Five Clicks For Hours of Pleasure

How would you like to help me choose my summer reading?

During semester time, my reading is often confined to the subjects I’m teaching – Old Testament Exegesis, Counseling, Leadership, The Minister & His Ministry. In the summer, though, I try to read a bit more outside the box. I do that partly for my own enjoyment, partly to learn about and be inspired by other people’s lives, but also to stimulate fresh thinking and widen my worldview by reading in areas I don’t usually have much time for. It’s also a great way to get up-to-date sermon illustrations.

Here’s my “cheerful” reading list from last summer, and I’d love it if you could help me put together one for this summer. Below are the books (with their Amazon descriptions) that are topping my list right now. You can help me by choosing the books you think I should read first (you get five votes), and by suggesting other books you think should be on that list. They can be old books or new books, politics, fiction, non-fiction (if you must), biography, theology, history (not too much blood and guts please!).

Once the votes and suggestions are in, I’ll read and review as many as I can over the next couple of months.

And what do you get out of it? Well, apart from the reviews I’ll be posting, hopefully my thinking and writing will be refreshed for your benefit too.

So here’s the list I’ve put together so far – in no particular order. You don’t need to have read the book to vote for it or suggest it. Go on, challenge me. You don’t need to enter your email or anything like that. Just five quick clicks to give me hours of reading pleasure. And hopefully some reading ideas for yourself too!

The Tides of Life: Learning to Lead and Serve as You Navigate the Currents of Life

“Who better to write about leadership than a world-renowned CEO known not only for his business skills but also for his life of faithful integrity? Drawing on decades of executive-level experience running a Fortune 300 company, chairman emeritus and former CEO of ServiceMaster, Bill Pollard, offers insight into what it takes to thrive—both professionally and spiritually—in the high-stakes, high-pressure world of corporate America as well as in the home. Reflecting on life-changing encounters with influential leaders such as Peter Drucker, Warren Buffet, and Billy Graham, Pollard invites readers to learn from his own successes and failures, sharing tips and principles for leading well and pleasing God.”

Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places

“In this captivating travelogue, a veteran missions mobilizer leads readers to experience global Christianity, exploring the faith and lives of Christians living in some of the world’s most perilous countries.”

The Word of the Lord: Seeing Jesus in the Prophets

Nancy Guthrie’s latest in her wonderful series of Christ-centered Bible studies, this time on the prophetic books.

No Greatness without Goodness: How a Father’s Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movemen

“Randy Lewis bet his career that he could create an inclusive workplace at one of America’s biggest corporations where people with disabilities could not just succeed, but thrive. No Greatness without Goodness is the powerful story of a corporate executive who, after watching the world through the eyes of his own child with autism, Austin, realized that we all have a greater responsibility to make the world a better place for everyone, including those with disabilities.”

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

“The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.  It is not  a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.”

Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain

“Levitt and Dubner offer a blueprint for an entirely new way to solve problems, whether your interest lies in minor lifehacks or major global reforms. As always, no topic is off-limits. They range from business to philanthropy to sports to politics, all with the goal of retraining your brain.”

Special Heart: A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage and Love

“SPECIAL HEART is a deeply touching personal story told through the eyes of a journalist as he faces the most daunting challenge in life – far more frightening than reporting from battlefields, infinitely more momentous than interviewing newsmakers of the day: caring for his critically ill newborn son. Baier reflects on past challenges as he looks forward with hope, chronicling the steps on his path to national prominence as a television anchor, as well as his unexpected journey into the world of pediatric cardiac disease.”

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

“Why do some children succeed while others fail? The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs. But in How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter more have to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, optimism, and self-control.”

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

“Out of the depths of the Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant.”

An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny

An Invisible Thread is the true story of the bond between a harried sales executive and an eleven-year-old boy who seemed destined for a life of poverty. It is the heartwarming story of a friendship that has spanned three decades and brought meaning to an over-scheduled professional and hope to a hungry and desperate boy living on the streets.”

The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs

“Find God’s vision for your job. Reclaim God’s vision for your life. Many Christians fall victim to one of two main problems when it comes to work: either they are idle in their work, or they have made an idol of it. Both of these mindsets are deadly misunderstandings of how God intends for us to think about our employment. In The Gospel at Work, Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert unpack the powerful ways in which the gospel can transform how we do what we do, releasing us from the cultural pressures of both an all-consuming devotion and a punch-in, punch-out mentality—in order to find the freedom of a work ethic rooted in serving Christ.”

Growing Up Duggar: It’s All About Relationships

The four oldest Duggar girls share their hearts and their core beliefs, explaining that it’s all about relationships: with self, with parents, with siblings, with friends, with boys, and with God -their most impor­tant relationship of all.

The Poll

And now for the big vote. You can enter suggestions anonymously by clicking on “Other” in the poll. Or simply leave the titles in the comments. Anyone can see the results – you don’t have to vote – by clicking on results. Thanks for your help!

Reader Suggestions

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven

Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans

Rush Revere and the First Patriots: Time-Travel Adventures With Exceptional Americans

Bright Valley of Love

Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life: From the Cross, for the World 

A History of Christianity in Asia: Beginnings to 1500

Child of Mine


Check out

4 Obnoxious Things About Terry Gross’ Hilary Interview
Mollie Hemingway is fast becoming one of my favorite writers. I share her sympathy with Hilary in this interview and highly recommend her fourth point. A sample:

I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a single skeptical question from any journalist on the topic of same-sex marriage. Their advocacy for same has been crushing and has contributed to a destruction of discourse that is harmful to civil society. There has been virtually no decent treatment of the arguments against government redefinition of marriage and little beyond puffy cheerleading in favor of such a redefinition. There has been virtually no thought put into the chance that maybe there was some seriously important wisdom in the the marriage views of all societies throughout space and time before ours right now.

Ed Stetzer is Dead-on About Mental Illness and Christians…Now What?
A Christian doctor involved in mental health research supports Ed Stetzer’s analysis: “Sadly, I can’t help but conclude that in our desire as church to avoid the influence of anti-Biblical worldviews foundational to some treatment orientations employed in the mental health community and worldviews held by the vast preponderance of mental health practitioners…we’ve forgotten to love the people experiencing mental illness and contributed to needless suffering by millions of Christ followers and their families.”

Ten Tips to Becoming A More Productive Pastor
How can a pastor keep the pace in this marathon of ministry without burning out? How can a pastor remain productive with such demands? Thom Rainer offers ten tips to becoming a more productive pastor.

How My Son With Autism Transformed My Business
This is a wonderful story about Walgreens Vice-President Randy Lewis.

It’s Abuse, Not An Affair
Another Ed Stetzer bullseye: “Evangelicalism continues to whiff on opportunities to wage war against abuse within its own walls. We don’t see the signs. We miss what’s right in front of us. As such, we enable the perpetrators.”

Isn’t It Time We Celebrate Dads?
Couple of days late on this one, but as I tell my kids, every day should be Father’s Day…and Mother’s Day :)

Scottish or American Graduation?

There are few places where the contrast between Scotland and America is more pronounced than High School graduations.

My American friends will be appalled to hear that when I finished High School, the bell went and I simply walked home never to return. No speeches, no farewells, no party, no banquet, no graduation ceremony, no diploma, no nothing. Teachers said nothing. Principal said nothing. Even my parents said nothing. It was just like any other day at school – except you didn’t go back again.

I remember the great joy of taking my school uniform off for the last time. But that was about the limit of the “celebration.” I think the feeling was, “You’ve finished High School? So what! You’ve done nothing yet. Now you start to prove yourself.” You wouldn’t dare call it a “graduation.” That was reserved for finishing university.

Shocked Scots
My Scottish friends will probably be appalled to hear the American contrast. Two of my sons just “graduated,” one from a Christian school, and one from an online school.

The one who finished High School seems to have been graduating for weeks. There was a one-week trip to Washington D.C., a banquet, a school awards ceremony, a public graduation ceremony, a limo trip to a graduation meal (yes, another meal), a graduates’ day at an adventure camp, and then the uniquely American “Open House.” (More of that in a moment).

The graduation ceremony was quite a grand occasion: full gowns and caps, diplomas, stage presentation, three gifts, a choir, a commencement speech, a valedictorian speech, and numerous other speeches too.

Graduation 1

Open House
I’d never heard of an “Open House” before coming to America. For the benefit of my Scottish readers here’s a summary. Basically, you open your house for a specified 2-3 hours and invite all your school friends, family friends, neighbors, and anyone who’s special to you. (In our case, it was on Saturday and probably about 250 people turned up between 4-7pm).

The family puts together a couple of presentation boards with lots of pictures of the graduate from earliest years up to the present. Guests have a good laugh at the evident changes in both the kids and the parents! There’s a box for cards and gifts, which often produces a welcome cache of dollars for upcoming college tuition and expenses. Guests are then fed, watered, and cream-caked, and hang around chatting for anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of hours.

Life photos

We were blessed with a beautiful day and used a marquee to provide a bit of shelter in the 80 degree heat. It’s quite an operation; Shona’s probably been preparing for it for two solid weeks. Don’t know where I’ll get the energy for my last son’s graduation in 17 years time!

Open House

Proud Kids?
At this point, my Scottish friends have probably stopped breathing. Some will be shaking their heads: “They’re mad. Murray’s turned his back on Scottish common sense. He’s betrayed his culture. Celebrating High School graduation? With all that razzmatazz? Kids will think they actually achieved something. It will go to their heads…”

Honestly, I would have said that myself a few years ago. And yes, there are excesses; although Dutch Reformed people keep it pretty sane and sensible compared to some Americans.

However, I’m now a convert (or apostate, depending on your accent). I’ve been to a good number of “Open Houses” over the last few years: friends’ kids, kids in my congregation, etc., and I love them. There’s a wonderful community spirit as the church family gets together to rejoice in another child getting to a significant milestone in their lives, to encourage them to remember the Lord in their youth, and to serve Him with the rest of their lives.

Can it inflate their egos? Make them proud? Tempt them to think they’re something when they’ve still got a lot to prove? Yes, yes, and yes. But given the choice between being overly cynical or overly celebratory, being too Scottish or too American, I’m going to spend the rest of my days risking too much happiness.

Family Photo

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Six Lessons on Fatherhood From Tim Brown
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Biblical Medicine
Chris Bogosh has written a new book about modern healthcare: Biblical Medicine: Developing a Christian Worldview for Medical Science.

Gay Danish Couples Win Right To Marry In Church
Under the law, individual priests can refuse to carry out the ceremony, but the local bishop must arrange a replacement for their church.

The World’s Greatest Game
This from a Brazilian: “If we can pour all of this excitement and enthusiasm and happiness into soccer, think about what our hearts might be capable of in response to him.”

Geerhardus Vos on The Covenant of Grace
Not an easy read, but worth the effort for some instructive edification.

A Tribute To Discomfort
Climber and visual storyteller, Cory Richards, was named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012. Here he explains how hardship in his own life inspired his craft.

Marriage Boom in The UK

Despite the homosexual/transgender/poly-everything juggernaut, The Daily Telegraph reports some good news for real marriage that probably won’t get a lot of media attention. In Marriage Boom As Britain Experiences The Feelgood Factor we read:

The number of weddings in England and Wales jumped by 5.3 per cent in 2012 to more than 262,000 – the highest level for a decade and one of the biggest single increases since the early 1970s, according to the Office for National Statistics.

But analysis by the Marriage Foundation think-tank concludes that the true increase could be as much as 11 per cent when estimates for the number of couples flying abroad to get married are taken into account.

In percentage terms that would be the biggest rise since the surge in weddings when British servicemen returned from war in 1945.

Coupled with the biggest year-on-year jump in the number of church weddings for more than 30 years, family lawyers said it pointed to a revival of support for a “traditional” image of marriage.

Now, isn’t that something to celebrate? No, it’s not perfect, and yes, it’s a long way back, but let’s try to break out of the depressing cycle of constant criticism of moral trends and rejoice in any indication of God’s continuing grace to our world.

The report suggests a number of reasons for this “boom,” including an improved economy and even the “William and Kate” effect.

Ultimately though, it’s God, isn’t it. So, let’s not despair, let’s not give up, let’s not retreat, let’s not stop praying, let’s not stop advocating and lobbying.

Above all, let’s keep marrying (once each), multiplying (as many as you can manage), and modeling family life. If we do, the contrast between happy “traditional” families with the disintegrating and dismal alternatives will be increasingly shocking and stark and will be the most powerful argument in the world.

This report makes me hope that before too long people will yet come to their senses and will look back on these last 10 years of “redefinition” and wonder, “What were we thinking?”

Check out

10 Personalities That Have No Place In Marriage
Jason Helopoulos: “As a pastor, who has counseled many couples, and as a veteran of sixteen years of marriage, I have found that these ten personalities have no place in Christian marriage.”

When My Fashion Accessory Told Me To Take A Hike
Someone once said, when posting about your young kids online, imagine a 15-year-old version of them looking over your shoulder.

Gospel-Shaped Gentleness
Five characteristics of the gentleness that is to dominate our demeanor as followers of Christ.

Ezra, Nehemiah, And Your Place In The Story
Interview with Jim Hamilton about his new Christ-centered commentary.

Why Your Teaching Isn’t As Effective As You Think
“Disequilibration” is the fascinating answer. Two ways to do this while still staying within the bounds of orthodoxy are by teaching old truths in fresh ways, and by teaching old truths that have become neglected and forgotten truths.

Don’t quite know why, but this made me cry.