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Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016 Resolution: Grow into a Wiser Person

I want to be someone who not only makes good decisions but consistently great decisions, which will bless my wife, my kids, my neighbor, my church and will bring maximum glory to God. So I thought I'd pass on this resolution for 2016 and then point you to a couple of sources to help if you'd like to resolve to join me. I just spent the last three days on a prayer and planning retreat - primarily meditating on the Book of Proverbs. Talk about humbling. 

My main takeaway was this: I barely know anything about life. I checked this conclusion against some old journals and notes I'd jotted down. My twenties were full of more self-assurance than I'm happy to admit. When I turned 30, I started to doubt how much I really know. Now, as I get closer to 40, I'm much more confident in my ignorance (By 50 I hope to be fully convinced!). No matter your age, perhaps you feel similarly. What God showed me is that a heavy dose of humility accompanied by a full admission of ignorance is indeed good preparation (Proverbs 28:26), but I need to keep going. What's the next step? 

According to, Solomon, the wisest person who ever lived outside of Jesus himself:  
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom (Proverbs 4:5).
No one is going to spoon feed us wisdom nor does it typically just fall into our laps (nor our inboxes or Facebook feeds). We have to go out and get it. Seek after it, pay attention, ask good questions - and do this everyday. 

Proverbs recommends two consistent and reliable sources of wisdom - a wise God and wise people.

1. So make a Bible reading plan today before the clock strikes midnight. We average 35,000 conscious decisions per day - relying primarily on our own common sense (at best!) to make them (though Proverbs suggests this isn't a reliable source of wisdom - Prov. 3:5, Prov 28:26). Rather, with the feeding and renewing of our mind with the Word of God comes a better ability to test and approve God's will with everyday decisions (Romans 12:2). Get wisdom by getting in His Word every day.

Proverbs 28:9 - "If one turns his ear away from hearing the Law, even his prayer is an abomination." Consider both the wisdom and warning of this statement. Such a person considers his/her own words to God as more valuable than His Words to us. Imagine telling God: "I don't really want to hear what You say but will you please listen to me." Yet those of us who regularly move our lips upward but never crack the Book open are effectively saying just that. 

The very real God assigns perhaps His harshest warning for that person's next prayer: abomination. Perhaps it's not healthy to ponder too long on the harshness of that assessment but rather recognize God is lovingly trying to warn you about something He feels very strongly about - your growth, your flourishing, your becoming the person you've always wanted to be. 

2. Consistently get around people who possess and are seeking godly wisdom like you (a.k.a. Join a Community Group). Here's the link. Sign up before you talk yourself out it (and for those of you with children but short on funds, the church has set aside funds specifically to help with childcare for CG participation - simply let myself or Pastor Brett know).

Proverbs 14:7 - "Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge."
Proverbs 27:9 - "Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel."

Whom are you around most consistently? A fool or a friend. From which kind of persons are consistently trying to get wisdom? A fool or a friend. The weight of Proverbs suggests it is sometimes appropriate to stick it out and love someone making foolish decisions - but our relational priority ought to be getting around brothers and sisters seeking wisdom (Hebrews 10:24-25, Galatians 6:10). 

Wishing you a happy 2016!  Auld Lang Syne.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


You might remember John Donne from English Lit. Class. A passionate dude and we’re talking 17th century England, here. If you don’t believe me, check out his poem The Ecstasy. Many forget this 17th c. man, having trusted his life to Jesus, spent his later years as a London Pastor at St. Paul's Cathedral. I ran across something he wrote about the birth of Christ in one of his Christmas day sermons.
The whole of Christ's life was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last. His birth and death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day. From the cradle to the cross is an inseparable line.

I recall Christ being misunderstood in his adult ministry, insulted and mocked by his enemies, betrayed by his friends during Holy week, persecuted by religious leaders, beaten by strangers, and finally murdered by the powers-that-be in a most public & humiliating fashion. In other words, I’m continually struck by the fact that, from ages 27-30, Christ was never at home - except during these little moments like a retreat to be with his Father or a few minutes of fellowship with Moses & Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (how sweet those moments must have been for Jesus).

John Donne
Discomfort at the Cradle. However as Donne correctly points out, the incarnation itself -- God taking on flesh & blood through this miraculous birth -- must've been remarkably discomforting and alienating for Jesus. If wasn't for taking on God's just punishment for our sin, the birth would’ve been as discomforting as cross. The physical aspect alone must've been sent a shock down the Trinitarian backbone – the God all of eternity not only becoming a man, but a tiny, 7 lbs., 4 oz baby (unless you think he was an XXL baby because he was God).

Discomfort at Childhood. That discomfort, that alienation must've then continued through his childhood. Consider Jesus' childhood as well as the teenage years. Imagine watching your friends, schoolmates, and fellow temple parishoners grow up to dream of marrying a woman, pursuing a career, having kids, seeing their g-kids. He could never relate. He knew his road would lead to an early death -- the road to Calvary. So the very persons he loved, indeed those he came to save, would grow increasingly distant as both they & he grew older.

Christmas can be a lonely time, even for people who will be with family but especially for those who will be without. We tend to seek comfort during the Holiday season more than any other time. Gifts, carols, well-wishes, Christmas Cookies, traditions with family like making Christmas cookies, then eating more Christmas Cookies. And praise God for these because they each have the potential to remind us of our true home in Christ.

Discomfort at the Cross. This is the Christ whose discomfort in Bethlehem culminated on a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, where he was alienated not only from the world but from God the Father. The Father alienated His Son while the latter took the sins of the world upon Himself (Mark 15:34; cf. II Corinthians 5:21).

If you trust in Jesus and find yourself in a place of discomfort and alienation this holiday season, don't lose heart -- that's where Jesus is (Hebrews 13:12-13). You will find him there. You see, he lived his whole life there beginning at birth -- so that through seeking him by faith, you will find comfort and a home for Christmas.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent Help for Families and Adults

Advent comes from the Latin adventus and simply means, "coming." This liturgical season has served the church through the centuries as an intentional time for Christians to try to sense what it was like to anticipate the coming of the world's Savior - as predicted as far back as the Book of Genesis - and to anticipate the time when He will come again to restore all things. 

Advent began yesterday and culminates on Christmas Day. 

Here are a couple ways to intentionally celebrate the Savior with your kids during the Advent season and one way to go solo: 2013: The coming of the Rescuer is a FREE resource from the Austin Stone Community Church. It can be done alongside your regular Bible but also with The Jesus Storybook Bible, which we have available from the church. It also includes a coloring for each day which can be cut out and transformed into a Christmas Ornament to hang on the tree. It does say "2013" but don't let that worry you. It pretty much works the same and Christmas wasn't in beta all the way back in 2013. The Gift: Family Bible time and activities for families. Two advantages to this one: 1) It's highly interactive - like break out the pencils and crayons, get your hands moving interactive. 2) There is a generosity focus - ie. Jesus is God's ultra-generous gift to us so the most natural response during Christmas is: How might we be generous to others?  Only disadvantage: One week at a time (but that might be an advantage as it makes it more "do-able" for many busy families).

Advent for adults:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

This gives my life meaning (Sun Follow-up)

They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver or gold are not able to deliver them in the day of wrath of the the LORD. They cannot satisfy hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was their stumbling block.     - Ezekiel 7:19
Idols cannot save you, they can neither satisfy nor fulfill you - they take the place of the living God and so cause you to stumble instead of walk with him, which we were designed to do (Ephesians 4:1; Galatians 5:25). 

When you hear the word idol, what do you think of? Some think of some small or large statue to which a worshipper bows down and expects protection in return. I used to live in the suburbs of Chicago and once a 40-foot statue of the Virgin Mary was delivered to a parking lot adjacent to the local Catholic church (it was on a North American kidding). Hundreds of Catholics lined up to burn incense, give flowers, and sing songs of worship in the direction of the statue. If you think of an idol more abstractly (ie. the #1 thing, person, value, activity in your life that occupies the place of the living God), your mind may make an immediate bee-line to the big 3: Money, Power, Sex. The thinking then goes: As long as I'm not addicted to any of these, I'm good." Maybe, maybe not...

In his book The Gospel in Life: Grace changes everything, Rev. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York identifies twenty categories of idolatry. 

Keller identifies many good things we make into ultimate things and, thus, "unclean" things" in God's eyes.  You are likely worshipping an idol if you honestly say "yes" to any of the following: 


1. "I have power and influence over others." (Power Idolatry)
2. "I am loved and respected by _____" (Approval idolatry)
3. I have this kind of pleasure experience or a particular quality of life" (Comfort idolatry)
4. "I am able to get master over my life in the area of _____" (Control idolatry)
5. "People need me." (Helping idolatry)
6. "Someone is there to protect me and keep me safe" (Dependence idolatry)
7. "I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone" (Independence idolatry).
8. "I am highly productive and get a lot done." (Work idolatry)
9. " I am being recognized for my accomplishments, and I am excelling in my work." (Achievement idolatry).
10. "I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions." (Materialism idolatry).
11. I am adhering to my religion's moral codes and accomplished in its activities." (Religion idolatry)
12. "This one person is in my life and happy to be there, and/or happy with me." (Person Idolatry)
13. I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and am living by a self-made morality" (Irreligion idolatry)
14. "My race, nation or culture is the best." (Racial/Cultural/National idolatry)
15. "A particular social or professional group lets me in" (Inner Ring idolatry)
16. "My children and/or my parents are happy with me (Family idolatry)
17. "Mr. or Ms. 'Right' is in love with me" (Relationship idolatry)
18. I am hurting; in a problem; on the do I feel worth of love or able to deal with guilt" (Suffering idolatry)
19. "My political or social cause is ascending in notoriety and influence" (Ideology idolatry)
20. "I have a particular kind of look or body image" (Image idolatry).
A portable Virgin Mary

There are two instances in which humans will typically admit to any of these things: 1. Honesty or 2. Extremity. I'd recommend the former, owning up to idolatry, as opposed to waiting for God to work such difficult circumstances in your life such that you are compelled to discover (through pain and heartache!) the idol that you rely on to give your life meaning or yourself worth. 

If you do own up to it, here are some strategies to expel its influence over you: 
(1) Confess it to the Lord and trust that He will forgive you (1 John 1:9). Your idolatry certainly has affected you and caused hurt toward others, but your sin is primarily toward the living God (cf. Psalm 51:4).
(2) Ask God to replace your idol with Himself (as puritan Thomas Chalmers once said, there is "an expulsive power of a new affection" that helps keep the idol from returning); 
(3) Take a temporary break from any contact with it - just as the above passage from Ezekiel suggests it might be to you "an unclean thing" for a few days (cf. Ezekiel 7:19); 
(4) Seek accountability from a brother and sister in Christ whom you've given permission to ask you about it. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Pray for our Honduras Missions Team

I was reading this morning: "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Hebrews 11:6).

Would you earnestly seek him on behalf of the Sunrise five, four of whom are setting out today for Honduras? We can trust God will reward both the seeker (you) and those on whose behalf you seek Him (the Sunrise 5). 

We are Jo, Marna, Omar, Christopher, Ryan. Below is our itinerary with Tree of Life Missions if you'd like to "pray along" as we move along. 

Friday, October 16 - Ryan arrives
Saturday, October 17 - La Villa de San Francisco Ministry Site - all day. Work & play.
Sunday, October 18 - Church, Ryan to deliver message. Rest of day spent in fellowship, prayer, encouragement with Joe & Belkis Denton. 
Monday, October 19 - Visit new ministry site Buena Vista, prayer walk, pick us grass for laying, SCC Team arrives.
Tuesday, October 20 - Public School Ministry, Labor at La Villa de San Francisco location, Class with Children.
Wednesday, October 21 - Ministry at Monte Leon, Labor there, Class with children
Thursday, October 22 - Labor at Buena Vista Mountain Property all day, picnic at site.
Friday, October 23 - Ryan departs for wedding in CA, Stacey & Francois arrive, Fun day in Valley de Angeles.
Saturday, October 24 - Children's Program at La Villa de San Francisco. All Day.
Sunday, October 25 - Worship Service, Time with Children, Labor at La Villa Ministry Site.
Monday, October 26 - Departure.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

God made our brains to change: Repentance & Neuroscience (Sun Follow-Up)

This past Sunday I preached about a non-Christian, a Christian, and a group of Christians
all of whom radically changed their minds when God spoke to them (Acts, ch 9). Such a change of mind, we learned, is called repentance. The New Testament word translated as "repentance" is metanoeo (meta - "to change condition" and noeo "exercise the mind or think"). The more habitually one changes their mind toward God's truth, the more increasingly the mind itself begins to change such that actions/habits begin to naturally follow (cf. Acts 26:20). 

A recent surge of research has emerged regarding the neuroplasticity of our brains - that is, our brains are adaptable, not static, and therefore have the ability to re-wire themselves in a way that shapes our behavior. In other words, God so wants us to be people of continual repentance He has built within our minds flexibility for change. The physical make-up of our brains testify: You can change!  

Nathan Hrouda of Summitview Church (Fort Collins, Colorado) aptly explains this phenomena, but how also its opposite is also true - "Addicted to staying the Same: Thoughts on Repentance and Neuroscience." The further we slip into addiction/idolatry - our brains become increasingly wired toward misplaced pleasure and destructive habits.

I pray we (myself included!) might first change our minds and believe that our highest pleasure will be found in Christ and the things of Him - in serving or praying for another person, spending time praying or even singing a psalm, enjoying the stillness of God out by the sea or your back porch, doing that next hard thing God's way even though it doesn't make perfect sense - and watch our minds might become increasingly wired toward true and lasting pleasure (Psalm 16:11). 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

When you don't do well, well

**Disclaimer: What I'm about to describe is unusual. 80-90% of my life is lived on the more familiar highway that connects my frequent guilt to God's amazing grace.

This one starts like a success story, but don't worry, it doesn't last long. Welcoming into our home for the weekend a child whose mother has a terminal disease, praying with and for church members who are struggling, opening up our home to bless and pray for missionaries, encouraging others with God's truth. "Yes, this is the Christian life I want to live. It's been a pretty good weekend." Can you see it coming? I don't always do well, well. Subtly (in fact, only looking back can I see the thought process) I think to myself: "Yeah, God's pretty satisfied with me." And He is, but not with my so-called good performance.

I encounter on Tuesday morning this prayer from the Psalmist of Psalm 119 (v.149):
Hear my voice according to your steadfast love;                                                            O LORD, according to your justice give me life.
Have you ever had that experience when, looking at your life compared with someone whose skill, work ethic, or morality exceeds yours and yet that person finds themselves in a dire straits? My friend Brian was a year ahead of me in Seminary. Brian was smarter than me, godlier than me, more gifted than me. Yet he struggled to get a job upon graduating. I remember secretly fretting for weeks: "Wait, if he can't land a job, what will I do?" The psalmist loves and almost certainly does the commands of God like perhaps none other East of Eden and West of Nazareth. He never feels embarrassed talking about God's law (Ps. 119:46); God's commands are like best friends (Ps. 119:24); His most extreme emotions well up inside of Him when others forsake His commands (Ps. 119:53; Ps. 119:136); He organizes his daily schedule around God's commands (Ps. 119:164). 

Yet, such a lover and doer of God's Word feels he must cry out and appeal to God's promised covenant love, for God to hear him. This law-keeper pleads with God to give him life. He is something less than secure with God's saving love - "I hope for your salvation, O LORD" (Ps. 119:166). If the ultimate do-gooder is insecure, what about me? Sure, I've done pretty well recently so I feel a little self-satisfied and a largely self-secure - but it's a mirage. Here's a man who spent His life (not to mention the longest psalm of 176 verses) dedicated to the loving, singing, cherishing and doing God's commandments - he's pleading, crying out, and hoping God will come through with love, life, & salvation. 

So what now? People usually don't read blogs or articles when they've done well.  So in addition to preaching to myself, I might only be speaking to a few of you. If you feel pretty good about your performance and self-satisfied in your deeds, I hope the above has you a bit worried. The Bible suggests three ways to regain genuine peace & move forward with a proper perspective. 

1. Take another look at your deeds (what motivates you). During the time of the prophet Isaiah, religion was flourishing in Israel. Sacrifices, fasting, temple-attendance. Everyone assumed God would never impose on them the curses of covenant such as deportation or death. "We are God's people and we are pretty good (or at least better than our neighbors)." The problem was God knew their hearts. They did good deeds not in response to God's love for them but to either achieve a sense of relief (ie. tick that box, God is off-my-back, I'll now do what I want) or a sense of self-satisfaction (ie. I'm one of the do-gooders and I'll impose my do-gooding on others). The LORD God gives a "word" to Isaiah for these actually quite insecure, soon-to-be-deported people: "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like polluted garments" (Isaiah 64:6).

Did I just read that correctly - "righteous deeds" are like "polluted garments"? Yes. And those "polluted garments" refers to some very real thing for women that I can't even say on this blog. You also read correctly - Isaiah (the prophet) doesn't exclude himself from God's divine message: "We have all become like one who is unclean..."

Jesus challenges our conception of good with his own measuring stick (see the rich young ruler - "No one is good but God alone" (Mark 10:20). There is a germ of corruption behind every good thing and deed in this fallen world. As the wise J.C. Ryle once said in his 19th century context: "Our best things are stained and tainted with imperfection! They are more or less incomplete, wrong in the motive, or defective in the performance."

When you find yourself self-satisfied and largely self-secure (you can tell when you are looking for a little pat-on-the-back or are looking down on others), it might be a sign that your righteous deeds are polluted, stained, tainted. Perhaps you've done well to satisfy God sufficiently to get Him off your back or to build yourself up when God's free but invisible love doesn't seem to be doing the trick. Run to the cross and confess this to God. He gets out stains! "He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). 

2. Take another look at your salvation  (who changes you). In verse 149, the psalmist cries out for two things - life and a relationship with God. "Life according to justice"; "hear me (relationship!) according to your steadfast love." At the cross of Jesus Christ, love and justice meet to give us life forever and a relationship with God. Jesus lived the perfect life to satisfy on the cross God's just punishment toward sin (Hebrews 7:26; Hebrews 9:14; 1 John 4:10). Jesus got up on that cross because He loves us and would get to be with those of us who trust Him forever (Romans 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:10). The psalmist didn't yet know this Jesus who offered the most airtight and secure salvation by living the very perfect life he knew he couldn't. The psalmist looked forward to the day of the Good Shepherd who chases down lost sheep: "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant" (Psalm 119:176; cf. Luke 15:4). For you who do good to justify yourself, Jesus already has!

This Good Shepherd continues to save us also. He changes us. There is a word for the transformation of our minds - metanoia, which is translated in the New Testament as "repentance." Listen to who is behind this change of mind and how you view the world: 
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4).
So now that you're justified before God, it's easy to "presume" your pretty good behavior deserves God's kindness and it's your innate goodness that produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control. But it's God's active kindness at work in your life (GRACE!) that produces good, profitable, and lasting fruit translated as good deeds.

We can do well, well by even now offering honor, praise, and glory to God for even the impulse to want to do good - it comes not from me but from Thee! 

3. Read and listen to challenging words (what moves you). I once heard Sinclair Ferguson, a pastor and theologian I respect, say that in the many of years of his pastoral ministry he counseled two kinds of people: Those overly comforted and those overly discomforted. His job, thus, was simple: Comfort the discomforted and discomfort the comfortable

Isn't this what Jesus did depending on the person before him?! Most often I need words of comfort because the Holy Spirit is quick to show me my obvious sin and resulting guilt (cf. John 16:8). But for that other 10-20% of the time, when we are rolling well - I need to hear and read hard truths that grabs and shakes me toward a deeper reliance upon Jesus.

For instance, get yourself in front of the Luke chapter 14, where you will be confronted about storing up riches, counting the cost of following Jesus, and your willingness to forsake anything to follow him. Click on links with thoughtful biblical content like this one (for all Christians) or this one (for those married and/or with kids). Follow the lifestyle of some of the missionaries we support like our friends Terrill and Amber Schrock. Sing not only modern praise music meant to console and comfort, but also hymns meant to instruct and reorient us to truth we may need to hear. Listen to sermons by gentleman like Matt Chandler, who confronts my comfort with a reorientation toward the sufficiency of God's grace, or to devotionals like Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening, which provides for me a healthy mix of comfort and discomfort (I use this version, which employs the ESV as opposed to the KJV translation - available for just $10 on kindle).  

We need not fear divine discomfort! One of the most important verses in my life is Hosea 6:1.
Come, let us return to the Lord!                                                                                He has torn us, that He may heal us.                                                                             He has struck us down, and He will bind us up.
This verse aptly summarizes God's activity in a Christian's life as both Lion of Judah and Lamb of God. Lamb to comfort us when we are full of guilt and shame, when our sin and weakness lies exposed, visibly naked before us. Lion when we our self-satisfaction and self-assuredness needs to be torn down - so we might be bound up to once again do well, well. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Learning to Speak Cayman (The Letter C)

Flashing back to 2013 I wrote: "My hope once a week or so is to share with you a little Caymanian vocabulary. Many of my readers are no doubt ex-pats who reside here in the Beloved Isle Cayman - and while each of us are required to speak English when you arrive on island, there is no such requirement to learn words & phrases unique to that the pressure's off, there is no better time like the present."

Well, it's 2015. And I only accomplished the Letter A and the Letter B.
Time to carry on. Straight outta the Cayman Islands Dictionary - some favorite Caymanian terms from the Letter C.

Cake-up (kayke up) Noun. 1. Excessive Make-up. 2. Make-up which appears to have been applied using a spray gun and trowel. e.g. " Errytime I see dah girl, her face always be cake up even when she in da gym."
  >> This isn't even regionally accurate, it's a universally accurate term to describe the phenomenon of beauty product overuse. 
>> Frankly, I don't care when people where too much make-up. The only reason I have a beard is to hide my face so I don't have to "cake-up" myself! 

Checkin' (chek in) Verb. 1. The second stage in a four-part structure of a relationship, which involves: (1) talkin'; (2) checkin'; (3) dealin' ; (4) goin'. 2. The season of an uncommitted relationship. 3. The preliminary stage of a young relationship.  
>> The obvious question, then, is what's dealin'. Thankfully, it's not drugs (that would be awkward!). It's a mutual agreement to be monogamously involved with the other person. Once that's negotiated, then you get goin.' 
>> I applaud any kind of dating system that gets us to the DTR. Defining the relationship is spelled out very clearly and everyone knows where they stand. 

Cuzzy (cuz-eh).  Noun. 1. Friend. 2. Brethren. 3. Cousin. 4. Can be used for an old friend, new acquaintance, or just for someone whose name you've forgotten. eg., " Yeah, cuzzy, I gah check yah back bout goin' boatin' diss weekend. "
>> Once our church extended past the 100 person threshold, retaining every person's name has proved exceedingly difficult and the worst solution is the "Hey you," which was certainly invented at a sales conference based out of a Holiday Inn by a guy with a bluetooth earpiece.  
>> "Cuzzy" is kind of affectionate. I wouldn't even care if you forgot my name and called me this because it would mean I'm somewhere in the range of a beloved stuff animal. I'd take that!

Cyar (kyarr). Verb. 1. to carry. 2. to transport.  
>> This word has two bonuses: (1) Taking two syllables and reducing it to one. I'm always in favor of word efficiency. ; 2. Sound pirate-y. "Cyar it me car!"

Try dropping one of these into a conversation this week. I look forward to calling you Cuzzy. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer Reading & Slideshow

Yesterday was U.S. Labor Day, which marks the unofficial end to summer - at least in my country of origin. With Summer unofficially over (officially: it's 90 degrees out!), I thought I'd share a few books and pictures of our summer.

I felt in order to make this worth your while I had to find an different way to talk about reading (as it is "let's talk about what I read" can come off a bit egotistical). Thus, I'm going to organize the five books I used to ignore other people during the month of July  like a basketball team. I'll link the book if you are interested.

The Point Guard. Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God by Joe Thorn.

Point Guards start the offense and get the team going in the right direction. This daily
devotional focuses 15 readings on the Father, 20 on the Son, 15 on the Holy Spirit. They are entirely God-centered with titles like "He is listening"; "He is love"; "His Reign"; "He indwells." These daily devotionals got my day going and distributed strength when I needed it the most (in a home with 38 other persons, for instance). Point guards are also small; this book can fit in your back pocket.

Unique because: Thorn encourages the practice of preaching to oneself. Not so much self-improvement but self-talk, which turns out isn't crazy but biblical (see Psalm 116:7; Psalm 42:5). This book forced me to remind myself who God is and who I am in relation to Him. I usually just scorn myself, so this was a more helpful use of my self-directed inner rants.

Best line: Under the chapter "His Hold" describing the Son - "John 10:28 is not a promise of live without wavering or wandering. You can backslide. You have before. But the good work that Jesus began in you will continue. You faith will continue. And these things will go on not because of your commitment but because of Jesus' faithfulness."

The Shooting Guard. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. 

Shooting Guards are require the ball a lot and shoot the ball way too much, but because they are so graceful to watch (like eye candy!) you don't mind that they waste your time. My most enjoyable reading - the kind you do in a hammock or steal away when you should probably be paying attention to your child playing near water- was spent on this N.Y. Times Bestseller. 

Unique because: It's the kind of book that you regret is coming to a close with each page turn and wish you could experience again for the first time - like a first rollercoaster, first kiss, or first taste of cotton candy. Written by a Christian man, Enger writes beautifully about life, sin, redemption in a way that is thrilling not preachy, relatable not religious - using riveting characters from 1960s rural America.

Best Line: "I can feel it still, that sizzling jump inside my organs. It didn't feel good, not as I would've suspected the touch of the Lord might feel, but I wouldn't say it felt bad either. It only felt powerful, like truth unhusked."

The Small Forward. 1776 by David McCollough.

Small forwards in basketball play important roles in determining a game with their grit and hustle but they are often enigmatic (see Ron Artest, who legally changed his name to "Metta World Peace."). Such is my home country, the United States of America. Some major changes have taken place in my nation of citizenship that have caused friends and family to question how "we got here." Inspired by a father-son trip to Washington, D.C. with my youngest son, I decided to read a book focused on the events of and leading up to our revolutionary war.

Unique because: It's 'Merica! Author of modern democracy and inventor of fried oreos.

Best line: "And if his youth was obvious, the Glorious Cause was to a large degree a young man's cause. The commander in chief of the army, George Washington, was himself only forty-three. John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress, was thirty-nine, John Adams, forty, Thomas Jefferson, thirty-two. In such times many were being cast in roles seemingly beyond their experience or capacities."

The Power Forward. Becoming Worldly Saints: Can you serve Jesus and still enjoy your life? by Michael Wittmer.

Power forwards are big and strong - getting a lot done with seemingly little effort. Rebounding, scoring, blocking shots while having fun doing it. Such is this book. I live in the Cayman Islands. Just look at the front cover of the book - I'm pretty sure it was an artist rendering of the beach from which I live just 100 yards. I have those sunglasses! Thus, I live with people who ask (or should be asking!) this very question: Can I serve
Jesus and still enjoy my life? 

Unique because: A potent combination of (1) Funny; (2) Weighty with good biblical content (correcting the Christian's common "spiritual = better" worldview); (3) Doesn't require you to give up your job in finance or marketing to follow Jesus (or feel like a 1st class Christian).

Best Line: "Heaven and earth may seem to compete, but when we look deeper we actually find they are complementary. A flourishing human life is the best advertisement for the gospel, and the gospel in turn empowers us to become better people."

The Center. Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness. 

Centers are a team's anchor. They force the other teams to take bad shots and have "their teammates" backs if something goes wrong. And in the NBA they often speak with accents that are very difficult for me to understand. No book was as important for me to read as this one - which gave practical advice from a lifelong persuader like Os Guinness. Guinness has spent his life trying to persuade smart people towards the good news about Jesus and with the good news about Jesus. This is his magnum opus - sharing from decades of experience of how you can help people question their assumptions and see the ultimate futility of how they view the world. Like a Lithuanian Center, Guinness is at times difficult to understand - what I mean is he is brilliant, writing with significant depth - making this a time-consuming, 1 minute per page kind of read.

Unique because: Guinness writes not just why Christianity is most reasonable but suggests strategies as to how you and I can demonstrate just that to a not-yet-Christian in a 1-on-1 relationship.

Best Line: "As Reinhold Niebuhr insisted, there is a limit to what even the power of God can do as power alone, for 'such power does not reach the heart of a rebel.' Power can fence us in, but only sacrificial love can find us out. Power can win when we are ranged against it, but it cannot win us. Such is the hard, tenacious, willful, festering core of sin at the heart of each one of us that only the equally deliberate, tenacious love disguised in the absurd powerlessness, shame, pain, loneliness and desolation of the cross -- all for us-- could reach us and subvert us."

I write this because I hope you will find time to read - and perhaps one of these books might be helpful to you. Now a couple pictures from our summer.