Be Picky About Reading

If you don’t get excited about books, you’re reading the wrong ones. That’s why I love a good recommendation list. Someone else already rolled the dice for me to see if a book is worth the time and effort.

So, if you haven’t decided what you’ll be reading next, here are some that paid off:


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The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth

This is a book about why you should watch more television (and how to watch it better). By using modern examples from the screen, Cosper shows us why fiction is never truly fictional.

“We weep when Harry Potter rises from the dead, lifted by a deeper and older magic than even the most powerful wizard in the world can conjure: love. Then the theater lights lift and we return to the harsh daylight of the real world. We can hear these stories of life, death, and resurrection, knowing in our hearts that it really did happen.” [p.196]

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The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students

In the mid 1980’s, Allan Bloom decided that he would write the most prophetic book on American education ever published, then make it as dry as humanly possible. It’s brilliant, pointed, groundbreaking, and excruciatingly slow. But, if you’re a teacher, student, or somewhere in between, it’s a must read.

“There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction: they will be uncomprehending.” [p. 25]

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Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America

Though filled with statistics and extensive research (making it a little tedious at times), Emerson and Smith’s findings revealed my own cultural blind spots in the Bible Belt, and gave tools to engage racial reconciliation realistically.

“White conservative Protestants are significantly less likely to explain racial inequality in structural [or systemic] terms. It [also] appears that they are more individualistic and less structural in their explanations of black-white inequality than other whites…” [p. 96]

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

This is the story of what being a statistic feels like. Studies have shown that growing up in relational and financial poverty has marked much of our society’s unhealth, but Vance’s experience brings it to light in ways that you will identify with and recognize far more than expected.

“Whenever people ask me what I’d most like to change about the white working class, I say, ‘The feeling that our choices don’t matter’.”


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Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

An entire war was fought over the color purple. (Meaning actual human beings died in that last sentence. You read it super fast, but they died super dead. Over the color purple.) Also, chess reshaped most of the class structure of Western Europe. Nobody died but it was still really interesting. Play needn’t be a luxury, but intuitive to create and innovate. We have to turn off that part of us in order to drone through the mundane. I learned all of that and more reading this fun, fascinating book.

“You will find the future wherever people are having the most fun.” [p. 15]

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The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour

If you love boring facts about World War II, run away as fast as you can. This book is better than any thriller movie I’ve ever seen…or even heard of.  The fact that it actually happened is simply a bonus. It’s so good that I don’t have a quote for you because I let someone borrow my copy.


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The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting Things Done

Drucker wrote this in the 1960’s and people are still saying it’s ahead of the times. He was the first to coin the idea of a “knowledge worker.” If you lead in any capacity and haven’t read it, this one’s for you.

“Without an action plan, the executive becomes a prisoner of events. And without check-ins to reexamine the plan as events unfold, the executive has no way of knowing which events really matter and which are only noise.”

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Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

For those of you who have trouble answering the question, “Why exactly do you do what you do?” Take two days and gain Sinek’s insights on how to inspire yourself and those around you by bringing clear purpose to your career.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”


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The Daughter of Time

If Sherlock Holmes were a bit wittier and far more smug, then he would be Josephine Tey. In this 1951 novel, she keeps you enamored with a detective who sits on a hospital bed for 200 pages solving a mystery that happened 600 years ago. There’s a reason she has been called the “Greatest Mystery Writer” by the New York Times.

“The truth of anything at all doesn’t lie in someone’s account of it. It lies in all the small facts of the time. An advertisement in a paper, the sale of a house, the price of a ring.”

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Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians

I’m not going to try to convince you that this is on the same level as Josephine Tey. Read the title and make a judgment call.

“So, when people try to give you some book with a shiny round award on the cover, be kind and gracious, but tell them you don’t read ‘fantasy,’ because you prefer stories that are real. Then come back here and continue your research on the cult of evil Librarians who secretly rule the world.”


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Knowing God

Theology, in it’s purest form, should stir your heart and expand your mind to love Christ more deeply. Packer (a masterful theologian) guides the experience better than almost anyone. It’s practical and approachable. He swims deep but let’s you wear floaties.

“You can have all the right notions [about God] in your head, without ever tasting in your heart the realities to which they refer.”

Whatever you pick this summer, just make sure you pick something. And be picky.

Freedom from Big Foot Christianity

While you’re trying to roll out of bed at 6:30, they’ve been up since 4:00 doing pull-ups in their prayer closets and reciting Psalm 119 in perfect Hebrew. Those sparkly, brilliant, mega-Christians. Don’t they make you feel so small?

The good news is they’re not real.

It’s a conspiracy theory. Big Foot Christianity – the belief that super Christians exists (although no one has seen one in real life). At times, we think every semi-mature Christian is really Big Foot in disguise, but they’re not. They’re just Christians. Faithful and growing and saved-by-grace Christians.

Conspiracy theories and fuzzy pictures of Big Foot breed all sorts of icky stuff in our heads. So let’s confront the theory with reality.

Stop trying to impress Big Foot. I have to remember this every day (even right now). Writing feels a little vulnerable at times and I’d rather not screw it up. There are two options I have when sitting down to write it for you:

  1. Imagine the Big Foot eyes that will peer over my words while conjuring up more sanctified and eloquent thoughts than mine. And try to impress you.(or)
  2. Remember that Big Foot doesn’t exist. Then maybe I can help someone else get over themselves enough to grow closer to Christ today too.

My default is #1. I have to choose to believe #2, and sometimes the transition is tough. It helps to have clear pictures to replace those fuzzy ones. This Scripture does it for me:

1 Corinthians 4:7
For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

Everything we have is a gift. You did not change your own diapers or pay rent in Kindergarten. You weren’t saved in a vacuum either. At some point, a man or woman was brave enough to share the gospel with you. Then somebody else (or more likely several people) showed you truths about Christianity and life and leadership.

Anything valuable you give to others is the result of what you’ve been given. And the wisest, godliest people you know are the products of what they’ve been given. There are no self-made, super Christians.

You don’t have to prove yourself to Big Foot (and you don’t have to be him).

Immunize Against Bruce Wayne Syndrome

Do you secretly believe you’re the strongest link to your organization, church, or team? Good thing they have you, right? If they didn’t, things would implode.

This is early onset Bruce Wayne Syndrome.

For Batman’s alter-ego, a normal day in Gotham City is spent schmoozing with CEO’s and listening to celebrities gab about politics. He puts up with it okay; except on frustrating days. The days when a street cop or two takes a jab at the Dark Knight.  That’s when the Syndrome makes his mind seethe with resentment.

“If you only knew what I’m capable of…” he’d think, as they blabbered on about their opinion.

“If you really knew what I brought to this city, it’d be all you could do not to fall all over me.”

I battle Bruce Wayne Syndrome as well. And anytime the virus seeps into my heart, I inoculate myself with this Scripture before it’s too late.

Romans 12:3
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

When it comes to leading in an organization, two freeing realities emerge from this verse:

  1. Your value is dependent on God’s saving grace as His adopted son/daughter.
  2. Your leadership, while valuable, is also replaceable. (Even if you really are the strongest link)

Meditate on Romans 12:3 until those two things are true in your life. Otherwise, Bruce Wayne Syndrome might send you to the hospital.

For a helpful (and short) book, check out Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.  You can also listen to the audio version in 40 minutes.

You Are Way Stronger than You Realize

The blood pooling on my knuckles helped me forget the knife-like pain stabbing behind both ear drums. Sinus tumors had created so much pressure that they were ready to rupture. All the pain and rage and desperation found their way to my ten-year-old fist as it punched a hole through our fiberglass shower.

After the immediate fear of “Oh shoot, what’s dad gonna say?” wore off, another thought hit as I shook off my hand…

You are way stronger than you realize.

That exact thought rolled back the other day as I was reading Paul’s letter to the Philippian church. From jail, he said

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. Philippians 1:19

He banked his future on two things:

The help of the Holy Spirit


The prayers of Godly people

The little conjunction “and” changed the way I prayed. If you’re in Christ, it should change how you pray for others as well. You’re way stronger than you realize.

Let’s Get Healthy

Be able to pop your pecks like Terry Crews. This single goal drives 99.9% of my weight-lifting routine (that and wanting to be a healthier person I guess).


But, until I’m able to look like a shredded linebacker, there are other ways I measure my physical, emotional and spiritual health. Asking the right questions tend to do the trick. Here are a few I reflect on frequently (and some posts that have helped along the way):

Physical Health

  • Are you getting to the gym regularly each week?
    Can you still hit certain exercise milestones (for me, that means being able to run a mile without stopping to throw up)? If you despise the gym, you’re in good company. I blame the Gym B.R.O.s (and wrote about it here).
  • Are you eating healthy foods?
    And, for those who just read, “Are you eating quinoa and kale salad every meal?” Ron Swanson was right when he said, “That’s food that my food eats.”
    For more on this, check out How I Lost 40lb Eating Fried Chicken.

  • Are you sleeping?
    Although studies show that adults require 7-9 hours of sleep, everyone is different. I’m not like some of you vampires who somehow survive on 4 hours of shuteye in their dusty crypt before flying off. If I’m not getting enough sleep, then my mind is dull, my emotions are haywire, and nobody likes me.
    For more on this, check out When Rest Won’t Come and Practical Rest.

    Psalm 127:2
    It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Emotional Health

  • Do you know what recharges your mind, and do you make time for it?
    Books and fishing and roasting coffee are all a part of what help me “reset.”
    If you need inspiration in this area, check out What Our Hobbies Say About Us.
  • Do you regularly laugh with family and friends over meals?
    Even in times of trial and tears and hard weeks, there can be joy and laughter.

    Proverbs 17:17
    A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Spiritual Health

  • Are you stirred to love and good deeds through God’s Word each day? Or has reading the Bible become a “checklist” item lately?
    Catch the Good Stuff
  • Do you pray often for God to sanctify you and those around you? Or has your prayer life slipped into the “protect them, bless that, let it be a good day, amen” cycle?
    If you need help in this area, check out Do You Pray for Ghost Stories?
  • Are you trusting in God’s goodness and plan no matter what?
    Freedom: Who Do You Trust?
    When God Seems Distant

Wherever you are in the journey, take a step towards health this week!

1 Thessalonians 5:23
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Which Economy Are You Living In?

When I was a kid, our currency was POGS. We’d trade and sell on the market at recess, and it was dog-eat-dog (unless you had a Batman slammer, then you played for keeps).  But we weren’t ruled by a single standard economy. There were always our Beanie Baby investments to fall back on.

The King of the Playground

The King of the Playground

I had Grunt…GRUNT! It was only because mom got him on the front side of the Beanie Baby Bubble™. And like some stupid kid who just wants to play with the toy, I ripped Grunt’s tag off when she brought him home. So, you can imagine the horror I experienced when I found out that there was a new thing called the “internet” where crazy moms were buying Grunt (with the tag) for $250.  “TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS?!” I collapsed in an ocean of tears. In 1994, $250 was Richie-Rich level money…at least to a third grader. I could have sold Grunt and built a roller-coaster in my back yard.


This Grunt belonged to a more fiscally responsible 3rd grader who bought the plastic tag protector. 

About two years later the Beanie Baby Bubble™ burst and now we all have trash bags full of worthless toys (that we secretly hold on to because they will still be worth millions one day).

That’s what’s so interesting about economies. They can collapse overnight – especially when they are built on shaky foundations. In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about two Kingdoms with two very different economies.  One can collapse overnight and the other has outlasted every superpower on Earth.

They are not recognized by their value statements, but by their GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Every economy produces something, and these Kingdoms are no different. According to Jesus, there are two Gross Domestic Products that characterize The Kingdom of the World and The Kingdom of God.



The word “anxiety” is used six times in Matthew 6, then Christ commands us not to be worried about our lives. Most times, we see anxiety as something out of our control, but the Greek word is in the imperative.

“Worry is believing that God won’t get it right, and bitterness is believing He didn’t.” – Tim Keller

Jesus wouldn’t call us to something His Spirit hasn’t empowered us to do. So, if your life is characterized by worry or anxiety right, don’t lose hope.


He said that the eyes are the lamp of the body. If our eyes are healthy, we will be healthy. If our eyes are pursuing darkness, we will be full of darkness. And, when the good things in us are dark…it’s really bad (vs. 22-23). In short, when we seek the Kingdom of the World, our lives produce worry and sin in mass.


That’s the revolutionary economic concept Jesus was teaching. You have exhausting stuff speeding your way, and change happens only when you pursue the right economy.

“But SEEK FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” 



When we value what Heaven values, we will pursue holiness and prayer and people and worship and intimacy with God.


Food, clothing, and money are good things, but, as Jesus said, isn’t life more than these things? When we are pursuing the Kingdom of God first, then He brings our finances and relationships and physical needs into harmony with His will.

Jesus’ message is not “STAY AWAY FROM THESE THINGS!” Instead it’s, “PURSUE THIS THING.” When we are pursuing the Kingdom of God, we are naturally going to steer away from sin and worry. So, if you feel driven those things, maybe it’s because you are not seeking the Kingdom first today.

Every morning you and I are faced with the choice of the two Kingdoms, and our lives’ GDP will reflect that decision. If you’re like me, some days I choose wrongly and it catches up fast. That’s when I run to Matthew 6:33, repent, and remember the millions of Beanie Babies sitting in dumpsters.

A Little Faith is Enough Faith

If your faith has never been body-slammed, I doubt you’ve been a Christian long. But my guess is you probably know what it feels like to be gasping for air while lying face first in the ring.

I used to dread those days and, like some rookie boxer, tried desperately to dodge them. But no matter how much I ducked, life consistently found a way to jab the air out of my rib cage and send me to the mat. I would proceed to heap shame on my already fatigued body:

“Christians over the centuries suffered far worse, you little baby. Get over it.”

The fact that it was (partly) true didn’t stop the spasms in my lungs or the ringing in my ears. Condemnation rarely does. What eventually gave me hope in those moments was the response of Jesus to His weak-faithed disciples in Luke 17.

It would seem to me that if anyone had reasons to believe the things Jesus said, it would be His disciples.  Healing blind people is pretty convincing in my book. Yet there they were fighting with doubt – boxing and wrestling their way through most of Palestine. Finally, one day…

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:5-6

Now, from my understanding of the Gospel accounts, Jesus was never (ever) hesitant about rebuking unbelief in the people of Israel, but something different happens here. If this was a rebuke at all, the tone was shockingly soft. The apostles were quite aware of their lack of faith (that’s why they asked for more).

Jesus didn’t face palm Himself like I would have. Remember, He fed a stadium’s worth of people with a Happy Meal’s worth of food, and it wasn’t even the coolest miracle He did. How much more evidence did those guys need?

But, then again, I’ve heard stories of miraculous healings in my lifetime. I’ve lived in moments that could not be explained apart from the providence of God, and, like the apostles, can still get blindsided with unbelief in times of weakness or tribulation. The difference now is that I can hear the voice of Jesus as He picks me up, pops my shoulder back in place, and repeats Luke 17, “A little faith is enough faith.”  And I keep walking forward.

There were people who saw mind-blowing things, but walked away from Him entirely. So, what separated those guys from Peter, James, and John?  The apostles had faith. Sometimes it was itty-bitty, wimpy-looking faith, but it was enough.

After the deserters took off, Jesus looked at the twelve and asked, “Do you want to leave too?” Then Peter replied something that I have quoted many times as I stumbled back to my feet,

“Lord, where else are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:68-69

Life can dislocate your jaw and send you spinning to the mat some weeks. Peter knew the taste of that floor well. He also had little faith in those days, but a little faith was enough.

The Art of Strategic Disregard 

Learning when to neglect your to-do list may be what separates the fulfilled from those who crash into a million pieces. And I love to-do lists. Love them. Uptight wedding coordinators would drool over my to-do lists. I have an entire program on my computer devoted to organizing and prioritizing my year. For some, the lists are color-coordinated and systematized whereas others are playing on a mental loop in the background.

Mine almost killed me.

There was never enough time in the day to get everything done, and I found there wasn’t a “work-home” switch in my brain I could flip on-and-off after 5PM. So, work won. The to-do list followed me through the front door, to the dinner table, and on into the night. Though I was physically sitting beside my son as he built a Lego tower, my mind was off solving another problem or thinking of ways to make an idea better.

Fear of failing to complete the list fueled the motorcycle I was driving towards that wall. Faster and faster and faster it went until I smashed into a million pieces. At that point, I knew something had to change, and it wasn’t a “practical” fix. Like I said, my organizational skills were superb. I had scheduled my burnout down to the nanosecond.

Here’s what I learned: My schedule was not the problem. It was a heart issue.

The noise quieted when I started believing that my value as a husband, father, and pastor really were dependent on what God thought of me. If He was proud and pleased, that was enough (even when there were checkboxes left unmarked on my list).

“Your to-do list needs to be less about what needs to get done, and more about who you want to become.”

 – Bill Hybels

Whether you are an OCD calendar-keeper or a shoot-from-the-hip sort of planner, God wants you to do one thing: Be conformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29, 1 Thessalonians 4:3). 

Does your work-life look more like Jesus today than yesterday? Are you working excellently as to the Lord and not for men? If you have a family, do your children and spouse experience the aroma of Christ because of you? Are you present with them?  

I knew something dramatic had happened in my life when a friend asked me, “so, what are you planning on working on this week?” … and I couldn’t remember. It was sitting in my to-do list, waiting for Monday morning. But this was Saturday (and my son is three for only fifty-two Saturdays). Whatever problems that needed solving could wait.

I still love my to-do list (the program is called Priority Matrix…and it’s the greatest). It keeps me focused and allows me to check out when I go home. But clicking off the boxes doesn’t increase my value as a person or leader. It’s made to be neglected – so I can focus on what matters most. 

Are You Chasing the Wind?

I am an avid student of mid-life crises. The similarity of each one is fascinating (and terrifying the more gray hair I find in the mirror). Most happen when someone becomes afraid their life won’t matter, or they’ve somehow missed out.

They haven’t ridden a bull down Mount Everest or fallen into a public fountain while making out with their significant other. And there isn’t a string of educated letters after their name (it’s not even a well-known name at all).

But can you fault them? They just want to live an adventure. Yet that’s exactly where the problem lies – they don’t know what it means to live an adventure. In their minds, adventure looks a lot like a sexy, action movie filled with fast-paced cities or rugged mountains. Whatever it is, it’s certainly a far cry from their hum-drum soccer schedule work week. So, they freak out one day and do all sorts of silly (or harmful) things.

Though that day is fast-approaching, I have a plan for stopping it before I buy shark diving lessons in Fiji. Success isn’t waiting for me in Fiji anyway.

Adventure happens when I choose faithfulness, wisely, every day.

Lest you think that sounds too boring and over-spiritual, the most exciting lives I’ve ever heard of followed that principle; successful men and women who took risks that mattered. Success doesn’t pit goals against godliness. It just has the right perspective of career, family, money, and eternity.

Ecclesiastes 1:14
I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

Although we don’t know who wrote this (he is referred to only as “Preacher”), many think it was King Solomon or someone much like him; a man with extraordinary wisdom and wealth who had access to every network, business venture, and pleasure available at the time. Whoever it was, he had seen it all and called it “wind-chasing.” Super encouraging, right?

Under the Sun

It might help to know that the phrase “under the sun” was what kept ancient readers from plummeting into Nihilistic despair. In Hebrew expression, God and His ways were always portrayed as being higher than the heavens (Isaiah 55:9, Psalm 103:11). So, the original readers heard, “If what I’m chasing is under the sun, it’s vanity. This man has experienced all of it and concluded that it’s meaningless without God.”

If he were alive today, it might read something like, “Go for it! Climb whatever ‘Mount Everest’ is for you. Become well-known in respected circles, run with the bulls, become CEO of a Fortune 500, publish your books, travel the world, perform a TED talk, experience the perfect relationship, and retire with tons of money to leave your kids…I did all of those.  And let me tell you one thing for certain, unless God is at the center, it’ll be forgotten like the wind.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Adventure happens when I choose faithfulness, wisely, every day.  It will take me on a joy-filled journey into a Kingdom that will never fade (unlike the motorcycle I may be tempted to buy when my hair recedes).

May your adventure be more than decades of wind-chasing.


For more, check out “Stress vs. Success: Do You Know the Difference?” 

Swapping Instant for Present

“Wherever you are, be all there.” – Jim Elliott

Newspapers, record players, and physical books will make a comeback in the next 5-10 years. That’s my theory anyway. And a new breed of hipster won’t be the trendsetters for it either. The innovation will come from those who have felt the toll of the instant.

Instant texts
Instant emails
(and instant replies)

When we traded present for instant, it was a rotten deal. Instant can’t replace present. Being present means being fully somewhere. Instant won’t afford you that luxury. Instant makes you eye the phone when it buzzes during a conversation.  It’s the ever present third-wheel. Instant has wiped our memories of days when we weren’t always accessible.

The other week I was listening to a blues record solely because my record player can’t receive emails or texts or Snapchat. It just plays BB King. And my newspaper on the front porch every morning is filled with news. No click-bait about the president. No analytics for a marketer to read in his fluorescent lair. Just news (and sometimes sports).

It’s not all the smartphone’s fault. Going back to flip-phones won’t solve it (although some have tried, and made the New York Times). I don’t think deleting Facebook, Twitter, and everything in between will fix it either. The answer is learning to be present again. It can leave eternity ringing in your ears.

Matthew 6:33-34
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

The paradox is, when my focus is the Kingdom of Heaven, it let’s me be here. I can take a breath and remember that I will exist forever as an adopted son of the Living God.

When I am present…

  • I can sit still and enjoy the normal moments (try this today)
  • I have more fun with my kids
  • Turning my phone off isn’t a big deal
  • That loud, frantic volume blaring inside my soul gets quieter

I am a son now, and I will be a son then. It makes me want to seek that Kingdom first, and be present with the people and circumstances around me.

(once I close my paper Bible and fold up the sports section, of course)