My 2014 Book List and the Five–Okay, *Seven*–Best Books/Series I Read This Year.

Because I’m a nerd, I write down every book I finish reading during the year.  And because I’m probably a little arrogant, I’m going to assume you want to find out what I read and what were my favorites.

You’ll note that some are graphic novels (usually trade paperback collections of superhero comics) and some were “read” via audiobook. I don’t make distinctions about those in my reading list, and neither should you. No need to be snobby–words are words, story is story, books are books.

So here are the books I read in 2014:

Books Read in 2014 (* indicates started in 2013)

January

>>Untameable God–Stephen Altrogge
>>Superman: Earth One by… (graphic novel)*
>>52 Things Every Wife Needs From Her Husband — Pat Bayleitner (Audio book)
>>Crazy Busy–Kevin DeYoung
>>7–Jen Hatmaker (audio)
>>The Ocean at the End of the Lane–Neil Gaiman (audio)
>>Beautiful Chaos–Gary Russell

February

>>Hawkeye: My Life is a Weapon–Max Fraction (graphic novel)
>>Nothing O’clock–Neil Gaiman (novella)
>>What Every Groom Needs to Know–Robert Wolgemuth and Mark DeVries

March

>>The Inmates Are Running The Asylum–Stephen Altrogge
>>For Us And For Our Salvation–Steven Nichols
>>Brilliance–Marcus Sakey

April

>>David and Goliath–Malcolm Gladwell (audio)
>>The Fault in Our Stars–John Green
>>Sexual Intimacy in Marriage–Dr. William Cutrer

May

>>Gone Girl — Gillian Flynn
>>The Martian — Mark Weir

June

>>The Reason I Jump — Naoki Higashida

July

>>Debt Free Living — Larry Burkett (audio)
>>Unbroken — Lauren Hillenbrand
>>The Night Circus–Erin Morgenstern
>>Carte Blanche — Jeffrey Deaver
>>Date Your Wife — Justin Buzzard
>>The Meaning of Marriage — Tim and Kathy Keller

August

>>The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth — Norman Juster
>>Die Empty — Todd Henry
>>Hinds Feet on High Places — Hannah Hurnard
>>The Giver — Lois Lowry

September

>>A Better World — Marcus Sakey
>>The Pastor’s Justification — Jared Wilson
>>Start! — Jon Acuff

October

>>I Am a Church Member — Thom Rainer
>>Out of the Silent Planet — CS Lewis
>>Perelandra — CS Lewis
>>Friends and Lovers — Joel Beeke
>>That Hideous Strength — CS Lewis
>>The Flash: Reborn — Geoff Johns (graphic novel)

November

>>Casino Royale — Ian Fleming
>>Do the Work –Steven Pressfield

December 

>>Allegiant — Veronica Roth
>>All of Grace — Charles Spurgeon
>>The Sparrow — Mary Doria Russell

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42 books (including 3 graphic novels and a novella).That’s a good reading year for me, especially when you factor in a semester of school, moving, and getting married.

Some books were definitely shorter than others. There was a time when I’d dig into the analytics of book length and type, but I’m pretty sure no one would be interested in that but me. (Okay, just one tidbit: It’s interesting to me that the fiction/non-fiction breakdown was almost an even split. Seems like the pendulum swings wildly in terms of book type, year to year. It felt like a fiction-heavy year, but it may be that the works of fiction hit me harder than the non-fiction, with a few exceptions.)

Instead, let me give you the official 4thDaveBlog recommendation on 7 great books/series from this list:

Brilliance/A Better World by Marcus Sakey: I’ve already written on this series, but I wanted to give it another plug. If you’re looking for an exciting story in the “near/alternate future” category, this series is pretty fab.

The Martian by Mark Weir: I can’t believe I haven’t written about this one yet!  This novel is fantastic. It’s the story of an American astronaut who is stranded on Mars during a research expedition, when he’s separated from the rest of his crew during a crisis and presumed dead. Once he is able to contact NASA using the equipment in their temporary Martian outpost, it’s a race against time as the “last man on Mars”fights to survive while the rescue operation is launched. The narrator/protagonist is a foul-mouthed Macgyver, patching together broken equipment, scrambling to think outside-the-box to find solutions to life-or-death problems, and trying to keep his sanity in the solitude of space. I loved this book. It’s full of dry humor, fascinating technical concepts, and a few unexpectedly poignant moments; I’ve never read anything quite like it. (Content note: LOTS of bad language. Just be aware.)

Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand: To quote my review from August:

I’ve recommended this book to everyone I know. Unbroken tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track star who joined the Air Force during WWII and was shot down over enemy waters. The book recounts Zamperini’s struggle to survive as a castaway and as a prisoner of war. The inhumanities of war are starkly displayed, and Zamperini’s determination to never give in to them will inspire you. The best part, though, is the story of redemption that weaves its way through Zamperini’s life. This amazing story will be coming to theaters at Christmas, but I highly recommend that you read it first. The truth will be so much grander than anything put on screen. Consider this my highest recommendation.

I did see the movie last week, and it was a great film. It was even a good film adaptation that gives a good sense of the book’s material. So, see the film, by all means. But don’t pass over the book. The story of Louie Zamperini is so rich, so inspiring, it’s worth a second look.

Die Empty by Todd Henry: Again, to quote from August:

I’m about halfway through this one, and I’ve already decided that I need to purchase it and read it at least two more times in the next year. Henry challenges the reader to be more focused on contributing something to the world. He argues that too many people reach the end of their lives with their best work still inside them. Rather, he writes, we need to “die empty”–to start living with the intention of pouring out all the great work we have to contribute to the world, so that when we get to the end of our lives, we won’t regret not finishing or producing or accomplishing our personal best during our lifetimes.  This book is very challenging.  High, high recommendation.

I finished the book and immediately put it back on my To-Be-Read list. If you know deep down that there’s more for you to do, this needs to be part of your 2015 reading list.

The Space Trilogy by CS Lewis: I talked about this classic trilogy a few times back in October. Like Lewis’ Narnia, this series took on new and deeper meaning, now that I’ve read it as an adult. If you haven’t read The Space Trilogy (or The Chronicles of Narnia, for that matter) since you were a teenager or younger, you really need to give them a second look.

Start! by Jon Acuff: I reviewed this one back in October. Acuff’s book has been a big part of my personal growth over the last few months, as I’m shifting into the next phase of life and looking to grow creatively and really start acting like a writer. This one’s another title that’s worth a read and a re-read.

The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson: Still gets my strong recommendation for anyone in pastoral ministry. I’m pretty sure I’ll be going back to this one over and over, and loaning it to friends who serve God’s people.

All Together Now.

Yesterday morning, my church had an “all together” service, and it was really encouraging.

I am a member of what can only be described as a megachurch, with over 5000 in regular attendance at 3 campuses. Unlike many megachurches, we don’t use the typical multi-site “screen-pastor” approach of preaching or music delivered via video feed. Rather, each site has its own on-campus pastor preaching “live” every week, and each site has live music as well. Worship services are held in three spoken languages (English, Spanish, and Portuguese) as well as in American Sign Language. Over a dozen services are conducted every week, across the three campuses.

But yesterday, we were all together in one service, and it was great. Worship that shifted back and forth between English and Spanish, multilingual prayer (no heavenly tongues, and always interpreted, just in case some of you got nervous for a second), preaching in English and Spanish. And best of all, a clearly articulated and demonstrated commitment to be a church that reaches out to every part of our community with the Gospel of Jesus, in order to fulfill our Lord’s command to reach the nations with the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 4 says that we are one body, with one Spirit, one Father, one Lord. I saw that yesterday at church.

I don’t agree with everything my church does. Shoot, I sometimes get really frustrated with some of the teaching, or the music, or the decisions of the pastoral staff. But despite the things that I wish were different, I love my church. I’m thankful for my church. God has used this body mightily in my life.

The day will come when my wife and I will move on from Champion Forest, for one reason or another. But when we do, we will leave thanking God for how He has blessed us through this body.

So here’s my challenge to you: first, pray for your church–for your pastors, your elders, your deacons, your teachers. Pray for God to protect them, guide them, and mature them in truth and in love in the next year.

And second: comment below with your church’s name and something you love and are thankful about your church. Name names. Praise God for His kindness in connecting you to a body of believers.

The 4th Dave’s Christmas Music List — Part Three: The “Eggnog” List!

Previously on the 4thDaveBlog: the “Bah Humbug” list / the “Fa-La-La-La-La” list

I know I’m adding to the noise with these posts. Every year, people post the “best” and “worst” holiday classics.  But there are some songs that, though I *know* they’re terrible, I still like them and still sing along when they come on the radio.

So, presented in no particular order, is my “eggnog” list–they’re not for everyone, but every once in a while, they’re enjoyable during the Christmas season. (You can make your own joke about needing the “special” eggnog to enjoy them.)

“Simply Having A Wonderful Christmastime,” by Paul McCartney

The case against it: First, take everything remotely awesome about 80’s synth music. Okay, ready? Now smash it with a candy cane until it’s completely unrecognizable and repulsive. Once you’re done with that, let it rot for about a year, and then set it on fire. Put out the flames with old pondwater, and then smother it with about 15 gallons of watered down vanilla frosting. What you’ll have will still be more palatable than this turd, produced by one-fourth of the greatest band of the twentieth century.

The video is frightening and may in some subconscious way be intended to dissuade kids from doing drugs during the holidays. The disembodied piano-playing hands and the star people freak me out. At about 1:45 into the video, the Spanish Inquisition shows up (unexpected, natch). There’s duelling Pauls, some kind of fire, angels vandalizing buildings. I’m giving you the high points here.

Why I like it: Okay, all of that is true.  But the Jars of Clay version is great. And that makes me like the song.

“I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas,” by Gayla Peevey

The Cast Against It: The girl sounds like her vocal coach was Ethel Merman. (Is that too obscure a reference these days?) The oompah-oompah of the band can be grating. And the song is, admittedly, stupid.

Why I Like It: This song is fun to sing loudly and in an exaggerated manner. Plus, Gayla’s singing reminds me of Dinah from “The Philadelphia Story” singing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.”

“Christmas All Over Again,” by Tom Petty And the Heartbreakers

The Case Against It: Tom Petty’s annoyingly nasal voice.

Why I Like It: Tom Petty’s annoyingly nasal voice. I enjoy singing the song like that and really playing that up. (Just like with Bob Dylan. Speaking of which…)

“It Must Be Santa,” by Bob Dylan

The Case Against It: This song is terrible, with a capital TERR. It should not exist. Dylan’s voice is almost gone, and it hurts to listen to him strain to keep up with the maddeningly fast tempo. The video makes no sense, and all it tells me is that Bob Dylan is some kind of evil teleporting wizard.

Why I Like It: It’s fun to sing like Bob Dylan. And the tune is bouncy and infectious. The song just sounds like a party. Everyone singing along, everyone laughing. You’ve just got to give yourself over to the goofiness of it.  And pass the eggnog.

“All I Want For Christmas Is You,” by Mariah Carey

The Case Against It: I’ve noticed an up-tick in the hatred for this song, which I can only attribute to its being overplayed (and Mariah Carey not accepting that she’s aged almost 20 years since this song came out, and still dresses inappropriately for…any age, really). It’s sappy, sure. It’s a little too love-songy to be a classic and lasting Christmas tune.

Why I Like It: It’s fun to sing. It’s sweet. MC had a great voice in this era. And, though I am loathe to admit it, I had a bit of a crush on her in high school. So I guess this track just holds a soft spot in my heart. What can I tell you?

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Your Turn: What are your Christmas-themed “guilty pleasure” songs–songs that are so bad they’re good? Songs that you know everyone hates but you secretly enjoy? Post them below!

The 4th Dave’s Christmas Music List — Part Two: The “Fa-La-La” List!

As I said previously, I felt it was time to update my list of favorite and least-favorite Christmas music. It’s easy enough to pick out the Christmas songs you love to hate–but what about the really good ones? So here’s my top-five current favorites:

Fa-la-la-la-la!  The4thDave’s Current Favorite Christmas Songs!

5) “O Holy Night”

One of my favorite Christmas “hymns.” I remember a few special occasions of singing this song. It just strikes the right chords in my heart. Here’s an instrumental version of the song performed by jazz musicians who survived Katrina, from the TV show “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” I loved this heart-warming scene in this episode, so I’m including the version with dialogue and cut-aways.

4) “You Gotta Get Up” by Rich Mullins

Not enough people know this song, so any chance to introduce someone to a new Rich Mullins song is worth taking. So here you go: the brilliant Rich Mullins, singing about the joy of Christmas morning.

3) “O Come All Ye Faithful” by the Austin Stone

Christmas is a time to worship, so the most worshipful songs are often my favorites. Here’s a great version by the folks at the Austin Stone church.

2) “I Celebrate the Day” by Relient K

The whole Relient K Christmas album (“Let it Snow, Baby, Let it Rein Deer”) is pretty great–a good balance of serious reverence and playful festiveness. It has its emo moments, but on the whole it’s pretty solid, and I listen to it year after year. This track from the album is my favorite of all, and a great reminder of what matters at Christmas. It’s a song sung to the Savior, playing a bit off of the question structure of “Mary Did You Know” but focusing on what the Christmas child actually came to accomplish.

“I celebrate the day / That you were born to die / So I could one day pray for you to save my life / Pray for you to save my life.”

1) “O Come, O Come Immanuel”

(There are lots of good versions out there–but I really am becoming a fan of the Austin Stone’s worship music–so here you go.)

Probably my favorite Christmas song ever. There’s just so much here; most importantly, it captures the urgency of Advent, of humanity itself, as it yearns for redemption. We didn’t just need a new moral code, another prophet, a new flavor of religion. We needed a savior. We needed redemption. We needed to be made new. Jesus did that. He was “God with us.” And He ransomed His people, captive to sin and death. So, rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel has ransomed us.

The 4th Dave’s Christmas Music List — Part One: The “Bah Humbug” List!

So Aaron Armstrong posted recently about his picks for the best and worst Christmas songs, and that reminded me of some posts I wrote, years ago, on the same subject. So I decided I’d updated my list for this year. For the ones that are staying on my top and bottom five, I’ll just “re-appropriate” what I’ve written previously. And please post your favorites (and least-favorites) in the comments below!

Bah Humbug!  The4thDave’s Least Favorite Christmas Songs!

These are the five songs that I avoid like the plague, every holiday season. Songs that make me turn the radio dial immediately, or off completely if they keep popping up. I’d rather listen to my van engine idle than sit through these things ever again. But maybe it’s just me–your mileage, as they say, may vary.

(Dis)Honorable Mention: “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano

I almost didn’t list this one, because really, it’s harmless. But the sad fact is that this song is the “Margaritaville” of Christmas carols–everyone knows the words, everyone sings along with the song, and then everyone is deeply embarrassed afterwards. No Christmas carol should cause this much shame. And honestly, the lyrics aren’t that inspiring. No magnificent angelic host, no inspiring star, no world laying pining in sin and error, no captive Israel. Just some dude saying Merry Christmas over and over and over. He doesn’t even wish us a prosperous New year “from the bottom of his heart.” What’s up, Jose? Did you run out of sincere sentiment halfway through?

5) “Santa Baby” by anyone who thinks it’s sexy

(It’s nearly impossible to find an appropriate video for this one. So you get LeAnn Rimes’ “NOW…” version with no pictures. I’m really doing you a favor.)

With this song, you get one or two possible outcomes: the singer comes off as trashy and/or just plain sad. Seriously, this is just painful. Memo to everyone singing this song ever: You are neither Cynthia Basinet nor Eartha Kitt. You will never sound like Cynthia Basinet or Eartha Kitt. Attempting to sing this song as if you were Cynthia Basinet or Eartha Kitt only demonstrates how ridiculous and incredibly annoying this song sounds. Plus, it makes you look sad and desperate. Please stop. For the love of Christmas, please stop.

4) “Last Christmas” by Wham!


(Not gonna make jokes about George Michael. Not gonna do it. Nope.)

So let’s just talk about the story of the song. Here’s the big problem: it’s not actually about Christmas. You can substitute any other season or month in place of the word “Christmas” and it doesn’t change the song. It’s a slam song about how a girl broke Georgie’s heart, so he’s going to give it to someone else. Someone who’s actually special. (Hey, girl from last year, you’re nothing to George now.) But he’s also leaving the door open to play with his emotions again.

The timing of this emotional manipulation is incidental.  Think about it: “Last summer, I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away.”  Still works, doesn’t it? For me, that’s a *Christmas* song FAIL.

3) “Merry Christmas, Darling” by the Carpenters

I don’t even know what to say about this, except that every time I hear the first few bars of this song, I change it immediately. In terms of songs about missing far-away loved ones, this one is too schmaltzy to be enjoyed. And some of the wording is just awkward. I can’t explain it. But this one just makes me feel weirdly icky.

2) “Happy Birthday Jesus” by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Now at this point, you may be taken aback. “C’mon, Dave, really? You’re taking shots at a song sung by sweet little kids?” Yes I am, and I’ll explain why.

The main problem is the age paradox. This song could only be sung by small children, because the thought of adults singing it is ridiculous to the extreme. On the other hand, you suffer from the cloyingly sweet little girl’s voice, with the thlight lithp of mithing teeth–including one point when she ventures into “Junior-Asparagus” land. Then you have the sweeping orchestration over the children’s choir, repeating the EXACT SAME LINES before coming back down into the shaky-voiced (oh, i’m sorry, i meant tender) solo finale.

Obviously, if I were this child’s parent, I would be beaming with pride. But it’s hard to beam with pride at other people’s kids. Have you actually tried going to an elementary school Christmas production lately? It’s painful. You only care, you can only stand it, if you have a stake in the endeavour. I don’t know this little girl. I’m sure she’s a sweetheart. But just like I don’t make a habit of seeking out bootlegged soundtracks to every elementary-school Christmas production starring cherubic little tykes in construction paper and cotton ball costumes, I don’t want to listen to this dear little child sing a birthday song to Jee-ZAHS, makes no difference that the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir produced it.

I’m sorry, that’s just the way I feel.

1) “The Christmas Shoes” by Newsong

If there were ever a tune deserving of criminal prosecution, it’s this one–and I say this with absolutely no exaggeration. I can’t even express how much I loathe this song. Some of these tracks annoy me, or stick in my mind like a burr that I can’t remove. But this one makes me angry, to the point of minor violence. Why? Because it’s expressly created to make you cry. A little boy is buying new shoes for his mother, so she’ll be pretty when she dies and goes to Heaven tonight.

OH. MY. LANTA. And the kid can’t afford the shoes, and a stranger buys them for him. For his mom who’s dying of some unspecified disease. Because apparently Daddy can’t get his butt to the store with his young son to buy the blasted shoes.

The stage-whispery vocals. The telegraphed musical swells at the bridge. The INSUFFERABLE CHILDREN’S CHOIR SINGING THE CHORUS AFTER THE BRIDGE!

AAARRRRRGGGGGGHHH!!! MUST SMASH!!!! MUST SMASH!!!!!!!!

*calming breaths*

I still hate you, Newsong. I still hate you very very much.

Mary, Did You Walk in Winter Birthday Shoes By A Reindeer?

A few weeks ago, I was curious about your most and least favorite Christmas songs/carols, and the results were…let’s say “mixed.”

Your picks for most-loved Christmas songs:

  • O Come, O Come Emmanuel (7 votes)
  • O Holy Night (6 votes)
  • a 5-way tie between  I’ll be Home For Christmas, Carol of the Bells, Breath of Heaven, The Christmas Song, and It Came Upon the Midnight Clear (2 votes each)
Your picks for most-hated Christmas songs:
  • Springsteen Santa Claus is Coming to Town ” (7 votes)
  • Christmas Shoes (5 votes)
  • (tie) Grandma, Santa Baby, Feliz, Wonderful Christmastime, Happy Birthday Jesus (3 votes each)
What was surprising about the poll was the crossover songs: songs that charted on both the “Fa La La” and “Bah Humbug” lists:
  • Happy Birthday Jesus
  • Mary Did you Know?
  • Sleigh Ride
  • Winter Wonderland
  • The Christmas Song
People’s reactions to Christmas music are interesting to me. Some love getting in the spirit of the season. Others (usually those who work in retail and are subjected to piped-in generic holiday music and evil customer behavior) struggle to enjoy Christmas music. And that makes sense to me.
As for me, I grew up in a house that relished Christmas music. From the moment it started on November 1st on the local FM radio station, Christmas music was non-stop until the lights went out on December 25th, and sometimes a few days later. As a reaction to this (and a symptom of the crippling cynicism I was infected with during my college years), I stopped listening to Christmas music unless I was mocking it. I stated for several years that my favorite Christmas carol was “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch.” (Though, to be fair, this version is pretty fun.)
Thankfully, I grew out of my college side-eye days, and have begun to enjoy Christmas music again…mostly. There are exceptions. (We’ll get to those tomorrow.) But on the whole, I do enjoy Christmas music, I’m thankful for it, and I say God bless it.
So, on this eve of the blessed day, I say to you, Merry Christmas, readers. Take some time to enjoy some great Christmas music and meditate on the baby in the manger, born to be the Savior on the Cross, who stands now as the Risen Lord and Returning King.
I’ll leave you with a song that is not often played as a Christmas carol, but one that I think keeps our focus on the Person who matters.
God bless you all.

Talking about How We Talk About What Everyone Else is Talking About.

The national conversation right now is about race. And it seems there are a growing number of people who are tired of hearing about it or talking about it. While I understand this reaction, I think we need to push past it. These conversations need to be had, if they can be conducted in a way that is helpful and useful for building up the hearers. But that’s where we run into problems. Too many people are talking about these issues, but too few are paying attention to how we talk about these issues. Especially in the Church.

So just over a week ago,  I presented the following in our Sunday Morning Bible study class. I submit it here for your consideration, and if need be, correction/rebuke.

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I want to start by owning what i don’t know:

  • I don’t know if Mike Brown was a victim of police brutality or if he was a criminal who tried to attack a police officer.
  • I don’t know if the police in New York had justification for trying to restrain and arrest Eric Garner.
  • I don’t know what it’s like to be looked at with suspicion by people in authority because of my skin color.
  • I don’t know what it’s like to feel like i can’t trust the police or judicial system to act justly on my behalf.
  • I don’t know what it’s like to look fundamentally different that most of the people around me. (Except on the train.)
  • I don’t know what I don’t know.

I’m not going to speak today about law enforcement or justice or excessive force or civil disobedience or equality. Other people have been writing and speaking about such things over the last several months, some for the better and many more for the worse.

I want to talk about us, church. I want to talk abut how we talk to and about each other, and how we talk to and about our neighbors. How well or poorly we see each other. How well or poorly we listen to each other.

My fear is that our experiences, our ideologies, and our politics are clouding over or crowding out how the Bible says we ought to address the topic of racial diversity in the Church.

Let me take you through a few Scriptures. Again, I don’t claim I’m bringing anything new to the table here–but let this serve as a reminder.

Ephesians 2

Paul begins this chapter by describing the person each of us were before Christ–driven by passions, children of wrath, spiritually dead. Every single one of us. But God, being rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ, by grace, through the gift of faith. With that understanding that we are all beggars at God’s table who have been graciously made sons and daughters, Paul then goes on to say that cultural separation is obliterated by the Gospel of Jesus–those who are far off sit at table with those who are already near (though all had to be brought by the Spirit). In His body, Jesus has destroyed the inherent ethno-cultural hostility that would separate us, and He makes all of us who are called to be God’s children from every tribe, tongue, and nation into one new man. One new body. With common access to our one Father through the one Holy Spirit, who fills us all and binds us together.

I Corinthians 12

I want to be careful here. The context of Paul’s words in this chapter have to do with spiritual gifts, so I don’t want to misapply the text. However, the metaphor Paul uses can have multiple applications. In verses 12-26, Paul compares the Church to a body. He emphasizes that each part is different, but all have a ministry and a value to the body. They are all chosen by God and placed by God for a specific reason. This should remove favoritism or discrimination. It should kill our pride and stomp out our envy among the brothers. Every member of Christ’s body matters, in other words. Notice verse 26 specifically: “When one member suffers, all suffer together; when one member is honored, all rejoice together.” There is a recognition here that all believers, regardless of where they live or what they look like or what their politics are, are part of the same body, and that the suffering of one should be felt and considered and sympathized with by all, just as the joy of one should be rejoiced over by all.

Finally, Romans 12:9-21.

In the latter half of this chapter, Paul challenges this racially diverse church in Rome to conduct themselves in a certain way. They are to love one another sincerely. They are to persevere together. They are to bless and not curse; to live at peace with everyone (as much as it depends on them); to associate with the lowly; to rejoice or weep with those who rejoice or weep.  They are to do good to those who oppose them, and overcome evil with good.  Notice in this text that the proper response to tribulation, to suffering, to social separation, to outright opposition is not to attack or accuse or avoid.  Their response should be to love, to serve, to give, and to overcome with good.  (I feel like this passage would do well to be posted at the top of every Facebook timeline and Twitter feed, as a reminder to all keyboard cowboys of how to respond or not respond to social media–and I include myself in that group.)

So how are we doing with that? Well, here’s what I’ve been seeing in social media from Christians, all over the spectrum of beliefs:

  • If you don’t agree with my positions, you are (ignorant/racist/cowardly).
  • That person’s actions are just typical of ______ (race/vocation/political group).
  • All (specific group) need to be held accountable for this, or need to respond or answer for this.
  • This issue doesn’t affect me. It’s not my problem. Everyone needs to get over it.
Based on the Scriptures above, I propose that we reject thinking like this. We must throw out these statements.
Rather:
  1. We need to listen to each other’s perspective and take seriously the experiences of our brothers and sisters, even if their experiences are much different than ours. I’m not saying we accept every person’s experience uncritically, but rather that we listen with open minds and hearts. Experience and perspective matters.
  2. We must recognize and reject stereotype thinking in our own lives, when it comes to race and ethnicity. (The only group designations that should matter to the Church are “saved” and “lost.”) I think all people do this, regardless of color or class or background. Each one of us holds broad brushes in our hands.
  3. We need to examine our reactions to social/racial issues and judge if they are based more on politics or on Biblical principles. The Scriptures present a complex matrix through which to view these issues, one that balances submission to authorities with compassion for the oppressed with personal responsibility with cries for divine justice.
  4. We should engage in discussions of these sensitive issues humbly, and with the motivation of loving our neighbor and speaking the truth in love.
  5. We must must MUST remember that the answer to all these questions, the solution to all these issues, is the work of the Gospel of Jesus in the hearts of people. Yes, it is that simple. No, that doesn’t mean it is easy. As people who proclaim the Good News, it is our responsibility to apply that good news to the challenges of racial conflict and diversity–in how we think, how we speak, and how we love. If we are not doing that, we are failing the mission we’ve been given.

Don’t misunderstand me, please: This is not an attempt to jump on the white evangelical “mea culpa” bandwagon. I’m not aiming for PC sensitivity brownie points from anyone. That means nothing, and is a waste of time.

I have a sincere conviction that many of my fellow believers in the United States, on all sides of the ideological spectrum, have gotten our politics so twisted up in our faith that we are forgetting how to love our neighbors who disagree with us, or who are different that us. In our hearts and on our keyboards, the smallness and paleness of our love for others is being revealed through how we are reacting to and speaking about these national events.

We must search our hearts and repent of the sin we find there. Then we must bear fruit in keeping with that repentance. By this, we will demonstrate what Christ has done for us and in us.

I don’t know what that looks like for you. For me,  repentance means being quick to listen and slow to speak. Quick to try to understand, slow to assume. And quick to recognize that if i don’t love my brothers, and if i don’t love my neighbors, all my theology is noise and waste, an indictment of my heart and a witness against my profession of faith in Jesus.

Gonna break the #1 rule.

I’ve listened to a LOT of podcasts on productivity and platform-building. I’ve read LOTS of posts on blogging and how to improve your blogging and build a faithful and excited readership.

The Most. Important. Thing. that I hear over and over is: Be consistent.

I’ve seen this bear out in my own experience with blogging. When I’ve been inconsistent with posting, the audience has gone away. Who can blame you? No need to sit around waiting for something to happen.

I’ve really been trying to be consistent. To reward your attention by providing content worth reading on a regular basis.

But this week, I have to keep making excuses. Real life (read: Work) is making it too hard to produce content this week. And I have to admit, I’m disappointed. I’m really loving this latest stretch of blogging. I hope you are, too.

Okay, so:  No new posts until next Tuesday (12/16). I’m sorry, readers. Please don’t give up on me.

Next week: Fun stuff about Christmas songs. Serious stuff about race and the Church. Analysis and response to Christianity Today’s review of “Exodus.”

See you then.

Postponements and prayers.

Today’s pretty busy, unfortunately, so my previously-planned fun and frivolity (lists of awesome and terrible Christmas music!) will have to be postponed until Friday or next week.

Tomorrow/Friday, I will post a fleshed-out version of my notes from Sunday morning about how Christians can speak about race–no solutions, but some observations and reminders. I don’t presume to have any new or ground-breaking insights, and there are many who have already said better things than I can. But I’m going to share my thoughts about how Christians are treating each other right now, particularly on social media. I hope it’s helpful to you.

Today, I simply ask for your prayers.  For me, that I get done the mountain of work I need to do today.  And more importantly, for a friend and coworker named Lisa, who lost her mom last week. It’s hitting her and her family really hard right now. So please pray for their comfort, and for God to use this grief to draw them to Himself.

There’s a lot of hurt going on, and more often than not it goes unstated. So in the com-box today, feel free to share what’s going on, so we can pray for you.

Happy Wednesday, friends. Grace and peace to you.

Six months.

Happy Tuesday, friends. Hope your week has started off well. And if you’ve been participating in the #KudosChallenge, please feel free to let me know how it’s going. I have to admit, I was a bit of a hermit this weekend, so I haven’t been doing it regularly. But I will! I promise!

Sunday was December 7th. Known around the country by many as “the day that will live in infamy” (and rightly so–it makes me sad that each year fewer remember the importance of Pearl Harbor Day), the day also has an added significance in the Mitchell household.

December 7th marked our 6-monthiversary. (“Anniversaries” mark the passing of each annum–year. So “monthiversary” works for me, since I don’t know the Latin word for “month.”) We were married in June, six months ago. It’s amazing to me that we’re here already. In a strange way, it feels longer and shorter than that, at the same time.

6 months. Still in our honeymoon period, everyone says. And I think this is pretty true. However, the reality of being married to a sinner is slowly dawning on both of us. I’m realizing that my selfishness and my laziness are creeping in, and the temptation to be self-centered or easily irritated has started to rise. She is seeing where I’m failing to meet her expectations, or I’m not being thoughtful, and she’s tempted to be upset or hurt.

We don’t fight, as a couple. We just don’t. We talk things out, and then we cry, and then we pray, and then we work through it. And even though people have told us for months (before and after marriage) that conflict is going to come, we didn’t see it. Maybe I didn’t believe it. Maybe I thought we were special.

But, six months in, I can see that conflict is inevitable because we are both redeemed sinners, and the Holy Spirit isn’t done sanctifying us yet. I’m going to fail her. She’s going to frustrate me. It’s going to happen. And I think part of me is scared by that thought. Scared that we’ll let each other down. Scared of what will happen next. I don’t have a whole lot of relational experience in which conflicts are resolved well.

Last night, after some honest discussion and prayer, we looked into each other’s eyes and said, “We’re going to fail each other and sin against each other and hurt each other many times over the years. But neither of us are going anywhere. Ever.”

You can call it naivete, you can call it foolish optimism.  I call it faith. My bride and I have faith in Jesus, that He will give us the strength and the grace and the patience to love each other through and in spite of our sins, every single day, until we are separated by death.

This morning, over coffee, we looked into each other’s eyes, and I said, “I can’t believe you’re mine. I can’t imagine life without you.” In just 6 months, we have learned to rely on each other, and lean into each other–not in a clutching, grasping, desperate way, but in faith and grace, trusting God that He will use each of use to bless and refine the other.

Happy six months, beauty. Here’s to 600 more.