The Books We Read

The Language of God

DownloadedFileThree dollars and my expectations were too high for this book.  Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, did not write his book The Language of God about his work on the Human Genome Project.  I purchased this book with the expectations of reading about Collin’s work on sequencing of the base pairs that make up our DNA.  I thought it would be a treatise on research and methodology in an effort to understand the stuff that we are made up of.

Collins book instead was his attempt to answer a few apologetic questions (Why Suffering?; The Harm of Religion; and why all the religions?).  This chapter of the book brought nothing new to the table in apologetics, however; his story of personal faith was very interesting.

In the second section Collins makes the case for God as the speaker of the Big Bang (I see no problem here) but evolution as the method by which God brought life into its current state (a huge problem).  Collins throws his hat in (actually he started the foundation) with fellow Old Testament guru Peter Enns.  Enns, in the same way, denied the literal Adam and argues for evolution as the method of God’s action in this world.

Finally, the last section of the book is a critique of Creationism, both young and old, Atheism and its untenable premesis’ and the Intelligent Design movement.  It is fairly easy to deduce that he has no need for any of these ideas and that they are all left wanting.  He argues for BioLogos (life through speech), essentially that God ordered evolution to accomplish his purposes.  Theistic evolution…from a book I had high hopes for.

Collins book includes little scientific research and even less application of scientific methods.  It is more of a history of the interaction between science and faith.  His interpretative methods need more fleshing out, his stance on Genesis 1-2 needs more explanation, and though he claims Biologos is different from theistic evolution, he does little to differentiate them.



My Life as an Experiment

My Life as an Experiment by AJ Jacobs

My Life as an Experiment
by AJ Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs life as a human guinea pig began posing nude for esquire (he says it was artistic) and spending 24 hours straight in a lazy-boy (for journalistic purposes) and now years later, he has lived a year by the laws of the Bible and journaling through the Encyclopedia. In his book, My Life as an Experiment, instead of embarking on year-long experiments, tells the story of multiple-short-term experiments that he undertook while working at Esquire.

In one experiment, Jacobs outsourced his entire life to India. From his emails, to returning phone calls, rejecting submissions to esquire and even fighting with his wife, every aspect of his life has been taken over by Honey and Ausha from India. Jacobs has Honey author his Wikipedia article (which was rejected by their editors) and Ausha played hearts online with people. The outsourced life was such a hit that Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-hour Work Week, used its theory to perfection.

The purpose of his experiments shown greatest through his Radical Honesty experiment. Jacobs spent a month being radically honest with everyone he meets. He makes it his goal for the month to say whatever comes across his mind. Channeling his other books, he does his best to research in preparation of his experiments. He went down to Virginia and met the guy who had written the book on Radical Honesty. The man was brash, confrontational, and had been divorced three times…kinda what you would expect really.

My favorite experiment that he undertook was one in which he signed his attractive 27 year old nanny up for online dating. He answered her emails, set her up on dates, and acted as the web-master for her online dating. He was appalled at some of the people on these sites and his stories of dealing with them sarcastically and satirically was worth the price of the book. Jacobs has a way during every book to utilize humor and narrative in a way unmatched by any other author I have come across.

This book was a great read throughout. Yet again Jacobs was the second most interesting character in the book after his wife. She played the straightman for another 8 experiments, but at least she was on the receiving end of a couple. In one experiment, called Whipped, A.J. had to cater to her every whim. He waited on her hand and foot, which after the Radical Honesty experiment and the Outsourced Life experiment, it was due to her. I would highly recommend this book, even before his other two, because it is a simple and shorter way to get a grip on the kind of person and writer that A.J. Jacobs is and what his story and life brings to his books.

Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job & Your Dream Job


Quitter by Jon Acuff

“I wanna ___________ when I grow up!” is a statement we all made.  It’s Halloween time when kids all over the place will dress up like the roles they hope to play later in life.  After years the statement changes to “I’m a _________, but I want to be a ______________.” Jon Acuff’s book Quitter is part how-to, part biography, that challenges the reader to better understand how to transition from the job they are in now to the job they hope to have someday.  John, only recently transitioned into his dream job, spent years trying to balance what he felt he was created to do and what he had to do to feed and house his family.  Jon’s book Start was his challenge to begin utilizing gifts and talents in a way that would bring fulfillment and a greater sense of purpose.  Quitter is about finding more time to embrace them.

This book did a couple things for me personally.  First off, it completely changed the way I view my current job situation.  When I was let go from youth ministry in a Church, I was completely lost as to the next step.  Luckily the school that I had been partnering with offered me a job as a para.  Most para’s are gifted and qualified for many things, I, however, am not.  I am a babysitter, the only one at the school I am at.  Everyone else has a niche, a certain job, I take unmotivated kids and sit next to them the entire day, trying to get them to get a pencil out.  I dislike a lot of it.  Acuff, however, is completely devoted to “falling into like” with the current job and helps his cause by bringing up many positives about keeping a 9 to 5 instead of quitting to follow your dream.  I have great insurance, a quitting time (unlike ministry), and the perfect place to understand middle schoolers and how they think.  I am “falling into like” with my job.

Secondly, he devotes a significant amount of time to helping the reader define what their dream job is.  He cites many times that a dream job is taken captive by tangental responsibilities and requests.  It is often in pursuit of a dream job that the things that were once thought to be part of it actually fight against it.  Defining what it is that we aspire too will keep our dream job in sight and eliminating the extra stuff.

Finally, the thing that stuck out to me most in this book was the passion in which he talked about “hustling”.  His greatest piece of advice was “to hustle” meaning do the little things.  His advice was both practical and inspiring.  Getting up early and spending time practicing.  Putting out good work, because you will never feel great about everything.  Taking time to invest in your craft and learning from others.  He didn’t go into great detail probably because he knew Start would come out.  But still, his words about “hustling” helped make the book a great read.

So don’t quit your day job, keep hustling, and fall into like with your current job.  Make every second at your current job a chance to learn something about your dream job and be patient.  That is what Acuff did and why his book is so perfect for a man in my situation.

The Know-It-All

DownloadedFile“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates

A.J. Jacobs, in his book, The Know-it-All makes it his quest to figure out how much he doesn’t know by filling his head with the 2002 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He documented his journey through the 11 ½ months, through the 44 million words, across the country meeting various people each with a special connection to wisdom and knowledge. Starting with a-ak and reading until he reaches zywiec, Jacobs writes his commentary/narrative/pesher on the entries. The pages of his book are filled with his attempts to insert his wealth of information soaked up from the EB into his daily life…with hilarious consequences.

The most intriguing aspect of this book for me was the people who were tangential to his quest. His wife, for example, deserves our respect and some kind of reimbursement. It was her who listened to him read to their zygote, worried about him interacting with other people (70), put up with a different (and usually obscure) fertility god in their bedroom during their quest to get pregnant (152) [a quest that ran concurrent to his and was well documented in this book], was bombarded during daily life by his new knowledge (like how people kiss) (171), and had to begin introducing herself as an “encyclopedia widow.” (184) Julie, who would enact her revenge in the Year of Living Biblically, put up with cards on flowers that read: “These flowers are bisexual, but I am straight, and I love you.” (185) She put up with his sarcastic ideas (202), his use of an ancient dance (St Vitus’s dance from the 12th century) during a wedding dance (237), and his constant information sharing. She finally began to fine him a dollar for every worthless piece of information he spouted out (241). She makes me thankful for the women who have to put up with sometimes immature and excitable men and their quests (no matter how pointless they seem)! Thank you Tricia for your sacrifices for me.

Every few pages we are introduced to another character that makes his journey a little more interesting. There is his brother-in-law, Eric, champion of family games of Trivial Pursuit, pretentious corrector of facts, and Harvard grad, who missed his chance to become legendary after failing to help Jacobs, as his lifeline, on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. (355) Then there is Jacob’s father, who has authored multiple books about law, began to read the Encyclopedia through when Jacobs was young only to stop midway through, and lover of a good practical joke. Though most of his jokes are above most people’s heads it doesn’t get in the way of his passion. Though their relationship seems a little awkward, it all comes together as Jacob’s writes an entry for the encyclopedia about his father at the end (tear!) [364].   Then there are the chess guys (40), his phone book reading Mother-in-law (269), the editors of the Encyclopedia (336), liberal Aunt Marti from Berkley (345), and his overly intellectual 11 year old cousin who threatens Jacob’s with his intelligence (176).

This book was a treat to read. A.J.’s writing style makes every paragraph and page enjoyable. As he is recounting his journey, there is a certain amount of embarrassment and shame that I felt being as though I have never accomplished a feat of that magnitude, nor have I even attempted anything like that. I found his task to be inspiring. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone!

A Year of Living Biblically

A Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs

A Year of Living Biblically
by AJ Jacobs

In the Spirit of full disclosure: “I must confess that I did not read all of this book.” I skipped a full 2 and a half pages as he was describing his twin sons’ circumcision. The rest of the book was awesome. A.J. Jacob’s, the author of A Year of Living Biblically, is a Jewish-born-agnostic author who takes an entire year and devotes it to living out the commands of the Bible. He doesn’t shave (in keeping the command not to cut the corners of his beard [Leviticus 19.27]); he wears white clothing in accordance with Ecclesiastes; and he refuses to touch or sit where a menstruating woman was [Leviticus 15.18]. He attempts to follow the Ten Commandments and he starts tithing. It is an interesting social science experiment.

The book was great. He does some great research on the background of a lot of the Biblical laws. What really made the story great were the people who he was in contact with during his time. There was his eccentric ex-uncle Gil who is a former cult leader turned orthodox Jew who holds a Judaism study weekly in Jerusalem. There was Mr. Berkowitz, the orthodox Jew, who comes to his house weekly to make sure that he didn’t have any mixed fibers in his house [Leviticus 19.19]. Then there is the Jehovah’s witness who came over to meet with him about the Bible. He had to leave after 3 ½ hours of discussion. Jacobs mused that he out talked a Jehovah’s Witness about the Bible. He made a trip down to a snake handling church in Tennessee and met up with Jimmy the snake handler. That seems like something that I need to explore! There was the Pastor to Pasture, the atheist club, and his neighbor Nancy. This Biblical journey was by no means individual.

Finally there is Jacobs wife: Julie. Julie is the most interesting character. She has opened her life to this guys antics. When she found out that he couldn’t sit where she had; she sat in every seat in the house so he couldn’t. She is patient as he refuses to jaywalk anymore and as he builds a tent in the living room to celebrate the festival of booths. She allows him to write about her in vitro fertilization. She puts up with his trumpeting every first of the month and she even allows him to describe the birth process as she gives birth to the aforementioned twins.

As a youth pastor this book had a lot of things that made me think. He devoted much of his day to study; as an agnostic. I could definitely eek out a couple minutes. He also strove to live according to the commandments. He kept God at the forefront of his mind. He prayed for 10 minutes 3 times a day; all of these things that should be central to my own life.

He is admittedly a liberal guy; but one thing that I appreciated about this book was his ability to show both the fundamentalist and liberal views of scripture. I felt like he was able to walk

that line very well. If you need something to read that will make you think and laugh! The Year of Living Biblically should be on your list! Devotionally I even got a lot out of this book.


How to Build a Life-Changing Men’s Ministry

How to Build a Life-Changing Men's Ministry by Steve Sonderman

How to Build a Life-Changing Men’s Ministry
by Steve Sonderman

The most neglected ministry in the Church is Men’s ministry.  I know this from experience.  I have sat in a meeting with a senior pastor who told me that “for the amount of effort it takes to do men’s ministry well, it wasn’t worth the time to do it.”  I have been part of Churches where women bible studies out number the mens 4:1.  I have been to churches that women not only ran the ministry, but served in the ministry 10 times more than men.  I have been in churches where men’s ministry was relegated to setting up chairs and tables.  I have been on church websites that contain curly letters and every shade of red, in sanctuaries that have more floral arrangements than flower shops, and worship services that try to help us dance with Jesus (complete with ballet slipper background on powerpoint) or fall in love with Jesus.  Each of these scream that churches are after women, designed by women, and full of women.  Men are the outsiders or at least the minorities.  It makes sense at times, because some of the most successful ministries to men, in recent months have seen their leaders (Mark Driscoll and Ignite) come under scrutiny.  It poses the question that David Murrow answered in his book, Why Men Hate Going to Church! (not the book I’m writing about but a great read none-the-less!)

Steve Sonderman has written his book, How to Build a Life-Changing Men’s Ministry, as a both a testament to the ministry that he started 20 years ago at Elmbrook Church and a pattern for others to follow in starting their own men’s ministry at their Church.  First off, this book is chalked full of practical ideas for events and leadership in men’s ministry.  Sonderman hits the nail on the head with his advice about staying on vision.  Men, above all other groups in the church, are vision oriented.  When it comes to doing ministry, men want to the know the purpose first and foremost.  There are busier groups in the church, but none more careful with how they spend their time.  When men get together, they want to accomplish something.  Vision is vital to doing men’s ministry.

The second major point that Sonderman emphasizes in this book, is the involvement of others in leading the ministry.  There is no doubt that he was the point man, however, his teams, from outreach to small groups to retreats, are full of men who share his vision and his purpose.  They are well trained, highly committed, and extremely responsible.

This book is really about how to create a ministry, not necessarily a mens ministry.  It covers vision, teams, small groups, and purpose.  It was very well written, extremely practical, and very well researched.  His bibliography is well rounded and his text is well sourced.  Sonderman has written a great book that is a valuable tool for anyone wanting to start a ministry.



The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teaching on Discipleship

The Great Omission by Dallas Willard

The Great Omission
by Dallas Willard

The Church has forgotten its purpose.   In the midst of arguing the which word is emphasized in the greek (I have heard it preached both ways: both “go” and “make”), the Church has misplaced half of what Jesus told it to do.  Dallas Willard, who has a much higher view of the Church than I, would probably not say it in such a way, but nevertheless he sees the problem.  In his book, The Great Omission, Willard argues that discipleship has been omitted from Jesus words in the Great commission.  Matthew 28.19-20 says:

19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Willard’s book is a collection of teachings, essays, and lectures that he had written and gave during his many years in ministry.  With a simple question in mind, “What makes a disciple?”, he attempts to give methodology and purpose to the argument, while constantly reminding the reader of the lack of emphasis that the Church has placed on discipleship over the years.

“Grace is opposed to earning not effort.”  This statement was repeated countless times in the pages of the book.  Willard uses this phrase often as a plea for Christians to lose the passenger ideal of discipleship and make the strides to understand and live in the grace of God more abundantly.   Grace is a free gift that saves us (Ephesians 2.8), one given by a God who loves us, and therefore cannot be earned.  But we must make an effort to understand this grace, employ this grace, and to strive for the grace that has been given us.  True discipleship is understanding and walking a close relationship with Jesus Christ.  In trekking with Jesus, it is our call as disciples to make an effort to learn and strive to understand his gifts and teachings better.  This has been counter-cultural to the Church’s view of discipleship for many years.

Speaking from experience, the Church’s model of discipleship has been, by and large, passive in its learning, absent in its teaching, and lazy in its methodology.  Willard wrote this book as a plea for the Church to return to its teaching and making disciples.  For many years, the Church has just expected discipleship to happen, without the teaching and implementation of disciplines or accountability.  Willard, as he sees it, understands the incapability of discipleship, without these two cogs.

The chapter that struck me the most was his teaching on the spiritual life and care of ministers.  As a former pastor who got hit in ministry like a monarch on the windshield of a mack truck, this was a solid chapter on the condition of the ministers heart, that I needed to read years ago.  In the midst of games, teaching, ministering, counseling, wal-mart runs, replacing light bulbs, cleaning the building, and eating school lunches, the person I was becoming in ministry was being left behind.  Willard argues that this is the most important part of ministry during his 20 pages devoted to the topic.

Willard was a staple amongst the deep thinkers and philosophers of Christianity.  This book is amongst the most well thought out and challenging books on the issue of discipleship that I have come across.  He throws no cheap shots in his writing, but does call the issue like he sees it.  The church, in effort to make more churches, has lost its mission to make disciples.