The more we keep our eyes on Jesus, the better we grow. Your desire and ability to face the Son is even more vital to your well-being than a sunflower’s desire and ability to face the sun.
One summer, I visited a “Sunflower Maze” on the outskirts of rural Paris, Illinois. Folks living and working in this area of the country are not strangers to farmland and crops. No one can travel more than a mile without passing a cornfield. Farming is so common there that the beautiful rural landscape kind of gets taken for granted.
Just a mile and a half away from the sunflower maze was once a long-standing, popular fall attraction. It was called Pumpkin Works. It’s main claim-to-fame was corn mazes. This establishment had been an attraction open to the public since 1993. I remember going there every autumn all through my childhood and teenage years, as well as when I became an adult. Everyone I knew had been there, at least a few times.
Unfortunately, Pumpkin Works closed down following the end of the fall season in 2018. Since then, tourists visiting the area seem to have switched their focus off of corn, and are now giving their full attention to sunflowers instead. And for good reason! The sunflower maze at L&A Family Farms is quite the sight to see and it is sure to be a new annual tradition for the next generations of families to enjoy!
Spanning over 1,000 acres, there is much to see and do at L&A Family Farms, including nature trails, hayrides, summer camps, concessions, farm-fresh meat and produce, and, of course, the sunflower maze! The maze typically opens around the middle of July and closes after the last section blooms around the beginning of August. Out of all the offerings at the farm, what stood out to me most was just one detail I noticed at the sunflower maze: all the sunflowers were facing the same direction.
To people more familiar with plants and how they grow, this may seem like a silly thing to be impressed by, but with very little knowledge of farming or gardening, this intrigued me. From what little I do know about plants, I assumed they followed the sun for photosynthesis purposes. Plants need sun to grow, obviously, and that was about where my knowledge ended. I wanted to know more about how and why this happens. I began doing a little research.
Typically, it is the younger flowers that exhibit this kind of behavior. At a certain point of maturity, once the flower grows seeds, the weight of the flower head causes it to droop and face mostly east. I discovered a new term I had never heard of before: heliotropism. This is the term for a plant’s tendency to move toward sun. This is what I was witnessing at the maze. Sunflowers also have growth hormones, called auxin, that play a part in this shift by migrating to the shaded part of the flower, but I will leave the rest of the botany details for you to research on your own.
A sunflower has many reasons for this desire to face the sun. Perhaps the most important reason is so that they can be better noticed by pollinators. Since a sunflower plant has only one flower, it is crucial that it gets noticed by pollinating insects. It wants to be where it is being warmed by the sun, making it more attractive to passing pollinators, and presenting itself in a way that makes it most noticeable. The continued existence of sunflowers as individual plants, and as a species, depends on their capability to keep facing the sun.
So, why should you care about this and how does it affect you? Well, the way you position yourself is important too. No, I’m not talking about getting a killer tan. Your desire and ability to face the Son is even more vital to your well-being than a sunflower’s desire and ability to face the sun.
Like the passage in Hebrews 12: 1-3 says, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the perfect Son of God, who sits at His right hand. The more we keep our eyes on Jesus, the better we grow. We bask in His glorious light and are fueled by His presence. As we focus on Jesus, we begin to see the world through His eyes. As we start to become more and more like Him, people will take notice!
“Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
The auxin in the sunflower is like the sin in our lives. Darkness hates the light (John 3:20) and light cannot have fellowship with darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14). Push the sin back and remove all distractions so you can grow in Christ.
Sin will try to entangle you. Every day it will try to drag you down. However, Jesus came up against the ultimate opposition, yet endured. He gave His life for the forgiveness of your sins. Then He rose from the grave proclaiming power over death and sin. That same power resides in us as Christians and gives us perseverance as we press on towards the goals God has for our lives (Philippians 3:12-14)!
Consistently remind yourself of Hebrews 12:3 and what Christ has accomplished for you on the cross. Write it on a sticky note, tape it to your mirror, put it on your refrigerator. Whatever it takes to keep your eyes, and your mind, on Jesus.
If you ever get the chance to visit the sunflower maze, let it be a reminder to you that, as beautiful as it may be, the Kingdom of God is even more spectacular than a field full of flowers could ever be!
This world is full of struggles, storms, and darkness. But if you can keep your eyes on the Son, you will bloom!
*L&A Family Farm’s Farm Store is open year-round for farm fresh eggs, grass-fed beef, vegetables, and more (selection and hours vary by season). For more information on their summer and fall events, products, or to order online, visit their website at www.lafamilyfarms.com.
An “Us vs. Them” mentality will never advance the Kingdom of God. If we want to reach people, we need to start viewing them as fellow image-bearers.
One day, I was in a Christian business when I overheard a nearby conversation between two women who were shopping. They were standing near a basket of lapel pins shaped like baby feet. The pins represented the exact size and shape of a 10-week old baby’s feet inside the mother’s womb. Proceeds from these little pins benefited a local pregnancy center that assists families with unexpected and crisis pregnancies. The purpose of the fundraiser was to promote the value of human life.
Seeing the pins on display, for some reason, sparked one of the women to say to the other something along the lines of “The non-Americans in Congress are trying to say we shouldn’t have any babies right now.” She went on to sarcastically say “Oh yeah! Let’s just let the Muslims have all the babies instead so they can overthrow us!” These were just a couple of the highlights from her disgruntled murmurings.
These statements were incorrect on several levels but let’s dissect just a few:
For starters, there are no “non-Americans” in Congress. A Senator must be a United States citizen to even qualify for office. The requirements for the U.S. Senate can be found here.
The statement the woman was referring to was undoubtedly a quote by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or “AOC”, a U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th Congressional District. During a conversation about climate change and its effect on the earth she stated “There’s scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult. And it does lead young people to have a legitimate question: Is it OK to still have children?” Her comment was in regards to how the health of our planet may effect our children, and all humans, in the years to come. It did not have anything to do with Islam, or any other religion for that matter, as far as I can tell.
From some very basic internet research, I have gathered that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx to Catholic parents of Puerto Rican descent. Maybe the shopper assumed AOC was a Muslim by the tone of her skin? Or perhaps she had this Senator confused with another female Representative who is a Muslim, Ilhan Abdullahi Omar, who has also been often featured in the news? Either way, her statements were not only incorrect, but were also contrary to the Gospel message.
In reference to being outnumbered and overthrown, we are not in some sort of race or battle to see which major world religion can have the most offspring in order to outnumber one another. Where did this idea come from? And why would we think that just because two people had a baby, that the child would add another hash mark to the number of people practicing a certain religion?
I would agree that many children tend to participate in the religious activities of their parents…to a point. However, research shows that 18-25 year olds are becoming scarce in Christian churches. Just pay a visit to most American protestant churches and this fact will be more than obvious. Reasons for the shift, and attendance data, can be found here.
So, at least for Christianity, being born to Christian parents does not guarantee a person chooses to remain faithful into adulthood. Therefore, the argument that Christians should have more babies in order to produce more Christians just does not hold water. The Bible does not teach that your salvation has anything to do with the salvation of your parents, or anyone else for that matter. Salvation comes from Jesus Christ alone, not from your family lineage.
The comments made by the woman shopping that day, and the thought process behind them, are ill-informed, potentially racist, and highly prejudice. I also find it ironic that a display of products that advocates for the value of human life sparked this conversation in the first place. Does a person of another nationality or religion have less value because it isn’t the same as yours? Did Jesus teach this? Of course not! Quite the opposite!
Muslims are not the enemies of God. Sin is the enemy of God. You have to recognize the difference. A human being practicing Islam is still a person made in the image of God, therefore deserving of forgiveness and redemption, just like any other human being on Earth. We cannot write people off because of their current lifestyle or their current sin. If anything, it should give us a further sense of urgency to show them the love and grace of the Savior we claim to serve.
An “Us vs. Them” mentality will never advance the Kingdom of God. If we want to reach people for Christ, we need to start viewing them as fellow image-bearers and understanding them, and their beliefs, on a personal level.
Radical political Islam poses numerous threats to both Christianity and the Western way of life. It is imperative that we do not take those dangers lightly. It is our responsibility as Christians to both understand, and stand against, beliefs that are contrary to the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This does not mean we pick up our weapons to cut others down, but rather grasp firmly to Truth and gently instruct, in hopes that they will escape the captivity of sin (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
“Christians are called by God to conquer the world-not by the sword, not by subversion and subterfuge, but by spreading God’s message of grace and truth.”-Michael Youssef in “The Third Jihad“
The Bible is full of verses telling followers of God to accept and treat foreigners with respect, even in the Old Testament. For now, let’s just take a look at one instance in Luke 10:25-37.
Jesus is being tested by an expert in Jewish law. The man asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (v29). As Jesus was known to do, He answered the man’s question by telling a parable. The story He tells is one you may be familiar with. It is a favorite among Sunday School leaders for teaching children to be kind to others. There is more to the lesson than just helping out someone in need, however. It goes much deeper than that.
The parable Jesus told is often referred to as “The Story of the Good Samaritan”. That title can be a little deceiving, though, if you are not familiar with ancient Jewish history. The Jewish people in that time would NOT have referred to any Samaritan as “good“! The Samaritan in this story was only called “good” because he helped someone in need, regardless of the possibility that they were of another nationality or class.
We do not know whether the injured man laying along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho was a Jew or a Gentile (non-Jew), but what we can be sure of is that the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other! Jews considered the Samaritans to be scum of the earth, the lowest of low, half-breeds. No one would have been surprised at all if the Samaritan had let the man lay there and suffer. In fact, they would have expected it. Even still, the Samaritan man goes to great lengths to help this person who could have very well been considered his earthly enemy. He does not appear to contemplate whether or not the man is a Jew or not. He helps the man without hesitation because it was the right thing to do.
The Samaritan’s compassion did not depend on the victim’s nationality. His kindness was not dependent on the man’s skin color. He did not wait to make sure their political views or religious beliefs lined up perfectly. Instead, he saw a man who was suffering and he attended to his needs, because all human life has value! When our compassion for others depends solely on the color of their skin or their religion, we leave fellow image-bearers to lay dying, physically and spiritually, in the streets of every town, city, and country in the world.
“Jesus showed us that holiness is about how we treat others, especially those who are suffering and those who are different, those who may well be outsiders to your way of living, your way of voting, and, yes, even your way of believing.”-Trent Sheppard in “Jesus Journey“
Anyone can show love for someone they like, or someone who is like themselves (Luke 6:32-33). It takes a lot of heart, and sometimes a movement of the Holy Spirit, to show love to someone we disagree with. Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27-36), so what excuse do we have to do otherwise?
I think the expert in the law in Luke 10 was trying to find a loophole in the “love your neighbor as yourself” command in Leviticus 19:18 by implying that he was unsure who the scripture was referring to.
I am afraid Christians sometimes try to do the same thing. We hold hatred in our hearts for people who disagree with us because we are cowards. It is easier to scowl at foreigners than it is to embrace them. It is easier to ignore the poor than it is to feed them. It is easier to write off Muslims than it is to engage them in conversation.
“…there are certainly millions of moderate Muslims in the world… They are not our enemy. They are our mission field.”-Michael Youssef in “The Third Jihad“
The differences between Christians and Muslims are not excuses to avoid them. They are reasons to engage them. Ezekiel 3:18 makes it clear that it is our duty to reach Muslims, and all others, for Christ. Everyone deserves the opportunity to choose freely for themselves whether they want to accept the Truth of Jesus, but it is our responsibility to present the Gospel message to everyone, without bias.
Now, go and do likewise (Luke 10:37)!
Christians can, and should, stand firmly against the beliefs of other religions that deny the Truth laid out by God in the Bible. But in order to do that effectively, we must first understand what others believe and what the Bible teaches.
In order to be relevant and effective witnesses to those practicing Islam, Christians must be knowledgeable about the beliefs and views of Muslims.
“Sometimes life is so hard that we feel like we’re drowning. We call out for God to throw us a life jacket, but maybe He wants to teach us to swim instead.”
Hey God, are you going to fix this or not?
Can’t you see what I am going through here?
Are you even hearing me?
Sometimes life gets so hard that we feel like we’re drowning. We find ourselves calling out from the deep end for God to help us. We just want Him to throw us a life jacket, but sometimes He wants to teach us to swim instead. That’s because He is a Good Father.
Think back to when you were learning to swim in the pool. At first, you probably wore a floating pool ring, then maybe some arm bands. From there you might have switched to a kick board or a pool float of some sort to aid you while you got the feel for kicking your feet and staying afloat. These steps all served a purpose: strengthening your body and honing your skills for the day when you would swim on your own, with no assistance.
Remember the moment you swam all by yourself for the first time? It was so freeing! You could swim wherever you wanted! You could swim from one side of the pool to the other, to the deep end, even across the lake!
Now think back again to that first time you stepped foot in the pool. What if your parents would have just left you in those armbands, even when you were a teenager? Sure, you would be safe from drowning. It would also have prevented your muscles from getting sore from kicking and paddling. But would you have just worn them forever? At what point would their concern for your safety just be considered enabling laziness instead? That would not be what I would consider a “good parent”.
Instead, they likely encouraged you to kick harder, paddle faster, and to hold your nose when you go under the water. They kept close watch as you learned the process and built up your strength. A good parent coaches their child and motivates them to learn new skills that will help them throughout life. They look past the temporary to prepare you for a lifetime of good things. They don’t just do everything for you.
If God just snapped His fingers like a genie and solved all your problems, would that ultimately be the best thing for you? Like the enabling parent, at what point would your free will just be replaced by a puppeteer’s agenda? Is that really what you want? Is that any kind of life?
“Sometimes God permits what He hates to accomplish that which He loves!”-Joni Eareckson Tada
In Matthew 11:1-6, John the Baptist is in prison and hears about the things Jesus is doing. He sends his disciples to Jesus to question Him. John appears to be questioning if Jesus is the Messiah. But I don’t think that’s exactly what his question means. I wonder if maybe he is just questioning what type of Messiah Jesus is. Is it possible that John thought Jesus would be more of a king or conqueror, like many Jews did, as well as forgiver of sins? Perhaps he hoped Jesus could help free him of his jail sentence? I’m not sure what sparked this question but I think Jesus’ response is to tell John that He didn’t come for the reasons that he was expecting.
Jesus wasn’t going to come rescue John from prison, but it wasn’t because He didn’t love him. Just because God doesn’t respond in the way we would like, it doesn’t mean He isn’t still working in amazing ways.
I’m sure John didn’t consider being in prison “light and momentary trouble”. I bet the divorce doesn’t feel light and momentary. I am sure the diagnosis doesn’t feel light and momentary at all! But I think God would tell us “If you could only see the things that are to come!” These earthly trials might make us lose our head, but we will never lose heart because we know that He is achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs all of our temporary suffering!
God is always there, always helping you eternally, not just temporarily. He is always preparing you to ride the waves ahead and doing good works in you, even when it is hard to see.
“Even when the rain falls-Needtobreathe
Even when the flood starts rising
‘Cause even when the storm comes
I am washed by the water.”
When it feels like you are struggling to keep your head above water, it might be that you are actually immersed in God’s plan. You might feel like you are drowning, but maybe you are really just submerged in His mission. Maybe you feel stranded in the middle of the ocean, treading water, but He is on top of the waves walking out to meet you. You won’t go under unless you take your eyes off of Jesus and put your focus on your troubles instead. (Matthew 14:22-36)
So, let the waters rise! Jesus is reaching out His hand to catch the faithful.
Let the Waters Rise by Mike’s Chair
When we experience something amazing, we always want to tell everyone right away! But the single greatest thing in our lives often seems to be the hardest to talk about. Why is that?
On a hot, mid-August day, I rode the mountain bike trails at a place called Griffin Bike Park in West-Central Indiana. I rode all evening until dark. As I always do, I ended up riding way longer, and for many more miles, than I originally intended. One reason this always happens is because I just don’t want to stop riding. The main reason, though, is because I always get lost! I get in the groove and just keep pushing on, always wondering what is down the next trail. My curiosity gets the best of me and while my smile gets wider and wider, so does the distance between me and the car! That’s okay though because some of the best experiences in mountain biking, and in life, are often the unexpected ones.
I had a great time trying out new trails and seeing new parts of the park that I had never seen before. I also got a killer workout and was completely worn out at the end. Despite being exhausted, I still had such a good ride that I wanted to tell someone right away. I was riding alone and was thinking the whole time I was peddling, “what a shame that no one else is here to experience this with me!” I loved it so much that all I could think about was who I could share the moment with and who I could bring along next time so they could experience the seemingly endless trail system for themselves.
When we have good news, discover something new, or do something amazing, we always want to tell everyone we know. We get on social media and post pictures, we text all our friends, and we talk about it the whole next day at work. But why don’t we do that with the Gospel? Is there really any better discovery than the fact that God has given us the chance to have our sins forgiven through the sending of His son? Truly there can be no greater news than this! Why aren’t we telling everyone!?
“I once was lost but now I am found, and I….am too shy to talk about it.”
There’s some sort of disconnect here. Why aren’t we talking to people about Jesus? Is it that we don’t really believe He is who He claims to be? Or are we for some reason ashamed of Him? Why do we have this idea that everyone wants to hear about what we ate for dinner last night, but that no one would want to hear that their sins can be forgiven and they can live guilt free? Why do we want to tell everyone on our news feed about our latest weight loss success and the “new, life-changing product” that made it all possible, but we can’t be bothered to tell them that they can live for eternity with Jesus in Heaven?
Something doesn’t add up here. We need to seriously reevaluate our hearts. Maybe it’s time to do a spiritual inventory to find out what is standing in the way of us telling our closest friends about the greatest thing in this world, and in the next.
Guys, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest story there is! Why does it no longer excite us? We were once completely lost and hopeless. By the grace of God, Jesus died willingly on a cross to take the punishment for our sin. He chose to take our place so we would no longer be condemned. He loves us that much! Then, He rose from the dead three days later, walked out of the grave, and is our living Savior.
How can we be so relaxed and passive about that? Who else has ever done anything even remotely close to something like this? Who else would be willing to die an excruciating, bloody death just for the chance to have a relationship with you? No one on this earth, that’s for sure.
Tell everyone you love about how your life has been changed by this wild ride called faith. Proclaim the good news that He saves (v2). Tell everyone about the amazing things He does (v3). Ask them to hop in the saddle and hit the trails with you.
If you don’t understand what’s so great about this Jesus guy, ask someone! Don’t just take my word for it, come see for yourself what it is like to live life as a follower of Christ.
So listen, don’t miss out on this amazing ride!
Come ride with me!
*If you want to know how you can begin a relationship with Jesus, or take your faith to the next level, contact us today! Click the “CONTACT” button, or email us at email@example.com.
Looking back on the year of 2018, I would like to take a moment to review and reflect on the various books I read throughout the year.
This past year I set out to read as many books as I could in one calendar year. I have never actually kept track of how many I had read at any given time in previous years. Since I have never counted, it is hard to say for sure how many have been logged in the past, but at twenty-five books, I am positive this is the most I have read in a single year in my life.
I have always loved to read, but I was never consistent when it came to dedicating time to reading. I have a bad habit of starting new books before I have finished the previous ones, causing me to have several partially read books sitting around the house. There are just so many books that look interesting to me that I find myself jumping into several at a time. In 2018, I abandoned that practice (well, mostly).
The following is a list of all the books I read in 2018, along with a brief summary, and maybe a review.
My interest in this book was actually sparked by another book I read in 2017 called “The Forgotten Jesus: How Western Christians Should Follow an Eastern Rabbi” by Robby Gallaty. Reading that book really ignited my fire for learning the stories and themes of the Bible from a 1st century Hebrew perspective, rather than viewing the Bible through the shades of American religious culture. Lois Tverberg is an expert on Jewish culture, customs, and the Hebrew language. Like all of her books, “Reading the Bible With Rabbi Jesus” helped me see the Bible in the context that it was written. Reading the stories in the proper context, with the right knowledge of Hebrew lifestyle during that time, opened me up to a whole new understanding of the scriptures.
After reading Robby Gallaty’s book “The Forgotten Jesus“, I was anxious to read some of his other works. When I picked up “Firmly Planted“, I didn’t realize it was the second book in a three part discipleship series called “Growing Up.” Now that I know this, you better believe I will be heading back to my local bookstore to pick up the other two!
I am a huge Rinella fan. I listen to the Meater Podcast daily, have seen every episode of the Meateater TV show more than once, and have read several of his books. Steve is a masterful writer, blending literature and the outdoors in an almost poetic way. Reading his books makes you feel nostalgic and hungry for outdoor adventure. His words flow so well, like an old classic American writer from yesteryear, that you forget this is not, as Steve would say, an “old timey” author, but just a regular, modern day outdoorsman.
This is the first book I have read by Michael Youssef. In this book, the author points out the threat of aggressive secularism in Western culture, as well as the dangers of radical Islam. Growing up in a country terrorized by radical Islamic rule, Youssef knows first hand what daily life is like in an Islamic State. Yousseff urges Americans to take a hard look at the future of America and to seek to keep Jesus at the center of their lives.
In his book, Meat Eater, Steven Rinella describes a squirrel hunting scenario he experienced as a kid that reminded him of “The Light in the Forest”. Shortly after, while perusing an Amish grocery store, I noticed this book sitting on the shelf. Curiosity got the best of me and I took it home (along with some bulk cooking spices and the best cinnamon roll in the Midwest!). This book, meant for young readers, is a great mix of adventure, history, and drama, all packaged into a short, enjoyable read.
Christianity isn’t a spectator sport. If the extent of your spiritual life is sitting in a pew for forty minutes a week, you are missing out on an incredible journey. Kyle Idleman brings up a really important call to action: Stop being just a fan of Jesus and instead become a completely committed follower!
Written from the perspective of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, this book is a short read that I zipped through in no time. Take a look into the mind of a notorious Bible villain.
Written in 1949, “The Sand County Almanac” is still one of the finest nature writings to ever be published. Aldo Leopold’s wisdom regarding man’s relationship to the land is unsurpassed. This book is a wealth of knowledge concerning the flora and fauna of America. Every serious hunter/conservationists/outdoor lover needs to buy this book!
This is a gripping story of life in a totalitarian society. At first glance, the circumstances and situations depicted in this book seem futuristic and extreme, but you quickly start to realize that it isn’t as far off from today’s world as you might have originally thought. A terrifying and eye-opening tale of a fictional dystopian society, this classic book will bring you joy, drama, and paranoia all at the same time. Pick it up today! And remember, Big Brother is always watching…
I have long had a fascination with the American bison, or buffalo, as they are often called. I loved reading about how humans have interacted and benefited from buffalo in North America throughout history. The author also tells the story of his own buffalo hunting experience throughout the book. It made me long to go on a buffalo hunt myself, and long for a bison burger! Reading this book will give you a new respect for an animal that has had a humongous impact of American life. At the same time, you will be saddened by the way we as humans, especially in our earlier years, nearly destroyed this amazing natural resource that was once so abundant in our country.
This hilarious satirical guide pokes fun at the quirks of cultural Christianity while subtly challenging us to go deeper and find a true, authentic faith. If you are an uptight, holier-than-thou person, don’t bother reading this book and go back to your boring life. As for everyone else, I think you will find much humor and enjoyment learning to be a “perfect Christian.”
So, you’ve made a decision to follow Jesus. Great! But now what? This book covers the basics for someone who is just peaking into the doorway of Christianity and wants to learn who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him. Often times, new Christians get overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do with their newfound faith. A couple of crucial resources for new believers would be to have other Christians to help guide and encourage them, and a book covering the basics in a down-to-Earth fashion. I read this in just a few days while on an out-of-state hunting trip and it opened the door to a lot of questions about my faith and Christianity in general between myself and the other guys in deer camp. Knowing that beginning a relationship with Jesus is much less intimidating when you have some guidance, I left this book in the lodge for future guests to enjoy, along with a business card tucked in as a bookmark in case the next reader had questions. Use this book as a discipleship tool for those who you’ve had conversations with about Christ.
This book is for that rare person who takes both their Christian faith and their love for hunting seriously. Very seriously! “God, Nimrod, and the World” is more of a scholarly textbook than casual read. It will have you thinking deeply about your place in the world, and your religion, as a sportsman. If there had been courses offered on the topic of Christian perspectives on hunting at the college I attended, I may have paid a little more attention in class!
Another great work by Lois Tverberg. This book focuses on examining the words of Jesus and how they should be interpreted in a Jewish context.
“Animal Farm” is a beautifully crafted allegory symbolizing Russia and the Soviet Union under Communist rule. In reality, however, the farm can represent any society. In this fable, the animals decide to revolt against their oppressive master, the human farmer. After successfully taking over the farm, the animals begin creating their own society and government, led by the pigs. We quickly start to see that this new way of life on Animal Farm is not much different from the oppressive human rule. Arguably, it may even be worse than before. This book points out both the subtle, and the blatantly obvious ways that governments manipulate the various classes of citizens in order to control history and maintain power. I loved every page of this book and now wish I would have had paid more attention to it when it was assigned reading during my freshman year of high school.
With my love for reading and hunting, I thought this combination was sure to be a slam dunk. I thought wrong. This will probably shock a lot of people who read classic fiction authors, but I wasn’t that into “Big Woods”. I just wasn’t really getting the draw. Am I missing something? Because it seems like I should have loved this. Please, someone reach out to me to help me better appreciate this collection of Faulkner’s stories, because I really wanted to love this book!
It is time that we admit that are living in a post-Christian society. But, take heart! As Matt Chandler points out in this book, Christianity has always thrived in the margins of society! It is here, on the fringes, that Christians can be intentional about spreading the message of Jesus Christ in an authentic way, as opposed to the watered down Gospel that has been coasting along in the comforts of Western culture.
If you’ve felt a little pinned up lately and in need of some adventure, pick up this book! Roger transforms you into another place and time as you ride shotgun in his van through the great American West, catch fish out of mountain streams, and discover new hole-in-the-wall taco joints along the way. If you are looking for a book to awaken your soul, this is it! My only complaint about the book is that it ended.
I read all of Jefferson Bethke’s books that I can get my hands on, and I have no trouble getting my hands on books! Together with his wife, Alyssa, Jeff brings light to the many lies our culture tells us about love, marriage, and sex. The way we are approaching love in our society is not working. Don’t you think it is about time we tried something different? The Bethke’s are doing just that, and they will tell you how you can too.
I have always had a fascination with Native American culture and history. Luckily for me, my father-in-law does too. Therefore, he keeps me in-the-know on all things American Indian. I grabbed this book off of a stack he loaned me and began learning the details about the many different tribes throughout North America and how they differ. This is a handy guide for basic knowledge of Native American life throughout history.
A heavy, convicting call to action. The way most of us are “doing church” doesn’t line up with the Bible’s view of a community of believers. Francis Chan points out his own mistakes as a pastor and challenges the rest of us to rethink how we are operating our churches and how we are working together as church members to accomplish the mission of Christ. You may just find that the way you currently think of “church” isn’t really what is reflected in the Bible.
I have owned this book for around ten years and finally got around to reading it. I had intentions of reading it right away because of its huge popularity. Though the cover art has changed since then, it is still very popular today, and for good reason. If you have ever been intimidated by people telling you Christianity is a fairy tale or that there is no proof for what you believe, this book will give you all the confidence you need to defend your faith. There is overwhelming proof for Jesus in both religious and non-religious texts and history. This book maps it all out for you in one very eye-opening journey.
My church gives these away to parents who are dedicating their children to God at an event we call “Family Dedication Day”. During this time, church members agree to partner with parents to help them raise their children in a Godly way. This is a tiny little book that can be read in one sitting but it is deeply impactful. “Don’t Miss It” points out that your time with your children is precious and fleeting. For instance, did you know that parents only have approximately 936 weeks from the time your child is born until they graduate from high school? Really think about that. That isn’t really that much time. It really makes you rethink how you spend your weekends (and every day) when you picture your weeks counting down to 0. Your time with your kids is limited. Don’t miss it.
I am a hunting fanatic. More specifically, I am a squirrel hunting fanatic! There are few books that focus solely on small game hunting and there are none that go into this much detail. Like the title says, this is a complete guide for all things small game and bird hunting. It covers everything from start to finish. You will find what gear to pack, what ammunition and equipment is best suitable for different situations, how to process your game after it has been harvested, fun facts about your quarry, and so much more. You will find yourself referring back to this guide over and over as you seek out different hunting strategies and recipes season after season.
The Bible is the single most important book to me. It is the only book I read consistently every day. I haven’t always, though. I wasn’t reading the Bible regularly until I came to the realization that a person who confesses to be a Christian needs to have read the Bible… the whole Bible. For most of my life I couldn’t honestly say that I had read the entire thing. I became convicted that reading only portions of the Bible is not acceptable for someone who follows Christ. From that point, I made it a goal to read through the Bible in a year. After seeing just how attainable that goal was, I decided to continue it with each new year. You would be surprised just how easy it is to read through the Bible when you use a manageable reading plan. I talk about this in length in both “Daily Pursuit” and “My Year in the Bible“, so I won’t go into it here, but just know, I have benefited from this book more than any other and it has ignited my passion for God, and for reading, in an unimaginable way!
As you can see, I have a wide variety of tastes when it comes to books. There are a lot of factors that determine how I choose a new book. Obviously, my own personal interests have a huge impact on what I read, but I also read books on topics that I have no experience in as a way to educate myself. Reading is about knowledge as well as entertainment. I like to read a range of different genres, ideas, and topics to ensure I never stop learning.
That being said, I always have a rather long list of “To Be Reads” comprised of books that I have come across that seem interesting to me or have been recommended by others. I do my best to tackle this list but its every-growing nature doesn’t allow me to ever actually complete it. There are just so many more books available than there is time to read them all, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!
I know many of you consistently surpass twenty-five books a year by a long shot, and I am already hard at work to beat that number during 2019. Perhaps I should have added another 65 books to my list, considering The Bible is actually a compilation of 66 books! In all seriousness, quantity of books read per year isn’t necessarily my top priority. Quality and content plays a bigger role for me.
I hope you find this list helpful and that you see one that sparks your interest the way it did mine. If you have any other book recommendations that you would like to share, I would love to hear from you! I am always looking for new and insightful things to add to my list!
What are you reading right now?
Add your thoughts or recommendations in the comments below, contact me through this site by clicking CONTACT, or reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No one ever said it would be easy. No one ever said it would be comfortable. And no one ever said it would be safe. Anyone who told you the Christian life was any of those things was either lying or, at the very least, misinformed. Christianity is not a place a person goes to retire from a wild, chaotic world. Following Jesus means following Him into battle. And following Jesus means following Him to the grave.
So, you have decided to follow Jesus. That is great! But I have read the book and the elephant in the room is this: Jesus dies. The harsh reality is that you will too. (Spoiler Alert: He was resurrected, but you will not be- at least not on this earth). Sure, we will all die one day, there is no avoiding that, but I am actually not talking about physical death though, at least not yet. What I am saying is, if we are going to follow Christ, we must die to ourselves every day. Every single day we will have to make the decision to die to our own ambitions, our own pride, and our own selfishness. Once we have been redeemed by Christ, we no longer live for ourselves.
Comfort, convenience, and even safety are no longer our highest priority when we become followers of Christ. These, and all other things, take a backseat to our new commitment to Jesus. Now that we have said “Yes” to Jesus, we have checked the box that we agree to the terms and conditions. Some of those conditions may not be sunny and smooth. It gets muddy in the trenches, but I would rather be in the trenches with Jesus than on the boardwalk without Him.
It is time to give up your addictions. It is time to give up your hardheartedness. It is time to leave your selfishness behind. Let go of your grudges. When you give all that stuff to God, it is dead to you. You can live a new life. One that is not concerned with the petty things of this world, but is focused solely on the eternal things of God. Cash in all that baggage for the eternal reward of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Suit up and stand firm, because things could get messy. Being a Christian isn’t about being a body in a pew. It is about being a soldier in the battle between good and evil. Are you ready to fight?
As Christians, we are supposed to be modeling our lives after Jesus Christ (hence the term CHRISTian). But what about when things get hard? Everybody wants to experience the power and the glory, but what about His suffering? Can you stick with Him even through persecution, hardship, and danger?
If you want to see how Jesus reacts to potentially dangerous situations, read John 7. Jesus knows the Jewish leaders are looking for a way to kill Him (v1), yet He casually shows up at the Festival of Tabernacles anyway (v10). He starts preaching at the festival, knowing full well that it is dangerous and may cost Him His life (v14). Everyone in the crowd attending the festival knows that the officials want to kill Jesus. It is a well known fact. People recognize Him and are surprised He is there speaking (v25). So, it’s not like Jesus thought He could just blend in and not get caught. He knew the risk and did it anyway because the message was more important than His safety. He trusted in God’s timing for when He was to be given over.
Do you ever knowingly walk into danger? Would you purposely walk into a place where you knew people were going to try to kill you? My guess would be you would take every measure to avoid that kind of situation! Jesus knew this was an extremely dangerous event to attend, but He also knew the importance of the message He needed to share. The mission overshadowed His concern for personal safety. Plus, He trusted in the Father’s timing. When deciding if you should speak up, do you stop to consider how others will react first? Or do you just step up to the plate and deliver? Knowing how crucial it is that people hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shouldn’t that be our number one priority, even at the risk of our safety or our pride?
I will leave you with some questions to consider:
I think Jesus is asking us the same thing He asked the sons of Zebedee: “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?“. They too wanted to share in His glory without any of the sacrifice. (Matthew 20:20-23)
Are you really ready to be like Jesus? Would you lose your life in order to follow Him? Because there is a disturbing pattern I have noticed among church goers:
They all want to be like Jesus, but they don’t want to have to die.
The term “trophy hunting” gets thrown around a lot these days. I hear it used mostly among the non-hunting crowd. I don’t quite know what to think of that term, but it just feels negative. I guess the reason it feels that way is because it is so commonly used by animal rights groups and anti-hunters as a way to insinuate that hunters are only interested in an animal mount to hang on their wall. They would like to have the general public believe that hunters are only interested in killing and bloodshed for their own selfish gain.
That is not always the case, though. In fact, the term “trophy hunting” itself is confusing to me. Who decides what a trophy is? Does a trophy have the same value for everyone? Does a trophy always mean the same thing to everyone? Is a trophy always something physical, or can it be tied to a setting or an experience? When determining a trophy, does it reference only such things as size, measurements, weight, or age? Or can a trophy also be linked to a memorable moment or accomplishment? The desired outcome of a hunt is so vastly different for each individual that it is hard to label such a thing.
Pondering these things caused me to think about my own intentions in the field. Perhaps it would be good for us all to take an inventory of what it is we are seeking in the woods, and in life.
So, let us consider this question: Of the animals you’ve killed while hunting, if you had to choose between keeping, A) The head/antlers, or B) The body/meat, which would you choose? Would your answer be the same if it was a giant “trophy” buck with huge antlers? Why did you choose the way you did? What factors do you consider when making this choice?
The point in this self evaluation is not to argue over which choice is “right” or “wrong”. You have no one to answer to for the response you give. I just think, as hunters, we need to know why we do what we do. 1 Peter 3:15 says we should always be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ. In the same way, we should also be prepared to defend our hunting practices and ethics.
Before I get to my opinion on which I would choose, first let me share a couple of the reasons that I hunt:
I hunt for the overall experience. I enjoy being involved in every aspect of the hunt. From planning and mapping, to scouting for sign, to hanging tree stands, to pulling the trigger, and then all the way to butchering the meat. I get satisfaction from putting in the effort to do all of those things. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I look back on a successful hunt that has come to fruition. Even when no one else is around and there is no deer in the bed of my truck, I can still feel like my day in the outdoors has been a success. With each hunt I gain more memories and more experiences, even if I don’t add extra meat to the freezer.
I hunt for myself, not for others.
Now back to the question of which part of the deer we would choose to keep, if we could only choose one or the other: If it were me, I would choose the meat every time. That’s because I know the reason I hunt. I hunt for sustenance. I hunt to provide. Food is my primary reason for hunting any type of animal. No, I do not depend solely on wild game to survive. The luxury of grocery stores has greatly diminished our need for killing, or growing, our own food. I won’t even pretend that I do it for survival, but I do hunt mainly for food. I prefer to harvest and handle my own meat as a way to stay active in, and attached to, the process, rather then someone else doing it for me.
I hunt for food, not fame.
Now let me ask another question. If you had to choose one or the other, would you choose God or money? I know the Sunday School answer. I’m asking you to take an honest inventory of what things are most important in your life. Would you be willing to give up your money in order to be closer to God? Where does your faith lie? In your ability to provide for yourself, or God’s ability to provide for you?
“I began to read the Holy Scriptures upon my knees, laying aside all other books, and praying over, if possible, every line and word. This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul. I daily received fresh life, light and power from above.”
A trophy deer head on the wall is something that brings surface level, temporary satisfaction. It might help you gain new friends, or impress old ones. It may even get you a lot of attention or even fame if your animal is a state or world record. But those antlers won’t feed you. In the same way, your money can’t give you all that you need. It can’t fill you up.
I will always choose the things that fill me up, whether that be physical meals, or spiritual sustenance. That is why I pray that God will fill me, that He will use me, that He will carry me. I trust that He will provide for me. I don’t pray that He will give me more money so that I can provide for myself.
When it comes to blessings from Heaven, I don’t want watered down trophy money. I want the meat!
“How could they choose Barabbas over Jesus!?”
That is what we wonder when we read about the trial that led to Jesus’s execution. But actually, we choose Barabbas every day, even now.
In John 18:28-40, we read the story of Pontius Pilate appearing before the Jews at the trial of Jesus. They brought Jesus to Pilate to be judged because they did not have the authority to issue the death penalty on their own. They needed Pilate to carry out the execution. Jesus is questioned by Pilate and he found no fault in him, especially one worthy of death.
In those days, there was a custom that the Romans would pardon and release one prisoner before the feast of the Passover. Seeing no evidence of crime in Jesus, he goes back out to approach the crowd of Jews that had brought Jesus to him. He tells them his verdict, that there was no fault in Jesus, and offers to release Him. He says to them “Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” The angry mob shouted back at Pilate “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” (v40)
Barabbas was a convicted criminal who was deemed bad for society. Judging by his criminal charges, having him released could very well cause them, and their community, personal harm! Matthew 27:16 suggests that Barabbas may have very well been a perpetual offender, notorious for crime. Luke 23:19 says he was thrown in jail for participating in an insurrection, and for murder. We read this story and we think to ourselves, “How could they choose to have Barabbas released over Jesus? One would think that the well known criminal history of Barabbas would be enough for the citizens to want to make sure he was not released from prison. However, because of their selfishness, they still chose Barabbas, regardless of his track record.
We are shocked when we read this passage of scripture. But should we be? If we had been there, would we have spoken up? Would we have chosen differently? It is easy for us to see that choosing Barabbas over Jesus was a decision that impacted history in an unimaginable way. However, hindsight is 20/20, and it is easy to see flaws in others and not in ourselves.
Have you ever chosen Barabbas? Actually, we choose Barabbas daily. Every day we make decisions that deny Jesus. You probably don’t always do it purposely, but you do it just the same. Every time you put something else above Jesus and put your focus elsewhere instead, you have chosen Barabbas. When you continue the affair, knowing that it is destructive to your marriage and detrimental to your spiritual life, you are choosing Barabbas. When you keep putting in more and more hours at work because you long for the joy the paycheck money might bring, you are choosing Barabbas. When you decide you don’t need to read your Bible because you “get the gist of it anyway” or “you don’t really have the time”, you are choosing Barabbas.
You know these choices will ultimately cause harm, turmoil, or even destruction, but you choose them anyway. Your selfish ambitions take precedence over a merciful Savior. These temporary satisfactions will quickly fade and leave a path of destruction in its wake that tears down your friends, family, people close to you, or even your community, but you choose them anyway. Self-serving decisions will also sever your relationship with your Creator, but you still make them. Perhaps you do not realize the effects certain choices will have on your life, or maybe you just don’t care. The choices we make now, in order to gain temporal gratification or power, will quite likely have unforeseen, long-lasting effects. Don’t let your prideful obsession with getting your own way become a barrier that keeps you from seeing God’s plan being carried out your life.
Everyone has selfish ambitions or yearnings that, at times, take precedence over their pursuit of a relationship with Christ. For some, they are stumbling blocks that sneak up in moments of weakness. For others, they are all-consuming patterns that completely block God out and leave them in spiritual darkness.
So, what about you? What things are you choosing to give preference to in place of God? In what ways are you choosing Barabbas over Jesus Christ?
“How could they choose Barabbas over Jesus?” Well… how could we?
“People aren’t hungry anymore.” This was the explanation my dad gave when I asked him why people don’t hunt squirrels like they used to. His words really struck me. Sadly, the same thing happens in our pursuit of Christ. People stop seeking when they lose their hunger.
I was standing out in the yard talking with my dad one evening. I brought up how it seems like no one is hunting squirrels anymore. It seems to be a dying art where I live. I asked him why he thought that was. His response was “People aren’t hungry anymore.” That answer really struck me. I believe he’s right about that being the reason people are no longer hitting the squirrel woods like they did back when he was a kid. Back then, it was common practice for boys to take their single-shot, break action H&R shotguns out to the wood lot behind their houses in pursuit of an old bushy tail.
At the time, it was sort of a family tradition, you could say. Kids would be wielding squirrel guns across their bicycle handlebars long before they could drive a car. They would go out with their dads, their uncles, and their grandpas, shoot a limit of squirrels and take them home for Grandma to cook. What they couldn’t eat right away, they would freeze in empty milk containers, two per carton, filled the rest of the way with water, to save for a later day. Squirrel hunting was an activity rich in camaraderie, tradition, and sometimes necessity.
Nowadays, hunting is more commonly viewed as more of a hobby or pastime than as a necessity. It is seen mostly as something to do on the weekends, or a fun way to spend some vacation time. While the overall hunting tradition itself has continued to hang around, the dependency on the meat is much more rare. There are now very few people in America who hunt to survive. Food is readily available in grocery stores, where you don’t have to get your hands dirty. Even when you can’t afford to buy groceries, there are programs to assist in obtaining them. This was not always the case. There was a time, not all that long ago, when people hunted as a way to supplement their diet with wild game for cheaper than they could buy groceries in the store. People have stopped hunting squirrels because they just aren’t as hungry.
I think this is the same reason people in our country are no longer seeking God the way they used to. They’re just not hungry for biblical truth anymore. Just like people no longer need squirrel meat to survive, people feel they no longer need God in order to get by. They depend on their jobs, their money, their connections, and their work ethic to get what they want and be successful. They think they can take care of themselves.
Folks don’t always take their families to church on the weekends, as was the tradition for generations before them. Crowding in the car on Sunday mornings happens more often now for travel ball than for Sunday School. Younger generations just don’t see the need in seeking God anymore. He is viewed by culture as an unneeded, distant deity belonging to their grandparents, rather than the ever-present King of the universe and Lord of their lives.
It isn’t until a crisis hits that many start to find their faith. In times of trial, we turn to God, and we should! However, the key is to then stay focused on Him and not lean solely on our own abilities. We have to resist the temptation to drift away from God once life starts getting sunny and smooth again. As people who like to view ourselves as self-sufficient and self-made, we kind of ride this roller coaster of spirituality sometimes. We are high on the Gospel when it benefits our current set of circumstances, then we coast into apathy when the track flattens out, then step off towards the exit once the ride slows down and the hills of life are under control. When the need arises, we get back in the queue to do it all over again. Don’t just pick and choose when to follow God. That is squirrelly! Are you with Him or not? Can you do life alone, or do you need His guidance? How quickly we forget that our help comes from God above, not from within ourselves.
Every summer, I anxiously wait for opening day of squirrel season when I can get back out to the woods and start scanning the treetops. I, for one, haven’t lost my hunger for squirrels. And I pray I never lose my dependence on God to sustain me both spiritually and physically. On top of the mountain, or down in the valley, I seek God with an insatiable hunger that can only be quenched with devotion to, and relationship with, Christ.
Knowing how easy it is to become complacent in our spiritual lives, I make a point to keep my focus on God. I do this by scheduling time with Him. I am a person of routine, and I know that, for me, if it isn’t scheduled, it isn’t happening! Before I get breakfast out of the cupboard, I grab my Bible from the table and start my day in the healthiest way. My hunger has shifted from my stomach to my spirit. In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus… first, before anything else.
So, whats your story? Are you still hungry? Have you lost your sense of need for God? Are you growing weary of doing it all by your own resolve? Let’s wake up now and recognize our need for Christ before, like squirrel hunting, Christianity runs the risk of becoming a thing of the past. Let’s reignite our passion for pursuing Christ and pass that devotion along to the coming generations! Take a kid hunting, and tell them about Jesus. Otherwise, both traditions will soon be only read about in history books, rather than experienced through firsthand interaction.
I don’t want my great-grandchildren to ever have to ask the question of their fathers, “Dad, why aren’t there many Christians around anymore?”
So when it comes to your pursuit of Jesus Christ: Stay hungry, my friends! Too much is at stake.