2015: Good Reads

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Way back in January I made a pact with myself to aim for quality rather than quantity when it came to the books I would read in 2015. I should have done that several years ago. Here’s a list (in no particular order) of my three favorite reads from 2015.

(Note: this list is not exclusive to books released in 2015.)

The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges

christianministryThis might be the most practical and relevant book on ministry that I’ve read to date—what’s impressive is that it was published in 1830. Just goes to show you that there really is nothing new under the sun. It was also refreshing to read a book on ministry/leadership that couldn’t possibly push any sort of modern agenda.

The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler

minglingofsoulsConfession: I may have a slight man-crush on Matt Chandler. However, I think I can relatively objectively say this is a special book. What makes Mingling of Souls great is that it biblically addresses the full spectrum of love—from initial attraction all the way to the well-worn marriage–where as most books on “love” simply begin on the wedding day.

On Writing by Stephen King

onwritingI’ve heard several writers recommend this book on various podcasts, so when I found it for about $3 in a used book store, it was a no-brainer. This wannabe writer couldn’t put it down. King’s biography combined with his practical tips for writing make this a must read for anyone that wants to be a writer someday. (Warning: book contains some “flavorful” language.)

A Liberating Truth (Under the Sun)

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Anybody remember the band 311? For the 3 of you that do, you might remember their song “Come Original”. I have no idea what the basis of the song was (because, you know, songs always have these strange underlying meanings, especially when you play the album backwards), but I have felt the pressure to “come original” quite often.

As a student pastor, I feel the pressure of trying to come up with creative ways of communicating truth that has been around for thousands of years. That’s the reason I probably spend more time preparing teaching content than any other one aspect of my job. As a wannabe blogger/writer, I feel the tension in trying to churn out content that is new, innovative, or somehow original. That’s the reason I don’t blog very much.

More often than not, I feel like I don’t have anything new to offer.

Then comes this reminder from one of the wisest men to ever live:

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

It’s true, isn’t it? Anyone who has seen their wardrobe cycle out of style and back in style knows this. But if we’ll just stop for a second, there’s a great freedom here.

  • Pastors, you don’t have to try to preach the Christmas story from some new, innovative angle this year
  • Moms, you don’t have to compete with the creativity found on the boards of the profession Pinterest moms.
  • Jonas, you don’t have to wait until you have the illusion of an original idea or thought before you write.

There is nothing new under the sun–and that is a liberating truth.

Not By Sight

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I went to the doctor for a physical earlier this week. Unlike my freshman college calculus class, I passed this test with flying colors. I also learned that I have 20/13 vision. Unsure if that was good, bad, or meant that I was living a couple of years in the past, I asked the nurse for some clarification. She informed me that my vision was “better than perfect,” as if that’s really a thing. Upon further research, apparently I can see at 20 feet what the average person can see only at 13 feet.

So I can see really well. Which is awesome–until I remember that walking faithfully has nothing to do with what I can see (2 Corinthians 5:7).

One of my favorite illustrations regarding walking faithfully is found in Psalms 119:105:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

God’s word will illuminate my way, telling me where to and where not to step. Encouraging, right? Well, sort of. The object used in the illustration is a lamp, which would be the ancient equivalent of a flashlight. However, whereas the modern flashlight projects a concentrated beam quite a distance ahead, the ancient lamp didn’t have that ability. You know what a lamp in this context would illuminate? The next step. Not the end of the path, not the desired destination–just the next step.

Here’s the deal: being able to see at 20 feet what most people can only see at 13 feet means nothing when the lamp only lights the way for the next 3 feet.

And so we walk by faith, not by sight. Sometimes it’s more like stumbling or crawling, but by God’s grace we progress by faith–not by faith in the path or by faith in the destination, but by faith in the One who lights the way, one painfully slow step at a time.

Don’t Waste Your Wait

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Tom Petty once sang that “the waiting is the hardest part.” Have truer words ever been spoken?

We don’t like waiting. We use microwaves. We take alternate routes to avoid traffic. We waste five minutes trying to find the shortest checkout line. As I write this, Kelli and I are waiting for our second son to arrive literally any day and the wait is just painful at this point (quite literally for her). Waiting really is the hardest part.

In case you missed it, we got our first ever up-close images of Pluto this week. Far more fascinating to me than the images themselves is the story behind those images. In 2006 NASA launched its New Horizon spacecraft to capture the images of Pluto. Nearly ten years later, New Horizon reached its destination, snapped a few pictures, and called it a day decade. In case you missed that, let me reiterate. Ten. Years. Later. No lengthy layovers. No breakdowns. No leisurely Sunday afternoon drive—at times New Horizon topped out at over 30,000 miles per hour. Just a three-billion mile direct flight. And it took ten years to get there. (Side note: Is anyone else blown away by the vastness of God’s creation?)

For ten years NASA has waited for these images. How many people forgot about New Horizon in those ten years? How many people simply lost interest or gave up? How many people got tired of waiting? I’m certainly not pointing fingers–I give up in frustration when my wifi connection is slow. But on the flip-side, how rewarding were the images for those who have been waiting for the last decade? Can you imagine finally experiencing the fruit of something you invested your life in ten years ago? (I suppose many veteran parents are saying “yes” right now, but hang with me.)

There’s something redemptive about waiting. I’m not wise enough to know what it is, but there’s something to it. There’s a reason that God encourages us to “be still” (Ps. 46:10). There’s a reason that patience is included as a fruit of the Spirit. There’s a reason Jeremiah wrote, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lam. 3:25-26)

As much as it hurts to type, I think waiting might be good for us.

But we don’t like waiting, do we? So we sit in the waiting room trying to pass the time with smartphones and outdated magazines, meanwhile God is begging for our attention! Could it be that he’s trying to speak to us in our waiting? I don’t know. Maybe.

It seems natural to ask you “what are you waiting for?” But could it be that a better question would be “what is your waiting for?”

If we really believe that “for those who love God all things work together for good” God has you (and me) waiting for a reason.

Don’t waste your wait.

Awesome Stuff in 2015

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In case you missed it, 2015 is half-over. Crazy, huh? It seems like just yesterday that we were all making resolutions we knew we wouldn’t keep. Oh, nostalgia.

Anyways, I think 2015 has been pretty awesome so far. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of the aforementioned awesome things from the first half of 2015. Yes, they’re random. But hey, a wannabe writer has to write something during this summer lull. So without further adieu, here are some awesome things from 2015:

  • The Manday Tradition. Over the last couple of months, Owen and I have established a tradition affectionately known as Manday. We just spend time together. No real agenda. No women allowed. Just manly things like eating donuts, paying bills, running errands, playing at the playground, etc. It’s also inspired me to put together a father-son to-do list. Maybe I’ll share that sometime too.
  • It’s a boy! Speaking of creating a father-son to-do list, I’ll soon have two boys to corrupt. We found out back in March that baby number 2 would be another boy. We’ll be welcoming Henry Allen Larkin into the world any day now. Two boys two years apart. This is why we won’t have nice things.
  • I’m still alive. In all fairness, this should probably top the list. Kind of sets the tone for everything else, you know?
  • I started shaving like my grandpa. Before this turns weird quickly, I stole that last sentence from an article on Art of Manliness. A few months ago I started shaving with an old-school double-edge razor. It’s pretty fantastic. Yes, growing a beard would be way more manly, but Patches here isn’t quite able to complete the full beard, so shaving in a manly way seemed like the next best option.
  • Three-goggles. Saving the best for last, Kelli and I celebrated three years of marriage in June. She’s a beautiful, patient, gracious, loving woman, ya’ll. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface. The way she simultaneously loves me, loves Owen, carries Henry, takes care of our home, keeps us fed, holds down a job, serves her church and more without dropping the ball is baffling to me. She wears a lot of hats. Which is convenient, because she looks good in hats.

What about you? What made the first half of your year awesome? What are you looking forward to in the second half of 2015? What are some things you would recommend to make the second half of 2015 awesome for me?

The Uneasiness of Independence Day

There’s something about Independence Day that makes me slightly uneasy. Before you dismiss me and mumble something like, “If you don’t like it here, then go somewhere else,” let me ease your aggression and tell you that it has very little to do with America herself.

It goes without saying that the United States of America is an incredible place to live. I am aware that I get to experience the freedom and liberty that billions around the world long for. I’m grateful for that. Furthermore, I don’t quite know how to properly express my gratitude for the men, women, and families that have sacrificed so much for us to enjoy such liberties. This freedom that so many of us experience daily is most certainly an act of God’s grace.

With that in mind, let me try to express my uneasiness.

This weekend, church-goers all around the country will gather for worship. My discomfort lies in the concern that many of us will be worshiping the wrong thing.

As I’ve read or heard somewhere before, worship is attributing ultimate worth to something or someone. This weekend, the church should gather to exalt and attribute ultimate worth to Christ; however, many will likely gather this weekend to exalt and attribute ultimate worth to America. The cross and Christ crucified will take a backseat to Ol’ Glory.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. I believe that being a citizen of the United States of America is one of those gifts. And I believe that God the Father delights in seeing His children celebrate the gifts He’s given them. All I’m saying is let’s be careful about celebrating the gift more than the Giver.

So by all means, let’s celebrate our freedoms and liberties in our gatherings this weekend, but let’s reserve our actual worship for that which is “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3)—the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What I’ve Learned in Three Years of Ministry

This weekend marks my third year in full-time vocational ministry. Fully acknowledging that I’m still a ministry newbie, here’s a few things I’ve learned thus far:

Nothing prepares you for ministry.

In seminary I learned about finding Jesus in the Old Testament. I learned about church history and how denominations were established. I learned about multiple methods for crafting a sermon. What I did not learn in seminary was how time consuming ministry can be for a family. I did not learn what to say to a student whose parents had kicked them out of the house. I did not learn what to do when you get a call on your day off informing you that a parent had committed suicide. I’m not dismissing seminary—I gained valuable knowledge during my formal ministry training, but having a seminary degree doesn’t mean you’re prepared for ministry (like I naively thought it would).

People > Programs

I’m still figuring this out. It’s my biggest struggle in ministry. I am naturally drawn to content, creativity, methodologies, mission statements, systems, etc. I think it’s a mixture of a semi-creative mind and a business school background, though I’m not completely sure. To be certain, I think those things are really important—content matters, our creativity is a reflection of God’s creativity, systems are necessary—but those things are secondary. Jesus didn’t die for a teaching series, slick visual graphics, or the aesthetics of a building—Jesus died for people. I am constantly having to ask God to reorient my focus to the people He loves and died for.

I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Despite the ups, the downs, the complaints, the frustrations, the wins, the losses, the mistakes, the feelings of inadequacy, the early mornings and the late nights, I can’t imagine doing anything other than ministry. My hope and prayer is that by God’s grace I’ll have a long and fruitful tenure in full-time vocational ministry. I can’t imagine doing anything else.