Catch the Good Stuff

It’s easy for us to jog past some of the most underestimated statements in Scripture, especially when they are paved inside of well-known stretches of teaching. I plod right by them all the time. When my mental goal is set (three chapters before breakfast), the finish line can become more important than the process itself. This year I decided to change pace by poking through the Gospels and have already noticed phrases that escaped me before.

In the Sermon on the Mount (arguably the most famous discourse in the New Testament), Jesus was smashing legalism brick-by-brick telling people that the Kingdom of God is about a transformed heart, not just about what you do (or don’t do). It’s become one of those familiar passages, but read it again and try not running too fast.

Matthew 5:27-29
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

Besides the fact that He just took the seventh commandment up about a thousand notches, Jesus told us something striking about the Kingdom of God. For the longest time, I got overly focused on the warning. He did, after all, talk about ripping out eyeballs and chopping limbs off. But I missed the point of His message on fighting lust:

FOR IT IS BETTER

And He said it twice! The reason Jesus called people to purity and faithfulness was because His Kingdom made everything infinitely better. Money, clothes, and even sexual thoughts had meaning beyond what we imagined. He wasn’t just restricting people but inviting them to something more. Something better.

And I almost jogged right past it.

 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
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Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols
Brad Bigney
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Leadership

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Die and Others Survive
Chip & Dan Heath
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What’s Best Next? How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done
Matt Pearman
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Felt Needs

Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Life-Long Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice
Christopher Ash
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God + Politics: Jesus’ Vision for Society, State and Government 
Mark Dever
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Fiction

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

 

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:

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CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR FREE

Summer Reading: Grab (at least) One of These

Summer makes a book better. Maybe it’s the weather…or the beach…or the years of counting down those final, creeping seconds before school let out.

When making a “to-read” list, it’s helpful to have recommendations. Mine is ever growing. Good readers don’t waste their time with dull books, and I’m always curious as to which ones they have found worthy of the list. Of the dozens on that lineup, here are 5 that grabbed my interest until the end.

Non-Fiction

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

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Have you ever been sad after eating a sundae? Not “eat your emotions” sad. More like “this was the best sundae I’ve ever had and now I want more sundae” sad. That’s what it felt like when I finished Wolfe’s version of the Gemini space saga.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

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If this one doesn’t make your list, get the cliff notes in this post: “Phone Smart- How to Live Untethered (Realistically)”.

The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer

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He ranks with the brightest evangelical minds of the 20th century. His approachable writing style both sharpens the faith of Christians and helps with the philosophical hang-ups of others.

Fiction

Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline

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If an ’80s arcade and The Hunger Games had a kid together, it would look like this. And it looks awesome.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

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Do you enjoy Civil War history, but want more vampires? You’re in luck. The book is nothing like the movie. But it’s exactly like the 16th President- unique, battle torn, and sort of weird looking. Beach reading was made for this one.

What’s another book I need to add to my list?