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Best Books I Read in 2013

2013 was not a huge reading year for me in terms of academic learning given most of it was spent preparing to move out of the country and the other half was spent learning to live and work in another country.  More of my energies have gone to life management and adjustments and my new role as IGSL faculty has required me to invest all of my creative energies into teaching various classes for the first time.

That being said, 2013 was a year where I read fewer books than normal yet there was some quality and depth to several of them.  Here’s the top 5 that impacted me this past year along with some honorable mentions. I’ll be blogging more in detail on some of them as time allows as I get back into my blogging rhythm.

The short version (with brief reflections to be done further down)

The Prophets by Abraham Heschel, Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Prototype by Jonathan Martin, When Helping Hurts Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert , Leading Cross-Culturally by Sherwood Lingenfelter, and then Deepening the Soul for Justice by Bethany Hoang

Top 5 Books of 2013

1. The Prophets (Part 1) by Abraham Heschel – I’ll confess I’m not finished with this.  But because it’s so long (650 pgs) and so dense and challenging to read, I am going to give myself credit for the first half of the book which is more quantity and quality than most academic books already.  It’s a study of the Old Testament prophets that is one of the deepest and most profound of anything I’ve read.  I could highlight most of the book and I’ve been left amazed and deep in thought frequently.  It’s a Biblical studies book, a theology book, a philosophy book, and a social ethics book all rolled into one.

My attempts to capture the book will fall short, but it’s becoming one of my top 5 books of all time in its impact on me and it’s deepened my worship of God as well as given even more clarity to what God calls His people to in terms of relationship and in terms of social responsibility.  Beyond being a book about the prophets, it is a book that is itself very prophetic in its articulation of the God of the prophets and the dynamics of discipleship in community and in social context.   If you have the determination and resolve and motivation – I recommend it fully!

2. Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien – This was perhaps the most immediately helpful book this year as I read it while adjusting to a new culture in which I am living amidst and ministering to people and leaders from over 20 countries, all eastern.  It doesn’t provide black and white solutions to all the west v. east tensions, nor should it.  But it highlights the tensions really well with great real life examples and solid exegesis.

It’s a phenomenal resource as a western thinker and leader to continue looking at what assumptions I may bring to my study of the Scriptures. If you have a western orientation and want to expand your mind and the way you think about the Scriptures, I encourage you to check this out.  In fact, I would require all western leaders in my organization to read this as part of their new staff training.

3. Prototype by Jonathan Martin – I came across Jonathan Martin’s blog a while ago randomly, I think through a retweeted blog post related to reflections on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  I was struck by the authenticity and depth by that post and others that I was motivated to read this initial book by Martin when it came out.  I took a break halfway through with my move to the Philippines, but sometimes you read an author’s words and it’s life giving because it captures exactly what you are fighting for, what you teach, and what you advocate for. This was such a book for me.

Several chapters I could have written myself. Several chapters I wished I could have written, but represented core tenants of my theological and ministry convictions. And several chapters I could not have written and I was just blessed by his insight and perspectives into the Scriptures and a philosophy of ministry that truly reflects the amazing power and mystery that is the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  I was blessed by this book in the way one is blessed by sitting down with a kindred spirit.

4. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert  –  I was familiar with some of the concepts before I read it, but it was such a powerful book to really go through.  Having been working in ethnic minority ministry for several years, everything here was so relevant. It continues to be relevant now that I’m serving in an international context.  I described this initially as a book that would make most church missions’ pastors or committees want to throw up because there is so much that is convicting and so much tough truth.  However, there is great hope and vision in this book too and I hope that anyone seeking to minister across cultures and especially across power distance to read it. It’s a paradigm shaping book.

5a. Leading Cross Culturally by Sherwood Lingenfelter  –  Just a really good book on cross-cultural leadership that had great input related to ministering across cultural difference and especially power difference and gaps.  I’ve used several chapters of this in my classes and it has been a very helpful resource.  This wasn’t a life changing read for me given my immersion in cross-cultural leadership for a while, but I was refreshed by the resource and it’s applicability to many that I am serving. I recommend it often.

Honorable Mention:  Deepening the Soul for Justice by Bethany Hoang, Mud and the Masterpiece by John Burke, The Power of Negative Thinking by Bob Knight, The Significance Principle by Les Carter and Jim Underhill

5b. Deepening the Soul for Justice was a short, but powerful read for me.  It had as much immediate impact on me as any book I read.  It probably deserves to be in the top 5. It is about what it takes for us to expand our capacity to handle what’s involved in advocating for the oppressed and marginalized. It spoke to my reality and what was weighing heavy on my heart the last couple years.  I just was growing weary and couldn’t absorb the pain and the many injustices I was seeing in different contexts.  I was tired of fighting, of advocating. This book helped connect me with what God wanted to and needed to do in the deepest parts of my life if I was to continue on in my ministry.

I hope to read more in 2014 so if there’s any life changing books that you read in 2013, please send me your recommendations!!

For my past “Best books read” lists check the links below:

Best books read in 2012

Best books read in 2011

Best books read in 2010

Best books read in 2009 and earlier

Morgan in Manila (.com)

I’m very excited to announce that my eight year old daughter Morgan has launched her first blog:

I’m really proud of her and it’s been really fun seeing her think through what she wants to write about and what she wants to share.

She’s has a sense of adventure and likes trying new things so our upcoming move to Manila in the Philippines is both scary to her and exciting.  She can’t hide that there’s parts she’s excited about 🙂

But she’s excited to share her experiences on this upcoming adventure with her family and friends.

And she may already have more subscribers than I do here!



Preview of New Blog Series on Future of Cru

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Future of Cru

I’m going to do a a series of posts over the next few weeks that are specific to my organizational context. 

I’ve been thinking through some of these things for months and years in some cases and I think it would be helpful to articulate some thoughts that maybe can be used for constructive conversation.

I’ve avoided writing on specific organizational realities, because as you might have observed I enjoy the theoretical, theological, and systemic realms of thought and reflection. But I care about my organization and I care about its future.  And while positive and happy speak no doubt abound within my organization and often under the guise of hope, I believe there are reasons for legitimate hope into the future.  But part of that hope is connected to what kind of conversations are taking place within our ranks.

I want to be clear before I start that these posts are not meant to be critical or hostile to my organization and I don’t believe the tone of them will cause anyone to think that.  It’s because I believe my leadership at the top levels is more open and more committed than ever to navigating and learning in some of the areas I will choose to post on.  It’s because I am hopeful of where my organization is heading at large that I believe it’s the right time to highlight some critical areas that merit, and in fact are probably desperate for, change and new ways of thinking.

I’m willing to write on these topics because I believe there are more people ready to have these conversations than ever before.

But there’s always those anxious folks that fear any change whatsoever and who feel like it’s their job to protect the past at all costs.  To the anxious reader – I won’t apologize at all for what you might feel in any of these discussions should you choose to read them.  Dig deep and let yourself dream beyond what your instinctive fears or impulses to control allow yourself.

I intend to explore some realities that are anchored in an organizational history of 60 years and which is continuing to do the work of positioning itself to fulfill its role in today’s ministry and kingdom landscape.

So clearly this is targeted to my fellow CCC/Cru staff folks, yet outsiders may easily see their own situations in many of the covered issues and topics.  I don’t believe these posts will be irrelevant to you though you will likely need to adjust your application for you own context.

So this should be fun.  I think these are some important conversations, yet they are very rare.  I hope to change that.

If you write or blog and are inspired as we go to write your own post, let me know as I may open things up for a couple guest posts if they are in the same spirit and vein of this series.

So the first post will be up in a couple days and will be a specific post on Transferability and the Future of Cru that will be a follow up to a post a couple weeks ago called How Transferability Undermines Transformation.

So I hope to come back for the series and add your own thoughts.  I don’t anticipate everyone agreeing with one another, but I think most agree that these conversations are an important factor in the hope that many of us have and feel for our organization moving forward.


Servant Leadership & Bathrooms

I’m thieving these images from a friend of mine who goes by @destinoeric on twitter.  Last week we were at a team leader training for new or soon to be team leaders in an ethnic minority context.  We had sessions on servant leadership, power, men & women working together, and many other things.  Eric found a few bathroom signs that I thought humorously capture some of our discussions and he gave them appropriate titles given the context of our discussions.


Patriarchal Leadership

“Patriarchy” might be the generous caption,
though male domination and male chauvinism might be good entries too.


Servant Leadership

Here’s a question I never thought I’d ask:

Which bathroom sign do you wish described your leadership and working relationships with the opposite gender?

Thanks to @destinoeric for the images and the idea 🙂


New Feature at Bloggin’Beav

This is a brief update to let you know of a new feature I’ve installed.  I’ve wanted for a while to figure out a way to filter out some of the more popular posts based on user feedback.  I’m going to try a rating system that allows you to rate my posts with a 5-star system very quickly and easily.  Not everyone is bold enough to engage via a comment (which I would still prefer!), but this is a low commitment and low risk way to give some feedback.I’m not looking to evaluate all my posts, but to get your help in identifying the top content so that when people visit the blog, they can be directed to some of the content that they might find most helpful.So hopefully I don’t earn any 1 or 2 star ratings, but drop a 4 star rating if you think it’s a good post and a 5 star rating if you think it’s a really good post.  It will take a couple weeks, but eventually a top 5 posts of my blog based on rating will be generated based on your feedback and that’s what I’m going for.So don’t be afraid of the stars.  Roll over them and click as many as you feel they merit and you can help make this blog more user friendly!By the way – you’ll see there’s a thumbs up and thumbs down feature.  You’re welcome to give me a thumbs up anytime you want, but I don’t plan on doing much with that part of it.  I may remove it, but I’m still learning how to integrate this feature in my site.Thanks for reading!

Feed Issues

I just noticed I may have some dueling rss feed issues. I want to simplify to one feed so I’m deleted the one that seems unnecessary though it seems some are subscribed through it. If you are subscribed to this blog and emails or post updates in your blog reader stop being delivered, I want to encourage you to come back to the blog and re-subscribe via the subscribe button at the top right hand corner of the page. (I’ll be posting a few posts this week so if you don’t see anything from me within a a few days you’ll know).I’d love not to lose you as a reader so please come back if you find your feed gets dropped!Thanks!

And We’re Having Another….


Here’s a brief interview I did with Morgan and Colin before the ultrasound appointment.  You can get a feel for Morgan’s logical side as well as Colin’s enthusiasm for the microphone.

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Here’s the post-game interview after we’ve found out that we’re having a girl.

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So now we’re starting to brainstorm girl names.  So far Morgan has come up with about 30, most of which are characters in either Barbie or Disney movies, and she’s highly invested in the process.So with my sister having twin newborn girls and another girl on the way, there’s a lot of estrogen on this side of the family.  Colin’s keepin’ it real for the time being representing the male species.

New Feature for Posts

I hope this finds you well. Thank you all for engaging my wife’s guest post over the last couple days. I was glad to see her encouraged and I hope to maybe get her in here again in the future.I wanted to draw you attention to a new feature I added to make the blog a little more user friendly. At the end of each post you’ll see a green button that says print. You can select that button to produce a printer friendly version of the blog post to print out. From there you can click on a pdf option to save the post to your computer as a pdf if you so desire.  Some have told me they print various posts out to read or save and so this should make it a little easier for you.There are also a few icons just above the green print pdf button that I have updated as well. There is an icon to use to email the blog post link to someone, a google link to bookmark the site on google bookmarks, and various social media features like twitter, facebook, linkedin, and others.  Just scroll over the icons with your mouse and you’ll find what you’re looking for if you are wanting to share a particular post with someone.It’ll be somewhat of a letdown after my wife’s post, but I’ll be back posting in a couple days and this week will also feature the third guest blog of my “10 in ’10” (10 guest blogs in 2010).  You’ll want to check that out because it’s good stuff!

The Authentic Prophets

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

As I mentioned in my wrap-up a few days ago in the finale of my series of posts entitled “Prophets vs. Posers”, I am shifting from exploring what prophets are not and move towards providing some thoughts (mine or others much smarter than me) about what makes for really authentic prophet – even in the modern context.  I’ve found that there is perhaps no better guide for that journey of exploring the prophetic world than Old Testament Walter Brueggemann.

I’m just about finished with his book,Texts That Linger, Words That Explode:  Listening to Prophetic Voices . This is the third book of his that I’ve read after David’s Truth (link goes to my review) and The Prophetic Imagination.  You can get to the two-post review I did a couple years ago on the The Prophetic Imagination at these links: Pt. One and Part Walter Brueggemann.

I’m gong to highlight a couple thoughts here from a truly insightful chapter/essay in this book entitled “The Prophetic Word of God and History.”  He suggests three ways of speaking about the God who keeps “the human process open to possibilities.”

  • God is holy.  He has no rivals and cannot be “harnessed, domestiated, manipulated, or bought off.”
  • God is a “lover of justice” (Ps. 99:4), is mightily at work in the processes of history, is “mightily allied with the powerless, critical of greedy powerful.”
  • God is “a dangerous, subversive God, unsettling every status quo that offends holiness and that mocks justice.”  (pg. 39)

He describes the prophetic act as,

“The prophetic word in history is human utterance about this God unintimidated by modernity, unimpressed by excessive religion, nonnegotiable about rhetoric, nondefensive about its epistemology, daring to insist that this God who works wonders in the historical process is still at large, liberating and healing.” (pg. 39)

He offers five themes characteristic of the prophets that flow from the portrayal of God in the Jewish Scriptures (pg. 39-40,

  1. “Out of God’s unaccommodating holiness, the prophetic word is against idols, and consequently against self-serving, self-deceiving ideology.”
  2. “This holy God refuses then to absolutize the present, any present.  This holy God drives always toward a new unsettling, unsettled future, which is not yet visible, when God’s purpose will be worked and God’s regime fully established.  That threatening, promising future that lives on the lips of prophets warns against taking the present with excessive seriousness, even if it is a present that we happen to value inordinately.”
  3. “Out of God’s justice, prophetic speech characteristically speaks about human suffering.”“Prophetic speech focused in hurt speaks against any tidy administration of social relations that crushes human reality in the interest of order, progress, profit, or “the common good.”
  4. “Out of God’s justice, prophetic speech characteristically takes a critical posture over against established power.”“Prophetic speech not only insists that the raw use of power is wrong and must pay heed to human reality, it also makes the more difficult claim that, in the end, raw power cannot succeed and is not the final datum of human history.  Prophetic speech is realistic in knowing that massive power matters enormously; it is equally insistent that massive power does not matter ultimately, concerning the outcome or significance of the human process.”
  5. “Prophetic speech, finally, is not an act of criticism.  It is rather an act of relentless hope that refuses despair, that refuses to believe that the world is closed off in patterns of exploitation and oppression.”

I found that Brueggemann’s themes really provide a positive counterpart to some of the same themes I have noted.  I find number five incredible insightful.  Prophets are so often thrown under the bus for being a wet blanket or being critical or not being team players when the real issue is one of hope and a refusal to despair.  These themes point to the fact that prophets have a big-picture awareness of what is in opposition to God and God’s ways as well as a practical and in-the-moment concern for the real human condition in a specific context in history.

This is a phenomenal book with rich insight, but it’s pretty dense.  If you’re intrigued by a lot of these thoughts, I suggest you start with The Prophetic Imagination which is one of his earlier works and I think it’s a little bit easier to follow and track with, though it still would classify as some heavy lifting in terms of brain power.

After seeing Brueggemann’s descriptions of the authentic prophet in history, what thoughts or reflections do you have in this area?