Category Archives: Life

Book Review: Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations (2016 edition), by Alex & Brett Harris

Do Hard ThingsI’ll be honest. While looking for a new book to review, I saw “Foreword by Chuck Norris” on the front cover of Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex & Brett Harris, so I had to request it. I don’t have a Total Gym®, so why not a book promoted by the roundhouse-loving Texas Ranger? I didn’t know anything about the book or the Harris brothers, but too many legendary Chuck Norris jokes were running through my head to keep my choice rational. I don’t know why I expected something more from a foreword—I do know…because it’s Chuck Norris—but the two-page intro pretty much said, “I know these kids. They’re cool. Do hard stuff. *roundhouse to the face*” Okay, so there was no kicking involved (would have been a cool flip-book animation to add to the corners of the book’s pages), but that would’ve made it better. But really, this has nothing to do with the book, so on to it.

This is the second reprint of a 2008 book written by a couple Christian teenage brothers (to Christians, but not just for Christians) who hate the word “teenager,” desire us to drop that idea from our culture, and get kids to grow up and do more. That’s cool, and I’m on board with discontinuing adolescence into our 30s in the US. However, I would encourage young folk to think more about their choices than do the authors who chastise people who discovered they were going to help a different political campaign than the one for which they signed up. Running a political campaign may be a “hard thing,” but we should think about whether or not we believe in the hard things we’re attempting. This is just one example of many, but indicative of the easily misguided nature of youth, even when they’re gung-ho about taking on challenges and doing more.

I don’t think the authors make the best of connections with Scripture and their examples, but they are (were) teenagers running with their upbringing and not so much wrestling with the real context of Scripture. These guys do want us to glorify God in all we do, and to that end I think they encourage the reader well.

In this third edition only a few stories have been added in an appendix. The brothers have not changed the original text at all, which they think is a good thing. It still reads like it’s written by teenagers, so if that’s desired, then I guess it’s a good thing. I probably would have updated it a bit and taken more care with all the non-profit organization examples that don’t really consider economic and social implications but focus more on how good the ones working in it feel when “helping” others. (I recommend When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself for those interested in non-profits and foreign aid.)

Alex’s gospel message in “Appendix A” is overly simplistic and lacking important points, but it simply stems from his faith tradition, which is expected. Again, something I would have changed.

Overall, it may be inspiring for some youth (it obviously has been for eight years), but the stories and examples may prove tedious and longwinded for some. I would have put it down after Part 1 of 3 if I’d not been committed to reviewing it.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind & Soul, by Ruth Soukup

UnstuffedPerhaps the most honest, down-to-earth, practical text I’ve read on removing clutter and simplifying multiple areas of one’s life, Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind & Soul by Ruth Soukup reveals raw, vulnerable, and helpful experience and advice easily relatable and applicable to a broad audience. Soukup doesn’t dwell on the home or physical “stuff” exclusively, delving with equal emphasis into equally important aspects of one’s life, some of which include one’s time, energy, relationships, and the necessity of relying on God’s grace in all things.

Soukup lets her readers know from the start that “this book is not a step-by-step guide on how to declutter your home” (21), demonstrating primarily through narration the importance of decluttering (something with which she continues to wrestle), but embedding throughout the text many straightforward tips and plans for doing just that. This all-around great resource may be accompanied by an app (Unstuffed) that may help one practice what is learned. (I’ve not tested the app’s usefulness, so feel free to comment and let others know how it works if interested.)

To further emphasize my recommendation of Unstuffed, the review on my blog with the most traffic, receiving hits everyday from around the world, is that for Simplify by Bill Hybels, which I very much do not recommend. Unstuffed is everything that book wants to be and more. I will be updating my reviews of Simplify on multiple sites with a recommendation for Unstuffed. Kudos, Soukup, and blessings on your continued blessing to others.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Cure: A Journey Into the Science of Mind Over Body, by Jo Marchant

CureScience journalist Jo Marchant (PhD in genetics and medical microbiology) has just released Cure: A Journey Into the Science of Mind Over Body, a much-needed look into the real science of how one’s mind can and does affect one’s physiology. Often disregarded as immeasurable and unscientific, the connection between the mind and body has had a hard time penetrating the skeptical walls of those wholly reliant on the modern scientific method. Marchant, however, eloquently makes a compelling case for not only its inclusion in serious scientific research but also the naivety of those who place problems in only one of two categories: mental (see a psychiatrist) and physical (see an MD), arguing that these should be bridged in order to further the scientific medical community. One need not be an academic or medical scholar to read this text—see the plethora of footnotes for that kind of information—but the information is not so dumbed down that those of that ilk will be disappointed; there’s plenty here for everyone.

The case studies found in Cure are beyond intriguing—what we’ve discovered about placebos alone may stretch the reader’s mind beyond its level of comfort. We know so little about the mind, but the more we study it the more we see just how great its influence is on the body, whether through intentional or unintentional means, consciously or subconsciously. Marchant does not believe in anything spiritual, but she does not deny the influence certain behaviors and beliefs have on the mind and, therefore, the body, which should be of interest to believers and nonbelievers alike.

I’ve found that Marchant’s approach may be equally as helpful for those who place their faith in the modern scientific method as for those who place it elsewhere. As a Christian whose faith is in God but who also sees the benefit of the Enlightenment period and birth of modern science but also sees its limitations, I found myself saying, “Well, duh,” a few times, but also, “Whoa! What?!” I have to admit, after reading through the first three chapters I was ready to write to a few people and say, “Get this book now.” The information on placebos alone (specifically in relation to Lupus) has given me a whole new hope for some people. The applications of the information found in this text are virtually limitless.

One experiment made participants aware from the start that they were taking placebos—they were all taking placebos—but it still improved their situation simply by tricking the brain. Granted, much of what we’re talking about is purely addressing symptoms, but often times relieving those can allow the real problem to surface and heal. And, of course, without proper physical treatment tricking the mind into thinking the body is okay will simply cause it to die due to ignoring the real issue—thinking your blood has enough oxygen and actually having enough are two very different things!

This isn’t a “how to” book, but it is informative and should raise awareness as Marchant intends. She writes in her conclusion, “My hope, then, is that this book might help to overcome some of the prejudice against mind-body approaches, and to raise awareness that taking account of the mind in health is actually a more scientific and evidence-based approach than relying ever more heavily on physical interventions and drugs” (254). I hope so, too.

Highly recommended.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy, by Chris Bailey

The Productivity ProjectChris Bailey spent a year experimenting with and blogging on productivity, and has now released a subsequent work entitled The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy offering advice and methods he still uses (noted in a concluding chapter a year after completing the formal manuscript) to be more productive—not to be confused with busy. Chris lays down his initial foundation by defining productivity as “how much you accomplish” (13), not how much you do, thereby pointing out that being busy is not necessarily being productive. Thereafter, Chris begins by asking his reader to determine what he or she truly values—think about it and write them down—because that’s where one should invest time, attention, and energy in being productive. This is key because it will determine the way in which the rest of the book is used.

With a slight Buddhist influence, which itself is very inward and self-focused, Chris’s motivation for being productive is to be able to do more for himself and eliminates things that get in the way of that or simply do not make him happy (e.g., he notes the number of hours per week he intentionally spends on various aspects of life in order to be productive, and little priority is given to relationships, but he continues to eat foods and drink alcohol that reduce productivity because he enjoys them and will not give up certain pleasures for the sake of 100% efficiency—perfectly okay, but indicative of his value system). I imagine most of my readers will not share Chris’s worldview nor use his methods in the same way, but that does not mean they are unhelpful and cannot be applied. Again, he begins with values for a reason, and we’re all going to differ there from the start.

I appreciate much of what Chris has to offer, especially his points on energy management versus time management—no one can control or manage time any more or less than anyone else! I will certainly be paying more attention to my energy cycles and adjusting when (if) I use caffeine for best effect, whether to be energized or prepare for a crash to get better sleep.

Whether one measures productivity in achieving a daily word count (Chris) or developing relationships some may perceive as counterproductive encouraging a decrease in happiness, Chris’s insights can be helpful in making better use of one’s time and energy toward those ends. This book will likely be most helpful to those who have flexible control over their lives (young, single, childless, and self-employed, like Chris), but anyone can use it. I think it would actually benefit employers an entrepreneurs in better understanding their employees and molding business around people’s strengths rather than a traditional 9–5 push (or whatever the case may be).

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Church, Life Groups, and Family: Be Fruitful and Multiply

What is the relationship between life groups and churches, and what is their purpose?

First, let’s begin by defining some terms in contemporary, Christian language:

  • Church: A group of Christians committed to one another in worship and service to God meeting together on a regular basis (usually every Sunday).
  • Life Group (also known as a cell group, small group, etc.): A group of people committed to one another in worship and service to God meeting together on a regular basis.

What?

Right. This is why some people don’t really care for life groups, and why some life groups don’t really care for “church”: They are seemingly identical. So, how do we differentiate between the two? Hierarchical language may help one to understand the order of the two (a life group is a subgroup of a church), but that’s often not very satisfactory in determining whether they are practically and functionally distinct. After all, if they are not, why do we care to have both? Wow, that’s a great question! I know, right?!

Since we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ—we’re all part of a family in this kingdom of God—let’s approach the subject in relational terms, or more specifically, familial terms.

The universal inclusion of all Christians is referred to as the body of Christ, which is often referred to as the universal (catholic, not to be confused with “Catholic”) church (gathering or assembly). We all stem from Adam, so we’re already “family” in one sense, but we take another step by being connected through the promise of Abraham in the messianic king and lord of all, Jesus, through whom we are all children of God and a collective bride by the shedding of his blood. (Yes, we are “blood” relatives!) So, think of this universal family as the extended family you sometimes hear about but more likely than not have no real connection—your fourth cousin twice removed, the great grandmother of your uncle by marriage, and that one branch in the tree no one really wants to claim: they’re all family, even if you’ve never met them.

Then there’s the extended family you see sometimes at Thanksgiving, Christmas, family reunions, and the like. This can be quite large or quite small, all depending on the family dynamic and number of twigs on the branches. For me, this would have included grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, siblings, nephews, and nieces. For you, there may be “greats” thrown in the mix, or those “seconds” and “thirds” that most of us don’t even understand. For some it’s as simple as a single parent and maybe a sibling. The point is, our close extended family is really going to vary in size, but we have a relatively closer relationship with and have at least an inkling of what’s going in in the lives of this particular family group. This is your local church! And just like there’s often a few matriarchs and patriarchs who tend to set the pace and guide these families and events, we have shepherds who guide the flock of the church.

For really small families, that’s often where the depth of intimacy ends. There is no smaller grouping within the family; there is no smaller gathering within the church. There are a number of reasons for this, but figuring that out isn’t the point of this particular discussion.

For many of us, though, there’s a big difference between the extended family with whom we watch football on Thanksgiving and our immediate family with whom we tend to live much of our lives. We’re a smaller family within the larger family. This is the life group of a church. And just as our immediate families tend to have one or two who lead the family, the same can be said for these small subgroups of our churches.

My immediate family included two parents, a brother, and two sisters for the earliest part of my life. However, a time came when we all got married, had our own families, and were too big for the roost. (There’s a lot that can be said here about adoption and the inclusion of those who become part of our “family” outside the scope of blood and a legal system, but I’ll let you work through those connections on your own!) We eventually had different needs, goals, and directions. We had to split.

What?!

Now, you know no one ever says that when families multiply, divide, and continue to multiply. That doesn’t mean we’re no longer family and don’t talk to one another, but it does mean our focus shifted more on our own families and social circles. Such is the case with these subgroups in churches! Some of us get really comfortable with the same group of people and never want to grow in numbers and never want to split. That happens. But we hope that somewhere there is this kind of growth, division, and multiplication, all for the sake of the kingdom of God!

So, division can be a good thing, especially when it leads to multiplication. That’s what God expected from creation in the beginning, and I think we can apply the same principle to the church.

So, are you saying we have life groups within life groups? Does a church have a church that has a church that has a church?

Okay, you’ve found where the analogy starts to break down a bit. Remember, not all families are the same, and not all local churches are the same. This is okay (really!). They’re going to do things differently and at different paces. Here’s what I think we can take away from the family analogy from this point on:

People groups can grow to the point where there is no real connection between smaller groups or individuals. Even when smaller groups have deep relationships, they are utterly disconnected from the majority of the larger population. At some point a decision needs to be made regarding quantity, quality, depth of relationship, and whatever else you want to name that becomes a factor in the life (and quality thereof!) of the given people group. Our churches will need to work through these same dilemmas. There may come a time when there are so many life groups (or people in general) that a new local church is birthed from them. This is good division leading to an increase in the kingdom! There’s always room for heartbreak, mourning, and a number of levels of sadness, just as there is when kids move out, get married, and even move to the other side of the world—parents will be parents, and kids will be kids. This is part of life, this is part of families, and this is part of the universal church. But there is also rejoicing and celebration at new births and seeing kids out on their own (especially when responsibility for them has been lifted, right?)! This, too, is part of life, families, and the universal church.

You still didn’t answer my question about churches having churches…

Well, I did…kinda. Jesus is the head of his body, the church. I don’t think local churches should be over or have other local churches—I just don’t see that kind of hierarchy as necessary or prescribed in Scripture, if you’re looking for that. So, just as my parents still speak into my life, they only lead and guide in so far as I allow and accept it. But the amazing thing is that I am able to speak into their lives, as well! We have a common goal in glorifying God and mutual respect as adults. This, too, is how I believe our local congregations should work together in the larger family.

Our churches should be living entities pulsating with the desire to heat up, grow, and multiply, just as our families do. If we don’t multiply, a part of the family eventually dies off. Our churches are no different.

May God continue to bless you, your churches, and your churches yet to come!