind why it is I would DRIVE my car to a building where I knew very few people (and they had little if any interest in knowing me) and then proceed to move items around for no obvious productive means except to improve my strength and mirror appeal. It often occurred to me that no farmer ever "went to the gym." He does not divide his work from his work-out, for the two occur together. So I canceled my gym membership, hopped on the bike, and joined some men at the office for lunch workouts. Not only do I save money on the gym membership, but also the gas, and I save time, and bring more calm to my soul.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Killer D's

Tommy Nelson, in his sermon "A Long Obedience" spoke for a moment about what he calls "The Killer D's," or the reasons why some Christians become eliminated from ministry. They are (starting at 6:13 in the message):
1. Depart: "They look good for a little while, but then they depart from biblical orthodoxy with some theological weirdness."

2. Disqualified: "They will get disqualified because of hypocrisy and sin. No one will listen to them anymore."

3. Distracted: "They will become distracted from spiritual things because they become worldly and covetous and materialistic. So now they're just succeeding in all the things that God doesn't even care about."

4. Divisive: "They can't serve in the body of Christ because all of their knowledge is in their head. They can't get along with warm blooded humans, and so they can't be used for God. And like a coal that is outside the fire, they just end up going out. they rattle around, but they make no impact."

5. Discouraged: "They just say 'I quit.' There's too much animosity, too much failure, 'I quit.'"

6. Danger: "Some Christians never ever do anything because of danger. Because 'I've got to become a marked man, to stand out, to stand alone for God.' and they just go silent.'"
Good reminder to watch out for these pitfalls in your own life, as these will not only hinder the ability of full-time Christian workers to be effective, but, more importantly, they will hinder a man's ability to serve his family.

Here are some antidotes to these Killer D's:
1. Stay sound theologically. Surround yourself with those that stand firm in the truth. Read your Bible regularly. Have a constant stream of trusted theological works infusing your thinking.

2. Continue to fight against sin and hypocrisy. Stay teachable. Surround yourself with men that have the stones to point out blind spots in your life. Take your wife's criticism with gratitude. Listen carefully to what she says. Apologize to your children when you mess up.

3. Focus on what is most important in life and strive for faithfulness. Make sure the primary voices influencing your life have a similar worldview as that to which you aspire.

4. Be real. Do not just be a virtual friend, be a real friend. Spend more time talking with your friends in person than you do emailing, texting and communicating with them on facebook combined. When you disagree, seek to understand, rather than to be understood.

5. When you feel discouraged, try sleeping, or exercising, or reading a good book. Do not just wallow in your pity and take it out on your family. Get active. The connection between the body and the mind is so much more important and complex than most compartmentalized American males realize. Get the blood flowing in the right direction. Do some physical labor.

6. Remember that you were called to live a life of courage, and that men are wired to take risks. Just make sure your risks are gospel focused. Risk for risk sake is insanity. Risk for the gospel's sake is life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Some helpful leadership thoughts

Chris Davis, of Whitton Avenue Bible Church, shared this list of leadership principles with me that he received from a pastor in the Phoenix area. Good stuff. Italics are my comments:
  1. When approaching any change in an organization, start EVERY sentence/paragraph with "For now..." so people are OK with change when it happens (meaning... "we're testing this out and it may not be permanent, so don't freak out.")
  2. Be yourself.  There is a tendency to overemphasize your importance... ..and undervalue your uniqueness.  i.e. no movement is doomed if you die off or stop being a part of it. Don't forget that. You're not that important. The world will go on without you. Yet you do have a unique way of looking at things that adds value to the organization. Don't minimize that either.
  3. There is a difference between preferences and criticisms. --"It's too loud" is a preference. "You stink" is a criticism. Weigh your criticisms differently, based on who gives it. 
  4. Have a few key people around you who speak into the ministry.
  5. You HAVE to communicate. You have to explain why you're doing something, what will happen if you DON'T do it, and what you hope will happen if you DO do it.  This pastor shared an illustration of announcing for 6 weeks that they would need help setting up chairs for easter, then the day before easter 100's of people called the church office asking if they would have chairs.  If they don't get chairs, they won't get your nuanced missional vision for the city. Remember,You are thinking about this stuff 24/7. Others are not.) This reminded me of a saying I often quote by Dennis Rainey. He says that just about the time when you think you are absolutely sick of talking about something, where you can't imagine even saying it again for any reason, that is the time when most people are just beginning to hear it for the first time.He also said "Communication is the life-blood of an organization."
  6. Everyone is watching you.  It's not fair, but they are.  You can't be the exception to every rule. Chris relayed a story from this pastor when he was asked to move to the front of a food line and refusing for the above reason. You can't always break the rules and expect others to follow. I've appreciated Dennis' example of not taking first class flights (except for free upgrades) because of the precedent it establishes. 
  7. You have to be patient.  Time is your friend, not your enemy. Be a patient dreamer. Hmmm... something our political leaders could appreciate.
  8. Discipleship and raising up leaders are far more important than attendance. Ouch. This is a tough one. For most churches "growth" has come to singularly mean "more people attending on Sunday mornings." This is HARD because it is not nearly as measurable. 
  9. Nobody cares and you're not going to make a huge difference. i.e. keep your short life in perspective. The pastor shared a story of a MLB pitching coach who was illustrating a principle by talking about Sandy Koufax to a new crop of young players. The players said, "Who is Sandy Koufax?" Wow. How quickly we forget. He also noted the fact that you can buy full collections Chuck Swindoll's books packaged together in tiny print for a few dollars. He used to be the hottest preacher around! IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.  If you can get your ego out of the way, it will be so much easier to make decisions.
 I have some further thoughts to share on number 5 in the coming days...

Monday, April 11, 2011

irony of theology

Isn't it ironic that the "perspecuity of scripture" is a doctrine that describes how anyone can understand the basic message of scripture.... but yet how many people know what "perspecuity" means?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Resolutely Resolve

No, it's not the right time of year for making resolutions, but I just learned about this poster of Jonathan Edwards' famous list of 70 resolutions. Check it out at

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Enemy Within

One of my favorite puritan works has been On the Mortification of Sin in the Believer by John Owen. Originally written in 1656, this 144 page abridgment of the much longer work (700+?) is surprisingly accessible and relevant for a contemporary audience. But be warned - the content is hard hitting. It comes at you with the subtlety of a charging bull on the streets of Pamplona; taking no notice of sacred territory, plowing through any obstruction with disregard for feelings and sacred cows. The book is voilent and bloody, but for all the right reasons. Owen unpacks Romans 8:13 at a level few dare to dive down as deeply (Rom 8:13 is "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live"). Owen calls for the reader to put sin to death and describes all the different ways this can be accomplished and what it means.

The Enemy Within: Straight Talk About the Power and Defeat of SinOf course, many find Owen's works daunting. Mortification is actually a rather accessible volume, but still, some would rather cough at the doctors office than bend the cover back on this one. A friend recently introduced me to a re-working of this volume in a modern, popular form by Kris Lundgaard, called The Enemy Within. Being such a fan of Owen's volume, I picked it up hesitantly, skeptical about its comparative slaying power. My was I surprised. This has been the best book for personal spiritual growth that I've read in a long time. Lundgaard doesn't merely recycle Owen, he adds his own thoughts and great illustrations, combined with compelling writing. I felt as if I were reading a mash up of The War of Art and a Jonathan Edwards work - attacking the very essence of what causes sin to linger in our souls. The chapters are very short and have highly practical questions at the end. Take the time to pick it up - you won't be disappointed - though your sin may be.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Some Favorite Books from 2010

Here are a few books read in 2010 that you might enjoy reading in 2011. 

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyBonhoeffer - One reviewer said that Bonhoeffer was "the right man for the right time." This seems to be the right biography at the right time about a fascinating figure in church history. It is a well written story and definitely worth taking the time to read. There have been a number of helpful reviews written of the book (here and here). You can also read a few of my favorite quotes from the book here. I would have liked to have seen more footnotes in the book, but overall was very pleased. Reading this book made me want to read more of Bonhoeffer's works, an impression for which I'm thankful.

Outliers: The Story of SuccessOutliers - Malcolm Gladwell works to get at the reason why people rise to the top of their field of expertise. Bottom line: lots of hard work. He proposes a "10,000 hour" rule of thumb. An excellent reminder to keep gaining skills and knowledge in your field. Become an expert at something. And like investing, the earlier you start, the better (assuming you're investing in the right thing….). Reminds me of Proverbs 22:29, "Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men."

The Cost of DiscipleshipThe Cost of Discipleship - The Bonhoeffer biography was so enjoyable, it increased my interest in reading his own works, so I began with a few pages from this classic every morning. The book had been on my shelf since college, and oh, how I wish I would have read it earlier! In TCOD, Bonhoeffer deals with the issue of "cheap grace" vs. "costly grace," and important topic with much relevance for today's church. I've since acquired two more of his works: Act and Being - his second dissertation, written at 24 years old, and his 'crown jewel,' Ethics, both of which are part of Fortress Press' 16-volume re-publishing of Bonhoeffer's works. It is rather humbling to know he wrote enough to fill up 16 volumes, all before he was executed by the Nazis at 39 years old (for his role in a plot to kill Hitler). 

2,000 Years of Christ's Power, Vol 1. - This blog post was my introduction to these excellent volumes on Church History. I have a bit of a soft-spot for church history, though I recognize that not everyone else does, but this is quite readable and full of original source material (i.e. actual quotes from the church history figures). This volume deals with the age from the passing of the Apostles, up to Constantine (which is one of the more fascinating stages of church history). This is the first in a three volume series (with two more planned). You can purchase all three existing volumes together at a discount here. If you want something a bit more accessible and introductory, try Mark Knoll's excellent book Turning Points. He deals with 8 major events in the history of the church. Very helpful approach and covers the most important, influential, and well known eras in church history. Though a bit larger, my personal favorite one-volume church history (or, two volumes bound together) is Justo Gonzalez's The Story of Christianity and is available at a great price here. This is the most readable church history book I've run across - much better than the often used Church History in Plain Language (yes, it is plain language, so plain in fact that it approaches un-interesting). Plus many appreciate that Mr. Gonzalez does a good job of dealing outside of European church history alone.

What Are People For?: EssaysWhat are People for? - A friend of mine mentioned Wendell Berry this summer, he said "If you were to take every occurrence of the word 'community' in Berry's works and replace it with the word 'church,' it would revolutionize the way we do church today." This piqued my interest, as I had heard other speak highly of Berry, a farmer, author and poet from Northern Kentucky. His burden is to grow local communities and local culture with local solutions (rather than national, removed, corporate solutions). This book is a collection of his essays, dealing with topics like Feminism, personal responsibility, the joys of farm life, and my personal favorite, "Why I will never own a computer." Though he makes a compelling case for avoiding the human Pavlovian instrument, I wonder if it is even possible to entertain such an idea in our age. Knowing that McCullough still does all his writing from a typewriter sure sets one to thinking about it (though I'm guessing it is not the typewriter alone that allows one to write like Mr. McCullough).

Flannery O'Connor : Collected Works : Wise Blood / A Good Man Is Hard to Find / The Violent Bear It Away / Everything that Rises Must Converge / Essays & Letters (Library of America)Flannery O'Connor - Collected Works - A great assembly of her short stories and novels. Within this collection are two stories that have brought about the most laughter ("Good Country People") and the most tears ("The River") in all my reading (aside from the river of tears shed during a 4th grade hearing of Where the Red Fern Grows). O'Connor's writing violently exposes the oppressive ugliness of human nature, but in a way that causes one to relate to the ugliness. In her stories, one does not only identify with the hero of the story (because one is not often to be found) but also to the one who fails horribly. When I need a good heart check, and want to read excellent literature, when I need my inherent hypocrisy exposed, after Scripture, Flannery is the next best thing. This edition by The Library of America is printed on excellent paper and well bound. 

Colonel RooseveltColonel Roosevelt - This is the highly anticipated (at least by myself) third volume of three in a series on Roosevelt. Edmund Morris wrote the first of these in 1979, so he has given a few years of thought to the towering personality of TR. I picked up and read this volume with vigor as soon as it was released in November. If you've not read about TR, I'd recommend reading the first volume in the series before tackling this one (selected quotes and anecdotes from the first volume can be read here). Edmund Morris' three works are the finest I've seen on TR and worth the investment. You can buy all three volumes in a hard bound set at a reasonable price here. You can also listen to a brief interview with the author on NPR. 

Two for Kids 

The Crispin: Cross of LeadCrispin: Cross of Lead - Great story about a mid-evil boy trapped in the treachery of the feudal system. He meets a jolly man and begins to learn from a father-like figure he never had. Lots of good conversations about life and theology came out of this one as I read it to my son (the role of the church in daily life is often discussed between the main characters). A fun and engaging story as well. 

The Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the FaithThe Church History ABC's - of course the church history lover in me salivated over this one. It's a great introductory book for young and old, giving one page and one letter of the alphabet for each of the 26 church history figures highlighted in the book (i.e. "E is for Edwards", etc.). Many interesting facts are revealed about the various figures, and more information is offered in the back for those who want to go deeper. 

Two other Noteworthy Novels  

Just finished Gilead by Marilyn Robinson, a novel which uniquely combines a memoir and a work of theology (never read anything like it), yet somehow, even with the theological conversations, it won a Pulitzer prize (the writing is superb). I'm currently wrapping up Henry James' The Ambassadors. Written in the late 1800's, James writes an interesting exploration into human nature with the most descriptive dialogue I've encountered in any work of fiction (descriptive, yet still readable). I've never read a book that does such a detailed job of describing the mannerisms of those engaged in awkward conversations. Reminds me that body language is central in communication (and a good reminder to avoid email/phone when addressing a difficult issue).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On Being Teachable

A few years ago a colleague asked me to look over some facts and draw a conclusion. A few days later I gave my response, which was the exact opposite of what others had concluded about the same facts (and it wasn't because I was right). Where did I go wrong? I allowed my pre-understandings of the facts to guide me to the conclusion I wanted, rather than allowing the facts to speak for themselves. Bad move. Leaves one feeling a bit like their pants have fallen down while on stage at an important event.

Recently I listened to an interview with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on NPR. It's the first time I've heard a Supreme Court Justice interviewed on the radio, and I found it quite interesting to hear him discuss the way the court operates and how he makes up his mind in difficult cases.

The thing that I found most revealing about this interview was the shameless agenda of the interviewer and the way Justice Breyer responded to her. The interviewer, Terri Gross, had some pretty clear pre-understandings about what she thought the current Supreme Court was about. Her questions seemed designed to assist Mr. Breyer in slam dunking her ideas on home. Refreshingly, he did not join in the game, but responded with a patient disdain for the media characterizations of the court. 

Here are a few of her questions (All quotes pulled from the transcript of the interview.)

GROSS: …I think a lot of Americans, a lot of court watchers, court reporters, see this court as a court with a bloc of activist conservative judges who are very strongly conservative and are very consciously trying to move the court and the country in a more conservative direction. And I'm wondering, from your seat on the bench, if you would agree with that perception?
GROSS: If we interpreted the Constitution only literally in the way that the framers had in mind, would we still have slavery? (Implying that those who hold to a conservative interpretation of the constitution are still in favor of slavery.)
GROSS: So, the outsider perspective is that all arguments now in the court are pitched to Justice Kennedy because he's perceived as the swing vote.
(implying that the conservatives control the court?)

No hiding her agenda there.

Here is a longer exchange between them:

GROSS: How would you compare the Roberts court versus the Rehnquist court? (i.e. please confirm for us how evil things are!)

Justice BREYER: Well, from the personal point of view you said it. The Roberts court is one where so far I've found myself more in dissent. You want a characterization in terms of conservative and liberal, but that's not my job. That's your job. That's the job of the press and the public to characterize. My job is to decide the cases, write the decisions as best I can.
GROSS: I guess I was wondering if you think Chief Justice Roberts is different as a chief justice than Chief Justice Rehnquist was.

Justice BREYER: Every new appointment is different. Every new person who comes on makes it a different court. So the difference is not just the individual, it's the reactions of the others to that person. White said that some time ago and I have found truer words were never spoken.

GROSS: But do they run the court differently to the extent that the chief justice runs the court?

Justice BREYER: No. No. The chief justice [is] in charge of administration. But each of us has a vote and each of us votes on everything.

Finally, I've included his response to a question about decision making and the way our human nature plays a part. It was refreshing to see him speak candidly about a very secret process. Basically she asks how he feels later after making a decision - is he worried that he ever makes the wrong call?

Justice BREYER: I've found it interesting. I bet it's true whether you're in business, whether you're in law, whatever field of life you're in, you have a tough decision to make, really tough, and you think, my goodness, this is evenly balanced. Oh my goodness, what will I do? But I'm sorry, time is passing. You better make up your mind. And so you do and you think this side has a slight edge. Now time passes. Do you think "I might have been wrong?" No. As time passes you begin to think, I think I was probably right. More time. Yeah, I was right. More time. I sure was right. More time. How did I think the opposite? That is called the self-protective psychology of human nature. (laughter)

Her interview techniques reminded me of how important it is that I enter into a situation with a keen awareness of my pre-understandings, as well as a teachable spirit so that real dialogue and understanding can take place. This is one of the main reasons I went to seminary, because I found myself often using the biblical data and facts to build a case for my predetermined conclusion. This works great if the two align, in which case you appear rather brilliant. But when they don't, the house of cards comes tumbling down. Then if you stick to your guns, one is left with no choice but to argue for the losing position more vehemently, and before long you are snarling like a rabid dog at anyone who might think otherwise. Not a pretty site. As Breyer noted, this is the self-protective part of human nature. 
Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial 
Reminding myself of the importance of being teachable is one of the main reasons I read the book Lying about Hitler by Richard Evans (I had recently read a couple of his books on the Third Reich from his very thorough and readable 3-volume series: see 1, 2, & 3). Lying about Hitler deals with a British liable case between two authors, one who was suing another for accusing him of twisting facts about Hitler in his historic works. The accused author made assertions such as; Hitler didn't really have a role in killing Jews, nor were as many killed as once thought. Richard Evans was called as an expert witness to provide evidence supporting the standard views on Hitler. And he sure did deliver. The amount of research and document searching noted in this book was overwhelming. I was surprised that Evans went into the case with a seemingly open mind. He was ready to tackle the facts. The book is tedious for its level of detail, and of course the conclusion is pretty obvious from the beginning, but reading it served as a great reminder to be teachable and to be fair with the facts, especially when it comes to Scripture.

As Churchill said "everyone can have their own opinions, but not their own facts."