My One Word for 2016

Resolutions don’t work. Rather than focusing on a list of specific ways we want to live differently each year, I’ve written the last two years about a better alternative: focusing and living into a one word theme for the new year.

My One Word for 2016

If it ain’t broke….  For 2016 I’m keeping the same word I’ve had the previous two years.

My one word for 2016 is early.

I want to:

  • wake up early
  • pray early
  • workout early
  • finish tasks early
  • get to appointments early
  • finish my sermon early
  • get to bed early

What about you?  What’s your one word for 2016?  Why?


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What I Read

What do you read on a regular basis?  We are what we eat, and that includes the words we consume.  Today’s post (part 3 of a 3 part series) is about the magazine, journals, and books that make up my media diet.

Print Subscriptions

In addition to The Dallas Morning News (mentioned in part 1), I subscribe to the print editions of the following periodicals:

  • First Thingsa magazine founded by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus that, while including Protestant writers as well, tends to come at things from a conservative Roman Catholic perspective.  First Things is hit or miss for me: some of the long essays are just first-rate, while others are either over my head or boring.
  • The Atlantic, a magazine that I’ve been reading since I was in middle school and that used to be much better than it is.  (I guess I subscribe out of loyalty.)  In the 90s and early 2000s when Cullen Murphy and then Michael Kelly (who was killed in Iraq in 2003) were editors and William Langesweiche and James Fallows were writing frequent longform pieces for the magazine and Benjamin Schwartz (especially Benjamin Schwartz!) was editing the Books section, The Atlantic was one of my favorite magazines.  I’d receive a copy in the mail and read the whole thing, almost in one sitting.  In recent years, though, The Atlantic (founded in 1857!)  has seemed to me to foolishly chasing “relevance” and adopting the perspective of the sort of 25 year-old secular graduate student in the humanities who gets his wisdom from The Daily Show.  (This is not a perspective I share, if you couldn’t figure that out.)  Although The Atlantic published some great longform pieces from time to time, I get each new copy of the magazine out of the mailbox with much less enthusiasm than I did 20 years ago.
  • Outsidea glossy adventure magazine.  I wish Outside devoted more space to book reviews, as I’ve ready some really excellent novels the past couple of years that I first read about in Outside, e.g., The Dog Stars and The Abominable.
  • Texas Monthly, which has enough ads to fill JerryWorld™, but also includes in each issue something I find worth reading about my adopted home state.
  • Plougha small Christian journal that, while ecumenical, draws on the Anabaptist tradition.
  • Books and Culturea newspaperish magazine that covers, from an evangelical perspective, exactly what the title suggests.  Like First ThingsBooks and Culture is hit or miss for me, but I recently resubscribed because I really believe in its mission.
  • The American Conservative, a magazine that I discovered from reading Rod Dreher’s blog.  I don’t know of any other place online or in print that is similar to TAC: small c conservative, isolationist, contrarian, and realist.  (I was pleased when Benjamin Schwartz, whose work at The Atlantic I referenced above, joined TAC last year as national editor.)  For a good example of the kind of stuff TAC covers that no one else does, see this piece from April on suburban sprawl and walkable cities called “Cities for People–or Cars?”.

The Dallas Public Library

Where would I be without a good public library?  Well, I’d have a lot more shelf space, that’s for sure.  Here is my current library shelf in my home office:

FullSizeRender 10

Don’t be impressed–I have a habit of hearing about a book, placing it on hold at the library, and then stockpiling a bunch of great books I haven’t yet and probably won’t ever read.

And Most Importantly, Real Books!

I love reading, and I love reading physical books.  I have aKindle and I use the Kindle app for iPhone; I like the way I can quickly annotate an ebook.  But, despite the convenience of the ebook, I still think the regular old book is a pretty great form of technology, and reading a good book can quiet my mind better than just about anything else.

I read books on theology and leadership for my job, but what I really like reading are books on history and especially long novels.  I try to vary up the books I read: something on one topic, and then something completely different.  (As an example of something really different, I read a very long novel this summer, completely unlike anything else I’ve read in years: Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset’s 1100 page masterpiece about a woman living in 14th century Norway, and one of the best books I’ve ever read.)

In Conclusion: I Need to Make Some Changes

As I’ve been thinking about my media diet these past few weeks, I’ve once again been confronted with the fact that I fritter away too much of my time on unimportant online content that cuts into my time and ability to read books that matter.

My goal is to read 40 books this year, which would be more than I’ve managed in the previous 2 years.  My current total: 29.

Maybe I need to stop watching so much Arrested Development.



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The 2 Skills Every Man Needs

When I was a boy, I thought that grown men men knew about the world; I thought that grown men weren’t afraid of anything.  But now that I’m a grown man myself and now that I know lots of other men, I’ve come to realize that most grown men are just as insecure, feel just as inadequate, and are just as fearful as they were when they were boys, but that now, as grown men, they have more power, more responsibility, and more potential to hurt others.  Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t teach men the skills we need to thrive as men; there are 2 skills in particular that I believe every man needs to know.

Every Man Needs to Know How to Pray

Men don’t know how to pray.  I talk to guys all the time who feel completely inadequate when it comes to prayer.  Prayer makes the man.  To be a man of confidence, peace, and inner strength, you need to be a man of prayer.

I talked at length about prayer here, but I believe there is one thing any man can do immediately to become better at prayer:

To become better at prayer, you need to be specific.

  • Be specific in your time and place for prayer.  Pick a favorite arm chair, or your kitchen table, or your front porch, and pray there every morning.
  • Be specific in your prayer requests.  Lots of men are afraid of really asking the Lord for specifics, but this is a misplaced fear.  God desires our specific prayers.  “If you want a brown hat, don’t just pray for a hat.”  I keep an index card in my Bible with specific prayer requests on it.  Pray for a specific meeting at work, or a specific issue with a child, or a specific fear or worry.  (It’s also powerful to be specific in your prayers of gratitude.)

Learning to pray can do more to change how a man sees and engages the world than anything else.

Every Man Needs to Know How to Apologize

Do you know how to repair relationships that you’ve damaged?  Many men, not knowing how to apologize, do one of the following:

  • they either walk away when relationships become injured; or
  • they ignore the problem, hoping that it will somehow get better.

Neither tactic works.  And we wonder why so many men are so lonely.  If you don’t learn how to apologize, you’ll live with failed relationships, and over time you’ll see marriages and friendships wither.  A failure to apologize is one of the primary ways I’ve seen men fail at relationships.

There are 3 parts to a good apology.

  1. Make eye contact.  If possible, an apology should be done in person.  Apologizing over the phone is a distant second.  In my opinion, a man should never apologize in email or over text.
  2. Take complete responsibility.  Say, “I did [X] and it was wrong.”  Never ever make an excuse when apologizing.
  3. Say, “I’m sorry.  Will you forgive me?”

Learning to apologize and repair a relationship will change a man’s life for the better.

Here’s the Good News

Praying and apologizing are skills that a man can learn.  Like riding a bike, they don’t come naturally to us, but we can learn to get better.  And, like riding a bike, you have to start somewhere, and when you fall down, you get back on and have another try.



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My A/V Media Diet

What do you watch and listen to on a regular basis?  We are what we eat, and that goes for the information we consume.  Today’s post (part 2 of a 3 part series) is about the sources that make up my Audio/Visual  media diet.

Audio Subscriptions

I have been a devoted listener and subscriber to The Mars Hill Audio Journal since 2003.  Ken Myers, from Charlottesville, VA, has created an audio journal that is exactly opposite everything our popular culture embraces: his interviews are long, unconcerned with the latest and loudest, and deeply concerned with the deep questions that humans have been asking for millennia.

The name of the Journal comes from Acts 17, where the Apostle Paul goes to Mars Hill in Athens and interacts with the pagan philosophers on their own terms.


  • The Eric Metaxas Showwhich features Eric Metaxas and his wide variety of guests;
  • Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast;
  • Munger Place Audio Podcast: though it’s painful for me to listen to my own sermons, I still do so from time to time because I know that hearing myself helps me become a better preacher;
  • Fresh Air: Half the time I’m either completely uninterested in Terry Gross’s interviews or else in complete disagreement with her perspective, and the other half of the time I’m captivated by the long-form interviews featured on Fresh Air;
  • In Our Time, a long-running radio show on the BBC hosted by Melvyn Bragg, who interviews British academics to talk in detail about history, science, etc.
  • This Is Your Life with Michael Hyatt.  I liked the earlier version of this podcast better than the current episodes, but from time to time I still benefit from Michael Hyatt’s insights on productivity and leadership.


I don’t watch much television these days and we don’t have cable.  When I do watch TV, it’s mainly with my family and mainly on Sundays: NFL football, 60 Minutes, and America’s Funniest Videos.  As a family, we also watched American Ninja Warrior on Mondays this summer.

I’ve watched every episode of Arrested Development multiple times (via Netflix and Hulu), and, until Netflix took it off the air, would also rewatch Fawlty Towers.  (This watching of the same shows over and over again drives my wife crazy.)

Social Media

I reluctantly use Facebook for my job because it helps me stay connected with people in my congregation, and it helps me remember names.  On the other hand, I’ve been an enthusiastic user of Twitter: I like the ways it allows me to follow lots of really interesting people.

However, as I wrote about a few weeks ago, in early summer 2015 I deleted both the Facebook and Twitter apps from my iPhone and I haven’t looked back.  I still use Facebook from time to time, but I’ve essentially not read anything on Twitter for over 3 months.


I love audiobooks, and in the last year have been using the Overdrive app from the Dallas Public Library, which allows you to check out audiobooks from your local public library.  (I have to be honest, though, and tell you that I miss books on tape.  Those were the days.)

Coming in Part 3

The final installment in this series will run next Monday and will be about I subscribe to and read in print: books, magazines, journals, etc.  (Click here to read part 1, about my online media diet.)  The above was what I listen to and watch on a regular basis.

What about you?  What sources make up your A/V media diet?



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My Daily Media Diet

What are the books, podcasts, websites, blogs, and newsletters that make up your media diet?  You are what you eat, and that includes the information you consume.  Today’s post is about what I read daily as part of my media diet (part 1 of a 3 part series).

What Is a “Media Diet?”

“Media diet” is a phrase I came across several years ago in a web series by The Atlantic.  A reporter would interview public figures about how they stayed informed and what they regularly read and watched and make a simple post out of it.  (I still remember Malcolm Gladwell‘s comment about his daily reading habits: “Since my brain really only works in the morning, I try to keep that time free for writing and thinking and don’t read any media at all until lunchtime.”  I totally identify….)

In part 1 of this series (parts 2 and 3 coming on the next two Mondays) about my media diet, I’ll focus on what I read daily (or at least regularly).

What I Do First Thing in the Morning

I’ve written before about the importance of the First 15, i,e., spending at least the first 15 minutes of your day in prayer, scripture, and silence.  So, I’ve been getting up really early recently in order to have an unhurried time of prayer first thing, before I workout.

Currently this is what I use in my prayer time:

FullSizeRender 9


Breakfast: The Dallas Morning News and NPR

After working out and while eating breakfast and getting ready:

  • I get the print version of The Dallas Morning News delivered at home, and read it every morning (except Sundays, when I don’t get to it until late afternoon, if at all).  I have come to really like The DMN and get more locally-focused and sports news from it than anywhere else.
  • I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition radio program most mornings.

Blogs: Rod Dreher (and Not Much Else)

I used to read Andrew Sullivan’s blog almost every day.  Now that he has stopped blogging, almost the only blogger I read regularly is Rod Dreher.  Rod Dreher is a fascinating and unique writer: a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy living in his native rural South Louisiana who writes about culture from a social conservative point of view.

One of the topics Rod Dreher writes about that I find most intriguing and persuasive is the so-called “Benedict Option”: the idea that Christians in the West today may need to follow the 5th century example of St. Benedict and spend less time participating in politics and the culture wars and more time deliberately cultivating the practices that will “thicken” our faith and deepen our witness.  Here is a post from Rod’s blog in July that summarizes his thoughts on the Benedict Option.

Websites I Read Almost Daily

  • I read The New Yorker almost every day.  I like the short form pieces from folks like John Cassidy and Amy Davidson, but I really prefer The New Yorker for its long-form essays like this one about Northern Ireland that I wrote about in April.
  • I also browse The Atlantic‘s website regularly, though I believe that The Atlantic is a much worse magazine since it expanded its online footprint.  Many of the online articles seem to be merely a slightly (sometimes very slightly) more serious version of the kind of thing that I suppose you find on Buzzfeed or The Huffington Post, and I do not mean that as a compliment.  The Atlantic these days seems to feature quick-reaction pieces on hot-button topics that lack nuance and wisdom.  (I’ll say more about my complaints with The Atlantic in part 3 of this series.)
  • I browse the Yahoo! main site and scroll through the headlines, particularly about sports and politics.
  • I check out the BBC Sport’s soccer page almost daily.

Online Newsletters and Other Sites

  • I read movie reviews on Plugged In every few weeks or so.  I’m interested in movies, but I like reading reviews from a conservative Christian perspective (a perspective you don’t get from mainstream reviewers).  I rarely have time to see movies in the theater anymore, so I find myself reading many more reviews of movies than actually seeing movies.
  • I’ve recently discovered Book Notesa free newsletter from Byron Borger, owner of Hearts and Minds bookstore in central Pennsylvania.  Through Book Notes, I’ve stumbled across books that I would never have heard of elsewhere–it’s a great resources.
  • I read articles and watch videos the videos on the CrossFit main site several times a week.

Coming in Parts 2 and 3….

Parts 2 and 3 will be about what I regularly listen to and watch and read in print.  The above is what I read online on a  regular basis.  What about you?  What makes up your daily media diet?



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3 Reasons to Delete Facebook

It had been coming for a while, but this summer I finally decided I needed to delete social media from my iPhone to maintain my sanity.  Here’s why I deleted Facebook and Twitter, and here are 3 reasons why you should, too.


Why I Deleted Social Media from my iPhone

Over the past several years, I’d found that being connected online increased the worry and stress in my life.  It’s now been 3 months since I made my smart phone dumber by deleting the Facebook and Twitter apps, and here are 3 reasons I’m glad I did.

Reason #1: I Have Less Anger and Anxiety

Facebook and Twitter are overrun with keyboard cops and their self-righteous indignation, and the sad thing is that the self-righteous indignation of other people produced self-righteous indignation in me, directed at them.  Anger and self-righteousness come naturally to me: I don’t need social media’s help to feel superior to the people who feel superior.  Without a constant stream of social media outrage at my fingertips, I have less anger and more peace.

Facebook in particular also produces comparison in its users: you are constantly thinking, “I wish I had that or looked like that.”  Facebook too often caused me to break the 10th commandment (that’s the one about coveting, for all you biblical illiterates), and without Facebook on my phone I have less of the anxiety that materialism and jealousy and lust produce in my heart.

I’m not withdrawn from the world, nor am I naive: I read the paper and catch the news every day.  But, there is something about the way social media delivers information that caused me to feel a constant low level of anxiety.  Since deleting Facebook and Twitter from my phone, I experience much less anxiety and worry.

Reason #2: I Have More Focus

When Facebook and Twitter were a fingertip away, I found myself constantly checking and looking at those apps.  The irresistible allure of seeing what was happening made it very difficult for me to focus 0n the things that matter.  Since deleting social media from my iPhone, I find that I’m less distracted and more focused.

And when it comes to prayer there is no question: social media is the enemy.  Distracted and unfocused prayer is no prayer at all.

Reason #3: I Have More Time

Everybody’s busy, but few people are productive.  I found that the constant scrolling and checking and commenting and retweeting that social media encourages meant that I was becoming more and more unproductive.  Since deleting Facebook and Twitter from my phone, I’ve found that I have more time to get things done.  (For example, I’ve read more books since deleting social media, and reading is an activity that gives me peace and helps me become a better leader and preacher.)

What Now?

I still have Facebook and Twitter accounts, but to access them I have to use my laptop, which means, because it takes more effort to login, I’m much less likely to mindlessly scroll through them.  Will I keep my phone social-media-free forever?  I don’t know.  But, I can honestly say making my smart phone dumber has probably made me smarter.

What about you?  Are you willing to try it?

6 FAQs About Fasting

Fasting is not something that comes easily for me, and, judging by the questions I’ve been getting, it’s not something that comes easily for many of you, dear readers.  What follows are some Frequently Asked Questions on the topics of fasting and Lent.



Why Fast?

I remember asking my dad about fasting when I was a kid, and he told me he had asked my grandfather the same question when he was a kid.  My grandfather had said, “Fasting is something Roman Catholics do during Lent, but we Protestants are supposed to give up things all year long.”  I loved my grandfather, but I think he was wrong to frown on fasting as some misguided practice that Roman Catholics do, and I’m glad that American Evangelical Protestantism has begun to embrace fasting and Lenten disciplines more widely.

  • Fasting reminds us that there are people around the world for whom hunger is not a choice, and to a very small degree, fasting can help us stand in solidarity with them.
  • Fasting reminds us of the temptations and privations of Jesus in the wilderness.  Before there’s the Resurrection, there’s the Crucifixion.  Before the crown, there’s the cross.
  • Fasting can help us set our minds on what matters most.
  • Fasting can help us pray with more focus and intensity.

I give a brief overview of Lent and fasting here:

What If I Can’t Fast From Food?

Lots of folks have medical conditions that make it unsafe for them to fast from food during the day.  Here’s my advice, if you’d still like to fast: make your food as plain as possible, and eat just enough to keep healthy.

What Should I Do When I’m Fasting?

I use fasting as a way to help me pray: throughout the day, I’ll pray something like “Lord, help me to desire you and your word as much as I desire food.”

Another technique is to use hunger as a reminder to pray for some particular topic.  Maybe during Lent you can pray for the persecuted Church, or the situation in the Ukraine, or for your neighbor who struggles with faith, or for your marriage, etc.  Every time you are hungry, pray for that specific situation or person.

One other thing to do is to take on something life-giving while you are giving up something else.  If you are fasting from food, take on prayer.  If you are fasting from coffee, take on giving the money you would have spent towards a clean water project.  (You can see suggestions of what to take on in the chart below.)

Does It Matter What I’m Fasting From?

Traditionally, fasting involves food, but you can fast from other things as well.

  • You could fast from caffeine;
  • You could fast from television;
  • You could fast from complaining.

In the 40 Campaign we’re doing at my church, each week during Lent involves a different kind fast.  You can see the list below.

Should I Fast On Sundays?

Every Sunday is an Easter celebration, and so Sundays have traditionally been feast days.  I like the thought of not fasting on Sundays for this reason.

"The Fight Between Carnival and Lent," by Pieter Bruegel the Elder [1559]

“The Fight Between Carnival and Lent,” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder [1559]

What If I Give In and Break My Fast?

Try again tomorrow.  Fasting isn’t about showing off heroic self-denial; it’s about learning to pray and focus on what matters most.


How has the experience of fasting been for you?

40 Days of Dying to Yourself

How might you be different in 40 days of sacrifice and simplicity?  Instead of excess, euphemism, and self-indulgence, I’d like to invite you to 40 days of sacrifice, simplicity, and self-denial.  Join the 40 campaign.  Take 2 minutes and watch the following video.

Today is Ash Wednesday, and it marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter (not including Sundays).  During Lent, we remember the privations of Jesus during his time of temptation in the desert, and that before the Resurrection, there was the Crucifixion.  Many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation, and spiritual discipline during Lent.

Join Me in the 40 Campaign?

Starting today, my church is embarking on our 40 campaign: a Lenten campaign of sacrifice and simplicity.  Each week we have a different thing to give up and a different thing to take on:

How might you be different in 40 days of sacrifice and simplicity?

My 2014 Reading List

Soviet Russia during wartime; climbing Mount Everest in canvas puttees and hobnailed boots; Hasidic teenagers in Brooklyn: these were just a few of the subjects I read about in 2014.  Sure, I didn’t make my reading goal, but it was a great year for reading all the same.

"The Artist in His Room at the Villa Medici, Rome," by Léon Cogniet, 1817 [Wikipedia].

“The Artist in His Room at the Villa Medici, Rome,” by Léon Cogniet, 1817 [Wikipedia].

My 2014 Reading Goal

I set a goal to read 50 books in 2014.  My actual total: 34.  (Just like last year, I fell short.)  But can I get a little credit for reading several huge novels?

I mentioned last year that I wanted to read more fiction and literature in 2014, and as you’ll see below, I accomplished that goal.  (I think I’d like to add more books on theology and pastoral ministry in 2015.)

Here Are My Rules

I only counted books that I read all the way through.  In my weekly sermon prep, I often end up reading parts of different books, but they don’t count.  Also, I read lots of periodicals and online journals, but I don’t count them toward my total.  Why not?  I find that the concentration required to read a book all the way through is different (and more valuable) than reading a blog post or online article.  Also, reading blog posts and articles isn’t life-giving to me the way reading a book is.


A book that I’ll remember in the future, a book that adds enduring value to my life, that’s a book I’ll define as good.  I use a 5 star system in my ratings to signify the following:

★★★★★ life-changing and unforgettable
★★★★     excellent
★★★         worth reading

Books getting less than 3 stars aren’t on my “Best” list, which doesn’t mean they were necessarily bad, but just not books that I’d excitedly recommend to you.

★★             read other things first
                not recommended


The Best Books I Read in 2014 (in chronological order)

The Abominable: A Novel, by Dan Simmons.  The first book I read in 2014, and one of the best I read all year.  It’s a long novel (688 pages) about a team trying to climb Mount Everest in 1924, against a background of mystery and international espionage. Author Dan Simmons takes the gaps in our historical knowledge (What really happened to George Mallory and Sandy Irvine? Why didn’t Hitler put Operation Sea Lion into motion and invade England in 1940?) and connects them and fills them in in creative and satisfying ways.


From Booklist, via Amazon:

It’s 1924, and a trio of rogue climbers—mysterious WWI vet Deacon; emotional Frenchman Jean-Claude; and our narrator, brash young American Jacob—are hired to find the corpse of a dignitary lost on Everest. While they’re there, they go for the legendary summit. Right away, there’s a complication: a fourth team member, the dead man’s cousin—and a woman, no less! But it’s the subsequent complications that make this required reading for anyone inspired or terrified by high-altitude acrobatics: sudden avalanches, hidden crevasses, murderous temperatures, mountainside betrayals, and maybe—just maybe—a pack of bloodthirsty yeti. Though the first 200 pages of climbing background might have readers pining for the big climb, it is nearly always interesting, and, later, Simmons excels at those small but full-throated moments of terror when, for example, a single bent screw might mean death for everyone.”

The Abominable had me constantly reaching for my atlas and looking things up on Wikipedia.  Highly recommended.  ★★★★


The Christ of the Indian Roadby E. Stanley Jones.  I’d like to understand the culture in which I minister as well as Jones, a Methodist missionary to India 100 years ago (and a friend of Gandhi’s) understood his.  Recommended.  ★★★


Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand.  The story of Louie Zamperini’s life is one of the more remarkable I’ve ever read.  Highly recommended (and I also recommend the movie, by the way).  ★★★★


The Last Hero, by Peter Forbath. This fictionalized retelling of Henry Morton Stanley’s final trip through the Congo is terrifying and compelling.  Another long novel (729 pages) that had me constantly reaching for the atlas and encyclopedia, it re-introduced me to the remarkable life of Henry Morton Stanley.  Stanley was one of the most famous and lionized me in the world in the last 3rd of the 19th century, and though I’d read about him when I was a teenager, I’d forgotten how improbable, exciting, and impressive were his accomplishments.  Like Louie Zamperini–although actually much more so–Stanley’s life story is one of those that if you made it up, no one would believe it.  Highly recommended.  ★★★★


The Chosen, by Chaim Potok.  Why read fiction?  Fiction enables you to experience the life of another in a way that is impossible otherwise.  The Chosen is about the friendship between two boys in the Hasidic community in Brooklyn during the Second World War.  Highly recommended.  ★★★★


Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. I wrote about this book here.  Like most of these sorts of business and leadership books, it’s too long, but still worth the read.  Recommended.  ★★★


What Radical Husbands Do, by Regi Campbell.  I’d like all the men I know to read this book.  Recommended.  ★★★


The Advantage, by Patrick Lencioni.  A great book on organizational leadership.  Recommended.  ★★★


Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry. The only novel of Berry’s I’ve ever read, it’s a slow accounting of the life of a small hamlet in Kentucky, and its bachelor barber.  Highly recommended.  ★★★


The Best Book I Read in 2014

Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman (translated by Robert Chandler).  A novel by a Red Army journalist who lived through the Battle of Stalingrad, Life and Fate is a masterpiece and an experience that I will never ever forget.

Urban warfare, Stalingrad, 1942.

Urban warfare, Stalingrad, 1942.

German POWs, Stalingrad, 1943.

German POWs, Stalingrad, 1943.

I first heard about Life and Fate as a college history student, and have had it on my someday/maybe list for 15 years or so.  It’s a massive novel (896 pages), and was the last book I read in 2014.  Here’s a good summary from Publisher’s Weekly:

Obviously modeled on War and Peace, this sweeping account of the siege of Stalingrad aims to give as panoramic a view of Soviet society during World War II as Tolstoy did of Russian life in the epoch of the Napoleonic Wars. Completed in 1960 and then confiscated by the KGB, it remained unpublished at the author’s death in 1964; it was smuggled into the West in 1980. Grossman offers a bitter, compelling vision of a totalitarian regime where the spirit of freedom that arose among those under fire was feared by the state at least as much as were the Nazis. His huge cast of characters includes an old Bolshevik now under arrest, a physicist pressured to make his scientific discoveries conform to “socialist reality” and a Jewish doctor en route to the gas chambers in occupied Russia. Ironically, just as Stalingrad is liberated from the Germans, many of the characters find themselves bound in new slavery to the Soviet government. Yet Grossman suggests that the spirit of freedom can never be completely crushed. His lengthy, absorbing novel–which rejected the compromises of a lifetime and earned its author denunciation and disgrace–testifies eloquently to that spirit.”

Highly, highly recommended.  (I’ll need to write more about this separately.)  ★★★★★


The Rest of 2014 (in chronological order)

Some of the books below are quite good, but for whatever reason, they didn’t grab me in such as way to make my “best of” list above.  Still, some of these books might be worth your time.

Others most definitely aren’t.  Caveat lector.

That Used to be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented And How We Can Come Back, by Thomas Friedman & Michael Mandelbaum. The title pretty much says it all….  ★★

Stanley: the Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer,” by Tim Jeal.  After reading The Last Hero (see above), I wanted to learn more about Stanley.  ★★

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, by Rod Dreher.  A memoir about returning home after the death of an only sibling.  I first read about the book on Dreher’s blog, which is one of my favorites.  A nice book about the importance of family and community.  ★★

Death by Meeting, by Patrick Lencioni.  Helpful.  ★★

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace, by Heath Lambert.  A book about men and pornography.  ★★

Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation, all by Isaac Asimov.  I’d heard that these were ground-breaking books in science fiction, so I think I was expecting more.  Good, but not great.  ★★

The Tale of Three Kings, by Gene Edwards.  A lot of evangelical pastor types love this book about Saul, David, and Absolom.  Not totally sure why.  ★★

The Anglican Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism, by John Stott & J. Alec Motyer.  Not helpful to me. 

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John Maxwell.  I don’t get much out of Maxwell’s stuff. 

All In, by Mark Batterson. 

Developing the Leader Within You, by John Maxwell.  Maxwell’s first book, and definitely one of the worst books I’ve ever read. More clichés than a box of chocolates.  

The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, by John Maxwell. 

Podcast Launch, by John Lee Dumas. 

Come Home: A Call Back to Faith, by James MacDonald.  My mom told me about this book, and as soon as I heard the title, I thought, “I want to do a sermon series on that theme.”  I ended up doing the series–one of my favorites we’ve ever done–but I didn’t find the book very helpful to me, and all I ended up using was the title (which is a great title, by the way). 

An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture, by Andrew Davis.  Can’t beat the price.  ★★

Eat This Book, by Eugene Peterson.  Like Come Home mentioned above, I got a sermon series out of this title (which I’d heard elsewhere), but didn’t get much content for the actual series from the book.  ★★

7 Men and The Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas.  I want to like Eric Metaxas’s books because I believe in what he’s trying to do and agree with his general worldview, but as with his Bonhoeffer book, I found the writing in this book to be really annoying and juvenile.  Unfortunately, I just don’t think Metaxas is a very good writer.  Not recommended.  

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, by Michael Hyatt. Good practical stuff for bloggers.  ★★

In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, by Henri Nouwen.  I love the epilogue about Nouwen and his friend with special needs, speaking at a conference together.  Beautiful.  ★★

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, by Peter Thiel.  I really disliked this book; this Vox post is a good summary of my own feelings.  (For another funny article on Silicon Valley arrogance and foolishness, see this New York magazine piece about the men behind the laundry app “Washio.”)  Not recommended.  

Not Yet Christmas, by J.D. Walt.  Some nice reflections on Advent.  ★★

Into the Silent Land: a Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, by Martin Laird.  A reference on Rod Dreher’s blog pointed me towards this book.  Good stuff on contemplative prayer.  ★★



I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the above.  Anything I need to be sure and read in 2015?


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My One Word for 2015

Resolutions don’t work.  Rather than focusing on a list of specific ways we want to live differently each year, I wrote last year about a better alternative: focusing and living into a one word theme for the new year.

"San Giorgio Maggiore at Dawn" [1819] by J.M.W. Turner [Wikimedia Commons]

“San Giorgio Maggiore at Dawn” by J.M.W. Turner, 1819 [Wikimedia Commons]

The Most Important Thing I Did in 2014

The single most important thing I did in 2014 was make a habit of getting up early for prayer and exercise.  As I’ve written previously, that habit was a keystone habit that affected every area of my life last year.

Overall, I did better in the first seven months of the year than I did in the final five months, when I found myself busier than I’d ever been in my life.  Rather than redoubling my efforts towards my early habit when I needed it most, I let it slide, and therefore so did my prayer life, physical fitness, and sermon quality.  (No kidding–I think my early habit helps me be a much more effective preacher.)

So, I’m keeping the same word for 2015 as I had for 2014.

My One Word for 2015

My one word for 2015 is early.

I want to:

  • wake up early
  • pray early
  • workout early
  • finish tasks early
  • get to appointments early
  • finish my sermon early (this would be life-changing!)
  • get to bed early

What about you?  Why?  Leave comments below.


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