Capital Gaines – A Book Review

capital gainesChip Gaines is one half of the husband and wife team starring in HGTV’s Fixer Upper. For anyone who has seen the show before, the personalities of both Chip and his wife, Joanna, are on full display. Joanna is the calculating, strategic, and organized one while Chip has more of a tendency to fly by the seat of his pants. The combination of their personalities has led to the success of their business and their show, Fixer Upper.

In Capital Gaines, Chip gives his reader a window into who he is and shares some of how he’s become the person that he is today. Gaines shares his successes and his failures. He’s incredibly honest about his shortcomings and shares times when things could have gone significantly different than they did.

He tells of the origin of the wishbone scar on his forehead and how the event that caused it changed him and the decisions that he made for the future. He tells of the significant people who have shaped and formed his way of thinking, his work ethic, and his overall outlook on life. All the while he reminds the reader that he doesn’t believe in accidents, seeing God’s hand in many of the situations that he has experienced in his life.

Gaines highlights some of the differences between him and his wife, Joanna. His love for her and his family is especially evident throughout this book. In fact, towards the end of the book, he shares that he and Joanna are calling it quits with their show, Fixer Upper, after the fifth season. They want to spend more time devoted to their family, something I see as admirable.

As Chip Gaines shares the stories of his life and experience, he gives the reader the sense that he’s someone they could easily befriend. You almost feel as if you’re sitting on the porch of his Waco, Texas farm, sharing a beer or two with him as he spins his tales.

It’s easy to get a glimpse of Chip Gaines on Fixer Upper and imagine that he’s just the joker/cut-up of a guy who’s always looking for a laugh and who hardly takes himself or anyone else too seriously. While that’s a part of who he is, the wisdom that he shares throughout this book far exceeds what would be expected of the “class clown.” I particularly appreciated his chapter on creating a “team of rivals” as well as the chapter on being the “runway” for people who you lead and train.

Considering the political climate of the United States, Gaines’ chapter on creating a team of rivals should be required for anyone who runs for political office, who posts on social media, and who basically has any kind of interaction with another human being on a regular basis. He vies for working side by side rather than limiting our conversations to Twitter and other social media, for it’s there that we get to know each other and understand each other better. He shares that, “There is no chance for any of us to see eye to eye if we are unwilling to even look in each other’s direction.” He goes so far as to say that the broad and oversimplified strokes with which we paint perfect stranger is just plain ignorant. If people could stop and take to heart most of what he’s written here, I think we’d be a whole lot better off.

Gaines also shares about those who have acted as “runways” in his life, training him up and being examples of hard work for him. His desire is to be the same for everyone else in his life. He shares stories of training up employees through baptism of fire, saying that their learning will be far more significant and permanent because they had to figure things out for themselves rather than having him walk them through things one step at a time.

It took me a day to read this book. It was a fast and easy read, but so well worth it. Chip Gaines seems like an all around fun guy to hang around and definitely someone that you would want in your corner to challenge you, train you, and encourage you. The depth of who he is as a person comes through in Capital Gaines, he can go from making you laugh to challenging your way of thinking in his winsome and delightful manner.

If you want to understand Chip Gaines a little more than you can by simply watching Fixer Upper, pick up a copy of this book. You won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time at all, and you might just learn something from the insights that Gaines has shared here.

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

Killing Spiders

kill the spiderWhat happens when we know that something is wrong in our life, something that needs change? We see the evidence of it throughout our lives, in our habits, in our relationships, in the nuances of how we go about living day to day. We begin to clean up the evidence of what’s wrong and never really go to find the source of it. It’s like a spider, we see the spider webs throughout the house, we clean the webs in order to make the house look tidy again, but that doesn’t remedy the problem. If we really want to get rid of the spider webs for good, we’ve got to kill the spider; otherwise, we’re just doing cursory work.

In his book, “Kill the Spider,” Carlos Whittaker tells his own story of getting to the heart of the issues that he faced in his life. His marriage was falling apart, he was losing his family, and he realized that he wasn’t fully convinced of the convictions upon which he had staked his life. He needed to find, identify, and kill the spider that was wreaking havoc on his life.

“Kill the Spider” is an autobiographical wisdom book. Whittaker shares his story with raw and deep details. He holds back on revealing everything, but it’s hard to read this book without feeling his feelings, thinking his thoughts, and perhaps even finding yourself identifying similar experiences in your own life. What Whittaker doesn’t capture with literary eloquence or powerful prose he makes up for with intense and reflective sharing of what he went through.

Whittaker journals his experience of losing his faith and finding it again in a week-long intense counseling retreat. He offers his insights into how he was able to push past the cobwebs and do the hard work of identifying the spider that was ruining his life. He never claims that answers are simple, easy, or quick. The old adage that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” proves true here when considering the amount of time it took Whittaker to get to the place from which he couldn’t escape on his own. In fact, he points out, although he was able to come to grips with the reality of identifying his spider, he wasn’t able to kill it on his own. The only one who could was Jesus.

Whittaker is no theologian, just a simple storyteller. This book is just the chronicle of someone who hits rock bottom and discovers an approach to getting back to the top again. Whittaker shares helpful insights from the Bible and even shares prayers that have been helpful for him. Whittaker was not able to come to grips with the heart of his problem until he was willing to get real and honest with himself. He shares the steps that brought him to that place.

“Kill the Spider” was a fast read. I finished it in just a few days. Whittaker’s ability to tell a story drew me back to the book and I found myself wanting to know just how he came out of the pit in which he found himself. Some might not appreciate the rawness with which Whittaker shares in the book. His cursing was most likely used to emphasize just how low he found himself and how raw he had become, and although they did not deter me, there are some who will close the book when they read those words.

If you’ve been struggling in your life to get to the heart of the things that have been bringing you down, “Kill the Spider” may be a helpful book for you. The way that Whittaker crafts and tells his story alone is a compelling enough reason to pick up this book and read it.

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

Who’s in your tree?

kids in a treeAt a retreat that I am attending for the next few days, one of the presenters asked a question that stirred something within me. He asked, “Who’s in your tree?” By that, he means, who are your friends, who is encouraging you?

So many pastors and church planters have little to no friends. Some of it has to do with trust while part of it also has to do with time. Our society as a whole doesn’t do well in seeking to create margin in our lives, pastors can be equal opportunity culprits of this as well.

After being asked the question and then reflecting on it, I was so incredibly blessed that I didn’t have to think too hard to name the exact people who are in my tree. There are two specific friends who I have known for about half of my life. Although we don’t see each other regularly, we keep in touch via phone and text. I know that they are always there and available for me should I need them in a moment’s notice. I’m pretty sure that they could say the same thing about me.

Beyond those two, I have a few other friends who I feel equally confident about. We don’t have any regularly scheduled connection point (although, maybe we should), but I know that they have my back and they know I’ve got their back. We are there for each other.

Life can be isolating at times, busy schedules for myself and for my family can easily crowd out time for soul care and emotional nurturing. I realized during my sabbatical last year how important Sabbath rest and recharge is for my life. I know that I need to fiercely guard it, even from people who I care about. Those times make me better for the times that I am “On” for everyone around me.

I’m grateful to have a tree that’s full. Even in pondering the question, I realized that although I’ve got people who have got my back, I need to figure out a way to be more intentional and regular with them. Chances are, if I’m feeling the pull to create those connections that they are as well.

Choosing Donald Trump by Stephen Mansfield

choosing donald trumpAlthough I am a white male who considers himself to be an evangelical, I did not count myself among the 81% of white evangelicals in America who voted for Donald Trump. In the months leading up to the election and the months immediately following it, I have read and heard the vitriolic remarks and comments of my brothers and sisters who also found themselves at odds with this 81% of the evangelical world.

Although I did not cast my vote for Donald Trump, I was sympathetic towards those who felt trapped, stuck even, at the choices that they were given in the 2016 election. So often, I heard people express the old adage to “pick your poison” as they were not thrilled or even moderately content with any of the choices that had been laid out for them in the voting booth for this election.

When I was given the opportunity to read and review Stephen Mansfield’s latest book, “Choosing Donald Trump,” I was reluctant. The last thing that I wanted to read was an apologetic as to why Donald Trump was the right man for the job, or even worse, “God’s man” for the job.

But that was not the intent of Mansfield in writing this book. In fact, he writes with intent to come up with answers for himself, to have a better understanding of why such a large portion of evangelicals cast their vote for Donald Trump. In the introduction of the book, he says that the book is not a biography or an electoral history. He writes, “It is instead about the faith that has shaped Donald Trump, about the religious factors that played a role in his election, about what religious conservatives have risked in supporting Donald Trump, and about what religion may mean in a Trump administration.” He goes on to say that the Trump presidency may be “among the most religiously decisive in American history.”

Although Mansfield claims this book isn’t a biography, he gives enough of a picture into Donald Trump’s background that the early part of the book feels like it is. As I read about his upbringing, his family history, and all that he went through, I found myself having compassion for this loud-mouthed, unorthodox president. Over and over again, I found myself nodding my head, not in agreement but in understanding, as the puzzle pieces began to take shape to show the picture of the man that Donald Trump is today.

Mansfield walks through the connections that Donald Trump had with pastors such as Norman Vincent Peale and Paula White. He spoke to the fears and frustration that existed within so many conservative evangelicals in the United States and their discontent with the direction of the country over the eight years of the Obama administration. As he described the background of Donald Trump, the two defining terms that he used for him, coming straight from Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father, were “king” and “killer.” Everything that Donald Trump stepped into was stepped into with one intent: to win.

It was that ruthless, cutthroat passion for winning that drew so many to Donald Trump, especially considering that they had been losing for so many years before the election of 2016. Even though the morality and ethics of Donald Trump were questionable, even standing in opposition to their own, “The would support even a man life Donald Trump if it meant reclaiming their country.”

Mansfield also spends a chapter each on two of Trump’s adversaries, Obama and Clinton. Here again, he uses the country’s experience of both of these to explain why so many who voted for Trump were led there. In matters of faith, Obama was inconsistent and Clinton was unclear. Mansfield gives examples of both and shows why so many felt that another 4 or 8 years in the hands of a liberal president would just be more of the same from the perspective of religious rights and freedom.

Mansfield does not promote the stance to support Trump out of fear and worry, he simply unearths it through his interviews and research. His own views may be expressed better in his chapters on the art of prophetic distance, of which there are two. Through the experiences of Billy Graham and some of his early mistakes with politicians as well as the apprehensive stance of pastors like Paul Marc Goulet of the International Church of Las Vegas, Mansfield explains the need for clergy to maintain a prophetic distance between themselves and every politician. While many have seen Trump as another example of the biblical King Cyrus, an immoral man used by God, aligning one’s self with someone of the like is not a favorable approach.

Mansfield ends his book with an appendix called “Donald Trump In His Own Words.” Within this appendix are the transcripts of two speeches that Trump gave, one at the National Prayer Breakfast shortly after taking office and one at Great Faith Ministries Church in Detroit, Michigan two months before the election. Mansfield’s aim in providing the reader with the entire transcript of these speeches is for the reader to read for himself the words that Trump spoke. Too often, we hear only soundbites on the news, these transcripts give the reader the opportunity to read the entirety of Trump’s words.

“Choosing Donald Trump” may not appeal to everyone. There are some who have already made up their minds about Donald Trump and had their minds made up even before he took office. There are others who may still be struggling to understand just how so many white evangelicals with high moral and ethical standards could choose a man like Donald Trump. Regardless of where you are coming from, “Choosing Donald Trump” is a worthwhile read if you are seeking to understand a little bit more about the man, Donald Trump, and a little bit more as to why so many felt he was the best candidate to take the Oval Office.

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

Reading People – A Book Review

reading peopleUnless you’re a hermit living on a deserted island or in some isolated place, you interact with people. Some of those interactions are good, others are not so good. When we interact with people, it can easily seem personal when there is conflict and misunderstanding, but chances are, things aren’t really as personal as we think they are. In fact, people are looking at the situation from their own perspective, point of view, and most likely seeing things differently than the way that we do.

Anne Bogel shares her experience and how she has improved her interactions with people in her book “Reading People.” She says, “The more I’ve learned about personality, the more I’ve discovered how powerful this knowledge can be.” She spends the entire book looking at various personality frameworks that help to see into the depth of a person and gain understanding and insights. Just because they aren’t us doesn’t make them crazy, Bogel says, it just makes them different.

Bogel takes a chapter for each of these frameworks that she explains. Some of them are interconnected but look at varying perspectives using a similar tool. She gives overviews of the five love languages, Keirsey’s temperaments, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Clifton StrengthsFinder, the enneagram, as well as looking at introverts and extraverts, highly sensitive people, and the MBTI cognitive functions. With each chapter, Bogel shares about her experience with it as well as her own insights. She points the reader to various resources for additional reading and study on the various frameworks.

Bogel sums it all well in the last chapter of the book when she writes, “Some people resist personality frameworks because they say such frameworks put them in a box. I’ve found that understanding my personality helps me step out of the box I’m trapped in. When I understand myself, I can get out of my own way.” When people begin to see how helpful these frameworks are for understanding themselves and other people, the resistance seems to dissipate.

I am a trained Strengths Communicator and have worked extensively with people and their Clifton StrengthsFinder. I have also worked with a number of the other frameworks and I think this book is a good resource for someone to give a high level overview. There are enough resources listed within the book that point people to additional information should they want to go deeper into any or all of these frameworks.

I was disappointed that Bogel did not connect this more with the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives and how we are shaped and formed by God. When I work with people and their strengths, if it is through the church or a faith-based organization, I will include language about that. There are easy connections, in my opinion, between seeing how God has put us together and how that comes out in our personalities. We can see how purposeful and intentional God was in creating us the way that we are and we can seek ways to allow ourselves to be changed as our personalities are shaped and formed over the course of our lives.

If you have only recently heard about some of these frameworks and are looking to get more information before digging deep into one or all of them, “Reading People” is a great resource to give you some more focus. Bogel does a great job of sharing her own stories and connecting them to her learning in all of these different frameworks. Pick up a copy and get on your way to a better understanding of yourself and other people.

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

All Things New – A Picture of Hope

All Things NewI began to grow frustrated with the typical Christian explanation of Heaven and the life hereafter when I was young. It all seemed so ethereal and foreign, less like paradise and more like a fluffy, cloud-filled wonderland full of harps, flying, naked baby angels, and bad pictures of stereotypical Jesus. At the time, I never took the time to really search out through the Bible to hear what it had to say about what would happen and what it would look like after Jesus returned.

A few years ago, someone introduced me to N.T. Wright and I dove into his book, “Surprised By Hope.” It gave the picture of a new heaven and new earth that I had always been suspicious was out there but had never heard anyone describe and support the way that Wright did. Wright, a theologian and pastor, eloquently and thoughtfully laid out and explained, not based on personal preference or feeling, but by pulling straight from the Bible’s own descriptions of what was to come.

What N.T. Wright did with his eloquent and theological approach, John Eldredge has done with his provocative, artistic, edgy, and creative linguistic paintbrush in his new book, “All Things New.” Eldredge even makes reference to Wright’s book among other works by well-known Christian writers such as C.S. Lewis, Dallas Willard, and G.K. Chesterton. He paints a picture of what is to come that aligns better with what we read in the prophetic images of the Bible as well as the words of Jesus.

John Eldredge has always been an honest writer. There have been times, as I’ve read his books, that I wondered whether he wrote some of the things that he did more out of provocation and instigation. Eldredge’s honesty and edginess comes through in “All Things New,” but it doesn’t feel forced or contrived. He shares from his own experiences of loss and grief. He is honest, real, and authentic.

From his experiences of grief and loss, Eldredge points to the fact that our hope needs to find itself firmly in the grips of Jesus Christ and the hope of the resurrection and the life to come. When we put our hope in other things, we find false hope rather than real hope. As he describes our hope in Jesus and in the kingdom come, he writes, “That is the only hope strong enough, brilliant enough, glorious enough to overcome the heartache of this world.”

Eldredge reminds the reader that the coming renewal is a renewal of ALL things, not just some things. He describes just what that means, in that our creator God is not about the annihilation and destruction of what he has created but the restoration and renewal of things. Eldredge says, “If God were wiping away reality as we know it and ushering in a new reality, the phrase would have been “I am making all new things!” He refers here to Revelation 21:5, where God says, “I am making everything new.” The Bible speaks of a new heaven and a new earth and Eldredge gives the reader images of just what that might mean. Contrary to traditional pictures and descriptions of heaven (the fluffy, naked baby ones), Eldredge describes just what that might look like.

“All Things New” is full of descriptions of what is to come straight from Scripture. Edredge also uses the fantasy tales of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and how they have allegorically imagined what is to come. But I never get a sense throughout the book that Eldredge is trying to paint an extra-biblical picture of what is to come, he is just using pictures from others whose imagination or description enhances the pictures already set forth within the Bible.

Having gone through my own grief in losing both of my parents within a 21 month period, hope has been elusive at times. God has constantly pointed me back to Paul’s words in Romans 8. Eldredge’s book has been another step in reminding me that what is to come is something to look forward to with great hope and expectation. Although his own experience has been full of grief and loss as well, I never get a sense that his projections of what is to come are contrived out of a fabricated emotionalism. I appreciate his pointing the reader back to a more biblically grounded picture of what is to come.

If you have struggled with traditional pictures of heaven and the life hereafter, I would encourage you to pick up “All Things New” and hear not what Eldredge has to say, but the hope that he found in the words of the Bible. This book is a book of hope, pointing us to the only hope that is unchanging, steady, constant, and eternal.

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

Just Watching

watchingOn my way to work this morning, I ran into a back-up on the highway. I could see the flashing lights ahead and realized that there were no lane closures and the accident that was causing the delay seemed to have been fairly minor. But everyone needed to stop and slow down. They needed to see what all the delay was about. It was almost as if they needed to be a part of it without really being a part of it.

I met someone for lunch yesterday at a fast food restaurant. As we walked in, the TV hanging on the wall was displaying the news of the tragedy in Las Vegas. As the latest statistics scrolled across the screen, the man with whom I was meeting said, “I think we’ve become calloused. I see stuff like this and it hardly phases me.” I couldn’t help but agree. If there is a normal, this may very well have become a part of ours. That’s not to say that I like it, but it seems that the frequency of these kinds of occurrences is too high.

It seems that we spend a good deal of our lives watching. We watch the cars go by and crane our necks to see why we had to slow down. We turn on the news on the TV or computer or device and we watch everything that’s happening. We might even attend a church on a Sunday morning and we take our seats and watch as everything plays out before us.

We’re really good at watching, but I wonder how good we are at doing. Does our watching ever result in us actually doing something? We can watch the world pass by and even feel the stirrings in our hearts that we should do something, but then life gets in the way and we forgot that feeling, the deep ache within us that was calling us to step out and make a difference. We can be lulled into a stupor and trance by the busyness that surrounds us and before we know it, the opportunities have passed us by.

That’s where I am right now. I’ve been watching, trying to put some skin in the game. I’ve been on a fact finding mission, trying to see where I need to be and what I need to be doing. The fact is, it seems like there are a billion places to start and a trillion things to do, if we take it at face value, it’s all a bit overwhelming. But if we look around to right where we are, do we see the possibilities to affect change right there?

I am tired. I am tired of death and tragedy. I am tired of the constant politicization of tragedies for our own preferences. I am tired of people thinking that change can happen just by being more restrictive. If change doesn’t happen deep within, then the change will only be temporary at best, fake and superficial at worst.

When tragedy strikes, we always want to find who is to blame. Many people would dare to blame gun lobbyists, the president, the NRA, and others. I don’t think that all of these are without blame, but the problem is, some of us just aren’t self-aware enough to realize that while there may be blaming lying outside of us, there may actually be blame deep within us as well. We are not without blame, yet we have no problem casting the first stones.

Could it be that our problem isn’t a law or legal thing and that it’s really a heart thing? Could it be that maybe there is more to morality and ethics than a secular humanistic view would admit? Could it be that the heart of the problem may actually lie closer to home and within me than I am willing to admit?

My heart is broken that there are lives which have been senselessly snuffed out and for the families of those whose lives are over. My heart is broken that tragedy continues to divide us rather than unite us. My heart is broken that we are too busy casting blame to take any responsibility or ownership ourselves.

I’m not sure what the next steps are, but I’m pretty sure politicization, blaming, and lobbying are not among them. I can make a difference, but the question is whether or not I’ll just sit back and keep watching or if I’ll get some skin in the game and actually do something.