What’s so “good” about Good Friday?

Today is Good Friday, at least for those of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ. It’s the day when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross, his suffering and beating, the injustices done against him, his abandonment by those who called themselves his followers. As I think about all that happened on Good Friday, none of it seems to add up to giving it the moniker “good.”

But we can’t look at Good Friday on its’ own. The only way that Good Friday can really be called “good” is if we look at it in light of what happens just three days later. Good Friday becomes good when we realize just what it led to, the celebration of Easter Sunday.

As I think about Good Friday and all that Jesus did, I realize that his work is nothing that can be duplicated by any of us. He alone was able to live a perfect life. He alone was able to be a sacrifice for our sins. He alone was able to rise again after three days in the tomb. But I think we can learn lessons from what Jesus did, at least one lesson for every day that he was in the grave (give me a break, good things come in threes, right?).

1) The will of the Father was more important than his own

Jesus knew his purpose and mission from the beginning. From the moment when he began his public ministry and was baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus exhibited submission to the Father. The Father’s voice rang out from the heavens, “This is my beloved son in him I am well pleased.”

While most of us may have gone the selfish route, Jesus did not waiver in deed from his mission. He submitted to the Father’s plan and accomplished the perfect work. Jesus’ agenda was the agenda of his Father, not his own.

How many of us can say the same thing? Do we really allow the will of our Father to take priority to our own?

2) He knew there was a bigger plan at work

Not only was Jesus submissive to the Father, but he also kept the bigger plan in mind. Jesus knew what the end result needed to be and he did not waver from it. Jesus had every reason to get caught up in who he was, the Messiah, and what he was able to do, but he didn’t. Jesus, in fact, continued to try to conceal who he was until the moment was right. He knew the bigger plan and did not want to derail that plan or for anything to happen before the appointed time.

How often do we remember that God has a bigger plan in mind? Do we get hijacked in thinking that our plan is more important than the master plan?

3) He didn’t open his mouth

In fulfilling the prophecies that had been spoken of him, when Jesus was arrested and tried, he did not say much at all. He did not defend himself. He did not use his divine powers. He simply kept his mouth shut.

I don’t know about you, but this has to be one of the most difficult things for me to do in following the example of Jesus, especially when I feel that I am under attack. It’s hard not to be defensive, let alone not opening my mouth. My reflex and automatic response is always self=preservation, yet Jesus was less concerned about himself and more concerned about what we saw in lessons 1 and 2 above. The will of the Father was more important than his own and the bigger plan was more important than his own plan.

As I reflect on Jesus’ work over the course of these days leading up to Easter as well as the lessons we learn from him, it’s a little overwhelming to think about. No matter how hard I could try, I could never measure up to Jesus and all that he did. While that may seem deflating, it’s actually freeing to understand that Jesus’ work was enough and there is nothing that I can add to it. While I can follow his example, even when I don’t, he offers me forgiveness and grace.

Good Friday is indeed good. What happened on Easter was great. May we constantly pursue the example of Jesus as we are constantly transformed into the image in which we were created, the imago dei, the image of God.

Learning to Repent

It’s been a journey in the making for about eight years, but if I’m really honest, it’s probably been longer than that. It might be closer to forty years. It’s been a journey of enlightenment, a journey of self-discovery, and a journey of humility.

I’ve benefitted from white privilege for the bulk of my life. I was raised into it, though I did nothing to deserve it or earn it. I’ve never fought it or complained that it was given to me. I’ve never done anything to give it away, and I’ve never really done anything to repent of its benefits.

For those of us who have benefited from white privilege, it’s hard to acknowledge it and sometimes harder to come to terms with the fact that it’s something of which we should repent. You see, I think our Christianity in the west has been heavily influenced by our westernized, individualistic culture. We’ve lost the corporate nature of humanity as we’ve all set on our own individual ways. We seek after a personal relationship with Christ, which is important but we miss the point of the corporate language of the Bible. We read so many of the passages in the Bible that say “you” as talking to us as individuals rather than talking to us as a group, one body.

Those of us who fail to see that repentance is necessary are the same ones who fail to see why “All lives matter” is not a legitimate phrase. We also wonder why we need to repent for the things for which we can’t claim personal responsibility. After all, we weren’t the ones pulling the trigger, right? We weren’t there when some of these atrocities took place, right? We never asked for the white privilege that we received, did we?

But asking those questions and making those statements are an indication of us missing the point.

The Book of Nehemiah in the Bible is among my favorite books. It contains thirteen chapters of leadership and life lessons. One of the things that has captivated me about the book is found in the first chapter, specifically, Nehemiah’s prayer, for it’s in that prayer that I think I first began to understand corporate sin and corporate repentance. It’s in that prayer that I realized that there are times when we confess the sins that we might not have personally committed, times when we need to own things that others did, maybe even way before we were even born. It was in that prayer that I began to learn that being responsible for and taking responsibility for are not necessarily the same thing.

As Nehemiah prays to the Lord, he says, Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.”

Why did Nehemiah pray that prayer? He wasn’t personally responsible for Israel’s exile. He didn’t do anything to cause it. Yet, he was willing to own it and to bring it before the Lord.

Why?

I think that Nehemiah understood corporate sin. I think he understood that there was something to be said about sins for which he may have not been personally responsible, but for which he was corporately responsible. Nehemiah is an example that we who have benefitted from white privilege should follow.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who will disagree with me, and that’s fine. I feel like I’m just beginning to understand, I feel like I’m beginning to see what I’ve missed before. I may not have personally caused the mess or committed the sin, but I’ve been a recipient of the privilege that resulted from it. And that’s why it makes perfect sense for me to repent. I might not be personally responsible for the sins, but I can take responsibility for them. 

Yes, my journey’s been a long one, and it’s certainly not over. I’m beginning to open my eyes, my ears, and my heart. Opening my eyes to see, opening my ears to hear, and opening my heart to feel.

The journey has involved reading things that I wouldn’t normally read, books that might make me feel uncomfortable. It’s involved going places that I wouldn’t normally go, places that might make me feel uncomfortable. It’s involved talking with people that I might not normally talk with, people that might make me feel uncomfortable. But the only way we grow is to feel that discomfort, to move outside of the safe zone with which we tend to surround ourselves.

I’m not there, but I’m doing what I can do broaden my horizons and look at things from a different perspective. I know that God is doing a work in me and I can only hope that it continues.

How Do I Hold This?

On my way to an appointment yesterday, I got a text message from my wife with an update on the father of one of my son’s friend’s dad. Any time I hear the words, “It’s not good,” I always feel like a boulder gets firmly planted in my gut. My shoulders sag, my heart aches, and I do my best to keep the waterworks from starting. Tears seem inevitable, yet I still try to contain them.

There’s so much hurt, pain, and brokenness. I get so frustrated with those false prophets who say that God never gives you more than you can handle. That’s a load of garbage. I can’t find one place in the Bible where it even remotely says that. In fact, I think it says the opposite, that in this world you will find trouble and that if you choose to follow after Jesus, pain will be part of the journey.

As I sit here feeling the weight of all the stuff swirling around me, I keep asking myself, “How do I hold this?” How do I hold onto hope while standing in the face of turmoil?

I’ve always struggled with those who consider themselves Christians and who talk about an absolute assurance with no doubt. My speculation and cynicism makes me think that they’ve never really experienced anything significantly difficult in their lives to be able to hold to that. I’m not saying that I doubt God, but I certainly wonder about his ways at times.

When you’ve seen a godly man like my father who served God for years as a pastor come to a place of brokenness and defeat in his final years and months, it’s hard to have such bulletproof assurance. Again, hear what I am saying, I still believe, but like the man in Mark 9, I continue to ask God to help my unbelief.

I honestly don’t know how people do it without hope and without faith. I recently read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me.” It’s a heartbreaking read of a father’s letter to his son. But that father has no hope and without hope, it’s hard to just know what to do about the future. What are we sailing towards if we lack hope? How do we step with one foot in front of the other without hope?

In the words of the old hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” The problem is, sometimes I wish that my hope could be founded in something that I could see and even touch. Sometimes I wish that I could get a little glimpse of that hope for myself rather than having to hold onto God’s promises. It’s not that I don’t think that they’re true, it’s just that sometimes you want something a little bit more tangible.

After hearing of some more difficult news this morning, I almost told my friends that I think it’s time for a prayer meeting. What else is there to do?

While it might seem that I am in despair, I’m not. There’s a difference between discouragement and despair. Despair happens when we lose hope, and I haven’t lost it.

I’m reminded of the words of the prophet Habakkuk in the Bible. Despite the difficulty of the circumstances surrounding him, he still maintained his hope in the Lord when he wrote the following:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

My circumstances and the circumstances of the people around me don’t need to dictate my response to them. If those things bring me to my knees, then they draw me closer to the One who holds all these things in his hand…..so that I don’t have to.

Reclaiming Hope – A Book Review

reclaiming hopeIn the introduction of “Reclaiming Hope,” Michael Wear writes, “If we are to reclaim hope, we must understand our nation’s political life and our role in it. Politics is causing great spiritual harm and a big reason for that is people are going to politics to have their inner needs met. Politics does a poor job of meeting inner needs, but politicians will suggest they can do so if it will get them votes. The state of our politics is a reflection of the state of our souls.” So begins his chronicling of his journey with President Obama and his administration as part of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

“Reclaiming Hope” reads more like a memoir as Wear recalls his experience in the midst of the Obama administration. Along the way, he paints a compelling picture of President Obama. Multiple times, I stopped reading to soak in just what this young millennial was saying about the now former President of the United States. His youthful idealism seemed to have gotten the better of him on more than one occasion. Wear seems to maintain a significant amount of hope and faith in his fellow man, even if that fellow man is a politician.

Wear explains his unease with a party (the Democratic party) that at times seems to buck up against the very foundation of evangelical Christianity. As he explains his own viewpoint, he was honest about the choice that politics gives the individual between “imperfect options.” At the same time, his own coming to Christianity in his formative years led him to identify with so many people who saw the Republican party as unswervingly connected to evangelical Christianity and, therefore, something of which to be suspicious.

Obama’s own faith is presented by Wear as a faith that seeks to “express itself in deeds.” Through President Obama’s words, both in his books as well as interviews and speeches, Wear adamantly defends the former president’s Christian faith. His apologetic for the president can sometimes come across as the wide-eyed wonder and youthful idealism rather than sincere and objective critique, but Wear is honest in his admiration for Obama as well as his criticism of him.

Wear clearly criticizes the former president and his administration when he writes, – “…it should be clear that President Obama and his administration made concrete policy and political decisions that directly fueled partisanship, polarization, and the culture wars.” In his criticism, Wear is explicit as well, not simply lobbing bombs but bringing clear and specific instances when he thought that the former president either missed an opportunity or assuaged to the majority of his supporters.

Even in the midst of talking about the same-sex marriage debate which resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the country, Wear’s point has weight when he writes, “What is the value of a legal or political victory to affirm what marriage is if the culture does not embrace that definition? What good is a law on such an issue if it does not reflect Americans’ convictions? You can legislate morality – every law has moral grounds – but what does it mean if that law does not represent a moral consensus?” Whether or not you agree with the legislation or Wear’s take, it’s hard to not take pause to contemplate these words.

Wear’s total experience throughout both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns also gives him a valuable perspective. Specifically as it relates to diversity, Wear writes, “In 2009, our diversity demanded we accept that there will be voices we disagree with in public spaces. In 2013, diversity required us to expel dissent.” Despite his youthfulness and, at times, idealism, Wear is honest and blunt in his true assessment of the political landscape, even in his own party.

The dividing line in our country seems more pronounced than ever, but Wear warns Christians that withdrawal from politics or from political parties is not the answer. He reminds Christians that there have always been those in the Bible who found themselves at odds with prevailing ideological and political systems of their day. That did not give them cause to run and hide but instead to represent and stand above the crowds as an example. Inconsistent protestations don’t do anything but hurt Christians and the Christian witness in the world.

Wear reminds his reader that putting hope in political figures will lead to disappointment. He points the reader to the hope that we find in Jesus Christ. He reminds us that God is at work in all things and that Christian hope can be advanced even through non-Christian sources. He challenges Christians to be involved and work towards those Christian hopes and for the good of all people rather than simply circling up the wagons and waiting for Jesus to return. Isolation and separation from society and politics will not do anything to advance the Kingdom of God.

I was constantly surprised while reading “Reclaiming Hope” that Michael Wear is as young as he is. His insights and challenges were full of wisdom gained in a lifetime of experience accumulated in a short period of time. He is honest and fair and never comes across as pompous or knowing it all. In reading this book, I find myself with a different perspective, having had my eyes (and possibly my heart) opened a little bit more to see political parties and ideology as less “black and white” than I’ve been used to seeing them.

While I’m not sure that this will make an Obama fan of the most furious opponent of the former president, reading this book with an open mind may give a different perspective on a president who was often vilified by those on the political and ideological right. “Reclaiming Hope” was not what I had expected that it would be, but I think that’s a good thing. It was an important read for me and I think it is for anyone who legitimately wants to ask questions about the future of our country, especially those who are evangelical Christians.

(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.)

Grace Is Greater – A Book Review

The word “grace” is thrown around so often that it hardly seems amazing, writes Kyle Idleman. When a word has been around for as long as “grace” and when it has been abused and misused, it’s important to try to breathe new life into it and remember just what it means.grace-is-greater 

In “Grace Is Greater” author and pastor Kyle Idleman reminds people of the importance of grace. As followers of Christ, when we go about doing things without grace, we can easily suck the life from those things. We need to remember just how much grace we have received in order to be reminded of just how much grace we should be extending to others. 

Idleman shares from his own personal experiences and expounds on some accounts within the gospels to speak the message of grace that we all need to hear. We all live with guilt, shame, and regrets, but we can give all of those up when we remember the grace that we receive through Jesus Christ.` 

While a large part of grace is accepting it ourselves despite the things that we have done, Idleman also reminds us that we need to extend that grace to others. That’s easier said than done when we’ve been hurt and wounded by others. We want to see justice, we want to see someone pay for our pain, but we need to move past that, not demeaning the significance of what was done to us but realizing that holding onto things reaps bitterness and does more damage to us than it does to the person that we are supposedly hurting. 

“We are never more like God than when we forgive,” Idleman writes. A true statement and a reminder as we are on this journey of transformation. Forgiveness is not optional, it’s required of us. Idleman shares stories of people who have moved beyond their own bitterness and desire for vengeance and embraced the love, forgiveness, and grace of God. That grace transformed them to be able to do unthinkable things, forgiving people who didn’t seem deserving of forgiveness.

He reminds us that when we hold back our forgiveness, we are forgetting just what we have received ourselves. While we may be expecting a certain level of repentance from people, we can’t forget that our own level of repentance doesn’t match the level of our offense against God.

As Idleman writes, “we’re able to receive God’s grace only to the extent we’re able to recognize our need for it.” We need to examine just how deep our sin goes in order to fully appreciate how desperately we need grace. We may always want to have answers to our circumstances and situations, but there are times when answers won’t be given. We need to look past the lack of answers to see what God has in store for us.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Idleman has written a few others books that have been popular. I missed them and may even have purposely avoided them. Given the opportunity to read “Grace Is Greater,” I seized it and I was not disappointed at all. “Grace is Greater” is a reminder again of just what I deserve, what I don’t deserve, and what I have been given. It stands as a challenge and conviction to move past my hang-ups to a place where I see my own need for grace and in doing so, see my need to extend that grace to others as well. 

“Grace Is Greater” isn’t full of deep theological ideas, but then again, it’s often the simpler ideas that can be the hardest ones for us to grasp or accept. Give this book a try if you need a reminder of just how much you have been forgiven. You’ll never look at grace the same again.

(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.)

Essential Worship – A Book Review

essential-worshipThere may be nothing more contentious within the church than the worship ministries. What music should be played? Is it too loud? Who should lead? How close (or far) are we to God’s plan for corporate worship? The questions go on and on and it seems that there are all kinds of answers from every possible direction.

“Essential Worship” by Greg Scheer is a helpful handbook for leaders. Whether those leaders be pastors, worship leaders, worship directors, worship pastors, or whoever, Scheer has done a thorough job of putting together a handbook that can be used by these leaders to help them in leading their ministries.

This book is divided into five parts: Principles, Past, Practice: Music in Worship, Practice: The Arts in Worship, and People.

In the Principles section, Scheer starts with the primary and most important topic: what is worship” He leads the reader through other principles such as what is Biblical worship, who is the audience, and what does worship do. He moves into the Past section and invites the reader to look at the past as well as various methods and modes of worship that have been used throughout the history of the church.

Parts three and four are a helpful foray into the practice of worship within the church. Scheer does a very good job of remaining balanced by offering thoughts and suggestions from both past as well as current repertoires and methods. While it seems that his experience may be in traditional forms of worship, it does not seem to bias his viewpoint.

Part five is about the various people involved in worship leadership within the church: pastors, leaders, musicians, and the like. Scheer offers some beneficial advice here on how to move through potential conflict.

There are nuggets of information scattered throughout this book. It’s not necessarily a book meant to be read front to back but can instead be used as a resource. After all, it is called a handbook. Scheer’s experience, wisdom, and thorough research into this book is apparent and it will serve church worship leaders well.

(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.)

Facing It

I’ve got a workout buddy that I meet at the gym twice a week. He’s far more experienced (and in way better shape) than I am, so he leads our workouts. I just sit back and pray that I’ll make it through them. He knows some of the things that I want to work on, so he includes workouts that will be best for getting done what needs to get done.

Our gym isn’t the most up-to-date facility, the equipment works fine, but it sure could use an update. There are free weights and a few machines. There are exercise balls, spinning bikes, floor mats, and other things that enable us to do what we need to do.

But there’s one thing in the gym that makes me cringe every time my buddy goes to get it…..

THE WHEEL OF DEATH

 ab-wheel

Maybe you’ve seen it before. Maybe you’ve used it before. Maybe you have the same look of shock and horror on your face every time that you come across it.

I remember seeing these things when I was a kid four hundred years ago. I guess you can’t improve upon greatness…….or pain.

As much as I hope that the ab wheel would just disappear from our gym, I also know what it does to me when I use it. It works my core and if I push myself, it should flatten out that 40+ tummy of mine (operative word there is “should”).

When we met at the gym the other day and we pulled out the wheel of death, I couldn’t help but think about the things that we try to avoid. Most of us will try to avoid some things that aren’t good for us or that will harm us. Some of us will avoid things that we know might be good for us but for which we find ourselves with a great aversion towards.

The fact is, there are some things, regardless of how we might react to them, that are good for us, at least in the long run. They might cause pain and agony in the short term, but the long term benefits will far outweigh that pain and agony.

Nope, we can hardly ever see it at the time. Who really likes to subject themselves to such pain?

I’ve been astounded at my observations of how this mindset extends so much further than the gym. When we face things that we don’t like, we simply run away. Let’s find a safe place where we can go so as to avoid the things that we don’t like. Let’s find a way to create a safe zone where nothing distasteful can enter.

But what happens to the growth that might have occurred in us had we had to face what we didn’t want to face? What happens to our resolve? To our sense of conviction? To our ability to hear opposing viewpoints? Do we really grow if we only surround ourselves with the things that we like?

This isn’t a recommendation for everyone to go hang out with the complete opposite of yourself, but it is a pondering of just what this does to us. I imagine that if we run every single time that we are faced with some kind of offense or opposition, we’re probably not moving much further from the space which we are already occupying. We’re not going to grow, to mature, to develop. We will be destined for mediocrity.

Sure, this breaks down at some point, I’m sure it does. There are certain topics and ideas which I want to avoid extreme opposition. I’ve wrestled with them and think I’ve come to rest on a good conclusion. But if my conclusions are really as sure-footed as I think they are, shouldn’t I be okay with a little wrestling now and then?

When I go back to the gym and that Wheel of Death is lurking in the closet, waiting to inflict pain upon me, I hope I don’t run. I hope I give it a try, because ultimately, what it will do to me will be far more significant and beneficial than if I simply were to tuck my tail and run away. 

Stepping Out

Last time I left the country was about 12 years ago. I had only been married for 4 years, I had no children. I went all the way to Europe, spending a week in Kiev, Ukraine, working with a small church over there to do some outreach events in their neighborhood.

The trip was a growing experience for me and probably for my wife. It was the first time that we had been apart from each other for that length of time and that geographic distance. I was in a new place where I didn’t know the language, meeting new people and trying to do my best to assimilate and blend in, something I found much easier for me than my companions on the team.

Tomorrow, I board a plane and leave the country again, this time for Costa Rica. 12 years and 3 children later, this will prove to be yet another growing experience for me, my wife, and our family. I’ll be gone for 10 days working with a team to put on a children’s camp in the mountains.

I’ll be honest, I’ve resisted this trip from the start, and I’ve been asking myself why the moment that the resistance began. While there are factors here and there that might contribute to my resistance, the biggest one has to do with my family.

For years, I never had to travel significantly for work. The furthest that I had to go was down the street or a few towns over. Over the last few years, I’ve had to travel for work more frequently, one state away, a few states away, across the country. It was hard for me whether I was gone for 2 days or 7 days, I just never liked to leave my family. But the thing that always made it easier was a phone call or a video call, the ability to hear or see my family through technology.

And that’s one of the reasons why this trip will be harder for me, aside from the day and a half in the beginning and the two days on the back end, I won’t be in contact with my family.

I’ll be about good work, God’s work, assisting in the lives of kids who don’t always have the opportunity to do what they’ll be doing. I’m familiar with the language, not fluent, but familiar enough to carry on casual conversations. I think that’ll make some of the discomfort a little easier.

What’s that phrase that’s always thrown around? Absence makes the heart grow fonder? What if I’m already fond?

I don’t know all that will happen while I am away, both where I am and back at home, but I’m pretty certain that this trip will change us, all of us, in my family. I think my heart will grow, both for my family and for the world. I think that my perspective of God’s kingdom will grow, seeing how we are connected despite geographical boundaries, borders, and ethnic variances.

Christians in the western world can too often forget that God’s kingdom is so much bigger and more expansive than we are, trips like this help to bring that into perspective. I’m excited to see what God will do, nervous and anxious along the way, but I’m sure there’ll be a story or two to write about when I get back!

 

How Are You?

how-are-youIt’s a question that we may speak as often as we hear it, but how often do we ask it with sincerity, sincerely wanting to know what’s going on with the person whom we’re asking? When someone asks it of us, how likely are we to give an honest answer or do legitimately think that, if we gave an honest answer, the person who was asking us really gave a rip?

As I get older and the lens of what’s really important in life seems to become clearer, I continue to see that there are certain themes and principles that seem to apply across the board. No matter who you ask, no matter where you are, these things seem to be true.

One of these things that I have come to appreciate and understand more and more over the past few years is the fact that you can never assume that what’s on the outside of the box matches what’s on the inside. In other words, when it comes to people, just because someone seems to be doing okay on the outside doesn’t mean that they aren’t hiding something….or, more accurately, not divulging what’s really going on for any one of a number of fears.

For me, as a pastor, Sunday mornings can be among the busiest hours of my week. I am trying to make sure that everything is set. Whether I am preaching or leading the music team or whatever I might be doing, it can be an incredibly stressful hour. That’s not to say that I am not focused on the goal of that time or the importance of it, it just means that there are other things that I need to maneuver through to get focused on just why I am there. But it can be easy for me to casually cast off a “How are you?” here and there without really thinking through what I’m really asking or, worse yet, without really wanting to know or hear the answer.

Like I said, though, one thing that I am coming to realize more and more every day is that there can be far more going on beneath the surface than the casual “How are you?” with the obligatory “Good” or “Fine” retort actually shows. And I wonder just how many people answer the question honestly and really feel that they can answer the question honestly. If I answer honestly, will the person asking even care? If they care and I’m honest, will they tell the world about what’s going on in my life? If they find out what’s really going on in my life, will they shun me and make me feel as isolated as I already feel?

I’ve come to realize that just because someone answers that they’re doing good or fine or whatever, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s an honest answer. And so it’s forcing me to pay attention and to listen. How do people carry themselves? Are their words and answers matching their body language? Are they dropping any subtle hints about what’s lying beneath the surface as I speak with them?

Because I can get so caught up in the goal and the endgame, I can easily forget about the people involved in accomplishing and achieving that goal. When I do that, it cheapens the relationships that I have that are far more important than that would indicate. The last thing that I want is for the people around me to think that they are just cogs in a system of simply getting to the end. I wouldn’t want to feel like that, so why should I think that anyone else would want that either?

No, things aren’t always what they seem. There is usually so much more lurking beneath the surface, but it takes intention, patience, love, empathy, care, and time to really get there. People aren’t going to share it right out of the gate. They need to know that they can trust you, they need to know that you won’t betray their confidence, and they need to know that you really, truly, genuinely care about them and what’s really going on in their lives.

I’m learning, I’m growing, and I’m trying to do better here. I’m working to make sure that if I ask someone “How are you?” that I am ready for whatever kind of answer they might return to me. I might not always like the answer, I might not always feel like I’ve got the time for the answer, but to not listen and care about the answer is to allow someone to float off all alone out there in the world.

We can make a difference when we listen and pay attention. We can make a difference when we legitimately ask the question and want to know the answer. I know that when I’ve done it with genuine concern, it’s made a huge difference to the people to know that someone is paying attention and someone cares. I know that there have been times when the question has been asked of me and I probably gave more of an answer than the person was expecting, but in the end, it made all the difference in the world for me to be heard and to know that someone really cared. 

Books Read (and finished) in 2016

open-booksIn 2016, I read 52 books. Out of those 52 books, 16 of them were read for publishers and reviewed on my blog. 9 of those books were on my 2016 Book Plan (which consisted of a total of 28 books). So, I struggled again to even hit the 50% mark of books that had been on my plan. While that may be discouraging to some people, it’s not so to me. This is not a science and I just see every year as an iteration to work towards making this process more efficient. If I’m not enjoying what I’m reading and having fun with what I read, there’s really no point in doing any of this.

Seeing as I’m a pastor, the bulk of my reading focused on spirituality. I went on a three month sabbatical this past summer. 3 of the books that I read this year were included in my sabbatical plan. These are the books that I read this year that focused on spirituality: 

Michelle Anthony “Spiritual Parenting”

Eugene Cho “Overrated”

Michael Frost “The Road to Missional”

Bob Goff “Love Does”

J.D. Greear “Gaining By Losing”

Craig Groeschel “#struggles”

Abraham Joshua Heschel “The Sabbath”

Kent Julian “99 Thoughts on Leading Volunteers”

Madeline L’Engle “Walking On Water”

C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity”

Brennan Manning “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus”

Russell Moore “Onward”

Steven L. Ogne and Kenneth E. Priddy “The Leadership Ladder”

Eugene Peterson “Five Smooth Stones For Pastoral Work”

Nik Ripken “The Insanity of God”

Bob Roberts, Jr. “The Multiplying Church”

Nelson Searcy “The Renegade Pastor”

John Stott “The Radical Disciple”

Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird “The Multi-Site Church Revolution”

Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird “Multi-Site Church Road Trip”

John Van Sloten “The Day Metallica Came to Church”

Ravi Zacharias “I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah” 

Reviewing books for my blog is a big part of my list (about 30% of the total books that I read). I reviewed the following 16 books for my blog in 2016:

George Barna “America at the Crossroads”

Jimmy Evans & Allan Kelsey “Strengths Based Marriage”

Elyse Fitzpatrick “Home”

Brandon Hatmaker “A Mile Wide”

Michael Horton “Core Christianity”

Bryan Loritts “Saving the Saved”

Erwin Lutzer “Rescuing the Gospel”

Albert Mohler, Jr. “We Cannot Be Silent”

Mac Pier “A Disruptive Gospel”

Matt and Beth Redman “Finding God in the Hard Times”

Judah Smith “How’s Your Soul?”

Scotty Smith “Every Season Prayers”

R.C. Sproul “What Is Reformed Theology?”

Chad Veach “Unreasonable Hope”

Jon Weece “Me Too”

Jared C. Wilson “Unparalleled” 

I also read a few biographies/autobiographies (not sure all of these qualify for that category, but if they were on the edge, I put them here):

George W. Bush “41 – A Portrait of My Father”

Alan Chambers “My Exodus: From Fear to Grace”

Martin Dugard “To Be A Runner”

Laura Hillenbrand “Unbroken”

Jennifer Knapp “Facing the Music”

Nabeel Qureshi “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus”

Gene Simmons “Kiss and Make Up”

I tried to branch out and read some books that focused on business, marketing, or other leadership principles. Here are those books:

Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves “Emotional Intelligence 2.0”

Jim Collins “Good To Great”

Seth Godin “Tribes”

Patrick Lencioni “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”

I didn’t read many novels this year, just one to be exact, but I did read a few plays by August Wilson after hearing about him over the years. Here are the novels and plays that I read:

Stephen King “11/22/63”

August Wilson “Gem of the Ocean”

August Wilson “Fences”

While the books that I read in 2016 can’t very well be called diverse, I think I had a fairly decent mix of genres this year. I will continue to try to mix things up this year. My Book Plan for 2017 can be seen here.

Postscript:

After the publishing of this post, I started and finished “How Full Is Your Bucket?” by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton. It’s tied into some of what I did on my sabbatical and actually brings my total books read number up to 53 to equal my total in 2015.