Archives For Scott Slayton

 

I breathed a sigh of relief when the clock struck midnight to take us from December 31, 2016, to January 1, 2017. 2016 seemed to be an anomaly, a strange year dominated by a contentious, unconventional, and surprising Presidential election. I thought that turning the calendar to a new year would slow down the number of news stories crossing my news feeds and turn down the volume on the discussions around those stories. I was wrong.

It seems as if there is a new passion-enflaming news story out every day. Whether it is the President’s Twitter feed, a heretical movie, another protest, or a denominational scuffle, our days are consumed with stories that either anger or depress us. They divide us into teams and lead us to fight to prove our guys are right.

Followers of Jesus must get off this train. Somehow, we back away from the current tenor of discussions in our culture without sticking our heads in the sand. Recently, I discussed one option– cultivating the discipline of selective ignorance. (A phrase I borrow from Tim Ferriss.) Today I want to share another– reading history. Here are five reasons this would be a great benefit to us.

To turn off the TV, put down the phone, and cut off talk radio

So much of what we expose ourselves to is just noise. Whether it is opinion-based talk radio or our social media feeds, we have numerous people and companies vying for our attention. What is going to grab your attention the fastest? It will be whatever scares you or makes you angry.

One great way to shut off the noise, which you have the power to do, is to read. (If you are going to read on your iPad or tablet, go in and disable the internet so that you aren’t tempted.) When you sit down to read a book, your attention focuses on one thing. There’s not another link to click and there is no comment section. Instead, you can think about one subject with focused attention.

To remember not to panic over every news cycle

Our 24-hour news cycle forces us to think that every controversy and every government decision is life or death. We lock ourselves into daily struggles and fights over the latest brouhaha. We proclaim that we are headed for utopia when our side is winning or that we are plunging toward the depths of hell when the other side prevails.

Recently, historian Jon Meacham tweeted a link about President Trump being angry that his surrogates did not defend his statements about President Obama wiretapping Trump Tower strongly enough. He commented that George H.W. Bush, the subject of his latest biography, could not understand the hand-wringing over what was said on Sunday morning talk shows. “Who the h*** remembers what they said by sundown?”

Our 41st President offers us some important words of wisdom in this case. We get angry about things that we won’t even be thinking about several hours from now. President Bush could say this because he had been observing these events for decades. When we devote ourselves to reading history, we’ll start to notice these things as well. The arc of history is long, therefore we shouldn’t spend much time fretting over day to day news stories.

To learn from past mistakes

Over the past two years, I have been reading biographies of the American Presidents. Often events take place in these biographies that make me cringe. The subject says something that we know to be horrific, wrong, or bigoted or they do something that we now know led to a terrible catastrophe.

We don’t read history just to critique past generations, though. We must actively learn from their mistakes. We should read and ask how we echo their previous folly in our lives today. For example, history is replete with examples of men who neglected their wives and families for the sake of their work. By the end of their biographies, we have the benefit of seeing how their absence at home cost them in the end. We don’t know the end of our stories, but we can see many of the pitfalls that come from ignoring the families God has given us.

To wean ourselves from cultural hubris

In our current culture, we are great at critiquing the mistakes of our ancestors. We can look back with the benefit of time and discern all of their faults. Unfortunately, we don’t possess the same keen insight when we are dealing with our own failures.
When we humble ourselves before the voices of the past, we can learn from many of their convictions and habits. For example, reading the biography of Teddy Roosevelt gives us great insight into the value of physical exercise to give ourselves energy. Abraham Lincoln shows us that we should never blame our circumstances and work hard to improve ourselves. Martin Luther’s devotion to prayer and Jonathan Edwards’ commitment to reading the Scriptures will make us wonder why we can’t squeeze in 20 minutes for devotions.

One area where we benefit from reading history is to see the devotion of early American generations to education and reading. We fancy ourselves to be the most educated generations in American history, and while this may be true from the number of years we spend in school, generations before us possessed a better grasp of the English language, a greater ability to spot flaws in logic, and a superior understanding of the flow of history. Our discussions of political and social issues sound like incoherent babbling compared to the force of reason and eloquence of expression present in the writings and speeches of our forebearers.

To calm down and gain perspective

When we read the Bible, we encounter times infinitely more chaotic than our own. The period of the judges and the Babylonian captivity make a fight over Russian interference look like child’s play. Our own nation has endured through the fires of civil war and two worldwide wars.

God controls human history. He made the world and holds the times and seasons of our lives in his hands. Reading history shows us times of chaos and times of peace, but it mainly testifies to the God who oversees it all. As we reflect on the days gone by and ponder our present and future, one thing always holds true– the sovereign God of the universe never has and never will take one day off. He is working his great plan of redemption at all times and in all places and will one day bring all things to completion with the second advent of his Son. Until that great day, we reflect on the past, live in the present, and look forward to our blessed hope.

Related Posts:
The Blessing of Selective Ignorance

7 Questions to Ask Before Posting about Politics on Social Media

For Further Reading:
The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton

 

A few weeks ago, my social media feeds blew up with discussions about Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at the Emmys.  Apparently, she used her time to take President Trump to task about his demeanor and policies. Naturally, the people who love President Trump were angry about the speech and those who loathe him thought the speech was heroic. I had no opinion. I had not seen the speech, heard the speech, and chose to ignore the speech. It didn’t affect me in the least, so I benefitted from not having to think about it.

One of the most beneficial practices in my life in recent months has been working on the discipline of selective ignorance. Now, notice this is selective ignorance and not complete ignorance. I keep up with the news through a couple of papers, magazines, and podcasts. Anything that appears to be relevant to my work or interests, I will look into further. I ignore everything else if at all possible.

Two books helped me see how choosing to ignore things everyone was talking about could improve my life, work habits, and sanity. Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Work Week introduced me to this concept. (Ferris’s work obviously made a deep impression on me. I thought I came up with the phrase “selective ignorance” on my own. I just flipped back through The 4-Hour Work Week and turns out that it was the title of a chapter in his book.) He says, “It is imperative that you learn to ignore or redirect all information and interruptions that are irrelevant, unimportant, or unactionable. Most are all three.” Before, I thought that I needed to know about as many cultural discussions as possible and have an opinion on them. This usually meant that I had a strong opinion about many issues on which I had incomplete information and which never touched anything that had to do with my normal, everyday life as a follower of Jesus, husband, dad, neighbor, friend, and pastor.

Providentially, I picked up Cal Newport’s book Deep Work the day of President Trump’s inauguration. In it, he extolled the virtues of giving focused concentration to our most important tasks by cutting down on unnecessary distractions. The next day, I read his exhortation to cut down on social media intake, check email less often, and eliminate needless noise and distraction. This happened to be the same day my social media feeds were blowing up with strong opinions about the Women’s March on Washington. Reading this book on that day led me to sit down and do a serious evaluation of the things in my life that were distracting me from the things that matter most.

As I have taken inventory of my life and eliminated or greatly reduced my intake of information that needlessly distracted or frustrated me, I noticed three particular benefits that came from ignoring unimportant things.

Selective Ignorance Saves You From Needless Anger

Every time you pull up Facebook or Twitter, turn on opinion based news or listen to talk radio, you will find yourself getting angry about things that you didn’t even know about two minutes before. Media companies make loads of money from our attention. Your attention brings in advertising dollars and nothing grabs your attention like events or opinions that make you angry.

Remembering that selective ignorance doesn’t mean ignoring the real news events of the day, but you must remember that there are less real news events going on in the world than you think. An actresses opinion about the President, a Facebook “friend’s” opinion about politics, or a ridiculous Facebook comment on a news story from someone that you don’t know aren’t news, don’t matter to you at all, and will only serve to make you angry. Ignore it. Your life will be better for it.

Selective Ignorance Saves You From Needless Anxiety

Not only do websites, radio talk shows, and cable news know how to get your attention by making you angry, they also know how to do it by making you anxious. For example, Americans typically overestimate the amount of violent crime that takes place in our nation. Our constant intake of news and the consistent reporting on violence in our cities has to play a role in our perceptions.

Another example comes from an Ipsos poll conducted in December. When asked to guess the number of Muslims in America, respondents guessed that there were almost seventeen times more than there really are. Because we hear day in and day out about terrorism and refugees, we overestimate the number of Muslims in our nation by 1700%. In an odd turn of events, our obsession with news distorts our understanding of reality and makes us less informed. The result is that we get scared and anxious based on an inaccurate perception of what is happening in our culture.

Selective Ignorance Saves You From Needless Distraction

As I write this post, I am in the downstairs of my home. My phone is upstairs. The reason for this is simple. When I can’t figure out how to word the next sentence, my instinct is to check my email or look at something on my phone to help ease the frustration of not knowing what to say next. Here’s the problem with that, though, if I “check Twitter real quick,” I may see and interesting link and read it. Then I scroll down and see another interesting link to read. All of a sudden, I have spent ten or fifteen minutes staring at my phone and getting focused on what I am doing again takes time. If the phone is not close by, it can’t distract me.

In the time that it takes to check Facebook, you could read several chapters of the Bible. Think about that for a second. Instead of being sucked into a platform where 95% of what you will see is unimportant, you could spend time in the eternal truth of God’s word. Or, if you are at work, instead of being distracted by things that don’t matter, you can give your full time and attention to doing excellent and creative work. If you are at home with your family, you can spend time with them and do something fun instead of ignoring them while you scroll.

How to Grow in Selective Ignorance

If the discipline of selective ignorance will help you eliminate distractions, get less angry, and experience less anxiety, how do you grow in it? The answer is to put systems in place and restrictions on yourself. While the word “restriction” may not sound fun, remember that you are eliminating things in your life that bring worry, anger, and distraction so that you can experience more of the good things life offers. Here are five quick suggestions for cultivating selective ignorance.

Check Two or Three Trusted News Sources a Couple of Times a Day

Instead of getting a constant barrage of news, check the news a few times a day and only get it from sources you trust. Watch the evening news, listen to the NPR hourly update, read a good newspaper, check your RSS feeds, or scroll through the front page of a news site and read stories that interest you. Then, turn it off and don’t check the news for several hours. If something really important happens, I promise you will find out quickly.

Only Check Social Media Two or Three times a Day

The idea of Facebook and Twitter are great. You get to stay in touch with people you wouldn’t have been able to stay in touch before the advent of these platforms. The reality of these services is different. They serve as a constant barrage of opinions and distractions. Check them a few times throughout the day, but avoid the temptation to check them every time you have a free minute or get bored.

Avoid Talk Radio, Discernment Blogs, TV Debate Shows, etc.

Some forms of media make themselves sound like sources of useful information when they really aren’t. Talk radio rarely informs more than it inflames. TV debate shows do little more than reinforcing the positions of the people who already agree or disagree with the panelists. Sports radio is a pleasant distraction but is best consumed in small doses. Discernment blogs typically disturb us and make us angry about people who aren’t in our sphere of influence. (If you don’t know what a discernment blog is, count yourself blessed and move along.)

Watch Less TV

My greatest concern in writing this post is that people will read it and think I am advocating for actual ignorance. Nothing could be further from the truth. My main point is that by avoiding things that masquerade as important information we have the time to focus on the things that really are important.

By watching less TV, we have time to do more things that matter. We can focus on our work, exercise, do something with our families, or read a good book. Have a couple of good shows that you keep up with or watch your favorite team, then turn it off. Enjoying the outdoors, having fun with the people closest to you, inviting a neighbor over for dinner, serving someone who needs help, or immersing yourself in a good book will be so much more enjoyable.

Focus on What Matters Most

In Ephesians 5:15-16, Paul encourages us to, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” We have limited time here on earth, have limited attention and focus to give, and limited energy to expend. Shouldn’t we give our time, attention, and energy to things that really matter while learning to ignore the rest?

Related Posts:
7 Questions to Ask Before Posting about Politics on Social Media

Colin Kaepernick and the Perpetual Outrage Machine

For Further Reading:
Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung

How to Grow in Humilty

February 22, 2017 — 1 Comment

When we think about what it looks like to live as a Christian, we often forget many of the inner heart virtues that lead to the outward behaviors that would make our list. In the Beatitudes, which describe the character of the person who is a citizen of God’s kingdom, Jesus starts with humility. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. While we focus on everything a Christian does, Jesus says that our growth as Christians starts with who we are.

Humility, which is the poverty of spirit Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:3, serves as the root of our growth as believers. We cannot make any spiritual progress until we truly understand who we are in light of who God is. Seeing God in his holiness and ourselves as sinners in need of grace is critical for growing in our relationship with the Lord and growing in how we treat other people.

Humility does not come easily. Our flesh yearns for the self-assurance that comes from pride, the world tells us to assert ourselves and put ourselves first, and the enemy of our souls wants nothing more than for us to be mired in pride and arrogance.

If the world, the flesh, and the devil continually tempt us to pride, and humility is essential for spiritual progress, what are some practical steps that we can take to kill our pride and grow in humility?

Read the Bible

We have a tendency to give lip service to the Bible while not spending time it. We have unparalleled access to the Scriptures and writings to help us understand them, but we often allow this treasure to lie neglected. Instead of ignoring the Bible, we must give primary attention to it.

Reading the Bible reminds us of two truths that help us grow in humility– God is holy and we are not. This is most evident in Isaiah 6 when the prophet sees the Lord in the temple. He gets a glimpse of God’s holiness and his response is to proclaim his own sinfulness. The Lord responds by touching a coal to Isaiah’s lips and telling him that his sins are forgiven. This shows us that the beginning of humility is seeing the Lord for who he is, seeing ourselves for who we are, and seeking the forgiveness that can only be found in him.

Where do we see the holiness of God? Where can we be reminded that we have sinned against him? And, where do we hear the hope that only the Gospel gives? We encounter these wonderful truths most clearly in the pages of Scripture. Therefore, we would do well to read the Bible, study the Bible, memorize the Bible, and meditate on the Bible.

Spend Time in Prayer

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable for those who think they are righteous in ourselves and treat others that they consider to be less righteous with contempt. He tells the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector who go up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee’s prayer is a textbook case of self-righteousness. He prays about his own goodness and places himself in favorable contrast with other people in general and the tax collector in particular.

What is striking about the prayer of the Pharisee is that he does not ask God for anything. He merely prays about his own righteousness. On the other hand, the tax collector makes one simple request, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Notice the difference between the two prayers. The proud Pharisee prays only about himself and asks for nothing from God. The tax collector in his humility makes a simple and powerful request from God.

You may think that the Pharisee asking for nothing seems noble. However, not presenting requests to God is a sure sign of spiritual pride. It means that we do not know that we are dependent people. In 1 Peter 5:6-7, Peter says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Do you notice the connection he makes here? He commands us to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. We do this while casting our anxieties on him. When we pray, we acknowledge that God is God and we are not. We ask God for that which we do not have on our own and which only he can give.

Get Involved in a Local Church

Too often, we think about our spiritual lives in purely individualistic terms. We hear about spiritual growth and only picture ourselves in our rooms with our Bibles and then working hard on our own to obey what we read. Instead of continuing to run in this direction, we must learn how integral the local church is to our growth as believers, especially when we consider how many biblical commands we cannot obey unless we are engaged in a local body.

Being an active part of a local church helps us grow in humility because we surround ourselves with people who know us well. When we engage in genuine fellowship and develop friendships where we are being honest about our walk with Jesus, the people around us get to know our weaknesses, frailties, and sins. They love us and care for us, but they also know that we have feet of clay. In honest and genuine community, we cannot pretend to be something we are not. This is a good place to be.

In the local church, we also humble ourselves by serving others. Whether we are working in the nursery, helping to feed the needy, or listening to the difficulties a fellow believer is going through, getting outside of ourselves and serving others helps us grow in humility. We get to remember that we are not the center of the universe and that we were not made to live for ourselves.

Humility is the fertile soil in which our Christian lives grow. Pride chokes away our growth and leads us down paths we don’t want to tread. To grow in the vital gift of humility, we would be wise to immerse ourselves in the biblical text, the school of prayer, and the fellowship of the local church.

Related Posts:
How Can I Know that I am a Christian

How to Read the Bible Every Day

For Further Reading:
Momentum: Pursuing God’s Blessings through the Beatitudes by Colin Smith

The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges

Why Silence is Golden

February 15, 2017

Two weeks ago, I wrote, “7 Questions to Ask Before Posting about Politics on Social Media.” It would have been impossible to anticipate the response. More people read it than anything I have ever written and got feedback from more places than I have ever received.

Much of the feedback I received came from people who were thankful for the post and benefited from it as they sorted through how to respond to our unique cultural moment. Some of the responses that came my way were of the not happy variety and warned that following my advice would lead to weak-kneed Christians who said nothing and did nothing. After all, they said, that is how we got to where we are today.

In this post, I don’t necessarily want to respond to any particular piece of negative feedback I received, but I do want to double down on my main point. Christians need to speak less and be more thoughtful when we do speak. This is not the random observation of a timid, peace-keeping pastor in central Alabama, but the witness of Solomon, James, Paul, and Jesus.

There are three reasons we speak less and think more before we speak.

We Often Speak with Incomplete Information

“The fool does not delight in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Solomon cuts to the heart of our foolish speech when he notes our tendency to speak without having all of the facts on a matter. We equate off the cuff remarks with authenticity and interpret carefully construed words as being fake and deceitful.

The Bible doesn’t offer this interpretation of thinking before you speak. Instead, Scripture prizes speaking the truth. So often, when we speak off the cuff, we do not know if our words are true or not. Because of the ubiquity of social media in our culture, we feel the pressure to state strong opinions with incomplete information. This won’t do for the Christian though because we must know that we are speaking the truth before we open our mouths. To do otherwise is to act with foolishness instead of wisdom, run the risk of bearing false witness against our neighbor, and violate the character of our Lord who is the truth.

We Often Speak without Self-Control

“Whoever restrains his words has wisdom, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” In Proverbs 17:24, Solomon connects the words we speak to the disposition of our spirits. A man with a “cool spirit” is contrasted with the person who has a hot temper. The person who keeps a calm spirit thinks through what they are going to say. The person caught in a moment of rage will speak with disastrous results.

We don’t think before we speak when we are in the middle of a temper tantrum. We can only think about how angry we are and lash out without thought to the damage our words may cause. It is imperative that the person who follows Jesus learns to control his temper and to restrain his words when he is angry.

We Often Speak with Poor Intentions

We never speak with perfect intentions, but it does not follow that we should just say whatever we think in the moment. A hospital room will never be completely germ-free, but you wouldn’t want to have surgery in a sewer. In the same way, we cannot let our lack of perfection justify speaking from wrong motives.

If it is true that whatever we do we must do for the glory of God, then we must evaluate our motives before we speak, especially if what we are going to say will provoke people. There’s nothing wrong with provoking people with the truth if we do it for the right reasons, but many times we provoke people for the sake of provoking them or not thinking carefully about the context in which it will be done. Are we speaking out of love or are we speaking out of selfishness? Are we speaking for the good of others or are we speaking only to vent?

When Then, Should We Speak?

I recognize that what I am advocating could be taken as an argument for never saying anything difficult or controversial. After all, how will Christians make a difference in the world if we never speak up?

The problem for Christians in our culture has not been our lack of “speaking out” or “standing up.” In fact, we have done it so much and so harshly that we have cut off the ears of many people who would have listened to us. Also, we have done so in improper contexts. Only under the rarest of circumstances is social media the place to “take a stand.” On social media, we usually end up only reinforcing what people who agree with us already think, anger those who seriously disagree, or drive away those who haven’t made up their minds through our combative tone.

There is a proper time to speak up, though, providing that we meet three criteria.

We Speak When We Know
We only open our mouths to speak about an issue when we know what we are talking about. We speak when we know that we are speaking facts and speaking the truth. We cannot bring glory to God while breaking the ninth commandment.

We Speak When We Think
Since we will give an account for every word we speak, we would do well to think about what we say before it comes out of our mouths. Is it gracious? Is it kind? Is it true? Is it spoken for the glory of God and the good of others? If we think about these things and weigh our words wisely, then we should open our mouths to speak because God does use our words to accomplish his purposes.

We Speak When We Care
The writer of Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of the tongue. Since the tongue carries this tremendous power, we consider the people who will hear what we say. In what ways could this cut or hurt them? In what ways could this encourage them or give them grace? If we love people, we must think about these things.

“With the tongue we bless our Lord and father and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” We should write this warning from James 3 over everything that we say. Our words can do great damage to the cause of the Christ and to the people who hear us. At the same time, God uses our words to get the Gospel to people, to encourage the broken, and to bring glory to himself. Because our words can bring about two very different results, shouldn’t we spend more time thinking about what we say before we say it? Shouldn’t we give more thought to how it will impact people? Shouldn’t we examine our words to make sure they are true? We should, and in giving greater consideration to our words they will bring about greater good to those who hear them.

Related Posts:
Colin Kaepernick and the Perpetual Outrage Machine
Should I Correct a Foolish Person or Stay Silent?

For Further Reading:
Speaking the Truth in Love by David Powlison

Political discussions have dominated social media for several years now and only seem to be getting more heated. With every executive order issued by President Trump or protest aimed at changing a current practice, social media will generate a plethora of links and opinions. These opinions often lead to debates in comment sections that generate way more heat than light.

For the Christian, how we engage in political discussions on social media can be especially tricky. On the one hand, our faith touches every arena of life, so politics is important. On the other hand, we know that every person in the world must stand before Jesus one day and the ultimate issue will not be whether they had the correct position on national security issues.

When you consider how divisive politics can be and how often we say things in the heat of a moment that can influence the way people view Jesus and the Gospel, Christians must spend time in careful thought before they post about politics on social media.

In fact, I would suggest that there are seven questions you should ask yourself before you post about politics or share a link to an article about a political issue.

Do I have the correct facts?

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” While King Solomon couldn’t foresee the advent of social media, he knew the human heart. Proverbs 18:2 reminds us of the importance of hearing and understanding a matter before we start talking about it. The more divisive the issue, the more time we need to spend understanding it.

Does the Bible speak to this issue? If I think it does, am I sure that I understand the biblical passage in its proper context and that I am applying it correctly to the situation? Are there other texts that speak to this that I have not considered?

I would suggest that you read a wide range of resources on an issue before opining about it on social media. Read the most fact-based article that you can find on it. For example, Joe Carter posted a roundup of frequently asked questions about President Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees.Reading this type of article can help you get a grasp of the basic facts. Then, read several articles from more liberal publications and several that come from more conservative publications. Read The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The National Review. Look at the points each side makes and see how the other side answers them. Through this type of careful reading, you can gain a better grasp of the issue before you speak about it.

Does this need to be said?

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Most of the times that I heard Ephesians 4:29 when I was growing up, it was the verse that was used to tell us not to cuss. While it may speak to that, it also has something to say about our interactions on social media.

“That it may give grace to those who hear.” Is what you have to say going to bring grace to those who hear it? Will they increase in understanding and gain a greater insight into the Bible’s perspective on this issue? Will your words point them to Christ? Or, is what you are going to say be mere venting? Are you going to bring light, or are you going to bring heat only?

What you have to say may be correct, but it may not need to be said.

Why do I need to be the person to say this?

Let’s pretend that what you want to say about politics on social media should be said. Now you need to consider if you are the right person to say it. Do you have an insight into this issue that you haven’t seen somewhere else, or are you merely repeating an argument you read in another place? Do you have a role or responsibility where people are looking to you for guidance? Why should you be the person to say what you are about to say?

Am I saying this in a way that represents Christ?

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” People who have experienced grace should speak in a way that exhibits grace. Often, we post the first thing that comes to our minds about an issue, don’t read it to see how it sounds, and end up bringing shame upon Christ and his church through our hasty speech. Venting opinions that are not thought out and that insult others is a sign of tremendous foolishness, demonstrates a lack of love for our neighbors, and does not bring honor to Jesus.

Before you post something, read it three or four times. Take a screenshot of it and send it to a friend. Is it kind? Is it accurate? Is it designed for the good of others? Will it negatively impact how other people think of Jesus?

On a closely related side note, if you need to think twice before posting about American politics, then you need to think ten times before posting about denominational politics. In fact, I can think of no good reason for denominational squabbles to be shared before the watching world on our social media feeds. Discuss them in groups or the comment sections of blogs, but do not drag them out into public and bring dishonor to the cause of Christ.

How could I be misunderstood?

I learned my lesson this past August on Facebook. I posted about what I believed to be Donald Trump’s lack of commitment to pro-life issues and said that it was a terrible mistake to nominate him. Almost immediately, my friends and family perceived that my concerns about Trump were an endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

The lesson I learned from this was that there was nothing to be gained by questioning the decision to nominate Trump, which at this point was in the past. The Presidential contest was primarily between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I failed to think through how people would interpret my concerns about one candidate as an endorsement of the other. My post brought no light or grace to the situation and only brought confusion.

Stop and think before you post. Are you communicating clearly and is there a possible way for a significant number of people to misunderstand you?

What are my motives for saying this?

“Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all to the glory of God.
Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” While the question of our motives has been underlying several other questions, we should ask it on its own. Can you honestly say that you are saying what you are saying for the glory of God and the good of others?

We must be aware of our motives because they will determine what we say, how we say it, when we say it, and how we will respond to people who disagree with us. If our motive is to vent because we are angry, we will speak harshly, rashly, immediately, and eviscerate those who disagree with us. On the other hand, if our motives mirror Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 10:31-32, then we will speak graciously, kindly, thoughtfully, and respond patiently to those who disagree.

Can I wait until tomorrow to say this?

When Abraham Lincoln got angry with someone, he would fire off what he called a “hot letter.” He would set aside the letter until his emotions cooled off. Then, he would read the letter with a cool head. He left many letters unsigned and unsent.

While Abraham Lincoln wrote letters instead of posts on social media, his practice provides a worthy example for us today. If your post deals with a particularly sensitive topic, can it wait until tomorrow? If it can wait a day, save it as a draft and revisit it tomorrow. You may find that you read it with fresh eyes and see that you shouldn’t post it. Or you may see that it would be helpful to people and click “post.” Either way, the longer you can wait before inserting yourself into a conversation, the better.

Christians, we need to remember that we are Christians first. We represent King Jesus and his church. When we speak, it should reflect the priorities and character of our King and his kingdom. This concern means that we need to take extra care to consider the words we speak online.

Related Posts:
Choosing Courage over Outrage

Putting Out the Fires of Conflict

For Further Reading:
Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore

One of my earliest memories of church as a young boy was working on memory verses. Though my middle and high school years I was devoted to anything but Scripture, the verses I learned during early years stuck with me. I became a believer during my second year of college and the men who taught me how to follow Jesus encouraged me in the discipline of Scripture memory. The passages and individual verses I learned in those early years as a believer shaped my Christian growth and set the course for the rest of my Christian life.

My greatest struggle with Scripture memory is daily consistency, and I doubt that I am alone. Many of us suffer from the disease of being great starters but fumbling on day to day follow through.

This daily discipline of learning, memorizing, and reviewing Scripture is necessary for the Christian. We think our greatest problem is “finding” the time to work on Scripture memory, but, in reality, our the real struggle is in giving it the attention it deserves.

When we understand why we must do something, often the how starts to take care of itself.  In this post, I want to cover why we need to devote ourselves to Scripture memory. In a later post, we will come back and cover the how.

Memorize Scripture for Encouragement

Believers struggle with discouragement, doubt, and melancholy more often than we like to admit. Memorizing Scripture aids us in our fight against discouragement and despair by reminding us of God’s goodness, God’s love, and God’s providence. Having passages like Romans 8:28, James 1:2-3, or Psalm 23 at your disposal when you feel like you are drowning in despair would be of great advantage to you.

Memorize Scripture for Meditation and Prayer

“I don’t know what to pray for.” We often use this as our excuse for slacking in the duty and privilege of prayer. When you don’t know what to pray for, Scripture memory provides fuel for the fire in your prayer life. Take a passage that you are learning and roll it over and over again in your mind. Stop and think about each word. Repeat the passage several times while emphasizing a different word with each repetition. As you repeat it, think about how this verse should lead you to praise God or thank God. Ponder how this verse might reveal a sin of which you should repent or an area of your life in which you need the strength to obey. When you give this kind of attention to Scripture memory and the related discipline of meditation, you will have plenty to of fuel to reignite your prayer life.

Memorize Scripture for Your War with Sin

“I have stored up your word in my heart that I may not sin against you.” The author of Psalm 119 helps us to understand how we can fight against our sin. Scripture reminds us who we are in Christ and why we should put sin to death. Biblical passages warn us of the danger of sin, the beauty of the Gospel, and the blessings of obedience; so shouldn’t we store them in our hearts so we can grow? Memorize verses related to the area of sin you are struggling with and store them up in your heart as ammunition for the battle.

Memorize Scripture for Conversations with Others

Have you ever been in a conversation with a person you thought you could help and just couldn’t remember the Bible verse you needed to give them? We’ve all been there. Scripture memory saves you from being Concordance crippled. Take the time to memorize basic verses related to the message of the Gospel and several topics related to the Christian life you can use in your conversations with people. You will find you are much more effective in these discussions if you have biblical passages at your disposal.

In the book Fahrenheit 451, the main character, Guy Montag, lives during a time when the authorities burn all books because they are afraid that they will upset people with their content. Montag, who has been reading, escapes to the wilderness where he meets a group of book lovers. They have memorized various works for the time when society will appreciate them again.

While we don’t live in a time where people are burning books, we don’t always have the luxury of having a Bible in our hands. Even though we might have a Bible app in our pockets, what if you don’t know the location of the passage you are attempting to remember? The best answer for this is Scripture memory. We need to know, understand, and live out the Bible’s message, and Scripture memory is an integral component of our growth.

Related Posts”
Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

The First 15 Verses a Christian Needs to Memorize

For Further Reading:
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

 

At the beginning of a new year, we often think about the things we want to do well for the next three hundred sixty-five days. We often prove ourselves to be great at applying ourselves to our resolutions for a season, but we struggle to persevere in doing these things for the long haul.

There are few areas of our lives in which we struggle more than we do with perseverance in parenting. For a while, we spend quality time with our kids, and then we get into a busy season where our kids start getting the short end of the stick. We have consistent family devotions, then suddenly cannot remember when the last one was. We discipline them consistently, taking the time to talk to them about their behavior and not letting offenses slide. Then, we go through a period where we overlook misbehavior and then lash out in frustration because they aren’t listening to what we say.

The hardest part of parenting is not knowing what to do. Knowing how to teach and pray for your kids is not as hard as you think it is. Often, our instincts about the best way to discipline our children are usually correct, and most parents want to spend quality time with their children.

The hardest aspect of parenting is often not our lack of understanding, but our failure to persevere. As parents, what we need the most is go continue doing the little things every single day.

There are three particular areas in which we need to persevere.

Persevere in Quality Time

Our children want us more than they want stuff from us, but how often do we give our children things so they will occupy themselves so we can have time alone? We need time to recharge and spend with our spouses. Our children must know how to entertain themselves, but we also have to recognize how much our children crave time with us. Fishing, hiking, reading, playing a game, throwing a ball, or sitting around a fire to roast marshmallows provide great opportunities for us to connect with our children each day.
Our children will be more receptive to our discipline and teaching when we spend regular time with them because it flows from our relationship with them. As Ted Tripp points out in Shepherding a Child’s Heart, we parent mainly from authority when our children are young. If we find them touching something they shouldn’t, we can take it away from them or pick them up and move them somewhere else. As they grow older, we still parent from our God-given authority, but our relationship with them becomes a much larger aspect of our parenting. They tend to listen more and be more receptive to our parenting when we spend consistent time with them.

We often find that this is a joy to us as well. Our children are a gift from God. Spending time with them often leads to fun, laughter, joy, and lasting memories. Each of our children has unique personalities and are fun and funny in their own way. Spending time together brings this out, so stop thinking that you will magically “find time” to spend with them and make the time.

Persevere in Teaching and Discipline

The Bible calls parents to teach and discipline our children. Moses’ words from Deuteronomy 6:7 provide insight into how we do this. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Much of our parenting takes place in the context of ordinary life. We teach, correct, instruct, and discipline our children while we are doing the things we usually do every day.

In addition to teaching as we walk through life, we need to set aside time for teaching through family devotions. When we hear about family devotions, we shouldn’t picture Dad preaching a twenty-minute sermon to the kids. (If your kids are small, it can’t and won’t be this.) In his book Family Worship, Don Whitney offers a simple method for family devotion anyone can do whether they know the Bible well or not- read, pray, sing. Read a portion of the Bible. If your kids are small, this can be from a children’s Bible like The Big Picture Story Bible or The Jesus Storybook Bible. When they get older, progress into reading a section from your favorite translation. Depending on where your children are, you can work on memory verses or a catechism together. Then spend some time in prayer together and sing a song. These can be children’s songs like “Jesus Loves Me” or simple hymns like “Come Thou Fount” or “Be Thou My Vision.”

We must also discipline our children. Truthfully, I find it difficult to separate discipline from teaching because they go together hand in hand. We do not discipline our children to punish them for what they have done, but to instruct their hearts so they will be different in the future. Discipline should not look the same all the time, but we should tailor it to the situation and the bent of our children. While how we discipline is a matter of wisdom at the moment, disciplining our children is not up for debate. God commands children to obey their parents, and we should expect them to obey the first time that we tell them to do something. Anything other than their first-time obedience must result in discipline for the sake of your children’s souls and your future sanity.

Persevere in Prayer

Finally, parents need to persevere in praying for and with our children. Pretend for a second that you could do a perfect job parenting your children. You always kept your cool when they disobeyed and told them exactly what they needed to hear in every situation. You read the Bible to them every day and spent the perfect amount of quality time with them. You led them to friendships with the right kids and gave them every opportunity they needed. Even if you did all these things correctly, it would not guarantee that your child would become a Christian or behave properly. Only the grace of God can take your parenting and make it effective, so you must pray.

We should pray for our children and for our parenting every day. Pray God would cover our efforts with grace, forgive us where we fail, and empower us to persevere in our parenting. Pray God would change our children’s hearts by the power of his Spirit and raise them up to follow him and bring him glory. We need God, and our children need God, so we must daily plead for them before the throne of grace.

Not only should we pray for our children, but we should also pray with our children. By doing this, they learn how to pray and what subjects we bring before the Lord in prayer. They get to see our family pray for needs and how God answers those prayers. Also, our children should hear us pray for their salvation. Our prayers teach them what we value the most and by praying for their salvation, they will consistently hear about their need for Christ.

Parenting is hard, so we must write Galatians 6:9 over all of our parenting. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Related Posts:
The Joy and Pain of Consistent Parenting

57 Scattered Thoughts on Parenting

2017-post

When I was in middle and high school, CBS aired a show called Rescue 911 that dramatized the events surrounding actual 911 calls. While this never bothered me when I was younger, in adulthood I would see the show in syndication and started noticing that almost every reenactment began with the people walking through an ordinary day. They were going to work, school, or the store and then something terrible and life-altering happened to them.

There’s something about the beginning of a new year that makes us all unbridled optimists. We think the first day of 2018 will greet us with happier relationships, healthier bodies, and fatter bank accounts. We never enter a year thinking, “this could be the year that my life falls apart.” We don’t get a text message letting us know that some catastrophic event is going to hit us this year. The worst things that happen to seemingly come out of nowhere and often change our lives in a moment without warning.

We would all do well to pause at the beginning of 2017 and ask, “what if 2017 is the worst year of my life?” We spent a lot of time thinking about resolutions for improving our lives, but do we spend time thinking about how we will respond if our lives fall apart.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul describes the thorn in the flesh he received because of the incredible visions he had seen. While he doesn’t identify the nature of the thorn, he tells the Corinthian church about his struggle with it and God’s response when he pleaded for him to take it away. In looking at Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12, we see three things we need to remember if this is the year that our lives fall apart.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God is Sovereign Over Our Trials

We don’t know the precise nature of what Paul saw when he was caught up to the third heaven. He didn’t come back, write a best-selling book, and pawn off the movie rights. Instead, he says that what he saw was so overwhelming and stunning that he received a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited.

Paul doesn’t identify the precise nature of the thorn. Pastors, scholars, and commentators offer a surprising number of options. It could be a physical deformity, false teacher, physical pain, or emotional burden. He leaves enough hints for us to come up with plausible hypotheses, but the vagueness feels purposeful. Our ignorance about the thorn is good news for us because we do not need to be going through exactly what Paul was facing at this moment to receive the grace Paul offers in this passage. Instead, any person who is suffering from any difficulty can hear the good news Paul proclaims here and receive the comfort it gives.

Paul refers to his thorn as “a messenger of Satan” to harass him and keep him humble. What he says here sounds strange initially because you would think that Satan would want Paul to be arrogant. What we should write over Paul’s thorn, and any suffering we may face, the words of Joseph in Genesis 50. “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” That which Satan would bring in our lives to crush and destroy us, God uses to make us more like Jesus. That God works in this way means that Satan, “the universe,” or karma have no ultimate say over the events that come into our lives. God in his absolute sovereignty oversees everything that happens to us, and he intends for it to work in us an eternal weight of glory.

God’s Grace is More Than Enough

That God is sovereign over our trials does not negate our invitation to pray to him about them. God’s sovereignty should not produce a gloom passivity in us. Instead, we should come before the Lord in bold prayer, realizing the answer we hear from him may sound a lot like what he told Paul. Paul asked God to take away the thorn, and the Lord’s answer was that he intended to leave the thorn right where it was.

The Father didn’t keep the thorn in Paul’s flesh as some karmic retribution for something Paul had done wrong. Rather, God used the thorn in Paul’s flesh for him to learn a lesson he could not and would not learn when everything was rosy. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” What the Lord tells Paul here is that he grace is all that Paul needs to get him through his difficulty.

We often think of God’s grace only regarding our justification, forgetting that it is God’s grace that gives us what we need every day to continue following him. It not only saves us, but it also sustains us. This truth reminds us that even as people who have experienced salvation in Christ, we still stand in desperate need of God’s kindness and deliverance in our daily lives. We have to learn to lean on him, depend on him, and rely on him through for each step we take throughout the day. Walking through the darkness reminds of this truth because walking through the sunshine often causes us to forget it.

God’s Strength Becomes Visible in Our Weakness

God further tells Paul that his grace is sufficient because “my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then goes on to say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

We need to wrestle with what Paul has said here. The question is not whether we are weak people or strong people. Every person is weak and unable to handle all of the pressures that life throws at us when we try to face them in our power. This is particularly the case for the Christian, as we cannot live in a way that brings glory to God and overcomes the obstacles the world, the flesh, and the devil throw in our path when we rely on our own strength to do so. Instead, we must embrace the truth that we are weak and need the strength that only God supplies.

Often, the only way we remember this is through trial and difficulty. When the sun is shining, and everything looks grand, we forget how desperately dependent we are. Then suffering or pain arrives, and we remember that we need God. Our trials are God’s way of grabbing us by the lapels and reminding us that we need the strength that only he supplies. When we despair of our own strength and rely on his strength alone, we will know who should receive the glory when we endure and overcome our trials.

If 2017 gets rough, remember that the sovereign God who loves his people so much that he gave his only Son to die for them gives his grace and his strength liberally to those who need it.

Related Posts:
Four Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Live in Fear

Why Christians Need the Gospel Every Day

For Further Reading:
When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper

The Beatitudes by Thomas Watson

Most Popular Posts of 2016

December 30, 2016
2016-posts

Photograph 047 by Lauren Mancke found on minimography.com

 

My great passion for writing here at One Degree to Another is to see people formed into the image of Jesus Christ. This means growing slowly in every area of our lives each day. As I looked back over my most read posts from this year, they reflect what I’m aiming for in life and ministry- that we slowly and continually make progress towards demonstrating the glory and character of Christ in practical ways.

For those who have been reading from the beginning and who just discovered my blog this week, I’m grateful that you take the time to read and share. I took some time this week to plan out what I will be writing on in the first few months of 2017 and look forward to seeing how the Lord uses it to transform us into the image of Christ.

Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

There are some large sections of Scripture whose message is so central to the Bible’s message and how we live the Christian life that we need to know them by heart. This list covers many well-known passages that are at least eight verses long or more.

The First 15 Verses a Christian Needs to Memorize

In response to the post on passages every Christian should memorize, I had a lot of people asking why I didn’t include John 3:16, Romans 3:23, or many other important individual verses. If I were a believer just getting into Scripture memory, I would start with these fifteen verses.

On a related note, I received several comments that argued we shouldn’t memorize Scripture, but should simply live it out. The Psalmist’s comment that he hid God’s word in his heart so he might not sin against him helps us here. We memorize as a way of hiding God’s word deep in our souls so that we can live in a manner that brings glory to him.

48 Scattered Thoughts on Pastoral Ministry and Being a Pastor

Earlier this year, I got a later start on my sermon than I should have. Then, I had to be up later on Saturday night than I should have and woke up later Sunday morning than I needed to. This created extra stress on Sunday morning and the thought crossed my mind, “I know better than this. I learned this my first year of ministry.” It led me to start writing some other things I would say to pastors about pastoral ministry and being a pastor.

How Do I Know if My Child is a Christian?

One of the most sensitive issues parents deal with is discerning when their child has trusted in Christ. We can be very excited that they seem to be converted while at the same time being mindful of the possibility of a false profession of faith. These questions are intended to help discern the marks of true conversion in our children’s lives.

The Joy and Pain of Consistent Parenting

I wrote this reflection on Proverbs 29:17 in the middle of the night after multiple children woke me up. Parenting is hard, yet doing the hard thing in parenting can lead to more joy in the future. Taking the easy way out will ultimately lead to more work and misery in the end.

Why We Need Anonymous, Plodding Church Planters

We need to plant more churches to reach more people with the Gospel. Unfortunately, many men see well-known church planters and think this is the path they will be taking. To plant the churches we need to plant, we need thousands of men who are willing for their names to be known only in their communities. The work is hard and the work is long. We need guys who are willing to stay, work hard, and live in obscurity.

Six Foolish Things I Used to Believe about the Ministry

When I was a young pastor, I said to a friend, “I want the people in my church to understand theology so well that I can just say a word and they know what it means without me having to explain it.” I don’t know why this particularly ridiculous quote stuck with me, but it reminded me of some foolish things I used to believe about the ministry.

How to Remember Someone’s Name

Christians are called to love our neighbors, and knowing a person’s name is a good first step towards loving them well. Unfortunately, we seem to make a lot of excuses for why we cannot remember the names of people we meet. This post has a few of the tools I use to remember someone after I meet them.

The Best Quotes from Hidden Christmas

I loved Tim Keller’s new book, Hidden Christmas. It contains expositions of Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, and the first paragraph of 1 John. This is a list of my twenty favorite quotes.

What to Do When You Are in a Spiritual Dry Spell

We have all be in places where it felt like we were making no progress in our walking with Jesus. This post prescribes some steps we can take to begin experiencing the joy of knowing Jesus again.

My Favorite Books of 2016

December 27, 2016

2016-books

For the last few years, I have organized my reading based on a system I ran across from Al Mohler. Dr. Mohler encourages those who are serious Christian readers to read across six categories- Biblical Studies, Theology, History, Literature, Cultural Studies, and Church Life. My favorite books that I read in 2016 are organized based on these categories. These are not all books that publishers put out in 2016, but were the best books I read this year.

Biblical Studies

Identity and Idolatry by Richard Lints

The New Studies in Biblical Theology puts out quality volumes examining biblical books and themes every few months. Richard Lints argues that idolatry is the inversion of the identity that we should find in being created by God and in being united with Christ. He helpfully shows this theme across the entire Bible.

Return to Me by Mark Boda

In another great book from the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, Mark Boda examines the bible’s theology of repentance. Rather than just focusing on word studies or theological deductions from other doctrines, Boda dives in and reckons with the explicit teaching of individual biblical texts. Then he shows how all of these texts tie together to show what it means to return to the Lord.

Theology

Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller

Hidden Christmas covers the narratives of Jesus’ birth from Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2 before closing with thoughts on the first paragraph of 1 John. Keller shows why we can trust the message of Christmas and how these narratives show us the overwhelming grace of God. (You can see my favorite quotes from Hidden Christmas here.)

Why Trust the Bible? by Greg Gilbert

Every generation must fight its version of the battle for the Bible. In our day, many people don’t trust the Scriptures but hold Jesus in high regard. Gilbert shows why our high regard for Christ should lead to a rock solid trust in the veracity of the Bible.

History

George Whitefield by Thomas Kidd

George Whitefield still stands as one of the most popular and consequential figures in American evangelical history. Thomas Kidd’s portrait of him is thorough while staying at a manageable length. He’s honest about Whitefield’s weaknesses, but also shows what made him such an effective evangelist.

Destiny and Power by Jon Meacham

George H.W. Bush was President during my late middle and early high school years. I remember seeing him on the news every day, but Dana Carvey’s impression on Saturday Night Live and his seeming out of touch with ordinary people compared to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election formed most of my memories of him. Jon Meacham portrays President Bush in a way that is both honest and compassionate. We get to see the motives behind the actions and see the heroic sacrifices he made for his fellow-citizens.

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

If you see several Presidential biographies pop up on this list, it’s because I’m working on reading one on every President. I could not be more pleased with my choice on James Garfield, as Candice Millard’s narrative of his life and murder reads like a novel. She goes into great detail but never loses sight of the fact that she’s narrating a story. (I also read and loved her book on Winston Churchill, Hero of the Empire.)

Church Life

Discipling by Mark Dever

We need to recover the practice of personal discipleship in the life of the church. Mark Dever shows what discipleship is and how Christians can help other Christians become more faithful followers of Jesus.

Between Two Worlds by John R.W. Stott

I revisited this classic work on preaching for the first time in over a decade. Stott explains how Christian preachers can have one foot firmly planted in the world of the Bible and the other planted in our current culture to show how the message of Scripture should change people in the here and now. This book is a must for anyone seeking to understand the art and science of preaching.

Literature

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A man and a boy walk through the burned-out ruins of the United States in an attempt to survive. The beautiful relationship between a father and his son shines through this incredible story. Once I got into the story, I could not put this book down.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I hesitate to include this one because of its language, but it captured me from the first paragraph. It’s the story of an astronaut who was left behind on Mars and his struggle to survive. We get to hear him work through how to grow food, communicate with earth, and try to figure out how to get home. On the other side, we are privy to the internal NASA discussions on how to handle the crisis and get him back to earth. There was never a moment I was not fascinated by the action and dialogue in The Martian.

Cultural Studies

The Vanishing Neighbor by Marc Dunkelman

One of the key ways Christians can make an impact for God’s kingdom is to be good neighbors, but we often don’t see our neighbors. Marc Dunkelman writes about the origins of our disintegrating sense of community and how we can recover it in light of 21st-century realities.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

If you have read any other “best of” lists for 2016, chances are you saw this on it. J.D. Vance tells the story of the chaos that characterized his life growing up in his “hillbilly” family that had migrated from Kentucky to Ohio. He pulls no punches in his personal narrative, and the result is a book that is difficult to put down.

Looking Ahead to 2017

I just started a few books that I won’t finish until after the first of the year. So far, Justin Holcomb’s Know the Creeds and Councils is showing itself to be a great introduction to the controversies of early Christianity and the theological formulations they produced. Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Alan Fuhr’s new book on biblical interpretation, Inductive Bible Study, looks like it will be a helpful resource for helping people understand how to read the Bible. In the first few months of the year, I look forward to reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time as well as The Last Lion, which everyone says is the definitive biography of Winston Churchill.