2016 Reading Challenge

I like to read. But I’m a slow reader. I was encouraged when I read this post.

I printed out the 2016 Reading Challenge list and looked it over. After review I decided to create my own list for the year. It’s a work in progress but the list is at 40 books so far.

The list includes books to read to my children, books for fun, books for growing in faith, and at least on book to read with my wife.

I’m looking forward to reading more books this year than ever and growing in the process.

Knowledge By Association

My 3 year old wanted me to hold her. She hadn’t been feeling well, I’d been gone to work all day, and she needed her daddy.

I decided to hold her on my lap and asked, “Can I read a book while I hold you?” She was good with that.

I was at chapter 2 of The Master Plan of Evangelism by Dr. Robert E. Coleman. Holding my daughter on my lap, she sucked her thumb and stared at the pages. I read aloud to her. Dr. Coleman was arguing for a method of ministry modeled by Jesus. The author showed how Jesus called the disciples to follow and watch his life. Jesus was with them, or more properly, the disciples were with Jesus – constantly.

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This method of training new believers has been lost to much of the church. Programs and curricula have largely taken the place of life on life example based training. Being close to Jesus as he ministered, showed compassion, and prayed, the disciples were learning many things without formal instruction.

I stopped reading aloud and marked in my margins. Naomi asked, “Why are you drawing on your book?”

I said, “That sentence was really good and I wanted to remember it. I wrote that it was a good sentence.”

The sentence wasn’t the only thing I wanted to remember, the moment was worthy of being captured.

The moment was my daughter sitting with me as I read aloud about the Master’s plan of evangelism. The sentence read, “Knowledge was gained by association before it was understood by explanation.”

 

Book Summary: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper

Today, while rummaging through some miscellaneous files, I found the following book notes written to myself.

For a season, I attempted to extract a summary from each book I read and then I put the summary in a Word document. The season was short, but the following is from those days.

Nothing here is about fatherhood (my usual topic for this blog) but if you’re in ministry (and fathers are) this may be a helpful review.

John Piper has been a favorite preacher and author of mine for the past two years.  I happened upon some of his sermons and was greatly impressed.  Then not long after, I was able to attend a regional conference hosted by his Desiring God ministry.  At this conference I picked up some materials by him, mostly sermons.  Since then I have read a couple of his books and have consistently been inspired, instructed, and influenced.  With all this as a precursor to reading Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, one could see that this book would be favored by me as well.  I was not disappointed.  This book delivers in standard John Piper fashion.  Although, the one critique I might have is that the book seems to be a compilation of articles put into book form rather than being written as a book from the start.  Because of this it seems to have less cohesiveness from chapter to chapter.  The overarching theme intended by the title is nevertheless prevalent.

A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry: is the subtitle of the book.  Piper is pleading, challenging, exhorting pastors to look at the ministry God has placed them in as a mission.  Pastoring is not a job, it is not counseling, or public speaking, or any type of activity that can be placed on a list of occupations or competencies.  Reading from chapter one I was struck with the thought that much of what is in this book could and should apply to all Christians, not just pastors.  Here is a quote, and if I insert the word Christian in place of pastor does it not also apply?

“There is an infinite difference between the pastor whose heart is set on being a professional and the pastor whose heart is set on being the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of death to some and eternal life to others.”

Certainly pastors have a high calling and a responsibility to their congregations and before God.  Yet, all Christians should strive to be the aroma of Christ.

“The aroma of Christ”, I love the vivid and engaging language that Piper uses throughout the book.  Here are a few examples:

“God’s love for the glory of His own name is the spring of free grace and the rock of our security.”

“The gospel is not a help-wanted ad.  It is a help-available ad.”

“For most of us the voice of self-reliance is ten times louder than the bell that tolls for the hours of prayer.”

“God increases our yield so that by giving we can prove that our yield is not our God.”

One chapter that I need to re-read and study further was titled “Brothers, Save The Saints”.  Having long been a believer in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, these ideas and others that I have heard or read recently, have encouraged me to study this doctrine further.  Not that my belief has changed regarding the doctrine, but that there is clearly more to it than I have had the opportunity to study.

The chapter titled “Brothers, Let The River Run Deep” was very helpful for me.  Piper discusses the issue expressing emotions and uses Lamentations as the backdrop for the lesson.  Lamentations, Piper points out, it deeply emotional and at the same time profoundly formal.  The number of stanzas and lines could not hinder the pouring of the emotions but gave them form.  Piper uses the analogy of a river to say, “Emotions are like a river flowing out of one’s heart.  Form is like the riverbanks.  Without them the river runs shallow and dissipates on the plain.  But banks make the river run deep.  Why else have humans for centuries reached for poetry when we have deep affections to express?”

The book will hold a valuable place in my library and is sure to visited over and over.  I look forward to gaining fresh insights from it for many years to come.

On Boys Climbing Trees And Stringing Lights

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“Are you guys okay up there?”

“Yeah,” one of my boys answered.

I heard the concerned neighbor from where I sat in the backyard. It was dark and my two boys were about forty feet up in our redwood tree. Headlamps on, Christmas lights being strung, having a blast.

We’d talked of lighting up this tree many times, but weren’t sure how we would do it. As my boys age, they have become adept climbers of this tree. Cousins and friends have joined them. Several parents have stood in the backyard with me and watched, amazed.

“How far up do you think they are?” The question has been asked many times.

“I don’t know. I suppose forty or fifty feet.”

Watching the boys climb, I decided the best way to get Christmas lights strung on the tree was to have the boys carry them in a backpack and wrap the trunk. My eleven year old son reminded me of this one evening.

“Dad, can we string the lights on the tree?”

“Oh, I forgot we were going to do that. It’s almost dark now. We might need to wait until next weekend.”

As I said this, I could see the disappointment in his eyes. The thrill of stringing the lights into that tree was something he was anxious to experience. Why disappoint the boy, I thought.

“The only way to do it now is to put on your headlamp.”

He brightened as he headed off to find his gear. The excitement of stringing the tree with lights doubled with the adventure of working in the dark. He worked tirelessly, untangling lights from a big tub, figuring out which ones worked and which didn’t, packing them into his pack, and hauling them up the tree. His younger brother eventually joined in the fun.

The plan went through several starts and stops. Several strings of lights had connectors which only worked with the same brand. Up and down and into the tub of lights my older son went, over and over. Once, while packing another string of lights into his pack in the house, he said my wife, “Mom, my backpack fell all the way down and I heard it hit the ground.”

“Calvin,” I said, “Don’t tell you mother things like that.”

“Why?”

“That is the type of thing you tell her when you are like forty years old.”

“Oh, then you probably have a lot of thing to tell your mother.”

The tree looked fabulous when it was complete; we could see it from blocks away. One of my neighbors asked how we did it. I told him. He wasn’t surprised; he was a tree-climbing boy once himself. I think we all were – and we lived to tell about it.

I Remember His Angry Outburst

 

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I was wandering the aisles of a new flooring store when a clerk asked, “Can I help you find something?”

“Actually, yes. Where is the restroom?”

The clerk pointed toward the corner of the store behind me. As he did, our eyes met and I recognized him. More than twenty years had passed. His face was the same, only older. Maybe it was wiser too. His hair, brown in bygone days, had a whisper of grey. But there was no mistake, it was Randy.

In a brain blink I asked myself, “Should I tell him who I am? Should I take a chance that he remembers me? No, what’s the point? Even if he remembers me, the conversation would be short and dull.”

I turned and walked to the restroom. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw Randy walking. The hiccup was still in his step. He walked as if one leg was slightly shorter than the other, or maybe he had a hip problem. Whatever it was (I had never asked him) he still had it.

As I left the restroom I looked for him. Two things were on my mind. First, I wanted to get a look at his name tag. I didn’t doubt who he was, but something in me wanted confirmation. I quickly thought up a question to ask. “Does your store sell vinyl flooring, or only tile and wood?”

“Only tile and wood,” he answered.

There was his name in bold letters. RANDY – his name tag was clearly pinned on his work apron.

My mind hummed, “Should I say something? Should I talk about the days when we worked together and see if he remembers me?”

Another thought crowded my mind. Randy and I had worked in the same grocery store more than twenty years ago. He had been my superior. He had yelled at me.

That’s what I remember about Randy. It’s a sad commentary – to be remembered for an angry outbursts. I’m certain Randy is a fine man, a hard worker, and loved by many people. But all I remember about working with him, and under his supervision, is the time he yelled at me.

Did I deserve to be yelled at? To be cursed at? Many times, yes. The time I recall wasn’t one of them. I distinctly remember that his outrage was unwarranted. He yelled and cussed and was unreasonable.

Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe he didn’t mean to be mean. Maybe. The sad thing is – I don’t remember one nice conversation I had with Randy (although there must have been many). I was never chummy with my coworkers at the grocery store. I didn’t go out with them after work or invite them over for barbecue. Yet, I have fond feelings for many of them. Not for Randy. There is a blank in my mind regarding our working relationship. A blank, all except that one angry outburst.

As I left the store I was covered by a sadness, deep and pressing, like my soul was under water. Seeing Randy made me think about the importance of controlling my tongue. I don’t want my family, my neighbors, or my friends, to see me years from now and only remember the times I lost control. What impression will I leave in the minds of others twenty years from now? Will it be positive or negative? And more important, how can I best give glory to God through the use of my tongue?

If others are to remember me for kind words, for encouraging words, and not for angry outburst, I need to draw near to Christ. I need to be filled with the Spirit. I need all the help I can get. Lord, help me to control my tongue. And Lord, thank you for being gracious when I fail.

 

He Thought We Were Just Hiking

My son and I went for a seven mile hike last weekend. It started as a fishing trip and ended with sore legs.

My son enjoys fishing.

Me, not so much. Although, I do enjoy watching my son enjoy fishing.

I woke early and roused him out of bed on a Saturday morning. We usually spend some time together for birthday dates and a month had passed since his birthday. This fishing trip was to be his birthday date with dad. I figured that he would fish while I watched and we could enjoy being outdoors together. Nature provided plenty of  delights. Birds were plentiful. We saw ducks, geese, hawks, swans, vultures, and a bald eagle.

Calvin fishing

As much as my son likes to fish, he likes it best when the fish are biting. Apparently, the fish weren’t hungry last Saturday. After an hour and a half I could tell he was getting bored. I didn’t want his birthday date to be a flop, so I suggested a hike. The nearby trail runs along the back side of the lake and out through some farmland. I had hiked it last spring with my daughter.

My son took me up on the suggestion. We put away the fishing gear and headed for the trail head.

Mile 3

Looking at the trail map, I said, “Let’s go to the two mile mark and back.”

Well, you know how these things go. At the two mile mark we were feeling good and figured we should press on to the three mile mark. At three miles we could have turned back the way we had come. But then we would have hiked six of the seven miles.

“If we are going to hike six miles, we might as well hike all seven so that we can say we did.”

My son agreed.

Mile 4

Walking along that trail, I found myself at a loss for how to use the time most effectively. I was enjoying nature and the physical activity, but we walked in relative silence. The quiet broken by such exclamations as, “Look, a hawk,” or “How many steps do you think we take every mile?”

There is a time to speak and a time to remain silent. I was feeling the tension between enjoying a quiet walk with my son and using the time to speak to the next generation. I didn’t know what to say. I desired to say something profound, something that my son would remember when he hiked with his son many years from now.

Nothing. My mind was blank.

Remembering how children love stories, I decided to tell a story or two while we walked. My stories might not contain valuable life lessons, but they would be a way to communicate the life of one generation to the next.

And so my story began, “I remember one time when…”

I started a second story, “Did I ever tell you about the time when…”

Stories have a way of teaching the culture and values of one generation to the next. Told with prudence and wisdom, they are containers of truth, carriers of knowledge, and catalysts of change.

He listened as we walked. The stories weren’t long; they were light, adventurous, boyish. But they were true. They told my son about parts of his fathers life; they told the parts I want him to know, the parts I want him to learn from. If I told them well, he will learn from my stories and not know he has learned, he will grow and not know he has grown.

He thought we were just hiking.

 

Never Quit

Tonight I finished reading Never Quit by Glenn Cunningham to the family.  The story is inspirational and has all the makings of a good movie.  Glenn was badly burned at 8 years of age and told he may never walk again.  He went on to become a star runner and competed in the 1932 and 1936 Olympic games.  The Olympic gold alluded him but through his career he set many records.  He faced great obstacles and overcame them.

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I was reminded of this book and it’s message a couple weeks back when disciplining my son.  He is 8 years old now and has a difficult time staying focused on school.  I came home from work to find him struggling with math.  My wife had already sent me a message earlier in the day about this.  She wasn’t sure how to keep the boy motivated.

I brought him and his math to the kitchen table to see if I could help.  He was crying.  After attempting to explain how to work the series of problems, I realized something else needed to be done.  The math problems weren’t the problem.  He knew how to do them but wasn’t trying.

He kept saying between sobs, “It’s too hard.”

Finally I said, “Lincoln, go get on my bed.”

That’s not what children in my home desire to hear.  I let him sit alone for a while while I finished some other things.  My thoughts were mixed.

“Should I discipline?  What form of discipline?  He knows what to do and is refusing to do it.  He’s an 8 year old boy whose heart is in the tree outside while his body is being forced to sit at the kitchen table and do math.  Was I any different at this age?  His thinker is done thinking for today.  What to do?  What to do?”

Still unsure what to say or do, I went to him.  Prayers were whispered from me to God as I asked for wisdom.

In the end, I decided to give him a stern talk; a man to man talk if you will.  I told him that tears were unacceptable unless something was bleeding.  Crying over math wasn’t going to be allowed.  It might be difficult at times but crying over didn’t help and wouldn’t be tolerated.  I told him I thought he was able to do the work and wasn’t applying himself.

“Son, if I you learnt to give up and quit over a simple thing like math, you learning a bad habit.  There will be many more difficult things in life you will need to face.  If you can’t handle a few math problems without crying, you will have a hard time in life.  If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t care if you cried about math and gave up.  But I love you enough to help you become a man who doesn’t quit so easily.”

I encouraged him as best I could to go back to the kitchen table and finish the problems, then we prayed together.  The problems didn’t take him long to complete once he set his mind to the task.

This talk didn’t cure him of being distracted from school work and won’t teach him to never give up.  At least not this talk alone.  It is one of many such talks we will have and the lesson of persistence will come in many forms.

This occasion reminded me of the book Never Quit.  My father bought if for me when I was about the same age as my son is now.  I don’t recall the particular reason for the purchase.  Maybe I was having a hard time in school.  I do remember enjoying the book, and I have kept it all these years.

More than the book itself, I remember my dad teaching me to never quit.  He probably told me many times and in many ways; I remember one particular time.  That one time made an impression on me.  The Never Quit book and various other tales of persistence certainly added to the formation of my character, but what I recall most is learning the lesson of never quitting from my dad.

Years from now, I hope my son remembers the story of Glenn Cunningham.  And I hope he recalls that I loved him enough to teach him this lesson – when the math gets tough the tough get to doing math.

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