2020 Book Recommendations

Since this is the time of year for reflection and goal-setting, here are some of the books I read in 2020 that I recommend. I’ll write a short blurb and give some favorite quotes for most of them. I’d love to hear any book suggestions you have for 2021!

  • Living by the Book – Howard Hendricks
    • This book is great for an overview on different ways to read the best book of all time, The Bible. Hendricks has a great way of explaining complex ideas in a really understandable manner. He offers ten different strategies for “first-rate reading” of the Bible and offers examples in each chapter. He also goes over how to observe, interpret, and apply scripture in really straight-forward but refreshing ways. Hendricks’ love for scripture is really contagious as you read this book.
    • I learned about this book from the free online course offered by Dallas Theological Seminary. Hendricks teaches it via video and they give you different things to read each week, like this book.
  • Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free– F.F. Bruce
    • I was encouraged by my father-in-law to read this book and I’m really glad he told me about it. Bruce takes you through the life and journeys of the Apostle Paul in an incredibly detailed way. There are 38 chapters, which was great for me because they were short enough to treat the book like a devotional and read a chapter or so a day. 
    • Favorite quote: “According to Paul, the believer is not under law as a rule of life- unless one thinks of the law of love, and that is a completely different kind of law, fulfilled not by obedience to a code but by the outworking of an inward power” (192). 
  • The Mark of the Christian– Francis Schaeffer 
    • This is an old favorite, one I’ve read many times before. It is only 59 pages but it packs a huge punch. I actually talked about this book towards the end of my last blog, which you can read about here. This book would be my #1 recommendation. 
  • The Truth About Us – Brant Hansen 
    • We read this one together as a home church over the summer. Brant is super funny, relatable, and humble. In this book he talks about how we are all really bad, but if that leads us towards being authentic with God, then that’s actually really good news. He fights a lot against hypocrisy and self-righteousness, too. That hit home for me. 
    • I also have to mention, even though I know people will make fun of me for it, that this book is free to read or listen to on Hoopla.
  • Unleashed by Sam Stephens 
    • This book is written by Sam Stephens, who leads up India Gospel League, an organization of church planters in rural India. Our friend Heidi helped with the organizing/writing of this book and other friends are mentioned throughout. My wife Elli used to work for them and we both went to India to visit some of the churches, so naturally we were really excited to read this when it came out. Sam offers up some needed wisdom on how the church is growing overseas and what the American church can do to see that growth again. 
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • I finally finished reading all three books over winter break. I have tried multiple times before, because they are Elli’s favorites, so I’m glad I did it. Now I just need to read them about 100 more times to be on her level. It’s pretty wild how spot on the movies are in some regards, but also how many details are left out as well. It’s true what they say- the books are better. 
  • Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas
    • This is a great biography on Martin Luther. It is long but really worth reading. Luther was, on top of being an incredible force for salvation by grace, really hilarious. 
  • The Plague by Albert Camus
    • I read this in the beginning of the pandemic around March or April. It is really wild how Camus, who tells the story of a town in French Algeria going through a plague in the 1940’s, pretty much hits the nail on the head with how people view pandemics and strange seasons. I’m not a Camus expert, and I don’t agree with a lot of his thoughts on human nature, but he did a great job with this story. I want to check out some more of his writings again. He definitely makes you think about important questions in life, whether or not you agree with his conclusions. 
    • Favorite quotes. 
      • “The fact that the graph after its long rising curve had flattened out seemed to many, Dr. Richard for example, reassuring. ‘The graph’s good today,’ he would remark, rubbing his hands. To his mind the disease had reached what he had called the high-water mark. Therefore it could not ebb.” Sound familiar? 
      • “Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”
      • “I can understand this sort of fervor and find it not displeasing. At the beginning of a pestilence and when it ends, there’s always a propensity for rhetoric. In the first case, habits have not yet been lost; in the second, they’re returning. It is in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth — in other words, to silence.”
  • On Marriage/Birth/Death series by Tim Keller
    • These are nice and short little reads on what the Bible has to say about three big stages of life: Birth, marriage, and death. Keller argues that people are most likely to have spiritual conversations around these times. These books were pretty good but I wish they had some more meat to them. 
  • Men of Courage- Larry Crabb
    • This book is all about being a spiritual man and would be good material for discipleship. I read it in the beginning of 2020 and can’t find my copy to give many specific details, but it was worth reading. Some parts can be skimmed. 
  • A couple books about raising kids 
    • How to Really Love Your Child by Ross Cambell 
    • Christian Parenting by Dennis McCallum
  • Here are some other books I read and taught this year for work that are great & worth a look.
    • Dreamland by Sam Quinones 
      • In this recent book (2015), Quinones writes about the opioid epidemic that our country has been quietly dealing with. He does a great job of taking readers through all sorts of different places to show how opioids have been affecting America, and specifically the “heartland” of America. Stories from Ohio are mentioned many times, sadly enough. My dad’s friend, who lost his son to heroin, has a large section of a chapter devoted to their story. It’s an eye-opening read. 
    • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
      • In case you haven’t read one or more of them, all three of the above books are great classics.
    • Fences by August Wilson
      • This is a play set in Pittsburgh that hits on all sorts of important topics, among them being race, fatherhood, marriage, and pursuing dreams. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis perform this play in their 2016 film, which is really well done and a word-for-word depiction of the original play. 
    • Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance
      • This book came out in 2016 and depicts what life was like for Vance growing up split between Kentucky and Ohio. It was also made into a movie on Netflix this year, which was reviewed pretty poorly but I thought it was actually a decent movie.  

Thanks for taking the time to read through this. I hope it at least helps one person find a good book to read this coming year. Please feel free to give any book recommendations in the comments! 

See you next year… 

Covid Baby

Covid Baby

This year I took over advising the creative writing club at my high school, which has been pretty fun and has caused me to get back more into writing. It’s funny, I told my friend Joe I’ve been doing this and he said “Why?… Do you… like that?” I told him yes, I do like it. I laughed because I know a lot of people really don’t like writing, but it’s something I’ve always found some joy in. Anyways, I’ve had people encourage me to write more and I want to, but largely I haven’t been doing so as much as I’d like. This past week at the club I found an online Creative Nonfiction writing competition with the prompt “Write a personal story that grounds the year 2020 in real life.” I like to “write beside them,” which means instead of just telling them to write, actually creating a piece from the same prompt they’re working on. For the mentioned prompt I wrote a piece called “Covid baby,” because I thought the title was funny but also that’s sort of what I’ve been preoccupied with this year. We had a baby during these strange Covid-19 times. Writing about that topic inspired me to alter it and turn it into a post here. 

 __

A lot of people say having a baby is hard. 

I mean, that makes sense. One day you and your significant other are just two people in a little house or apartment, living together in a relatively unstressed way, and then BOOM- everything changes. What once seemed so easy, things like going to the grocery store, eating lunch, making a cup of coffee, having time to shower, now seem like colossal achievements. 

While I think it’s great to have a baby, I also think it’s one of the more difficult things a person can do. At the very least, it’s one of the more challenging things I’ve been a part of. All of a sudden everything just isn’t really about you anymore. It’s about another person. And it’s true that’s kind of the case when you get married, too, but not really to the same magnitude. You can leave your spouse and go off to the store, for instance, but if you leave your baby at home you have some bigger problems… 

Having a baby became even more complicated for us since, as the title of this writing suggests, we had the privilege of doing so in the middle of a global pandemic. 

Our baby was born in August of 2020, which means my wife, Elli, was increasingly pregnant during the beginning of the COVID-19 experience we are all way too familiar with. The pregnancy part was hard enough with not being able to have as many family or friends over to help. But we got through it. 

I mainly want to talk about the actually having the baby aspect of all this. 

His name is James and he truly is a gift from God. Elli and I love him dearly, and he brings me way more joy than I thought another person could. Having a child you helped create brings so many emotions and thoughts to a person’s mind that were only inklings before. Was every person alive right now really a little baby like this? Every person really was this loved and cared for at some point? His little infectious smile brings me immense joy, but what happens when I inevitably disappoint him? Everyone really needed their diaper changed this much

It has been great in so many ways. It has also been one of the more challenging time periods of my life, and I think a big part of that is because of our dear friend enemy, the coronavirus. 

The pandemic reality hit us hard the first week we brought baby James home. Elli’s mom lives up the road and was all ready and willing to help us (and man, did we need the help). However, just a day or two after we were out of the hospital she, along with James’ grandfather and the rest of my wife’s family, were exposed to coronavirus and had to quarantine for two weeks. This is hard enough in a “normal” situation, but we were truly devastated. Two weeks? You mean we have to be alone with this baby for two weeks? Of course, that’s not really how we felt (remember- we do love him…), but the immense loneliness and frustration brought on during that time was truly hard-hitting. 

We got through it. He is still here, and now all his grandparents can see him again. Many other family and friends have been so helpful, and we really don’t deserve any of their support and love.

There have been many other stories like this as we continue to raise a three-month-old infant. I don’t really want to complain, though. Elli is truly an amazing mom and it is amazing to get to witness her love for him every single day. Our friends and family have also been great. It is just different with this virus. Everything is just a little different for pretty much everybody. 

It makes me think about how important people are, and how hard it is to truly do anything “on your own.” Sure, my wife and I will be the main ones to raise this kid. And we should be. But if he’s going to turn out to be a giver and a lover and a strong person in this weak world, then he will need to be raised by the village around us. I think that is what 2020 has shown me. People are important, and when things get in between those relationships the fabric of what we can be starts to unravel. 

These strange times have whittled down all our circles into smaller and smaller groups, which makes me wonder how terrible that would be if it lasted forever. As I’ve tried to convince you above, Elli and I really do love our son, James. He’s great. Her and I, by necessity, love him more than anyone else could right now. But imagine if James grew up and literally only knew his mom and me. Like if we just kept him home all the time because we were worried about what could happen to him out there. How much of a disaster would that be? Even though we care for him more than we thought we possibly could, there is no way he would turn out well at all that way. He has to get “out there” and around other people. 

This is true for all of us. 

It’s weird right now, because as my friend Adi mentioned in a teaching this week, staying at home and isolating yourself has morphed into a moral virtue these past eight or so months. I don’t really want to argue for or against the necessity of that at this stage of the virus, but what I do want to mention is how unfortunate it would be if it stays that way. Staying at home and isolating yourself from the world is not a virtuous achievement. Maybe to some degree it’s medically necessary for the time being, but the consequences of that idea being ingrained in our minds could really be devastating. 

As a teacher, one of the main concerns I’ve had for my students during this time is their mental health. School is important academically, of course, but it also plays a large role in providing community for millions of students. With many schools shifting to remote learning, I was concerned about how my students would cope emotionally. It seems they are not coping very well, according to this study. College students are also seeing increases in depression across the board, as this article suggests. A larger study shows that the rate of depression has tripled among adults in the United States since the start of the pandemic. 

These statistics are troubling. Trying to look at the bright side of this, it does seem that people are starting to sense their innate need for relationships because of the current circumstances. I know many people who still met with their families for Thanksgiving (usually in way smaller numbers than normal, and perhaps less loudly on social media), and from some conversations it seems the reason is because they just can’t get around the fact that relationships are what’s important. People matter. Our lives are really short and we can’t spend them alone all the time. One family member told my wife that she would rather get sick (or worse) than miss out on our son’s first year. Debate the merits of that all you want in a time like this, but I think many people are feeling the same way. 

It’s about time I bring up what God has to say about all of this. He has a lot to say, in fact. One of the many beautiful things about Him is His care for people as a whole and the vast distance He will go through to meet us where we’re at. There are many verses I could share here, but I’m just going to share a few. 

1 John 4:7-8 shows how at the very heart of God’s character is love. Therefore, when we love other people we are showing our relationship with a loving God. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 

Romans 12 is a great chapter to read about the primacy of being united together in relationships. Verses 3-5 say, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Part of the beauty of being in a relationship with God is He brings us into relationships with other believers, too. He goes as far to say that we are now “members of one another,” as though we are now spiritually joined together to other believers. I’ve experienced this awesome connection time and time again. It was one of the main things that brought me to Christ, actually, by seeing this kind of love demonstrated in front of me. Romans 12:10 adds to this, saying “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” 

In John 17, Jesus Himself goes into detail on how important love relationships are. The context is that Jesus is praying out to God right before He was going to be betrayed, put on trial, and killed. He spends most of the prayer praying for the future of mankind. He prays for all of us, saying in verse 4, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Here he’s praying we can all see the truth of His love for us, that He was about to go to the cross and die for us to offer us real, true, eternal life. He continues by praying for future believers, saying in verses 22-23, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me…” This passage has blown my mind ever since the first time I had it explained to me. Francis Schaeffer goes into it in detail in his great little book The Mark of the Christian. In short, Jesus is praying for believers to be united in real loving relationships and community in order for the rest of the world to know that God really did send the Son, Jesus, down to earth to die for their sins. How important is it that we continue to be close with one another? If we do, the world will be able to tell that Jesus really is real and that He really does love them so much that He died and rose again for them. That’s a big deal. Schaeffer calls it the “final apologetic” and says in his book, “Here Jesus is stating something… which is much more cutting, much more profound. We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of oneness of true Christians…. Now that is frightening. Should we not feel some emotion at this point?” (27). 

I bring all this up to show the weightiness and importance of love relationships. Whether you believe in Jesus or not (if not, I hope you consider it), I’m sure all of us are feeling the continued strain of not being able to see people like we used to. I know I am. But I also am encouraged by these thoughts and verses to make sure not to lose sight of those important relationships, whatever that looks like right now. Making an effort to safely get together in some fashion is of vital importance for so many reasons. I know my little baby James needs that as he grows up, and I do, too. I love my son, but if I believe what Christ says, that’s not sufficient in itself. We both need others. Christians throughout the centuries have fought to meet no matter the circumstance for the above reasons and much more. In the first few centuries of Christianity, they believed in meeting together so much that they met in catacombs- underground burial grounds- because they had to meet in secret. They still did it. Christians in China today still need to meet in “underground” churches to avoid notice of the authorities. They still do it anyway. Of course those are different situations than dealing with a global pandemic, but the point should be seen that gathering together and fostering love relationships is of the utmost significance and should not be minimized, though it may need to look a little different. I want to fight to stay unified with the people around me not only for my sake or theirs, but for the onlooking world, like James, who will make decisions on whether to believe in Jesus or not based on our love. Who are you fighting for? What do you hope they see?

Hoopla will save you money

Many people who see me regularly may laugh at me for writing this little blog post. I already tell people about the library, and Hoopla especially, way too much. When I taught a Bible study last weekend, people in my home church’s group chat were posting about how I was probably going to make a Hoopla reference while teaching (I didn’t…). Still, with so much talk about how amazing the library and apps like Hoopla are, it amazes me how many people don’t take advantage of these awesome resources. I’ve recommended Hoopla to people over and over again and they still come back with excuses like “I have fines at the library” (get a different library card… (or pay the fines)), “I like physical books” (libraries have those too!), or “I don’t like to read” (you’re an adult now! Try again!). Anyway, I really like the library and think more people should give it a shot. Check out this blog post about it as well. 

If you want to read more and prefer to not waste money, grab your library card and download the apps Hoopla and Libby. Don’t have a library card? You can get one for free. Most cities let you sign up even if you don’t live there (I have five different library cards). If you live anywhere in the state of Ohio, you can sign up for a Columbus Metropolitan Library card online and they’ll mail it to you (again- this is all free!). I always recommend this step to people since 1) you don’t have to leave your house, 2) the Columbus library has a great selection and 3) it’s, like all things library, free! 

Like I said above, once you have your library card, download the apps Hoopla and Libby. It’s a bit annoying there are multiple library apps for reading and audio books, but it’s not too big of a deal. Hoopla is my favorite since there are no holds, meaning there is no limit to how many people can download a specific ebook or audiobook at once. Libby is the opposite, so you have to be first in line to get the book. 

If anyone would like help with any of these steps, feel free to reach out. I love helping people get into reading in new ways. That being said, I think you can figure it out. The steps are pretty easy once you give it a few minutes. Now I’d like to give a few book recommendations for both of the apps. This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list, but I’d like to show you an example of some of the great titles you can read or listen to for free. 

Hoopla

  • The Hiding Place – Corrie Ten Boom
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald 
  • The Lost Art of Disciple Making – Leroy Eims 
  • Insights on James, 1 & 2 Peter – Charles Swindoll (most of the New Testament is on here, too)
  • How Dare the Sun Rise – Sandra Uwiringiyimana 
  • The God Who is There – Francis A. Schaeffer
  • Tactics – Gregory Koukl
  • Speaking to Teenagers – Doug Fields
  • Heaven – Joni Eareckson Tada
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  • A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis
  • Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – Peter Scazzero 
  • Generation Me -Jean M. Twenge 
  • The Truth About Us – Brant Hansen 
  • Unoffendable – Brant Hansen
  • Blessed are the Misfits– Brant Hansen
  • Wild at Heart – John Eldredge

Libby:

  • Martin Luther – Eric Metaxas
  • How to Really Love Your Child – D. Ross Campbell (starting this one now)
  • Escape from Camp 14 – Blaine Harden
  • The Help – Kathryn Stockett
  • Audacity – Melanie Crowder
  • Hillbilly Elegy- J.D. Vance 
  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus– Nabeel Qureshi 

There are many, many more great books out there for free on Hoopla and Libby (and, of course, at the physical library). Happy reading everyone. What other good books on these apps did I miss? I’d love to hear any recommendations. Also, check out my wife Elli’s post from last month on books she recommends!

Learning from Philip

It is now month three (I think?) of all this quarantine business, and I have to say that it feels like it just won’t ever stop. Will life ever get back to normal? When can I go to a coffee shop again? Will my wife, in September, be able to celebrate and visit with her friends after the delivery of our son? There are many questions.

The stay-at-home order has especially impacted ministry, among other things. We just can’t meet in the large groups that we used to. We can’t even meet in home churches right now, which is so strange. If you’re like me and wanting ministry to “pick up” again soon, you might be wondering why God is allowing such a pause to take place on an important thing like His work. For me, I’ve watched the high school groups I’m part of slow down considerably. I’m sure if you’re involved in some sort of ministry things are definitely not how they used to be. What’s going on?

Well, I’m not sure I can give a complete answer to that question. However, I think it is 100% reasonable to suggest that God has something in store for this season that could blow our minds later on when we can see the big picture. For an example of this, let’s look at the story of Philip in the New Testament book of Acts.

Philip was one of the first leaders in the early church. He was actually one of the first seven deacons appointed (Acts 6:1-7), back when Paul (who was Saul then) was still persecuting the church. He was leading and evangelizing so much that he later became known as Philip the Evangelist.

In Acts 7, a co-leader of Philip’s, Stephen, was stoned to death for preaching the Word. In the beginning of Acts 8, the church was being persecuted and Saul was “going from house to house” (v. 3) and sending Christians to prison. Many of the leaders had to flee because of this and ended up in different areas. Philip ended up in Samaria. Think about how he must’ve felt! One of his close friends was dead, the church was on its heels, and now here he was in a completely different city. Sounds like an easy time to give up to me. However, he did quite the opposite. Acts 8: 4-7 says,

4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.

Wow! Philip boldly went out there, told people about Jesus, and received an incredible response to the gospel. Instead of being afraid, he stepped out in faith and was rewarded with a ton of fruit. End of the story, right? Nope. Just a few verses later, Philip is asked to go to another city. Acts 8: 26,

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.

Okay, so let me get this straight. Philip had already been run out of one town but then faithfully recovered in a tremendous fashion. People were coming to the Lord left and right. Success! Then God says to leave? And to go- where exactly? Up some desert road? In the preceding verse, Peter and John get to go back to Jerusalem. But now Philip is stuck in some small town ministry. Here’s how Howard Hendricks puts it:

“It would be as if I were preaching in Houston with the Billy Graham team, and folks are coming to Christ and the Spirit is at work and we’re turning the city upside down with the gospel. Then one evening, the Lord says to me, “Hendricks, get on a bus, and head to West Texas. I’ll tell you when to get off.” You know, I’d sort of feel demoted. Here’s all this exciting stuff going on in the big city, and I get sent to the minors. But not Philip. He obeyed, and the Spirit brought him to an official from Ethiopia. He led the man to Christ, and the gospel spread to Africa” (Living by the Book, 166).

That’s right. Even though Philip had absolutely no idea where God was sending him or why He was sending him there, he listened. And then he ended up leading an important Ethiopian man to Christ who then took the message back to his country. The passage is wonderful and totally worth including here:

Acts 8:26-38-

 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official… This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37]38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 

Long story short, Philip ended up leading this man to Christ all because God sent him away from the busy, booming ministry in Samaria and instead up to some dirt road. As Hendricks said, it would’ve been incredibly easy for Philip to feel demoted and not really give whatever God had in mind a real shot. Instead, since he did, some truly astonishing things happened.

Similarly, the question for us becomes, “What does God have in store for us in this season?” Is it possible that He has something bigger in mind if we just open up our eyes enough to see it? Of course this would involve a willingness to get on God’s page and listen, like Philip.

I know for myself it has been easy to feel like this is an “off” time and I can kind of just pick ministry back up once this season is over. I have to wonder, though, if I do that what all I’ll miss. Philip could’ve seen his time on the old desert road as an “off time” where he was demoted to doing the mundane. He didn’t, thankfully, and hopefully we don’t either.

I prefer silence

I prefer silence
as the waves crash before me
I don’t want to be bothered
by these people, my friends, or my family

What else is there to be said?
I mean- look at the ocean…
it is far too deep, vast, and indifferent
for me to add in my little notions

But still they want me to jump in
“Join us! … the water is just fine!”
“No thank you,” I think to myself
I’m just fine here, with me, and mine

But alas, I know I must make my splash
Though I just want to keep my feet in the sand
I will splash! Yes, I may crash…
But if it is so, then crash I must!

Developing a Burden for People (Part 2)

My last post talked about Paul’s deep concern for his brethren of the Jewish faith who had rejected Christ. Upon further thought, though, some may be wondering what are we supposed to do with this? How in the world do I develop compassion like that? I just simply do not care as much as I should. 

Well, first of all, I’d like to say that I’m in the same boat. I wish I cared more. But I think I’ve stumbled across some helpful points that shed light on how to generate spiritual compassion. 

  1. See the reality of your own brokenness 

Chapter 6 of J. Oswald Sanders’ Enjoying Intimacy with God takes readers through Psalm 51 in order to show how intimacy with God can be restored. It starts with recognizing our own faults and need for forgiveness. Sanders goes through the Psalm, which I recommend reading in its entirety, to show how David really saw the depths of his sin and realized his need to be forgiven by God. David said, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (verse 3). After going through this deep anguish, however, he knew that God would indeed give him grace. He said, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow… create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (verses 7, 10, 12). 

What does all this have to do with loving people? Everything, actually. Psalm 51:12-15 says,

“12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.”

Here David is saying once he has been forgiven he will not be able to hold back from talking about how amazing God is! He will have seen the depths of God’s love because he will have just experienced it himself. He is asking God for the power to do this, of course, but you can’t help but see the connection between realizing our own brokenness and then proclaiming the healing power of God to other people. In other words, as the saying goes, we cannot give what we do not possess. 

2. Let people become “your people” 

I think there is a general resistance to saying any people are “yours” these days. Spiritually speaking, we wouldn’t want to be too “tribal,” right? Secularly speaking, that downright just doesn’t sound very inclusive. But we all have our people. Paul called the people in Romans 9 “his brethren.” The people we know, care about, and do life with are “our people.” So, if you want to develop compassion for a particular person, you have to make them into “your people.” We just don’t have the spiritual bandwidth to continually give real, life-changing compassion to people we aren’t intertwined with. I guess in other words I’m just saying let them become your friends, not a project. Bring them into your life.

3. Try to really see where people are spiritually

This one is hard. Like I said in the first post, it’s much easier to act like we can’t tell what’s really going on with other people. Why get involved? We have enough to worry about on our own. Luckily though Paul did not take that attitude. In Romans 9:4-5 he went on and on about the spiritual state of his Jewish brethren. He said, they 

“are (the) Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever.” 

The rest of the chapter Paul spends talking in even more detail about their heritage and what God had done for them and offered them. In other words, Paul was really thinking about the state of his friends. He was like, “these guys are supposed to be God’s people! Do they not realize the privilege they are walking around with? Oh man… I just wish they could take that next step and see Jesus for who He really is.” 

For us, this would look like taking the time to sift through all the spiritual realities of the person we are trying to care about. What is their family history? What involvement in church have they had in the past? What are their biggest hangups? What possible pitfalls might occur specifically to them? What would it even look like for them to walk with God where they’re at right now? Such questions are weighty but worth it. When we think like this, as I’ve reluctantly seen, we start to develop the kind of compassion that Paul had. 

Compassion does not happen by accident. First of all, it takes seeing what tremendous lengths God went through in our own lives. He has forgiven us of so much, more than we often even want to think about. Second, it takes making a conscious decision to make people into “your people” like Paul did. Sure, the Jewish people were his people by birth, but Paul did the same thing on numerous other occasions with the people in the churches he helped start. For example, Paul said to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” He had just met these people not so long ago, yet now he was recalling how he shared his entire life with them. He made a decision to make them into “his people.” Lastly, if we want to have life-changing compassion for people, we need to open our eyes to the spiritual world they are living in. God wants to give us comprehension that can help pierce people’s hearts and show them His love. If we allow Him to work and open our eyes to what He is already doing, we will realize He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). 

Developing a Burden for People (Part 1)

It’s hard to care. 

I don’t mean that it’s hard to care about life in general, though I’ll admit sometimes it is difficult to muster excitement about daily necessities like making lunch, paying the bills, or scrapping my car windshield. What’s really hard to care about, though, is other people. 

Let’s face it. Most of us spend the majority of our time thinking of ourselves. We think of what we have to do, what we are currently doing, what we have to do tomorrow, what we wish would happen for us… you get the idea. We’re selfish. 

Some of the reasons we’re so self-focused aren’t really even that bad. We have things to get done. However, the ramifications of always living and thinking that way are devastating. 

In Romans 9, Paul talks about how much he cares for his own people. And (spoiler alert) he cares a lot

Romans 9:1-5

1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Did you catch how intensely concerned Paul is for his friends? He says he has “great sorrow and unceasing grief” in his heart for them. That’s more than just a cursory thought or prayer. He cares. He is sick to his stomach thinking about the fact that they don’t have a relationship with Christ. 

This passage is talking about Paul’s “kinsmen,” the Jewish people of Israel who hadn’t accepted Christ as the Savior. Added to his deep anguish is the fact that those very Jewish people were brought up in the same faith as Jesus. To them belonged the blessings of God. Jesus came to bless them in particular, as well as the rest of the world. But instead, they rejected Him. This is what makes Paul’s heartache so much. 

He then goes on to say that he wishes he himself were “accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of (his) brethren.” In other words, he is straight-up saying he would gladly give up his own salvation in order for them to know Christ themselves. All I can say is “Wow.” I can’t think of deeper concern than that. 

Another story that comes to mind when thinking of sacrifice for someone who doesn’t deserve it is the Prodigal Son. Even after the “prodigal” bad-boy son leaves his father’s house (with his early inheritance that he demanded) to party and live it up, his father still waits for him in hopeful expectation that someday his son will return. When the son finally does return after wasting all his father’s money, the father not only accepts him back but throws a huge party celebrating his return. That’s love. That’s sacrifice. 

In the Prodigal Son example, obviously, the son returns. But imagine if he never did. The father would be up waiting on the front porch, night after night, hoping for any glimpse of his lost son. That’s heartbreaking to think about, but it’s also how I think Paul felt when he was thinking about his lost brothers and sisters who had rejected Christ. He knew how much Christ had to give them, how much Jesus loved them and wanted to welcome them in, but also knew as the time went on how far they were drifting from ever coming to know Him at all. 

I don’t know about you, but that kind of heartbreak and realization does not sound fun to think through. I would much rather put up my blinders and act like I can’t tell what’s going on around me spiritually. But when we open our eyes like Paul did, we see the hurt and anguish that’s coming if people continue to reject Christ. That kind of realization should change something in us. It should make us want to show people how much we care because we know how much God cares for them even more. 

Paul had “anguish in his heart” and would have gladly traded his own salvation for the sake of his people. Can you say the same? It’s a tough question.

Joni & Friends 2019

I just got back from a mission trip to Joni & Friends Family Retreat in Shawnee, Ohio. Our team consisted of 18 people with a mix of high school students and adult leaders. Once there, we joined dozens of other volunteers to help serve people with disabilities and their families.

Trip Details

To start, I’ll just say the week was both incredibly tiring and rewarding. The two can’t be separated. I’ve been on a decent amount of mission trips now and this was probably the most physically and emotionally demanding. Yet, at the same time, I have to say it was also the most impactful. I’m really proud of our team for persevering and showing God’s love all throughout the week even though it was not easy.

The first day and a half was spent training and getting ready for the families to come. The first day, we arrived around three in the afternoon and were going nonstop until around 10 at night. Joni & Friends does a good job of getting new people ready for learning how to serve people affected by all sorts of disabilities. They take you through training stations with knowledgeable leaders who have been doing it for a long time. One of the more helpful (and eye-opening) parts of the training was during our first meal together. Everyone is paired with someone and one person in the pair is “given” a disability they have to “live with” for the duration of the meal. The other person then helped their partner get their food and eat all while trying to do the same themselves. Some examples of the disabilities were blindness, autism (high-functioning and low-functioning), cerebral palsy, and down syndrome.

Moving forward, the second morning we were given our assignments for the week. Many of us were paired with a child or adult with a disability, while others were paired with a “typical” sibling of someone with a disability. Some people had other roles as well, but everyone from our team had one of those two. Once given your assignment, the rest of the week you essentially are to stick with that person at all times. Be their friend, be their helper, be whatever they need you to be. The only exceptions were a two hour break time from 4:30-6:30. The rest of the time, meals included, you were with that person. This is designed so each person has someone who is helping them and loving them, but also so the parents can feel safe to go and relax/do activities without having to watch over their children like they have to do most of their lives.

It was beautiful to see our people (and all the others) jump at the chance to serve one individual with all they have for an entire week. We really had no idea what we were getting into, but from what I saw our team didn’t hesitate to love a stranger like Jesus loves them.

Throughout the week, the camp had many activities and things to do both for the campers and for their families. Each STM (short-term-missionary, that’s what we were called) was told to just do whatever their camper wanted- it wasn’t about us. So, some people swam for literally hours every day. Some people, like me, never swam but sat poolside or walked around most of the day. It really just depended on who your camper was, their age and personality, their disability, and what they wanted to do. It wasn’t about us.

For me, I was paired with a twenty year old who has autism and is nonverbal. Since he is what they call a “runner,” I was one of four people with him and we took shifts running (really, speed-walking) around the lodge throughout the week. He had his routes he would do over and over while he made pit stops at places like the stairs, the elevator, a couch in the dining room so he could watch the kitchen staff work, and his favorite- sitting by the pool. Apparently in other years he swam a lot himself, but this year he never wanted to get in. So, we watched people swim. A lot. To be honest, it was hard figuring out how to love and communicate with a person who can’t speak back. I don’t think I was great at it, but I kept trying and developed so much compassion for this individual. Just by being with him for a week and doing what he likes to do, I learned how he communicates (little noises, hitting your hand away, “laughing,” head movements, etc) and what he likes (lots and lots of bacon, sausage is okay, french fries, fruit snacks). There were times where he didn’t like anything for a meal so he literally just didn’t eat. That was hard on his mom and us STM’s with him.

We got to know his mom a lot, too. I won’t share a lot of that, but a big part of the trip is forming relationships with both the people with disabilities and their families. It’s hard to fathom the difficulties they face on a daily basis but it was beautiful to see the courage, vulnerability, and faith they expressed.

One example of an awesome event during the week was the talent show. People signed up throughout the week, and once the event hit it was an instant success. I think the coolest part of it was how transparent and excited the campers were about getting to participate. So often we (or me, at least) put up walls and fronts and can’t let our guards down. These guys and girls did not have that problem, and were just willing to simply enjoy life in the moment. I seriously learned so much from them. Many tears were shed that night.

I think the hardest part of the trip was leaving. Many of the campers had a really difficult time getting in the car because they felt so loved the whole week. Personally, I felt the same way. Even though it was a tiring week, it was seriously sad saying goodbye. As cliche as it sounds, the place was a taste of heaven.

What I learned

I’m not sure enough time has passed to fully comprehend what God was showing me this week. However, below are some things I’ve seen so far and I don’t want to forget them.

God’s love at its core is expressed through people. Sounds simple, sure. But I believe the reason Joni & Friends is so effective at showing God’s love is because each camper is given an STM for the whole week. It is daunting to look out at the whole world and figure out how we can make a difference at all. Shoot, it was even hard just seeing all the families arrive and thinking “how can we possibly love all these people?” BUT, it was not so incomprehensible to imagine loving one person- your one person. Many of us had a hard time doing so, especially with the campers who couldn’t give much back. Yet still, God’s love was shown and it was shown through His people. The body of Christ’s element was huge, too- and that cannot be discounted. But I saw the brunt force of God’s love being poured out through the individual, close relationships we formed.

You don’t have to know everything. I didn’t know much about my camper’s disability. Sure, I learned some beforehand and picked up things along the way, but I definitely didn’t know even a fraction of the things I could have. But I could still love him by being present and willing to be there with him no matter what that looked like.

Decide ahead of time. I think one of the reasons everyone was so willing and able to love their individual camper was because that was the reason we were there. We decided we wanted to be there ahead of time and therefore were willing to do whatever was needed to “be there” for our person. A big part of being effective in loving others is deciding we are going to be present, willing, and engaged ahead of time. God’s love is active, not passive. It is intentional, not just “go with the flow.”

God’s love is shown through families. A huge portion of the STM’s at the camp were families. Some of these servants had been coming to the same camp, year after year, for over 20 years. I was lucky enough to be paired with a man in his 50’s who had been there almost ten times, and the relationships he had formed there blew me away. He knew these people and cared about them. Not only that, but his wife and two kids were there as well. His dad was there, who he helped lead to Christ. His mom, who passed away this past year, also used to come and was beloved by so many. This got me excited about the potential of Elli and I becoming a family who decides ahead of time that we want our family to be about loving others. That one family impacted so many, and there were countless others who did the same.

There is much else I would like to say, but overall God’s love for people is breathtaking. Having the chance to play a role in that is better than anything else in this world.

Matthew 16:24-25, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

A Brief Guide to “Evidence Unseen”

Many of us by now have heard of James Rochford’s website “Evidence Unseen.” If you’re like me, you’ve used the Columbus Xenos Elder’s website (or book) in the past for articles/sections like apologetics, comparing world religions, the Case for Christianity, or Theology questions. These are all great resources that I highly recommend.

However, the point of me writing this short guide is due to a different area of the website. I was stumbling along his website recently and found an entire section I had never seen before. So, let’s get to it. First, click on the tab Bible Difficulties. The home page of this section itself explains in detail 10 principles of Hermeneutics, or how to study and interpret the Bible.

There is also a section in the “Bible Difficulties” tab for both Old Testament and New Testament difficulties. These sections are full of numerous, specific common questions we may ask when reading through God’s Word. Not only that, but each question is a link you can click and find a succinct, Biblical answer to said question! For example, in the NT Difficulties section, under “Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians,” scroll down to Romans 5:12, 14. If you click that link, you will find a detailed answer to the question: “How can God judge all men for Adam’s sin, when it wasn’t their fault?” This is just one of many, but I wanted to highlight how specific the website gets and how useful it can be for all the questions we or others may have.

Moving on, if you go back to the top of the website and hover over the “Bible Difficulties” tab again (top right) you will see two sections titled “Old Testament Survey” and “New Testament Survey.” This is the section that got me really excited. Rochford wrote a guide for using these sections: 

“Before studying each book, read these short articles that give an introduction and background. In each article, the reader will find information regarding authorship, historical background, theological themes, and a teaching rotation. Additionally, the reader will find a series of discovery questions that are helpful for teaching and leading discussion.”

In other words, these sections are essentially free and fairly exhaustive commentaries on every single book of the Bible. At the top of each book’s page, for example, Acts, there is a detailed explanation of the book itself (covering authorship, date, historical background, theological themes, emphases, etc). Then, if you scroll down (get used to scrolling on his website- each page is long), you will find a verse-by-verse commentary for the book. Not only that, but at the end of most chapter’s commentary he either has a section on Application or Discussion Questions. These sections are awesome for just thinking through a passage in depth or for preparing to teach.

There is probably a lot more to Evidence Unseen’s website than I have detailed here, but it would take days upon days to read through just the Old Testament and New Testament Survey sections alone. This website could be so useful for getting into the Word, answering questions, and helping other people do the same. After buying many costly commentaries myself, I am amazed that this resource is so exhaustive, relevant, detailed, and best of all- FREE! Use it!

*Also, feel free to comment on here if you have found other helpful resources on Rochford’s website or elsewhere!

South Dakota: Pt. 3

The last two days have been awesome and overwhelming.

Yesterday we started all of the manual labor that we’re here to help with. Well, before that Tyler (the youth pastor here and the one who has been guiding us the whole time) led a morning devotional, which was cool. Then, he explained all of the projects that need done this week and we split into teams. It’s really cool getting to help with all of it because it’s obvious they need it. We literally work all day… there’s a lot to be done here. Some of the jobs are painting and mudding, putting in a wood (ish) floor, making the youth room more presentable, and putting insulation in upstairs. Oh yeah, Corey is also doing some sort of metal work to help stabilize the building. Max, Sarah L., Shayne, and myself have been on insulation (and none of us have ever done it before, ha). So, my group started by cutting a hole in the ceiling to get up there. Then, we broke into twos- one pair feeding the machine and another up in the attic spreading it out. Yesterday it was so hot in there that my feet were all wrinkly from all the sweat. I know, gross. But the awesome part about it was getting to talk with each other while doing the work. Sarah and I talked about some sweet things probably more than we have ever in the past, and I also got to hear Shayne’s testimony (he’s from the Columbus group) and that was awesome. So many of these Columbus people are amazing servants (and incredibly fun).

Then, we had “Teen Night.” Tyler took a few of our people with him on their big school bus to pick up the kids. I’ll touch on that later, because I got to ride with him today. But, then Max and Corey taught on 1 John and did really well. They did this tag-team approach and really complimented one another well. Then, the rest of the night we hung out with the teenagers and one another. The unity within our group is already out of this world, which is wild because a lot of us didn’t know everyone before coming. God is so cool like that.

Today we did the same morning and daytime routine. We all got a lot more accomplished than yesterday because we knew more what we were doing. My crew actually finished the whole insulation job (2,000 square feet!) by 5pm. I wish I had some pictures of how messy everyone was.

After that, it was time for Oyate Concern’s main church meeting. For that, the adults and teenagers go into one area for church and the younger kids go into another room for a teaching for them. Some of the girls from Columbus led that. Bryan and I had the opportunity to teach their church, which was so fun and hard. Leading up to it we decided to change up our approach and outline just a few hours before. It was nerve-wracking because we don’t have the best understanding of the people here, especially when compared to teaching people back home who we know and see every week. It really led us to have to just trust God with it and pray something sticks. We taught on Ephesians 5, which in short says to not do things like sleep around and get drunk but instead be filled by the spirit. It was intimidating because there is a huge problem with alcohol on the reservation. Bryan mainly taught on the negative effects of such things and shared his testimony and I taught on the awesome things God wants to show us/do through us if we actively live in the spirit. God doesn’t want to stop our fun or something, he’s actually trying to show us a better way that is, well, better.

Anyway, it was hard knowing what impact it had. There were also a lot of crying babies during my part, but I think it went alright. I counted 33 people (not including ours) who were there. On top of that, there were probably 50 young kids in the other room. Afterward, we all hung out, talked, played basketball, and other things with everyone. Then, Bryan and I went with some others and rode the bus to take the kids home. It was seriously crazy. Kids were running around, fighting, yelling, but also obviously wanting the attention of the adults. I have no idea how Tyler does it, but he does it well (he drives the bus, too). Seeing all of the poverty as we drove through the area was really sad. Probably the coolest part was talking with one of the girls who sat next to me (about ten different kids filtered in and out), Chloe. She’s 8. A lot of the trip she was really silly, pulling my hair and stuff and fighting with other kids. But, at the end, I felt I had to say something about Jesus since I’d probably never see her again. So, I told her that Jesus loves her. She said, “what?” so I got closer and told her. The first thing she said is that my breath smells, which was kind of funny and probably true. But, then she straight up asked me who Jesus is. I was kind of blown away because I’ve never been asked that, I don’t think. I said, “You’ve never heard of him” and she said she has. I was confused and prodded, and she said she has heard of him but doesn’t know who he is. So, I told her all about him and how he died and rose for her because he loves her. I have no idea what got through, but I hope something did. I don’t even know if she was messing with me or not, but it really didn’t seem like it. It was the most serious she was the whole half hour ride. Sorry to go on and on about her, but it was really cool and sad and eye-opening.

Since then, we’ve been hanging out more with the people and each other. Collin and I are upstairs right now talking as I’m writing this, actually. It has been so cool to see him have fun this week and work hard with a great attitude. He’s also really good with kids, though he thinks the opposite. It’s kinda crazy all the change God has done in his life. Thankful to get to witness that, too.

Tomorrow is somehow already our last full day on the reservation. We’re going to finish up our work and do another Blow Out (kids night).

Here’s a picture of the area where we’re staying and working. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some overall convictions and burdens next time. Thanks for all the support/prayers.

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