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:

INTERESTED IN CULTURE?

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 8.52.16 PM

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

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]

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 8.57.54 PM

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

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]

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 8.59.43 PM

Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America
MICHAEL O. EMERSON & CHRISTIAN SMITH

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]

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.01.57 PM

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
J.D. VANCE

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’.”

INTERESTED IN HISTORY?

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.03.44 PM

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World
STEVEN JOHNSON

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]

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.05.26 PM

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

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.

INTERESTED IN LEADERSHIP?

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.08.40 PM

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting Things Done
PETER F. DRUCKER

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.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.10.21 PM

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

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.”

INTERESTED IN FICTION?

src=”https://billybatmanpuddingdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/screen-shot-2017-05-07-at-9-13-52-pm.png?w=390″ alt=”Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.13.52 PM” width=”195″ height=”300″ />
The Daughter of Time
JOSEPHINE TEY

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.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.16.44 PM
Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians
BRANDON SANDERSON 

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.”

INTERESTED IN SPIRITUAL GROWTH?

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.18.16 PM
Knowing God
J.I. PACKER

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.

 Read. Books. Faster.

READ

Something surprised me while walking through the “Christian Living” section of a local bookstore. There was almost nothing for men. Of the dozens of titles sitting on the shelves, most were marketed towards my wife. It didn’t take long on Google to figure out why. Seventy-five percent of people who buy books are women.

So, since you’ve made it this far, I’m going to assume that you are either

  1. A woman, or
  2. Someone who values reading

For years, Godly authors have helped close the distance between what I know in my head and believe in my heart about Christianity (the faith gap). And, by the end of this post, I hope to further your commitment to read and offer ways to do it better. Perhaps it will inspire you to point others towards a love for reading, and help close their own faith gaps.

BOOKS 

Despite the statistic mentioned above, I know a lot of men who are well-read. They are also (not coincidentally) influential leaders. Sharp books shape people who shape people.

“The man who never reads will never be read. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.” – Charles Spurgeon

While articles or blog posts help and are (at very least) a good starting point for non-readers, books influence people for decades. And, if you’re slow to start one, there are ways to get past the first hurdles:

  1. Set a goal. Commit to read one before 2016 ends. (The next section will help)
  2. Read with a friend. The added accountability and different perspective makes finishing a book much easier.
  3. Make time. Create space in your schedule to read. Take advantage of small moments as well (lunch breaks, sitting in a waiting room, Saturday morning coffee).

FASTER

If you’re a dude, ten bucks says you skipped all the way down to this part. Honestly, I’m just glad you’re still here. So, how can we read books quicker? On average, I read four or five books per month and have become increasingly efficient by doing four things:

  1. Flip through the whole book in one sitting to get an idea for overall content.
  2. Read the preface carefully. Mortimer J. Adler taught me this in How to Read a Book. There are good clues in the preface that will lead you to discover everything the author intends for the journey ahead.
  3. There are moments when it’s okay to mine for concepts rather than read every single word. With leadership and development books in particular, I’ve found that the devil is not in the details. It’s usually in the sub-headings and chapter conclusions.
  4. Read more than you do right now. This is the best way to become a more proficient reader.

Some Good Books:

The most valuable ones I’ve come across were recommended by friends. Here are some of them in various categories (any of which could be read in less than 6 weeks):

Spiritual Growth

The Line of Faith: 40 Days to Deeper Dependency
Bill Elliff
screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-9-38-49-pm

Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols
Brad Bigney
screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-9-39-09-pm

Leadership

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Die and Others Survive
Chip & Dan Heath
screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-9-43-11-pm

What’s Best Next? How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done
Matt Pearman
screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-9-44-20-pm

 

Felt Needs

Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Life-Long Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice
Christopher Ash
screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-9-45-52-pm

God + Politics: Jesus’ Vision for Society, State and Government 
Mark Dever
screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-9-47-18-pm

Fiction

Underground Airlines
Ben Winters
screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-9-50-32-pm

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”
– Joseph Brodsky

 

Four Painless Ways to Build Your Mental Toolbox

A pair of pliers isn’t something you think about much until you need it. When I was 20, I remember going to Home Depot with my soon-to-be wife and buying a basic set of tools (hammer, screwdrivers, etc.).

It’s the most boring story ever.

Shopping for a new TV is way more exciting but, when your sink breaks at 10PM, those pliers become your best friends. Everybody needs some.

Our thoughts are mental tools of sorts, and we would be wise to consider adding a few to our workbench. As Scripture tells us, we should think about the way we think.

Philippians 4:8
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 

How can we add more mental tools to our life so that we’re ready for when the faucet leaks or it’s time to hang a mirror? Here are four to consider:

1  – Memorize Scripture

Always start with Scripture. “I have hidden Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11. I’m convinced the main reason people struggle with the Bible is not because it’s hard to understand, but because they’ve never tried it (a subject for another day).

Here’s a couple of life hacks that will help:

Download the Fighter Verses app.

Take a screenshot of a passage of Scripture and make it the wallpaper of your phone. Like this one:

13938309_853639038099765_5367343284525397721_o

2 – Commit to build your mental toolbox.

This is crucial. If you don’t to go to the hardware store ahead of time, you will regret having to rush out in the middle of a crisis for something you could’ve already had. Decide today to invest in your thinking.

3 – Always be on the lookout for good resources that are on sale.

Amazon knocks down the prices of certain books most weeks, you just have to know where to look. Here are a couple of people I follow on Twitter that help:

Tim Keller Wisdom – @DailyKeller   Here’s an example:
screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-9-30-13-pm

Barnabas Piper – @BarnabasPiper    Here’s an example:
screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-9-30-58-pm

Books can be downloaded on a Kindle or Kindle app (eBooks are usually about 40% cheaper than the hardcopy). And, if you’re more of the listening type, try Audible.

4 – Maximize small moments.

Listen to a book or Podcast on your drive to work or in the pick-up line at school. You should build it into your weekly rhythm. (The last two hours of my work week consists of reading a book that will help me lead better).

In any case, don’t wait until your sink breaks. Get some tools ahead of time.

The Forever Part

If you aren’t stubborn in your quest for a life that matters, you’ll waste a lot of it building hype and hope on things that won’t outlast a goldfish. The difference maker seems to lie in one’s understanding of “the Forever Part.”

Ecclesiastes 3:11
 [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. And He has put eternity into the heart of man.

There’s a Forever Part of every human heartbeat. God put it there. Even those who don’t believe He exists still have the Forever Part. It’s just hard for them to hear sometimes.

Jesus came so that we could see that death isn’t the end. He offered eternal life. It’s the life we always knew, in our heart, was the truest life. In the Forever Part. 

But Christians many times forget about it. We can work and think and stress on things that rob our attention from what makes our lives matter. The forever stuff.

I try each day to hear the Forever Part of my own heart. There are dozens of ways it stirs to life. Little reminders help the most. For instance, there’s a clock on my desk. It’s frozen in time at a quarter to 8. Each time I sit down to write she tells me, “Unless this is linked to God’s Word and stirs the Forever Part of someone, you’re wasting your time.”

This blog post will fade and be lost soon, but you won’t. God and His Word won’t either. And if reading these words reminds you of that, then I’m doing something meaningful. Something that will, in a way, last forever.

Find little, everyday things that do this. For me, it includes reading (and writing) fiction. G.K. Chesterton was absolutely right when he said, “[Fictional stories] are more than true. Not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be defeated.” Short stories are a favorite because I can read them in one sitting.

I’ve written a few that were inspired by the Forever Part and included it below. Perhaps they will inspire you as well:

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-6-18-11-pm

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR FREE

Good Reads for The Fall

I’m always on the lookout for a good book. The best ones I’ve come across were recommended by someone. I’ve written before on the importance of reading, and want to throw out a few that I’ve found helpful or interesting. If you’re looking to add to your list this fall, consider…

  1. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller (254 pages)
    Keller gives approachable answers to deep philosophical questions about Christianity. If you’re struggling with whether or not the teachings of Jesus are true, this is your book. If you’ve never critically evaluated your own faith in Christ, get it.
    reason-for-god
    “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life to busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.”

  2. “Why an Historical Adam Matters for a Biblical Doctrine of Sin” by John W. Mahony (17 pages)
    This scholarly article published in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology was a short, helpful explanation of the importance of a real Adam and Eve. With the rise in popularity for evolutionary theism, understanding the various interpretations of Genesis 1-3 is critical.
    6273988_300x300
    How essential is it, given what the Bible says about sin, to maintain that Adam was a historical figure? What do we lose if we deny this point? In order to answer these questions I will proceed in three steps: (1) I will survey the biblical view of human sin; (2) I will discuss the various interpretive options proposed by current evangelicals who are questioning the actual historicity of the Genesis account; (3) I will conclude by arguing that the biblical doctrine of sin requires an original image bearing couple, rooted and grounded in history.”

     

  3. The Problem of Pain: How Human Suffering Raises Almost Intolerable Intellectual Problems by CS Lewis (154 pages)
    Although I disagree significantly at points (i.e. Lewis’ Darwinian view of humanity), he lands in orthodox places and forces you to face tough questions gracefully.
    51W7WmRKoeL
    “Pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that Ultimate Reality is righteous and loving.”
  4. Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots) by Matt K. Lewis (219 pages)
    I listened to Lewis on a Podcast recently and was interested in his assessment of the current political world. He pushes back on the conservative “echo chamber” and suggests that our society has become polarized in Washington because of it. Read it before November’s election.
    download
    “New technology allows us to avoid coming into contact with opposing viewpoints. There is no common culture or consensus. It’s entirely possible nowadays to go through a day and avoid hearing information that challenges your assumptions.”

     

  5. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore. (224 pages)
    Every Christian should read this. Moore analyzes the Bible Belt South with aggressive clarity and refocuses Americans to the original message of Christianity.
    51viidXMhrL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_
    “We are Americans best when we are not Americans first. Therefore, we cannot build Christian churches on a sub-Christian gospel. People who don’t want Christianity don’t want almost-Christianity.”

  6. Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney (67 pages)
    Whether you have small children at home or are trying to figure out how to start family devotions with teenagers, this little book will be very helpful. Whitney takes away all the typical excuses by replacing them with practical (and realistic) suggestions.
    9781433547805
    “Husbands, fathers- if you have been negligent in this duty and great privilege, repent by starting family worship today. Again, you may feel awkward about what to say to your wife or your children about starting, but simply say that God has convicted you of your responsibility to lead in family worship and you want to start at a given time today.”
     
  7. Werewolf Cop by Andrew Klavin (336 pages)
    Sometimes, you need to read something fun. Klavin’s novel is about a cop who solves top secret crimes. It gets real interesting on nights with a full moon because…you know…he’s also a werewolf. You might find the gore a little much. Either way, find a Werewolf Cop for your reading list.712XqhTMN8L-682x1024

There’s one more that I’m excited about…

8. Dear Frankenstein: Letters of Hope to Pieced Together Families by Blake Hudspeth
I’ve been working for the last few months on a short, free eBook that will be available this month. My aim is to encourage families that need hope. The ones on the brink of collapse, or perhaps are now on the other side of divorce and just want to keep their head above the water. Watch for it on this blog in the coming weeks.
Ad Cover

My family didn’t become functional overnight. Each person made important decisions en route and learned many lessons through tears. You will find them embedded throughout this book. Every chapter is a letter addressed to you- someone who needs hope. They will not teach you how to build a healthy, blended family. But they will give you hope that it’s possible.”

Happy reading!

A Meeting in the Bog

Until the Blue Planet, I had never seen a place where something other existed. There were cosmic worlds suspended in darkness and nomadic chunks of iron, like myself, barreling along waiting to be pulled into one of their orbits. That was it. Gas and metal and rock and speed.

I’d seen a few of us get close enough to collide and disintegrate into some of these distant worlds. Even so, after the enormous amount of energy was released, not much changed. Gas and metal and rock smashing into more gas and metal and rock for billions of light years in every direction.

But when I saw the Blue Planet, it was filled with…life.

Massive life. Strange life. Life much different than after our collision. Life with fangs and tusks and scales. They were equal parts majesty and terror, and I would soon disintegrate with them. It’s the reason The Mover redirected me towards it in the first place. He knew an object of my size and speed would modify The Blue Planet without destroying her.

It was a magnificent place. There were steep mountains with glowing rivers, thick patches of vegetation, and black swamps that breathed steam. They sat waiting to swallow up the creatures. Those that dared to cross a swamp became trapped in its sludge.

A few days before contact, my eyes happened upon such a pit and noticed two creatures caught in the tar. The tree-like one must have submerged some time ago leaving only her tall, slender neck sticking out in the air. She seemed to know that death was imminent in the bog. It was also hurtling six miles closer each second.

“My name’s Agnes,” she said. “But that doesn’t matter anymore.” The anguish on her face was both deep and kind, as if her insides were boiling but she didn’t want the other creature to know. A tree behind them had been laid down in the bog. Its trunk stretched all the way back to land. I wondered if she knew about it. There was little doubt it could support her weight.

“Maybe you’re wrong, Agnes,” the other said. He was a stumpy brute with three horns protruding from his head. There was an innocence in his voice, but not the naive kind. His skin cracked with age. The ooze crept in his pores. “There’s always a way out.”

“I’m sure many have said that.” Her lips were somewhere between a snarl and quiver. “It’s ignorance. No one knows how to get out of the mire. I’ve been here for weeks, and each minute the bog swallows me more. I’m tired of thinking. Everything’s a dead end.”

“Weeks?” he replied. “I’ve been in one before but only for a few days. It must be agonizing.”

“More unfair, really.” she said.

I couldn’t believe it. Had she not been listening? Freedom wasn’t impossible. He’d found a way out once before. Perhaps she didn’t believe him. It was hard to tell. To be sure, these creatures were mysterious.

The tree sat half-submerged listening to their conversation.

“I know it’s dreadful,” the brute said. “But if you would be willing to stay uncomfortable for five minutes longer, we might see the way out.” The thought almost convinced her. She could tell that he, too, was uncomfortable. The crisis would have driven anyone to their breaking point.

They were silent for some time. “Even if you’re right,” she straightened her neck, “we’ll all die soon enough. One way or another.”

“Yes,” he said. “Death will meet us all.” There was more silence.

The brute took a long, calculated breath. “But when he looks at my eyes, they will be filled with hope,” he said.

“Good luck with your hope,” Agnes replied. There was despair and contempt in her words. She was angry. Not at him, but at hope itself and the notion of purpose. She could see no meaning in life and, therefore, no meaning in death. It must have been more unpleasant than the awful bog.

The Blue Planet turned away before I could see the end of their encounter. It wasn’t until the next day that I saw the tarry swamp again. Neither creature was visible, but over by the tree there was one set of black footprints trailing away from the mire.

Time had come to enter the atmosphere. I would soon become part of this world forever. As its surface cradled the impact and sent my DNA burning across the land, my eyes raced to find the one who got out. After a moment, I saw him. He was easy to see. It wasn’t his size or beauty that caught my eye as I rushed towards him. The brute’s face was what separated him from the others.

He was the only one smiling at me.

Winner or Winsome – Which One Are You?

When having a conversation, it’s easy to sniff out which of the two you’re engaging. One seeks to be right. The other persuades one to think rightly. Our focus tends to drift toward becoming winners rather than winsome.

Winners don’t want to talk. They want to tell. And, unless we happen to share their soapbox, we don’t care to listen. A lot gets said, but little changes.

Winsome people, on the other hand, have a way of thinking rightly and helping others to do the same. These people shape culture and change the world. It’s not because they are better communicators. Winsomeness is not the same as eloquence. Instead, it’s a matter of the heart.

Words reveal our heart. Each one, however articulate it may be, separates the winners from the winsome. I’ve found it helps to check my heart often to see which one I’m becoming.

There are three qualities that define the winsome:

  1. SECURITY
    This is not the same as confidence. It’s easy to fake confidence. Be aggressive or loud or demeaning. Don’t budge an inch and people can justify it as “confidence.” Security speaks in softer tones. There’s no battle to prove her intelligence (partly because she doesn’t claim to know everything). Hurl all the questions or criticism you want. Security knows that, if what she believes is true, it can withstand them.
  2. LOVE
    Ideas change the world. As a pastor who is convinced that the Gospel of Jesus has the power to save, I am passionate about truth. But it is never to be divorced from love. Paul told the church that, even if they had a martyr’s passion, it is useless without love (1 Corinthians 13:3). Before every conversation, comment or tweet, we should ask ourselves, “Is what I’m about to say coming out of love?” If you’re unsure, read 1 Corinthians 13 or John 15. Both are helpful passages on how to love people well. Loving people are winsome people.
  3. LEARNING
    It requires humility, patience, and hard work to learn. This sort of wisdom is described in Scripture as “pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). Winsome people are able to simplify or expound upon their worldview appropriately. Because they are diligent to learn, they can give clear and respectful answers for the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:15).

You will never be able to win everyone. That’s why the Apostle Paul said he became “all things to all people” in order to win some (1 Corinthians 9:22). That’s the essence of winsomeness. Doing whatever possible to help others think rightly.

This world has enough winners. So, stand secure. Love people like Christ. Stay teachable.

In other words, be winsome.