Tuesday, December 22, 2009

PRIMAL -book review

Confession: I read this book out of an obligation to the publisher. I got a free advanced copy and they get a book review (you're reading it). It quickly morphed from an assignment into something nourishing that my soul didn't know it needed.

The premise is simple: it is an elaboration of Mark 12:30
"And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength."

Naturally it's laid out in four parts: The Heart of Christianity, The Soul of Christianity, The Mind of Christianity, and the Strength of Christianity.

I must say that I've read and heard this verse many times; Mark Batterson's book helped it hit me with all the newness that anyone who's been a follower of any length of time hopes for.

One thing that strikes the reader about Batterson is that he is an intelligent guy, e.g. "counterfactual theory," "hippocampus," and "metacognitive ability." (pgs 26, 90, 115)

That is NOT to say that this is in any way "heady" or for "thinker types." The beauty of Batterson's writing is that it's based in Scripture and the brightest minds of this world, yet set upon a table that everyone can eat from; that's a gift.

Case and point, his appropriate intellect is countered by simple down home advice that's impossible to disagree with:

"I know we're busy, but no one is too busy to go to the bathroom, right? So here's an idea. If you simply put a book in your bathroom, you can read at least one book a month." pg 95

Ironically I began reading PRIMAL at the same time I was prepping a talk (click here to hear it) at Oakbrook Church on the topic of biblical generosity. His first section on the heart became the perfect thing for my own soul to wrestle with, and then in turn for our congregation to wrestle with. I credit this book with the bedrock of that impacting talk.

As he cleverly unwrapped each section (the different ways we are to love God), I noticed how much you and I camp out in one area in the name of "how God wired me" instead of fully living this life the way God intended.

I.e. thinkers love to love God with their mind at the peril of their heart and vice versa, while "white collar Christians" love to love God at an online computer at the peril of breaking a sweat for God with their bodies.

As we "specialize" and learn to work from our strengths there is a danger to not live fully in all the ways God has called us to. This book is a holistic plea for us to return to the lost soul of our faith, loving God in all the ways laid out in Mark 12:30.

Some things that I personally found interesting:

  • Having a laugh with God is an important part of loving God with our mind. pg 93
  • Christians need to ask more questions and admit we don't have all the answers instead of acting like we do. pg 96
  • "Christianity was never intended to be a noun. And when we turn it into a noun, it becomes a turnoff." pg 135
  • Sin is de-energizing. Obedience is energizing. pg 145

Who is this book for? It's for people new to or on the edge of coming to faith; it's a great healthy, accurate and compelling picture of what the life is that God's calling us into. (It's a more accurate and exciting picture than most churches have painted, I'm afraid.)

It's also for people who've been following Christ for a while--especially if you're finding you're a little less excited, you have a little less wonder, you have fewer questions, and you don't seem to be laughing as much as you'd like. It's helped me reawaken some of those things in me just in the week it took me to read it.

If I could do it over, I would have read it slower. It's really worthy of pouring over slowly, evaluating, and seeking God. It would be great for a couple friends to read together or even a small group.

I thought I was reading it because I got picked to write a review and get a free book. But I got picked because God knew just how much my soul needed watering.

It's a great read.

Check out Mark Batteron's site. Buy the book.


-Morgan Young

Saturday, December 5, 2009

God & Guinness -book review

I took this picture in the Miami airport as I was reading this on the plane to and from Haiti

The whole title is: The Search for God and Guinness, a biography of the beer that changed the word.

I was going to write a review but when I was tracking down the publishers website promo I found this wonderful video by the author. Click on it below & then I'll provide just a few comments.I'll admit that when I got this book, I expected it to be novel or unique, but I found it so much more than that. It has substance; historical, applicable and even theological.

And there are gems like this account of the first encounter the Pilgrims had with an Indian on March 16, 1621:

"The man (Indian) neared, paused, and then shouted 'Welcome!' in clear perfect English. And then, more astonishing still, he asked--again, flawlessly in the Pilgrim's own tongue--if they had some beer." pg 4

Or this from the great father of our faith, Martin Luther, a man who considered beer one of the gifts of this life from God:

"Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused...men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?" pg 29

This isn't not the stuffy story of the Guinness family full of all kind of rabbit trails. It is the story of their beer and their God--both of which went hand in hand. It's the story of a family that felt that employing people and having money meant responsibility--and they responded in kind, driven by their faith. They profoundly changed their world for the betterment of all.

The Guinesses rubbed shoulders with faith luminaries: John Wesley, DL Moody and Charles Spurgeon, just to name a few.

And even if you're not-so-much into God, but you appreciate Guinness or a good brew, this book is very much for you. Lots of applicable information and wisdom regardless of your faith. This is not a "bait and switch" book written by a Christian to hook pagan beer lovers ;-)

The authour did a great job of distilling the life of the Guinnesses into four points. This won't spoil the end, as Mansfield fleshes out these points in a way that is well worth reading for yourself.

1) Discern the ways of God for your life and business.
2.) Think in terms of generations yet to come.
3.) Whatever you do, do at least one thing very well.
4.) Master the facts before you act

For those who may think more conservatively and might tend to put this book in the camp of "liberal folly;" this same author penned The Faith of George W. Bush in 2003. (And for the more liberal-minded, don't let that deter you from this read ;-)

Highly recommend this to lovers of beer, Christ followers and the like. Great interesting read!


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Better Pics w/Your "Point & Shoot" Camera

"The best camera is the one you have with you." That's a great statement by renown photographer Chase Jarvis.

And that statement was very real for me when I was in Haiti in Nov. Because of the heat, long days, and schlepping a water bottle everywhere I would go, I decided to leave my bigger DSLR Nikons in the states. Instead I took a simple point & shoot that would easily slide into the pockets on my cargo shorts.

I got a lot of flattering comments on the pics, and I must say, I was even very happy with them, even after being used to my $1,000 D90. Pics1, pics2, pics 3.

All the pics were taken with my 2006 Nikon Coolpix L6; a 6-mega pixel simple digital camera that sold for about $190 new.

Here are some simple tweaks you can make to your digital camera to get better pictures: (These are the settings I used. The pics above reflect these adjustments.)

1.) Navigate through your "menu" button (or--GASP-- actually get out your manual) and change the default picture color to "VIVID." This usually punches up the colors nicely.

2) When shooting outdoors, always set the "white balance" to the "CLOUDY" icon. This warms up your pictures and adds a bit of amber to them. You'll love this tweak. (YES, even though there's an icon for sunny days, always use the cloudy icon outside, especially on sunny days. Try it.) Bonus tip: Try using your flash when shooting people on sunny days.

3.) If you notice that your pictures are just a little too light and you'd like them to be a bit richer or darker, adjust the "exposure" setting to "-3."

If you want take your pics the next step, download this great free image editor, Photoscape. Use it to "sharpen" your pics, punch up the "saturation" a tad, and add some more contrast. It also does other stuff like adding cheesy "lens flares" like the one I added in photo 2 above, among other things. Of course it crops, does black & white etc.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas & Xmas

We Christians are easily unsettled. Maybe this post will help settle us a bit. (Yes, I do this every year.)

This time of year I take to writing "Xmas" in emails, posts etc. Why? Because it's short and it's an abbreviation. It works just like "etc" does.

We don't say, "e-t-c," we say, "et-SET-er-a." Likewise I don't say "EX-mas." I write "Xmas" and pronounce it "KRIS-mas." (Uh-oh--new discovery: our pronunciation takes the Christ out of Christmas...)

"But, you're taking the 'Christ' out of Christmas!"

No, I don't believe so. "Xmas" is of Greek origin. The word for Christ in Greek is Xristos. (pronounced "KRIS-tose") During the 16th century Europeans began using the first initial of Christ's name, "X," in place of the word Christ in Christmas as a shorthand of the word.

When I see "Xmas" on a sign I don't think the business owner is trying to make a negative statement about Christ; I just think they don't have enough room on their sign for "Christmas." Maybe we should be encouraged that a business thinks enough of the holiday to put it on its sign.

I do wonder if this belief about "Xmas" comes from Christians associating the innocent letter "X" with being "X-rated. Let's remember that there are no bad letters, just bad usages.


Years ago when I worked at a lending institution I was taking applications during Dec. (Did you read that as "Dek" or "De-SEM-ber?") for the reason for most of the loans I wrote in the little box, "Xmas." The branch manager asked me to stop doing that as she was offended. So I wrote "Cmas" on the subsequent applications. Yes I have always been this way...

Merry Christmas. Merry Cmas. Merry Xmas. (All the same to me.)

Peace ;-)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Haiti pt 4

I've never gone door to door asking, "Excuse me--do you know Jesus?" Well, that is before I went to Haiti. Why not wait til there's a huge language barrier? ;-)

Three afternoons--after two very serious hours of intentional prayer--we walked out to a village to evangelize. The first walk was pretty intense for me. Every bit of a mile and my back was aware of every step of it. A mantra I would say to myself on this trip (and was also reminding God of) was "If God leads you to it, He'll get you through it."

Once our group of 20 or so Americans, Canadians & Haitians would get to a village, we'd break into groups of 3-4 and hit the streets. I ended up with Rebecca each time. The first time was chance, the subsequent times were intentional.

Rebecca has a strength and grace that is unique. I believe her strength comes out of what I would describe as the very clear call of God for her to minister to people in Haiti. Being in Haiti, it seems obvious that it would take the call of God to keep you there for two years with an authentic smile on your face.

She'd boldly hail a hello or "is anyone home?" (In Creole) And then followup with a grace and a love of the people that profoundly struck me. I couldn't understand the dialogue, but I could tell that she loved them. I could tell that most of them could tell she loved them to. It's like the difference of someone interrupting you because they want something and someone interrupting you because they sincerely just want to talk with you.

She would smile a lot. Not because it was good strategy--but because it was natural. She talked about Christ with them, but not at them. As I watched, prayed and listened I thought, "This is such a tangible picture of the love of God." As she spoke and interacted you could smell the fruit of the Spirit.

Oddly though, in three days and 20-30 or more houses, not one conversion. You might not think that sounds odd--I wouldn't have thought it odd. But at lunch after the villages we found that virtually every other group got a half-dozen conversions, or more! That was really odd. The numbers in such a short amount of time were so high I wanted to dispute it. But eye witnesses like JB, Shelia attested they'd never seen anything like it. They saw the gift of evangelism.

On a couple occasions, Rebecca would say, "This is a voodoo house, are you comfortable with it?" Each time I would quickly and confidently say yes--I have a firm resolve that God and his people need not shrink back.

The picture above was at such a house. The markings on the house in the background are of a voodoo priest's home/temple. It turned out he had died the prior week. It also turned out that his son was a Christ follower. That's Rebecca praying with him.

He spent the rest of our time in that village with us. She said it was hard for him to be a Christian when everyone in the village knew who his dad was. One of the Haitians also creepily told us that the rumor was the deceased voodoo priest was still in the house--where they performed sacrifices.

Voodoo is real. It is the evil one entangling people in his lies. Some nights you can hear the voodoo drums and chanting. Evil is a bit less subtle in Haiti.

Rebecca asked me if I wanted to do any of the talking and she'd translate. It didn't seem like the best course to me. She had a rapport, she was fluent and could easily relate with them. I'd be this clumsy guy who didn't speak their language or know their culture. It didn't seem right that I'd do it just to get my "evangelism merit badge" when Rebecca was so much better.

I put myself if in their shoes (sorry, bad metaphor)--"place." I thought, would I want some guy coming to my door and speaking awkwardly though an interpreter, or would I want a real conversation with someone who cared enough to speak my language? So I prayed silently.

As we walked and talked to people in the villages, it challenged my faith a bit. What I mean is, a relationship with God never provides the promise of better housing or even quality of life. It's the promise of God with us, loving us, saving us and using us to His glory. Here in the US those promises seem amazing. When you're looking at someone living in a stick and mud "house" with a dirt floor and little food, whose kids hadn't hardly any clothes--I wondered if it sounded amazing to them. Or would something like water, food, clothes and better housing sound amazing?

All I think I know is that it's hard for me, an American, to go to Haiti for a week and really get my head around it all. It's a bit overwhelming. And yet, I probably need to be overwhelmed, and not be able to produce trite answers. And perhaps I need to find God in the midst of it all as much as the unbelieving Haitian needs to find God for the first time.