Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Why Even Bother?

This is for those that are believers.  Those of us that know who Jesus is. People that already are His. 

Why even bother going to church?

That is something honestly I found myself thinking the other day.  Since leaving our church home I have been listening to more preaching than I ever have.  I’ve been in my bible a lot more I’ve been reading the same amount of books though.  Can’t say that ramped up much I already read a lot.

As the weeks went on I found myself completely understanding why someone would just stop going. Especially those that were hurt by their church or it’s pastor.  I’ve seen this my whole life. They leave and they never come back.  After all not going to church isn’t going to send you to hell.  

A few weeks have went by and it was getting easier not to go. I felt weird but not bad.  Thinking about church in general lead to anxiety.  I knew something was missing but I was getting more biblical teaching and truth than when I was in church.  I was convinced it wasn’t God that was missing from me. 
  
Unfortunately before I had gotten comfortable not going I had told my friend that we would go to church with his family one week.  We were waiting for a weekend that his step-daughters would be in town so my girls would have some friends there as well. 
Thats where I found myself last Sunday morning.

We showed up ab out 15 minutes before the service and made our way into the sanctuary.  It’s a small church the type I was raised going to but over the last seven and a half years haven’t had many chances to go back to.
The music was pecked out on a piano, there were announcements and “special singing”.
The sermon was good, the pastor spoke from 2nd Corinthians 5.  It was a decent service. 
It wasn’t what I had become accustomed to over the last few years for sure.

What hit me though and what I want to leave you with today is this.

Why go to church in a world where you can hear sermons by the best of the best from Billy Graham to Ed Young at the touch of a button? Speakers that put your local pastor to shame with their content and presence. Why go when you can listen and worship with bands that escort you to the throne of God in your car, at your house, in the woods, anywhere you want?

The why is you… all of you.

What I can’t get from an app, a podcast or a worship album is community.

Listening to my friend tell me about all the people I met at his church the next day as we unpacked my visit really drove that home.

He would mention someone I met then tell me all about them.  He told me about those that were not there because they were sick. 
What those that were there did in their day to day.

Why bother going to church?  Go for people to worship with you. To love with you to cry with you and for you.
Go to lift each other up and to find out who you can pray for and about what. 
Go to find people to pray for you.
Go to hear about each others week.

There is no point in going to check off a box, to listen to someone talk or someone sing. No reason to go to just sit in a pew. 

Do something! Don’t squander the opportunity to serve with people and build bonds and friendships.  If your church offers small groups then go to one.  Thats all the early church was anyway.

Let’s face it, you may not remember a six things your pastor has said over as many years but you will remember those that were with you through the good and the bad (especially the bad).
Find those people and be those people.

Thanks for reading

Alan



Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Best of 2018 the Books

It’s December which means an endless run of “best of”  articles, segments, slideshows and lists. To which every year I add my own.  This week rather than the usual article on my life and my struggles I'm going to be posting my favorite books of 2018.  

There is no particular order to this list just the books that I most enjoyed reading this year.

I set a goal for 2018 of 50 books. I ended up, as of writing this having read 84 books total.  That is between physical books and audiobooks. I spend a lot of time working on the computer and audiobooks are almost always on while I work.  
This year I enjoyed the books I read and listened to but it was really scrounging to find 10 that stick out so I didn’t.

Here are my favorites of the year.

I’m including the synopsis from Amazon in black and my thoughts in blue

The Escape Artist - Brad Meltzer (2018)
Who is Nola Brown
Nola is a mystery
Nola is trouble.
And Nola is supposed to be dead.

Her body was found on a plane that mysteriously fell from the sky as it left a secret military base in the Alaskan wilderness. Her commanding officer verifies she's dead. The US government confirms it. But Jim "Zig" Zigarowski has just found out the truth: Nola is still alive. And on the run.

Zig works at Dover Air Force Base, helping put to rest the bodies of those who die on top-secret missions. Nola was a childhood friend of Zig's daughter and someone who once saved his daughter's life. So when Zig realizes Nola is still alive, he's determined to find her. Yet as Zig digs into Nola's past, he learns that trouble follows Nola everywhere she goes.

Nola is the U.S. Army's artist-in-residence-a painter and trained soldier who rushes into battle, making art from war's aftermath and sharing observations about today's wars that would otherwise go overlooked. On her last mission, Nola saw something nobody was supposed to see, earning her an enemy unlike any other, one who will do whatever it takes to keep Nola quiet.

Together, Nola and Zig will either reveal a sleight of hand being played at the highest levels of power or die trying to uncover the US Army's most mysterious secret-a centuries-old conspiracy that traces back through history to the greatest escape artist of all: Harry Houdini.

I heard about this book on a podcast and picked it up the next day.  Brad Meltzer had just started writing Superman with issue 1000 and he mentioned his new book during an interview about comics.  I had read Meltzer before but something about this book intrigued me.  I'm glad I did,
This was a great thriller, I ended up listening to it and finished it in 2 days. Brad Meltzer has found his muse in Nola Brown. I can’t wait to read more of her.  


I Declare War - Levi Lusko (2018)
Whether you recognize it or not, you're at war with yourself. There's anxiety. Selfishness. Self-sabotaging tendencies. Narcissism. The black dog of depression. The inability to do the great things you long to do because you spend so many hours mindlessly drifting through the internet.
It is war, but all is not lost. You can win—if you choose to engage.
In I Declare War, Levi Lusko candidly shares about his struggles with moodiness, bullying, suicidal thoughts, night terrors, and difficulty managing himself. He identifies four weapons you have at your disposal—thoughts, words, behaviors, and power—and illustrates how to use them to achieve ongoing victory
I can’t recommend this book enough. Not a whole lot extra to say about it. The book came at a time I really needed it.

The Cutting Edge - Jeffery Deaver (2018)
In the early hours of a quiet, weekend morning in Manhattan's Diamond District, a brutal triple murder shocks the city. Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs quickly take the case. Curiously, the killer has left behind a half-million dollars' worth of gems at the murder scene, a jewelry store on 47th street. As more crimes follow, it becomes clear that the killer's target is not gems, but engaged couples themselves.

The Promisor vows to take the lives of men and women during their most precious moments--midway through the purchase of an engagement ring, after a meeting with a wedding planner, trying on the perfect gown for a day that will never come. The Promisor arrives silently, armed with knife or gun, and a time of bliss is transformed, in an instant, to one of horror.

Soon the Promiser makes a dangerous mistake: leaving behind an innocent witness, Vimal Lahori, a talented young diamond cutter, who can help Rhyme and Sachs blow the lid off the case. They must track down Vimal before the killer can correct his fatal error. Then disaster strikes, threatening to tear apart the very fabric of the city--and providing the perfect cover for the killer to slip through the cracks.

Lincoln Rhyme is the greatest detective in modern literature.  He has the intellect of Sherlock plus all the tech of a modern lab.  Jeffery Deaver has crafted another stunning mystery with his signature twists.  There are very few authors of fiction whom I follow close enough to know when a new book will be released and Deaver is one of them.

Past Tense - Lee Child (2018)
Jack Reacher hits the pavement and sticks out his thumb. He plans to follow the sun on an epic trip across America, from Maine to California. He doesn’t get far. On a country road deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been: the town where his father was born. He thinks, What’s one extra day? He takes the detour.

At the same moment, in the same isolated area, a car breaks down. Two young Canadians had been on their way to New York City to sell a treasure. Now they’re stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. The owners seem almost too friendly. It’s a strange place, but it’s all there is.

The next morning, in the city clerk’s office, Reacher asks about the old family home. He’s told no one named Reacher ever lived in town. He’s always known his father left and never returned, but now Reacher wonders, Was he ever there in the first place?

As Reacher explores his father’s life, and as the Canadians face lethal dangers, strands of different stories begin to merge. Then Reacher makes a shocking discovery: The present can be tough, but the past can be tense . . . and deadly.

I said years ago in a year end book blog that I can’t imagine a year that a Jack Reacher book is released that it wouldn’t make it to my top ten.  This is not only a great Jack Reacher book, it’s a great book period. 


Death Wish - Brian Garfield (1972)
Paul Benjamin, a successful accountant in New York City, is enjoying a three-martini lunch when his home is broken into by a gang of drug addicts.

For just a handful of money, they savagely beat Paul's wife and daughter, leaving his wife dead and his daughter comatose. Grief-stricken and force to reevaluate his views, Benjamin becomes disillusioned with society and plots his revenge on the perpetrators, whom the police are unable to bring to justice. Armed with a revolver and total disregard for his own safety, he sets out to even the score.

Yes this is the book that the famous Charles Bronson movie is based on.  I watched the remake this year staring bruce Willis.  It was very different than the Bronson film so I wanted to read the book to see which was closer.  Neither, neither was closer. It was an interesting read and I ended up getting the sequel as well.  It's called Death Sentence and it was written by the same guy as the original



Choosing God in Hard Times - Al Carraway (2018)
Al Carraway has inspired the world with her conversion, redemption, and faith. Now you can hear Al tell her story firsthand in this recording of her award-winning talk on CD. As an author, social media personality, and award-winning public speaker, her message has reached millions. Enjoy an up-close account of Al's life and membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints and learn what it means to truly trust in the Lord.

This was an audiobook exclusive and if I had to pick one talk or sermon that I am most thankful I heard this year it would be this one.  So while it technically isn’t a book it is definitely worth your time.
I don’t agree with Al’s theology but her love of God is contagious.  The subjects she talks about are not exclusive to her.  That coupled with the way she tells a story makes this a remarkable listen. 

Fifty Shades of They - Ed Young (2015)
You’re only as great as your relationships. Show me your friends and I will show you your future. There is immeasurable growth and success to be found when you’re surrounded with the right “they”.

Do you have the right they in your life? Fifty Shades of They gives you fifty simple, yet profound insights that will help any relationship thrive, from friendships to business partnerships to marriages. Based on biblical standards and the teaching of Ed Young, this book is written for anyone who is looking to give new life to their relationships.

Ed Young has been the single biggest spiritual influence in my life. I have listened to his sermons since 2013. Be it podcast or on his youtube channel consistently for 5 years.  This was a re-read for me but it never gets old. 2018 has been a year of toxic relationships for me.  When things broke bad a month or so ago I remember talking to my counselor and he said “it doesn’t matter who’s fault something is, or why a relationship turns toxic but when it does you have to get out.”  This book is all about relationship and good motivation on when it’s healthier to walk away. 
It was another book I read at the perfect time.  


Holy Roar - Chris Tomlin and Darren Whitehead (2018)
In the ancient world, something extraordinary happened when God's people gathered to worship Him. It was more than just singing; it was a declaration, a proclamation, a time to fully embody praise to God for who He is and what he has done. In fact, in the Psalms, seven Hebrew words are translated into the English word praise, each of which represents a different aspect of what it means to truly praise God.

In Holy Roar, Chris Tomlin and Darren Whitehead share a fresh perspective from the worship practices of the ancient world. Grow in your understanding of praise as Darren offers unique insights. Be inspired as Chris shares how those insights take shape in the stories behind some of your favorite worship songs, including "How Great Is Our God," "We Fall Down," and "Good Good Father." Whether for your own personal use or for use in your church small group, Holy Roar provides insight and encouragement to 
deepen your practice of praise.
Become a part of the Holy Roar.

This is a really quick read. The book is based off a Darren Whitehead sermon series about the 7 Hebrew words for worship.  I've given the book to 2 different friends because I think it is a must read. 

Each chapter begins with the word and an explanation of it by Whitehead. Followed by Tomlin applying that word to one of his songs and how he came to write that particular song.  It’s a cross between a sermon and a VH1 Storytellers.
If I had to pick my favorite book of the year it would be this one.  It's something you can read completely in one sitting. Or you can read it a little at a time. Chapters are short and each one focuses on a different kind of worship.  
When you are down and out, when depression is starting to wrap its talons around your mind worship can break that hold.  

Thanks for reading, I'll be posting my top 10 movies in a week or so.

Alan

Here is a full List of the books I have read as of today in case you are curious. I did read a few books more than once.

Abba’s Child - Brennan Manning
Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer
Death Wish - Brian Garfield
Death Sentence - Brian Garfield 
Red Sparrow- Jason Matthews
Presto - Penn Gillette
The Chalk Man - CJ Tudor
7 Mile Miracle - Steven Furtick
the Escape Artist - Brad Meltzer
I am Number 8 - John Gray
the Drowned Girls - Loreth Anne White
Abba’s Child - Brennan Manning
the Lullaby Girl - Loreth Anne White
the Cutting Edge - Jeffery Deaver
Meg - Steve Alten 
Unsub - Meg Gardiner
the Case for Christ - Lee Strobel
Into the Black NoWhere - Meg Gardner 
Alien Sea of Sorrows - James A Moore
Everybody Always - Bob Goff
Presto - Penn Jillette
Everybody Always - Bob Goff
The Very Worst Missionary - Jamie Wright
Real Marriage - Mark Driscoll
Friend of Sinners - Rich Wilkerson Jr
The Outsider - Stephen King
Love Does - Bob Goff (AfterThoughts)
Biblical Porn - Jessica Johnson
Living with Monks - Jesse Itzler 
Sifted - Francis Chan, Larry Osbourne
Play the Man - Mark Batterson. 
Born Standing Up - Steve Martin
Praying the Scriptures- Judson Cornwall
insurgence - Frank Viola
the Facade - Michael Heiser
Connecting - Larry Crabb
All is Grace - Brennan Manning
Good Behavior - Blake Crouch
Supernatural - Michael Heiser
Ten - Gretchen McNeil
Furious Longing for God - Brennan Manning
Diary of a Country Priest - Georges Bernanos
Do Over - John Acuff
Awakened - James S Murray
The Portent - Michael Heiser
Ragamuffin Gospel - Brennan Manning
Lion and Lamb - Brennan Manning
Counter Culture - David Platt
Souvenirs of Solitude- Brennan Manning
Abba’s Child - Brennan Manning
A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus - John Dickson
A Simple Favor - Darcey Bell
Indescribable - Louie Giglio Matt Redman
Counterfeit Gods - Timothy Keller
Damned - Chuck Palahniuk 
Bad Mommy -Tarryn Fisher
It Ends with Her - Breanna Labuskes 
7 Days With a Witch - Don Allen
Hope in the Dark - Craig Groeschel 
Didn’t See It Coming - Carey Niewhuf 
A Year of Biblical Womanhood - Rachel Held Evans
Evolving in Monkey Town - Rachel Held Evans
Remember God - Annie F Downs
Choosing God in Hard Times - Al Carraway
Lullaby - Jonathan Mayberry 
H3 Leadership - Brad Lomenick
Irresistible- Andy Stanley
Tell Someone - Greg Laurie
Light as a Feather Stiff as a Board - Zoe Aarsen 
Light as a Feather Cold as Marble - Zoe Aarsen
Velvet Elvis - Rob Bell
Spirit Filled Jesus - Mark Driscoll
Halloween - John Passarella
Elevation - Stephen King  

I Declare War - Levi Lusko 
Jesus Revolution - Greg Laurie 
Holy Roar - Chris Tomlin Darren Whitehead. 
Past Tense - Lee Child
Pet Cemetery- Stephen King
My Best Friends Exorcism - Grady Hendrix  

Fifty Shades of They - Ed Young

Monday, November 26, 2018

Turn in Your Keys

 I have missed writing. I had gotten so down on myself since last Feb. I let other peoples opinion of what they thought I was and was not good at stop me from doing things I love.
I’ve been back at it now for a few weeks and it has been a real blessing. If you want to see what I have been up to and follow my ramblings through this transition you can see all my most recent posts by clicking here

Thank you for all the feedback lately too. It helps me feel connected.  Onto today’s subject, keys.

I have a terrible office chair at my house, there is no padding so sitting on a wallet is uncomfortable.  I was here drawing as usual and I started staring at my keys laying on top of my wallet.  I have way less keys than I used to have.

A few weeks ago I needed a huge keyring for the absurd amount of keys I had. 

I recently shed a few of those keys and while the reason is painful staring at the keyring tonight I have something to be thankful for.

I was proud of my keys. People gave me keys, they trust me.  Work, family, even friends.  It’s impressive to have a lot of keys.

The problem is I lost track of what a lot of those keys did.  When I turned in my work keys I still had 9 I had keys that I had no earthly idea what they went to.

I started trying doors, around the house. I went to my moms and checked her house. What could these keys open?

Turns out they can open a lot.  After fumbling with them for an afternoon I cut them loose.  If I didn’t know what they went to then I didn’t need them. 

I’m down to the bare minimum keys and it is a great feeling.  They are lighter in my pocket, I got to go down to a smaller ring too. I know the purpose of each one, exactly what they were created for.

As cheesy as it sounds staring at my keys and wondering at how much simpler they are made me think about Jesus.

Granted it doesn’t take much to get me thinking or talking about Jesus but today the simplicity of the gospel is on my mind.  

Second Corinthians 11:3 says “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”

We make the gospel so complicated that even adults can’t understand it. We muddy it with our own rules and restrictions. The truth is that it’s so simple a child can know it. 
To paraphrase St Augustine The Gospel is so deep that a theologian could drown in it but shallow enough that a child could wade through it.

We understand that when God rescues us from our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus.  For that moment whether you are alone at your house, praying at the altar, at a conference 470 miles from home or in your pew at church. Nothing is simpler at that moment you are forgiven and free because of Him. You have just one key Jesus is. You hang that key around your neck like a latchkey child.

As time goes on you begin to add more keys to your salvation.  It was just Jesus, but soon you look at your keys and there are new ones. It's become Jesus and...
Jesus and rules, Jesus and works keys begin to pile up.

That was me with a janitors amount of keys.  Still I’ve been reading the Bible more, thank God writing more and praying more and with His help shedding more keys all the time.  It’s not always easy, some keys I want to keep to look or feel important. Some keys are safety nets, others I might need some other time.  
God has me out there checking though and if they don’t fit they have to go.

If you are reading this and you are bogged down by the dos and the don’t talk to God and go through your keys.

Thanks for reading

Alan

Homeless

Church, I’ve been out of church for 3 weeks now. 

This post is just my thoughts on the beginning of this new chapter.  All blame lies squarely on me.

I want to get back to church, I need to get back to it but I’m in this weird limbo between churches.
Growing up we went to several different churches. We would go to one for a while then move to the next.  I had a friend who comes from the same denomination I was say to me one time that she was starting to get the “itch” to move.  That is just how it went. The grass was always greener syndrome.
I honestly thought I was done. I figured I would raise my family where I was.  
Loyalty was prized there and I was fiercely loyal.  No church is perfect, you. Have to accept that. Realize that it isn’t about you and your likes or dislikes.  It’s. Not about a preacher. 
Attending a church should be about God and what that church is doing for the kingdom.
Even if you don’t agree with every decision you accept them. You get under the authority of your leaders and you contribute.  

I’m not trying to avoid church like the days before I truly found Jesus and decided to live for him. In those days I would do whatever it took to not go to church.  Some of you have heard me tell the story about disconnecting my wife’s battery so we couldn’t get the car started so I didn’t have to go to church.  That was a long time ago and I don’t tell the story these days just to get a laugh. I want people to see how I have changed. How God changed me.  
Not only would I not do that to get out of church but since C3 2013 when Jesus found me in that theatre seat at Fellowship I would walk to church if necessary.  You couldn’t keep me out of the house of the Lord.

Now I’m spiritually homeless.  
After I resigned I kinda thought Id’ heal where I was and maybe take some time off from attending but that wasn’t what was in the cards for me.  I understand and I respect the decision that was made for me.  It wasn’t my decision and I think that is something I struggle with.  I hate for people to think I abandoned them and I know some people do. Some are hurt and that bothers me. Sorry I get in my own head, this isn’t about the past it’s about the future.

The future is finding a church home.  That is something I truly feel EVERYONE NEEDS.
How does one look for that. Not just a place to attend church when the weather is good or when there isn’t something better to do.

A place to sink into, a place to serve a place to call home and God willing to see my children attend with their families.  I didn’t always want that.  I wanted a place that would ignore my absences and leave me alone. After being part of a place that didn’t ignore me and a place where I drove so much of that feeling I guess I have a high bar.

I don’t want to go back to a small church, It’s just not who I am. I love to visit my friends that are anchored in those churches.   I just love the environment, the activity and the life I have experienced the last several years and I want more. 

So how do you find a place?  I recently read an article here about finding a new church. I have read article after article about it actually.

Seems like prayer and online visiting are the 2 big take homes from what I’ve read.
I just don’t know if I can get the real gist of a place from visiting online.  My kids can’t visit the youth and child service online.  What if Lin and I really dig a place but then the kids don’t like it.

It’s nerve wracking, what if they don’t like me or accept me after I have visited online and prayed about it.  What if Bat acts up or I’m too vocal with my praise?

There is just lots to think about and pray about.  If you read this we certainly could use some prayer warriors to help us. As well as any advice or articles to read on the subject.

Thanks for reading and praying

Alan
  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Blocking the Hall

I process a lot of stuff by writing. There is a catharsis in it for me.  Journaling to myself helps but putting out a blog post really makes me feel better. 

Knowing someone else may be struggling with the same thing, possibly read my story and not feel so alone helps me too.  So sometimes I over share.

I only know my own thoughts and my own feelings.  I project expectations and sometimes my own faults on others.  I don't mean to offend anyone if you disagree with my perception.  Someone once told me it doesn't matter how thin you make a pancake there is always 2 sides.

With that said, I learned a lesson....

It's not always your baggage that is blocking the hall.

I learned this recently and I’ll share a little about it..... 

I let anger get the best of me and I acted uncharacteristically.  

Side note: I did start seeing a counselor and have for almost a year and a half. He’s really helped me and if you have an issue like that or anything else really I can’t recommend therapy enough. 

Anyway....
I had wronged someone and in doing so inadvertently hurt someone else. 

The person I hurt just could not get passed it.  
They would say they were but the fruit of forgiveness wasn’t there. 
My actions were brought up time and time again. 

For over a year I worried because I never knew when or who would be around when my failure was mentioned.  It was embarrassing and it made me anxious not knowing.

Mark Driscoll said recently that forgiveness can be given but trust has to be earned and that is a very true statement. 
You can’t just choose to trust someone not trustworthy.  You can say you do but your actions will betray you. 
In their eyes I was not trustworthy with good reason.  

Finally I got a chance to apologize to the original people I wronged. Not the one I hurt but the one I actually sinned against. 

The difference was astounding. 
I received genuine forgiveness. 
I wasn’t just told I was forgiven. I could feel it. 
It was palpable. 

As one day wore into the next that feeling was still there. 
There was no awkwardness like I thought there would be.  No anxiety wondering when and how it would be used against me.
They weren’t mad at me, they didn’t want to punish me. 
There was no balance sheet being kept. There was simply me owning up to a big mistake and then being told that it didn’t matter. 

That is true forgiveness and I want to be like that. 

Sadly I don’t know how. 
I was listening to a speaker today on my way to counseling in Springfield and they said that if you can’t pray in earnest for someone then you haven’t really forgiven them.

That’s when I realized that you can’t learn forgiveness from the unforgiving. 

I tried, I practiced the same level of forgiveness that had been modeled to me and it wasn’t real.  It was a face, a mask for my bitterness. 

I want to be forgiving, I want to keep no score sheet. 
How do I do that?
I actually talked to God about it for a bit and I know that it’s only through His forgiveness of me and my knowledge of that. 
I know I have been forgiven and he doesn’t care about my past. 
I need to forgive others and not care about my past either. 

Easier said than done.

So now I seek how to do it and actually know it. 
To know I forgive someone and to truly not hold any form of a grudge. 

It’s hard, really hard. 
I’m working on it and I know that “He who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion” Php 1:6

So that’s where I am. Trying to figure out how to truly forgive with the help of the perfect example (Jesus) and a pretty good human one. 

I write all this today to say, examine yourself, your grudges and your slights both the perceived and the real.   If you are holding a grudge that’s unforgiveness. 
If you tell someone you forgive them but you feel you need to talk about the situation every chance you get, that is unforgiveness

If you are on the other side and feel like you've forgiven someone and they don't accept it, thats not on you. It's not always your baggage blocking the way. So take what's yours and leave what's not.

When you are done reading this throw up a little prayer for me and my effort to do just that.
there is also a great sermon about this by Mark Driscoll here.


Thanks for reading.