Category Archives: blogging

Death is Still Dead.

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I love Easter Sunday. Every Easter, I attend church with my family and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. There’s no shortage of singing or dancing (although there may be more or less of the latter depending on the denomination you may or may not associate with… Alright, bad joke). The point is: there’s hope. And there should be. Jesus defeated death, and we’re stoked about it. The resurrection is a fact of epic historical proportions that carries epic present and future implications. It’s the turning point of human history. Death has died. We are free.

But why did death come back to life after Easter dinner?

Many of us don’t actually feel free. We celebrate on Easter with our arms held high, our hearts captivated with the joy of the fact that Jesus ripped apart the chains of death and gave us true eternal freedom. But we soon recede back into the chains that bound us: chains created by sin, depression, and failure. Chains created by success, self-righteousness and earthly treasures. We drag them around in routine fashion as we re-trod back into the grave.

“Easter will come back next year,” we think.

Jesus has risen, and we know it. We sang about it on Easter Sunday. However, many of us quickly descend back into the everyday struggle of trying to earn salvation, a struggle that knows no success.  We try to make life better. We try again. We try harder and harder. The chains still bind us.

Maybe you’re one of us. I’ve been one of us. Sometimes I still am. Somewhere along the line, somebody told you the Gospel. It saturated your heart and mind, and you felt FREE. You had never known a joy like the one Jesus created in the entirety of your being. The Gospel had changed both you and your eternal destination. But somewhere in the more recent past, the Gospel became more like good advice than the Good News it is. You knew the facts, but they didn’t always seem real, or didn’t carry much weight anymore. The big, almost-exploding balloon of joy that you used to carry around had deflated. The resurrected life became a good idea rather than a reality. You longed to sense the real Gospel again, to feel real and pure freedom again.

You waited for next Easter. Next Resurrection Day.

I’ve got good news for you and for me. Good News, actually.

Every day is resurrection day. Jesus never went back into the tomb. He’s still risen. He’s risen on Easter and the day after. He’s risen next Sunday when church feels mundane and you’re feeling more fulfilled by the restaurant lunch you ate after church than the sermon you heard during it. He’s risen when death is all too real. He’s risen when depression chases your joy away. He’s risen when you accomplish something great, only to come crashing down from the temporary high success brings. He’s risen. It’s just a freaking fact.

So why do we forget it? Why is “He is risen” just an Instagram hashtag people use on Easter? Or even worse, just a bumper sticker? Why is the pure joy of Easter reserved for 1/365th of the year?

For me and many others, it’s because we simply have a hard time believing that the Gospel is unshakable truth. As we slip away from the understanding of our forgiveness, we begin to believe that God’s love is based on our successes and failures. In doing so, we shun the very Gospel that caused our Easter dancing. Our actions and feelings say it’s too far-fetched. We’re really forgiven? We’re really loved? Our sin taunts us, begging us to answer no to such questions and turn away from God rather than turn toward Him and repent.

On Easter Sunday my pastor quoted Brennan Manning, who once said “I am now utterly convinced that on judgment day, the Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question, and only one question: Did you believe that I loved you?”

It’s a painful question to ask, but it reveals why many of us confine Easter’s truths to one 24-hour holiday. We simply have a hard time believing that the resurrection means we are truly free, free indeed. We simply struggle with accepting the truth of the Gospel.

What, then, should we do?

In John 6:27, Jesus says “The work of God is this: to believe in him whom he has sent.”

We should return to the Gospel. The Gospel is the answer to our failure to understand the Gospel. Sounds foolish, but doesn’t the Bible say the Gospel is foolishness? Foolishness of the absolute best kind. Life-saving, eternity-altering foolishness.

We must let the Gospel saturate our minds and hearts by the minute. How do we do that? By repeating it to ourselves relentlessly. By constantly informing others of its life-altering truths… even those who could produce a list of 10 literary differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Even to those who have chapters and books of the Bible memorized. Even those who outwardly appear to be poster children for good Christianity, seemingly epitomizing holiness. Those people struggle to believe the Gospel, too. They’re in dire need of the Gospel every single day. They’re just like you. In fact, we’re all in the same boat. Each one of us desperately needs the redemption of Jesus Christ on a perpetual basis.

We just can’t believe the Gospel on our own. We’re simply helpless to do this without those around us. So I have a challenge to you. The next time you meet with a Christian friend, look them straight in the eye and tell them “God loves you so much that no matter how bad you’ve messed up, time and time again, you’re still forgiven. He will never fail you. He is so proud of you. He lavishes His grace on you. You are a child of God. You are infinitely cared for and worth it. You are seen. You are heard. Your sins are dead. You are free.”

I tried this recently. I tried this with a friend who is a model of Christian leadership and moral behavior. I mean, this dude has it put together…

But wait. He doesn’t. He needed to hear the Gospel in that very moment. And just as badly, I needed to hear myself preach it to Him. It refreshed both of our souls and we walked away feeling free of works-based righteousness, free of good advice, free of prescriptive behavioral fixing (should I get that term copyrighted?), free of what Matt Chandler calls “moralistic therapeutic deism,” or more simply, a lifestyle of upstanding moral behavior that we stamp God’s name on, but that ultimately serves to make us feel better about our sorry selves.

So have a Gospel conversation with yourself: “Jesus loves me. I am free. I can never be separated from His love, no matter what I do.” Then, do it again tomorrow. Repeat it to someone else. Before you try to fix somebody, look them in the eyes and tell them God loves them abundantly and infinitely and eternally. Heck, why shouldn’t every conversation be a Gospel conversation? We are ALWAYS in need of people to refresh our souls with the truths of the Resurrection.

Every day is Resurrection Day. The freedom brought into this broken world by the resurrection of Jesus is available to you now (and tomorrow, and on November 24, 2023). You are forgiven. You are free. God is too good and too loving for you to live in shame today. The Gospel is too freeing (and too REAL) for you to live in bondage today. Your life has been resurrected from the grave. If you believe in Jesus, you’ve been taken care of.

You, believer, are free. Yes, you. YOU. ARE. FREE.

 

Death is still dead. There’s a reason I titled this post “Death is Still Dead.” and included the period after ‘Dead.’ The period represents completion. The end of something. The end of a sentence… in this case, the death sentence of sin.

Death is still dead. He is still risen. Time to celebrate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Top 5 Albums of 2015

I’m at least nine days late making this post, but I love music more than most things and I couldn’t let my favorite jams of 2015 go unappreciated. That being said, though belated, here are my top five albums released in the 2015 calendar year.

5. Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

 

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I’m not usually much of a folk fan, and I don’t listen to much soft music in general (with the exception of post-rock). However, this record caught my ear the first time I heard it (which was through playing the LP on a turntable as my friends began a journey to change my metalhead ways).

Anyways, this record is simply haunting. It’s sad, depressing, and perfect for a rainy day. But it’s also great music. Sufjan details his broken relationship with his mother in a raw manner, but provides calming instrumentation to create an overall soothing experience. Some of my favorite moments are the reflective instrumental breaks that give the listener some time to chew on the heavy lyrics. Carrie & Lowell is a good companion to a hot mug of tea.

Favorite track:  “Death with Dignity”

Favorite lyric:
Jesus I need you, be near me, come shield me
From fossils that fall on my head
There’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking I’m dead

– “John My Beloved”

4. Purpose – Justin Bieber

 

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Yep. I’m completely unashamed to say that Justin Bieber released one of the best records of 2015. This album is inventive, versatile, and most importantly, honest. It details Justin’s struggles as a young person dealing with one of the most inflated examples of fame in, well, all of history. The lyrics recount his newfound purpose coming from belief in God.

My respect grew immensely for Justin as a result of listening through this album, both as a person and an artist. He’s using his platform for good, and I respect that. Additionally, there’s a reason he broke the record previously held by Drake and some band called The Beatles for most simultaneous Billboard Hot 100 hits – that reason being that the tunes on this record (pretty much all of them) are catchy, memorable, and just good. Well done, JBiebs. I’m a Belieber now.

Favorite track: “Purpose”

 

Favorite lyric:
I put my heart into your hands
Here’s my soul to keep
I let you in with all that I can
You’re not hard to reach
And you bless me with the best gift
That I’ve ever known
You give me purpose
Yeah, you’ve given me purpose

– “Purpose”

3. Another Eternity – Purity Ring

 

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Although admittedly trippy and nonsensical as far as lyrics go, the sophomore release from Purity Ring is an electro-pop masterpiece. This group – which consists of just a male DJ and a female vocalist – completely opened up a new taste of music that I never knew I had when I originally listened to its previous album. When this record came out, I was a little disappointed that it seemed to be dominated by an EDM feel. However, the catchy beats grew on me and the true talent of both members of the group shone through each song.

Another key element to this album is that you can easily dance to every song. That’s important.

p.s. Don’t watch their music videos.

Favorite Track: Dust Hymn”

Favorite Lyric: I have no idea. Their lyrics make no sense.

2. Blurryface – Twenty One Pilots

 

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If Twenty One Pilots is the future of music, I’m glad we’re currently on our way into the future. There is no shortage of descriptors to use about their second record – versatile, creative, chaotic, intense, groovy, weird, awesome. One minute it’s hip-hop/rap, the next minute it’s soul, the next minute it’s hard rock. Actually, those transitions often occur in a matter of seconds.

These dudes blend just about every existing genre of music into 14 equally entertaining tracks that also have significant lyrical value. Potentially the most important characteristic of this album is that it’s real. The lyrics describe inner and outer battles with self-esteem, doubt, life, death and everything in between. The album is both thoroughly entertaining and simultaneously challenging. It’s very encouraging to me that raw stories of true wrestling with God and His Word are being brought into mainstream music.  Many of its lyrics take the form of conversations with God (in fact, my good friend Zack, who so generously introduced me to the genius of this band, pointed out that “Goner” is basically a re-written Psalm). This album is an emotional rollercoaster with musical influences from the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and hopefully the future.

Favorite Track: “Doubt”

 

Favorite Lyric:
Even when I doubt you, I’m no good without you.

– “Doubt”

1. Fly Exam – JGivens

 

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If you’ve been around me at all in the past three or four months, you knew this was coming, because I can’t stop talking about, thinking about or listening to JGivens’ brilliant hip-hop creation otherwise known as Fly Exam.

Here’s how it went down. I heard that Humble Beast had a new artist named JGivens. I like Humble Beast (that’s an understatement), so I knew he’d be worth checking out. Little did I know he’d soon become my favorite rapper and create my favorite hip-hop record of all-time. Or that he’d be the Christian version of Andre 3000 + Kendrick Lamar + everything that’s good in rap. I listened through Fly Exam all the way through when it first came out and I was absolutely in awe of what I heard. Here’s what I heard:

I heard genius.

I don’t even know where to begin. This dude can write, rhyme and groove with the best of them. In fact, he IS the best of them. Throughout Fly Exam, you’ll find lyrical double (sometimes triple) meanings, intelligent and ongoing metaphors sometimes two or three levels deep, thematic developments throughout the album, and irresistible beats that will move your fingers to the repeat button time and time again. I’ve listened through this album probably more than 100 times (not an exaggeration), and each time through I’m still collecting little bits of lyrical creativity that I’d never before noticed.

JGivens has taken creativity to a new level. But Fly Exam isn’t just good because it’s creative, but because it’s impactful. JGivens comments on social and political issues facing both non-Christians and Christians alike in a fresh way that is never devoid of the Gospel. He engages listeners with the ugly heads of racism, drugs, and other cultural problems while pacing the discussion with grace. And discussion is exactly what it is – because this album isn’t one-sided. As the listener, you’re not just the listener. You’re confronted with necessary personal conversations about issues you probably don’t default to thinking about.

You’re also inclined to dance, praise, and rap along (even though your friends are probably less than satisfied with that last one, as I’ve experienced). This album was a constant pick-me-up this year. Every time I turned it on, it felt fresh, even if I had already memorized every lyric. That’s how I know it’s great music. I absolutely cannot wait to see what JGivens has in store for the future, because Fly Exam is straight gold.

p.s. He even made a 360-degree music video for “10 2 Get In”(which has a triple meaning, surprise surprise).

 

Favorite Track: “Take Off With Me” (which features his cousin and fellow rapper, John Givez. Here, I was simply picking the most favorite of all favorites, because I love every song on this record)

Favorite Lyric: How in the world am I supposed to pick one? I’ll go with the one I found most entertaining:

I’m antisocial
When I need my space, then I ran like Flo-Jo
And I hid my face
And now I’m lost in space in a coffin, solo
Han Solo
ET better keep that phone on, ET better phone home
Gotta be wise like Sam when it ring like Frodo
Sabotage, crash land of God
Give a hand to God
Michelang-applause
Watch that H-A-N-D heal
Hand of God
Supermand of God
That’s that M-A-N D. Steele

– “Lost in Space” (you could spend hours tearing apart the meaning of the verse I provided. It’s incredible.)

Honorable Mentions:

  • To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
    • Note: I honestly didn’t include this in my list because I don’t know the record well enough, but the songs I know are incredibly convicting, original, and insanely raw, not to mention potentially the most relevant to America’s current situation of any music released in 2015. Warning: very explicit (try to find the underlying meaning before you dismiss this album, but I can understand if you don’t listen or don’t like it due to its explicit nature).
  • A Head Full of Dreams, Coldplay
  • 25, Adele
  • Found in Far Away Places, August Burns Red

The Brutally Honest Christmas Card

I stumbled across a blog entitled “The Brutally Honest Christmas Card” by D.L. Mayfield today, and I thought I would share it with you all. This is true genuineness and transparency. Read the full post here.

You Are Not Your Final Exams

YOU ARE NOT YOUR FINAL EXAMS

Earlier tonight, I was preparing for my thesis presentation. Tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., I’ll attempt to defend an academic paper I spent a whole semester writing. It’s intimidating. I put in the necessary work and I’m expecting a decent outcome, but I’d be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time the voices in my head told me “What if I screw this up…?”

Around this time of year, a lot of us are asking questions like this. What if I fail this test? What if my professor doesn’t like the topic I chose for my paper? What if I don’t pass?

What if? What if? What if?

In all honesty, these what-ifs do more harm than good. We follow what-ifs into ruts of self-doubt, where they suddenly become “I ams.” Before we know it, “what if I get a bad grade?” turns into “I’m a bad student. I’m not smart. I’m not as qualified as others are.”

If you’re like me, final exams (projects… papers… insert stress-causing school assignment here) turn you into a pressure cooker, feeling like you could explode at any moment. You begin to say things like “There’s literally no way I have enough time to get all these things done.” If you’re a planner like me, you schedule out each hour of your day in order to have some hope that maybe it’ll all get finished.

You cram. You attempt to avoid checking Facebook and Twitter (attempt being the key word in that statement). And if you don’t regurgitate all of the facts correctly when that fateful two-hour time slot arrives, you become a self-deprecator. Or maybe, if you perform above expectations, you turn into a pride machine.

Either one is wrong. Because you are not your final exams.

You’re not an A, you’re not an F. You’re not a pass or a fail. You’re a human being, and your worth doesn’t lie in your performance.

Earlier today, I completely crashed. I was having a very productive day, but suddenly I felt like I lost the ability to do anything. I got tired. I took a break, which became an extended break, which led to me writing this blog rather than making progress on any of the big tasks hanging over my head. And I began to feel guilty about it. I was unproductive. I didn’t take advantage of my time. I could’ve managed better. 

Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.

I fell into the rut. “Now what if I don’t get everything done? What if I just squandered good grades on my finals?” The great attack of the what-ifs. The one that I know all too well.

But this time, those “what-ifs” won’t become “I ams.” Because I’m more than a measurement of my performance. Tomorrow, when I go in to defend my thesis, I’ll put forth my best effort. I’ll try really hard. I’ll do all that I can to get an A.

 

But if I don’t get the grade I’m hoping to get, that doesn’t change who I am. The same is true for you. You are not your final exams.

Do the work. Try hard. But do it all knowing that there’s no A, C or F stamped on your life. I’m willing to bet you’re a lot more interesting than the information on your transcript.

Hang in there, people.

Why the Syrian Refugee Crisis can be Everything Right with our Christianity

Syria Blog Post

This morning, I went to church. This is a typical Sunday morning activity for me and for other people who follow Christ. It’s kind of just what we do. I’ve been doing this my whole life. When I was younger, it’s because, by the grace of God, I had no choice (which I’m now very thankful for). Now, I choose to spend Sunday mornings worshipping with other believers and learning from God’s Word.

This particular morning, the guest speaker at our church spoke about The Gospel, which is a pretty great topic for a Sunday morning if you ask me. He delivered an inspiring, convicting, and grace-filled message about moving from a posture of consumption (a conception of Christianity in which we merely partake in Christian activities to “get filled up”) to a posture of faithful presence (following the call of Christ into the surrounding community and bringing the Gospel to the lost and broken through word and deed). I was inspired and moved throughout his message as he beautifully articulated the recent meditations of my mind and heart. One of those, you know, “this guy must have read my mind before going to the pulpit” kind of sermons.

He slipped in one phrase, though, that really captured me.

“A Gospel that doesn’t interact with strangers and outsiders is no Gospel at all,” he said gently.

This is a hard and inconvenient truth. It implies the risk of my safety, my security, my comfort. But it’s true. To experience the fullness of the Gospel, we must risk. We must defy social norms. We must travel beyond the borders of what we already know.

Isaiah 61:1-3 says:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption in order to salvage some type of control over our own security, I fear we won’t see the good news reach the poor, or the captives set free, or the bound escape their shackles.

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption, we’ll stare at our own reflections as we look down into our wells full of “the oil of gladness,” wishing we had poured it out when the time was right.

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption, to whom will we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor but ourselves?

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption, we’ll be safe. We’ll be secure. We might even be happy. But we’ll never experience the true Gospel joy that floods into the heart when a captive is set free.

It just so happens that right now, the captives are knocking at our door. They’re begging for the oil of gladness to replace the smell of the burning of innocent flesh. They’re begging for the garment of praise to replace the deafening sound of bombs that’s too quickly becoming normal. They’re begging to wear a beautiful headdress to replace the ashes that already cover them in sorrow.

I know we’re scared. I know we don’t have the money. But I also know that if we follow Jesus into the unknown and the impossible, He will show us something we never expected to see. He will turn ashes to beauty. He will provide the oil of gladness instead of mourning. He will cloak us – and others – with the garment of praise.

We’ll suffer along the way. In fact, that’s inevitable (see 1st Peter). Our comfort and our security will be compromised, but our joy – and the joy of the captives – will multiply into eternity.

To my fellow believers: fear is real, but we already have the antidote. In fact, we’ve got an eternal supply. We can choose to simply consume our faith, or we can assume a faithful presence. If the latter becomes just what we do, we’ll hear these familiar words:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

Then the feast will begin, and we will not merely consume… We will, for the rest of eternity, be fully consumed by the love that risked all of its comfort so that we would truly live.

 

 

 

READING INTO 2015, PART II: Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick

Last month, I detailed my goal to read one book a month for the entirety of 2015. That may not sound like much, but for me, it’s a big goal. One book per month equals about 12 times as many books as I usually read in a year. To be honest, a few days ago I thought I wouldn’t make it out of February with the goal intact. I had three or four days ago and a lot of pages left, but somehow the time came. Against all odds, my reading adventure carried on into uncharted territory… two books in two months. I know, this is too exciting for you to handle. I should have warned you.

9781601424563_p0_v4_s260x420February’s book was Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick, the pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. The premise/purpose/subtitle of the book is “hearing God’s voice above all others.” As somebody who has a constant mental conversation going upstairs (I promise you I’m not crazy), this sounded like an intriguing read. Shout out once again to my friend Jenn, Kristen Wiig’s twin, because she’s a major fan of this book and recommended it to me. I have a hard time believing she actually read it, though, because that acting schedule must be stevencrazy, right?

Crash the Chatterbox was a big change from Blue Like Jazz, because the two books are completely different in style. Blue Like Jazz basically functions as a collection of memories with profound insights about God and life along the way, but Crash the Chatterbox is more of a pep-talk meets how-to kind of book. Donald Miller and Steven Furtick also write very differently. I’ll just say it – Miller is a much better writer. That doesn’t make Furtick a bad writer, though. He’s actually very good at crafting memorable, quotable lines that stick around and can serve as reproducible advice:

Steven Furtick quote
“When your perspective is preloaded with the Word of God, lies lose their power over your life.”

“We don’t have to fear what we face when we know who we’re trusting in.”

“[The enemy] loves to project the past into the future, thus squeezing out the potential of the present.”

“Don’t let what you expected keep you from what God wants you to experience.” 

While I love those easily reproducible one-liners, here are some larger lessons I learned from Crash the Chatterbox:

  • We waste an excessive amount of mental time and space with our “what-ifs.”
  • God WILL carry me through any unfavorable circumstance I will ever face.
  • Many of my worries are unwarranted and unproductive.
  • I AM a child of God.
  • I can distinguish between the voice of the enemy and the voice of God.
  • It is possible to deflect the harmful thoughts the enemy sends my way.
  • I have believed many lies the enemy has told me, causing many insecurities to develop.

There are many other principles I learned by reading this book, but most of all, it helped me in a practical manner. Over the course of reading this book, I’ve found myself veering away from useless worrying sessions that have crept in and caused destruction in the past. I’ve learned to distinguish between what Satan tries to tell me and what God IS telling me. I’ve learned to rest in the security that is found in my very identity in Christ, rather than allowing insecurity to make a home in my heart and mind. I’ve caught myself many a time ready to drift into another harmful state of worry, when suddenly, it’s almost as if I hear the voice of Elrond saying “There is nothing for you here, only death!”

While that’s a somewhat cheesy and overused quote from Lord of the Rings, it’s TRUE. Matthew 6:27 says “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

No. The answer is no. There is nothing for you in worrying, only death.

I’ve always said that I’ve always been a worrier, but I’m no longer willing to accept that as a part of my identity. My identity is in Christ alone. Whom shall I fear? No weapon formed against me, especially the voice of Satan telling me to worry, shall prosper…

Crash the Chatterbox helped me realize the detriment of worry. While that’s a different lesson than many people probably take from the book, worry is the most frequent type of mental chatter that plagues me. When I let worry stay, and then grow, and then allow it to make its home in my heart and mind, it blossoms into full-grown insecurity. Crash the Chatterbox has assisted me in simply telling worry to leave. When it knocks on the door, I’m having dinner with some good friends named Identity in Christ and Blessed Assurance, so I can’t answer.

As somebody who overthinks and over-analyzes, I’m very thankful for the mental rest that Furtick’s words have helped me find. That rest has always been available to me in Jesus, but this book was a road map of sorts to help me find its exact location.

Clearly, Crash the Chatterbox was a practical and useful tool for me, and it’s very quotable, to boot. However, I do have a few critiques about this read:

  • I’m not a huge fan of Steven Furtick’s writing style. It’s often too choppy. While quotable, the highlight content comes in small chunks rather than flowing throughout large sections of his writing.
  • I feel like this book could have been much shorter and accomplished the same purpose. It was pretty repetitive and contained what seemed like a lot of filler content.
  • A little bit of celebrity pastor arrogance was present throughout the book.
  • I had a hard time connecting with the author on a personal level, which was tough because he tried to write the book in a very personal manner.
  • It didn’t dive deep enough. I was waiting for the plunge, but I felt like many of the book’s topics floated near the surface level.

All of that being said, I did like Crash the Chatterbox and I would recommend it to anyone who struggles with fear, worrying, insecurity, or any other type of mental chatter that you feel like you can’t control. God is bigger than the seemingly ongoing battle taking place inside our heads. Victory is real, and fear is a liar. Crash the chatterbox that says you can’t read one book a month for a year. Crash the chatterbox that says you aren’t worth it. Crash the chatterbox that says you won’t get through this. Crash the chatterbox that’s constantly trying to take what can’t be taken from you – your identity in Christ.

Crash. Crash. Crash.

2 down, 10 to go. Next up: Creation Regained by Albert Wolters, which I’ll be reading as a possible basis for my senior thesis project.

Reading into 2015, Part I: Blue Like Jazz

Two miracles happened.

First, I started a book. Second, I finished it.

When I was a little kid, I loved reading books. I think I read most of The Hardy Boys series, like any boy should do. I bet there were some days that consisted solely of me peering into the lives of Frank and Joe as they solved yet another mystery (how did they get in so many strange situations?).

Recently, though, I’ve been distracted. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and plenty of other things I love to waste time doing have choked out the power of reading in my life. I read a book by Francis Chan, if you could call it reading. It was more like reading and then forgetting what I read and then reading some more and then forgetting again. I think that took about a year. I couldn’t make it through a book if I tried. And I didn’t really try, anyway.

I went to Michigan over Christmas break. I stayed in a house that held one of the most impressive book collections I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. In front of me was a wealth of stories, knowledge, and inspiration. On one of the bookshelves, I’m pretty sure I saw the complete works of William Shakespeare, which I would never read, but it was cool. There was an entire bookcase filled with what looked like ancient books. The classics. Even as a non-reader, I was impressed.  I didn’t know the WiFi password for the house, if it even had WiFi, and I would only be staying there for a few nights. Opening a book and looking inside couldn’t hurt for those few nights, I thought.

These were just a few of their books.
These were just a few of their books.

I picked a book that I’d be able to get something out of without having to finish it. I found a book called Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey. Each chapter was about a different person who greatly influenced Philip’s life, and more specifically, his walk with God. I read the chapter about Martin Luther King Jr., who I thought I knew everything about. It was not so. Some of the MLK quotes included by Yancey truly shook me. I was inspired. I’ve always been fascinated by Martin Luther King Jr., but this time I was fascinated at something else, too – why did I ever give up on reading?

It was an epiphany. Surrounded by thousands of books in a quiet room, I realized I needed to start reading again. Reading could be the escape that I admittedly search for sometimes by scrolling through Twitter, as shameful as that sounds. The new year was about to start, but I didn’t want this to be a New Year’s Resolution that I gave up on after a week and a half, like every other New Year’s Resolution that ends in dissolution.

I wrote down a goal: one book per month in 2015. Not terribly difficult, but if you do the math, that’s 12 books throughout the year. That’s 12 times as many books as I would usually read in a year’s time, so I figured it a good goal. This goal was actually inspired by my friend Jenn, who set the same goal in 2014 and succeeded. Jenn looks like Kristen Wiig, but she doesn’t think so. She’s wrong, because she definitely looks like Kristen Wiig.

Back to those miracles I mentioned. When I got home from Michigan, I looked on the bookshelf downstairs and pulled out a few books that looked interesting. I found my first book for 2015, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It sounded vaguely familiar, and I knew who Donald Miller was, but I didn’t know what to expect. Hopefully I would follow through with my goal. I opened the book and started reading. That was the first miracle.

Today, January 12th, I finished Blue Like Jazz. That was the second miracle. Maybe I will even exceed my goal. Maybe I will read two books this month. Miracles do happen.

I decided to blog about my reading adventure for the sake of accountability and because Kristen Wiig told me she wishes she would have done the same thing in order to remember what she learned from her year of reading. When I finish each book, I’ll share what I learned and why you should or shouldn’t read the book. It turns out, Blue Like Jazz was a good place to start, because Donald Miller taught me a lot.

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Donald Miller seems like a pretty cool guy.

Here are some things I learned from Blue Like Jazz:

  • I am a lot like Donald Miller in some ways.
  • I am nothing like Donald Miller in other ways.
  • Donald Miller is a very unique writer.
  • As Christians, we should be apologizing to people we’ve failed to love.
  • There is something profound about friendships that rest on the basis of appreciation of differences.
  • I suck at loving people.
  • Jesus can truly set us free. He can set us free from closed-mindedness and give us the ability to love everyone as if they were our best friend.
  • When Jesus said “love your neighbor as yourself,” he meant it.
  • It’s ok to be weird. And to tell people about how weird you are.
  • Sometimes, I should live a little.
  • I am addicted to myself.

I realize that last one is a bit heavy, but that’s one of the main ways I could relate to Donald as he told his story. He thought the world revolved around him. Until he truly experienced the unconditional love of Jesus playing out in his life in a beautiful manner, he was subconsciously but harmfully addicted to himself. He prayed that God would rip this self-addiction from his grasp. God did, and Donald was free. Free of himself. Free to live, free to love. Free to experience Jesus. Free to experience Christianity as “blue like jazz.”

“The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands.” (Blue Like Jazz, p. 239)

I realized that I’m trapped in the same addiction of myself. That’s a pretty heavy revelation for my first book of the year. If the rest of the 2015 plays out like this, I’ll be in trouble. It’ll be a good kind of trouble, though, because I’ll be a better person for it. As I read Blue Like Jazz, I heard God telling me to let go of all of my pride and prejudice (pun halfway intended). There’s no room for self-addiction if I want to follow Jesus and truly love people. I need to let go of myself and understand that the fullness of my worth is found in Jesus. I can love myself fully by receiving the love Jesus has for me. Lose my life, and I’ll find it. I think somebody important said that once.

Donald Miller certainly isn’t one of those authors caught up in theological debate or concerned with “the (insert number) things that will help you with doing ________ in your life.” He tells his story and hopes and prays that people will learn from it. It’s possible that I learned more from his writing than I could ever learn from some Bible scholar who’s smarter than both Donald and I put together. Donald really knows how to be transparent and honest. I like that. I also feel like I have taken on a variation of his writing style throughout the course of this blog post. I guess he really impacted me.

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Blue Like Jazz revealed a self-addiction that I didn’t really know I had. It was a hopeful revelation, though, because that’s what Jesus does. He gives us hope despite our attempts to choke it out.

I’m excited for the 11 or more books I’m going to read throughout the rest of this year. Please keep me accountable. I hope you enjoy the thoughts I will share along the way. Oh, and read Blue Like Jazz. It will take you from Portland to the Grand Canyon to the innermost caverns of your heart and mind. I am recommending that you read this book, which is something I usually can’t do, because I haven’t read the book in the first place. Supposedly there is a movie about this book. I think I will watch it now. Kristen Wiig says I can be one of those people that makes snarky comments about the movie because I read the book first and the movie left out so many important parts. Wait, I read the book first?

Miracles do happen.