Books I Read in 2015

  1. bookstack4A Change of Heart by Thomas C. Oden
  2. A History of God by Karen Armstrong
  3. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
  4. Beating the College Debt Trap by Alex Chediak
  5. Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker by Andrew Root
  6. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
  7. Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud
  8. Bringing Elizabeth Home by Ed and Lois Smart
  9. Church History by Justo L. Gonzalez
  10. Fields of the Fatherless by Tom Davis
  11. Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
  12. God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? by David T. Lamb
  13. God’s Call to the Single Adult by Michael Cavanaugh
  14. Go Set a Watch by Harper Lee
  15. Help! I’m a Frustrated Youth Worker by Steven Case
  16. Humilitas by John Dickson
  17. Iceman: My Fighting Life by Chuck Liddell
  18. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp
  19. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  20. Message in a Body by Joseph Anfuso
  21. Mission Smart by David L. Frazier
  22. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  23. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller
  24. Raptureless: An Optimistic Guide to the End of the World by Jonathan Welton
  25. Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Manhood by Nate Larkin
  26. Secrets of the Secret Place by Bob Sorge
  27. Simply Good News by N.T. Wright
  28. Skin In the Game by Rick Lawrence
  29. Swimming Through Clouds by Rajdeep Paulus
  30. The Art of Revelation by Jonathan Welton
  31. The Bible in 90 Days
  32. The Book of Lost Tales 1 by J.R.R. Tolkien
  33. The Cross-Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney
  34. The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle
  35. The Deeper Christian Life by Andrew Murray
  36. The Millennium Myth by N.T. Wright
  37. The Poetry of Robert Frost edited by Connery Lathem
  38. The Wilderness World of John Muir edited by Edwin Way Teale
  39. Western Christians in Global Missions by Paul Borthwick
  40. Why Nobody Wants To Be Around Christians Anymore by Thom and Joani Schultz
  41. You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis and Lisa Chan

Beating the College Debt Trap

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It’s interesting how different things catch your eye based on the season of life you are in. A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have even noticed it, but with a daughter just about 8 months away from heading off to college, when I saw the title, not only did I pull it off the shelf and read the back cover, I bought it and read it in its entirety. And boy, am I glad I did! More on this in a moment. First, some personal background.

I have been learning a lot about going off to college over the past year as we have taken Claudia on some college visits, met with admissions counselors, etc. Over 20 years ago, my college decision was simple. My dad worked at a college that trained people for ministry. That was exactly what I wanted to do with my life, so I only applied to one school; the one Dad worked at. Because it was a small, private college, they did not offer financial aid or scholarships – everything had to be paid as you were going along. Therefore, I never had to deal with applying for loans. The best thing was, because Dad worked for the college, I was able to attend at a significant discount, and I was able to do a work-study program to pay off my balance semester by semester.

When I went on to graduate school I had to venture into the waters of student loans, but through a series of fortunate circumstances I was able to sell my home precisely when I was to start repaying my loans, and I made enough from the sale to pay off my loan in full. So, I never dealt with the reality of making monthly payments over several years. This was a great blessing, but they offered me no real experience from which to be able to counsel my daughter. Thank goodness I stumbled upon that book in Barnes and Noble the other day.

The book is Beating the College Debt Trap: Getting a Degree Without Going Broke by Alex Chediak. Although I am very proud of Claudia, and excited about her heading off to college, to be honest, there are many things that I have been thinking, wondering, and worrying about as the reality approaches. Not least of which, how we are going to pay for her education. In the book, Chediack addresses several myths about college and addresses each one with a picture of reality and alternate ways of achieving the desired outcome of a degree without getting into the precarious, but all-too-common, position of having tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars in debt (and perhaps no real job prospects) to show for it.

Chediak’s insights were extremely helpful in understanding the world of degrees and college finances. His practical wisdom about choosing schools, degree programs, school loans, grants, scholarships, internships, work-study programs and more, pointed out many creative solutions that we intend to explore with Claudia and our conversations with her college. We want to ensure that when she finishes college she will have a degree that reflects her passions and giftings while opening doors to a sustainable and fulfilling career. We also want her to be able to head off into her post-college life without the nasty millstone of unrealistic debt around her neck. This book really increased our chances of making those desires a reality. I highly recommend it to anyone planning to take on the task of getting a college degree. Chediak also has two other books available: Thriving at College: Make Great Friends, Keep Your Faith, and Get Ready for the Real World and Preparing Your Teens for College: Faith, Friends, Finances, and Much More which I am sure are equally as good, and which I am planning to pick up myself.

The Book that Could Cure World Diseases

51K8qhCXQ3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Jim Gaffigan has done it! He has found the cure for world diseases. OK, not really. But his contribution to the world does bring about healing (just not from food-related diseases). “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). Food: A Love Story is one of the funniest things ever set down on paper. You will laugh your way through the entire book. Do yourself a favor and go buy it. It will indeed bring healing to your soul.

Bonhoeffer

Dietrich BonhoefferLast night I finished reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I have read Bonhoeffer’s books, but it was really insightful reading about his life from which those books were born. While I in no way would ever compare myself to the things he faced, I couldn’t help but feel an affinity with Bonhoeffer on many levels. His desire to live as a man of principle and according to the Word of God; His determination to think deeply and theologically; his battles with depression and yet seeking to remain positive, optimistic, and hopeful; his experiences in seeking to follow the Lord upstream against the tide of popularity, trusting all results completely to the Lord; and perhaps most surprisingly, his work with youth and children. I never realized that Bonhoeffer was in fact a youth worker. I was pleasantly surprised to see this side of him! I was so blessed to see his relational approach to ministry. He taught Sunday school. He had young people over to his house for discussions for his Thursday Circle. He took time to talk to them about their real-life issues. He took them on retreats and helped them learn how to spend time with God, in the Word, in contemplation, and enjoying nature together. I loved learning this about him, because they are things that I am passionate about in my own youth work. I am a teacher by gifting, and I love sharing God’s Word and helping them learning through discussion. I also love shared experiences which allow us to think deeply about God. Small groups, retreats, trips. Bonhoeffer was my kind of youth worker. Biblical. Practical. Relational.

When I finished reading the book. I hit my book shelf to find my next book to read. Coincidentally, I found that I recently grabbed a book by Andrew Root during my book shopping at the National Youth Worker Convention entitled Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker, which I am about to read. I am excited to see how he develops this idea of Bonhoeffer’s work with students.

Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church or Be Around Christians Anymore …

My friends Thom and Joani Schults have a passion for Jesus and a desire to see His Church become all He intends it to be. Yet, through their decades of ministry, they have witnessed the steady decline of the Church in America and were concerned enough to investigate why so many people were turned off by Christians and why so many local churches were shriveling up and even closing. Through their extensive research, including not just surveys, but actually getting out on the street and talking with real people and hearing real stories, they identified a number of root causes for this sad phenomenon. But rather than allowing the depressing news to bring them down, they were able to hear within people’s stories some patterns which offered a ray of hope for a way forward. In their excellent books Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore and Why Nobody Wants to be Around Christians Anymore they set forth what they call 4 Acts of Love that will make your church irresistible, and your personal faith magnetic. Their Jesus-centered approach to rebuilding the Church and seeing it not only survive but thrive is simple, practical, and something every church leader, and indeed, every Christian should give serious consideration to. Get their books today! Here’s a trailer for their documentary When God Left the Building as well. Definitely a film you should watch (do it as a church staff!).

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Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

51KjG3d-XpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I recently read Brock Morgan’s book Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World. In the book Brock discusses the major shifts we have experienced in our culture over the past couple of decades and how that has affected the students we work with in youth ministry. Because the world is a different place, by necessity, how we relate to and minister to students must change. Many of the ways we did ministry just a decade ago are no longer effective, and the expectations we had of students and our programs are no longer valid. But rather than sit back and miss the good ole’ days of youth ministry, Brock offers us a fresh perspective and a hopeful way forward.

One of the things that stood out to me in the book was the recognition that there seems to be a sad increase in the number of youth workers being fired these days. While there are certainly very legitimate reasons that some are released, more often than not, it is due to the perceived inability of the youth leader to get large numbers of students to come out to their programs. Morgan makes the astute observation that many of the senior pastors and supervisors in the church today were either youth workers or students themselves in the 80s and 90s when it seemed that all one had to do was offer pizza and some messy, crazy games, and kids from all over the community would come out to youth ministry programs en mass. In that era, success was defined in terms of numbers. What many overseers and decision makers today often fail to recognize is that those days are long over.

At the National Youth Worker’s Convention I attended last week, Dr. Kara Powell noted: “When I was a youth leader in the 80s and 90s, parents would call and ask us to have more activities for their students. Now when parents call, it is to apologize that their students can’t come because of they’re too busy.” In the book, Morgan does not suggest that counting is unimportant or that we should just resign ourselves to running programs no one will come to. Rather, he challenges us to change what we are counting. Success in today’s youth ministry should be measured much less in terms of attendance at our events, and much more in terms of individual care, how often we are getting out of our offices and connecting with students one-on-one or on campus, how we are encouraging and helping students become authentic members of the larger church body, how we are getting students involved in compassion and justice, how we are investing in families … These are things that matter and have lasting impact in students’ lives.

He also calls on youth workers to remember that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, and that as people on the front lines contending for the hearts of a generation, we need to be doing battle on our knees in prayer, and we need to be living in purity. Whenever there have been significant moves of God throughout history, the leaders were people devoted to passionate, faith-filled prayer and right, God-honoring living. Youth leaders must remain faithful to their primary calling of ministering before the Lord. Our ministry to students must overflow from our intimacy with the Father.

I highly recommend this book. I am looking forward to having Brock speak to our entire youth leadership team, and perhaps even our entire church leadership team. I believe he has a word for the church in our generation.

People Raising: A Practical Guide to Raising Funds

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There have been many times when I have considered working for a ministry that would require me to raise funds in order to support my family and the ministry. At this point I have not ended up going down those roads, but perhaps one day the Lord will call us on such a journey. The scariest thought when considering such a venture is whether or not one will be able to raise a sufficient amount to care for one’s family and work. Then, the intimidation of asking people to give to such a cause.

A number of years ago I was having lunch with a very dear friend of mine who had been working in a para-church organization for nearly 40 years, always operating the ministry and personally living off of the financial generosity of others. He was and is an incredible man of faith. I once asked him, “Isn’t it difficult to ask people for money?” I will never forget his response. “I am a terrible fund raiser,” he said. “I don’t ask people for money. I am a friend raiser.” He went on to explain that if one simply asks for money, it’s shallow and, in some respects, easy. But it is also ineffective. The key, he said, was to invite people into relationship, and in the context of relationship, as people got to know him, he was able to share his vision and people were able to sense his passion and commitment. Once they witnessed those things, many would jump at the opportunity to invest in the kingdom work he was doing. He was a great friend raiser.

I recently finished reading People Raising: A Practical Guide to Raising Funds by William P. Dillon. As I was reading I was thinking about my friend. Many of the principles in the book were the very things my friend had shared with me. I appreciated the author’s candor as well as his very practical advice based on decades of raising funds for worthy causes. I will say that, although his point was well made, and I don’t really have any alternatives, I personally wrestle with some of the realities of fund raising that seem very sales-y. Although he stresses that it’s about friendship not funds, at times some of his strategies felt less friendship-oriented and more like people were objects for use. He makes it clear that this is not the case, but it can feel that way. When you are building relationships with people with at least a hope that they will give money to you and your cause, perhaps there is just no way around it, but it would be hard for me to do some of the things suggested and not feel like I was using people. I also noted that some of the attention given to large-donors could easily slip into favoritism. Large donors do deserve special thanks, in a way, but those who give $10 a month as a sacrifice are doing no less than those who can easily give $10,000. Again, that author really stresses that this is the Lord’s work, these are the Lord’s people, and these are the Lord’s funds, but it could be a bit tricky.

I would recommend this book to any and all who are in the position of needing to raise support for their ministries. There are many great tips and pieces of practical advice from a man who has spent a majority of his life building relationships with people and inviting them to invest in the work of ministry with their finances.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.