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Book Review – The Way of Hope by Melissa Fisher

This book should be required reading for any pastor/church leader who claims to be “concerned” about LGBTQ-related issues.

Melissa Fisher invites readers to travel with her on the way of hope, even though the road is much more difficult than alternate paths. In sharing her journey, she recounts turning away from her childhood “faith,” struggles with perfectionism and work-a-holism, her same-sex attraction and marriage, and hitting rock bottom before beholding Jesus afresh and gradually saying “yes” to each obstacle she was asked to confront. She is incredibly vulnerable and brutally honest, and as a result her story is both heart-breaking and a powerful testimony to God’s grace and faithfulness.

 

I want to share the book with those I know who, like Fisher, know what the Bible teaches, yet are struggling with same-sex attraction. In a couple places, the book seems to gets a bit “preachy” (esp considering she is still far away from God at those points in the journey), but it is so raw and genuine from deep in her heart, I hope my friends will appreciate she is simply bearing her soul. Her self-analysis and thoughtful reflection also provide insight for the pastor/counselor looking to help someone at various points along the way of hope.

I cannot recommend the book highly enough, especially for a pastor/church leader who is seeking to help a congregation understand LGBQT issues, but also for someone who knows a loved one questioning his/her sexuality.

The above paragraph was going to be the conclusion to the review… until I encountered the epilogue. The epilogue includes three short Q&As between Fisher and her mother, her father, and former same-sex partner, Kristi. As powerful as the book is, the epilogue is incredible. To read of God’s progressive healing of each relationship is amazing! The book went from excellent to GREAT!

Note: This book was provided to the reader by Graf-Martin CommunicationsBaker Books in exchange for an unbiased review.

Does Technology Change how we Communicate with our Children?

I’ve heard all the nay-sayers and doomsayers too!

  • “Technology changes how we communicate.”
  • “We are destroying our children.”
  • “My teenager never talks to me anymore.”

And while I realize there is some truth to the first statement, I have my doubts too about how the legitimacy of blaming technology – whether smartphones or otherwise – for failure of people to communicate.

The contention “parents are not talking to their teens about important life issues” has been a parental angst long before the current smartphone generation. Its one of the issues parents and teens have faced throughout history. Maybe the major life issues are changing in the range and variety of options available. But technology has not really “changed” the truth that parents need to talk with their teens about significant life decisions.

land on rotary phoneHowever, a recent experience re-visiting my wife’s first home, complete with a middle-of-the-kitchen-wall rotary phone jack (if you don’t know what a phone jack is, have a 40+ person tell you about the “olden days”) helped me realize that technology has changed at least one facet of how we communicate.

You see, when the over 40 crowd was growing up and they still had phones that plugged into the wall (aka phone jack), and then had a long cord so you could still talk on the phone while walking into various rooms, whoever was around could hear at least one half of the conversation.

On more than one occasion I can remember either asking my mom, “What was that (call) about, mom?” because I picked up enough from the half of the conversation I could hear to know that something interesting, or sad, or troublesome, or exciting was happening. Then, mom would fill me in on the other half of the conversation, if it was appropriate for a young boy to know.

Fast forward to 2017 when many adults have these quick “information” discussions via text. And in a series of 4-8 texts each, adults can discuss a variety of topics from “Did you remember to pick up [grocery list] at the store?” to “Did you hear about what happened at [place]?” But only the sender and receiver are part of the discussion. There are no nearby listeners to hear any side of a conversation because it is all done via text.

While many of the half-conversations I heard and discussed with my mother were about everyday life details, the odd conversation was significant. Moreso, the fact that as a child I was a regular part of a communication process was beneficial to building a regular habit of talking to my parents about whatever topic, mundane or significant.

Today’s parents who have so many conversations on the phone but not using their (audio) voice, need to be even more intentional to have generic, casual, mundane conversations with their children. Because teenagers and young adults will not likely communicate with parents on the big issues of life, if they have not been in the habit of talking with you about anything, everything, and nothing-in-particular.

Technology may not change the way we communicate, it may just change how often we communicate. And the frequency of communication between children and parents will affect the quantity and quality of their communication as teenagers and young adults. So parents, be very intentional when they are young in talking about everyday life – their day at school, their joys & triumphs with friends, the challenges & accomplishments in out-of-school activities (eg. sports, music).

Or you could go out and buy a vintage phone!

Note: The above photo is not my mother. (Thank you Shutterstock)
Note 2: The phone in the above picture has a pathetically short cord.
I never saw one that short in any household!

Book Review – One by One by Gina Dalfonzo

Gina Dalfonzo states her purpose clearly: to help local churches serve and support single adults well. She contends that in so many aspects of church life, singles adults, men and women, are treated as second-class citizens, excluded often unintentionally by thoughtless individuals and structures that sideline singles from growing spiritually and from serving in meaningful ways in the life of a congregation.

After sharing some horror stories and discussing some ways churches communicate to singles they are either pariahs or projects rather than people, Dalfonzo attempts to identify and explain some of the unbiblical thinking the church expresses by action, and sometimes in words. While she does address some legitimate concerns, this reader found it difficult to track with the critiques. A few chapters seemed to be an extended rant about Joshua Harris’ book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. As with most of the chapters in this middle portion of the book, she identifies a few legitimate criticisms but then seems to ramble on. In the final section of the book, Dalfonzo again identifies some positive ways of connecting singles to church life, though there is nothing exceptionally creative (ie. The reader thinks, “Wow, I never thought of that idea as a great way to help singles connect!”).

Admittedly, my expectations were erroneous. In the critique section, I was hoping for clearer theological explanation “defending” singleness and biblical discussions on sexuality, identity, meaning of life/purpose, etc., factors I believe are central to the church’s poor understanding of singles and thus poor ministry with/for singles. She touched on some of the areas, but not nearly with the depth or clarity desired. I think the various stories she shared on the troubles singles encounter in the church demonstrate solid biblical teaching of these areas is weak.

Its an interesting enough read, and I will gladly share the book with a pastor or other friend interested in the topic, but I cannot say I will recommend it.

Note: This book was provided to the reviewer at no cost in exchange for an unbiased review by Baker Books.

 

Four Letter Words Every Christian Teenager should say… Often!

Do you sometimes cringe at the language your teenage friends use? It may not be filthy and vulgar… though sometimes it is. Sometimes older adults can’t even understand the words or slang teens are using. They may as well be speaking a foreign language!

Even more troubling for Christian parents or grandparents, are young people who profess to follow Jesus and use the same bad language as any other teenager. If they truly have a personal faith relationship with God, shouldn’t their speech reflect it?

With those thoughts in mind, I want to offer three four-letter words every Christian teenager should speak… often!

  • W-O-R-K

If there is one thing parents have taken away from many teenagers in their eagerness to provide them with everything they need… or almost anything they want… it is the need, even the desire, for WORK.

My generation – those lazy, slacker GenXers – had to get a part-time job at the local grocery store after school or gas station or fast food restaurant if they wanted to buy a Nintendo64 or cut-up blue jeans or… whatever. If you didn`t work for the extras, you didn`t get them.

(No, we didn`t have to walk uphill both ways to school. We were driven around. We didn`t have to buy the laptop for our university studies ourselves or pay the tuition fee, we just had to make our own spending money!).

So, eventually we went to work – even though we despised it – so we could have a few extra things. Admittedly, some folks in my generation were not the best workers and hated every minute of it, but we did learn how to work and did gradually get better at it as we (sorta) grew up.

It could be getting a part-time job after school. It could be working or even volunteering over the summer months between the end of one school year and the start of another. It doesn’t matter too much what type of work you do or how much it pays. Its the responsibility and reliability a work situation demands that grows your character and your reputation for the future.

  • S-T-O-P

While I told you how we Gen Xers became passable with the last four-letter word, I realize we had no trouble with this four letter word: STOP. We were known as slackers for a reason. However, teenagers today have a different challenge.

Again it is not totally your fault. Your parents are as much at fault in failing to use this word as you are (blaming your parents for life is another talent of a Gen Xer). As a teenager, you are hardly ever allowed to STOP… and I feel sorry for you.

At least once a week, and often a few times in a day, you need to STOP. Stop playing your video game. Stop texting on your phone or checking facebook. Stop doing… whatever and just sit. Have a cup of coffee. Or tea. Or talk to someone without being interrupted by the perpetual ding of your phone. Everything demanding your time does not need to be answered.

Be still. Sit quietly. Listen… to the person in the room, to the sounds of the birds, to the traffic whizzing by, to nothing. Enjoy silence.

  • H-O-P-E

Researchers tell us teenagers today have been praised so highly, their self-esteem individually and as a group is at an all-time low. Yet for the teenager who professes to know Jesus, they should be containers and dispensers of HOPE!

I know there are plenty of reasons to be gloomy and doomy in most areas of life today. War. Racial prejudice. Sexism. Climate change and global warming. Overpopulation. Politics (don’t even get started on politics). Every-kind-of-phobia imaginable exists in the 21st century. I suspect there are doctors who diagnose people with phobiaphobia (fear of fear).

Yet a Christian young person does not put his/her hope in any of these earthly and temporal things. Your hope is in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World. In the midst of all kinds of situations that seem dire and out-of-control, Jesus gives HOPE. And not just a futuristic hope – if you survive to the end heaven will be much better. A here and now hope.

For the follower of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, He is with you each and every day. Each and every step of the way, whether the path is well-lit and clear or whether it is dark, foggy and seemingly going nowhere.

So Christian teenager or young adult, use these four letter words a bit more often in your speech: work, stop, and hope. But don’t only talk about them, live them! You have every opportunity in imaginable before you (and I realize that may not be a good thing always!)… don’t be afraid to fail (another four letter word that really is not that bad). Give it all you’ve got and face the future with hope!

Book Review – Fearless Parenting by George Barna & Jimmy Myers

Combining their skills of research (George Barna) and counseling (Jimmy Myers), the authors bring challenging perspectives on the parental task of raising faithful kids in secular culture.

After an opening chapter, each of the next ten chapters begin with a “counseling situation” serving as the introduction to the topic being addressed. They wisely deal with the issue underlying the problem, as well as with the problematic behavior being expressed. Each chapter closes with a section “Five Practical Changes You Can Make Today.”

The authors express their goal clearly at the outset: “to provide you with practical advice to help you effectively influence the mind and heart of your child” (p. 8). The book succeeds in achieving this goal, not only in the concluding section of each chapter, but within the pages of each chapter there is adequate analysis and explanation of the erroneous mindsets and heart attitudes of both parents and children. And they are not afraid to address an issue bluntly and “offend” the reader with their advice. While neither of them are “legalistic” in their approach to issues, they make forceful, draw-the-line here statements that, though possibly debatable, are necessary. In hindsight, the authors did lay out more Biblical principles (ie chapter & verse) than expected. The reasoning and explanations on various topics is clearly in line with Scriptures’ teaching on the issues.

While the book at times felt redundant and unrelenting, as I looked back over the sections, there was a good balance of positive strategies and restrictive guidelines. The final chapter on the importance of parental consistency was superb. It provides an appropriate “reflective stop” to a book that could leave a parent feeling overwhelmed with a list of do’s and don’ts.

I would recommend this book to any parent, certainly for those dealing with teenagers or soon-to-be-teenagers. However, as a parent with children still a few years away from being teens, I find it most helpful to think through these issues now and start setting the expectations ahead of time so that they when the various issues start arising, they already know the standards.

Note: This book was provided to the reviewer by Baker Books in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

 

 

Tracking your Success!

Do you know some really goal-oriented people?

Goalchecklist

The kind of person that make annual goals for the start of the year, maybe multiple goals in the various categories of life: career, finances, family, and personal goals? Maybe you are one of those people…

If so, you might have realized we are past the halfway point of the year (2017). If you have not done so already, you may want to review your goals and track the progress you are making. How you track your progress and how you make the rest of the year successful in light of that reflection can happen in various ways with different benefits.

Mid-Year Review

For many years, I have journaled regularly and then completed a mid-year review with extended reflection on the goals in each of areas. Sometimes during the course of those six months I would check the goals, but often, looking at them in late June was the first time I had reviewed the goals since they were first written in January. Often the mid-year review included couple “Oops!” moments as I realized I had not done anything on a few goals goals because they were long forgotten. So I put tasks on the to-do-list for the immediate future so they would not disappear again. The mid-year review also served as a reminder to keep persevering on other goals and often encouraged a few immediate actions towards accomplishing those goals. Of course, there were some goals that had already been successfully accomplished which gave a sense of satisfaction and some were in process of being accomplished.

Quarterly Goals

After listening to some goal-setting podcasts with Brian Buffini, I modified my goal setting this year to include a combination of annual goals (activities that are more regular scheduled) as well as quarterly goals in each category. While I still do a written mid-year review as before, I have been tracking progress toward the goals monthly, (often more frequently) identifying specific tasks completed each month and quarter.

One benefit of this method it that it has kept all the goals in front of me regularly. As a result, I have been more focused on the goals and the specific tasks to be done in order for them to be accomplished.

Additionally, because the goals are quarterly, it has helped them seem more manageable, to plan ahead, and also helped me to feel a constant sense of accomplishment, rather than just twice a year (mid-year and final review).

Finally, because I have these quarterly goals in front of me consistently, as opportunities have come up suddenly, I am able to make a quick decision knowing the opportunity aligns with my goals. For example, I had a goal of speaking at a camp (or similar setting) but by the end of June, nothing was scheduled. Then, as our family was at a Canada Day event, I was asked if I would be available to speak at the end of July since the planned speaker had just been forced to cancel. I was able to give a tentative yes and then check our family schedule when we returned home and work out the details over the next few weeks. A goal that was becoming a “try again next year” idea, now was feasible and made it a priority over other options.

Let me know how you track progress on your personal goals by leaving a comment below.

I have learned one of the most beneficial ways to track your progress is to make sure the goal-setting progress facilitates checking on their progress regularly. The way you set your goals determines how you will track their progress. And it may also determine how successful you are in achieving them!

Book Review – Progress in the Pulpit

Although I do not regularly preach, I do some pulpit supply and so I thought Jerry Vines & Jim Shaddix’s new book Progress in the Pulpit might be some good “professional development” for me. To say I was not disappointed is an understatement!

With over 40 years each of preaching experience as well as extensive teaching and writing experience on the topic, the authors write with passion, freshness, and an understanding of the challenges of living and preaching in 2017. After a general introduction, the book divides into three sections: defining, developing and delivering the sermon, and each section consists of four chapters. Thoughtful and full of sage advice, the authors also include useful examples, along with a good sense of humor and recognition of 21st century realities. Along the way, various preaching issues are graciously interacted with clearly.

As one might expect from two veteran preacher teachers, there is little to criticize. Just go out and buy the book and enjoy watching your preaching (or a friends) improve!

Note: The book was provided to the reviewer by the publisher at no cost in exchange for an unbiased blog review.

 

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