An annual tradition on my blog – My Top 100 Songs of the Year.

But this year as we wrap up a decade of music I ranked my top 200 favorite songs of the 2010’s.

To further explore amazing music, here are my (946 favorite!) Best Songs from the 2010’s (click “Follow” at the top of Spotify if you want to add any of the playlists to your sidebar of playlists)

Here’s my top 100 from 2019 on Spotify.

Click to play all 200 on Spotify, but here are the top 20 of the decade:

20 Holocene by Bon Iver

19 Get Real Get Right by Sufjan Stevens

18 Retrograde by James Blake

17 The Boulder by Geographer

16 Nancy From Now On by Father John Misty

15 O.N.E. by Yeasayer

14 Hometown by Twenty One Pilots

13 Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear

12 The Gold by Manchester Orchestra

11 Ready to Start by Arcade Fire

10 Beige by Yoke Lore

9 Fountain by iamamiwhoami

8 Obsessions by MARINA

7 Myth by Beach House

6 Wanderlust by Wild Beasts

5 Civilian by Wye Oak

4 Bats In The Attic by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins

3 Conversation 16 by The National

2 Half Gate by Grizzly Bear

1 Madder Red by Yeasayer

My Top Books of 2019

January 3, 2020 — 1 Comment

A key to reading more is to read good books. Good books are hard to put down. The way to find good books? You want book recs from people who read A LOT.

I’d highly recommend all of these books listed below. They’re all good.

Overall, here’s my Top Books I read in 2019:

  1. Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture – Mark Sayers
  2. Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption Through Scripture – Alastair J. Roberts
  3. Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions – Russell Brand
  4. The Burnout Society – Byung-Chul Han
  5. The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less – Barry Schwartz 
  6. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion – Jonathan Haidt
  7. The Second Mountain – David Brooks

And here they are, ranked in order of amazing-ness, by genre (all links are to my full Goodreads review).

Christian Devotional Books

  1. Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture – Mark Sayers
    • Easily my favorite book of 2019.
    • Mark Sayers brings much needed HOPE to the dismal realities of 2019. His most helpful insight: that times of crisis are actually opportunities for God to move in revival.
    • Sayers combines a broad understanding of modern times with a historical pattern of how revivals happen.
    • He thinks 2019 is primed for revival: “history shows it’s precisely at moments like this—when the church appears to be sliding into unalterable decline, when culture is shaken by upheaval, when the world globalizes, opening up new frontiers & fostering chaos/change—that God moves again”
  2. Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption Through Scripture – Alastair J. Roberts
    • Do you want the Old Testament to come alive? Read Echoes of Exodus. The idea is simple- the Exodus story is the key to understanding the Old Testament, even the whole Bible.
    • Roberts takes top shelf, profound thinking & puts it on the bottom shelf. A short book with poetic prose- each sentence packed with insight. He communicates more in 176pgs than most books do in 700.
  3. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion – N.T. Wright
    • What a challenging book. This is the first NT Wright book I’ve ever read and boy did I enjoy him. I now want to read every book he’s written. 
  4. A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story – Michael W. Goheen
    • My favorite type of book – an expert who has done a TON of reading, synthesizes and organizes all his learnings into a cohesive, accessible book (it would take you decades to read all the books that Goheen cites- 622 endnotes in a 226 page book!).
    • Goheen’s book will help you read your Bible better.
      “Mission is . . . a major key that unlocks the whole grand narrative of the canon of Scripture.”
  5. Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing – Andy Crouch
    • Like everything I’ve read by Crouch – profoundly wise.
    • Crouch makes the case that flourishing and abundant life come from the intersection of authority and vulnerability
  6. Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books – Tony Reinke
    • “Reading is a difficult pleasure.”
    • Lit! will make you want to read more and give you practical tips on how to do just that.
  7. Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences – Carey Nieuwhof
    • A great read for middle age ministers (like me!).
    • Worth reading for his chapter on Cynicism:
      • “Cynicism begins not because you don’t care but because you do care. It starts because you poured your heart into something and got little in return.
      • Most cynics are former optimists.
      • Of all people on earth, Christians should be the least cynical. After all, the gospel gives us the greatest reasons to hope.”
  8. The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home – Russell D. Moore
    • “Sometimes people will ask me what I think is the best biblical counsel for parenting. 
    • I choose: ‘For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you’ (2 Chron. 20:12).”

Understanding the Times 

(once again this year, this was my favorite category!)

  1. Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions – Russell Brand
    • Recovery is a vulgar, brutally honest, modern day Ecclesiastes; with Brand, a self-described “half-wit King Solomon”.
    • Drugs, alcohol, sex, fame, fortune- Brand tried it all and found it wanting.
    • Brilliantly insightful into the human condition and very helpful re how to escape the bondage of desire.
    • Fair warning: TONS of cuss words!
  2. The Burnout Society – Byung-Chul Han
    • Crazy insightful. Really difficult 70 page read if you’re (like me) not fluent in psychology and philosophy (Nietzsche, Freud; etc).
    • Han’s greatest insight – we are an achievement society. We are on an achievement treadmill “that is generating excessive tiredness and exhaustion” because “the feeling of having achieved a goal never occurs”
    • Anxiety, depression, exhaustion are ALL the flip side of the Achievement coin
  3. The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less – Barry Schwartz
    • This book explains so much of our modern world.
    • We are the most prosperous land that has ever existed, yet Americans are less and less happy.
    • The cause? “The overabundance of choice.” Choices are exhausting and make us less happy.
    • The solution: Limit your options/freedom by living according to rules. Rules are the pathway to freedom.
  4. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion – Jonathan Haidt
    • Haidt wants “to show you that an obsession with righteousness… is the normal human condition…We’re born to be righteous.”
    • Haidt is a lifelong Democrat and Atheist who is VERY fair-minded and unbelievably aligned with Biblical truth.
    • Fascinating book on how people change their mind on two of the most polarizing topics: politics and religion.
    • His conclusion: The main way that we change our minds on moral issues is by interacting with other people that we like.
  5. The Second Mountain – David Brooks
    • Full of wisdom.
    • I read two incredible books in 2019 that portrayed the emptiness of the two ways to pursue life apart from God:
      – Russell Brand pursued pleasure to the nth degree and found it lacking
      – David Brooks pursued achievement in work, succeeded, and found it lacking
    • I think the gospel preached to this generation: Work Is the New God.
      A great antidote is reading Brooks’ The Second Mountain.
    • Worth reading if only for his chapter on his Christian conversion (from secular Judaism). It’s beautiful & profound.
  6. The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism – Carl F.H. Henry
    • Written in 1947 by one of the fathers of Evangelicalism. If we listened to Henry, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today. A call to not divorce Christian belief and ethics.
  7. Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval – Mark Sayers
    • Sayers is brilliant. My goal for 2020= read everything he’s written.
    • The question that Strange Days answers: “Why has the church failed to address the epidemic of anxiety & depression, the distance between the promises of consumer culture and the reality of life, and the emotional fragility/lack of resilience created by the self-esteem ethos?”
  8. The Closing of the American Mind – Allan Bloom
    • Though written in 1987, perfectly applicable to the world/college campus today.
    • I hope to one day have 1/100th the breadth of knowledge of Dr. Bloom. Incredibly helpful for understanding who are the key influencers that shape our current intellectual and cultural landscape. 
    • His call is to lay aside our shallow modern certainty and plunge into the depths of the great thinkers and books that asked the “permanent questions” of life: why am I here, who am I?
  9. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community – Robert D. Putnam
    • Putnam describes the adverse effects of the decline of in-person social interactions in America.
    • Quite repetitive and dry. But there are nuggets of gold. Worth reading simply for the fact that few sociology books are referenced more than Bowling.
    • My favorite review of it: “This one’s a doozie. I don’t recommend it unless you are a naturally optimistic and mentally stable person.” 😂
  10. The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis – Alan Jacobs
    • Very challenging read. Very apropos for 2019.
    • Jacobs brings together the 1943 writings of Christian intellectuals Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil, who “sought both to articulate a sober and reflective critique of their own culture and to outline a plan for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their countries in the post-war world.”

NonFiction

  1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert B. Cialdini
    • Widely regarded as THE book on persuasion. After seeing it on countless “must read” lists, I picked it up.
      It did not disappoint. AND it’s an easy fun read. 
    • Our brains don’t function well with overwhelming input.
      And our modern world has “created an environment so complex we are reverting to animal like instinctual autopilot decisions.” Which is not good. We’re making unthinking decisions.
    • This book will make those techniques visible so you can fight them.
  2. The Lessons of History – Will Durant
    • Packed with pithy wisdom and deep understanding of the human condition.
    • You could either read the Durant’s Pulitzer Prize winning 11 volume ”The Story of Civilization” or you could read this 100 page book that summarizes everything they learned over 50 years of research and writing.
    • This is why we study and learn from history:
      “No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history. ”
  3. American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation – Jon Meacham
    • Fascinating overview of the religious faith of the founding fathers all the way through modern presidents. A very fair and honest look at what they really believed.
  4. The Cross and the Lynching Tree – James H. Cone
    • As you would guess, not an easy book to read. Cone is a controversial theologian but I found it helpful to read outside of my theological persuasion.
    • “The cross helped me to deal with the brutal legacy of the lynching tree, and the lynching tree helped me to understand the tragic meaning of the cross.”
  5. Letter from the Birmingham Jail – Martin Luther King Jr.
    • Every American should be required to read this short book every MLK day.
    • A letter from MLK to white church leaders in the south.
    • Aside from its brilliant content, the letter is a masterpiece of persuasion (especially among believers).
  6. Educated – Tara Westover
  7. Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 – Barbara W. Tuchman
  8. Becoming – Michelle Obama
    • Michelle Obama can WRITE! Fascinating to see the inner workings of the campaign trail and White House.
  9. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism – Doris Kearns Goodwin
    • The early 2000’s is the early 1900’s on steroids: 
      – Overwhelming flood of information 
      – Nonstop pace/noise 
      – Overwhelming/sensationalist news that leaves us sad yet impotent to affect change
    • Great book – just super long (900 pages!)
  10. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI – David Grann
    • Especially interesting if you live in or near Oklahoma.
  11. Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
  12. How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
    • Brilliant insight mixed in with LOTS of boring stories.
    • I typically despise Executive Summaries but this is one book you could probably read the executive summary or the chapter headings and walk away with 90% of the helpful content.
  13. Dare to Lead – Brené Brown

Fiction

  1. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
    • Can’t recommend this book enough. It is good on so many levels:
      1. It changed the world. When President Lincoln met Stowe, he remarked: “So you’re the little lady who wrote the book that started this great war!”
      2. It’s a great novel
      3. Stowe powerfully shows both sides of Christianity as it relates to slavery: it’s complicity in slavery (and how that is out of line with true faith) and as the source for emancipation and the brave endurance of countless Christian slaves. Both her villains and her heroes profess Christ. But her villains are sophisticated fools and are shown to be false Christians who have a superficial knowledge of the Bible. Her heroes are unsophisticated, brave, sacrificial and true followers of Christ who are rooted in the Bible and compelled by a deep faith in a just and merciful God.
  2. The Three-Body Problem – Liu Cixin
    • This is the Harry Potter of China- VERY popular. It’s super nerdy. But a great story and actually very spiritual (shocking as it was written by a Chinese and translated to English).
  3. The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
    • Like Uncle Tom’s Cabin- a book that shows the power of the pen.
    • Teddy Roosevelt read The Jungle and made sweeping changes to improve life for millions of suffering workers. 
    • As a Christian, one thing that stood out to me is how churches failed to lead the way in fighting inhumane conditions for immigrants.
    • In The Jungle, Socialism is man’s only hope with the church nowhere to be seen.
  4. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
    • Another searing critique of Christianity – how imperialistic Christian missionaries rip apart the family structure of an African village (though the village is rooted in witchcraft and abusive patriarchy). It’s a tragic story and great novel.
  5. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
    • Inspiring and really dark. A father and son trying to survive (and do good) in an apocalyptic world of bad people. “This is what the good guys do. They keep trying. They don’t give up.”
  6. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    • Eye opening account of the life of an African immigrant in America. Full of insight on race in America.
    • This one makes an especially good audiobook because of all the African accents.
  7. A Study in Scarlet and the Sign of the Four (Sherlock Holmes,1 & 2) – Arthur Conan Doyle
    • First time reading Sherlock Holmes and loved him. Full of so many good quotes:
    • “I cannot live without brain work! What else is there to live for?”
    • “The proper study of man is man”
    • “From long habit the thought came to me instantly”

Would love to hear from you – what were your favorite books you read in 2019?

[warning: if you haven’t seen Frozen 2 yet, there are minor spoilers ahead]

As I watched Frozen 2 at the theater with my kids this week, it struck me that the movie is 100% about GenZ decision making.

Frozen 1 was a frozen winter. Frozen 2 is about autumnal change- the changing, swirling leaves are a key metaphor throughout.

This review is spot on:

Frozen 2 explores what it means to grow up & take responsibility. It’s essentially ‘Adulting Is Hard: The Movie’

Each of the main characters are trying to find their way, wrestling with, in Olaf’s words: “the ever-increasing complexity of thought that comes with maturity.”

Elsa sings about stepping boldly “Into the Unknown.”

Holding a leaf, Olaf contemplates mortality and change, and with perfect faux-certainty asserts “This will all make sense when I’m older.”

Growing up means adapting

Puzzling at your world and your place

When I’m more mature I’ll feel totally secure

See, that will all make sense when I am older

So there’s no need to be terrified or tense

I’ll just dream about a time

When I’m in my age of prime

‘Cause when you’re older

Absolutely everything makes sense

This is fine.

Olaf is Sancho Panza – the wise fool.

Ivana Righter nails it in her article: In ‘Frozen 2’, Olaf Is Having An Existential Crisis.

“Olaf is grappling with the fact that he is growing up and he feels he has so much more to learn about the world around him. He’s getting spun around hectically…from one existential question to the next: What happens when we die? What is our purpose? How do we know when we are grown?”

Kristoff and his reindeer ensemble belt out the wonderful 80’s hair ballad song ‘Lost in the Woods’.

And Anna goes full-emo singing: 

“I can’t find my direction, 

I’m all alone

You are lost, 

hope is gone

Hello, darkness 

I’m ready to succumb”

Each character is lost and seeking to find the way.

What decision making advice does Frozen 2 offer?
It’s a mixed bag:

  • Of course, the main idea is: look inside yourself and be true to yourself.
  • But there’s glimmers of wisdom:
    • The solid foundation of agape love and lasting relationships- 
      • In a changing world, Olaf asks Anna: “do you ever worry about the notion that nothing is permanent?”
      • Is there anything solid on which to build a life? Or is it all fleeting? Are we all a mist?
      • Olaf finds his own answer: love.
    • In a chaotic world beyond your control, take responsibility for what you CAN control (very Jordan Peterson-esque!):
      • In the midst of a crisis, Kristoff asks: “Are you okay, Olaf?”
      • Olaf responds: “Yah, we call this making the best out of what we can control!”
    • Similarly, Anna gives perhaps the best advice in “Do the next right thing”

So I’ll walk through this night

Stumbling blindly toward the light

And do the next right thing

And with the dawn, what comes then

When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again?

Then I’ll make the choice

To hear that voice

And do the next right thing?

But there is a glaring hole in Frozen 2’s decision making advice: What is this “light”? Which “voice” am I heeding? What is my telos (the end toward which I am stumbling)?

“Do the Next Right Thing” is great advice if you have a true North Star. But with nothing to aim for, it is a crushing weight. 

Having to figure out life on their own, with no help- that’s a major reason young people are so anxious. Os Guinness calls it “the terrible freedom to be whatever we want to be.” 

Guinness continues:

“Have you determined your purpose is something you must figure out yourself & accomplish all on your own? …all it takes is courage and willpower [to] ‘follow your dreams’ [and] ‘if you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything.’
Humanness is a response to God’s calling. This is far deeper than the exhortation to write your own script for life. Responding to the call requires courage, but we are not purely on our own. The challenge is not solely up to us. Unsure of ourselves, we are sure of God.” – The Call

Now THAT is good decision making advice.

My Top Books of 2018

January 26, 2019 — 2 Comments

I’m a book pusher. If I’m around you for more than 5 minutes, I will probably recommend a book to you. I can’t help it. I really think reading might be the antidote to much of what ails us as a society.

In our distracted age, book readers almost possess superhuman ability- the ability to think deeply.

The classic dystopian book Fahrenheit 451 ends with a tiny glimmer of hope: a small band of apocalypse survivors, huddled around a fire quoting memorized books (including Bible passages!). They are the hope of the world.

“Reading forms us. Just as water, over a long period of time, reshapes the land through which it runs, so too we are formed by the habit of reading good books well.”

Karen Prior – On Reading Well

Overall, here’s my Top 5 books I read in 2018:

  1. 12 Rules for Life – Jordan B. Peterson
  2. The Next Evangelicalism – Soong-Chan Rah
  3. Disruptive Witness – Alan Noble
  4. Letters to the Church – Francis Chan
  5. Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds – Jen Wilkin

I’m constantly on the lookout for book recommendations from friends who read a lot. I get to benefit as they filter out the best of the best for me to read. So in the spirit of “do unto others” I typed up my favorite books I read this past year. I read 100 books in 2018 and these were the very best.

I thought it would be helpful to rank them by genre (so if you’re looking for a good fiction book, you can skip down to Fiction).

So here they are, ranked in order of amazing-ness.

Christian Devotional Books

  1. Letters to the Church – Francis Chan
    • As you would expect, Francis Chan does not hold back in this scathing critique of American churches. If you want your view of the sacredness of the church elevated & challenged, read.
    • “As I examine the state of the Church I can’t help but think that God is displeased w many of the churches in America”
    • “Is there ever a point when a church is no longer a church? Just because you walk into a building with the word ‘Church’ painted on a sign doesn’t mean God see it as an actual church”
    • “By catering our worship to the worshippers and not to the Object of our worship, I fear we have created human-centered churches.”
  2. Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds – Jen Wilkin
    • Clear, concise and visionary. Nevermind the title – wonderful book for both men and women. Wilkin makes a strong case for the need for Biblical literacy: to raise up students who know how to study God’s Word for themselves.
    • “We must learn to study in such a way that we are not just absorbing the insights of another, but are actually being equipped to interpret and apply Scripture on our own.” Jen Wilkin will teach you how to do just that.
  3. The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life – Os Guinness
    • You get more than you bargained for with this book. I picked up Guinness’s book on a whim- to read more on decision making/career. And ended up getting a lesson on the fall of Western Civilization and how calling is the answer. Os is brimming with wisdom. Though written before Dreher’s Benedict Option, I found it to be a helpful counterpoint. I agree w Dreher re prescription but Guinness is closer to the cure. (click to read my full Goodreads review)
  4. Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics – John Murray
    • JI Packer calls him one of “the best Reformed theologians of our time” and Principles of Conduct “Murray’s masterpiece” in which Murray ties together the law of God and the grace of God.
  5. Religious Affections – Jonathan Edwards
    • Most difficult book I read all year. Edwards is notoriously long-winded and punctuation averse. But taken in small doses, every morning as part of your Quiet Time, totally worth the effort.
    • Edwards makes some very challenging claims (essentially: You’re not saved if you are not passionate. You’re not saved if you’re not growing in the fruits of the spirit). But they are hard to argue with because of the flood of Bible verses Edwards uses as proofs.
    • He’s not merely stating his opinion. He’s attempting to make sense of the torrent of Scripture that cuts against modern easy-belief-ism. He’s saying: let’s look at Scripture and try to make sense of this flood of difficult teachings. Lets emphasize the things that Scripture emphasizes. “To insist very little on those things on which the Scripture insists much, is a dangerous thing.”
  6. Commentary on Galatians – Martin Luther
    • I’ve heard it said that this is the greatest commentary ever written. It’s surprisingly readable. Especially great paired with Keller’s Galatians commentary.
  7. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just – Tim Keller
  8. Galatians for You – Timothy J. Keller

Understanding the Times 

(my favorite category of 2018!)

  1. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos – Jordan B. Peterson
    • Most thought provoking book I’ve read in a long time. This one book set the course for my reading for 2018.
    • In 12 Rules, Peterson is essentially asking -“How can one live the good life?” Jordan Peterson gets so much right. SO much. In his words:
      • We all fall short of the glory of God
      • We have missed the mark because of original sin
      • And the goal is to get back to walking with God
    • What do we do with our falling short? Dr. Peterson’s answer is “grow the hell up.” He is unable to see grace.
    • The foreword by Dr. Norman Doidge ends on this intriguing note: “Perhaps, as unfamiliar and strange as it sounds, in the deepest part of our psyche, we all want to be judged.”
    • read my full GoodReads review here
  2. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business – Neil Postman
    • Written in 1985, Amusing could not be more relevant to 2018 and humankind’s endless appetite for distraction. I read two more Postman books in 2018 after reading Amusing because I was so taken by his ability to make sense of vast amounts of history- to explain how (and why) we got to now, especially as it relates to technology. I wish he were alive to explicate our modern iPhone epidemic.
    • Postman explains so much of our world- how technology affects our ability to think, and the resulting effects: anxiety and outrage (instead of reasoned discourse).
    • Postman puts into words what many of us feel – the glut of information causes anxiety, incoherence, and impotence. In the place of meaning, technology gives us amusement. 
    • read my full GoodReads review here
  3. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood – Trevor Noah
    • My favorite audiobook of all time. Noah is phenomenally gifted with accents. Not too many books out there like this that could be marketed with “have fun while you learn about systemic racism!” [language warning!]
  4. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical – Tim Keller
    • This summer I watched in amazement Tim Keller’s speech at the British Parliament on what Christianity offers British society. Well worth 25 minutes of your time- Tim Keller winsomely explains how western civilization and human rights are 100% based on Christianity and the Bible.
    • I texted a friend – “If he could turn that 25 minute talk into a book…THAT would be the book we need.”
    • I had already purchased Making Sense of God by Tim Keller but it was just collecting digital dust in my Kindle library.
    • In mid-fall, on a whim, I finally started to read it.
    • I immediately texted my friend: “I just started it, but I think Keller’s Making Sense of God might be the book I’m looking for.”
    • Making Sense of God explains the chaos of 2018.
  5. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains – Nicholas Carr
    • “We program our computers and thereafter they program us.”
    • This book is packed with wisdom and insight. It’s worth the price of the book for Carr’s insights on how we learn: how our brains retain information and are reprogrammed, comparing it to filling a bathtub with a thimble.
    • “When we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can transfer, thimbleful by thimbleful, into long-term memory & forge the rich associations essential to the creation of schemas [complex, “thick” understanding].
    • Technology’s “frequent interruptions”, on the other hand, “scatter our thoughts, weaken our memory, and make us tense and anxious”. 
  6. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure – Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
    • As a parent of three teens and a college minister, this book made sense of what I’d seen but couldn’t put my finger on.
    • Seeking to answer: why are today’s college students so fragile, the authors discover that much of the blame lies with over-protective parents.
  7. iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us – Jean M. Twenge
    • Researcher and professor Dr. Jean Twenge has done extensive research on this generation of college students and found that there is just one activity that is significantly correlated with anxiety, loneliness, and depression: Screen Time (and girls are more affected by this than boys).
    • This book seems to be THE go-to book on GenZ that other books reference).
    • “There is a simple, free way to improve mental health: put down the phone, and do something else.”
  8. On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books – Karen Swallow Prior
    • On Reading Well is a slow read. Very dense and literary- making me exercise different mental muscles. But Dr. Prior is incredibly wise. The introduction (on the power of reading) is worth the price of the book.
  9. The Disappearance of Childhood – Neil Postman
    • “The printing press created childhood” and technology is now “disappearing” it.
    • I’m a sucker for “how we got to now” books and Postman is the best- incredible historical overview of the origins of childhood, education, and literacy. Postman says we “must conceive of parenting as an act of rebellion against culture.” How to resist? Stay married. Limit kid’s technology exposure.
  10. How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture – Francis A. Schaeffer
  11. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology – Neil Postman
  12. The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia – Masha Gessen
    • Fascinating book. But as one reviewer commented “its fundamental problem is that it seems to go on almost endlessly like Russia itself!” If it were 200 pages shorter I’d be recommending it to everyone. The last 1/3 of the book was a slog, strangely veering into a detailed history of LGBTQ rights in Russia (or lack thereof). Read the first 2/3 of the book – incredible insights into why the Russian people crave strong leaders.

Ministry/Leadership

  1. The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity – Soong-Chan Rah
    • Dr. Rah makes a compelling case that the future of Christianity in America rests on the shoulders of immigrants and ethnic minority leaders.
    • A few key takeaways:
      • “Contrary to popular opinion, the church is not dying in America; it is alive and well, but it is alive & well among the immigrant & ethnic minority communities”
      • Multiracial Americans will lead the 21st century American church
      • The flood of immigrants in the past few decades has been a God-ordained action to save the American church (click to read my full goodreads review)
  2. Disruptive Witness – Alan Noble
    • This fall, Tim Keller tweeted re Disruptive Witness: “Best book I’ve read recently. No, I did not get paid, nor was I contacted to say that. I mean it.”
    • It’s that good. This book is a must read for anyone doing ministry in America, especially for those working with young people.
    • Alan Noble is the first I’ve seen to address both phones and secularism.
    • “distraction & secularism…perpetuate each other: we long for distraction in part because we are terrified of living in a meaningless world, & we struggle to discover a satisfying sense of fullness in the world because we’re constantly distracted” (full GoodReads review)
  3. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones – James Clear
    • We are what we repeatedly do. Atomics habits gives very practical ways to make small changes that will yield big results.
    • “If you want to predict where you’ll end up in life, [just] follow the curve of tiny gains/losses…how your daily choices will compound 10 years down the line. Are you spending less than you earn each month? Are you reading books & learning something new each day?”
  4. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win – Jocko Willink
    • Best book on leadership I’ve read in a long time. Makes for a great audiobook (because Jocko sounds just like you think a Navy Seal named Jocko would sound like).
  5. Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles: A Case for Gender Roles in Ministry – Kathy Keller
  6. Giving up Control: Why movements are preferable to revivals – A.J. DeJonge
  7. White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White – Daniel Hill
  8. Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America – Michael O. Emerson
  9. The Minority Experience: Navigating Emotional and Organizational Realities – Adrian Pei

Historical

  1. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl
    • Profound book that chronicles Frankl’s time in a concentration camp and his attempt to unravel what caused some people to survive and others to give up hope. He finds: man has to have meaning and purpose.
    • “The meaning of life is to be found outside of man. Man is not a closed system”
    • “The key to overcoming anxiety…is to lose one’s self in a mission outside of oneself”
  2. The Hiding Place: The Triumphant True Story of Corrie Ten Boom
    • Truly unbelievable courage and faith. Incredibly inspiring.
  3. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History – S.C. Gwynne
    • Fascinating and sad story of the Old West (I found it more balanced than “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”. Especially interesting for those who have lived in Dallas or West Texas as much of the book takes place in North Texas.
  4. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation – Joseph J. Ellis
    • This Pulitzer Prize winning book is one of my favorite historical nonfiction books of all time. My favorite type of book – where the author puts in the work to comb through vast amounts of research to present a short, insightful summary.
    • I hadn’t read it in years, and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting it. (my full GoodReads review)
  5. I Am a Man/Survival in Auschwitz – Primo Levi
  6. The Guns of August – Barbara W. Tuchman
    • Pulitzer-prize winning book that many would say is the greatest WWI book written.
  7. Night- Elie Wiesel
    • a haunting, sometimes poetic survivor’s account of the Holocaust)
  8. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order – Samuel P. Huntington
    • This is a top book that “Ivy League students are reading that you aren’t”. Written in the 90’s, Huntington brilliantly predicts the the rise of China and the colliding world views that led to 9/11. Fascinating though WAY longer than it needed to be.
  9. Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin – Hampton Sides
  10. Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival – Peter Stark

Fiction

  1. Fahrenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
    • Aside from the Harry Potter series, maybe my all-time favorite fiction book
  2. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  3. Animal Farm – George Orwell
    • Funny and incredibly insightful. Though written before Mao’s rise in China, this book reads like a history of Communist China.
  4. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  5. Gilead (Gilead, #1) – Marilynne Robinson
  6. Frankenstein – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
    • A tough read. But man, does it stick with you. I think of this book often.
    • Shelley wrote this book when she was TWENTY-ONE! At 21 she was far more literate and erudite than I will ever be.
  7. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
    • A familiar story but incredibly insightful re human nature. It’s a vivid depiction of Romans 7-8. What if we could simply split off our sinful nature (into a separate person) and just keep the “good” part of us?
  8. The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
    • This book proves the potency of novels. Thomas is not saying anything new but it’s hitting a far broader audience that may not take the time to read Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ralph Ellison, Isabel Wilkerson, or Bryan Stevenson.
  9. The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

Would love to hear from you – what were your favorite books you read in 2018?

Good Clean Fun 2018

August 14, 2018 — 2 Comments

What’s the first thing students encounter when they come to your event? The music that you’re playing. The problem – finding good music that’s not explicit.

So here’s a Good Clean Fun Spotify playlist.

Full of upbeat, fun songs that are clean and that appeal to an ethnically diverse college student audience.

It’s a mix of Christian rap, dance, popular music, indie rock, and a handful of songs in Spanish. I double checked lyrics for all of them (even the Spanish songs!) and there’s no sexual stuff, cussing (there are some songs labeled explicit, but I assure you they are clean; sometimes whole albums are labeled explicit while individual songs are fine), no taking the Lord’s name in vain (i.e. – “oh my g__d”; I’m looking at you Taylor Swift – Shake it Off), etc.

We use this playlist at our Cru (Fort Worth) Winter Conference, Cookouts, and Weekly Meetings.

Play them in order, just hit shuffle, or drag songs over to new playlists you are making.

Within Spotify, click “Follow” to add it to your sidebar of playlists.

Would love to hear if you have upbeat, clean songs that you like that didn’t make the list!

When it comes to the fall in college ministry, as Paul Worcester has said – It’s All About the Contacts!

Because of that, a lot of thought and time has gone into crafting a perfect spiritual interest survey: how to throw the net broadly but not so broadly so as to become useless.

We aim to survey about 3,000 students in the first two days of school.

The problem we run into, with our team of 4 staff and several dozen student leaders= we can’t get to all 3,000 contacts immediately.

A good survey can go a long way to helping you filter through thousands of contacts and find the students who are most spiritually interested.

For our campus – we are aiming to follow up with spiritually interested non-Christians. On a campus in the buckle of the Bible belt, that can be a bit of a challenge.

Here’s our card (here’s the photoshop-editable pdf file so you can edit it and make it your own; after you download it, right click and select “open with Photoshop”):

We will text all students who indicated interest (a ‘maybe’ or ‘yes’ on their card).

But we want to get face to face with all 3-‘maybes’. Why? Because those are typically spiritually interested non-Christians. We took off “Maybe” for years. But recently put it back on to try to hit that spiritually-indecisive-but-curious student.

A couple years ago we ditched “email” and “dorm address” – both came across creepy. And we never email anyway.

 

At Cleveland Cru, Brian Metzer and his team recently changed their survey:

We simplified our survey a lot. We wanted to be less “survey-y,” more “we’d like to get to know you,” more positive filtering, less transactional, and tell us less so we went in with fewer preconceived ideas on the first appt.

Did you see an increase in the number of follow up appts?

About the same, and maybe even a little less. But qualitatively better. The non-believers we met with were more open. It felt less like we were tricking people into an appt. and we could genuinely get to know them. This also meant that we felt more likelihood of connecting again so less pressure to push ahead through the gospel on the first (and only) appt.

I think our goal shifted too. In our metro context [city-wide; focused on multiple campuses] we needed to surface not just people to meet with but hungry people to meet with. This has helped.

Cleveland Cru’s Survey:

At Michigan Cru, they’ve made some contextualized adaptations to their survey:

This is our card for Fraternity Pledge talks:

Katie Smith (Cru Team Leader in Eastern Iowa) on one change they’re making this year:

We are adding a place for their Snapchat username (student leaders said students are more quick to give that out & to respond that way for follow up – it’ll be the first time trying it, so we’ll see how it works!)

On a similar topic- on the Collegiate Collective discussion on Facebook (highly recommend joining that group, btw), someone asked what methods of communication students prefer. In these college ministers’s (very reputable) opinions:

  • not email
  • text is still king for reaching new people
  • snapchat and instagram for ministry-wide communication
  • groupme for internal communication with leaders

We have found all of that to be true on our campus.

The main idea from all these surveys:

  • Tailor your survey for the
    • audience you are trying to reach. Is it predominantly secular? Bible belt?
    • how many people you want to meet with. Do you want a really tight filter because you don’t have the capacity to follow up that many people (you just want to meet face to face with the “fish ready to jump in the boat”?) Or do you want a really broad filter that will leave the door open for you to contact as many people as possible?

Would love to see what surveys your team uses – link to them in the comments!

It’s Harvest Time

August 9, 2018 — Leave a comment

As we head into the most critical weeks in college ministry – the first few weeks of the fall – this is great to read and discuss with your team.

We all have a vague awareness that Harvest Time is a critical period in farming. But what exactly does it entail?

Here are two snapshots of the importance and urgency of harvest season in modern farming communities:

Day in the Life of Harvest, Perspective of a Farm Wife

We can’t harvest when it’s still dewy and moist outside, because wet crops clog the equipment, so our day usually begins around 8 or 8:30 in the morning.

We take that time to fuel up the trucks and harvest equipment, making sure everything is in the right place. Once we start each day, we work as long as we can.

Most days, that means people are in combines and trucks until as late as midnight. We keep a healthy stock of energy drinks on hand to help keep our team motivated and alert.

During harvest, we have come to expect the unexpected. We are running combines with thousands of moving parts. Breakdowns and replacements are expected. And even though we expect them to happen, they can sometimes be a big deal.

Harvest is a special time of year for us. It’s our main project where we get to see all the work we did up to that point. We also get our one paycheck, so it’s a really big deal.

What parallels do you see to college ministry?

WHY DOES HARVEST HAPPEN SO FAST?

It seems like farmers are in a race to get harvest finished. You might hear about farmers working from dawn until well after sunset – sometimes working 18 hour days or longer – to get their crops harvested. Why does harvest happen so fast?

 

Everything sort of shuts down in rural America during harvest season. [There’s still counties in America that call off school for the weeks of harvest – in one county in Maine, schools are closed Sept. 21 until Oct. 10.]

But what’s the big rush? THE CROPS ARE READY

Farmers wait until their crops reach a certain stage of dryness to harvest them. This means that moisture content inside the corn kernel or soybean (or any other crop like wheat, canola, or sunflowers) has to be just right – low enough, but not too low. Farmers are watching and waiting for these plants to be dry enough before they harvest them.

 

If soybean plants get too dry, there can be big problems. The bean pods can open and the soybeans will fall out onto the ground. Have you ever tried to pick popcorn kernels out of your carpet? That’s what it’s like when soybeans fall onto the ground… except the soybeans are well-camouflaged against the dirt. Which means that they are lost. If the pods do stay closed, the beans can get so dry that they shatter into tiny pieces when they are harvested. Those pieces are lost, as well.

 

Farmers have a very small window when they can harvest their crops. When the plants say they are ready and the weather is cooperating, it’s time to go, no matter what else is going on.

Again- What similarities do you see to the first weeks of the fall in college ministry?

Paul Worcester sums it up well in his 2014 article on CampusMinistryToday.org:

Every year countless new students flood onto college campuses. Proverbs 10:5 says,“A wise youth harvests in the summer, but one who sleeps during the harvest is a disgrace.” College ministry has very clear seasons; the beginning of each semester is harvest time. It’s not time to work on your support raising. It’s not time to catch up on your reading. Eternity is hanging in the balance. It’s not time to find a balance in your schedule. There’s a field of new students waiting to be harvested. Will you harvest them? Or will you sleep through it?

For decades, Cru’s mission has been “Turning lost students into Christ centered laborers.”

Our mantra has been “Win/Build/Send”. The reason I have remained on campus for 20 years is because I want to send laborers to the harvest.

But over the last few years I have been convicted that on our campus, our Cru movement could more accurately be described as “Gather/Build/Keep”

Our campus is solidly in the Bible Belt. It’s easy to find kids who grew up in solid churches. We can have a good size movement ministry by “Gather/Build/Keep”.

 

But that is not why I am on the college campus. I am on campus to send laborers.

 

And here’s the issue:
“People reproduce what they have experienced.” Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch – The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church
Students who are pursued and brought to Christ with much persistence, will turn into laborers who pursue with much persistence. Students who get involved because they were looking just to “plug in” somewhere will find it difficult to be persistent pursuers.

 

In other words, many of the most effective Christ-centered laborers start out as really lost freshmen.

 

Steve Shadrach remarked to me that he’s found THE one common element of radical world-changing college movements:
the movement is made up of students who were led to Christ in college. 

 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Cru on my campus – the University of Arkansas. In those five decades God has worked in some incredible ways. There have been seasons of true revival and thousands of laborers have been sent out. No exaggeration – hundreds of churches have been planted as a result of Arkansas Cru alumni. How did those revivals happen?
In the late 60’s and early 70’s when Cru began at the U of A, revival swept the campus.
In 1968, 2 Cru staff, Don and Sally Meredith, launched the ministry. Sally recounts: “It was in the turbulent sixties and the days of ‘God is dead’ philosophy. He proved soooooo alive.” That year they saw 4 students get involved and go with them on a summer mission with Cru.

 

One year later, they brought 200 students with them to the summer mission – the vast majority of those 200 had just trusted Christ.
Yesterday I spoke to a lady who was involved with Cru at Arkansas in the early 70’s – her comment: “It was really amazing – none of us came from Christian homes. Everyone involved with Campus Crusade became Christians in college.”

 

In the early 80’s, revival swept the Arkansas campus again.
This time through University Baptist Church (and what was to become StuMo). I encourage you to read Steve Shadrach’s recounting of that incredible movement of the Spirit. The common thread? They aggressively shared the gospel on campus and the movement was almost completely made up of new converts.
Do you want revival like that on your campus? I believe it begins with aggressively pursuing the lost.

Mark Brown, who was the long time Cru director at Miami (OH), once told me:

“It’s a longer process to turn a self-righteous, youth group all-star into a Christ-centered laborer than it is to turn a totally lost student into a Christ centered laborer.”
So do we not want already-strong Christians involved? Of course we want them involved. But we quickly want to engage them in the mission to show them that they are not involved in a Christian social club but a missional force that is engaged in the great adventure of proclaiming Christ to the nations.

 

What you win them with is what they will win others with. If you’re preaching (by words OR by deeds) “come get involved with us – you will really get poured into and have sweet praise and worship” then you will attract spiritual leeches. If you’re preaching (by words and deeds) “let’s boldly proclaim the gospel to lost students” then you are going to be a movement of world changers.

 

The primary way you preach “come help change the world” is to make your primary activity seeking the lost. Now, I’ve found that even the best of already-solid Christians usually require patient, persistent vision to catch the vision of seeking and saving the lost. It’s worth sticking with them and casting vision to them and continuing to push them to be a bold pursuer. I was one of those “already-solid” incoming freshmen. And I eventually turned into a laborer with a heart for the lost. But I spent many years in college actively trying to avoid sharing my faith! I mostly wanted to gather believers into my Bible study.

 

I have a friend who has labored in Western Europe for over a decade and he shared with me the issue he sees with much of our sending:
We have seen well over 250 students come through our country [on STINT and Summer Missions] but after all these resources, I could hardly get anyone to stay and work longterm. We would get students from these highly successful ministries that can’t cope with ministry…where you have to share your faith all the time.
Here in Europe it is purely a WIN-BUILD-SEND ministry. In America they were successful because you could find-build-send.
For example, we have had multiple students come here and tell me they want to run my weekly meeting. Others who say I want to have a worship ministry. Some say, “my goal is pour my life into 5 men who can multiply themselves”. Our city has 100,000 students and maybe 20 known Christ followers!! Not going to happen.

 

Effective Sending starts with Winning. The most effective Christ-centered laborers will likely start out as really lost freshmen.

 

So the question is: How would our staff and student leaders spend our time if we really believed that Sending starts with Winning?

 

As we as Christians think about where to invest our time and resources, I think these maps are really helpful:

Faithland from VividMaps

NYTimes’s Ross Douthat’s reaction (and Rod Dreher’s response) to that map:

As you might guess, I am with Douthat on this one. Granted, I haven’t read Dreher’s book. But it just doesn’t seem like the early church waited around for the tides of history to turn more favorable.

This second map from VividMaps is less, well, vivid but more helpful as it is just evangelicals (the above map has any religion – Muslim, Mormon, etc.)

I have written before (in 2015) about my organization, Cru, and our allocation of staff vs the need.

As far as solutions to this need, I still agree with my 2015 self –

  • I’m a big fan of empowering leaders by showing them a problem or a need and asking them to be a part of the solution.
  • I would love to see a grassroots movement of college ministries sending to where there is a need. A local-level driven movement where teams sacrificially send to the world and to more needy areas of the country. A mentality of “send first” and trusting God that He’ll provide the staff we need to reach our own campus

 

But I think there may be another component of the solution that my 2015 self couldn’t see: Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, in his book The Next Evangelicalism, makes a compelling case that the future of Christianity in America rests on the shoulders of immigrants and ethnic minority leaders:

White churches [in America] are in decline while the immigrant, ethnic and multiethnic churches are flourishing. Very few have recognized that American Christianity may actually be growing, but in unexpected and surprising ways. Contrary to popular opinion, the church is not dying in America; it is alive and well, but it is alive and well among the immigrant and ethnic minority communities and not among the majority white churches in the United States.

Unless [churches/parachurches] see growth among the ethnic minority population within their [congregation] they will experience steady decline.

Even while we consider the needs of the U.S., we HAVE to keep the bigger picture in mind. God is not America First.

 

The needs of the world dwarf the needs of the U.S. Virtually the whole world is < 5% evangelical (which is < than any part of America).(click to see a larger pdf)

from the IMB

And what of the new reality that the Global South (Africa/S America/Asia) is the New Face of Christianity?

In the year 1900, Europe and North America comprised 82 percent of the world’s Christian population. In 2005, Europe and North America comprised 39 percent of the world’s Christian population with African, Asian and Latin American Christians making up 60 percent of the world’s Christian population. By 2050, African, Asian and Latin American Christians will constitute 71 percent of the world’s Christian population.

The Next Evangelicalism – Dr. Soong-Chan Rah

As we think about where to invest our time and resources, a good bet is on the growth markets:

What do these maps tell you?

 

If you’ve ever tried to make a playlist for a College Ministry meeting, you’ve found that it’s not easy to find fun songs that are clean and that appeal to an ethnically (and spiritually) diverse college student audience.

Notice any pattern in the Top 50 songs?

According to Newsweek’s article How Songs with Explicit Lyrics Came to Dominate the Charts, more than 2/3 of the Top 100 songs in 2017 featured explicit lyrics (interestingly, Spotify is to blame – previously songs were made for radio broadcast and had to be somewhat appropriate). Even among the “non-explicit” songs, it is reported that 92% of the Top 100 songs were sexual in nature.

As I’ve said before: while cool, upbeat music may be #27 on the list of important things about a Christian meeting, it’s important nonetheless.

What’s the first thing students encounter when they come to your meeting? The music that you’re playing before the meeting.

 

So here’s a playlist I call Good Clean Fun.

Within Spotify, click “Follow” to add it to your sidebar of playlists.

Full of upbeat, fun songs that are clean and that appeal to an ethnically diverse college student audience – it’s a mix of Christian rap, dance, popular music, indie rock, and a handful of songs in Spanish. I looked up lyrics for all of them (even the Spanish songs!) and there’s no sexual stuff, cussing, no taking the Lord’s name in vain (i.e. – “oh my g__d”; I’m looking at you Taylor Swift – Shake it Off), etc.

We use this playlist at our Cru (Fort Worth) Winter Conference, Cookouts, and Weekly Meetings.

Play them in order, just hit shuffle, or drag songs over to new playlists you are making.

Would love to hear if you have upbeat, clean songs that you like that didn’t make the list!