Category Archives: Book Review

The Trouble With Motivation

Ugh. Motivation. Why do you come and go? Why is it so easy to workout (eat healthy, work hard at my job, clean house, write blog posts, keep learning, etc.) some days, and other days I’d rather have my teeth drilled? I know you feel this way, too. The internet is full of motivational images and articles designed to keep us doing what we should. Yet some days the cat posters just aren’t enough…

I recently read (listened to on audio book) You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero. Full disclosure: I don’t feel great recommending this book. And no, it’s not because there’s a minor swear word in the title. Badass happens to be one of my favorite words. The reason I can’t fully endorse this book is because of Sincero’s messed up version of spirituality.

Early in the book she encourages her readers to get over their aversion to the notion of faith and just embrace it, because the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can tap in to the power of it. I thought that was great. A snarky, badass-talking, self-help book that actually embraces faith? Yay! And then I heard her definition of faith. Whomp-whomp.

Sincero has a very New Age version of spirituality. Basically throughout the book she promotes the idea that there is this life force energy in the world, and the sooner you can get on the same wavelength, the sooner you can tap into its power. The main problem with this philosophy is that it reduces God to a cosmic keg of warm feelings, flowing cash, and good parking spaces, and teaches that all we have to do is tap into that keg and it will be at our disposal. In other words, it strips God of his sovereignty and puts us in the driver’s seat.

The reason I mention the book to you at all is because there was one part that has literally changed my life. In one chapter, Sincero talks about the things we say to or about ourselves that hold us back. For example, I have long said that I don’t run, and that I have bad knees. Sincero points out that we start saying these things because they come from a point of truth and they serve us in some way. I really do have trouble with my knees, and saying that served to protect me by excusing me from doing things that would put strain on them. But it also held me back. Because I firmly believed that my knees were, are, and always will be “bad,” I never thought I could get fit, or start running, or lose weight long-term.

Following the advice in Sincero’s book, I made a list of these things I say about myself. I considered each one and what purpose it originally served. I took the cheesy, self-help step of thanking those thoughts for serving me in some way, and then I re-wrote them in a more empowering way. So “I don’t run,” and “I have bad knees,” became “I am a fit chick, and I’m getting stronger every day.” The next step is to start embracing that new mantra not just as what I do, but who I am, and to let that new identity guide my behavior.

Now instead of seeing myself as a fat woman with bad knees who thinks runners are crazy, I see myself as a fit chick who reads about nutrition, tries new exercises, and is getting closer every day to having the strong body that matches my fitness-focused mind. It’s a matter of making choices from a point of power and opportunity instead of a place of failure and shame. And it’s working. I can say no to junk because I’m a fit chick and “we” don’t do that, instead of saying no in front of people because I’m fat and then eating junk when I’m alone. I even ran/walked a 5k this month!

I can’t wait to apply this mindset to other areas of my life, as well.
I’m a writer/blogger, and I have good things to say.
I’m a historian who adds value to the community.
I’m an advocate for the hungry, and I have the skills and resources to make a difference.

In what areas of your life do you lack motivation? What half-truths do you tell yourself that hold you back? What empowering identity can you take on instead? Leave a comment!

Book Review: The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

On my commute, and when my family travels, we like to listen to audio books. Our recent trip to Seattle started with a legal thriller, and on the trip home we prepared for Easter by listening to The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. We didn’t finish the book on that leg of the journey, but I finished it that next week while I was commuting.

A quick summary for those of you who are not familiar: In the late 1970s, Lee Strobel was an avowed atheist raising a family and working as a journalist in Chicago. His world was shaken when his wife became a Christian. Strobel was angry that his wife was changing as a person, and worried that his marriage couldn’t withstand the tension. So he went on a quest to discredit Christianity with objective evidence, meeting with experts around the country to try and disprove the Bible. Along the way, Strobel discovered that the evidence for Christianity isn’t all legend and myth. In fact, he came to realize that it would take a bigger leap of faith to continue believing there is no god than it takes to believe. Strobel joined his wife in her newfound faith, and he eventually left journalism to be a pastor and author.

Each expert Strobel consulted is introduced to the reader with a thorough explanation of their education and expertise. As an historian, I appreciated the careful and objective way the Strobel and the experts evaluated the evidence of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. They compare the gospel accounts to each other and other historical sources. They examine the translations of the Bible and how it has been handled over the years. They discuss arguments that skeptics have made over the years and how those arguments line up with the evidence.

The Case for Christ is not really about Strobel’s personal story. That is covered in the introduction, but the body of the book is dense with philosophy, history, and arguments of logic. If you have seen the movie of the same name, which tells Strobel’s personal story, you might be surprised to find that the book is very different. In the movie, the personal story is the main point and the investigation into the historical Christ is just a plot point. The book provides the in-depth research, and the personal story is just the motivation for the quest for information.

If you prefer fiction, check out the movie and take a pass on this book. But if you like to read nonfiction and enjoy arguments and philosophical debates, then this is a good one. It will lead you to a series of excellent resources as well. I haven’t read a lot of dense philosophy since graduating from College, but I enjoyed a taste of it again. It was also nice to see Christianity hold up to intellectual scrutiny. We’re too often reluctant to consider our beliefs as an exercise in both faith and facts. But God is real and alive, not some myth of ancient history, and he holds up to intellectual scrutiny!

 

Book Review: Love Does by Bob Goff

I’ve been hearing about Bob Goff and his book, Love Does, for a while now. Some of my friends are crazy about it, and some of them have even met Bob and his wife, Maria. So a while back I bought the book and added it to my ginormous to-read pile. I finally decided to jump in and read it when Feed My Staring Children started a book club on Facebook. They asked interested parties to vote for a book from a list of suggestions. Since I had it on hand and had been meaning to read it, I voted for Love Does. Needless to say, it won the voting (because if it hadn’t, I would be talking about a different book this week!), and I’ve been picking at it for the last few weeks.

During his 1968 Presidential campaign, Robert Kennedy paraphrased George Bernard Shaw when he said, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.” Bob Goff is that kind of guy. Goff doesn’t do the math, he doesn’t “count the cost,” he just jumps in and does. For a planner/organizer like me, his spontaneity and whimsy were both enviable and stress-inducing. Some of the stories, like the time his kids wrote to heads of state around the world and the family dropped everything and incurred incredible expenses to meet the many who invited them, felt so crazy I almost couldn’t believe they were real!

But as is usually true, I ended up reminded that it’s a good thing that the world is not made up entirely of people like me. Although I don’t share Goff’s whimsical nature or his “act first, figure it out later” mentality, I appreciate his message. He believes that when you love people, you act on it. And he’s not just talking about his friends and family – he’s talking about all humankind and loving like Jesus loved. And Goff’s active love for humanity has led him to do everything from hosting a spontaneous marriage proposal dinner for a stranger to freeing wrongfully imprisoned kids in Uganda.

Goff is a lawyer by trade, and while that seems like an oddly buttoned-down profession for a merry prankster, it works for their family. I’m sure it comes in handy on some of their adventures (like the aforementioned work in Uganda). It would be easy for someone in a comfortable and well-paying profession like law to sit back and feel satisfied that they are doing enough for humanity while sitting in a comfortable office. But throughout his book, Goff pushes the importance of having “skin in the game” – being personally, hands-on invested in others. He and his family live this out, and they want to take us along for the ride.

The book is light, fun, and has short chapters, yet is deceptively deep in its passion and theology. If you can get past the stress of his spontaneity, it’s really inspiring. Check out Love Does and say “why not.”

Favorite Quotes from the Book:

He (Jesus) said the people who followed Him should think of themselves more like the ushers rather than the bouncers, and it would be God who decides who gets in. We’re the ones who simply ones who simply show people their seats that someone else paid for.

We’re God’s plan, and we always have been. We aren’t just supposed to be observers, listeners, or have a bunch of opinions. We’re not here to let everyone know what we agree and don’t agree with, because, frankly, who cares? Tell me about the God you love; tell me about what He has inspired uniquely in you; tell me about what you’re going to do about it, and a plan for you life will be pretty easy to figure out from there. I guess what I’m saying is that most of us don’t get an audible plan for our lives. It’s way better than that. We get to be God’s plan for the whole world by pointing people toward Him.

Book Review: The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun

Recently I had the privilege of reading The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change. It is a memoir of sorts by Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise, a global non-profit that builds schools and trains teachers in developing areas. Braun founded POP when he was in his 20s, and according to their website, they have built 380 schools since 2009.

But more than just telling the story of POP, The Promise of a Pencil takes an honest, vulnerable look at what Braun and his team did right and wrong as they created this organization from the ground up. It is enthusiastically written; it’s clear that in the six years between founding POP and writing his book, Braun has not lost one ounce of his passion for the organization and the work they do around the world.

Maybe it’s because my word for 2017 is “honor,” but one thing that particularly stood out to me was Braun’s commitment to family and his passion for making others feel valuable. The Millennials take a lot of flak, so it was refreshing to read about someone so young preaching the importance of personal contacts, written thank you notes, and honoring your elders. Braun claims that his passion comes from his Jewish grandparents, the hardships they faced, and their hard work to overcome that and build a new life for their family. He even dedicated his first school to his grandma.

I recommend this book for anyone who is passionate about global education initiatives. As I’ve said over and over again, opportunity is the only way to promote lasting change for the world’s hungry, and education is step one in giving people the opportunity to thrive and be self-sufficient. POP believes that as well, and they are on the ground, working with local education leaders and communities to build not only school buildings, but the infrastructure to see to it that kids in the communities where they build have the resources to gain an education for many years to come.

I would also recommend this book for people who work in the non-profit arena. My day job is at an NPO, I’m the Program Coordinator at a history museum. As I read The Promise of a Pencil, I found great tips and inspiring stories that I can use at our non-profit as well as inspiration for my personal work with the hungry through Food Shelf Friday. Braun gives practical information about things like fundraising, social media, and using the right language to turn donors into partners. If you work for an NPO or are interested in starting one yourself, this is a great resource.

Have you read The Promise of a Pencil? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

Book Review: A Mile Wide by Brandon Hatmaker

book-review-a-mile-wide

In the last couple of years, I have noticed a shift in Christianity. My generation, “Gen X,” has grown up and taken its place in church leadership. And this new generation of writers, pastors, and speakers has approached the gospel message with the characteristic Gen X discontent/skepticism, and fearless questioning of the “why” and “why not” of everything.

Our generation has never been content with the idea that we do things a certain way “just because;” we want to know if traditions are valid, or if there’s a better way. In the 1990s, the Gen X way brought emotion back to music after the 80s watered it down to nothing (I may be a bit biased here…). In Silicon Valley, the Gen X way revolutionized technology. The sullen, flannel-clad teens of the late 80s and early 90s have outgrown the terrible Pauley Shore movies, endless video games, and mosh pits of our youth, but we’ve retained our questioning spirit and the desire to throw aside the “fluff” and find out what’s real, and if there might be more to life.

Like I said, I may be biased.

But what I really love about my generation coming of age is what it’s doing to the church. Authors and speakers like Mark Batterson, Brandon and Jen Hatmaker, Lysa Terkeurst, Kyle Idleman, and Priscilla Shirer embody this spirit of asking the tough questions and coming back to the roots of Christianity. I’m not saying our parents had strayed and we’re fixing things; I’m just saying that we’re asking tough questions on a public stage, and finding our answers in the word.

  • We’re seeing less prosperity gospel and more outreach (Ask not what God can do for you, but what you can do for God – to paraphrase JFK paraphrasing Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.)
  • Less private faith and more global community
  • Less emphasis on how things have always been and more emphasis on what “nu thang” God is doing (I couldn’t resist at least one DC Talk reference when talking about the Gen X Jesus freaks!).

In that vein is Brandon Hatmaker’s new book, A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith. (this is the part where I should mention to you that I was given a free advanced copy of the book in exchange for my honest review) Hatmaker’s premise is that “discipleship” is not just for new believers. Many of us who thought that ended up with faith “an inch deep and a mile wide.” We should always be disciples and life-long learners in the faith, because “Without depth, the dazzle won’t hold.”

A limited gospel makes life change a discipline. The true gospel changes our heart’s desire to live like Christ. It changes our perspective. It’s not the other way around. We don’t change on our own power hoping to see a glimpse of the gospel. This is a massive paradigm shift for many. A necessary shift.

Chapters in the book cover identity, discipleship/learning, community, surrender, service/living on a mission, justice, and surrender. Everyone can find something in the book to challenge and strengthen their faith journey. In the launch team (the group of us who got advanced copies), the chapter on community was a common challenge, as that’s an area many of us ignore. We had some great talks on Facebook about conviction in that area and things we need to do to restore that vital piece of our faith journey.

For me, the biggest area of challenge was in service and good works. I love to help and be involved in things. I like service projects (no surprise to readers of this blog, I’m sure!). But as a leader, my instinct is to evaluate projects by their results. I keep track of attendance and social media interactions at my museum job. I have a note in my phone for tracking our personal record of boxes packed during a single session at FMSC. I pay attention to what type of blog posts get the most traffic. But Hatmaker’s chapter on justice made me reevaluate my evaluations. His argument is that sometimes service is just about obedience and growing me, not about results.

It reminds me of an illustration I once heard. Two stone masons worked on the same cathedral. The first one had his eyes on his own project, and it was getting him down. “I’m never going to see the finished cathedral,” he complained, “it won’t even be done in my lifetime.” The second mason had the bigger picture in mind. “I’m never going to see the finished cathedral,” he said in wonder, “it won’t even be done in my lifetime. This project is bigger than me, and It’s so exciting that I got to be part of making this happen.”

Sometimes God asks us to serve because it will make a difference for someone we reach out to. Sometimes God asks us to serve because it will make a difference in us – in our obedience and attitude. He sees so much more than we do – through time and space and into the depths of our character development. Faith is not a metric, it’s a lot bigger than numbers and success rates (and all of us who struggled with math say AMEN!).

 

If you feel like you’re spread thin, with a faith that just isn’t getting deeper, I recommend first and foremost that you start spending more time in the Bible. Nothing compares to hearing straight from the source. Really pay attention as you read. Ask questions. You can trust God’s word, it never fails. Approach the Bible asking God to tell you what to believe rather than using the Bible to defend what you believe. And if you would like to be challenged and guided on your search for depth, A Mile Wide is a good source!