For the first time in a while, I focused more on writing than reading this past month. I had intended to post Monday through Friday all month, and other than last Wednesday and Thursday, succeeded.

I did however still read quite a few books. 12 to be exact, which is 79 for the year. That means I’m more or less on pace to hit my average of 150 for the year. I’m no Don “The Dragon” Carson, but I feel like that’s a solid number.

I’ve more or less given up on the challenge and am just reading what I either want because of research interests, or have to because of pending reviews (which coming back in bigger numbers soon).

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax

This, along with two titles below are part of a research interest in the effect digital technology has on us. I’m curious for personal reasons, but also because of ministering to students. After reading this book by David Sax, I’m gradually personal the analog in my own life and will be making some classroom changes in the fall.

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance by Ben Sasse

I posted on this previously, and saw this review earlier today of this book by Ben Sasse, senator from Nebraska. Because of his emphasis on production rather than consumption, I made a concerted effort this past month to prioritize production before settling into a few weeks of summer of break. I feel pretty good about it, and am hoping I can maintain the habits once break is over.

Grace Alone—Salvation as a Gift of God: What the Reformers Taught and Why it Matters by Carl Trueman

I generally read most everything Carl Trueman writes. I enjoyed this entry in the 5 Solas Series, and appreciated his use of Aquinas early on. I’ll have more to say in a review later.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

This, along with the Revenge of Analog and The Glass Cage, is part of my technology study. I read this over a weekend and immediately deleted social media from my phone, as well as my mail app. I haven’t gotten to the really deep work yet, but I’m well on my way.

Hope for The Same Sex Attracted: Biblical Direction for Friends, Family Members, and Those Struggling with Homosexuality by Ron Citlau

I posted about this in New Books of Note. I have some friends that actually struggle with this and so I’m waiting to say more until I get their insight.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

I’m hoping to have an article on this soon. It is for people in a hurry (it’s short), but it’s also sitting a top of the New York Times Best Seller list. It is also not easy reading, but it’s enjoyable.

Movies are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings by Josh Larsen

I’m hoping to post a review on this later in the week, and tell you how you can get a free e-Book of it.

Reversing Hermon: Enoch, The Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ by Michael Heiser

This is the latest book by Michael Heiser aiming to bring technical biblical scholarship to the masses. I think it succeeds for the most part, although there are few too many page to page and half long block quotes for my liking. I get why they are there though, since in many cases they are the author’s summary of a research article (the author of the article, not Heiser) and so help condense what could be an unwieldy book. As far as content, I’m still processing, but if you come to the college Bible study, you’ll find out what I think.

Christianity: The Biography—2000 Years of Global History by Ian Shaw

I’ll have a highlight of this book in a few weeks.

Christian Theologies of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction edited by Justin Holcomb

This series edited by Justin Holcomb that has two more volumes coming out later this year (Sacraments and Salvation). As the title indicates, these are subjects that have multiple versions. The book is ordered historically, and features some superb articles. I’d recommend it if you’re looking to explore the subjects.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God by Eugene Peterson

This is Eugene Peterson’s latest, and a collection of sermons. They are organized according to biblical figure. Readers are treated to Peterson’s sermons from the writings of Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John. The sermons are fairly short when read and so this could be a good devotional reader if you’re into that sort of thing.

The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us by Nicholas Carr

I’ll have more to say on this in a collected post on the books connected to technology. The short version is that we should all be a bit more reflective when it comes to automation and how it forms or deforms us.

If there’s a genre of literature I’ve left mostly unexplored, it’s dramas and plays. I read some Shakespeare for my last ever undergrad class (Freshman Comp because you’re curious). Beyond that, basically nothing. But, that’s what Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind is good for. The list below will help you and me fill in the gaps in our literacy.

Before getting to that though, I’ll give the questions she suggests asking the works that you read. Before she gives the readers that, she offers a history of the play in five acts:

  • The Greeks (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Aristotle)
  • Mystery and Morality (Everyman)
  • The Age of Shakespeare (Marlowe and Shakespeare)
  • Men and Manners (Moliere, Congreve, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Wilde)
  • The Triumph of Ideas (Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw, Eliot, Wilder, O’Neill, Sartre, Williams, Miller, Beckett, Bolt, Stoppard)

After a brief explanation of the purpose of reading plays (“what theater can do better than TV is to imagine.”), Bauer gives her questions in the stages we’ve seen so far in novels, autobiographies, and histories.

Grammar-Stage Reading (268-273)

  • Look at the title, cover, and general organization of the play
  • When you encounter stage directions, read them carefully
  • Keep a list of characters as you read
  • Briefly note the main event of each scene
  • Can you identify a beginning, middle, climax, and resolution?
  • Which “act” of the drama does the play belong to?
  • What holds the play’s action together?
  • Write a two- or three-sentence explanation of the play’s title

Logic-Stage Reading (273-277)

  • If the play is given unity by plot, list the events that lead up to the play’s climax
  • If the play is given unity by character, ask for each major character, the same basic questions you asked for the novel
  • If the play is given unity by an idea, can you state the idea?
  • Do any of the characters stand in opposition to each other?
  • How do the characters speak?
  • Is there any confusion of identity?
  • Is there a climax, or is the play open ended?
  • What is the play’s theme?

Rhetoric-Stage Reading (277-279)

  • How would you direct and stage this play? (Depending on how much you like it, you could do this exercise for a scene, an act, or the whole thing)

Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated drama list. These lists are good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.

With that in mind, here’s the list:

Summer is often a time of refreshing. You might not expect that because it is often miserably hot outside here in Florida. But, I like to do some organizing and cleansing over the summer and this takes places in many domains.

After nearly becoming without form and void, my library was in need of an overhaul. Conceptually, this weighed on my mind for a couple of weeks before I could get started. I try to organize by topic and work with the available shelf space. Also, annoyingly to some, I do not put books in alphabetical order. I simply group them by topic and fit the books into the cubbies as space allows.

Because of that, I can usually tell someone where a given book is off the top of my head. This is always helpful until they borrow the book and I never see it again.

It doesn’t happen all that often, and judging from the pictures below, you’d probably imagine it doesn’t hurt the overall scale when it does.

You can’t quite see it off to the left, but there exists my Chuck Klosterman, Malcolm Gladwell, Bill Bryson section that merges into the pop culture collection.

The rest of the shelf is apologetics, which in my mind includes worldview stuff, world religions, history, politics, science, sports, and music. It’s an eclectic blend, but I think it makes the most logical sense.

Over by my side of the bed, I’ve collected some favorite authors:

  • Kevin Vanhoozer
  • Vern Poythress
  • Peter Leithart
  • Arthur Custance (haven’t heard of him have you?)
  • Eugene Peterson
  • John Piper
  • Tim Keller
  • David Bentley Hart
  • David Wells
  • N. T. Wright (popular level trilogy)
  • Carl Trueman

Over by Ali’s side of the bed, I put the marriage books, as well as Christian living and some practical theology (slight difference in my mind between the two). I also have all my counseling books here.

In my office, you’re immediately greeted by some crate shelves with pastoral leadership, business, discipleship, and writing books. You’ll also notice three matrushkas my dad got in Russia. Some might call them Russian nesting dolls, but since they’re football players it doesn’t seem appropriate.

Here by reading chair, you’ll notice some crates with history books, particularly those by Susan Wise Bauer. You’ll also see my beer/food shelf for some research I’ve been doing. On the desk, I’ve collected by study Bibles for easy access.

Here is the theology shelf. Not quite as big as you’d expect right? That’s what happens favorite authors end up filed in other places. Down to the left you’ll notice what is not a currently reading section and a small assortment of church history books that didn’t fit elsewhere.

The much larger shelf contains not only the biblical studies and hermeneutics books, but houses my collection of SeaWorld animals. One is for studying, the other is for inspiration, you decide which is which. You may notice what appears to be a blank cubby, but don’t worry, it has been filled.

And last but not least, the fiction shelf out in the living room. On the opposite is the DVD collection. This shelf also includes Lewis and Tolkein for obvious reasons.

It took about a week, but I think in the end it was worth it. My workflow is always better when things like this are organized, and the aesthetic elements is an added bonus.

Over the course of this summer, I’m leading a Bible study on Ruth with college students. SHIFT hasn’t historically done things over the summer, but since we were just stepping into being more involved, I wanted to do at least something during June and July.

For a variety of reasons, I thought Ruth would be a good book to study. First, it’s relatively short. Because of this, it’s also a story many people are already familiar with, making it easier to dig in a little deeper. Second, it’s a great place to start learning to see the Gospel in the Old Testament. The way Boaz acts models Christ in many tangible ways. Third, it’s particularly relevant in both sociological and political senses. I’ll elaborate on this more in the future, or you can use your imagination.

When doing a Bible study, I like to focus on helping students really see what’s there in the text. I also like to draw theological principles from the narrative that can then be used as starters for application. I’m also fond of digging into historical and cultural background in order to make the “weird” parts make more sense. Often, those parts end up being more important than you think. Ruth, as we’re about to find out in chapters 2 and 3, is no exception.

All in all, it’s the perfect test book for a two month summer study. It also helps that Ruth was the focal point for one of my Hebrew classes at Dallas. That gives me a bit of a head start in preparing each week as I could shoot from the hip and probably be fine. But, I like to do a little refreshing and the main way I’ve been doing that is with Daniel Block’s Ruth.

One of my favorite commentary series is the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. A few years back, they released a counterpart to it called Hearing the Message of Scripture. I posted about the inaugural volumes on Obadiah and Jonah respectively. They’ve since rebranded the series to complement the NT one and now it’s just called Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament.

This volume by Block is the first in the rebooted series. I like the layout of the commentaries because they mimic the exegetical method we were taught at Dallas. There is the added feature that these commentaries focus on discourse analysis.

Because you’re curious what that means, here is Block explaining the goal of the series:

The primary goal of this commentary series is to help serious students of Scripture, as well as those charged with preaching and teaching the Word of God, to hear the messages of Scripture as biblical authors intended them to be heard. While we recognize the timelessness of the biblical message, the validity of our interpretation and the authority with which we teach the Scriptures are related directly to the extent to which we have grasped the message intended by the authors in the first place (9-10).

He then goes on to elaborate how this connects to discourse analysis:

Discourse analysis, also called macro syntax, studies the text beyond the level of the sentence (sentence syntax), where the paragraph serves as the basic unit of thought (10).

In this way the series differs a bit from its New Testament counterpart in focus on larger units for comment. The NT series lays out each verse in Greek and then comments verse by verse. This series goes discourse by discourse.

When it comes to the individual chapters of the book, the structure is similar. Each chapter of the commentary has these sections:

  • The Main Idea of the Passage
  • Literary Context
  • Translation and Exegetical Outline
  • Structure and Literary Form
  • Explanation of the Text
  • Canonical and Practical Significance

There is usually a select bibliography as well that begins the commentary (similar to NICOT). Particular to this volume, Block opens with a translation of Ruth as a whole and divides the book into Acts like a play. He also offers an outline for a dramatic reading of the book at the end.

In terms of the commentary itself, there is untransliterated Hebrew in the main body, but usually parenthetically. Readers untrained in the original languages can ignore these parentheticals, as well as most of the footnotes where the more technical discussion takes place (again, not unlike NICOT).

One potential downside is that it would be difficult to locate specific comments on a specific verse in this commentary. For what I’m using it for, it’s not a downside since I’m reading straight through sections at a time (I read everything on chapter 2 today for instance). But, if you had a quick question about a phrase or a word, it’s not as easy to locate Block’s comments on it as it would in a different series.

However, that’s why it is usually best to consult several commentators on a given book. I would normally do that, but I also happen to be doing some editing work on an on-line study Bible, and I read through the Ruth notes today for work and for Bible study prep (nice how that works out sometimes). I’m also going to consult another volume (the NICOT one, you probably know my second favorite series at this point) here as a I wrap up this post.

In the end, I would highly recommend not only studying the book of Ruth in more detail, but using this volume on Block as a companion to help you see how the story fits together. There is much more to Ruth than a casual reader in English would pick up. Using a tool like this will help you see with new eyes what’s been there all along.

New Books of Note

June 23, 2017 — 1 Comment

On Pastoring by H. B. Charles Jr. is exactly what the subtitle implies: a short guide to living, leading, and ministering as a pastor. It is 30 short chapters divided into three parts:

  1. The Pastor’s Heart
  2. The Pastor’s Leadership
  3. The Pastor’s Ministry

While I think most of the insight is fairly basic (or should be), I also think a lot of it is ignored or just never learned. By that I mean, it’s things you should know if you’re a pastor, but that doesn’t mean you do know them (or were properly taught or mentored at some point in time).

The highlights to me were the chapters on being a healthy pastor (in a holistic sense), leaving a godly legacy, being faithful where God puts you, and trusting the sufficiency of God’s Word over life experience. You’ll notice the first three go in the first section of the book, and I think it was the strongest.

I would consider myself a non-traditional pastor in the sense that I’m primarily a high school Bible teacher and also work with an on-campus ministry. Pastor is not my title, but I shepherd young hearts and minds and so I try to self consciously think of myself in that role.

That being said, what Charles offers readers here was useful to me, even post seminary and several years into my vocation. It was a good refresher and reminder on things I need to keep close guard. I would anticipate it could work that way for you as well!

Getting Jesus Wrong by Matt Johnson is one of the more “real” books on spiritual growth I’ve read in a while. In the first part of the book, he devotes a chapter to each of the wrong “Jesuses.” They are:

  • Life Coach Jesus
  • Checklist Jesus
  • Movement Leader Jesus
  • Visionary Jesus

After another chapter related to the pride and despair of following these false Christs, Johnson turns the corner into the second part of the book that offers an antidote. He presents a chapter on the proper function of the law, then the Gospel, and then a closing chapter encouraging readers with humility and hope. It’s there that you see how much Johnson is in transition and growth himself and isn’t writing from a place of having it all figure out.

An interesting subtext to the book is that the church frequently mentioned in part 1 is Mars Hill. I don’t think he comes right out and says it, but knowing he is from Seattle makes it fairly obvious. I appreciated his honest reflections about some of the problems and the effect it has had. He doesn’t go out of his way to bash Mark Driscoll or the church, but you can tell that movement leader Jesus wasn’t exactly what the church needed.

All that being said, I think this is a helpful book for what it critiques, but I didn’t find the solution as helpful. It is more in the Lutheran vein of theology, but if that’s you, you’ll appreciate his approach. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, it has to do with how you view the law functioning in Scripture, and how much continuity or discontinuity there is in the Old and New Testament approaches to sanctification. I should probably devote another post to explaining that in more detail!

James Emery White’s Generation Z is a helpful tool for understanding the generation coming behind millennials. The first part of the book does some demographic exposition. The second part offers an approach to reach this generation. Three appendices present talks that White gave on hot button issues like gay marriage, the spiritual world, and whether belief in God is coherent or not.

In case you’re not clear on generational distinctions, Generation Z are those born between 1996-2010. So, in essence, every high school student I’ve taught to date. White’s book offers many surprising and potentially alarming statistics about this generation. The main ones tended to relate to how this generation is less religious, but not necessarily uninterested in spiritual things.

In general, I think the picture White sketches in the first part of the book is helpful. And while he has a good track record at his church, I didn’t find the new approaches in the second part that compelling. Admittedly, there is a thin line between catering to culture and challenging it. While not mutually exclusive, I think I would default to following the track Tim Keller is on. In terms of differences, I think Keller is more nuanced, and falls more on the side of challenging rather than catering (the latter of which isn’t the same as caving in on convictions, just so you know). But, this book is a good starting point for understanding some of the issues, and at least seeing an approach that you can choose to follow or modify.

Ron Citlau’s Hope for The Same-Sex Attracted is written from the perspective of someone who struggles with just that. But, he is also a pastor and has been happily married for years. He writes to those who have struggles similar to his, but who need the hope that the Bible provides.

To be clear, that hope is never cast as becoming a “normal” heterosexual married person. Instead, the first part of the book presents three obstacles that Citlau sees to having hope. Then the second part of the book discusses five gifts that can help those who struggle with same sex attraction. He then closes out the book with a chapter to church leaders and then one to those that struggle.

Citlau openly critiques the gay Christian identity movement (if you can call it that) in the first chapter. He is clear that he doesn’t think it is helpful to identify as gay even if one is committed to biblical sexual ethics and a life of either celibacy or heterosexual monogamy. He likewise sees the spiritual friendship movements and obviously gay marriage as obstacles to true hope.

The gifts that he sees that can provide hope are the church, healing communities and Christian therapy (but is not championing reparative therapy), singleness, marriage, and lament. I thought the last chapter was a unique contribution to the discussion and relies heavily on J. Todd Billings’ Rejoicing in Lament.

I have mixed feelings about recommending this book. While the stories of life change peppered throughout are helpful and hopeful, I found myself wondering who the book was truly for. It is clearly for Christians who experience same sex attraction. But, it is not routine (from my experience) for people who have same-sex attractions to identify themselves as same-sex strugglers. They either only have attractions to the same sex and so identify as gay, or can be attracted to both and identify as bisexual.

In a sense, by definition Citlau is bisexual because he is attracted to his wife, but still has some struggles with same sex attraction. I would think that he would consciously reject that label, and would encourage others to do the same if they have similar experiences (and I’m not suggesting he should adopt that label either).

I would agree that if your identity is wrapped up in your sexuality (gay or straight) that is the bigger issue. But, using conventional labels to name your experience isn’t the same thing. I think you can say you struggle against same sex attraction because you are committed to a traditional sexual ethic, but also acknowledge that you experience bisexual sexual attraction. That’s not an option open to readers of this book, but I think it should be a valid option.

In the end, I think if I were to suggest this book, it would be in dialogue that asks for the reader’s opinion. I wouldn’t suggest to someone “you need to read this book,” because I don’t think I fully agree with the approach. But, it could be good to start a conversation about what hope for the Christian who has non traditional sexual attraction patterns looks like. This book, read in conjunction with a couple of others that are committed to a traditional Christian sexual ethic could prove helpful in the long run.

[Thanks to Moody, New Growth Press, Baker, and Bethany House for sending me these review copies!]

First it was novels. Then it was autobiographies. Now, it’s history’s turn.

As with previous sections in The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer begins with an overview of the genre. Here, she distinguishes between several periods in the history of history:

  • Ancient History
  • Medieval History
  • Renaissance History
  • The “Enlightened,” or “Rational,” Approach
  • Positivism to “Progress-ism” to “Multiculturalism”
  • Romanticism to Relativism to Skepticism (and Thence to Postmodernism)

Attentive readers will recognize that the the last two periods are overlapping as the telling of history fragmented according to your particular philosophical bent. The history of ideas and the ideas of history are forever intertwined.

So, when it comes to actually reading a historical account, Bauer again gives questions for each stage:

Grammer-Stage Reading (195-198)

  • Look at the title, cover, and table of contents
  • Does the writer state his or her purpose for writing?
  • What are the major events of the history?
  • Who is this story about?
  • What challenges did this hero/ine face?
  • Who or what causes this challenge?
  • What happened to the historical hero/ine?
  • Do the characters go forward, or backward – and why?
  • When does the story take place?
  • Where does the story take place?

Logic-Stage Reading (198-206)

  • Look for the historian’s major assertions
  • What questions is the historian asking?
  • What sources does the historian use to answer them?
  • Does the evidence support the connection between questions and answers? [Note: readers of the actual book are treated to a primer on fallacies at this point]
  • Can you identify the history’s genre?
  • Does the historian list his or her qualifications?

Rhetoric-Stage Reading (206-209)

  • What is the purpose of history?
  • Does this story have forward motion?
  • What does it mean to be human?
  • Why do things go wrong?
  • What place does free will have?
  • What relationship does this history have to social problems?
  • What is the end of history?
  • How is this history the same as – or different than – the stories of other historians who have come before?
  • Is there another possible explanation?

Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated histories list. These lists are good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.

With that in mind, here’s the list:

So far with this list, I’ve got my work cut off for me, having only read Herodotus (would highly recommend). I’ve a copy of the few of the others, but while I’m thinking of it, I might venture to the local used bookstore and see what I can find. Although, you can actually piece together most of this list for less than $100. Not bad for what would be close to a year or more of reading for many people!

Yesterday, I explained how I use my summer breaks. I mentioned working out first thing in the morning, something I haven’t historically done.

My history with a morning routine goes back to when I worked at Lowe’s between high school and college. I often opened, which meant getting there at 6am. Since I didn’t particularly enjoy being tired all the time, the first step I implemented was a conservative bed time.

When I went to Word of Life, they had required quiet time every morning before class. Because I was a tech guy half the class days, I had to get to class at 7:15, which I then I spent reading until class started.

This carried over to my post Word of Life years, when I started working at Starbucks (as pictured above), and once again had opening shifts (which were 5:30 instead of 6:oo). On days I didn’t work, I began to keep getting up fairly early and went to Starbucks for free coffee. And then I sat and read. And thus a routine was born.

This ritual remained more or less stable for the last 10 years. The whole time I was at Dallas, even when I had 7am Hebrew classes, I was still up earlier, coffee in hand, reading (or studying Hebrew).

If you’ve ever wondered how I read so many books, now you know. I’ve already been reading for an hour before many people hit the snooze button. While this has had its advantages for me, I’ve felt for a long time that I need a more fully developed morning routine.

Back in the spring, I came across an article called 8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8am. They are:

  1. Get a healthy 7+ hours of sleep
  2. Prayer and meditation
  3. Hard physical activity
  4. Consume 30g of protein
  5. Take a cold shower
  6. Listen to/read uplifting content
  7. Review your life vision
  8. Do at least one thing toward long-term goals

Notice that the very first thing is actually something you do the day before. Over these past 10 years, I’ve somewhat ruthlessly reverse engineered by mornings by guarding my bed time. While I’m a little lax this summer, I tend to go to bed around 10 in order to get up around 5-5:30. This will shift earlier in August to probably going to bed around 9-9:30 in order to be at the gym by 5:15.

That would put me back home around 6:30. By 7:00, I’ll have had the 30g of protein (actually between 45-60g, because I need 235g a day), taken the shower, and started my quiet time. In that way, I’m actually combining the prayer and reading. That leaves the review of the life vision and then doing at least one thing toward long-term goals. Because of my schedule works, on days I don’t teach, I’ll immediately do that thing. Teaching days, I’ll schedule when that thing will happen. For now, that thing is writing 1000 words a day.

I’m doing that because I want to develop as a writer. I also foresee needing to write more frequently for things related to SHIFT. I also would like to one day complete a dissertation, which takes a disciplined approach to writing that I don’t currently have. When you write on a strictly as needed basis, it’s harder to write when you need to. If you write everyday, it becomes easier to at least get the ball rolling on a draft for something.

If I apply the reverse engineering to finishing a Ph.D by the time I’m 40, then I need to develop a disciplined writing habit now. So, doing that everyday is working towards a long-term goal. But, it is also serving several short time goals related to teaching, research and editing, and preparing materials for SHIFT.

I’ve found in the past 10+ years of having a morning routine that if you do something first thing, it usually always gets done. Seems simplistic, but you should start your day with the most important things. If there are habits you want to develop, batch them together in the morning and they will probably stick.

If you’re going to do that, I recommend doing it in phases instead of all at once. So, for instance, when I decided to rebuild my morning habit. I started with the exercise portion. I purchased some workout supplements (this is a referral link, FYI) that included a pre-workout. The dosage includes just under 400mg of caffeine, which is what my Trenta Cold Brew contained.

When I wake up, I wander into the kitchen and mix up the pre-workout, drink it, and then I have 15-30 minutes to get to the gym and get moving. I also can’t bail and go to Starbucks and read instead, because I don’t really want to know what would happen.

In order to re-wire, I started doing this on June 1st. It was a Thursday, but the beginning of summer in my mind (it was my first full day off after teaching responsibilities). I’ve been in the gym lifting for an hour every weekday since then. This past week Thursday, I added cardio to the end of the routine in the form of high intensity interval training (HIIT). When I get home, I take the necessary recovery supplements, eat, and then start working on what needs to get done for the day.

This week, I’m going to start bumping my start time up earlier and re-integrate reading. I’m also re-building my quiet time, something I’ll tell you more about next week.

In the meantime, I’d encourage you to consider a similar morning ritual. When it comes to exercise, it doesn’t need to include the intensity of lifting. There are plenty of excuses to not exercise (at all) and particularly in the morning. But, often it’s because you try to go from nothing to what I’m doing without taking into account your average speed. Which is to say, look at what you’re currently doing, and then increase to the next logical step, not necessarily your final goal. Basically, try starting smaller, like using the 7-minute workout.

If you do, here’s a sample morning routine:

  • Wake-up well rested
  • 7-minute workout
  • Cold shower (closes the pores and ensures you’re wide awake now)
  • Coffee/breakfast
  • Quiet time
  • Review goals and vision
  • Do one thing

Depending on your quiet time length (let’s estimate 20-30 mins to read something and pray), you’re looking at less than an hour of total time before you get to the goal reviewing stage. If you’ve planned accordingly the night before, it is not incredibly hard to get up and get going, especially if you plug your phone in across the room and have to jump up when the alarm goes off.

I often get asked what I do over the summer. I wish I could say, well I just sit around and read. But, the main thing I do is figure out how to replace my teaching income for 2 months. After that, then I read.

That process actually starts late spring, when I start trying to line up work for the summer. I’ve been doing this since 2013 when I went back to working at Starbucks briefly. In general though, I’ve tried to pick up extra work with the research group I work for. Or, I’ve tutored some guys in Greek. Or, I’ve picked up extra music students. You get the idea.

Well, at least that’s what I’ve normally done. Because of the need to raise support, and the need to plan for the fall with SHIFT, I’ve taken a different tactic this summer.

Earlier this past spring, I reconnected with a tech rental company I worked for from 2005-2015. Because of availability, they closed Orlando right at 2 years ago. But there was an emergency job in Tampa back in March. We reconnected and I let them know our availability was wide open because Ali wasn’t working and Matt needed extra work. Then, in May, Ali and I did enough jobs to replace my first missing teaching paycheck.

Since school’s been out, I’ve been working on a extensive project for the research group. Ali has also started working two out of three part time jobs (the last one finishes training Wednesday). So, it looks like we’re set for covering the missing money, and God gets all the glory for the logistics.

This leaves a bit more time and attention to focus on what I really need to do this summer. You’re probably thinking “read,” but actually no. I need to build some habits that will be sustainable in the fall and lead to more productivity and human flourishing. Specifically, the humans I want flourishing are me and Ali, individually and together.

A big motivation for this is the change from what we had been doing to being more focused on ministry. While it might seem counterintuitive, I’ve always been struck by the way Michael Hyatt suggests ordering your life priorities:

  • God
  • Self
  • Family
  • Work
  • Church
  • Everything Else

I would add friends somewhere in the mix after family and work, but they might be ok in the everything else category. Many people don’t necessarily think that it’s God then me before anyone or anything else. You know, Jesus, then others, then you spells JOY. That’s true to a certain extent, but it depends on how you frame it.

It’s not so much “me” as in “whatever I want,” but “me” as in “what is going to lead to my flourishing so I can lead others in flourishing.” What I’ve realized is that if “me” is framed in terms of consumption, then it won’t work out very well. But, if “me” is framed in terms of production, organization, and health, then it is best to put me first.

The reason for that is that to the extent that I am guarding my own mental, emotional, and spiritual health, to that same extent I’ll be available and able to help and serve others. I think and feel better the more I am exercising. So, rather than it being a vain add-on to a busy schedule, I’ve made it the first thing I do every morning. I’ll explain that a bit more tomorrow, but for now I want to focus on the philosophy of it all.

In a similar manner, if I am not having communal time with God on a regular basis, I won’t really lead others to do the same. I also won’t have much of a walk with God to share about with other people, which won’t particularly encourage them to value that sort of thing.

If I’m not reading regularly, my mind isn’t staying sharp and I’m not as able to think on my toes during Ask Anything Friday’s at school. And, because of my history of reading, I have plenty of mental material to pull on most days teaching. I teach out of the overflow of my own learning, and I think that has proven time and time again to be an advantage.

What I’ve come to see and really believe in is that ministry functions much the same way. It isn’t something you do to fill a void in your own life. And it isn’t giving other people your leftovers at the end of the day. It’s inviting people into the fullness of joy you’re already experiencing and encouraging and helping them imitate you as you imitate Christ.

This is more crucial to discipleship than people often realize. If I am going to disciple someone, I am essentially aiming to reproduce myself, for better or for worse. I’ve thought back over the past years and realized that I think I’ve replicated my strengths as well as weaknesses in guys that I’ve mentored. To some extent that’s not avoidable. But, it’s something to be conscious of, and when those weaknesses are because of inattention or laziness, you can do something about it.

So, when it comes to my time over the summer, there is a fair amount of reading. But, unlike previous summers, I’m more intentionally spending time doing things that will prepare me for what lies ahead in the fall. That does mean being a bit more introverted, but I’m using that introvert time a little differently. I’m obviously spending a bit more time writing, but I’m also trying to reconnect with old friends and get together in more one on one ways with students.

At the end of the day, I’m spending my summer trimming the fat off my mind and body so I’m in better shape for the upcoming school year. Tomorrow, I’ll explain a bit more about that, and also what you should be doing in your morning routine, but might not be.

For five nights this June, I carved out time to watch the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers play in the NBA Finals. This was the the first time two teams faced each other three years in a row. Going into the Finals, the Warriors had swept their way through three rounds of the playoffs. The Cavs almost did the same. While many of us hoped for a close Finals, the Warriors dominated 3 of the first 4 games. They then closed out the series in the most watched non Game 7 in ABC history.

As it stands, the Warriors now have bragging rights in the current NBA rivalry. Much of this is due to adding Kevin Durant to their already loaded roster last summer. Durant joined the team after losing to last year’s Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. He received a fair amount of backlash for doing this. But, it was clear that he was joining a team to win a championship, and now, he’s done just that.

Switching teams via free agency to win a championship isn’t new in the NBA. One could debate whether this is a soft move or a boss move. Ultimately, it helps illustrate the tension in sports in general, but basketball in particular. Basketball, more so than other team sports, sits in the tension between aspirations to individual greatness and the need to rely on teammates.

Outside the sports world, each of us feels this tension to some extent. We desire to be self-reliant, yet we find ourselves needing our community. We want to do it ourselves, but we fall short and have to ask for help. It was not good for the man to be alone, but that’s often how he wants to succeed in life. We aspire to success, but there are no real self-made men.

There is a two way relationship between sports and life. In a way, they both shed light on each other. To study sports is to engage in anthropology because they are a deeply human embodied activity. Sports are trans-cultural and trans-historical. Dynamics that are true of us as humans are going to emerge in our sporting events.

We sit in awe of the athletic prowess of our game’s greatest players. But those same players value winning above theatrics. Players can strive to be the best in the game. But it won’t feel fulfilling unless they win championships (and even then, it is not ultimately fulfilling, e.g. Tom Brady).

Sports need a community of greatness to win championships. They are no solo winners, regardless of appearances. Michael Jordan is the best player of all time, but he won 6 championships by having a team and a coach good in their own right. His coach, Phil Jackson won 5 more championships without Jordan. One of his teammates, Steve Kerr, went on to win championships with the San Antonio Spurs, and has now coached the Warriors to two as well.

In contrast, Lebron James has never been coached by someone who will win a championship without him. At the same time, his stat line is ridiculous. He averaged a triple-double in the Finals. Last year, he led all players in all offensive categories throughout the 7 game finals. This year, his stats in the Finals were the best 5 game stretch of his career.

On paper, and even in game, watching Lebron James is like watching the Secretariat of basketball. His athletic endurance and ability just shouldn’t be possible. He probably hasn’t even peaked as an athlete yet, which is encouraging to me because we’re almost the same age and I don’t think I’ve peaked in the gym.

Yet, lacking the necessary teammates during his first stretch in Cleveland, he couldn’t secure a Finals win. He made the move to go to play with the Miami Heat (in the ill-fated Decision). He won two championships in three years there, but with a much better team (the so-called Big Three). He then decided to come back to Cleveland and has taken them to the Finals three years in a row now.

His current team is the best cast of surrounding players he has had. Kyrie Irving is going to be one of the all time greats. Kevin Love is an All-Star in his own right. But the depth drops off a bit from there.

The Warriors have two league MVP’s in their starting lineup (Steph Curry and Kevin Durant). They have two more All-Stars in Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. They also have a former Finals MVP in Andre Iguodala (who got that award in part because of how much he shut down Lebron two finals ago). There’s a good bit more depth, and their starting 5 is going to go down as one of the top 5 best.

Many people don’t like the idea of a super team. Especially when it is formed because Kevin Durant chose to join a team that beat him in last year’s playoffs. At the same time, it is hard to not enjoy watching them in flow. Unfortunately, when that happens it means there is no real competition happening. But, it is a level of athletic greatness we only see in a given NBA team once a decade. In a game where a super team will always beat a super star, it means the Warriors are going to continue asserting their dominance as long as they can keep their roster together.

As I watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 on the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, I realized this wasn’t new. From 1980 to 1989, here are the teams that played in the finals:

  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Houston Rockets
  • Philadelphia 76ers
  • Boston Celtics
  • Detroit Pistons.

Every year featured either the Lakers or the Celtics, and three times (but not in a row) both. During that span, the Lakers won 5 championships to the Celtics 3. The 76ers and Pistons each won one.

In the 90’s, the NBA Finals was the Bulls to lose. Had Michael Jordan not played minor leagues baseball for 2 years, they would have likely won 8 in a row from 1991 to 1998. When Jordan retired for good (more or less) the balance of power shifted west and from 1999 to 2010. In that time, the Lakers and the Spurs combined to win 9 championships and only failed to make the finals in 2006.

In our current decade, the Finals have felt like the Lebron James invitational. Yet, he has actually been on the losing end more often than not. He has played in 8 total on either the Miami Heat or the Cleveland Cavaliers. His has a 3-5 record. But, he is a clutch Ray Allen 3-pointer and a Draymond Green suspension away from actually being 1-7.

The norm in basketball is for teams with a collection of superstars to win as long as they can keep the team together. Unless a truly great player has teammates who can step up in key moments, they don’t usually win championships.

Yet, we praise the individual more than the team. We select MVP’s of the Finals and the regular season. We focus on individual stat lines, and make the most of the records of the individual. And long after they’ve retired, we vote them into the Hall of Fame. And that shows us a bit about ourselves. We admire the best, but the best is usually a group, not an individual.

I’m not entirely sure what to do with this tension. The Warriors may go down as one of the greatest teams of All-Time. But they’ll mainly be remembered for the Hall of Famers who play for them. Lebron will probably continue to lose in the Finals, somewhat because he’s too nice (every great team needs a solid jerk to win, and that’s not Lebron). But, statistically, he’ll probably be the greatest basketball player of all time. Yet, he’ll be judged by having a losing record in the Finals.

Is that fair? Definitely not, but sports, like life, isn’t fair.

(Image courtesy of NYT)

Last Friday, a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door. Unlike an ambush on Christmas morning a few years back, I saw them coming. I answered the door and the guy introduced himself and his wife, and then starting talking about comfort and read me 2 Cor. 1:3-4.

I mentioned that Ali has these verses tattooed on her back, which was accidentally wrong because its vv. 5-6. But, he then asked if we were religious or something like that, and I was like, yeah I’m a Bible teacher and we work with an on-campus ministry at UCF.

He quickly hit the eject button, offering me a Watchtower pamphlet and vaguely wondering if I might compare it to what I’d been taught. They were then on their way, and within 15 more minutes had canvassed our entire short neighborhood and were gone.

Now, part of me admires their courage in going door to door. I’ve done it before in other countries, and for a several weeks in Manhattan and I hated it. I also didn’t think it was very effective, especially since we’re called to make disciples and not converts.

But, it got me reflecting on evangelism, what works and what doesn’t, and how to pursue it in your personal life. Since I also have 3 recent books I’ve received for review on the topic, it seemed the stars had aligned (which is the subject of another post).

Questioning Evangelism

This is the best book I’ve read on the subject. I read the first edition back while I was at Dallas. Now Kregel has published a second expanded edition  of Randy Newman’s book (and sent me a review copy!).

The first part explains why asking questions is the best strategy. The second chapter leans heavily into Proverbs for biblical basis. The next part comprises 7 chapters that each deal with questions people are asking. Newman hits all the hot topics, and offers sample dialogues in the process. The final part explores the personal side of evangelism and deals with our hearts in the process.

The main thing that is new to this edition is dealing with questions related to Christian stances on homosexuality. That wasn’t as much of an issue when the first edition came out (no pun intended). Much like the other chapters, Newman offers answers not only to the questions posed to Christians, but offers questions we can ask that can help flip the script.

In the end, I think this is what makes the book most helpful. We should be ready to give an account for what we believe and why. But, we should also be able to question others in a gracious manner. I’ve often found that questions can change the tone of a discussion. They can also be a way to get people thinking about their own views as they seek to challenge mine. If you’d like an encouraging read that will help you do that better, you should check this book out!

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out

This book by Alvin Reid was sent to me by B&H. Compared to the previous book, this is more of a general theology of evangelism, with encouragement to people who aren’t keen on it. It’s a kind of demystifying approach that I think can be helpful.

Each chapter deals with a principle, which are helpfully collected on page 119:

  • God created you for his glory, to advance his gospel with the gifts, talents, and opportunities he gave you
  • In order to share Jesus confidently and consistently with others, first share him confidently and consistently with yourself
  • Shifting from giving an evangelistic presentation to having an evangelistic conversation takes pressure off the witness and relates the gospel more clearly to an unbeliever
  • God has sovereignly placed you in this world at this time with the abilities and gifts you have to bring glory to him and show the joy of the gospel to others
  • Effective evangelistic conversations connect the unchanging gospel with the specific issues people face
  • Expect people to be open to the gospel, and learn to share Jesus where they live
  • Talk to the actual person in front of you about the Jesus inside you; let them see and hear the change Jesus makes in you
  • Developing a lifestyle of sharing Jesus consistently flows out of a plan to share Jesus regularly

After the principles, there is an 8 week challenge that readers can use to start living out the principles after reading the book. I think this book would work well in tandem with the previous since it is more of a philosophy and theology of evangelism itself, rather than an extensive look at one aspect (asking and answering questions). It also doesn’t get too far into answering objections, but I think it goes a great length to build confidence and a lay good foundation that will flourish in the future.

Evangelism for Non-Evangelists

If you noticed a trend in books on evangelism, and even in two out of the three I’m mentioning, you’re not wrong. Whether you’re freaking out, or just view yourself as a non-evangelist, most books on the subject are geared for you.

This one by Mark Teasedale, courtesy of IVP, is primarily aimed at teachers and students, rather than the person in the pew. While fairly short (under 150 pp), it is more or less designed to be used as a seminary or Bible school textbook. It is also designed to be used by the broadest range of denominational backgrounds, so most people I think reading this blog won’t find its theological framework helpful.

Compared primarily to the other two, I didn’t find this one as helpful. I wouldn’t use it in my classes, and I wouldn’t have students in SHIFT read it. I would however encourage them to read the other two, and would encourage you to do the same.