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How I Read Significantly More This Year

I read a bunch of books this year. 72 books, to be specific. While there are certainly people who have read more books that me this year, this was 3.6 times more books than I read last year. I had hoped to end the year reading four books a month, but ended the year having read 6 books a month. So, for those who are looking to read more books, here are some how to’s that helped me read more.

Audible

For those of you who don’t know, Audible is a service offered by Amazon that sells and streams audio books for many of the books you’ve been wanting to read. When I started the year, I had been using Audible to get any reading in at all. Somewhere during this year I began using Audible to get through books that were longer or more difficult reads. Audible also began offering two free “Audible Original” books every month in addition to the one book I got with my monthly membership. This increased the number of books I was able to read from one to three on a monthly basis. I’m now able to read three books a month while I get ready in the morning, drive to work, or cut the grass, and it helped me read more than I was previously.

Less Social Media

Maybe I’m the only one who this applies to…and if so…good…but I was spending WAY too much time on social media. Early in the year I decided to spend less time on social media and more time reading. I had this shocking revelation that I can read books on my phone during the time I was looking a funny videos on Facebook! Amazing, right? This is probably why you’ve seen less of me on Facebook and Twitter, by the way. Eventually I began reading for a short time in the morning instead of scrolling through social media and it helped me get more legitimate reading done. Reading in the morning has also helped sharpen my mind’s ability to focus and process information. If you do one thing in 2020, spend less time on social media and more time in books, especially in the morning. You won’t regret it.

Man Book Club

In 2018 I had read The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse. It was a great read that left me determined not only to better parent my children but also to continue growing myself. One of the five solution chapters in the book encourages readers to develop “Five Feet of Books.” This is 60 inches (theoretically an inch per book) of the best books in twelve different categories. Then, Sasse gave his list of the best books in each of the twelve categories. I was talking about this chapter with a friend who admittedly wasn’t much of a reader and we both decided that to be good fathers we needed to read more good books like the ones on Sasse’s list. And voila! Man Book Club was born.

Now, usually once a month, but sometimes less, we gather in a greasy spoon bar and talk about the latest classic we’ve read from the list. Some of us are great readers, some of us have never read much at all. But each of us are committing to stretch ourselves and read books that challenge us and should change us. Last month was the book of Genesis (from the section on “God”), this month will be the Communist Manifesto (from the section called “Tyrany”), and after we get done with that, we’re going to start reading “The History of the Peloponnesian War,” (from the section on “Greek Roots”). The beautiful thing is having a reading circle with other men has helped me read more, be more thoughtful in my reading, and bite off a bit more than I would normally try on my own. I’m reading longer, older, and more complex books because I have a group of guys doing it with me. There are plenty of book clubs for women, but if you are a man, want to read more, and have an entrepreneurial bent, I would highly recommend starting a Man Book Club.

Hoopla

Hoopla made a significant addition to my reading this year in only the last month and I expect it to make a far more significant impact for me in 2020. Hoopla is an app that works in conjunction with your local library. If your library offers access, you will be able to borrow five titles every month from a significant catalog of ebooks, audio books, music, and more. Currently I have 90+ audio books identified that I want to read, many of which I was planning to buy through Audible. Not only will I save money using Hoopla, but I’ll also be able to listen to more books in a month by using the service. In December alone, I was able to listen to an extra three audio books. It’s also important to note that Hoopla offers a significant number of Christian Audio audio books. If your library uses Hoopla, I would highly recommend signing up.

So between Audible, less social media, Man Book Club, and Hoopla I was able to read 56 more books this year. Really the lesson here is do what works for you. These are the things that worked well for me and my hope is they work well for you, too. What worked well for you this year? Let me know in the comments.

Tomorrow, I’ll post my Top Ten Books of 2019 along with my list of books read. If you’re looking for a good read for 2020, stop by. I’m sure there will be something for everyone!

Photo Credit: Man Reading Book On Beach by Ben White

This Year in Reading: Evangelism

I did a lot of reading this year.

A lot.

I read so much I surprised myself. Over the course of the next few days, we’ll talk about the how’s, why’s, and what’s of my reading this year. For now, lets just say I read more books this year than in any single year of my life.

While that level of reading by necessity must be broad, I did have one goal in my reading this year—read as many books as I could about evangelism. Now, why, you may ask would I read as many books as I could on evangelism? Well, the simple answers is I want to get better at it. The more complex answer is that I find that the more I think about a topic, the more central it becomes in my life. One easy way for me to think about evangelism more was to read more about it.

There were a lot of books. I didn’t get through all of them. I plan to continue the emphasis going forward in the New Year. Because evangelism is not just something I need to get better at, but I believe the whole body of Christ in America needs to get better at, I created a list of the ten best books on evangelism I’ve read this year. There’s a short blurb below each link that tells a bit of my journey with the book and why it might interest you.

Prophetic Fishing

This was the second or third book about evangelism I read this year and it was easily the best. Jean is a prophetic minister who regularly hears from Jesus and shares His heart with lost people around her. This may seem really scary and difficult, but Jean makes the process seem so simple and friendly that by the end of the book you’ll be wanting to put it into practice. Not only did I learn about hearing from Jesus and sharing what I’m hearing with the lost by reading this book, but I encountered the love of Jesus as I read the author’s testimony. I highly recommend picking up the audio book where you’ll get to hear a very personal evangelism testiomony told in the author’s own voice toward the end of the book. It’s well worth it.

Spirit Led Evangelism

Spirit Led Evangelism was such an encouraging read. The book is by Che Ahn, a stalwart in the charismatic renewal movement who has been moving in Holy Spirit-inspired evangelism since his days in the Jesus People movement. Che covered the whole spectrum of evangelism, from sharing the Gospel and partnering with the Holy Spirit in signs and wonders to church planting and its impact in the harvest. Ahn encourages believers to follow the Holy Spirit and be persistent and faithful in evangelism, which is a rare combination. I think you’ll be helped by this book.

The Master Plan of Evangelism and Discipleship

This book is a classic. You can’t go anywhere in American Evangelicalism without encountering someone whose thoughts have been impacted by this book. What I found interesting is that so much of the house church movement’s thinking finds its origin and support in the discipleship principles laid out here. The key to effective evangelism is found in sharing the Gospel and training up converts in a way of life that leads them to do the same. Without this plan in place, both our evangelism and our churches will suffer. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.

Gospel Boldness: Mission, Prayer, and Evangelism

This book has one clear focus—convincing you that you need to be more bold for Jesus. The author believes in the West, we don’t share the Gospel because we are afraid, and I agree with him. His answer is to regularly ask Jesus for boldness to share the Gospel. It’s a simple formula and a long book. I hesitated putting this book so high on this list, because the book repeats the premise so much, but I believe that the premise is so true and accurate that I think you should read it and put some of his recommendations into practice.

Evangelism in a Skeptical World

Many of the books I read on evangelism were written from a perspective that would have worked in 1990, but no longer work in 2019. This book was the first book that acknowledged that we are no longer culturally in the same place that we were in 1990 and that the tactics that worked in 1990 might not be as helpful as they used to be. My big takeaway from this book is that people need to be exposed to Christians in normal, everyday life in order to see that Christians aren’t the odd cultural phenomenon that the media makes them out to be. If you struggle with the culture being less receptive to Christianity than it used to be, I would highly recommend this book.

Reaching The Unreached

This book is written by Peyton Jones, a missionary to Wales who spent time planting a church in a Starbucks there. Peyton writes from the perspective of someone who has been to Western countries who have rejected Christianity at a far higher level than the United States and he plants churches and trains church planters to reach those same types of people here. I came to this book looking for strategies, I left with the conviction that God loves lost people and if we spend time with people who are far away from God and have the Gospel at the ready, we will see people come to Jesus.

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out

This is a good book written by Alvin Reid, a professor of evangelism at a Southern Baptist university who wrote this book to help people who don’t see themselves as evangelists get better at sharing the good news. There is a lot of good, practical advice about sharing the Gospel as part of your everyday life. If you struggle with fear in evangelism or need a good, practical starting point, this is a good book for you.

The Fuel and the Flame

I don’t remember who, but some semi-famous preacher who has led a lot of people to Christ said this was the book that has informed all of his evangelism. After reading this book, I can understand why this book would be a solid introduction to evangelism. It’s mostly about creating a system that enables evangelism and discipleship and that works extremely well in a college environment. The trick is making it work in a post-college environment.

Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the World

This is an older book, but one that is full of stories of the author learning how to share Jesus with people. The premise of the book is that Christians need to get out in the world and bring the Gospel to where people are. There are a lot of encouraging stories that will benefit Christians trying to learn how to share Jesus with others.

Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus

I didn’t intend to learn much about evangelism from this book but I couldn’t ignore the forward by David Platt that commended the author as a model for evangelism. I think the core thought that was helpful in this book was an emphasis on teaching in aiding people to come to Christ. Especially if you identify as a teacher, this book may give you insights into how you can lead people to Jesus.

So, there you have it. The top ten books on evangelism that I’ve read this year. If you haven’t read a good book on evangelism this year, pick a book from this list and start reading.

You won’t regret it.

Photo Credit: Person Holding Unfolding Book by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

A Quick and Dirty Review of The Consolation of Philosophy

What It’s About:

This is an old book written in the six century by a political prisoner, Boethius, who formerly was a high ranking official in the Roman Empire. The book presents Boethius in jail being visited by Philosophy personified as a glorious woman that councils him about the meaning of life and the pursuit of virtue in his darkest hour.

What I Liked:

The book was a dialogue about the nature of life, the pursuit of virtue, and why it’s worth pursuing virtue even in the face of tremendous difficulty. In a way, this book reminded me of the book of Ecclesiastes or reading one of the well known stoic philosophers. In particular, there were a few chapters that focused on the futility of honor and titles that are conferred on you by higher authorities that is worth reading the entire book.


What I Didn’t Like:

This book was recommended to me by another believer on Twitter. I had asked my followers for their favorite Christian books that were written over 100 years ago. Having never heard of this book, I picked it up and gave it a read.

My problem with this book was that it was recommended as a Christian book when, after finishing it, I don’t believe it was. Philosophy talks to Boethisu about God regularly, but she refers to God as the highest or ultimate good. She never quotes or mentions Jesus or the Scriptures, but at length quotes Plato, Aristotle, and others.

All of this is fine if you planned on reading a book on philosophy and life. Again, there was at least one really helpful section that I felt contained a measure of earthly wisdom. But let’s not buy into the fact that just because an author uses the name “God” in a monotheistic way, that somehow baptizes the book and makes it Christian. In many ways this book follows in the footsteps of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoic philosophers, which doesn’t make it bad, but also doesn’t make Boethius a follower of Christ.

Should You Get It:

You should pick this book up for two reasons:

  1. You love philosophical works from over 1500 years ago.
  2. If you struggle with pursuing honor from others. Again, there is a section in the first half of the book about that topic that makes the whole book worth the read for just that section.

Otherwise, I would not really recommend this book.

Rating:

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

A Quick and Dirty Review of “God is Good” by Bill Johnson

What It’s About: Written by Bill Johnson, the book sets out to convince the reader that their current perception about God is wrong. Johnson argues that God is not like the abusive step-father we believe Him to be and more like a good Father that Jesus portrays in the Gospel. Johnson invites us to believe in a God who is good and desires good things for His children.

What I Liked: I love Johnson’s approach to healing and the supernatural. He pushes us to not settle for hopelessness and the idea that God desires sickness and defeat. There is war in his spirit that comes out in this book that will be helpful to the body of Christ. I found myself encouraged to pursue God more, believe Him more, and contend in prayer for the things He wants to do.


What I Didn’t Like: Unfortunately, while I love Bill and some of the things he represents in the Kingdom, there are some things I didn’t like about this book at all.

The first thing I didn’t like is his spurious treatment of the Old Testament. He spends an inordinate amount of time talking about it, defending his love for it, and even showing the goodness of God in it in places, all while he simultaneously seems to diminish its importance. It should be said that I’m a big believer in the following statement from Paul: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). So, when Johnson makes arguments that the Gospels/Jesus reveal the true nature of God and juxtaposes that argument with a quote from C.S. Lewis that pits the doctrine of the goodness of God against the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Johnson dances dangerously close to setting up a set of books in the Bible that is more inspired than other parts of Scripture. I believe the fullest and most exact expression of God is Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2), but I don’t believe we have to dismiss the rest of Scripture in order to get there.

Secondly, this book would have more aptly been titled “The Failure of Man: We’re God’s PR Problem.” I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I had bought this book to wash my spirit in the goodness of God and hoped not only to get a theological treatment of the topic, but an experiential one that Johnson would be able to provide. Instead, the main thrust of Johnson’s argument is that God is not perceived as good because we have failed to represent Him (especially in the area of manifesting His power) the way He really is. In Johnson’s view, more people would think God is good if we got our act together and believed for the things God wants to do.

Do I believe God wants to do more through his people? Absolutely. Do I think sometimes we focus too much on unclear passages in Scripture and what they say about God’s character than we do about the clear example of God we see in Jesus? Yes. Can we believe God is better than we currently think and become a sign of God’s goodness to others? Undoubtedly. But is diminishing the importance of God’s inspired word and pointing to our failures a good way to help us see God’s goodness? I don’t think so.

Should You Get It: There are a lot of good books by Bill Johnson. I just finished “Raising Giant Killers” by Johnson earlier this year and LOVED it. There are some beneficial things in the book and if you can “eat the chicken and spit out the bones” of this book, you may grow from this book, however, for most, I find it generally hard to recommend.

Rating:

A Quick and Dirty Review of “Rising Tides” by Neil Cole

What It’s About:

Rising Tides is Neil Cole’s most recent published book that looks at four “rising tides” or trends in the Earth that are changing society and are changing the narrative for how and why we “do” church. Those four trends are rapid population growth, extreme technological innovation, growing economic disparity, and increasing political polarization. After discussing these four trends he spends the rest of the book talking about changes the church as a people must make to remain relevant in a society that is increasingly different than the one the church was so successful in reaching a generation or two ago.

What I Liked:

I’m a fan of Cole’s thought process and writing. Cole was one of my early influences in my process of starting house churches. Many of the societal factors Cole describes in his book and their impact on the church are reasons why I have chosen to meet and help give birth to house churches, so I found myself nodding, agreeing, and being encouraged about how he connected daily new stories and trends in the earth to the need for a church to be simple, reproducible, and real. Towards the end of the book, the themes come together in a very prophetic way that will present a picture of how the church must change.

Of all the books of Cole’s that I have read, this book is the most “end-time-like.” While Cole dances around the idea of end-times a bit, it’s clear he sees some of these factors pointing to a definitive point in humanity’s future. While he doesn’t exactly say we are living in the last days, he makes a solid case that history is heading towards a climax of some kind and we need to make an adjustment to endure the days ahead.

In many ways this book was much like a tract for those who might not be convinced by biblical reasoning to start an organic church but may be convinced by the need and the shifting atmosphere to adjust how the church is oriented. I love books that are more like tracts and as a “convert” it was a fun read.


What I Didn’t Like:

For those of us who have read “Organic Church,” “Organic Leadership,” “Church 3.0,” and some of Neil’s other books, there’s not as many new ideas here. If you’re like me, you’ve enjoyed all these reads and came for something maybe a little fresher. There is some of that, but most of the fresh material relates to the trends affecting us currently. It’s not that these sections were bad, but they weren’t really a surprise. There was maybe a new idea every chapter or two, but much of what was found here was repackaged from some of Cole’s other works. This isn’t a problem if you’re new to Cole’s work, but for someone familiar it served mostly as a good refresher.

The other thing I struggled with was the book seemed to raise the four “rising tides” as shifts the church needed to address, but the solutions seemed to still be forming in Cole’s mind. It wasn’t that they were bad ideas–most of the problems presented by the rising tides Cole addressed with the answer of a more organic, reproducing church. Again, here I agree, but in some ways these ideas didn’t seem robust or well connected to the problems. The one Cole most thoroughly covered was how a multiplying church could keep up with population growth, but with the tides of technological innovation or economic disparity the connections to his solution were less clear. Cole himself admitted this book was written quickly in order to not become out of date and it may be that some of the ideas needed a little more time to develop.

Should You Get It:

If you’ve never read a book by Cole, I would strongly suggest it. Cole loves the church and he writes a love letter to the church begging her to recognize the times she’s living in. Once you’ve read this book, I would strongly suggest you pick up a copy of Church 3.0 or Organic Church to further explore the ideas he suggests within this book.

If you love Neil, have heard him speak a lot, or kept up with his other books, I would be a little more wary. Unless you have a need to read every book of his or haven’t thought much about how house churches keep up with an ever-changing society, this might be a redundant book.

Rating:

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Zoo Christianity

One of the things I think we all love about zoos it the ability to see animals many of us would never be able to afford to see in the wild. Most of us would never seen a tiger, hippo, or a monkey in real life. Zoos bring the animals to us and allow us to capture the exotic nature of a wild safari without the danger or the cost.

One of the things I think we would all acknowledge about zoos, though, is that the animals we love to see in them are rarely as full of life as they are in wild. On a recent trip to a zoo with my family, we stopped to look at the lions. There were three of them laying on the ground, sunning themselves. My wife leaned over to me and whispered, “I don’t know how many times I’ve been to a zoo and every time they look exactly like this.” Animals that are fed, caged, and have their every need cared for rarely have the spark of life that we think of when we picture an animal in the wild.

My wife’s comment reminded me of a trip to Africa several years ago. In the midst of different wings of our ministry trip, we had a down day for rest and recuperation. Our contact asked what we wanted to do that day. I told him I wanted to see a giraffe or a hippo. He got a delighted look on his face and said, “We can go to the zoo!” I quickly shot back, “Paul, this is Africa. I don’t want to go to the zoo!” I wanted to see what the animals operating like God designed them.

Often, Christians live in cages, too. These are cages of their own making. They are regularly “fed.” They have all their needs met. In these cages, they are safe to do everything Christians do. People from the outside can even come in and look at what Christians are and what they do.

The question is, like the monkey or the lion that has lost his spark in the zoo, have you lost your spark? Have you settled for less than what God has intended for you? Maybe it’s time for Christians to venture out into the wild and learn what it means to feed themselves and function without the cage. You might be surprised what a Christian released into their natural habitat is capable of.

Toronto Zoo, Toronto, Canada by James Rajaste

On Dimes, Twenty Dollar Bills, and Spiritual Discipline

I was at one of our house churches the other day talking to an eleven year old who asked some great questions. We were talking about the places in Scripture where Jesus tells us to “go and buy gold refined by fire,” and his story where he tells us to “go and buy oil.” All of these are places that tell us go and develop a close relationship with Christ.

He was having a hard time understanding those concepts, so I told him this story:

“Imagine that your dad made you a deal. Every time you brought your dad a dime, your dad responded by giving you $20.00. Would you take your dad up on that deal?”

He shook his head yes.

“I bet you’d do it a lot, wouldn’t you?

He shook his head again.

“I bet you would. You’d do it until you became rich. Well that’s what its like with Jesus. We go and bring our small hearts to Jesus and ask him to reveal himself to us. We call this prayer. He responds by showing up and showing himself to us in ways that grow our hearts and make us wealthy in God, because that is real wealth — knowing God.”

Dallas Willard famously said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” We have to make the effort to show up and pray. We have to show up to encounter him. We bring our dime. When we do, God takes our ten cent prayers and brings $20 encounters and $20 answers to the things we ask for. This is grace.

This morning I was thinking of the conversation again. I realized that I hadn’t told my young friend the whole story. See, I had told the story to him as if the first dime he brings to his dad is his. The reality is one we forget often — the first dime he gave his dad is a dime his dad gave him first. We are able to bring our hearts in prayer to meet with God because he gave us the initial desire to do so. It was him, putting in us a desire to be close to him to begin with, that allows us to begin to want to pray. You may even be feeling the tug right now to spend time with Jesus. This is also grace.

So let’s bring our dimes and trade them in. The little we bring will be transformed into so much more. Let’s also not forget who gave us the dime in the first place.

Photo Credit: Drop It On A Dime by Voldy Morton