December is a great month to clear your home of clutter. It creates space for the gifts that Santa will be bringing on Christmas Eve and gives others an opportunity to benefit from the items that have outgrown their usefulness to your family. One of the first two spaces I go through are my daughters’ closets because I know that I can pass the clothes that Katie and Hollie no longer wear to my niece when we see her over the holidays.

Next, I scrutinize our gift closet and get rid of the oldest items that I intended but never managed to give away. While in the basement, I also look inside holiday totes for decorations that could be donated to Goodwill. I prefer large pieces that have maximum impact with minimal installation time (like the giant wreath we hang in our entryway) and no longer enjoy setting out smaller items that create more clutter than Christmas cheer.

One of the last placed I scrutinize are the bookshelves in our living room as I challenge myself to let go of literature that I never should have bought in the first place. Books that are in good condition with no liquid damage, writing or highlighting are posted on What I like about this site is how easy it is to use. For every book that I mail to another member of this free service, I receive a credit that can be used to request a book from the thousands that are posted on this website.

We all have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources God has temporarily entrusted to our care. Sites like make it, not just possible, but beneficial to pass our unused items along to others.

Trade Books for Free - PaperBack Swap.

3 Questions for the Frantic Family

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing Patrick Lencioni give a message based upon his book,  The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family. Having received rave reviews by leaders like Elisa Morgan of MOPS International and the former CEO of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., we purchased a copy to take home and found it to be an extremely easy read—most of the chapters are less than three pages.

Notes taken while sitting in the audience of Willow Creek’s February 4th weekend service and links to download his message and strategic planning model are found below.

People are more frantic and overwhelmed than ever because there are more opportunities than ever, and more social expectations for taking advantage of those choices.

Why does our work get all of our energy when our family is all that matters?

What families don’t have enough of is not structure and rules; it’s context: The context of knowing what matters most to us and to Christ.

Three questions that give even the most frantic family context are:

1. What makes our family unique?

What are the core values that make us different from the family next door?

What trait did you like in your spouse when you first met that you also possess?

You know you have a core value if you’re willing to be punished for it. Or if it’s inconvenient and you do it anyway.

2. What is our family’s rally cry (i.e., top priority or slogan) right now?

If everything is important, then nothing is.

Ask yourself: “If we accomplish one thing during the next month, what should it be?”

Knowing your rally cry eliminates the guilt that comes from saying “no” to other worthwhile projects. It’s ok to let the lawn go, for example, when your family’s focus is getting ready for a third child.

3.  How do we talk about and use the answers to these questions?

Your family’s defining objectives should be centered around your rally cry and based upon the reality in which you live.

Because Patrick struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder, part of his family’s reality is to embrace the challenge of OCD.

After asking yourself the above questions, you are ready to update your family’s Scoreboard with your rally cry and objectives.

Don’t let the urgent squeeze out the important. Instead, review your scoreboard regularly, celebrate your successes, and embrace your struggles every day.

Willow Creek Church Weekend Service Podcast

Favorite Fifteen Quotes of 2011

In addition to lessons learned, I also like to share quotes on Twitter as I come across them. Here are my favorite fifteen out of all of the ones I posted in 2011. Because I can’t help but improve upon everything I touch (and tweet), the conclusions I reached after reading them are printed in italics.

  1. Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. Make time for others. – Helen Keller
  2. We need to exchange whispers with God before we exchange words with somebody else. Pray. – Lysa Terkeurst
  3. The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it. Grow. – John Ruskin
  4. The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with. Take risks. – Tony Robbins
  5. The best way to make someone interested in you is to be interested in yourself. Take care of yourself. – Rachel Ray
  6. People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Think of others. – Maya Angelou
  7. When people show you who they are, believe them. Be discerning. – Oprah
  8. We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Change is good. – Albert Einstein
  9. Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. Be who you are, not who people want you to be. – Cyril Connolly
  10. A person who has flatlined has stopped growing. Breathe new life into your day. – Dr Henry Cloud
  11. He who looks outside himself dreams. He who looks inside awakens. Learn from what you live through. – Carl Jung
  12. If I made it in this country, the road is there guys. You really are the only shadow standing in your sunshine. Get out of your own way. – Fabio Viviani
  13. Boredom is not another mealtime. Be productive. – Valerie Bertinelli
  14. The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you. Have faith. – Paraphrased from 1 Corinthians 10:13
  15. He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree. Know Christ.– Unknown

If you have a favorite quote to share, feel free to add a comment to this post and remember to …

Three Book Ideas for your Small Group

The church small group that Bill and I belong to asked me to look over the books in my home library to see if I had any that might appeal to both the men and women in our group. I came up with three and am posting them in case you, also, are looking for something to work through in 2012.

Who You Are When No One’s Looking by Bill Hybels

Topic: Character development.

Format: This book is comprised of 11 chapters with a  20-question discussion guide at the end.

Sample quotes from the book are listed below:

If you haven’t noticed by now, it’s extremely difficult to learn to love unless we also have other character traits: the courage to do what needs doing; the discipline to make decisions and carry them out; the vision to see far into the future and deep into others’ hearts and our own; and the endurance to keep going in spite of the ridicule, discomfort or boredom that can accompany this thing called life. p. 14

Every single day we make choices that show whether we are courageous or cowardly. We choose between the right thing and the convenient thing, sticking to a conviction or caving to our desires for comfort, approval, and success. p. 19

I have discovered three things that I must do if my spiritual life is going to flourish. I remember them with the initials I.R.A.–which stands for input, reflection and abstinence. p. 37

Vision is not only for problem-solving, of course. A second definition of vision is this: Vision is the ability to see beneath the surface of people’s lives. … To look beyond the obvious to understand what makes others—and themselves—tick. p. 31

Sample Study Guide Questions:

What recent examples (positive or negative) have you seen of the importance of character?

One aspect of vision is being able to see possible solutions to everyday problems. Would you say you usually focus on problems or solutions? Why?

What’s the difference between “enduring” and “putting up with” something?

On pages 106-111, Hybels talks about filling your love tank. What fills your love tank so you can love others sacrificially?

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies

Topic: Spiritual Discernment

Format: This book is comprised of 10 chapters with a  study guide at the end that contains six-to-ten questions for each chapter.

Sample quotes from the book are listed below:

“Discernment is the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong. It is a task in which we attempt to see things as God sees them.” p. 71

“the closer our thoughts are to the reality of who God is and what he is like, the more our lives will be a reflection of him.” p. 97

“Our spontaneous thoughts and actions are a sure measure of our spiritual growth, our spiritual maturity, and our spiritual discernment.” p. 120

“One of the greatest dangers of discernment is that we will become so interested in what is evil and ungodly that we allow ourselves to become immerse in it … Sooner or later, Christians who spend their days seeking out and responding to the transgression of other people can quickly become insufferable.” pp. 144-146

Sample Study Guide Questions:

Summarize the three marks of discernment and the three marks of a lack of discernment. Can you think of a time that your own sinfulness kept you from exercising discernment? What does the Bible mean when it says we are to “be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil?” Would your friends and family say this admonition is true of you? How do you feel you have been gifted by the Spirit? How do you practice this gifting?

Fool-Proofing Your Life by Jan Silvious

Topic: Dealing with Difficult People

Format: This book is divided into three sections. Each section contains 3-to-4 chapters. A separate study guide is available but the questions at the end of each chapter would also be sufficient.

Sample quotes from the book are listed below:

Have you ever been caught in the undertow of a relationship that seems to pull you down? …Each time there is a lull in the tension, you tell yourself, “This time everything is going to be all right.” Yet in a few hours or a few days, you are thrust into confusion again. Often you are blamed for whatever negative circumstances occur, and yet for the life of you you can’t figure out why. pp. 3-4 There are several indicators–“red flags,” if you will—that pop up when you encounter a person who qualifies as a fool:

  1. He believes that his thoughts are true and his actions are acceptable because they are his (see Proverbs 12:15)
  2. Fools hide their true natures until they can get what they want … they venture out of their self-protective world just far enough to dangle the hook—and usually they “catch” compassionate people who think they can “help.”
  3. Since fools are their own judge and jury, they are confident in declaring themselves innocent. They are perfectly content with themselves. They are who they are. pp. 49-56

“part of the tragedy of continuing to engage a fool is that, despite all of your protestations and efforts to alter him, you are the one who will be altered—and not for the better” p. 124 It’s the wildest thing: You know you are right, and you believe you should say something. But the minute you do, it all gets turned around, and somehow you have become the troublemaker. p. 57 “the role of the Savior … has been played once on the stage of history, and there has been no curtain call. The part need never be played again. Yet what have you done for your fool by trying to “save” him from his own foolishness? p. 187

Sample End-of-Chapter Study Questions:

Think about specific ways you have tried to untangle your difficult relationship or change the painful dynamic. … Have any of them worked—even in the short-term? Why or why not? Does it appear that your fool learns for a while and then “forgets” what he has learned? Think through what you might do differently in responding to your fool. How could you show more wisdom than King David did? In what specific ways has your childish speech or reasoning added to the chaos of the situation with your fool?

I like all of the above studies and have no preference so, when choosing one, remember this rhyme: The book to read is the one you need.

The Grace Of God by Andy Stanley

I heard Andy Stanley speak during a weekend service at Willow Creek and enjoyed the message so much that I decided to read his book The Grace of God. In it, the author takes a stand against graceless religion to prove “that the grace of God and the law of God are not opposing concepts.” To prove his point, Stanley’s book is filled with biblical examples of how God works through unlikely people to carry out His eternal plan. People like Jonah and King David who were blessed, not because of what they did, but in spite of it.

We are all sinners in need of a savior and The Grace of God provides a thorough study of how God worked through people just like us to make this possible.

Favorite Quotes from The Grace Of God by Andy Stanley:

“You can tell a lot about a person … by the rules they enforce. … The same is true of God. His rules reflect his values.” – p. 56

“God doesn’t throw fences around people to make them his. God gives rules of conduct to those who already belong to him.” – p. 64

“Just as sin sometimes results in bad things happening to good people, so grace creates the possibility of good things happening to undeserving people.” – p. 34

“Christ’s death and resurrection signaled to the world that the kingdom of God is not reserved for good people. It is reserved for forgiven people.” – p. 190

“grace is inviting to the unrighteous and threatening to the self-righteous.” – p. 140

“Jonah could never embrace God’s global message of grace. … Who are the Ninevites in your life? Who are the people to whom you have a hard time extending grace?” – p. 117

“someday God may assign you the task of extending grace in their direction. But that’s between you and God. And if he decides you are the person for the job, I assure you, you will have a brand new appreciation for our friend Jonah.” – pp. 117-118

Learn To Study The Bible

Before agreeing to review Learn To Study The Bible, I checked out author Andy Deane’s website and a sample chapter from his book. The site contained informative bible study articles and a well-written excerpt. Both made me want to learn more from this pastor and Christian author.

The first section of Deane’s book was everything I hoped it would be as the author described the four core components that serve as the foundation of every bible study. Deane then used the remaining chapters to share forty different bible study methods that readers can use to interpret and apply scripture to their lives.

While I felt that some of the bible study methods were too complex to commit to memory and others were similar to techniques already mentioned, there was something to be gleaned from each chapter. I especially liked the hand-written examples Deane provided to demonstrate the appropriate use of each method. 

 While there are too many to mention in this review, two of my favorite quotes from the book are found below:

“When we study the Bible, we should do so with the intention of allowing it to transform us. Our goal is not to master it, but rather, to be mastered by it.” (p. 20)

“An unwillingness to apply the Scriptures to our lives will inevitably lead to spiritual insensitivity to the Lord and to His people. If a Christian is careless in Bible reading, he will care less about Christian living.” (p. 35)

In summary, I believe that this pastor and author has a lot of knowledge to offer. He has motivated me to delve deeper into the Word and will inspire other readers to do the same.


Fast And Frugal Cookbook

The title of Dawn Hall’s book caught my eye. Any cookbook with a focus on being fast and frugal is sure to be a best-seller. I like how it is laid out with side bars that list the supplies needed and a grocery list (sorted by food type) to make shopping easier. I also appreciate the nutritional information printed at the bottom of every recipe.

Although there are several recipes that I plan to try (like Dawn’s Italian Mini Meatloaves, Farmer’s Breakfast Frittata, and Chocolate Mint Cookies), many of the meals are a bit fancy for the picky eaters in my family.

Even though I’m not ready to cook some of the unique entrees in Dawn’s cookbook (like stuffed french toast with sweet egg and sausage scramble, cherry chutney cocktail spread, and open-faced cranberry beef and feta sandwiches on toasted rye), I believe that more adventurous cooks (with more open-minded children) will really enjoy her recipes. Kudos to the author for making Martha Stewart like meals available to fast and frugally-minded moms.

That’s all for this review. Until next time …

The Noticer

I normally read non-fiction but, after hearing so many positive comments about this book, I decided to add a fiction title to my library. “The Noticer” proved to be a quick read and a great collection of life lessons that would take readers decades to accumulate on their own. The wisdom is dispensed by a character named Jones who shows up in the chapters at the very moment that his insight is needed (like when a married couple is headed for divorce or a business man is about to take his life to avoid facing an impending financial disaster).

What I didn’t like about these encounters was how quickly each one went from problem to solution, making it impossible for me to put myself in the story and learn right along with the characters in crisis. I was also dismayed when several of the life lessons presented reminded me of key points that I had heard elsewhere, yet no credit was given to the original source: like the comment made on page 102 when Jones (the main character in the book) said that “life is like a game of
Monopoly” because “in the end, it all goes back in the box” (this was the point of John Ortberg’s book “It All Goes Back In The Box”). A second example appeared on page 31 when Jones said that “all people—all lives—are either in a crisis, coming out of a crisis, or headed for a crisis.” (I heard Rick Warren say this during a message he delivered several years ago.)

Having voiced my two complaints (1. how quickly the lessons were offered up and 2. how basic some of the insight was), I must add that the very things that I disliked about the book are the characteristics that will make it popular with readers who are looking for an easy read with enough original insight to make it worthwhile. While every person will have their own, a few of my favorite quotes from the book are found below:

“Most folks figure a true friend is someone who accepts them as they are … But a true friend holds you to a higher standard. A true friend brings out the best in you.” (p. 30)

“Many people who worry too much say that they cannot focus … That is incorrect. A person consumed by worry can focus. Isn’t it obvious? Worry is focus. But it is focus on the wrong things.” (p. 56)

“it’s amazing …that a person could lose everything, chasing nothing.” (p. 49)

That’s all for this review. Until next time …

The Hole In Our Gospel

Sometimes you have to let go of something good, to make room for something great. That’s what author Richard
Stearns had to learn when he was asked to give up his dream job as a corporate CEO to become the president of World Vision. I loved reading about the many ways God worked through people and circumstances to convince Stearns to accept the assignment and God’s plan for his life. I also enjoyed the specific examples the author provided to show how World Vision is reaching out to the poorest of the poor to share God’s love.

On page 167, for example, the author wrote about a widow who lived with her children in a community perched
high up in the Andes Mountains. After meeting with this woman and hearing how she had prayed to God for help after her husband died, Stearns realized that people all across the world were crying out to God in desperation and each of us who claim to be His followers are to be His answer. (see page 167)

The Hole In Our Gospel is both an informational and inspirational read. One that challenges all of us to live out
1 John 3:18 as we love, not just with words, “but with actions and in truth.” Stearns made a compelling call to action on page 107 when he revealed that “anyone earning fifty thousand a year has an income higher than 99 percent of
the people in the world.” Knowing that the average American is wealthy by comparison serves as a statistical reminder of our ability and our responsibility to reach out to the remaining 1 percent.

This book is very well written and I recommend it to all who are looking to close the gap between what they
believe and who they reflect.

That’s all for this review. Until next time …

This Is Your Brain On Joy

I was excited to read this book because it offers help for people suffering from anger, depression, mood swings, anxiety, and addictions. Millions of people struggle with one or more of these disorders, yet few understand that the problem might lie—not with them—but within them “in a very fixable part of their brains’ anatomy.”

This Is Your Brain On Joy begins with a brief introduction to the author and how he came to write the book. Earl Henslin was raised by parents who struggled to verbalize affection, demonstrate physical love, and show open-faced, smiling joy. This background of sensory deprivation led Henslin to develop an almost insatiable curiosity, even fascination, with the subject.

This Is Your Brain On Joy is a reflection of the passion that Earl Henslin has for bringing “brain science into the average Christian home where couples are struggling to love each other.” I particularly enjoyed the real-life examples where people with a history of abusive behavior were given a brain scan that revealed a fixable condition. Like the eighty-year-old angry man who was so difficult to be with that his grandchildren never wanted to visit him. A brain scan revealed an injury in this man’s temporal lobe, caused by a childhood accident where he stood too close to
the batter and received a thud to the head that knocked him out. Dr. Henslin suggested “an antiseizure medication that is especially helpful in calming the temporal lobes” and within forty-eight hours, the man felt so relaxed and calm
that he told his son, “So is this the way other people feel?’

Dr. Henslin’s empathy for other people is evident throughout his book. I especially like this quote from chapter two where he writes: when I ponder what I would like my legacy to be, at least in part it would be for people to say, “Dr. Henslin helped me to be more compassionate to others, and toward myself, through a deeper understanding of the Bible and the brain.”

After reading This Is Your Brain On Joy, I feel that I have a deeper understanding of both. I learned, for example, that Jesus’ command to “Be perfect” in Matthew 5:48 is, in fact, a call to be more compassionate.  I felt this compassion when a friend told me that her daughter was struggling to overcome her fears and I told her about Henslin’s book and how he referred to the Basal Ganglia part of the brain as the “basement of giant fears”.

While the author is at times a bit academic and the suggestions offered for each mood disorder can be a bit overwhelming, I recommend This Is Your Brain On Joy to anyone who is struggling to find more joy in life. It is definitely a worthwhile read.