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 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.
Jesus didn’t command us to pursue comfort. Like the early disciples, you will risk your safety, finances, reputation, and more if you choose to give your life to Christ. I can’t tell you it will be comfortable, but I can promise you it’s worth it!
Our culture has painted a picture of Christianity that seems to fit a certain narrative. We are made to think that Christianity is a set of guidelines that are to be followed in order to be in the club. Repeat the prayers, recite the scriptures, wave to our neighbors in the subdivision, avoid cussing, and go to church on Sunday. You probably thought becoming a Christian would allow you to keep your hands clean. To stay out of the dirt. Or at least appear to. No trouble would come your way. You might have thought becoming a Christian meant all of your problems would go away, since you are now on “God’s good side.” Do good, be good, look good. That’s all that matters… Or is it?
It’s (probably) not your fault. You may have grown up in church, where you learned to sing happy songs, read nursery rhyme style Bible stories, and played Bible Bingo. You learned that being a Christian meant following the rules and being nice (and not running in church!). You learned your theology from talking vegetables. Your Bible was just something you brought to kid’s club to earn extra points (Maybe you thought you could later cash those points in for a ticket to Heaven or something). Everyone learned how to make killer casseroles and could shoot a mean game of horseshoes at the annual church picnic. Each person tossed a wadded up $5 bill in the collection plate as it passed. These were the attributes of a good, normal church-goer.
Or, maybe you didn’t grow up in church. You might have formed your opinion of Christians from television and movies. You thought a Christian was a dorky, khaki wearing guy with a receding hairline who only opened his mouth to pray for the food or to make cheesy remarks that were on the same cringe-worthiness level as “Dad jokes.”
As you approached middle age, you may have thought it was time to settle down, join a church, and switch your gears into coast mode. The other church-goers you saw around you were upper middle-class folks with nice houses and a few cars. They seemed to have it all together and were living squeaky clean, comfortable lives. The problem is that Christianity was never intended to be comfortable and these characteristics don’t really match up to what the Bible says about being a follower of Christ.
“Comfortable Christianity” is an oxymoron. Jesus never commanded us to get comfortable. In fact, He often warned His followers that they were going to be giving up a lot by following Him. Like the early disciples, you will risk your safety, your finances, your reputation, and more if you choose to give your life to Christ.
And a scribe came up and said to him,
“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
Choosing to follow Christ is a big commitment. One doesn’t become a Christian so they can fall into some sort of safety net that shields them from the world. You will still have problems, you will still have worries, and you will still have obstacles. You may even notice that some things get harder once you become a Christian. All of the sudden you find yourself faced with criticism from friends, coworkers, and family who don’t understand your new outlook on life. You will also come up against new spiritual opposition because choosing to devote your life to serving Jesus now makes you a worthwhile threat to the Enemy.
You may be thinking “Why would I want to sign up for that? It sounds like a lot of hard work and problems”. It does take strength to overcome the world’s standards and live for God, but thankfully you won’t be doing it alone. John 16:33 says
“…In this world you will have trouble.
But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
I realize accepting discomfort may go against everything you thought about living a Christian life. Maybe you became a Christian thinking life would get easier, and in many ways, it will! It may not always seem like it, but living for Christ actually will make life better! Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
After what we have just discussed, you might not think that living for Christ is an “easy yoke” or a “light burden” but bear with me. Consider the following excerpt from the “Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.” It says this in reference to the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32:
“Thus God, when His service no longer appears a perfect freedom, and when man promises himself something far better elsewhere, allows man to make the trial. And he shall discover, if need be by saddest proof, that to depart from Him is not to put off the yoke, but only to exchange a light yoke for a heavy one, and one gracious Master for a thousand imperious tyrants and lords.”
-Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Zondervan, 1999
(no longer in print)
We can choose, as the prodigal son did, to turn from God and indulge in a worldly lifestyle instead. If we feel we can do better for ourselves than God can do for us, we have the freedom to walk away and try. Unfortunately, what we eventually learn the hard way is that God’s yoke really was the light one, and it kept us on track and guided us where we needed to go. The heavy yoke of our selfish decisions weighs on us and compounds with burden after burden until we buckle under the pressure of the world.
As a Christian, you have direct communication with the Lord of all things through prayer! You have the Holy Spirit to guide you! You have the Wonderful Counselor to aid in your decisions! Most of all, you have eternal security and peace of mind knowing you will spend eternity with your Creator! But while we live on this earth, we will come against resistance due to the fact that we live in a fallen world full of sin. This battle is temporary and, through the power of Christ, we will stand our ground.
“I have set the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
Our main concern in life is no longer our comfort or convenience. Our careers and our finances no longer take precedence. We are not in it for the luxury. We are not in it for the glory. And we are definitely not in it for the money.* Now our highest goal is to give glory to God and to further His kingdom, no matter what it costs us.
Here are some self-evaluation questions to ponder:
Are you willing to trade in the recliner for some work boots? Are you ready to step out of the A/C and into the trenches? 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?
*Click the link below to learn about the dangers of the Prosperity Gospel:
Have you ever read the Bible? I am willing to bet that most Christians would answer right away “Of course I have read my Bible! I’ve been going to church my whole life!” You would probably get a similar response if you asked someone if they know God. The sad truth is that many people know about God, less people really know God.
Maybe you have never really thought about it much. Like me, you probably just kind of assumed you knew the Bible and knew God. What if there were things you thought you knew about the Bible, but maybe you were wrong? What if there were things you thought were in the Bible, but maybe they really aren’t? Maybe God didn’t really say that thing that you always assumed He said. Would you want to know?
I grew up in church. I attended Sunday School as a child and was even part of a weekly scripture memorization club during my school age years. I went to youth group, then to a young adults class, and then on to small group Bible studies. I am no stranger to church. Being a regular church attender is great, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you any kind of true spiritual closeness with God. In fact, routine, checklist religion may just be the thing keeping you from intimately knowing Him.
I know a lot of people who would say they are Christians that have never read the Bible. They have read portions of the Bible, but they have never read through the entire Bible. I was also in this camp for most of my life. It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I realized the importance of regular Bible reading. I guess I really always knew it was important, but that fact still didn’t seem to get me to pick up the book and read it on a daily basis. Even after I started reading my Bible “regularly”, I still felt like it wasn’t enough to just read a few scriptures a day and go on with my life.
Eventually I felt this conviction that I needed to read the entire Bible (yes, even the seemingly boring family history parts). I just came to this sudden realization that I was claiming to know the Bible, claiming to know God’s will, and even telling others about it, yet I had never actually read the whole thing for myself. Yeah, I had read most of it. I knew all the stories and the major themes, but I could not honestly say I had read the whole Bible word-for-word. That bothered me, and if you are a Christian that hasn’t read the entire Bible, it should bother you too. How can we fully share Christianity with others if we don’t know the whole story?
If you have read my previous post, “Daily Pursuit”, from 1/5/18, you have heard me talk about the importance of reading the Bible for yourself all the way through. I would compare a Christian who has never read the Bible to someone who says they are a dedicated fan of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or Twilight but have never actually read the books. Maybe they’ve seen some of the movies, or read parts of the series, but that is about the extent of their knowledge. I think I would have a hard time believing that they were totally sold-out fans if that were the case. I think the same is true of Christians who don’t read their Bible. Hearing the stories secondhand from a Sunday School teacher or a pastor is a start, but you can’t count on others to build your relationship with Christ. Only you can do that. Think of it this way: would you go on a Lord of the Rings themed trivia game show with someone who hasn’t read the books? Of course not! You want someone you can count on to know their stuff if you are going to be on national TV with money and prizes on the line! Then why do you think your non-Christian friends want to trust your word about the Bible if you haven’t read it? For them, there is more on the line than money.
I have now read the entire Bible on my own! Every book, every chapter, every page, and every verse. I can now truthfully and with certainty say “I have read the Bible!” Accomplishing this goal was such a monumental moment for me, for a lot of reasons. I used a “through the Bible in a year” plan so I could read it, in its entirety, in one calendar year. You’re probably thinking “That’s a big book. There’s no way I could read the whole thing in a year!” To be honest, it was not as difficult as I thought it would be! Starting out, I was pretty intimidated too, but just a few days into the plan, I realized it wasn’t so hard. With the plan I used, there was only about 15-20 minutes of reading per day. That is a much smaller time commitment than I originally thought it would be.
I am not going to say reading the Bible every day for a whole year was a breeze. In fact, there were days when I missed my daily reading and would have to make up for it other days. You will likely have to do the same at some point, and that is okay! There were even some days when I would be traveling or driving and would listen to my set of scriptures on an audio version of the Bible to stay caught up.
I learned a lot of things during my “Bible in a year” journey. I learned that God has so much to say to me, and I am not hearing it if I am not reading His Word. Everyone wants to hear from God and know His will. Fortunately for us, He has written it all down for us! We have access to all of that information in this book! All we have to do is open it and read it. That is great news! I have learned more about the heart of God and what He wants for me, and for all people.
So many things make more sense to me now that I have read the whole book start to finish. When we just read a story here and there, or a few verses at a time, it makes it very difficult to understand the meaning behind them. It is important to know the context of the verses you are reading. For this reason, it is crucial that you read the verses before and after to make sure you know what the author is talking about. There are also a lot of passages that might not make as much sense if you didn’t realize those same subjects were referenced in other parts of the Bible. For instance, if you only read the New Testament, there would be a lot of quotes and topics that you would pass over without fully understanding them because they are references to the Old Testament. You are missing out on a lot by not getting the whole picture.
Look, just because you read the Bible all the way through does not mean you will know all the answers to every Biblical question that ever comes up. It does not mean you will know everything there is to know about God. The truth is, we will never know it all. We are constantly learning and growing in Christ (Read Endless Pursuit from 4/6/18). That’s what I love about the Bible: the more you read, the more you discover. You can read a passage and it may speak to you in a totally different way than when you read it before. That is because God is constantly revealing things to us through His living and active Word. (Hebrews 4:12). For this reason, I will continue to read through the Bible each year. Daily Bible reading has become such a part of my routine that I would feel like something was missing if I were to stop. I want to continue hearing from God every opportunity that I get! The best way for me to do that is by reading His book.
I encourage you to read the Bible in its entirety. I know it may seem like a daunting task. I know you are probably busy and don’t have a lot of extra time to sit and read. Trust me, I get it. I hope that you will at least give it a try. There is more than one way to read a Bible, and I would love to help you choose a manageable reading plan.
Personally, I decided I wanted to read through the Bible in one calendar year. I started on my birthday. For me, that was a great time to commit to starting something new and create a new healthy habit. It also gave me something to look forward to, as if it was a birthday present to myself. The feeling of accomplishment and the added closeness to God that I had was a pretty great birthday gift!
Whatever you do, don’t wait much longer. You don’t know what you are missing by putting this off. You have so much to gain and you won’t regret reading through the entire Bible, start to finish (Isaiah 55:11).
*For more information, or help picking out a plan that is right for you, please contact Rugged Pursuit through this website, or on Facebook by searching for @RuggedPursuit and send us a message. You can also contact us by email at email@example.com. We would love to help you find a resource that assists you in your journey with Christ.
The Jews in the Bible had their own idea of what the Messiah would be like and what he would do. They expected a descendant of David to come and rule over Israel forever (Psalm 89:4). In the first century, the Jewish community was living under an extremely corrupt government system. They expected a Messiah to overthrow the oppressive Roman empire and take back the throne of David by force. They undoubtedly assumed this would be accomplished through brute strength, and a physical military victory. Their hope was that he would redeem them and reestablish peace to their nation.
This type of victory did not come from Jesus. He did not start wars, did not encourage His followers to commit violent acts against Roman officials, and He did not overthrow the throne. How then could this man be the Messiah? He came, He saw, but He did not conquer, at least not in their opinion. This rabbi fell very short of their expectations for a savior.
These first century Jews were not seeing the big picture. They were thinking very short term. The legacy of Jesus Christ extends way beyond His short life on Earth. He had plans too big to be confined in this world alone. He was achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs the things of this life (2 Corinthians 4:17). The problem is that they had a very temporal view of an eternal God.
In the book “The Forgotten Jesus” by Robby Gallaty, it says
“The people had built up in their minds a picture of what the Messiah would be like according to their own expectations, and they would not be able to accept what He had come to do.”
-Robby Gallaty, The Forgotten Jesus: How Western Christians Should Follow an Eastern Rabbi, HarperCollins Publishers
Isn’t this exactly what we are doing to Jesus now? When He doesn’t work in our lives the way WE think He should, we discredit Him.
“If Jesus cared about me, I wouldn’t be unemployed.”
“If Jesus really loved me, my spouse wouldn’t have left me.”
“If God was real, He wouldn’t have let this happen.”
We judge God, and the goodness of God, based off of standards we have made up ourselves. These standards in no way reflect the personality or the will of God. We expect the Messiah to save us from all discomforts and all earthly pain. In reality, He came to do so much more than that. We are limiting God’s abilities. We tend to only see things from our point of view. We can’t see the big things God is doing because we are so focused on Him fixing our little things. If we don’t stop blaming Him for all of our “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17), we are going to miss the fact that He is continually redeeming the world and everything in it.
Just like the Jewish community in the Bible, we yearn for a Messiah that works for us and grants our wishes and earthy desires. We selfishly think we can use Jesus to our own advantage. We live in such a self-obsessed culture that it is hard for us to imagine that there could be a greater plan at work that does not cater to our personal satisfaction and comfort. It is far past time that we come to terms with the fact that we do not know what is best for our lives, or our world. We don’t get to assign the benchmarks for what a Messiah is, or is not. Following Christ means that you take a back seat and trust His leadership.
It is true that the Jews needed a savior to rescue them from their oppression. What they could not see is that their tribulation was so much worse than physical bondage. What they needed was someone who could redeem a spiritually broken world, full of sin, and put it back together. Still today, we need someone who can erase the sins of our past and make us blameless in the sight of a Holy God. Jesus did just that when He, as a completely guiltless man, died a brutal death in order to offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. Jesus is still the Messiah, even if He’s not the kind you expected.