#FridayFive: Five Book Series I Loved in Grade School (1/11/2019)

Happy Friday, friends!

As I’ve said repeatedly, I was blown away by the Wingfeather Saga series of books last year. (Have you read those yet? Seriously, what are you waiting for?!?) They are the kinds of books I would have loved as a young reader–funny, playfully-written, just a bit scary, and full of heart.

Speaking of which, here are 5 series of books I *did* get to enjoy in my younger years. (And I’m going to purposefully leave off the Chronicles of Narnia series, because that’s pretty much a gimme, right? Lewis’ masterwork was my all-time childhood favorite, so let’s leave it aside.)

While there may have been more books or series that I would call “favorites,” these are the books I look back upon with a deep and abiding fondness:

The Hank the Cowdog Series, by John R. Erickson

I can’t tell you how many of these books I ate up over the years. Erickson created two of the great children’s book characters in the eponymous Hank the Cowdog and his trusty (but cowardly) sidekick, Drover. These two ranch dogs are duty-bound to protect their master’s cattle ranch from such terrifying threats as mysterious noises, unusual smells, and the occasional vampire cat. There are DOZENS of these books, and I’ve probably logged most of them in my time, thanks in large part to my old church’s huge lending library. I had the double-joy of listening to the audiobook versions of these stories, and if you get the chance, you really REALLY need to do the same. Many of the stories include original songs (which are a HOOT), and if I were pressed, I could probably recall a few of those tunes, more than 25 years later. Just a delightful series of books.

The Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald Sobol

For kids who liked a good puzzle, Encyclopedia Brown was the jam. This pint-sized Sherlock Holmes would be face with a mystery of some sort, and would use the powers of deductive reasoning to solve the case and find the culprit or the missing whatever-it-was. The thing I loved about these books was that the story would reach a point where EB would be able to solve the case, and then you (the reader) would be asked by the narration if you figured it out, too. The solution would then be revealed at the back of the book on Page __ , where you could flip to see if you were right. (Confession: I was never right.) This series of fun short stories was perfect preparation for enjoying Arthur Conan Doyle’s classics later in my school-aged years.

The Cooper Kids Adventures, by Frank Peretti

I’ve talked about my love of Peretti’s writing before, but this series was how I became acquainted with his work. This brother and sister duo traveled with their archaeologist father around the world, discovering all sorts of mysteries and facing various middle-grade-appropriate perils. These books also fed my fascination with exploring ancient civilizations (fueled by a viewing of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” if I recall). I haven’t read these books since middle school, but I have a hunch I would still enjoy them.

The Spirit Flyer Series, by John Bibee

Obviously, as a fan of Narnia, I enjoyed some on-the-nose Christian allegory. This series (which I always thought of as the “Magic Bicycle” series, since that was the first book!) by John Bibee brings straightforward Christian allegory into a modern setting, with a group of heroic kids taking their stand against a diabolical corporation called Goliath Toys (diabolical in a “controlled by dark forces” way, not a “capitalism is bad” way). They face these spiritual foes with the help of some old magical bicycles that contain secret powers and abilities to help their owners overcome the darkness. The allegory is painfully obvious in some ways, but there was also something charming about it. Certain books in the series were quite thrilling and some of the imagery was striking. This series may be worth giving a spin if you’re into Christian middle-grade fiction.

The Archives of Anthropos series by John White

Okay, this is a really deep cut, but I discovered this rarely-discussed fantasy series when I was in fifth grade. I happened upon the first book in the school library and was blown away by the adventure it contained. While these stories are very similar to Lewis’ Narnia (apparently, this was the author’s intention, since his own children loved Narnia) and begin in an almost identical way (siblings discover an enchanted commonplace object that becomes their portal to another world), I remember them taking a decidedly different turn into a more classic fantasy plot. I’m surprised to discover (thanks to the power of The Internet!) that I may have never actually finished the series! I only remember four volumes, but it looks like there are 6 on Amazon! This may require a re-read, then. Hopefully, they still hold up! (They probably won’t, but one can hope, right?)

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There you have it: 5 children’s series that still hold a warm spot in my heart. If you haven’t read these, and are looking for something fun to enjoy and perhaps share with a younger reader in your house, these would be a great place to start.

Your turn: What books or series did you love as a child? Share your picks in the comments!

52 Stories: #1 — “Gifts of the Magi” by O. Henry

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[What is #52Stories? Check it out.]

The first entry in my #52Stories journal is a classic–“Gifts of the Magi” by William Sidney Porter, published under the pen-name “O. Henry.” (I always thought the title was “The Gift of the Magi,” but per the O. Henry collection I read last night [and Wikipedia], it’s was actually plural when published originally in 1905.)

I read this story in a collection printed in 1979, but you can read it for yourself here

Unrelated Sidenote: The introduction to the 1979 collection I was reading mentions O. Henry’s “problematic” racial references in his writings, and how later editors tried to clean up some of his antiquated and offensive stereotypes. Unfortunately, being a child of the Reconstruction, Mr. Porter carried a lot of mental baggage that later generations of readers would rightly find offensive. I have nothing to add; I just thought that was an interesting bit of trivia.

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The Set-up:

A housewife resorts to somewhat desperate measures to buy her husband a gift on Christmas Eve; soon she realizes that he has done the same.

The Pay-off:

The plot twist of this story is almost universally known, but I’ll still try to avoid spoiling it, just in case. However, knowing the ending didn’t ruin my enjoyment of this surprisingly short story. I had read it years ago, so it was fun to come back and appreciate it anew. It’s literary cotton candy–it’s sweet and a bit cloying, but there’s not enough substance there to be offensive or heavy. By the same token, it’s not going to “stick to your ribs,” either. It’s just…sweet.

The story’s final lines sum it up perfectly: this was a story of “two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house… They are the Magi.”

If you haven’t read it recently, I’d encourage you to take a few minutes, click the link above, and revisit this sweet literary trifle.

The Lessons:

  • OH’s most famous short story is a great example of how to get a lot of mileage out of a minimal number of pages. I was impressed by how economical the author (henceforth, “OH”) was in setting the scene and describing this couple and their financial situation in just a few paragraphs.
  • The story feels lived-in; the way the author capitalizes certain words (The Combs, The Watch) clues you in that this couple has a personal history that OH isn’t going to flesh out fully. These tokens become symbolic of that fuller life. He leaves just enough unsaid and unexplained that you’re curious about some of the details.
  • OH’s omniscient narration is effective in giving you a sense of who Della is and how she thinks. Jim, on the other hand, is idealized–seen almost entirely through Della’s adoring gaze; he appears in the last page or so and is only given a few lines of dialogue in the story, so we don’t really know much about his character other than through his (unseen) prior actions and his stunned response to Della’s decisions. Honestly, I almost wanted a little more from Jim by the end–he seems a little too perfect–but one wonders if what OH gives us is just enough.
  • OH’s narration overall is a bit heavy-handed in guiding the reader’s emotions, but that’s a style preference, not a problem. That era of American literature has more than a few examples of such narrative influence, I guess.
  • Signs I’m Fully Middle-Aged: Reading the story of the sacrifices this couple in their early 20’s made for each other, I couldn’t help but think, “That’s sweet and all, but you two are in a tight spot financially; wouldn’t it be wiser to buy a less ostentatious gift and save the money, just in case? We’re talking about half-month’s wages here!” Younger-me would be so disappointed.
  • The opening sentence is poetic in its simplicity: “One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all.” Reminded me instantly of “Call me Ishmael” or “Marley was dead”–an opening that sets the tone of the story effectively in just a few words.

The real strength of “Gifts of the Magi” is that it’s all about that moment when Jim comes home; OH doesn’t need to pad the front half of the story with a lot of detail or distraction. His goal is to get to the “twist,” and he does so as directly as he can, with straightforward narration and the barest skeleton of a plot. That said, nothing felt missing; it was just enough to feel true. And that’s why we remember it, more than 110 years after it was first published.

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Agree? Disagree? Have suggestions for my next story to explore? Let me know in the comments!

What is #52Stories?

 

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Happy Tuesday, friends!

I thought I’d take a minute–just sit right there–and explain this year’s blog project: #52Stories (formerly #100Stories, because I tend to set overly ambitious goals).

I first started writing fiction in grade school, turning 10-sentence vocabulary homework assignments into 2-3 page serialized adventures, featuring explorers and spies with surprisingly advanced word-usage. My teachers encouraged me to keep writing, and I did, even if it wasn’t for class credit. I wrote short fiction throughout high school and shared it with friends and family. I loved exploring ideas or scenarios in this format. In college, that creative itch shifted toward poetry and dramatic scripts, and eventually a few false-starts on full-length novels.

In recent months, I’ve been thinking about turning my attention back to writing some short fiction (as I try to rebuild a writing rhythm), and that has me thinking: What can I learn about the craft of short story writing by reading (or re-reading) a ton of short stories suggested by everyone I know? 

That question is the inspiration for my 2019 personal reading/blogging challenge: #52Stories.

My list will be based on the recommendations of my blog readers, social media circles, and friends/family, along with a few of my own additions. I’ll be reading all across the dial in terms of genre, while trying to maintain a mix of classic and modern. I don’t purport to have a perfect demographic representation of human writing or experience (my social circles are admittedly limited), but I have tried to open things up as best I can (and I’m absolutely open to more suggestions!).

My plan is to read each story and write a reaction post with 3 parts:

  • a one-sentence blurb about the story’s plot/idea (“the Set-up”);
  • my possibly-but-not-necessarily spoilery reaction to how well it unfolds (“the Pay-off”); and
  • something I can take away from it in terms of how to write better stories (“the Lesson”).

If the story is (legally) available online, I’ll post a link for you to check it out, and if it’s not, I’ll tell you where I found it.

I hope you enjoy #52Stories, and that you find it as fascinating and useful as I expect to. I’m excited to get started–which is a good thing because, at one story a week, I’m already behind! Gotta get cracking! Talk to you soon!

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Any suggestions for #52Stories? Post them below!

Feeling the sting.

landscape photography of dried trees on snow covered ground
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My grandfather died last Thursday. He was buried yesterday.

He was almost 90, ravaged for the last several years by Parkinson’s. Over the years, he has been losing the ability to communicate clearly, to understand, to care for himself. And in the end, his final decline was sudden and heart-breaking.

He was a good man, a godly man. He was a strong Christian, an ordained minister, and a faithful husband, father, grandfather, and church member. He loved and poured himself out for children; he taught school for more than 2 decades and taught Sunday School for longer than that. He would drive around the neighborhood every Sunday morning for years, picking up kids in the station wagon to bring over so that he and my grandmother could teach them Bible stories and songs, give them snacks, help them do little art and craft projects, and let them know that they are loved by God. I can’t imagine how many hundreds or even thousands of young lives my grandparents touched over the decades.

My grandfather’s hope in life and death was firmly and securely in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as his Savior. And now, my grandfather is enjoying the presence of his Lord, without pain or disease, without the encumbrances and restraints of mortality and frailty.

I miss him.

For almost my entire life, I’ve lived a thousand miles away from my grandparents, so I don’t have the “every Sunday” or “every holiday” memories with extended family that others do. But I have some very clear and very warm memories over the years of time spent with my grandparents. My favorite was how he used to give the biggest, tightest bear hugs. He wasn’t muscular, but he was as wiry and tough in physicality as he was tender and warm in spirit.

He had a playful sense of humor, which was often incredibly dry and subtle. He told good jokes. (That’s one of the things I love about my dad, as well: how he almost can’t contain himself when he tells a joke.) And I remember my grandfather’s laugh after telling a joke: silent, mouth open, bobbing up and down slightly.

(One of my touchstone “embarrassing” memories was when I misunderstood a joke he made and he had to explain himself; I was 10 and he probably forgot it immediately, but for some reason, that one memory sticks with me–one of those silly moments I cringe about from time to time, just to myself. I don’t know why that one memory sticks, but there you go.)

There is so much more to say about him, so many more memories to share. But that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m sharing this for two very simple reasons this afternoon:

First, I wanted to emphasize that my family is mourning this week, but we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. It’s not some vague, “we-hope-we-see-you-again” wish, either. When my grandfather’s body was laid to rest in the ground yesterday morning, my family was planting him there with the full knowledge that one day, that very ground will break apart and his physical body will be resurrected and restored to life, when Jesus comes back to call His people to Himself. Our hope–our only hope–is found in Jesus alone: in His sacrificial death to pay the penalty for our sins, in His glorious resurrection to give us the promise that we too will be raised up to life. If you are afraid of death, or unsure of what happens next, I’d be happy to talk to you about the hope you’re missing. Please, please ask.

Second, I want to encourage you: reach out to the family members you haven’t talked to recently, especially the older ones. When I first heard that my grandfather passed away, what hit me most was a very palpable and deep regret that I didn’t keep in close contact over the last few years. He wouldn’t have the chance to hold my daughter as an infant or toddler. While I “knew” that he wouldn’t be around forever (at least in this life), I kept putting off regular phone calls and emails. I got busy with the “urgent” things in my immediate vision. Whenever I would be reminded that I haven’t talked to my grandparents recently, I would feel sincerely guilty, and say to myself, “Oh man, yeah, I should get on that. Maybe next weekend…” Now, that window has closed. It’s now incumbent upon me to make up that lost time with my Sweetie of a grandmother, for all the years we are blessed to continue having her here.

Can I encourage you to take some time this weekend and make that phone call you have been putting off, that video chat, that visit to a grandparent or aunt or even your parents? We don’t know how long we have in this life with the people we love. As long as we have a chance, let’s take those opportunities to check in, to share the family news, or just to say “I love you.”

Sorry to end this week on a bit of a downer, but that’s what’s going on with me.

I hope you have a great weekend, and that you have a chance to tell those closest to you (or perhaps distant from you) that you love them.

We’ll see you back here next week!

Happy New Year! Here’s What’s Next.

Hey, y’all!

I only have a few minutes left on my lunch break, but I wanted to check in and say hi!

Programming Note: On Friday, I’ll share something a little more personal, instead of my usual #FridayFive. Next week, I’ll talk a little bit more about my 2019 reading challenge (which my very wise wife suggested I cut down from a very ambitious #100Stories to a more realistic #50Stories–but hey, no reason to stop at 50 if I make it, right?). We may also chat a bit about internet outrage, in light of my 2019 goal to use social media for the good of others. We’ll jump back in with the weekly #FridayFive next weekend. I’ve also got some pretty fun news to share in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that.

In other words, I’m excited about upcoming posts this month, and I hope you are, too!

But for now, I just wanted to kick off 2019 by saying thanks again for reading, and I look forward to sharing ideas and interacting with you this year!

What are you most looking forward to in 2019? Let me know in the comments!

My 2018 Reading List and Top Five Favorite Reads of the Year!

Happy New Year’s Eve, friends!

The end of the calendar year means a look back at my 2018 reading, so I present for your consideration my 2018 reading list!
January

  • The ESV Reader’s Bible: Pentateuch

March

  • A Little Book About the Christian Life – John Calvin
  • The ESV Reader’s Bible: Historical Books
  • The World-Tilting Gospel – Dan Phillips
  • The Gospel According to Jesus – John MacArthur
  • On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness – Andrew Peterson (audio)

April

  • North! Or Be Eaten – Andrew Peterson
  • The Monster in the Hollows – Andrew Peterson

May

  • The Imperfect Disciple – Jared Wilson
  • The ESV Reader’s Bible: Poetry
  • S. – JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst
  • Sing! – Keith and Krysten Getty
  • The Warden and the Wolf King – Andrew Peterson

June

  • Real Artists Don’t Starve – Jeff Goins

July

  • Finish! — Jon Acuff
  • Smallville Season 11 Vols. 1 and 2 (Guardian and Detective) –Various
  • God at Work – Gene Veith
  • American Assassin – Vince Flynn
  • The Keto Reset Diet – Mark Sisson
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress — John Bunyan
  • Pops – Michael Chabon

August

  • Side Hustle – Chris Gillebeau
  • ESV Reader’s Bible: Prophets

September

  • Fantasy Life — Matthew Berry

October

  • From Death to Life — Allen Nelson
  • Day of War — Cliff Graham
  • After the Fire — Will Hill
  • ESV Reader’s Bible: Gospels and Acts
  • The Exemplary Husband — Dr. Stuart Scott
  • What is Reformed Theology? — RC Sproul

November

  • Wingfeather Tales – AP, ed.
  • Elevation – Stephen King
  • ESV Readers Bible: Epistles and Revelation

December

  • Illusion – Frank Peretti
  • Katharina and Martin Luther – Michelle Derusha
  • Why the Nations Rage – Jonathan Leeman

Totals: 37 volumes (6 volumes of Scripture, 14 fiction titles, 17 non-fiction titles)

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My Top Five Favorite Reads of 2018

(For the record, I’m not counting the Bible in this list, for obvious reasons. Just assume I enjoyed that greatly.)

The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson — I don’t know if there’s anything else I can say that I haven’t said already. This fantasy series is an absolute delight to read and I commend it to you most heartily. (And to be fair to the other books, I’m counting all 5 in this first slot.)

Day of War, by Cliff Graham — I grew up reading historical/Biblical fiction, and Graham’s books should rank among the best of the genre. This first volume of Graham’s “Lion of War” series is a first-rate adventure, and his battle sequences are as thrilling as any in fiction.

What is Reformed Theology? by RC Sproul — This classic volume from the late and much-missed Dr. Sproul is a must-read for anyone who is studying Reformed theology or wants to understand the “Doctrines of Grace” better.

Side-Hustle, by Chris Gillebeau — I have to admit, part of the reason I am including this one is because the podcast that it inspired is a regular listen for me. Gillebeau provides practical direction for anyone wanting to start a side-business, and includes lots of interesting stories to inspire and challenge new entrepreneurs.

The Keto Reset Diet, by Mark Sisson — My final selection is this must-read volume for anyone looking into the ketogenic diet. I’m giving it a slot on this list particularly because I’m about to reread it, as I get back on track with my eating and exercise in the coming weeks. If it’s worth revisiting, it’s worth recommending.

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Okay, friends–your turn! What were some of your top reads of 2018?

Let us know in the comments below!

#FridayFive: Five Goals for 2019 (12/28/2018)

Happy Mid-Holiday Week, friends! (Or if you prefer, Happy Fourth Day of Christmas–hope you are enjoying your 4 French hens, preferably in a warm and delicious soup!)

Since we are fast approaching the start of a new year, everyone in the world is ready to post their resolutions for 2019, things they hope to accomplish in the next 12 months. Well, call me a bandwagoner if you like, but I also came up with a few goals for the next year that I hope to pursue (and would appreciate your encouragement for, if you don’t mind!). These aren’t quite set in stone, yet–they’re just some ideas I’m considering:

I want to kick the sugar habit. Y’all, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs, but sugar and caffeine are my addictions of choice–and I’m not giving up caffeine anytime soon. I was doing pretty well on the ketogenic diet for about 5 months this year, but I used some life circumstances as an excuse to slide off the path. I quit working out, I started eating carbs again like I used to, and I’m probably staring at a gain of 15-20 pounds in the last 8 weeks. So I’m going to enjoy the holiday treats and sugary cereals for a few more days and then toss what’s left on Tuesday. It’s time to get serious again. I have a specific weight loss goal in mind for this year and next, and the clock is ticking. Cutting out the processed sugars and carby treats is a big, big part of that.

I want to pray every day. Last year was the first year that I read through the Bible between January and December, and while it would be neat to do that again, I think a better goal for me (besides daily Bible intake) is daily prayer. This is an area of my walk with Jesus that really needs to grow, especially considering the new ministry opportunities I may be stepping into next month. I know there is no tip or trick other than just doing it. I’ve downloaded the apps, I’ve read the books, but unless I’m willing to do it, really do it, nothing will change. So I’m praying for the desire to pray more.

I want to use Twitter to benefit others. Some of you may remember that many of us recently mourned the passing of Donna Guy, the “Kindness Ninja.” Her example of using social media to be a blessing to others has really stayed with me, and I want to make an effort to use my social feeds, specifically Twitter, to be an encouragement. I’m still trying to figure out what that will look like, but I want to make sure that anyone reading through my tweets comes away wanting to know Jesus better, not just wanting to win giveaways or read my online content.

I want to write a lot more than I did this year. I was able to get into a bit of a blogging groove toward the end of this year, so I’d like to keep that going, but beyond that, I want to get back to my first love of writing fiction. Part of the reason I’m kicking around this #100Stories idea is that I want to explore the short-story format and work on some short material that I can offer to you (via a mailing list or something like that) and/or compile and publish as an e-book. In any case, I’m looking forward to making writing a daily practice instead of a 2-3-times-a-week exercise.

(I think) I want to become an early riser. I’ve read over and over and over again that people who make a habit of going to bed early and getting up before the sun often find the time to accomplish their goals and become more successful. For years, I considered myself a “night owl” and found that staying up late seemed to work best for me. But now as a husband and father, I’m realizing that late nights are just not tenable when you have a toddler, and it may be better to claim a few extra hours at the start of my day to pursue my goals (like the ones above). My noted hesitation is that I know making this circadian shift isn’t easy or fun, but if it’s worth it, then I just need to push through until I get it right.

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Did you accomplish any 2018 resolutions? Do you have any goals for 2019? Any advice for my 5 goals above?

Let me know in the comments below!

DNF: 4 Books I Gave Up on in 2018

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In my younger years, I would NEVER give up on a book halfway-through. I can only think of 2 books I tried to read before I was 18 that I chose not to finish because I was offended by the content or language.

When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the misguided notion that it was somehow wrong or bad to quit reading a book if it didn’t interest me or I didn’t have time. It took me a few years, but I finally came to realize that life is too short to slog through books you don’t care about reading.

So this year, while I have finished most of the books I began reading, there have been a handful of books that I started but decided not to finish for one reason or another:

  • The Loneliness of the Black Republican, by Leah Wright Rigueur — I may actually come back to this one at some point in the future. The premise intrigues me, since it challenges the unspoken assumption that all African-Americans do or should or must support the Democratic Party. However, the book is written at a pretty high academic level, and when I tried to read it back in February, I was not ready to keep up with Rigueur’s rigorous analysis. After struggling for about 30 pages to follow her initial arguments, I threw in the towel. She won’t catch me off-guard next time.
  • Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero — I figured this premise was a winner: A group of kids who became locally famous as a detective team (like the Scooby Doo gang) are haunted by something they discovered during their last case years ago. Now adults, the surviving members of the team (and the ghost of the non-surviving member) return to a haunted lake where a mysterious evil lurks–and it’s not just an old man wearing a monster-mask. And yet…it didn’t work for me. To be honest, it could have, but some of the narrative choices the author made bugged me, as well as the way he wrote some of the adult characters. I got about halfway through the book and realized I wasn’t having nearly as much fun as I had hoped, so I cashed in my chips and moved on.
  • The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing, by Zachary Petit — This is a helpful field guide from the good folks at Writer’s Digest about the ins and outs of freelance writing, particularly in the world of print and online short-form content creation. The style of the book is funny and light, and the information looked really helpful, but I realized after about 70 pages that it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for when I picked it up this fall. I had been gathering information about how to juggle side-work while keeping my day job, but since I wasn’t doing content creation, it wasn’t a good fit. I think it would be a great resource for anyone who’s entering the freelance writing market, so it’s worth checking out if that’s what you need.
  • Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts, by Jaron Lanier — You’re probably thinking that I didn’t finish this book because I am deep in the throes of social media addiction. Well, you’re… Look, you’re not wrong, necessarily, but that’s not the reason, okay? As it happens, right before I started this book, I was listening to an episode of the podcast “Table of (Mal)Contents.” The hosts were discussing books that “should have stayed a blog post or TED Talk”–popular (and sometimes best-selling) titles that are basically an inflated repackaging of earlier content, puffed up by repetition or illustration to reach “book” length. Well, I don’t know if Jaron Lanier gave a TED talk about deleting social media, but this 150-page book felt about 120 pages too long. It’s not that he had bad ideas, or that he was necessarily wrong. The book was just thin. After the first 2 or 3 chapters, I skimmed the rest of it. Other than some cheap shots at political parties and politicians he disagrees with, Lanier doesn’t provide anything groundbreaking here. (In fact, if you would actually like to watch a really good TED talk on the subject of quitting social media, this talk by Cal Newport is excellent.)

I think there have been a few more, but these are 4 books that I checked out on, this year. (Note: I didn’t include the handful of books that I’m still reading and just didn’t quite finish before entering 2019. I’ll add those to my 2019 reading list!)

What about you? Are there any books that you decided to quit reading this year? Or are you the type of reader who perseveres no matter what? Let me know in the comments!

Merry Christmas, Here’s to Many More.

Happy Christmas Eve, friends! I don’t have much to talk about today. We are now in the full-court-press of holiday preparation and festivities, getting ready to spend tomorrow morning with my folks. My toddler has been particularly rambunctious and playfully destructive around the house this week. We’re dog-sitting a very young and vocal pup for some friends of ours. All of this means I don’t have any deep or contemplative meditations on the holiday for you this year.

This year, I’ll just leave you with this:

I’m a Christian, which means this holiday is not about Santa Claus and stockings hung with care, talking snowmen and red-nosed reindeer. It’s not even about the fact that Die Hard is most definitely a Christmas movie, or that It’s a Wonderful Life is possible one of the best films ever made, period.

It’s about the fact–the historical fact–that Jesus the Christ was born in Bethlehem. It’s about the cosmic reality that Eternal God took on flesh and tabernacled among us. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God came near. He is with us. And He did so not merely to teach us how to love one another or to encourage peace among men. The baby Jesus grew into the perfect and sinless man Jesus, who laid down His life (no one can take it from Him unless He lays it down) as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of all whom He would redeem. Jesus the God-man, the second member of the Trinity, the Messiah of Israel, died for His people, all His people from all the nations. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement that brought us peace was upon him. By His stripes, we are healed.

Jesus bled, Jesus died, and Jesus rose. It is finished. The war is won. The dragon is vanquished. And Jesus the King, the Lamb who was slain and is yet alive, walked triumphantly out of the tomb, carrying the crushed head of the giant He conquered.

Now, in the millenia since that stone rolled away, we must bear with the death rattle and the flailing gasps of a defeated devil. But the prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for Him. His rage we can endure for lo, his doom is sure.

This week, as you “rejoice, rejoice,” you sons and daughters of true Israel, take heart and have peace because Immanuel has come and is here and will return in triumph.

And if you are still reading, and all of this talk of Jesus’ death is strange and awkward and weird to you, know this: my hope and prayer for you this Christmas is that you would meet Jesus, truly meet Jesus, and come to know Him as Savior and Lord this year. If you want to talk to me about that, I would love that. Hit me up on Twitter (@the4thdave) or email me (the4thdave at gmail dot com) with any questions you have. It would be a gift to me to get to talk to you about this.

(Okay, I guess I had more to say than I thought!)

Merry Christmas, fam. God bless you.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

black and gray angel statue decor
Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Pexels.com

Growing up, my family never had any “Advent” traditions. We never went to churches that celebrated or even really acknowledged the season of Advent (other than the pun of “The Christmas ADVENTure” children’s activity event a week or so before Christmas). While my current church doesn’t have any set Advent teaching or programming, we have been singing Christmas songs more regularly during worship over the last month, but that’s about it.

I haven’t been in much of a Christmas mood this year, to be honest. I know the day is just around the corner, but it just hasn’t felt Christmas-y. We hardly decorated around the house this year, and it’s just…I don’t know. We’re busy. Tired. Fighting off winter illnesses. We even missed going to our church’s “Christmas celebration service” because the kiddo was sick and my wife and I were both wiped out as well. On top of that, work has been a bear this season, and it’s just… *shrug* Anyway. No matter how much “holly jolly” music I listen to in the car or around the house, I haven’t felt all that merry and bright–with one exception.

A few weeks ago, we sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in church. As soon as I uttered that first line, my heart thrilled and I felt chills up and down my spine. My spirit resonated with that longing. I felt that ache. No, I haven’t suffered under the cruelty of foreign occupation or strained against economic oppression. The circumstances of my life are extremely blessed, and I have it very easy in many respects. But nevertheless, my heart feels weary this year. My mind is taxed. I am longing for the Kingdom of God and the end of the darkness.

And yet.

The Kingdom is here. Now. The wriggling form of a baby in a manger, the agonized moans of an innocent man nailed to a wooden cross, the charged and energized stillness of an empty garden tomb are all evidence of this good news.

The Kingdom invaded earth. The revolution has already begun. And the petty little conflicts I face every day are actually part of a war against the darkness that has already been won, as the Champion of Heaven has slain the bloody giant and redeemed for Himself a people for His own possession.

The good news that I have been given the privilege to proclaim is that God-with-us has ransomed us. Unholy rebels who have sinned against their Creator have been offered forgiveness and adoption as sons and daughters. Because of the great love of God, we who deserve destruction may instead have life.

Sometimes, that proclamation begins by reminding the man in my mirror that there is hope. There is hope. There is hope.

We are not alone. God is with us.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has ransomed you, sons and daughters of the true Israel.