2017 Fall Reading List

I’m never the same after finishing a book. Most times I can expect ways that I’ll be impacted, but there are always surprises. Words are like that.

Clever words, silly words, wise words, inspiring words – all of them are welcome, but not all of them are equal. Only the words that are fused to the Kingdom of God will hang around when the other words are forgotten.

1 Peter 1:24-25

All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Words shape people, and people live forever. We should, therefore, invite the right words to shape our lives. Words that last forever.

Even so, fleeting words can benefit us at times.

I’ve found books help me understand the fading world so that I can better relate to the eternal people who walk upon it. And as a compulsive reader, I catch myself talking about words often and helping friends find authors who write them well – especially in the fall.

Autumn trees, football, crispy walks and reading by a bonfire are all things that make this my favorite time of year. So, if you’re looking for some great words to pair with the season, here are a few to consider:

IF YOU LIKE CULTURE:

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 9.34.57 PM

Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama by Kenneth L. Woodward

Written by the tenured Religion editor at Newsweek, this fascinating account unfolds the psychedelic quilt of theology, philosophy and culture that shaped three generations of Americans in the 20th century. Woodward’s writing style is effortless on the eyes as he weaves stories of personal interviews with Popes, Presidents and Billy Graham. As a Catholic, his perspective on Evangelicalism was pointed and encouraging (if not a little eye-opening).

“How a person gets religion can powerfully influence the understanding of the religion he got. There have been other periods of religious enthusiasm and upheaval but none of these, I argue, was so widespread, so wildly diverse in faith and practice, so direct in impact on electoral politics as the one that ranged from the end of the Second World War to the dawn of the new millennium.”

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 9.36.02 PM

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

“The idea [The Benedict Option] is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.”

Dreher spends the rest of his book arguing why The Order of St. Benedict should be the framework for developing such a solution. Although some of the conclusions ring a bit escapist, he makes a compelling case worth hearing out.

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 9.37.22 PM

Making the Corps by Thomas E. Ricks

As of today, my youngest brother is completing the last two weeks of Marine Boot Camp. And, after reading Ricks’ Pulitzer Prize caliber description of it, I’ll never look at him (or any other soldier) the same. Every American should know what their warriors put themselves through to protect our freedom, and this book is a great start.

“Most of the thirty-six recruits on the bus already have been awake twenty hours or more, since they reported to military processing stations at dawn Wednesday. They won’t sleep for another eighteen, until sunset Thursday. A haze of cigarette smoke hangs in the air of the silent bus. It is the last tobacco they will smell for eleven weeks…But many of the bewildered young men staring at Staff Sergeant Biehl will never make it that far.”

IF YOU LIKE LEADERSHIP:

41fyJGJG7bL

Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro

I highlighted an average of every other sentence. Although a fraction of leaders are mega-church pastors, all of them will relate to the burnout Cordeiro experienced and the principles that saved his life. The exercises alone are worth the price (and they’ll take you on a bulldog of a journey).

“We don’t forget that we are Christians. We forget that we are human, and that one oversight alone can debilitate the potential of our future.”

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 9.40.57 PM

Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work by Stephen Pressfield

Pressfield is more famous for The War of Art (a best-seller/instant classic), but I found this one far more inspiring. Although it is not written from a Christian perspective, it’s the nudge you need to pursue your God-given strengths.

“The amateur fears that if he turns pro and lives out his calling, he will have to live up to who he really is and what he is truly capable of. The amateur is terrified that if the tribe should discover who he really is, he will be kicked out into the cold to die.”

Language Warning: there is some

IF YOU LIKE SPIRITUAL GROWTH:

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 9.42.23 PM

Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith by Larry Osborne

I have never been more refreshed by something that punched so hard in the gut. With grace and tenacity, Osborne pulls the veil off our own self-righteousness. If you’ve been a Christian for a while now, read it.

“The problem is not spiritual zeal. That’s a good thing. We’re all called to be zealous for the Lord. The problem is unaligned spiritual passion, a zeal for the Lord that fails to line up with the totality of Scripture.”

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 9.43.47 PM

The Christian’s Work of Dying Daily by John Owen

This short book is a series of sermons preached by the famous 17th century Puritan. I read it after the funeral of a friend and was reminded of Paul’s words in Colossians 3, “For you have died (past tense) and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Of the hundreds of books I’ve read in my life, this is the only one (so far) I want to read every year until my death.

“Brethren, I know no man dies willingly,— no man living can have an habitual inclination to close cheerfully with this dissolution,— but by looking upon it as a means to come to the enjoyment of Christ. I tell you, your bodies are better to you than all the world, than all your goods, or any thing else; but Christ is better to the soul than any thing: and therefore, unless it be for the enjoyment of Christ, let men pretend what they will, there is no man willing to part with the body,— to be dissolved. Grow in that desire of coming to Christ, and you will conquer the unwillingness of death.”

IF YOU LIKE FUN STUFF:

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 9.44.58 PM

Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age by Mathew Klickstein

To do anything innovative, you need to be willing to go a little off-center. People expect center and are ready to go on a different journey. Nickelodeon did just that in the ‘90s by creating a zany cable channel aimed solely at kids. I remember summer afternoons where Rugrats, Salute Your Shorts, and Double Dare kept us glued on the couch dreaming of the green GAK fountain. Reading all of my favorite kids stars recount what life was like on set only made me miss those summers more. It confirmed two things: the ‘90s were just the best…

…and I could’ve totally won a glowing piece of the Radical Rock.

“Why did it work? Was it the casting? The writing? The irreverence? What you are about to read might explain it. Personally, I think it is like trying to dissect a joke. Why is it funny? Who cares? It worked, and we are all glad it did. Soooooo…On your mark! Get set!! Go!!!” –  from Marc Summers (host of Double Dare and What Would You Do?)

Words shape us. So, invite some good ones into your fall. Just remember that not all of them are created equal.

The Right Way to Name Drop

YOU: Hey man, how do you like the burgers here?

ME: They’re almost as good as Kel Mitchell’s. Not quite though. His burgs are cray.

YOU: Who’s Kel Mitchell?

ME: ummm…from Good Burger? All That? The throwback moment on Jimmy Fallon of Kenan and Kel doing the Good Burger sketch from All That?

YOU: Oh, I think I remember him. I’m more of a David’s Burger fan myself.

ME: I like that restaurant too.

YOU: Restaurant? Ahhh, no, I mean David Hyde Pierce.

ME: FRASIER?!

YOU: I can’t remember all the projects he’s worked on…but, yes, I believe that’s right.

ME: My best friend Brenden Fraser hates that guy. “It’s Fray-Zer!” he always yells to Tom Hanks at parties. “Not Fray-ZHer!”  Denzel and I think it’s hilarious.

Knowing how to name drop is important business among us non-famous, ridiculous people. And it’s been that way for thousands of years.  Even the church can (and often does) get caught up in it. Paul addressed it head on. People in Corinth were saying, “I follow Paul!” and others responded, “Peter’s Burgers are way better!” (my translation), and still others were chanting “Apollo! Apollo! Ah-Paw-Low!”  It created deep division.

We see, however, that the healing balm offered is not only for the name-droppers, but also for those of us who just get too caught up in the hubbub of everyday.

1 Corinthians 3:23
So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you (plural) are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

If you have trusted in Christ, everything you want is yours already. Stop competing. The Apostles, the world, life, death, the present, the future…it’s yours. And you are Christ’s. And Christ is God’s.

So, let’s take a breath and enjoy our burger. That’s what Paul would say.  (I’d know. We’re like BEST friends.)

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

AND  

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).

giphy

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.

s-l300

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 KINGDOM OF THE WORLD

GDP #1: WORRY

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.

GDP #2: SIN

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.

UNTIL YOU PURSUE THE RIGHT THINGS FIRST,
EXHAUSTING THINGS WILL PURSUE YOU FAST.

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.

MATTHEW 6:33
“But SEEK FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” 

THE KINGDOM OF GOD

GDP #1: HOLINESS

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

GDP #2: HARMONY

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.

Creating Your Own Overview Effect

As you’re reading this, humans living in a football-field of solar panels and sealed tubes are strolling around our planet at five miles per second. The International Space Station can fly over every human that’s ever lived in less time than it takes to watch Good Burger (92 minutes to be exact). The experience has such a profound impact on astronauts that sociologists have given it a name.

The Overview Effect: A cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts and cosmonauts during spaceflight while viewing the Earth from orbit or from the lunar surface.

It’s a fancy, science way of saying, “Space makes you look at stuff different.”

Earth looks a lot smaller. Governments seem less impressive. You feel the fragility of humanity and become more connected to the world and all the people living on it. But most of us aren’t going to be strapped into a sky-scraper full of controlled explosives and shot into orbit anytime soon. So, how are we supposed to experience something like that?

TWO QUESTIONS

I’ve found it helps to ask myself two questions every now and then. They give a sort of “Overview Effect” for my little world:

  1. What do you want more today – to be famous or to be faithful?

    Not that these two things are mutually exclusive, but let’s face it – one will drive the other away in our own hearts. And, in a time where we have myriads of platforms to attempt fame, this question has become more and more important. Do I want to hear crowds cheering, or the ancient voice from Galilee saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”?

    This second question has to do with my children.

  2. What do you want Mae and Bear’s grandkids to say about them at their funerals?

    There’s a lot of assumptions in this quasi-morbid question. For starters, I have no idea what God’s overarching plan is for the lives of my kids. They may never marry or have children (who marry and have children), but it’s not a long shot to think they might.

    So, if that day ever comes, and “Blake Hudspeth” is just the name of another long-dead great grandparent, what do I hope would be said about Mae and Bear?  What kind of kids do I want my kids raise? And their kids to raise?  When I think about both of them being wrinkly, white-haired grandparents, it gives some perspective. An Overview Effect.

YOUR OVERVIEW EFFECT

What are some questions that give you perspective? Think about some today and write them down. Here are other ways that might help:

  • Study Scripture slowly. Too many times, I rush through a passage rather than poke around and experience it in full.
  • Read books that pull you out of your context. History and culture are two genres that work best for me. These are a few I’ve found helpful this year:

The Benedict Option – Rod Dreher

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World – Steven Johnson

Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance

“Unaccompanied Sonata” – Orson Scott Card (short story)

  • Listen to podcasts from people inside and outside your “tribe.” We all have our go-to pastors, leaders, and authors (and for good reasons). But venturing out every now and then helps give me perspective. Here are some to consider:

The BriefingAlbert Mohler
(A daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview)

The Moment Brian Koppelman
(Interviews with cultural influencers and the “moments” that impacted their lives the most. Sometimes, there is explicit language)

Building a StorybrandDonald Miller
(Ways to build your company or organization so that the customer/volunteer/employee is the hero of the story. Great insight for sacrificial leadership.)

Studio 360 Kurt Anderson
(This is an NPR production that covers everything from politics to television to race. It’s always interesting no matter what)

What are other ways you can help others create an “Overview Effect?”

Are You a Serpent or Saint?

The cottonmouths formed rank and were flanking the right side of my four-wheeler. It didn’t matter that driving up on their nest was an accident. They closed within ankle striking distance in seconds and were prepared to fight to the death or eat me. Before the biggest one could hit, I had the clarity of mind to kick the gears down into reverse and gun it backwards out of the swamp (taking out a few in the process).

There’s nothing worse than a wad of snakes.

But I shouldn’t have been too scared. After all, I used to be a snake. That’s what John the Baptist would have called me anyway. I shared something in common with the religious folk back in his day.

Matthew 3:7-8
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

These guys were The Sin Police and good at it. They could sniff out iniquity from a quarter-mile and relished in pulling over lawbreakers (even when it was one of their own). Sure, they sinned too, and knew it. The problem was that they did a whole lot of lip service to repentance without ever actually repenting.

They condemned pride, but were self-righteous know-it-alls. Jesus called them white washed tombs. Clean on the outside, but dead on the inside. John just called them a wad of snakes.

There was a time in my life where I also knew all the terrible things I was doing. In fact, my accountability partners and friends knew as well. Our meetings were a lot of confessing and condemning but very little (if any) true repentance.

To repent means to turn around. It’s a military command – an “about face.” And it’s the difference between a snake and a saint.

My repentance back then was a lot of lip service with zero life-change. It mirrored the Pharisees. So, you know, not repentance. John, however, didn’t tell us snakes to leave. He didn’t even say, “Never sin this way again.” Instead, he commanded to, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Does your repentance bear fruit? Are you just talking a lot about your sin or are you desiring sin less? Is repentance a guilt-driven moment of confession that you gut through until the next meeting? Or is it a daily habit of turning from sin and towards Christ? True repentance is what separates people. One makes a saint; the other, a snake.

And snakes get run over by dudes on four wheelers.