Too Busy Not To Read

I love to ask people what they’ve read recently that they enjoyed and would recommend. The wide array of responses I get back are always interesting. But about half the time I ask this I get back something like, “I haven’t read anything lately. I don’t have time to read right now. I’m really busy.” It’s amazing how we can find time for TV shows, movies, Netflix, social media, bad football (Chicago Bears), and plenty of other things. Think about your past month and year. Outside of work and sleep, what did you fill your time with the most?

Now, I love everything I just listed above and take plenty of time in a week to watch through some of my ever growing Netflix queue or watch bad football (Chicago Bears). But I also have made it a priority to read. I once heard from a professor that the only difference between you now and you in five years are the books you read. I agree with this. I believe reading challenges us, entertains us and grows us. Reading grows us for today and prepares us for what is to come in the future. The argument could be made that reading is so important to our personal development that it is too important for us not to read.

One of my favorite explanations of how little time it takes each day to work through books comes from John Piper in his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. While this book is written for pastors (and please forgive the complementarian book title) I believe this section of the book applies to all people that want to grow in their personal lives and further develop themselves in any subject. Here is what John Piper writes,

“Suppose you read slowly, say about 250 words a minute (as I do). This means that in twenty minutes you can read five thousand words. An average book has about four hundred words to a page. So you could read about twelve-in-a-half pages in twenty minutes. Suppose you discipline yourself to read a certain author or topic twenty minutes a day, six days a week, for a year. That would be 312 x 12.5 pages for a total of 3,900 pages. This means you could read fifteen books like that in one year” (80).

Twenty minutes a day. That’s all it takes. How many hours a day or in a week do you watch sports? How many hours watching tv shows? Or movies? Or cruising Facebook and Twitter? Again, these are not terrible things. I watch plenty of tv and sports, but I have made it a priority to read at a minimum of 20 minutes each day for the past few years. If you set aside only 20 minutes at some point just think how much you could grow in a year if you were able to read 15 books.

I want to challenge you to start this today. I had a boss who when I shared this section of this book with him he told me once a day at a certain time to come into his office, remind him it was that time and he would stop whatever he was doing and would read for 20 minutes. Maybe you don’t have the luxury to do that at work, but what about before work or after work? Or after the kids go to bed? Or when you go to bed? Challenge yourself to grow. It doesn’t take much time, and it is too important for you not to read.

How many books would you like to read in 2017? My goal is 75 this year. I’d love to hear yours!

Advertisements

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards

I’m only a few pages into Jen Hatmaker’s new book, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standardsand I’ve already highlighted and starred the majority of the Introduction. This is always a good sign for the next 200 some pages to come in a book! So I wanted to share of few of the paragraphs that have already hit me, and encourage you to buy/borrow this book.

God has always made the most sense to me through people, His image bearers. I crave dignity and healing and purpose and freedom for me and mine, you and yours, them and theirs. I want us to live well and love well. The substance of life isn’t stuff or success or work or accomplishments or possessions. It really isn’t, although we devote enormous energy to those goals. The fullest parts of my life, the best memories, the most satisfying peices of my story have always involved people. Conversely, nothing hurts worse or steals more joy than broken relationships. We can heal and hurt each other, and we do.

I see a generation of people ON THE HOOK. Man, we are tough on one another, starting with ourselves. When Jesus said to “love your neighbor as yourself,” I don’t think He meant judmentally; but that is exactly how we treat our own souls, so it bleeds out to others. Folks who thrive in God’s grace give grace easily, but the self-critical person becomes others-critical. We “love” people the way we “love” ourselves, and if we are not good enough, then no one is. (Kindle Loc. 184)

Whoa. Great stuff right from the start! I’ve heard incredible things about this book, and I’m looking forward to diving deeper into it. We absolutely need to have more grace for ourselves and therefore have more grace for others. Check out For the Love today.

SproutBox

I’m constantly looking for ways to shepherd my family to know God better in all of our lives. When my son, Josiah, was first born I read a book that really motivated and encouraged me to shepherd him by instilling patterns into our family’s natural daily rhythms from even a very young age. So I’m constantly looking for ideas and ways to help shepherd my son to see Jesus in his life.

I recently came across a new tool that I personally think is a game changer in terms of helping whole families come together and learn God’s Word in a way that is exciting and fun for kids. SproutBox is a new monthly subscription program that I learned about through their partnership with Awana. SproutBox’s mission is simple: to help parents and kids engage God’s Word in new creative ways. I love that! Again, as a parent who is searching for ways to help show God to my family, I love to hear organizations that want to do just that in a way that is engaging and interactive for kids today.

Here is how SproutBox works. A monthly box is delivered to your home that has 4 parts for you and your kids to go through. The four parts are: 1. Captivate (Puzzle), 2. Explore (Storybook), 3. Guide (Lesson) and 4. Experience (Craft/Activity). In the box that was delivered to my home Step 1: Captivate was a puzzle that when put together, and when the SproutBox app is downloaded, provided an interactive video that truly came alive right in front of us. I’ll be honest, this was really cool to see (yes, even 31 year-old kids can have fun too!). With modern, interactive technology SproutBox has found a way to use new, digital technology to engage young kids while using ‘older’ interactive methods such as puzzles and crafts that families can work on together around the table. Step 2: Explore is a short story that sets up the Bible lesson and activity later on in Steps 3: Guide and 4: Experience well. All four parts go together and move into the next step well.

What I really appreciated about SproutBox is that they are using digital technology alongside stories and in-home family projects all while setting the parents up well to go through the story, Bible lesson and activity confidently. Christian parents want nothing more than to share the Bible and Jesus with their kids, but often times it can seem very daunting of a task to know where to even begin. I’m really excited to see how SproutBox helps families and entire churches in the coming years to dive into God’s Word together and for kids to see God’s love for them through interactive technology, stories and activities that they will be able to do with their parents.

If you’re a parent, I would highly recommend you check out SproutBox as a way to shepherd your family towards Christ with a program that is developed with the whole family in mind. Their monthly boxes are delivered right to your home at the same time each month. I would also encourage pastors and churches to look into SproutBox and see if it is a method/tool that you would recommend as well to help the parents in your church to confidently shepherd their kids to know God’s Word and see Christ in their lives together as a whole family.

This is an honest review written in exchange of a review copy of SproutBox from Awana ministries. In no way do I profit or benefit from SproutBox subscriptions, but simply want to help families to shepherd their homes better.

Be The Model, Parents

It scares me when I see parents that don’t actually lead their children. They give up full control to either someone else or worse off, give their children control and expect perfect results. Now, this is a broad statement so let me narrow it down. What scares me more than anything is when parents expect a church to raise up their children to be mature Christians, but then they show and work little at growing in their own faith.

I’ve experienced this first hand in youth ministry. Parents expect their child to learn how to read the Bible, learn how to sit through worship, learn how to be faithful followers of Christ and be perfect students that never do wrong. But how often do these students see their parents reading/studying their Bibles? Or praying? Do the parents make worship a priority? If parents aren’t modeling and living something in their own lives, they should not have expectations that their children will do any different.

The job of the church is to not raise up your students to be model Christians. The church will help in the process of growing them to be devoted followers of Jesus, but the job of the church is to come alongside the parents and to help them, first and foremost, to be modeling devotion to Christ in the home. Kids and Student Ministries get maybe 2 hours a week tops with students for 4-5 or so years (maybe more or less). Parents, you are a far greater influence on your kids than anyone else in their lives! If you want them to do something, lead them by modeling it.

The Bible says in Deuteronomy 6:5-9, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

Parents, are you keeping Christ’s commands upon your hearts first before you impress them on your children? I would challenge you to take a step back and look at the way you are leading your home. I pray that you are leading your children by modeling a passionate faith in Christ. Allow the church to come alongside of you to help you guide your children. If you don’t have a church that is doing that, find one. There are plenty of Christ-centered churches that are making disciples of children, students and adults. But don’t expect the church will do it alone without you. 2 hours of time/week is incredibly insignificant when compared to the impact you have on your children in their lifetime. Be the model, parents. Your influence is vastly more significant.

Walking Through Suffering

In 2014, I had the opportunity to speak and teach to the Primetimers (60s+) ministry at Christ Community Church. This is a group of predominantly retired individuals almost all of whom have walked through some sort of suffering and pain over their 60, 70 or 80+ years of life. Below is an adapted post from my message to them. What I shared with them and what I write here is very personal, but significantly important as we consider our own suffering or the suffering and pain of those around us.


16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

What I want to talk about this morning is how we, as those that call Jesus Lord, are to walk through suffering. We have all gone through suffering, are suffering currently or will go through some sort of pain or suffering in the future. So how am I as a 29 year old able to talk to you about suffering? What could I tell you? Everything. Many of you have heard my story, but here is a recap of the past few years.

At 26 I had to walk through the experience of losing my father suddenly. He died of a heart attack at the age of 60. I will never forget receiving that phone call, and driving home just sobbing but praying out to God. I prayed, “Lord, guide me. I don’t know why but allow me to lead my home in the coming days in a God-honoring way.” At that time in my life, that was the hardest prayer I’ve ever prayed and was for the days following and even months. My dad was my best friend, and losing him unexpectedly shook me to my core. I had to walk through the experience of suffering at that time.

This past year in 2013, we found out that we were expecting twin daughters. My wife and I were beyond excited. After suffering a miscarriage earlier that year, we were through the roof. We prayed hard. We leaned on God hard those first weeks out of sheer terror of having to walk through a miscarriage again. Then, at 17 weeks in the pregnancy, we found out our daughters appeared to have what is called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. Essentially, one twin is receiving more nutrients than the other and this has a potential doubly negative effect on one getting too little and one getting too much. By 18 weeks, it was evident they had TTTS and we were scheduled with 1 of only 4 surgeons in the country that performs the procedure to potentially fix this problem. We booked our flight and hotel in Kansas City and prepared for the unknown road ahead. By 20 weeks, we found out that we had lost our daughters. We didn’t even make it to Kansas City. To say we were devastated would be a severe understatement. This was the darkest moment of our lives.

I spent the next 6 months and all the way to today walking alongside of my wife as we struggled through this to understand why and go on after a tragic loss. I continually prayed to God for understanding and for healing. I prayed the same prayer after my dad died to honor God through this and to guide us. Even when I didn’t want to pray that prayer. I walked alongside my wife, held her, cried with her, yelled out with her. My goal was and has continued to be to honor and love my wife as a Godly husband should.

So in the past 2 years time I have walked through a great deal of suffering and like I said before, I want to share and consider what the Bible says in how we are to walk through suffering. I have this growing concern in me, which the Lord has really been growing in me this year which is, Do Christ followers know what it means to press into the Lord in moments of difficulty and moments of trial? Have you ever thought about what it means to lean into the Lord and how we are to do that? It is important that we consider how we as Christ followers are to react and live in the painful moments of our lives.

First thing I want to do is to consider a few responses to the fact that there is evil and suffering in the world. Why is there evil in the world? God is a loving God. God is a grace-filled God. Why then is there evil and suffering in the world? This is a one word answer: sin. Death exists because of it. Wars and crime persist because of it. Marriages break because of it. The pain and suffering in our lives is a result of the fall – Adam’s sin in the Garden broke the world and fractured every aspect of it. We have an enemy in Satan who controls the world we live in and wants us to rebel against the almighty God. This world is sick and broken. It still doesn’t make it any easier for us as humans though to understand the why of pain and suffering.

Here is what I do know and we see it all throughout Scripture. God is a sovereign, all knowing, all powerful, all loving God. Nothing happens outside the boundaries, knowledge and control of God. This is hard for us to fully comprehend as humans. The human mind cannot grasp why God allows evil; instead, we are called to have faith in God’s goodness and love. But this is very hard in the midsts of suffering. I’m not going to stand here and tell you that all my questions are answered about all that has happened over the past 3 years of my life. This side of heaven they won’t be answered.

But this is what I do know. God is sovereign and I am not. As much as I want to understand, and as much as I want to have authority and power and the ability to control my life, I can’t. In fact, it’s a sin if I want to. It goes back to the first sin in the garden to want to have the knowledge of God.

We’ve talked about the bad news. Here is something to consider. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news. For news to be good, it has to invade bad spaces. Think about that. Jesus alone defeated sin and death and promised to bring restoration to all the brokenness of this world, all the suffering and pain of the this world, in eternity. This is what Paul is talking about here in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Through Jesus, we know our suffering is not in vain. If God is fully sovereign and fully loving, no suffering is senseless. No pain is pointless. Here is something that we must remember: We must realize that we live in an already, not yet world. Jesus has come and redemption is found in Him, but we are still here on earth and not in paradise.

Through all this, we must remember that we have a God that is not some abstract, distant god. We have a loving Father who is with us. The sovereign God came in Jesus Christ to suffer with us and to suffer for us. God came all the way to us and lived among us. The God I know has experienced pain and therefore understands my pain. We are to show Christ through all circumstances. We are to glorify God through every hardship and bit of suffering that we go through. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus for understanding and strength instead of what we are able to see in this world.

Here are four ways that I believe all Christians should walk through suffering that we can find right out of this passage:

1. Lean into God Fully

Allow yourself to suffer and grieve all while focusing on Christ. Paul is not telling to Corinthian church to not suffer and grieve. However, he is saying that in our grief we are to look to God and lean on Him. We see this time and time again in the Psalms. Most Psalms of lament follow the same structure: a complaint , a call to God for help, and a confession of trust in God’s love.

It’s ok to cry out to God. It is ok to be upset with God. It is ok to even question God in times of pain and suffering. God is a loving God that allows His people the ability to do this in ways that are still honoring of Him. The Psalms of lament show this pattern really well. However, it’s in our nature to want to go it alone without God often in times of suffering.

I fell into this trap myself that I had to take care of those around me that I didn’t properly grieve. I didn’t want sympathy, I didn’t want care because I wanted that to go to people that really needed it. Can you relate to that? A friend of mine said to me weeks after we lost our daughters and I was back to work, “Sometimes it’s the hardest for those that serve to be served.” Lean into God. Focus on the cross in times of suffering.

 2. Fix our eyes on the Lord. Look to what is Eternal.

Paul says in this passage that we must look to what is unseen instead of what is seen. So often we want to focus on what we can see and what we can control around us when we are suffering. As Christ followers we are set aside to look different than the world. To the world it is usual to be angry, common to focus on myself only and even have hate for people around us if they have caused us pain and suffering. Again, look to Jesus and the cross of our example of how to walk through suffering. How did Jesus react? How did Jesus respond to those angry and hurting him?

Jesus instructs us to love one another as he loved us. I cannot love and hate someone, this includes God. I can lovingly be upset and angry, but I cannot harness hatred and anger in my heart towards someone or towards God and be able to love that person. When we walk through pain and suffering in a way that honors God, even when we do not fully understand the world notices. Eternity looks different than this world and we must live our lives in anticipation of the Kingdom.

 3. Suffering is Meant to Happen in Community

We tend to quantify and compare suffering and loss. This is wrong. Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. I don’t care if it is the loss of a parent or child, an illness or the loss of a job, pain and suffering has meaning in our lives. We need to go through suffering with other people instead of isolated. We were created for relationships. While we lean into God we must lean into others and allow them the opportunity to serve us and walk alongside of us.

I couldn’t imagine going through the past 2 years without my wife and my Community Group. Having people we could call when we just need a night to play board games to simply take our minds off to things or having people bring us meals for an entire month so we could just come home after work and be together was incredible. People did this for us because they loved and cared about us, and wanted to show God’s love to us. Also, be the one who leans into those suffering and serves them. Don’t wait for people to come to you, go to people as this will make all the difference. 

Our suffering allows us the opportunity to glorify God and share the gospel in a way that we couldn’t before. The circumstances that we have gone through, are going through and will go through allow us a better opportunity to love God and share His love, grace and mercy with others. Our suffering has total meaning. Look to what is unseen in the eternal Kingdom and not to what is seen in this world.