Approaching Fatherhood, A Psalm

I stand upon the cusp
Within a week
Life will beget life
And life will change

What words can prepare a man
for crossing that eternal boundary
between husbandhood and fatherhood?

How does one prepare
To bear the burden of another soul?
What is man made of that he
Can preside over another’s life?

Who are we that we may be
Instruments of eternity?
Who are we that we may be
Partakers in that divine act of creation?

Insufficiency rears, inadequacy knocks
Insecurity leers
But by the grace of God
I will stand firm

For He is my refuge
My strength and my solace
My reason for rejoicing

The Lord is good
Beyond all measure
To give us humans
Such a treasure as this

The day draws near
And I will praise the Lord
The bearer of gifts
And all things good

A life is formed
Dreams are woven
Adventure awaits
And love’s surrounding

The Lord is good

Living with the End in Mind

What if we lived like we knew the ending of our story?

I was reading (well rather listening to an audiobook of) the Inheritance Cycle for the first time in years. As a young kid the story of a young Rider and his adventures in Alagaesia was riveting. And it helped that I was fascinated that a young man of 16, just a few years older than myself at the time, and a home-schooler to boot wrote such a tale. 

As I was listening to the events that surrounded Eragon, I realized that every new scene or interaction that came about I was putting it into context in the bigger story. You see, with having read the story before and knowing the ending, I had a perspective on the story that the characters had no idea about. 

I caught myself being exasperated with the missteps and wrong turns that were taken by the main hero. Then to every deed and conversation I saw a deeper meaning as I knew that it was going to be important later in the story.

What if we lived our lives like this?

Of course we cannot know exactly the events that will occur in our lives. But what if we we lived our lives in full knowledge of what the ending will be?

What if we viewed our life with an eternal perspective? What if we took the daily struggles and aggravations we face and processed them as if they were but blips along the road instead of the life-altering events that we sometimes make them out to be?

In a time of microwaves and on-demand everything and a growing expectation of instant satisfaction, our focus and perspectives are often limited to such short-term results and events. As a result, we are taken aback and put off at every little thing that may remove or delay us from our myopic goals. 

We live as if we are beginners riding a unicycle, set off balance by every bump and obstacle when we need to live life driving a dune buggy. 

What does that look like, though? It looks like being anxious about nothing but praying about everything (Philippians 4:6-7). It looks like recalling that we are citizens of heaven and no longer children of wrath (Philippians 3:20, Ephesians 2:3). It looks like holding loosely to the things of this world and keeping our eyes fixed on what is to come (Philippians 3:8, 14). 

When we do these things, the storms of this life will come and go, but we will stand strong (Matthew 7:24-27). The winds of this world will blow fast and hard, but by drawing close to Christ, having our mind fixed upon his return and the waiting kingdom, we will have an anchor to hold us fast.

We have to live with the end in mind. 

Five Reasons Why We Tithe

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Proverbs 3:9-10
No matter how much you make, it is important to make wise decisions concerning your finances (a truth we have learned especially well with me working for the government!). A while ago, though, I had a conversation with a coworker about finances. With him having worked with DEQ for many more years than I have, the conversation was pretty enlightening.

Almost everything that he talked about including retirement contributions, budgeting, and investing I was on board with. What was so interesting was what happened as soon as I mentioned that I had read one of Dave Ramsey’s books. Out of all of the topics that Ramsey teaches and talks about, my coworker quickly honed in on a single principle: tithing.

He said that one thing he would disagree with Dave Ramsey on is the concept of tithing. I did not delve into his complete ideology on the subject, but I heard enough to get a picture that he was okay with people tithing and giving to the church as long as they had plenty to go around.

Honestly, I can completely understand where he was coming from but the idea also struck me pretty hard and it made me revisit the reasons why I make it a point to tithe. The following is certainly not a full doctrine on the subject, but they are the reasons that weigh the most in my motivations.

Before I go too much further I want to lay some groundwork. To tithe literally means to give a tenth of what you have which is where we get the association that to tithe means to give 10% of your income. Many people think of it as an obligation to tithe, but traditionally to tithe was simply the baseline of what someone was giving and was not even considered a part of their actual income. But I do not want to get too far ahead of myself. Now that we are clear on what tithing is, here are a few reasons as to why we should do it.

  1. I tithe because I am commanded to do so
This is the most obvious but does take some getting around to. The first time tithing is mentioned in the Bible is when Abraham offers it to Melchizadeck for his blessing. Later on God actually commands the Israelites to offer a tithe to support the priests in their work as well as care to for orphans and widows. Then in Malachi 3, the prophet writes the words of the Lord saying, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse…”

Under the old covenant it was generally accepted that at least ten percent of a person’s wealth was to be given back to God as a minimum. Some argue that now that we are under the new covenant, tithing no longer applies to Christians. In the strictest form of the idea I would agree. However, even though we may have been freed from the letter of the law we are in no way free from the spirit of it which was to support spiritual and physical ministries as well as the poor and destitute as evidenced by Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23-24.

From this passage and others, it is clear that God cares about how we spend our money. And though we may not be explicitly commanded to give ten percent of our wealth to the local church, it seems that there is an expectation that Christians will be the ones to support the body of believers through the giving of their resources.

  1. I tithe because it is a practice in generosity
I do not know about you, but in all honesty I will let you in on a little secret: I am not the most generous person. And further I am not even sure that this culture truly knows what it means to be generous. When you think of someone generous, who do you think of? Most likely that person has a lot of money, right? But where we err in thinking is that only people with a lot of money can be generous. This is simply not true.

Generosity is not a bar that we might meet one day. Generosity is a lifestyle whereby one holds loosely to those things we are given in life. Generous people live their lives with open hands, not closed fists holding tightly to those things we think we own.

By stepping out in faith and giving consistently and even sacrificially at times (which sometimes tithing definitely seems to qualify as), I am training myself to be more generous. We have to realize that generosity is not something to attain by first gathering in plenty, it is an attitude that we can have every day no matter how much is in our bank accounts.

  1. I tithe because it aligns my perspective with God’s
As evidenced by my conversation I referenced previously with my coworker, there is definitely a type of wisdom that says to only give out of your excess. I call this wisdom “airplane wisdom.” Whenever you fly in an airplane and tune into the in-flight safety speech there is a section that concerns the oxygen masks. Hopefully you never have to use these, but the airplane explicitly instructs you to place your own mask on yourself before assisting others with theirs.

Obviously there are good reasons for this, but this is airplane wisdom: taking care of yourself before you take care of others. In other words, airplane wisdom tells you to focus on yourself and then give others your leftovers if you are so inclined. However, heavenly wisdom is in direct opposition to this way of thinking.

Heavenly wisdom leads us to give when we are asked (Matthew 5:42), to share freely as in the first days of the church (Acts 2:44-45), to give in secret (Matthew 6:3-4), and to care for the orphan and widow in their distress (James 1:27). Heavenly wisdom teaches us that every single penny we own belongs to God and so in many ways we are only giving back to Him a portion of what is already His.

Money is not only the currency of our times, in many ways it is an indicator of our trust, desires, and perspectives. We spend our money on people we value, places we believe are trustworthy, and things that satisfy needs or wants. When we turn over a portion of our money directly to God in faith we are indicating that we trust Him. And truly, why would we not trust Him with what He has given to us in the first place?

  1. I tithe because it fuels the Kingdom
The fourth reason that I will bring up today is this. When we tithe, when we give to the church, we are fueling the kingdom of heaven on earth. Can God create money out of thin air and suffuse believers with riches? Absolutely. But instead of doing this He allows the world to operate through resources (in fact there is a whole science that is devoted to this topic called economics!).

Why does He do this? I have to answer you in faith. I do not know why He allowed the system to operate the way it does. But what I do know is that if God allows it then it will be to our ultimate good.

God’s kingdom is a spiritual one but He allows his followers to use their physical resources in such ways that allow for the extension of this spiritual kingdom. The institution that God has created in order to bring this kingdom to earth and use His Spirit to work is the Church.

When we tithe we are supporting the local body of believers, the Church, and therefore furthering the Kingdom of God. Going briefly back to the previous point, when we give of our time, talent, and treasure and commit it to God’s able hands, we have no idea how He will use it to bless others as well as yourself.

  1. I tithe because it is rewarded
This brings me to the final reason that I tithe. I kind of feel convicted even putting this in here, but in all honesty it is hard to avoid the idea. Listen to just these two passages previously mentioned in this post:

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” – Malachi 3:10
“…and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:4
I am not saying that a reward should be the main motivation for giving through tithes and offerings, but Scripture definitely seems to promise such!

Any one of these reasons would probably be good enough on their own. But stack them up on top of each other and it is more than enough reason to give back a portion of what God has entrusted to us. If you have made it through all of the above, I applaud your perseverance and thanks for reading. Feel free to comment on other reasons Christians should be tithing!

Transgenderism and Truth

There are so many articles, news pieces, and other media floating around concerning the transgender phenomenon. There are many leaders who have more wise words than myself on the matter, so mostly I set about writing this blog as a way to orient myself and to get all my thoughts down on “paper.” If you have any constructive feedback feel free to leave it in the comments!

  1. Locating Truth
We are all trying to find truth and how we relate to it, how it impacts our lives. We all try to find out how we fit into this world and what part we are to play in this grand narrative.

The fight of those who consider themselves transgender (or any other part of the LGBT community) is a fight that wants to legitimize their beliefs and feelings and therefore their identity and place in the world. I admit their struggle and I admit that there can be oppression, hardship, and pain associated with such beliefs. I would want to be clear that I do not lay aside any individual’s feelings or experiences. However, where I would like to engage them in how they process those feelings and experiences.

From my small observances, it seems like the truth that transgender people have accepted is the truth that they find within themselves. They fight against what they are told or what is on their birth certificate in order to become who they feel they are. This sounds really self-empowering does it not? But what they are fighting for is a shaky foundation.

Our gender identity is interpreted through biological, psychological, and sociological lenses. I understand that there are people who grow up with all three of these lenses in harmony with each other. However, I also understand that there are many for whom these lenses do not act in harmony. Either there are physical complications which do not fit into a neat category or someone for whatever reason feels as if they do not “belong” in the body in which they were born. In such cases the world seems warped until they alter the other lenses to come into focus with each other.

The question is, “what lens are we focusing or calibrating all the others to?”

Or in other words, what will be our measuring rod for our life? You see, we have a choice in what lens we will use to view the world. But with all this talk about lenses we forget a major point. Just because we may see the world through a specific lens has no bearing on how the world actually is.

Truth is completely independent from how we view it.

I may view a red light as a green light but that does not change the fact that the light is red. So how do we know what color the light actually is? Well, to me it only makes sense to base my identity on the evidence that I have been given from my Creator. If you are trying to build something, why would you not look at the instructions created by the manufacturer? Unfortunately, not everyone believes that there is such a Manufacturer or for that matter any Instructions at all.

  1. Legislating Truth
This has broad implications, though, for how the law of the land is created. No matter what you believe, laws are always affirming or denying some type of worldview or morality. Some non Christians and even some Christians say that we should not try to legislate morality and “force” our opinions/beliefs on people who don’t believe as we do. And while I think what they’re trying to get at (that we can’t expect non Christians to live like Christians or that there should be separation of Church and State) is correct, I don’t think sitting back and giving way is the loving thing to do.

If you genuinely believe that America and therefore the people who live here will end up in a worse condition due to some legislation, would it not be unloving to not be a prophet crying out in the wilderness? If beliefs are going to be forced on people by law (which all laws do) then it would be unloving of me to not fight for laws that I believe would result in the greatest good.

And to be absolutely fair, I would not expect anything else from people who believe differently than I do. My hope here lies in the power of civil debate, the willingness of men to compromise, and the sovereignty of God.

I realize that not everyone agrees with this. But as soon as you become angry at me for fighting for what I believe in then you become a hypocrite, do you not? You can be frustrated at what I believe and we can debate the points but as soon as you deny someone the right to fight or get angry at them for what they believe then you are starting down a dark path.

This is why I am saddened by our pigeon-holing methods we use today. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, progressives and moderates, we are all much too quick to label someone and once labeled dismiss any arguments they may have even if they may be completely valid.

I believe in absolute truth. I believe that truth is worth fighting for.

But I also understand that there is nuance to every argument and that we should all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19) and that leads to my final thought.

  1. Living Truth
Ultimately, though, we want to move beyond locating and legislating Truth. These things things are necessary and good, but it has to go further than that.

Truth has to be lived out.

And the broader truth found in Christianity is that everyone in this world has fallen short of the glory of God and His standards. People who consider themselves transgender along with thieves, liars, adulterers, the prideful, the conceited, the greedy, me, and you are all sinners and deserve eternal punishment and separation from God. 

The good news of Christianity, though, (otherwise called the Gospel) is that even in this pitiful state in which we all find ourselves, God sent his one and only Son who became flesh, lived among us, died on the cross, took our punishment upon himself, was buried in a grave, rose again three days later, and ascended to heaven after defeating death and conquering sin paving a way for all those who came to him to enter into a saving relationship with the Father. Yes, that’s the best run-on sentence I’ve ever written.

In short, though, what this means is that I do not make this argument or any other out of hatred towards any person. I strive to say what I say out of love towards someone who has been created by God and who He longs to have a relationship with.

God is a God of love and truth.

Love without truth is naive while truth without love is cruel. God is neither naive or cruel and my hope is to only become more of a mirror of who God is and shine His light into a searching world.

A Confluence of Ideas: Love

A while ago I was pondering, I’m not sure where and don’t remember exactly when or why. The idea that I was mulling around, though, was this idea of falling in love. 

I tried looking up when this phrase or usage first came into mainstream culture but unfortunately could not find an exact source. However, I think we would all agree that this idea has become ubiquitous throughout America. The idea of falling in love has been taken up by the entertainment industry and it has been ingrained in us that it is romantic to do so. Not only is it romantic, though, it is actually the objective of life. We are led to believe that falling in love is imperative to a great relationship and that if we don’t feel this way then it must, as a matter of fact, not be love. 

Putting this thought aside, I didn’t dwell on it too much. That is until I broke into a chapter in a new book that I am reading by Voddie Baucham Jr. In this chapter he confronted four myths about love. He outlined the myths as defining love as a random, overwhelming, uncontrollable, and sensual force. In words much better than I can conjure, he went on to debunk these myths one by one and ended up with a definition of love that defines it as “an act of the will accompanied by emotion that leads to action on behalf of its object.”

There is no hint of “falling” in this definition. In fact, I found that this was a perfect explanation of what I was trying to get around to in my previous thinking. Love is nothing to be passive about. There indeed exists strong feelings that should accompany love but it is not these feelings that will carry you through a committed relationship. Love can indeed be romantic, but rather I would posit that love leads us to act in ways that are romantic but is not romance itself. Love can indeed be powerful, but the real power of love comes through commitment and intentionality, not feelings. 

Falling usually involves accidents, loss of control, and fear. Why would we want to pair this with love? Instead let me introduce you to the concept of diving. Honestly, I am a terrible diver but I do know that diving involves intentionality, precision, and confidence. Feelings may come and go like the waves upon the ocean. And if love is that ocean, then I would much rather dive than fall. 

Which is More Important: Goals or Systems?

Consider This

Picture this scenario. There are three men stranded in the ocean each on his own row boat. The first man realizes that he has to make it to land or his supplies will run out so he starts rowing. Unfortunately, he does not know how to row a boat so he picks up a single oar and ends up spending his days rowing around in large circles. The second man also realizes that he needs to reach land and so he sets out in the direction that he had initially been traveling rowing strong and he makes land in 30 days, 5 days after all of his food ran out. The third man, in the same plight as the other two, through careful consideration knows that he came to this spot from the east only two days ago and so he sets off towards the rising sun and makes it to land in 5 days. (For those considerate few, this man sent a rescue party back for the first and all of them survived.)

How does this relate to systems and goals? Well think about it such that rowing is a system to accomplish the fairly obvious goal of getting to land.

All three men had the same goal and used the same system. What happened then that they all had different results? Well the first man is an example of focusing on his system but failing to realize his system was flawed in that it was not getting him any closer to his goal. The second man had a good system but failed to clearly define his goal which would have contributed to the success of the system. The third man had a clear goal and created a system that achieved that goal as efficiently as possible.

A Few Definitions

What’s all this about? I read an article earlier called “Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead.” and actually rather enjoyed it. On the flip side, though, I felt like something was missing from the post. Even though the article gives examples of systems and goals, the author never went into an exact definition of such. The American Dictionary of the English Language defines a goal as “the end to which a design tends, or which a person aims to reach or accomplish” while a system is “a whole plan or scheme consisting of many parts connected in such a manner as to create a chain of mutual dependencies.”

Though these might be a bit wordy, I feel like everyone has a general feeling of what these ideas are. Goals are those things that we set down to accomplish and systems are the methods that we use to reach those goals. However, if you break systems down, what are they if not a set of cohesive, successive goals? If you think about it, systems are merely sets of micro-goals that lead up to some type of macro-goal. Macro-goals given purpose and direction to micro-goals. While micro-goals give traction and form to macro-goals.

The author states towards the end of his article that “goals [macro-goals] are good for planning your progress and systems [micro-goals] are good for actually making progress.” This sounds really good, but ultimately focusing on your systems is like building a house without laying a foundation. It may look good, but when it comes down to it the house is doomed to falter.

Why Both Matter

Your goals in life matter and how you accomplish those goals matters. However, what matters far and away more is what your goals actually are.

The author gives examples of goals as winning a championship, writing a book, running a marathon, or building a million-dollar company. These are all great goals, but as the author points out there are flaws in these goals and that is that they are not ultimately satisfying.

If you wrap your whole self into these goals it may be electrifying to achieve them, but they will, in the end, leave you dry and wanting. You can try to avoid the problem by focusing on your systems, but in reality you will actually end up in the same position. You see, the problem is not that these goals are not big. The problem is that they are not big enough.

Many of us go through life focusing on the big outcomes, but usually we neglect the things that matter most in life. What if instead of focusing on the championship, book, marathon, or business, we focused on using the time, talent, and treasures we have been given to make an impact on those around us through our leadership, words, efforts, and skills?

How you do something definitely matters and I strive to do everything I do with excellence. But it is the reason behind and the object of that striving that matters so much more than how I actually do it. The important distinction is that I am not pursuing excellence. I am, however imperfectly, pursuing Him who is excellent.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Paul (Philippians 3:14)

An Attempt at Elevating Social Media

Christian, what is your purpose in Social Media? What does your relationship with social media look like? Is there a right way to approach this cultural phenomenon? If there is a right way, that must mean there is a wrong way too, right?

I bet that right now you can even think of several people off the top of your head and point to them and say, “That’s the wrong way to use social media.” Everybody is different and everyone approaches social media with different goals. Social media is an extension of what would happen if you placed 100 people into a 1,000 square foot space and simply left them to talk. Everyone’s cramped and milling around seeking out like-minded people while steering clear of or purposefully antagonizing those they do not quite see eye to eye with. Every once in a while someone gets up and stands on a stage to shout out an opinion, idea, or story and all of a sudden the whole room is talking about it.

Simply put, though, social media is a medium, a platform, through which relationships are strung. The best of all relationships are defined by a unifying purpose and then work themselves out by spending time working towards that purpose.

So I started wondering to myself. Why do I use social media? Bear with me as I attempt to explore this question.

  1. Why do we use social media?
The very first question we have to ask ourselves in order to examine this is, “Why do we use social media?” Obviously this question can lend itself to a myriad of answers many of which are valid, some of which may be more useful than others. However, I feel like it really comes down to these three types of people: Consumers, Seekers, and Engagers.

Consumers (a boat I will admit I fall in often) mainly use social media so that they can consume content. All they want to do is to get on, see what is happening in their social circles or around the world and then leave. Seekers are those people who mainly get on in order to find a community. They want a place to belong and feel noticed, and social media offers to them a place where that can happen. Then you have Engagers. These are the people who, let’s be honest, probably stir the pot the most but do so by getting people involved directly or indirectly.

Now I want to say that there is a dark and light side to each of these categories, but that might be too much for this time. Suffice it to say, none of these categories are necessarily bad or good, but it is important to understand why you are using social media so that you can use your strengths and avoid your weaknesses.

Ultimately, though, no matter if you fall into one of the above categories or some other category or a mixture of categories, the goal should be to always give God the glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

  1. How do we engage with others on social media?
That seems like a lofty goal for something that seems so common place as social media, right? Well that’s what brings us to this next big question: How do we use social media?

In order to glorify God in even the little things in life (i.e. eating, sleeping, relaxing, etc.) what matters is how we are doing it. We have to ask ourselves, “Is how we are treating our bodies honoring to God? Is what I listen to giving Him glory? Is how I consume content, seek out community, or invest in people’s lives Christ-like?”

And that is the ultimate question for how we use social media. Is how we conduct ourselves on this platform bringing us closer to a Christ-bearing image?

That can be a convicting question. We have to expel, though, the errant notions of what we think that means. I feel like our first instinct is to think of Jesus as being really timid or gentle and though we have been called to a quiet life (1 Thessalonians 4:11) Jesus was honestly quite a firebrand sometimes (remember Matthew 21:12-13?).

All this to say, that we want to use social media in a way that is God-glorifying and we can do that by drawing close to Christ and attempting to become more like Him in every way.

  1. What should we do on social media?
But for me, I would want to take it a step further. We have worked on why to use social media and how to use it, but when it comes down to it what should we actually do on social media?

If you are anything like me, there are a lot of things that you can do. I scroll through my feed and there are so many things that I could respond to in joy or frustration, with opinion or affirmation.

But before we get too far, we want to go back to the Word. How can the Word guide us in this? Yes, social media wasn’t quite around back then but the desires that social media meets are not new and human beings have been finding ways to commune, share ideas, and interact with each other for millennia.

As evidenced in those times, the most common places that I could think of that this type of platform occurred was at the city gates, the city squares, or the synagogues. With these three scenarios my mind drifts mostly to Old Testament prophets, Paul on his missionary journeys, and Christ himself.

Though it is most definitely not cut and dry, each of these I feel represent three distinct methods of what to do on social media. The first is that we can confront our culture with the truth. God sent prophet after prophet to His people the Israelites in order to turn them away from their sin and back to Him. And in one way, this is how we can view and conduct ourselves.

The second way, is that as Paul reasoned with the people around him we can do the same and engage people where they are and attempt to convince them of the truth.

But the third way, and what has been a critical point for me, we can stand where the people are gathered and simply hold out the Gospel. Christ would stand before congregations and teach them from the scripture, but besides giving them head knowledge like the Pharisees, he pointed them to a hope that others had missed: himself.

We can confront the culture and try to convince them of the truth every day of the week, but if we are not holding out the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Him crucified, buried, and risen) then we are missing the entire point of our faith.

The truth is that we are all faulty human beings. The Lord knows that I have wrong ideas and beliefs and therefore whatever reasoning I hold out to others for why I believe what I believe has the capacity to be flawed. However, when you hold out Christ, who is perfect and ever working through the Holy Spirit, then the kingdom of heaven will come. And it will be a glorious coming.

Social media allows us to reach audiences our forefathers never dreamed of. We can use this platform to make the name of our King great. So my final question to myself is, “How am I using my voice?”

Books of 2016

With the coming of the new year I have been trying to plan out what books I want to try to tackle in 2017. Before moving on to that, though, I took a glance back at the books I read in 2016. Here’s a list with a brief synopsis to boot, not necessarily in any order.

Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson

Started this book as a study in leadership as part of my MBA program. As the author claims, this is truly the tale of an American life. I came away from the book having a liking of Franklin more so in his younger days than his latter (mostly due to the fact that I disagree with what he may claim as success [i.e. family matters]). Well written and exhaustive, this book was worth the read and certainly explores the ins and outs of a hyper-interesting founding father.

Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood by Jonathan Parnell and Owen Strachen

In a culture that is so confused by the idea of sexual identity, this short read from Desiring God was pretty refreshing. Written by various authors, the book was a brief introduction to Biblical complementarity and included applications of complementarity to various current issues relating to manhood and womanhood describing the purpose of sexuality, how our identity is shaped, how feminism has shaped our culture, and much more.

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

As with any book by Keller, contained within is deep insight and cutting thoughts. He spends the first half breaking down arguments against the existence of God and then the second half is spent on the plausibility of the beliefs of Christianity. A fantastic read and definitely worth offering to others who may have questions about the faith.

1984 by George Orwell

Honestly, this book was a little scary and depressing, but I think that was the point. Orwell did a great job in analyzing history and government and extrapolated what would happen given man’s base desire for more and more power. Could this world ever come to be? I sure do hope not. Who is to say what the initial steps toward this world look like, though?

The Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg

The brain is an amazing organ. After reading The Brain that Changes Itself, I’ve developed an awe for what the brain is capable of which lead me to dive into some of the more practical aspects of it. An entertaining book with some great insights into how habits impact individual lives as well as organizations. Duhigg, being true to his reporter nature, is thorough and well written. Studying the habits in our lives and knowing how to keep some, lose some, or create new ones is invaluable. Remember: cues trigger routines with expectations of reward.

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

Read this book with the MDEQ book club, hadn’t high expectations but it was a genuinely unique book. Follows various intertwining stories of which I favored hearing about the main character’s grandfather. Intersting for sure but with a slightly disappointing ending, I need closure!

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates

My dad read this book and suggested it to me, and I couldn’t be more glad that he did. This book offers a profound perspective on the intense feelings of a black father raising a black son in this contemporary climate. It went a long way in opening my eyes to how the African American community has been and continues to be impacted by this culture. Though I can’t buy into some of Coates’ philosophy, I’m looking forward to reading some more of his work.

Same Kind of Different as Me by Denver Moore, Lynn Vincent, & Ron Hall

This book has been on the list for a long time, and since it’s about to become a movie I figure this was good timing. It was a heart warming story of two very different men crossing paths and changing each others’ lives. Convicting for how we interact with those less fortunate than ourselves. Everyone has a story. All we have to do is listen and our whole world may change.

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

This was another book that I was assigned during school (Isaacson’s pretty popular these days). It was a thorough investigation into the drivers of the digital revolution. Fascinating stories as Isaacson dives into the lives of the inventors, technicians, loners, and teams of people who collaborated, worked long hours, and continued to build on the foundation laid before them until the world was changed by what they produced. Devotion to ideas can go a long way.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

A few friends and colleagues recommended this book after talking about the world of real estate. Investing is such a fuzzy subject when it comes to the stock market, but Kiyosaki makes real estate seem almost like a game. It’s a game that requires discipline and adherance to a strict set of principles along with a pretty good gut it would seem. Success can rarely be boiled down to a few simple principles, but this book really got my mind spinning for possibilities.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

I was sad when I found out that I had not read this series since 2012. Truly rereading it was like visiting with an old friend. Tolkien has an astounding capacity for story telling and every time I reread these I appreciate more and more the work that he did on the detail of the books. There is so much depth in this story that it is easy to get lost of this magical world. Why do we enjoy fictional stories so much? I like to think that it’s because fiction allows us to partake in the echoes and dreams of reality.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Simply a classic. This book makes you laugh and agonize at the same time and honestly is so foreign that it’s almost unrelatable but at the same time enjoyable. I’d like to make some kind of comment on the futility of social graces, but honestly I really just liked the book. And plus, I really wish we still talked in old English.

Can’t wait to see what’s to come in the new year.

The Infinite Gift

The Proposition

Gifts are a wonderful thing. We’re shopping through a store and happen upon a particular item that we know a particular someone would really enjoy. We buy the gift, wrap it up all nice and neat, then wait for the right time and give it to that person. You anxiously wait while they peel off the paper or open the bag, and then you beam with joy as you see their face light up. You have brought them joy and in so doing have also brought joy upon yourself.

But what else has happened? Well the gift you bought is no longer yours. It is now in the firm possession of the one you gave it to. Yes, you received some type of gratification or relief, but the fact is that you had something tangible and now you don’t.

The point of this is to show that tangible (as well as some other types) gifts are finite. It’s a zero sum game. I know this is painfully obvious, but track with me.

We know that physical gifts are finite. But what if there was a gift that wasn’t? What if there was something that we could give and still not have to give up? What if there was a gift that was infinitely divisible and yet never lost its original value? A gift that even multiplied, sometimes exponentially, when given?

Too good to be true? Well I know it might sound cheesy, but that gift is the gift of love. We humans have the capacity and means to love each other like we never have before. What’s fascinating is that it truly is contagious.

The Problem

The problem sometimes is that we treat love as if it is a finite resource. When you have a finite good, lets say money, we tend to save it and only use it for things that we believe will give us the best return on our investment. Basically we use it for mostly self-centric purposes.

We don’t help someone on the side of the road because our schedule is too tight to make an hour long detour. We don’t take the time to spend with our family because we are too involved in our work. We don’t invest in people because it’s too hard. These are all examples of us treating love like it’s a finite resource.

Love, however, was never meant to be “spent” as a finite resource. But think about it. How do you spend your love? If we are all honest, the majority of our love is spent on people who we are sure will spend their love on us.

And yet Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount challenge us to go far beyond loving those who love us. “For even sinners do the same.” (Luke 6:33)

The Solution

Seem hard to love those who hate you, are different from you, or need more than they can give? For sure. But the comfort is that God will always enable us to do what he commands. You see, the first step in spending love as if it’s not a finite resource is realizing that it is in fact an infinite resource.

It’s an infinite resource because a Christian’s love does not depend on what they can generate themselves but on the love with which we are loved by an infinite God. We are a vessel which is meant to be poured out for the sake of others while being filled up by a reserve of water which never runs dry.

So what does it look like, though, to treat love as an infinite resource? It means loving those who don’t love you back. It means loving those you think are undeserving. It means going above and beyond expectations in serving other people. It means bringing people into your life which may drain your energy, seemingly waste your time, or generally make life difficult.

Loving in this way is not safe. It is not easy. It is not convenient. Loving this way is uncertain, it will hurt, and it will require vulnerability. But where we are assured of the reward, we are free to love dangerously.

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgement; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” – 1 John 4:16-21

In this season of gift giving, let us remember to give the greatest gift we have ever been given unreservedly.

The Rise of Empires

This is a quick follow up thought after reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Throughout the book, there were a lot of challenging thoughts on race but something stood out to me when Coates began to reflect on history. I should probably state that all these opinions are just impressions from reading his book.
One of the themes of the book, though, was Coates’ fascination with this idea of “body”. When he was growing up he learned in his neighborhood that power meant the ability to assert your will over someone else’s body whereas powerlessness was only truly recognized when someone could attack your body with impunity.
These ideas were only cemented in his mind as he grew up, went to college, and became a man. The world around him told him that his body and those like him were dispensable and therefore those who cared about him and lived with him protected their bodies with a type of fervor that a man who has grown up never absorbing the affects of slavery could know. Since the body was what was being attacked, the body became ultimate. It became his god.
Coates, in his learning, then proceeded to apply this perspective back through history and in his eyes it held. However, yet another belief emerged due to his observation. To Coates, life became a zero-sum game. One body only ascended to power when another was beat into submission.
This was a striking and impactful thought to my slightly insulated mind. “Empires and kingdoms only rise by the destruction of bodies,” I thought. Well, through my limited knowledge of history, I resonated with this concept briefly. Taking only the United States as an example, it was only created by the destruction of both British and American bodies and then for a long time only prospered due to the structure of slavery.
Soon, though, I halted in my line of thought. Out of all the empires and kingdoms of this earth I came to one exception to this supposed rule. Coates posits that kingdoms rise by the destruction of other people. But the anomaly comes when the ruler of a kingdom gave himself over to murderers in order to give life to others. The Christian kingdom rose, not by the destruction of others, but in the face of the destruction of its own members. It is a kingdom of sacrifice for the elevation of those who are outside of it.
When I read from someone’s perspective such as Coates, I learn a lot. And in that learning I also come away with an idea of what it feels like to have no hope. What hope is there in a world that seems set against you from the outset and seems determined to take away everything that you hold dear? Well if you view the world as Coates does, there seems to be very little if any at all.
But the truth is that we were not made to idolize our bodies or anything else in this world for that matter. We were not created for a zero-sum game. When Jesus Christ died on that cross He altered the equation so that everyone who believed in him would not perish but have everlasting life. Everyone who laid down their life as he did would be picked back up again just as he was.
We were not made to live in fear. We were made to live with sacrificial courage and through Christ we have no need to fear. Let us therefore live a life free of fear and full of faith.