Judging Intentions

Listening to a podcast recently, a thought that was shared got stuck in my head and has been ruminating ever since: We judge people by their behavior but want to be judged for our intentions.

I have had to sit in this for a few days to let it unpack me and take root. I’ve rolled it over in my head and tested it against some things that I have been currently facing. It’s been a helpful thought to understand myself and others better.

While I don’t think that personality profiles are the end-all-be-all for understanding people, I firmly believe that they are helpful tools to give us insights into ourselves and others. They give us language by which we can explain and understand things in a way that we may not have seen or understood before.

The two tools that I have found most helpful have been Gallup’s StrengthsFinders and the Enneagram. The challenge that I have found for myself is not using what I find from these tools as crutches to lean on or, worse yet, walls to hide behind in order to shirk my own responsibility.

Recently, I have been doing some work of self-examination to discover some unhealthy tendencies and feelings which I know need resolution. In order to move away from unhealthy behavior, identifying it is the first step. Turning away from it is the next step and that proves to be something that is as challenging as the identification. As a Christian, I believe that I can only discover this behavior and move from it through the help and power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that he works through many different means to do this, including other people.

When I started listening to the podcast that introduced this concept to me, it hit me like a two by four in the middle of my forehead. The light bulb went on and I began to discover that my lack of understanding this has probably been at the root of some of the things that have taken root in me.

As a general rule, I know why I do the things that I do. I am fairly self-aware with a healthy understanding of who I am. When I go about doing things, I know my reasons and rationale for that. Oftentimes, I expect that as people see my behavior, they will be able to see or know my intentions. If they don’t see them or know them, I expect that they will communicate with me to gain a deeper understanding of my intentions.

At the same time, I look at others and I often do one of two things. I either project my own personality and intentions on them, judging them on what I would be thinking and intending if I did the same things as them. Or I simply look at their behavior and judge it at face value whether or not their is a deeper “Why” that exists beneath the surface.

Not using it as a wall to hide behind but rather to understand myself better, some of this comes from the fact that I am an Enneagram 8. 8s can be defensive and volatile. Anger is easily their “Go-to” emotion and they are always ready for a fight. Knowing this about myself helps me understand my reactions to things.

Knowing this about myself has also helped me to create pathways and buffers that move me away from my primary emotion and tendency towards fighting. Speaking with a consultant a number of years ago, the term that we landed on together was “empathetic curiosity.” Empathy is not high on my strengths list, so I have had to raise my own awareness towards it and create a pathway that moves me towards it in a way that I would not naturally gravitate.

I’ve learned to ask questions to gain a deeper understanding rather than assume the worst, which I excel at. Asking questions helps me move from analyzing behavior based on face value to analyzing behavior based on the intentions that exist beneath the surface. Most people have a pretty good handle on why they do the things that they do and even if they don’t, questions can be helpful for not only me but for them in looking at things that they may not have considered before.

As I listened to the podcast and rolled this thought over in my head, I realized how guilty I was of this very thing. I had been looking at behavior and judging it based on my thoughts and projections rather than asking questions to understand better why this behavior was present.

Looking deeper into myself, it became clear to me that not only had I been doing this, but it flew in the face of so much of what I have taught others. Don’t project what you think someone needs or thinks onto someone, simply ask them the question of what they need or what they are thinking.

As if some of these realizations weren’t enough for me, God put some additional praxis moments in my path to ensure that I would not only see his grace in all this but also repent of the posture that I had been taking. As those moments began to unfold, I was moved with emotion at the care that God had taken to help thick-headed old me to gain a better understanding of this.

How are you judging the behavior of others? Even if it’s someone you think you know well, asking them questions about their intentions rather than presuming you know their intentions is the right course of action. I’m learning this slower than I probably should, but I think it’s going to be a game changer for me if I really lean into it.

It shouldn’t surprise me that Jesus’ words hit close to home here. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Give others the same courtesy that you want them to give you as well. I just wonder how much this could change the way that we engage each other, especially in our differences, if we took this approach.

Is It Changing Me?

We get to a point in our lives when we need to decide whether we are going to stay as we are and as we have been, or if we will change and be changed by the experiences and the people around us. While some people may look at this as a bad thing, thinking that they are somehow giving up their freedom and individuality by allowing so much influence in their lives, I actually think that we are doing ourselves and others a disservice if we don’t allow ourselves to be changed and transformed by what’s around us.

Mind you, when I say changed or transformed, I don’t mean that we are necessarily changing our minds, altering our viewpoints, or shifting our moral compass. What I mean is that we can learn from anything and anyone around us.

One of the biggest gripes that I have had with the church based on my own experiences is that we have looped many things into a category and box called “Discipleship” that neuter that word. Instead of really teaching people what it looks like to be disciples of Jesus, we instead cram their heads with lots of information while not really calling them to something bigger and better than themselves.

We have gotten really good at making “experts” while missing the boat when it comes to making practitioners. Disciples are people who not only know what Jesus said, but also live those things out. It’s not enough to simply say that I know the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, are we actually living and practicing those things?

I remember back to when I was in school, there was so much information that I was putting into my head and so often, I rose to the level of the tests and that was it. Of course, some of that information was not incredibly practical for the every day. But if we consider that the things that Jesus taught are things that have the power and ability to change and transform us, if we gain information without transformation, have we cheapened the message?

Reading through the gospels, it seems that Jesus had numerous encounters with people who considered themselves “experts” on things. A closer look at them revealed that they may have been experts in information but not in practice. They knew all the right things to do, they may even have done a lot of them, but they missed the boat when it came to understanding what was at the heart of Jesus’ commandments.

I think we’ve mismeasured significance in our culture. Significance always seems to be measured in size and grandeur rather than in impact and change. We do this in the church all the time, convincing ourselves that bigger is better and the more people we get to come, the more significant and successful we are.

If COVID has taught me anything, it’s that our emphasis has been on things that are not necessarily reinforcing the importance of making disciples and accepted the cheap substitute of consumers instead. When you’re no longer seeing people come into a space on a weekly basis, or at least not seeing them come in as regularly as they once may have, you come to a place where you begin to evaluate just what you have been focused on.

Discipleship also involves multiplication. This is something I’ve had to think about a lot over the last few years. Am I multiplying disciples? What kind of disciples am I multiplying? Do they look like Jesus or do they look like me?

The journey to be changed is not an easy one. It requires constant evaluation and reevaluation. It’s mostly tiresome work and can often be frustrating, especially if we use the metrics of our culture to determine whether or not we are successful or effective. There have been times when I’ve just had enough, when I’m tired and I just don’t feel like going through the trouble any more. 

There are times when I wonder whether or not it’s worth it. There are times when I wonder if any difference has been made. And then I see the change, either in someone else or in myself. I realize that beneath the surface, God has been doing the work that is beyond my reach and control, he has been doing the transformation that we often try to orchestrate on our own.

At the end of 2020 and into 2021, I knew that I had to rethink all this. I knew that if I was going to keep my sanity I needed to reevaluate just how I was measuring what I was doing. I wrote on the whiteboard in my office, “Celebrate the small.”

Through the gospels, Jesus mentions that small things turn into significant things in the Kingdom of God. As I heard someone say the other day, I would much rather be one inch wide and a mile deep than a mile wide and one inch deep. Significant things hardly start out the way we had thought or even intended, but in the hands of God, they can multiply far greater than we could ever multiply them on our own.

Some might say that celebrating the small is a cop out. They may say that anyone embracing that saying is embracing a defeatist approach because they aren’t capable of performing to the level that they should. I beg to differ. I challenge anyone to read through not only the gospels but the entirety of the Bible and find anything that condones a “bigger is better” mentality. David. Gideon. Jesus. Paul. Peter. The Bible is full of the insignificant accomplishing the super significant by the power of God.

How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk – A Book Review

We’ve probably all heard the adages about parenting. Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. Parenting isn’t for sissies. And on and on I could go. But aside from entering into parenthood with our eyes wide open, what are some practical ways that we can not just survive but thrive as parents? How do we successfully help our kids to grow and be a productive part of society? How do we do our best to ensure that they are as loved and well-adjusted as possible, needing as little therapy as possible? How do we listen so that our kids will talk and share with us?

Well, I’m not sure about the therapy part, but Becky Harling has some good tips in helping to accomplish at least part of it in her latest book, “How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk.”

Harling reminds her readers regularly throughout the book is the need for extending grace to both yourself as well as your children. As she writes, “God was the perfect parent, and His kids sure messed up in the Garden.” It’s a reminder to all of us that kids are human and will make mistakes, we shouldn’t take it as hard as we so often do.

Each chapter ends with a section called Wisdom from God, a section called Wisdom for Self-Care,  and a section called Wisdom for the Ages.

The Wisdom from God section is meant for the reader to dig a little deeper into what the Bible says and how it applies to parenting. It includes Bible passages to look up and study as well as some follow-up questions to help the reader think and process through what they’ve read.

The Wisdom for Self-Care section has some questions for the reader to ask himself/herself. There are also some helpful tips for parents to be mindful of best practices and ask themselves questions to challenge and grow them.

The Wisdom for the Ages section is set up based on what age group children you have: Preschoolers, Grade Schoolers, Tweens, and Teens. The wisdom and advice in this section is specific for each of those age groups to be practically focused.

Harling writes in a very informal style making her readers feel like they’re just sitting down for coffee. I appreciate her sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of her own parenting experiences. She doesn’t put herself up on a pedestal, sharing only her successes, but also shares willingly and openly of her own struggles and failures in parenting.

One of the things that I’ve often felt as a parent is that I’m the only one who has ever experienced some of the struggles that I’ve had. Reading this book, there are times when I’m comforted in knowing that, at the very least, Becky Harling can appreciate those struggles. She’s been there before and she’s lived to tell about it.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, just like parenting. Harling challenges parents to do the things that will best serve their kids, not the things that will make them best friends. Her focus is on growing healthy children, not creating future best friends for yourself. I appreciate her willingness to be a truth-teller throughout the book. She doesn’t pull any punches but her truth is always delivered with grace and love.

“How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk” is a book for the beginner or seasoned parent and all parents in between. There are so many helpful tips that Harling shares here that can be so helpful for parents longing to make connections with their kids no matter what age. It’s not a long volume but she packs enough in there that any parent should be able to find some nuggets within.

If you’ve beat yourself up for your parenting failures or struggled to make connections, this book may be helpful for you. If you’ve felt like nothing you can do is right or you are just longing for some good practices and suggestions, check out this book. Harling has some words of wisdom to help move you towards a growing and healthy relationship with your kids.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge by Bethany House. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Every Moment = Opportunity

A few years ago, I was wrestling with a difficult personal situation. Most people who knew me casually would have no idea what was going out. Most of the conflict was internal, but it was enough to be troubling for me causing me to reach out for answers.

I remember spending time on the phone with a consultant from a company I had trained with as I explained the situation. The woman I was talking to said she was impressed with how I was seeking answers in the midst of the difficulty of the situation.

I thought for a moment and snickered to myself. I told her that if I wasn’t a pastor, I wasn’t sure whether or not I would really be looking for those answers, but since my job was about teaching and learning, I figured it was pretty important for me to get a deeper understanding of what’s going on.

If you were to ask most pastors why they had become pastors, many (or most) would speak of a calling on their life that God had put there. They may speak of passions to serve or teach or shepherd or lead. I don’t think many of them would say that they had a burning urge and desire to improve their own patience and humility in life.

Patience and humility have to be two of the essentials for any kind of ministry, including vocational ministry. The problem is, most of us don’t necessarily have those two things and a lot of us don’t want them.

I’ve had my own journey in God’s refinement in me to get me to a better place in both areas. I have certainly not arrived, but I’m WAY better than I used to be, which I would consider progress. People have a way of breaking you. Relationships are never easy. Parenting often reveals our own imperfections and shortfalls. Pastoring and parenting look more similar to me every single day.

One of the things that has become apparent to me as I have gotten older is that the most profound lessons that I learn in life are rarely complicated or complex. Usually, they can be distilled down into a simple phrase or diagram. I realize that I have a tendency to want to complicate things, so I usually need to take a step back, breathe deep, and take a second look at what’s right in front of me.

As I was talking on the phone with a friend the other day, I was hit with a lightning bolt of simplicity. As we talked through some of my own recent struggles, I said, “Every single moment is an opportunity for discipleship.” Discipleship is just a big word for being a follower or practitioner. Jesus made disciples and you know it stuck because of what happened when he was gone.

After I made that statement, I felt the need to clarify. I turned it back around on myself and other pastors as well. I think that a lot of pastors look at every moment as an opportunity for discipleship……the discipleship of others.

But I don’t think that’s what Jesus intended. Looking at every situation as an opportunity for me to share my wisdom and knowledge (don’t laugh) is fairly presumptuous. It’s as if we think we are God’s gift to the people around us and they are simply minions waiting hungrily for all that we have to offer them.

Each of us, pastors or not, need to look at every situation as an opportunity for discipleship, for others AND for ourselves. If we aren’t going into every meeting, text, conversation, phone call, email, and every other interaction as an opportunity to teach AND to learn, then we need to go back to those two essential characteristics of patience and humility, particularly the latter.

What would happen if we looked at every moment as an opportunity to teach and to learn? How much more wisdom would we gain? How much more receptive would people be to what we say? How much more would we be living into the calling of God on our lives?

When I was in high school, I worked two jobs on Saturdays. The two jobs couldn’t have been more different. My morning job was at a local Texaco station while my afternoon job was at the local Baskin-Robbins ice cream store.

As a white kid growing up in a white town of privilege, the job at the gas station was a cultural immersive experience for me. I was a minority there and I had a LOT to learn. Humility was the biggest one.

One day, I remember watching some of my co-workers dive into fixing a car. I stood on the side and watched with wonder. I snickered as I thought of what it would have looked like had I jumped in and tried to do what they were doing. I was astounded at their ability and knowledge, something I had in plenty of other areas, but not this one.

That day, I realized how important it was for me to see what it was that people were experts in. Find out what they knew and how we could help each other. Don’t assume that because they don’t know what I know that they don’t have anything valuable. That was a major lesson in humility for me that has stuck thirty years later.

It’s not too different from Paul’s words to the early church. Multiple times, Paul talks about God’s people, his church, as a body with many parts. All parts are significant but none do the same thing. Each part is valuable, none is expendable.

This is the way I’ve been trying to live my life, looking for opportunities to learn from others. Oftentimes, I’ve realized that people don’t think that they have anything to offer anyone else, but if Paul’s words are true, that’s completely untrue.

As a friend said to me the other day, “I’m trying to talk half as much as I listen.” I wonder what would happen if those of us who consider ourselves to be disciples of Jesus began to take this approach. Maybe if we began to see our own growth in humility and patience, that humility and patience might grow in those around us as well.

That Doesn’t Mean What You Think

My wife and I have been watching the show “Homeland” at home. We never subscribed to movie channels before, so we’re using our local library to borrow all the seasons. While there is a fair share of unnecessary stuff in the show, the overall storyline has gotten us hooked.

One of the regulars in the show is actor Mandy Patinkin, best known to me for his role as Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride.” He also played Che in the Broadway version of “Evita,” but that might not be quite as widely known. Every time he comes onto the screen, my brain starts into an array of quotes from the movie and I can hear him saying each and every one.

If you’re familiar with “The Princess Bride” then you are probably familiar with some of the famous lines in the movie. Among them is Vezzini’s constant uttering of the word, “Inconceivable.” At one point, Patinkin’s character looks over at Vezzini after his latest utterance and says, “You keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

I’ve felt like Inigo many times in recent days. Whether it’s in conversations, reading articles, or seeing posts, I am finding that we are failing in our communication with each other because we are failing to come to an understanding of the language that we are using to ensure that the words and phrases that are used mean the same thing to everyone.

Watching or reading news stories, I hear a phrase and I say to myself, “I think I know what that phrase means, but I’m not sure that my definition aligns with the way that reporter is using it.” And then it happens again….and again…and again…

It seems we are failing in some elementary matters of clarity and understanding and I’m just not sure how to get us back on track again. I don’t know that it really matters who is to blame as defining that won’t resolve the issue, but resolution is definitely something that we need to attempt. I also think we need to try to understand why we are in this predicament, not to assign blame, but knowing where we went wrong can often help us know how to make the course correction for the future.

Some Words/Phrases Change Over Time

All one needs to do to grasp a better understanding of this is to listen to songs during the holiday and Christmas season. There are well-known songs that contain words and phrases that are outdated.

Consider the song “Winter Wonderland.” When’s the last time you heard reference to anyone who was a parson? A little research will tell us that “parson” is a word used for Anglican priests in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Further study might also lead us to phrases used by tweens and teens. When I was growing up, it wasn’t unusual to say something was “so boss” meaning that it was really cool. Nowadays, you might hear a tween or teen say that something is “straight fire” or “lit” which means pretty much the same thing. Wait a few minutes and it will change again and you’ll be scratching your head trying to decipher the meanings.

Some Words/Phrases Have Specific Meanings To Specific Groups

We can also find that different groups may adopt certain terms to mean something completely different to them than other groups.

Take for instance the word “coded” or “coding.” If you were walking through a hospital and you heard that phrase, you would probably assume that something had gone wrong and someone came close to dying. If you “code” in the hospital, it means that the machines you are hooked up to gave a code that things were not right.

On the other hand, if you were sitting around the room with a bunch of computer programmers, you might talk about them trying to decipher the coding from a specific program or game. They may have spent the whole day coding, writing the computer code that allows a program to do the things it was intended to do.

Phrases can easily have different meanings for different groups.

Some Words/Phrases Have Been Hijacked

There are some words that started out with a specific meaning and that meaning got lost. Some people may have taken hold of that word and stretched it, hijacked it for their own uses. Over time, the original meaning has informed the meaning of the word less and less until it’s finally unrecognizable.

When words and phrases are hijacked, it can get so bad that the new meaning of the word can not only be a gross misunderstanding of its original definition but can also cause outright visceral reactions in people. This visceral reaction is often a result of the hijacked and transformed meaning of the word rather than the initial definition.

The best and most relevant example of this is the word “evangelical.” I expect that I will write more about this, but for now I will simply repeat the phrase that Inigo said to Vezzini, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

I am sure that if I did some research, I could find a number of words that had been hijacked somewhere along the way, distorted in meaning to mean something at the present time which is very different from its original meaning.

What Do We Do?

In a day and age when information is at our fingertips in a moment’s notice, I don’t think there has ever been a time when communication was as important. As our intake of information feels more like the mental equivalent of drinking from a fire hose, our penchant can easily be to simply do a cursory review of that information rather than taking the time to process information the way that we need to process it.

With the need to communicate in seconds, it seems that there is an even greater risk of false information being conveyed before it is fact checked. That means that the onus is on us to do the fact checking that others might not have done for us. That doesn’t mean that every fact is distorted, exaggerated, or even wrong, but it does mean that the potential of that happening is greater, so fact checking or checking multiple diverse sources is important.

I think there is a way through this, but it’s not a walk in the park, it will require work and effort on our part. We can either lament the communication breakdown and wallow in that or we can make the choice to better our communication by seeking clarity in the differing definitions that we may have with others. As we seek clarity in definitions, our communication should improve as well. That doesn’t mean we will all agree, but at least we will be able to see a little more clearly just what it is that we are agreeing or disagreeing about.

A New Day

I have to be honest, I did my best to avoid most of the Inauguration Day coverage during the day. After work and dinner, my wife and I sat down to watch the news and I began to see images, hear stories, and hear commentary for myself. In those moments, I began to process all that was happening in our country today.

I wasn’t avoiding it because I was mad, but because I was scared. I had a friend who is in law enforcement who was in our nation’s capital. I thought and prayed for him and his family. I had friends who were rejoicing and friends who were lamenting. I think, deep inside, I may have been a little scared to hope too much. But things had happened that made the day historic.

Certainly not the least historic of happenings was that we installed the first woman vice president. She also happens to be African American. She also happens to be of Asian descent. In a long line of men filling that position, centuries worth, she had broken the trend.

We took steps away from the divisiveness that has defined the last four years. I legitimately believe that President Biden is seeking to bring unity where division has won the day, where division has actually been fanned into flame.

While half of our country is celebrating and rejoicing, there is still the other half who is mourning and lamenting. I don’t think it’s so much that they all loved the former president as much as they were afraid of what might come with the new regime.

You see, I refuse to buy into the “all or nothing” ideology that we have somehow embraced as a country. I refuse to believe that a vote for one candidate or another is a vote for everything that candidate does, says, or endorses. I refuse to loop people into the broad categories that it seems some want to loop them into.

Honestly, I’ve grown tired of our inability as a country to exercise common decency and engage in actual conversations with one another. I’ve been doing my part to initiate and take part in some of those conversations and I expect that there will be many more in the coming days.

I’m tired of the hypocrisy that I see running rampant, not only on social media, but in the media in general. I am tired of the right criticizing the left for the very things that they are doing. I am tired of the left criticizing the right for the very things that they are doing. I am tired of that “all or nothing” ideology that projects, assumes, and judges.

I long for us to do the hard and awkward work of engaging one another in healthy and helpful ways. I long for decency. I long for love and I despise hate.

Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I think that two people can still love each other, get along, and actually want to spend time together EVEN if they don’t see eye to eye. I wrote a while back about the friendship between Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg. Have there ever been two people with such differing opinions who enjoyed one another’s company the way that they did?

My father modeled this well for me. He was a white, conservative Baptist pastor raised in New York City who had been called by God into ministry at Billy Graham’s famous crusade in 1957. One of his dear friends was a history and civics teacher at the local high school. He was a liberal Jewish atheist whose views could probably not have been more different than my father’s. Yet the two legitimately appreciated one another.

Where have those relationships gone? Who says that they can’t be found once again? Why is it that everyone only wants to hang in echo chambers that reverberate their own views, opinions, and beliefs? What are we so afraid of in engaging “the other side”?

Yesterday was a new day, and as a fairly pessimistic person, I had hope. I saw some glimmers shine through the dark clouds that have encumbered us, if not for the last four years, at least for the last ten months or so.

As I sit here and type, my emotions are bubbling to the surface. I’ve felt the urge to cry so many times over the past few days. As a pastor, I continue to see and hear of hurts. I continue to see and hear of needs. I continue to see and hear of hate. 

But I also continue to see and hear of love….

When asked what the greatest was, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


Somewhere out there, someone is saying, “But how about…..”

It’s interesting that Paul, writing to the church in Rome, said that God’s kindness leads to repentance. I always found it interesting that Jesus’ most harsh and critical words weren’t for those who were wallowing in sin and who knew it, but rather for those who were wallowing in sin and pointing to everyone else around them as if they weren’t just as deep as the others were.

I have hope. My hope isn’t in our president. My hope isn’t in our government. My hope is in Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can bear that burden. In fact, he already bore it on the cross. Thinking that anyone else can bring me that kind of hope is idolatry.

Yesterday was a new day and so is today. I’m tired of the hate. I’m tired of the mud slinging. I’m tired of the hypocrisy. I’m ready for love to win the day. I’m ready to do my best to model the kind of love that Jesus spoke about. I’m ready to be part of this new day.

Peace and Reconciliation

The statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is seen unveiled from scaffolding during the soft opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington on Monday.

The day before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I got word that there had been some Nazi propaganda distributed in the downtown area of the town where our church is located. When I saw the news, my heart sank and I felt all kinds of emotions. I was sad because we are better than this. I was angry because this kind of rhetoric and propaganda should be a thing of the past.

Two things happened after that, reminding me that God is not surprised by things like this.

That afternoon, I preached a message from Ephesians 2 where Paul speaks of reconciliation and the fact that Jesus Christ tore down the wall of hostility that existed between us and God. But that dividing wall of hostility was not only between us and God but also us and each other. That dividing wall was also torn down by God.

The next morning, on MLK Day, I was meeting virtually with a bunch of pastors, both black and white, in the Greater Richmond area to pray for our country, our leaders, our families, our churches, and the current health crisis.

The message of Ephesians has still been sustaining me through all of this turmoil. I am more convinced than ever that the Church has a responsibility and mission to be about reconciliation. I feel like we’ve so emphasized the need for reconciliation with God that we have deemphasized the need for that same reconciliation with one another. But we don’t have that luxury.

If we consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus Christ, we shouldn’t try to reconstruct the very same walls that Jesus came to tear down. We shouldn’t take the posture that since things are good between me and God, I don’t have to worry about things between me and everyone else. If God is truly a reconciling God, he doesn’t want reconciliation to stop with just that vertical relationship, the one between us and him, but wants to extend that to our horizontal relationships as well, those between us and our fellow men and women.

As I drove to my office on Monday, I had a lot on my mind. Mondays aren’t my cup of tea and I was trying to get myself into a productive state of mind as I kicked off the week. I connected to my virtual meeting on the way and settled in once at the office to pray with these brothers who I have had the privilege of knowing and walking with for the last few years.

I have been contemplating a series on prayer for our church as we enter into the Lenten season, the season leading up to Easter. In that time of prayer with fellow ministers, it was confirmed to me that prayer is exactly what I need to be focusing on and focusing all the people on who are under my charge and leadership. As I joined my head and heart with these other pastors, I was reminded of the power of corporate and unified prayer. I was reminded of Jesus’ words in John 17 and his desire for his Church to be one as he and the Father are one. I was reminded that the best of corporate prayer happens when we pray less about ourselves and more about things around us.

As we prayed in agreement, I smiled. I couldn’t really think of any other way I should be kicking off my week than this, especially on a day celebrating a man who had pursued peace and reconciliation at the expense of his life. As I smiled, I thought of two things.

First, I thought of how prayer gets tossed around as a veiled excuse sometimes rather than a powerful weapon. We relegate prayer for our wishlist of needs rather than asking God what it is that he wants. We offer thoughts and prayers to people in their time of need and just leave it at that. But prayer is action and prayer demands action. We don’t simply pray and then walk away. We pray and then we move in step with the Holy Spirit. Prayer is not passivity, prayer is action.

Second, true peace and reconciliation can only come through Jesus Christ. That’s what Paul says in Ephesians 2. That doesn’t mean that good things don’t happen in the name of reconciliation without Jesus, it just means that if we want to achieve peace and reconciliation in a complete and full way, it can only happen through Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again, because we could never achieve that peace and reconciliation on our own.

It’s fitting, in my opinion, that we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. the same week as the inauguration of our next president. Regardless of where you lie in your opinion of that president and the outgoing one, the office of the president is one in which the individual should lay aside their own preferences for the greater good. I don’t think that we have seen that very much in the last four years, but I am praying that we see it more and more in the days to come.

Like so many other things in life, the sphere of influence that I have is limited. I cannot control anyone else. I cannot force behavior upon anyone else. All I can do is live well, love well, and be an example. If I truly believe that Jesus is the only way that true and complete peace and reconciliation can be achieved, I should probably worry less about compelling people to that belief through my words and do my best to be as compelling as can be through my actions.

The Bible Recap – A Book Review

If I could count the number of people who I have encountered who have tried to read the Bible and found themselves angry, frustrated, confused, or all of the above, the number would be high. How do you approach a book that was written in a completely different place at a completely different time? How do you make sense of it and read it in a way that is beneficial and life-giving rather than confusing? How do you read the Bible in such a way that it makes you want to read more rather than just slamming it shut, putting it on the shelf, and relying on others to tell you what it says?

Tara-Leigh Cobble, creator and host of The Bible Recap Podcast, has put together a helpful resource to do just that. Rather than a “How To” book, her latest book The Bible Recap acts more like a guide on your journey through the Bible in a year. It’s a book written not so much from an expertise level but from a fellow journeyman level, from the perspective of someone who has tried and failed at reading the Bible, making mistakes, and living to write about them.

As Cobble says in her letter opening the book, “Reading the Bible is not a means to self-help or an attempt to earn God’s favor.” It isn’t a book in which you simply choose the parts you like and disregard everything else. It’s main purpose is, “to tell me a story about God and His unshakeable love for His people.” Cobble admits that she is not an academic and that she focuses less on Hebrew and Greek words and more on giving an overview or highlight reel.

This book is not meant to be a standalone book but rather a guide to pair with your own personal Bible reading. She orders it chronologically, so it’s not just a matter of starting in Genesis and reading to the end of Revelation. You can follow along with her podcast or go to the Bible Recap website to print off a copy of the reading plan. Once you do your Bible reading for the day, you simply read the two page summary for that reading.

Each two page summary acts as a highlight reel, as she says, to give the reader a general understanding of what they just read. The summary even includes what Cobble calls “Today’s God Shot” which gives a snapshot of an aspect of God’s character.

One can read out of an Old Testament book like Micah and be reminded that Jesus was God’s plan all along, he wasn’t Plan B. The problem is we have looked for the answers we want rather than the ones we need. In the prophecy of Micah she reminds the reader that Jesus’ purpose wasn’t to overpower mighty nations but to “overpower death and the grace, like Jesus does seven hundred years later.”

Cobble can take a section of the Bible that may be confusing and distill it down to be much more understandable. Her summary of Galatians 1-3 brings some clarity to who is Israel and her relationship with God. She writes, “Even though God has a unique, irreplaceable relationship with ethnic Israel, Gentiles are still counted among the descendants of Abraham. That relationship isn’t contingent on ethnicity or circumcision; it’s contingent on faith in Christ and available to anyone of any ethnicity, Jew or Gentile.” A simple summary of a potentially difficult concept.

There are some instances when Cobble’s well-meaning attempts to summarize and offer highlight reels can be potentially confusing, especially for those who may not be well-versed in the Bible (the ones for which I think this book was specifically intended). For instance, in the reading for Romans 4-7, Cobble writes, “And according to YHWH, who exists outside of time, even though Jesus hadn’t been born when Abraham died, Jesus had already died on the cross before the world was made.” While I think I get where she is coming from, it’s a theological misstep that has the potential of utterly confusing her readers.

While Cobble is really writing this book for those of us who have struggled to grasp and understand the Bible in its entirety, I think it’s a helpful resource for anyone interested in reading the Bible. Whether you have read the Bible through multiple times or if you have just struggled to get through a chapter, The Bible Recap is a helpful resource to clear away the confusion and help you to understand the God whose story lies within the Bible’s pages.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge by Bethany House. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Book Plan for 2021

In 2014, I began taking a more structured and strategic approach to reading in my life. I have always been a big reader, but once I left my engineering career and went into full-time vocational ministry, I began to read like I had never read before. 

For the past six years, I have tried my best to follow my book plans, but focus isn’t my big strength, so I’ve never achieved more than 25% of my list. So, I’ve decided to take a different approach this year.

While I have consistently averaged at least a book a week over the past few years, there are a number of books that I read throughout the year that were never even on my radar when the year began. I don’t think that’s a bad thing as I want to stay as up to date and current as possible. Sometimes there are books that I review that take precedent for me. As my kids have taken my lead and begun to love reading as well, I’ve tried to be aware of the things that they are reading or even give them recommendations based on my own reading.

In addition, there are book study groups that I have taken part in for which I need to read. I have also been on a task force at one of my children’s schools for diversity and awareness. That has opened up opportunities for additional books as well. 

This year, instead of trying to shoot for the moon with my list, I decided that I would keep it minimal and see if this approach is any more successful than past efforts. In keeping my plan to a baker’s dozen of books (a little more than one book per month), I figured that would be achievable. If I need to adjust or add as the year goes on, I can always do that.

One other notable thing for myself is the number of these books that are on Kindle. It may seem strange to some who have easily embraced the digital revolution, but I am such a purest when it comes to music, movies, and books that it has been hard for me to embrace the idea of not having a physical copy of a book to hold, to smell, to feel, and to highlight. Kindle allows for saving space on my bookshelves, but it’s been a tough sell to me. Four of the books on my list are in digital format, so I’m slowly embracing the revolution. Pretty sure it will be hard for me to ever get that to 100% of my books, but I’m trying.

Based on what I find myself knee deep in at the moment as well as my knowledge of books, studies and other things that will be coming this year, then adding in interests and curiosities, here is my plan for 2021. Here’s hoping I can be more successful and actually complete the plan.

Ta-Nehisi Coates “The Water Dancer”

Andy Crouch “Culture Making”

Austen Hartke “Transforming”

Barney Hoskyns “Hotel California”

Timothy Keller “Every Good Endeavor”

Timothy Keller “Uncommon Ground”

Latasha Morrison “Be the Bridge”

Trevor Noah “Born a Crime”

Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert “The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective”

J.K. Rowling “The Ickabog”

Francis Schaeffer “Death In the City”

Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight Friesen “The New Parish”

Howard F. Weiner “Deadology”

Books Read 2020

2020 was an interesting year all around, and that can be said for my reading throughout the year as well. My average number of books read throughout the year was slightly up from last year (I read three more books than I did in 2019). In the home stretch of the year, with some additional downtime to relax, I was able to finish a few of those books.

I continue to struggle sticking with the reading plan that I put together at the beginning of the year, only reading 5 of the 33 books on that plan. So, that’s had me reevaluating my plan for 2021, but I will tackle that in a separate post. As Focus isn’t one of my top strengths, I think I just need to embrace it rather than fighting it.

I read more books geared for a younger audience this year. That had to do with being in a focus group for diversity in one of my kids’ schools. That coupled with the racial tensions in our country over the last few years had me diving into books that were not only outside my own demographic but also slightly out of my comfort zone, which is a really good thing.

Ten of the books (nearly 20%) that I read this year were for review. The publishing world seemed a little different this year with the pandemic hitting hard. I had thought that more books would be available than there were, but I adapted. Reviewing books is one of the unknowns that has impacted my divergence from my reading list.

A few highlights for the year, I was able to read a book that my cousin wrote as well as a book by a church planter friend. It’s always a joy to read stuff by people I know, so these books were special for me. I also read more novels this year than I have in a long time. A few of those novels dealt with race relations, a topic that has become even more important to me in light of the events of 2020.

Overall, I was happy with my reading intake for the year. There are always improvements to be made and I am hoping I can make adjustments and find myself more efficient for 2021.

Here are the 54 books that I read in 2020:

Kwame Alexander “Crossover”

James Baldwin “Notes of a Native Son”

Mike Breen “Building a Discipling Culture”

Austin Channing Brown “I’m Still Here”

Frederick Buechner “Now and Then”

Max Allen Collins “Road to Perdition”

Ray Comfort “Anyone But Me”

Mike Cosper “Stories We Tell”

Andy Crouch “Strong and Weak”

Isak Dinesen “Babette’s Feast”

Dennis Edwards “Might From the Margins”

Val Emmich “Dear Evan Hansen”

Karen English “Dog Days”

Scott Erickson “Honest Advent”

Ben Folds “A Dream About Lightning Bugs”

Malcolm Gladwell “Talking to Strangers”

Jon Gordon “The Carpenter”

Terence June Gray “We Want A Different Story”

Alan Hirsch and Debra Hirsch “Untamed

Amy Hollingsworth “The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers”

Landra Young Hughes with Holly Crawshaw “A Different Kind of Love Story”

Michael Hyatt “The Vision Driven Leader”

Glen Humphries “Sounds Like An Ending”

Eric Idle “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography”

Bill Johnson “The Mind of God”

Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal “I’m Not Dying With You Tonight”

Clayton King “Reborn”

Stephen King “Cycle of the Werewolf”

Anne Lamott “Traveling Mercies”

C.S. Lewis “The Weight of Glory”

Kevin Makins “Why Would Anyone Go To Church?”

Brennan Manning “The Ragamuffin Gospel”

Stephen Mansfield “Men on Fire”

Scot McKnight “One.Life”

Matt Mikalatos “Night of the Living Dead Christian”

Carey Nieuwhof “Didn’t See It Coming”

Ozzy Osbourne “I Am Ozzy”

Alan Paton “Cry, the Beloved Country”

Andrew Peterson “Adorning the Dark”

Jonathan “JP” Pokluda “Welcoming the Future Church”

Neil Powell and John James “Together for the City”

Mario Puzo “The Godfather”

Fred Schruers “Billy Joel”

Stephen K. Smith “Mystery on Church Hill”

Tim Soerens “Everywhere You Look” (2x)

Paul Stanley “Face the Music”

Mildred Taylor “Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry”

Mildred Taylor “All the Days Past, All the Days to Come”

Angie Thomas “The Hate U Give”

Jemar Tisby “The Color of Compromise”

Amir Tsarfati “The Last Hour”

Stephen Viars “Loving Your Community”

James Emery White “Christianity For People Who Aren’t Christians”

Robin Jester Wooton “Carrying Casseroles On Motorcycles”