Something Uplifting to watch on Amazon

I don’t watch a lot of TV and I’m not a big consumer of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus. But the other day, I was surprised to learn that Amazon Prime has several great Christian biographical documentaries to watch free if you are a prime member:

It looks like there may be several more on there too, but these are the ones I’ve watched some of. Check them out if you are looking for something educational and uplifting to watch.

On reading lots of books

Recently a friend and co-laborer were discussing books and he told me I should get on goodreads. I had a goodreads account from years ago, and so I spent a few minutes on Saturday updating my “shelves”, as I marked off the books I’ve read (goodreads is tied to my amazon account so this makes it very easy to do) I saw the total number just go up and up.

When you add up my goodreads books and the books in my Audible library, in the last ten years I have read at least 300 books. This doesn’t even seem possible. It didn’t seem like I was reading this much. But as I counted them up, I’ve read A LOT of books.

So that leads me to ask two questions: How on earth did I read that much and what in the world did I read?

How did I read that much?

I do almost all of my reading in the little pockets of the day when I have a second. When I ride with my family, my wife does almost all the driving and I read a bit. When we go to a swim meet and there is down time, I read a bit. When I’m stuck in line at a store, I read a bit. I’ve done almost all my reading on kindle and have my kindle always with me. I don’t browse Facebook and Twitter, I read whatever book I’m reading.

Audible has been a huge part of this too. When I go for runs, I listen to books. When I have to sweep a floor or fold laundry, I listen to books. On my daily ten minute commute to the office and back, I listen to books.

Of course, reading is a part of sermon prep. Every week I am reading concurrent chapters in three or four different commentaries.

Before I go to sleep at night, I read for a few minutes (I don’t watch a lot of TV). When we go on vacation, I always set aside time to read.

So how did I read 300 books in the last ten years? In five to ten minute packets, whenever I had a spare minute or could do some work mindlessly.

What did I read?

These are the types of books I read:

I think the key here is (with the exception of commentaries) I just follow my interests. Right now I’m on an old fantasy novel kick, so I’m reading the Narnia books to my kids at night before they go to bed and listening to The Hobbit as I drive back and forth to my office in the morning. We are building a habit forming exercise app for a client, so I’m reading Hooked by Nir Eyal (a book about building habit forming apps), I’m preaching on family issues on Sunday Night, so I’m reading lots of books about childrearing and marriage by Christian authors.

Next month I may be curious about the life of John Knox, or the Scotch Irish settlement of Appalachia, or better managing my calendar, so I might spend time reading books about that stuff. Do this kind of reading for long enough, and you’ll look back and say “Oh, wow, I read over thirty books this year and over 300 in the last nine years.” It happens faster than you think.

Quickie- When you run out of things to say

Quickie: When you run out of things to say

I’ve just finished reading Douglas Wilson’s Ploductivity: A Practical Theology of Work & Wealth (on a bit of a Doug Wilson kick) and my favorite quote from the book is actually in the appendix. Speaking about his extraordinary output as a writer, Wilson said he learned this lesson from his dad:

He said “Whenever you run out of things to say, go on to the next verse.” If you know how to extract the sense of the text, and there is always another text waiting, the end result is there is always something edifying to say.

The truth of that quote (and the amazing Bible that makes it true) is the only reason I haven’t lost my mind trying to this of something to say for 30 minutes 3 times a week for the last nine years.

Get Rich Slowly: Compound Interest and Skill Development

Albert Einstein is credited with saying:

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.”

Warren Buffet took that quote to heart, and over sixty years has turned a small investment into billions.

But I want to suggest a different kind of compound interest that earns a different kind of wealth: I want you to think about the compound interest of skills and learning.

Nearly twenty years ago, when I was in college, I took a job at a teen program for the Boys and Girls Club in inner city Knoxville, TN. Being a nerd, they eventually had me observing the computer lab there. One middle school aged girl came to the computer lab every day, she had the roughest background you can imagine (abusive parents, foster-system pinball, etc.) and the computer lab was her refuge. She would sit in there and type code into notepad and somehow turn that code into really cool looking websites.

I was blown away by this. Up until that point, I thought website making and coding was for super-geniuses. This girl was obviously not a super-genius, but she had figured out it. So I started trying to learn how to make websites.

I started buying books with titles like Build Your Own Website the Right Way Using HTML and CSS and Teach Yourself Javasctipt in 24 Hours It didn’t take. Everything I learned left me even more confused than I was.

But I kept on. After college I got a MacBook, and it came with an iPod nano. I was introduced to this early on to podcasts and the first podcast that really took my interest was called Boagworld, it was a podcast about web development.

I kept going, reading and listening. Spending a lot of time at Barnes and Noble reading coding books I couldn’t afford. Trying and failing to learn web development.

Eventually, I got pretty good at HTML and CSS, but actual programming baffled me. I kept trying to learn it. Kept buying books. Taking online courses. Every vacation I took for years included hours sitting in front of my laptop going through one online course or another.

After about ten years of this, I started to figure it out. I started making actual applications. I eventually started hiring people and that led to a whole new expensive journey. (In which I had to learn about hiring, billing, project management, etc.)

Fast forward to today and I have work I can do anywhere I want that pays extremely well. I co-own a business that could very likely be worth millions someday and (more importantly) puts bread on my table today (and six other people’s) today.

My point is this, I have valuable skills no one can take away from me. I didn’t go to college for this stuff. I didn’t go into a cave like Iron Man and come out with these skills. I learned them very slowly, 15 minute to 20 minutes a day, for fifteen years. I learned them while going to college for something totally different, while rocking my babies to sleep, while being a Christian school teacher, a camp director, a children’s pastor and a pastor. I learned them while learning other things.

15 minutes isn’t that much time. It’s half the time it takes to watch one sitcom. It’s 1/8 the time it takes to watch a football game. Anyone can find fifteen minutes. If you invest that fifteen minutes over a long period of time, it will bring compound interest.

This isn’t a post about programming. It’s a post about acquiring valuable skills. You could replace programming with woodworking or carpentry or small engine repair. You could replace programming with mastering an instrument (or several). You could replace it with writing.

If you are ten, by the time you are twenty-five you could be really good at something if you invest fifteen minutes a day. If you are twenty, by the time you are thirty-five you could be really good at something with fifteen minutes a day. It doesn’t stop there – I know people in their nineties still learning new skills.

You (yes you) can learn to play violin, build houses, draw really well or cook gourmet meals, it’s just going to take awhile.

Forget about the get rich quick schemes and focus on getting good slow. Give more than fifteen minutes if you can and and it will go a lot faster. Over time, it will compound into valuable skills.

On being a pastor-businessman

For nearly ten years, I served as a “full time” pastor. By which I mean our church paid my full salary and was the source of 90% of my families income. This year, that has changed. I still take a small salary from the church ($1,000 a month) and still live in a house owned by our church, but the little software business I started years ago has succeeded to the point where I no longer need the church to support me.

I still consider myself a pastor first, and pastoral duties still take priority. I haven’t really stopped doing anything I was doing before. I just now have two hats to wear, the pastor hat and the businessman hat.

There are numerous reasons why I feel like God is in this:

  1. It is going to enable our church to raise money for a new auditorium, which it desperately needs.
  2. It has relieved all of the financial pressure my family was feeling. (Things like “how am I going to help my kids with college” or “how will we afford vacation this year” are no longer a concern.)
  3. My business has put me in a place where I can minister and be a witness to a completely new class of people. I can’t be a businessman tucked away in the bushel of my church office.
  4. My business has enabled me to give and help people financially that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

Most significantly, the main project my business is working on is a tool to help preachers write sermons. It is a client project, so I can’t say much about it, other than as a pastor I think it’s going to do immeasurable good, not just in making the task of writing sermons easier, but in shaping the kinds of sermons that preachers are writing. I truly believe it’s an important project, and truly believe I’ve been providentially prepared to work on the project. The fact that my business is being paid very well to do it is icing on the cake.

On a personal level, it’s been kind of an odd switch. It’s given me a bit of confidence I didn’t have previously and removed a lot of timidity. It shouldn’t be this way, but most pastors I know (myself included) struggle with insecurity and have a bit of an inferiority complex. I’m not saying being COO of a software company is the answer to that (Jesus is) but being “successful” in the eyes of the world (even though “successful” was never the goal) certainly takes part of that away.

For months I have been asking “how did this happen?” It seems like such a dream. When I answered the call to preach, I voluntarily walked away from so many dreams, and never expected them to return. All I can say is “Jesus led me all the way” and whether I’m blessed or whether I’m going through trials, He is always good and always worth following.

Book Review: Future Men by Douglas Wilson

In general, I’m a pretty big believer in eating the meat and spitting out the bones. There were two times in this book I nearly asphyxiated on some rather large bones I didn’t see coming:

First, Wilson espouses a form of covenant theology that seems to assume children will be in the faith by default. As a dispensational Baptist, I take umbrage to this. He doesn’t take this so far as to say children are automatically saved and don’t need to accept Christ, but I think he blurs important lines.

Second, in one chapter Wilson suggests that it is a father’s duty to teach his sons to drink and smoke responsibly. As a strong teetotaler, I found that a bit offensive (although not surprising.). It’s not a theme of the book, just know it’s coming.

With those two bones dug out and in open view, here is my summary of the book: it’s the best book on parenting I’ve ever read.. (And I’ve read many of them.) With the two exceptions already noted, this book felt extremely biblical and was unbelievably challenging.

For nearly twenty years, I’ve read at least one non-fiction book a month, very, very few have caused me to do anything. But Future Men isn’t the kind of book you can just read as a believing dad and then put on a shelf somewhere and forget about, it’s the kind of book that demands action.

Since reading this book I’ve taken a renewed interest and involvement in my children’s homeschooling, started discussing proverbs with my children every day at lunch and dinner, started reading the Narnia books to my son, and taken up taekwondo with my son. I’ve also really been burdened to teach more on parenting to my congregation, and started emphasizing parenting more in my Sunday Evening messages.

None of this is to brag, it’s just to say that if you read this book, be prepared to make some changes. It will change the way you think about boys, and change the way you think about parenting.

Two reasons why we have so few Christian Leaders

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had more dedicated Christians living out their faith in places of prominence? I’m not talking about Washington here, I’m talking locally:

  • Leaders who have not bowed the knee to Baal.
  • Dentists who attend church and prayer meeting.
  • Lawyers who read their Bible every day.
  • Public school teachers who are also Sunday school teachers.
  • Local newspaper editors who love their local church.

These leaders would be salt in our communities – slowing the decay of society and they would be light – shining a path to Jesus. They would do far more good for the cause of Christ than every nationally televised election has every done.

Rather than retreating from society, these leaders would be living as Christians in the heart of society. They would be Daniel Nebuchadnezzar’s court. They would be Nicodemus in the Sanhedrin.

So why do we have so few of them? Let me suggest two possibilities:

1. Bible believing churches have created an anti-intellectual (and thus anti-leader) environment.

Imagine a college educated, reasonable, well dressed man comes into your typical baptist church. As he partakes in the singing he’s looking around at the church members. They seem to be sincere.

But then the preaching starts.

If the pastor doesn’t study and prepare, how long will it take before this local leader figures that out? How many rants about the preacher’s pet peeves will this man endure? If the preacher is in the habit of throwing red meat to the dogs (i.e. bashing people outside of the room for the people in the room’s enjoyment) how much of that would a leader type take?

Unfortunately, what I just described is all too common in the typical baptist church.

Lee Robberson used to say “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I think we need to realize that ignorance in the pulpit begets ignorance in the pew. If we want to have leaders in our church, we have to have pastors who are living as leaders.

If we glory in our ignorance, if we refuse to improve and seek excellence in worship, we are going to drive away people whose life is defined by the pursuit of excellence.

A second reason why I think we are failing to see Christian leaders in our local community is…

2. Bible believing parents haven’t taken up the responsibility of raising tomorrow’s leaders.

When the Babylonians came into Israel they found some young people there who were without blemish, well favored, understanding science, cunning in all knowledge, etc.. In other words, they found some young people with leadership potential they could take to be future leaders in their empire. What they didn’t count on was the religious fervor of these young men – which led eventually to them being thrown into the fiery furnace and the lions’s den.

Christian parents need to take up the mission of raising tomorrow’s Daniels and Esthers. We need to pour our life into our kids so that they can be salt and light in places of prominence in our community. We don’t just need pastors and missionaries, we need doctors and lawyers, police chiefs and local business owners, city councilmen and public school principals. We need to deliberately raise Christian leaders.

Which means two things:

First, we need to raise our kids to be leaders. We need to teach them wisdom and work ethic, we need to demand they apply themselves in school and make sure they have a decent Christian education. We need to make sure they have manners and know how to interact with other people. None of these things just happen – they take purposeful parenting.

Second, (and far more importantly) we need to raise our kids to be Christians. We need to disciple the fire out of our kids and bring them in church life. We need to pour the Bible into them at every opportunity and we need to be sure that we are not living as hypocrites before them.

None of this will be easy. It’s going to take time and effort. It’s upstream paddling. But it’s necessary. It may be what God uses to bring about revival in our land, or at the very least keep Rome from burning for one more generation.

Why carrying a $1,000 iPad around is a good idea.

I have before me a sheet of glass, metal and silicon which cost me nearly $1,000.   As I purchased it, I had all kinds of doubts running through my mind:

  • Is this a bit much?
  • Do I really need this?
  • Could I not make do with something less expensive?
  • I already have a MacBook Pro, and an old iPad, what good will this thing do?

Due to its very high price and seemingly minor difference between other tools, this iPad felt like the most extravagant and ridiculous thing I had ever purchased.  But having used it now in my particular craft(s), all of those doubts now feel distant.

Benjamin Franklin wrote that the best investment a man can make is in the tools of his trade.  

I am a writer, a thinker, a man whose life is chained to a calendar but who also needs to read constantly.  My work involves study, brainstorming, recording audio, and preparing to present what I’ve learned over and over (and over) again.  

Many a man has mowed a lawn with a push mower.  A lucky few own their own riding mowers and fewer still have consumer zero turn mowers, but a professional doesn’t think twice about spending a king’s ransom on an X-mark or Bad Boy because as good as those other mowers are, he would quickly feel their limits and lose time and money every day.  In much the same way, I could (and many have) do all of this with a stack of notebooks and pens, my iPhone, or even with a cheaper iPad, but those tools would be inferior to this one in ways that would cost me minutes and frustration every day. 

You could cut grass with scissors, or with the rusty old mechanical push mower I remember from my grandfather’s shed, but I’m not begrudging you if you, as someone who makes his living cutting grass, owns one or several fifteen thousand dollar zero turn mowers.  I imagine I could do my job of writing with a stick and a soft patch of dirt somewhere, but as someone who does this stuff to keep food on his table, I ask for understanding about the thousand dollar slab of glass I’m carrying around.

I carry with me a nearly infinite number of notebooks and (through my Apple Pencil) a nearly infinite variety of pens, markers and brushes.  I carry with me a vast library of books including dozens and dozens of commentaries.  I carry with me the sermon manuscripts for nearly every sermon I have ever preached.  I carry with me the means to type more manuscripts should I feel inspired.  I carry with me…you get the idea.  I can take all of this with me wherever I go and have it always at the ready, and, because I also use a Mac, when I do open my computer to do other work, all of that information is magically in sync.  

So to sum it all up: I used to think iPad Pros were the height of pointless extravagance, I now think they should become standard equipment for anyone who reads, writes, thinks or communicates for a living.

Writing Again

I have decided to start writing again. By which I mean I’ve decided to resume a certain kind of writing.

I’m doing this again for two basic reasons:

  • First, because I believe the positions I’ve come to are true and good and beautiful, and
  • Second, because I believe that things that are true and good and beautiful should not be placed under a bushel, but raised up on a candlestick.

It was a wise man who once said, “don’t just do something – stand there.” I have been “doing” my beliefs about ministry, faith, family, business and politics for a long time now and I’ve just decided I better start standing here.

And “here”, in most cases, is the uncomfortable middle. It’s an uncomfortable position because the people to both my right and left on any issue like to imagine that to take one step away from their radical spot is to step onto a slippery slope, greased with crisco and laden with banana peels that leads right into a bottomless abyss. When these people see me standing here on level ground (where a man eating ditch is supposed to be) with the that stupid grin on my face, and they realize I’ve been here for quite some time, it makes for uncomfortable conversations with their sheeple. Sorry in advance for any uncomfortable conversations.

Actually, the uncomfortable middle isn’t really that uncomfortable. There is rest here. There is sanity here. There is peace here. The middle is actually pretty awesome, it’s just kind of lonely. So maybe this blog will inspire you to come join me.

In some circles, expressing a contrary opinion is a dangerous game. It could lead to getting fired, getting booted from your church, or, at the very least, not being invited to preach at the big fancy conference next year. Well, I own my own business, have a pretty solid and supporting core in my church (who has been hearing this stuff for nearly ten years) and no one was inviting me to preach at that big fancy conference anyways…so what do I have to lose?

A World Without Flowers and Color: Thoughts on the Old-School Fundamentalist Movement

Most of us American’s know Thomas Paine as the revolutionary war pamphleteer responsible for writing pro-American screeds like “Common Sense.” But in his lifetime, Paine was better known as an anti-religion writer. He was his generation’s Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins. Paine was raised by extremely strict Quakers, and his distaste for them was the major factor that drove him to hate God and religion. I say all of that to set up this quote:

If the God of the Quakers had created the world, there would be no color or flowers in it.

Think about that quote for a second. Roll it around in your mind. Now replace “Quakers” with “fundamentalists” and imagine what we could replace “color” and “flowers” with.

I am a fundamentalist pastor. I believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God and that believers should live it and defend it against errors. I believe in ecclesiastical and to an extent, personal separation. My church still does quaint things like sings hymns, has a choir and both Sunday evening and midweek services. I wear a suit when I preach. Like I said, I’m a fundamentalist pastor. 

The landscape of fundamentalist churches is changing rapidly. Many pastors in my generation are running as far away from old-gaurd independent Baptist fundamentalism as they can. Many of our churches look a lot more like “Idea Day” than “The Church Growth Conference.” 

I can relate to those who are very concerned about this trend. I don’t think these changes are 100% healthy, and I often am taken back by how far my peers are willing to stray from what they grew up on. I’m one of many young (and older) pastors who feel stuck in the middle on this.

However, instead of throwing bombs at these young pastors, maybe a better idea would be to consider what they are running away from. Most of them are not running away from a doctrinal position. They are not running away from a belief in an innerant Bible or from a belief in the importance of preaching. They are instead running away from a particular brand of fundamentalism: a fundamentalism without color or flowers.

When I think about the culture I see in old-school fundamentalist circles, here is what I think:

If the God of old-school fundamentalists had created the world, there would be no diversity in it.

When you look at a typical old-school fundamentalists (OSF from here on out) meeting you see a bunch of people who are roughly the same age (50s and 60s), all the same color (white), wearing the exact same haircuts (comb overs and crew cuts) and the exact same clothes (two and three button suits). They shout the same things, preach the same sermons, and read the same very limited material.

The OSF movement is a movement of soul-sucking colorless uniformity. 

Yet, when we look at the world that our God created, it is not a world of uniformity but a world of diversity. People are different. They come from different cultures, have different backgrounds and interests, enjoy different foods, music and clothing. Even in the animal kingdom, our God didn’t create every bird a Robin, but blessed us with thousands of types of birds with almost infinite variety.

Why must every OSF pastor look the same? Sing the same songs? Serve the same food? Wear the same clothes? Preach the same style of sermon? 

If the God of old-school fundamentalists had created the world, there would be no intelligent conversation in it.

The OSF movement is a movement that has forgotten how to think. It is a movement that gathers to itself uneducated and simple minded people, preaches simplistic messages, and practices group think that would make Orwell blush. It is made up of people who do not read widely. It doesn’t study it’s own history but instead enshrines as saints the characters of heros of the past. There is no scholarship in it, and it does not produce literature.

As a friend and fellow pastor has said, the fundamentalist movement is being taken over by unreasonable men. They are people who do not want to discuss, they see no nuance, their only acceptable form of communication is dogma.

It cannot engage its critics, because on a diet of only The Sword and Sean Hannity, its members are threatened by even the simplest of questions. 

But when you look at the world God created you see intelligence everywhere. We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. Even the blessed Book that God gave us is not a simplistic checklist, but a book that can be studied for a lifetime.

The OSF movement, in its modern incarnation, has no room for intelligence and it’s no wonder that its best and brightest young people are running for the hills.

By the way, it wasn’t always this way. I challenge you to read the letters of John R. Rice or Lee Roberson and not see a difference between their approach and the approach of their IFB offspring. 

If the God of old-school fundamentalists had created the world, there would be little beauty in it.

In the OSF movement, there is no such thing as art. There is little appreciation for fine-art, music, architecture or design. In fact, there is almost a gut-level semi-gnostic rejection of anything that is beautiful for fear that it would appeal to the flesh. 

Concepts such as modesty and wordliness are applied in such extreme ways that it makes everything in God’s creation something to run from rather than something that God created for us to enjoy with thanksgiving. 

Lastly, If the God of old-school fundamentalists had created the world, there would be no grace in it.

One thing you almost never hear an OSF say is “we disagree on that, but he is a good brother who loves the Lord.” The idea of showing grace and of letting each other make their own applications of scriptural commands seems to be completely lost on them. Christian liberty means merely the liberty to obey the dictates of your OSF leaders in lockstep submission and the liberty to be bombastically dismissive and condescending to anyone who disagrees with you.

Yet, obviously, this is not how God intended us to live. This is not what we see taught in the New Testament. 

Who wouldn’t run from this?

In one of his most famous speeches, Ronald Reagan described the Berlin wall said that on the West German side, our soldiers had their guns pointed towards Russia in an effort to stop the spread of Soviet aggression, but on the East German side the soviets also had their guns pointed toward Russia trying to keep their own people from experiencing the freedom to be found outside of the Soviet Union. 

To me, this is an apt description of militant Old School Fundamentalism; a large percentage of their energy is directed in trying to keep their own people in. Their people are starving for color, diversity, beauty, intelligence, grace and FREEDOM and rather than examining themselves they resort to scare tactics (like slippery slope arguments) and threats to keep their people in.

What are you making God look like?

Are you presenting a God who is anti-diversity, anti-intelligence, anti-beauty, anti-grace and anti-freedom? Is your God a petty dictator who cares more about hemlines and haircuts than He does about doctrine and holiness? Does God want us all to be mean, uncultured, inarticulate, unread, carbon copies of each other?

I for one don’t think He is and don’t think He does, which is why I want nothing to do with this movement.