How To Read a Book

If you’re like me, you’ve got a stack of books just waiting to be read. And there’s nothing more satisfying than that last page. You close it up and put it back on your bookshelf. But what happens then? Did you really understand what you read? And how can you use what you learned? For many of us, getting from the first page to the last page is all that matters. But people who are lifelong learners take a different approach. They read books differently than the rest of us, and it shows! Here are 5 tips for getting the most out of your reading.

1. What’s the Big Idea?

When you start reading a book, keep one thing in mind: What’s the main idea? What’s the author trying to say or prove or explain? If you read close enough you’ll know because they’ll tell you. Sometimes it’s as easy as finding a sentence that says “This book is meant to” or “I hope to prove that.” But sometimes that main idea is a little harder to find. It hides behind a story or in the middle of a paragraph about the author’s research.

Once you find that main idea, underline it or – better yet – writer it down in a journal. In fact, having a reading journal is a great way to keep track of what you’re reading and what the author is saying.

2. Where Are We Going?

Read the table of contents. No, seriously. Read it. The table of contents is the map for the book. It shows you how the author plans on telling their story, what route they will take, and what topics they will discuss. Also, it lets you know how many pages it’s going to take to get there. Knowing all of this will help you plan out how, when, and where you will read the book. Tackle it all in one sitting? Go ahead. Need some more time? Fine, just choose which chapters you’ll read and when.

3. Don’t Skip the Introduction!

This is the author’s first chance to talk to you. If they’ve done their work right, then they’ve put their best foot forward and the introduction will be clear, concise, and fun to read. I know, I know…that’s not always the case. But don’t give in to the temptation to skip the introduction.

A good introduction gives you a taste of the author’s writing style, too. In fact, when you’re at a book store trying to find your next book, read through the introduction. If you like what you see, then it’s a good bet you’ll love the rest. (Also, many times Amazon and other booksellers will have the introduction available for preview on their website).

4. Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Even if you know the author, even if you’ve read some of their work before and liked it, even if they belong to some familiar circles, it’s so important that you don’t take everything they say at face value. I’ve seen books printed by prestigious academic presses that have typos in them. If they can’t use the right form of “there” in a book, couldn’t there be other errors too?

Every author has a bias that they bring to their book. Even if it’s a history book, they still have to make a decision about what information to include and what to leave out. In fact, every reader brings a certain bias to their reading, too. What do you know about the subject that either agrees or disagrees with the author? Use these biases when you read to either support or refute the author’s work.

5. Are We There Yet?

You know that main idea you underlined? That part of the book where the author tells you what route he’s taking you to the goal? Well, did you make it? In other words, did the author tell you what they told you they would tell you? And better yet, do you believe them? Or are there other conclusions you can make from the evidence they presented?

Here’s where keeping a reading journal really helps out. As you read, go back and check if the author is being consistent. Make sure their arguments are actually valid. You may even need to read the – GASP! – footnotes. But if you really want to get the most out of a book, you have to read it with a critical mind.

Well, there you go. Whether it’s a religious book, devotional book, history book, or a cookbook, I hope you feel more confident reading that tome from cover to cover and getting the most out of it.

What great book are you reading right now? What book do you want to go back and re-read with these tips in mind?

How To Do Almost Anything

What do you want to do? Wait – never mind, it doesn’t matter. Whatever you want to do – that big idea you’ve got – the sad truth is that it probably won’t happen. Ideas are great! But most ideas either never get off the ground because we don’t know the first thing to do with them, or they get shot down in flames when they hit the first winds of opposition.

I love big ideas, and I love people with big ideas. I love hearing what people want to do with their lives – it doesn’t matter what it is, I love seeing people make their dreams come true. So let me show you how to turn those ideas into reality. Here are 4 Steps to Do Almost Anything!


Do you dream? I have some of the most vivid dreams, especially when I’m really tired. I don’t buy into the dream psychology about meanings and signs. But I do love dreams! They’re like little sparks of our subconscious poking through to our conscious brains, trying to push ideas to the forefront. And when they explode, it’s amazing!

Set aside time to dream – and dream big! Don’t hold back; let the horizon be your boundary. Think of the most incredible thing you want to accomplish and don’t worry about the details. Just dream it!

#2 – GOAL IT

Okay, now you’ve got that dream. But it’s just a dream. I’m sorry to tell you this, but dreams don’t do anything. They just sit there in your mind. And if your mind is like my mind, it often gets distracted by the next big dream. So now, next step, turn that dream into a goal.

Write down your dream, and then do some research about it. Find out who else is doing what you’re dreaming of doing and figure out how they did it. Remember when I said don’t worry about the details? Well, here’s where you worry about the details.

What’s your next step? Do you need to get more education, more funds, or even more influence before it can move along? Maybe you have to sell your house and move to make it happen. Putting those things down on paper is what goal setting is really all about.


Now comes the tricky part. You’ve turned your dreams into goals, but so many people stop there. They now have a goal, but it’s not much more useful than a dream. The key is to schedule time every day to make it happen.

I heard a story about John Grisham, the famous author. He was a lawyer and hated being a lawyer so he decided he wanted to be a writer (DREAM). So, he figured out he needed to sit down at his typewriter and just write, that was the best way to become an author (GOAL). But he was so busy being a lawyer, how was he going to do it?

He decided to set aside one hour every morning before work to just work on writing. No matter how much or how little got done – one hour. Every day. And soon enough he had his first manuscript. And the rest is history!

Take your goals and schedule time on your calendar to do them. And then guard that calendar space! Don’t let anything else in that little square!

#4 – DO IT

We’ve dreamed big, set some goals, and even scheduled them. But we haven’t done anything yet, right? Goals without actions are just good ideas. They don’t do anything. We are responsible for making our dreams come true.

So what’s next? Do it. That’s it, just do it. Just get up, get out of bed or off you couch and do it!

And here’s the cool thing. Are you ready? You’re now doing whatever it is you want to do. If you want to be a writer – dream about that story, set some goals for your manuscripts, schedule time to write, and then DO IT! You want to be a baseball player – dream about the big leagues, set some goals for your training, schedule time to hit the diamond, and then DO IT!

Just like that, you’re doing whatever it is you want to do. It doesn’t matter how big or small, that idea you have is going to catch wings and fly!

What are some dreams you’ve had that never got off the ground? How can you go back and give them wings?

Discipline Leads to Discipline

A friend of mine is working on his doctorate. Okay, a lot of friends of mine are working on their doctorate. But this story is about a particular friend of mine. His wife told us that he takes one day a week – one full day – usually Thursday, and spends the entire day on his school work. He doesn’t go into the office, he doesn’t take a meeting in the middle of the day. It’s just sun up, sun down, read and write – get that doctorate done.

I admire that. First of all because he took a dream, turned it into a goal, then scheduled it and did it. But also because that sort of commitment takes discipline. And discipline is something I often lack.

But one trick I’ve been learning to be more disciplined is this: discipline leads to discipline. If you want to be disciplined in one area of your life, get disciplined in another area of your life.

Here’s how that works. With a tight budget, our family is often scraping by at the end of the month. That’s led us to make use of some fancy tools to keep our budget straight: a pen and paper. We write down every dollar we spend every day. That way we can keep better track of our spending and we won’t go over our budget…at least that’s the hope.

But being disciplined in that area of our life has made us more disciplined in other areas. We find ourselves more willing to wake up early and work out. We have more time to read more, to spend with the kids more. We’re more disciplined about our spiritual lives. Discipline leads to discipline.

When you’re disciplined in one area of life, you’ll develop disciplines in other areas of life.

Sometimes I’ll be working on a project and I’ve just hit a wall – I’m frazzled, I’m frizzled, I’m…just making up words now, aren’t I? You get the idea, I’m out of energy. So I get up and start working on something else – like straightening the books on my bookshelf or clearing out the clutter from my workshop.

I used to think those sorts of things were just distractions. Nope, Twitter is a distraction. Twitter is bad. But those other things are actually helpful. I’ll be working on another project and all of a sudden I’m filled with writing energy again! Here I go!!! That other act of discipline helped me better disciplined about another act I need to do.

Discipline is tough. But, discipline is healthy. And it’s also contagious. If you’re wanting to get disciplined in one area of your life – say, eating healthier – then try working on another discipline that may come easier – like limiting your time watching TV. Discipline leads to discipline.

What disciplines do you need to work on in your life? What areas of your life are easier to discipline than others?


Welcome to the Gap

We’ve all been there. As pastors, speakers, and communicators we study all week, planning and praying, writing and editing, and even some of us rehearse what we’ll say on Sunday morning. Then the day arrives. We put all our heart and soul into the message and fifteen minutes later – it never fails – someone will come up to us and say, “That was really great. I especially liked when you said ____.” Of course that blank is usually filled with something we didn’t say. Sometimes it’s the complete opposite of what we said!

This is the communication gap. It’s the distance between what we say and what people hear. It happens to all of us, but the best communicators close the communication gap.

So what can we do to close the gap? Here are four tips I have found helpful in my two decades of speaking.

1. Be Competent

Some of us are natural born communicators. Others of us have to work at it. Regardless, we all need to practice honing our craft. Yes, we’re talking about practice. But if we take our job as communicators seriously, we need to be as committed to practice as pro athletes are.

Practice means setting aside time each week to work on your speaking. That doesn’t mean “on the job practice.” Sunday morning is not the time to work on your skills, it’s the time to put it all together. Practice can mean rehearsing – in front of a mirror, on video, or to a small group of friends who can deliver feedback. It can also mean taking voice lessons or a public speaking class.

One of the easiest ways to practice is by observing other speakers, not just preachers but any communicator. One of my favorite things to do is watch stand-up comics communicate. I’ve learned a lot by watching someone make people laugh.

2. Be Clear

To close that gap, our message needs to be direct and to the point. One of my professors puts it this way: “Get in and get out.” Try this: have only one point for your sermon. I’m sure you were trained to use 3 points, but give it a shot.

By the end of your message your audience should be able to tell you clearly what your main idea was. How do you do that? By repeating your main idea over and over again. Repetition is the key. Repetition is the key.

Ask yourself this: What’s the one thing I want my audience to know and the one thing I want them to do? If you can’t answer that, then they probably can’t either. This is not unique to church settings. In fact TV commercials do this all the time, and they do it in 30 seconds or less! They quickly tell you what you need to know (Our product is great!) and what you need to do (Go buy our product!).

3. Be Concise

If you can’t say it in 15 minutes, don’t take 45 minutes trying to. To show that I take my own advice, that’s all I’ll say about that.

4. Be Creative

You have about 30 seconds at the beginning of your message to grab your audience’s attention and keep it. That means it’s a good idea to front load your message with creative elements. But don’t stop there. Creative elements within your message give your audience a chance to stop, catch their breath, and think again about what you’re saying.

Many times pastors will avoid creative elements because they don’t have a creative staff. Maybe they think if a creative element doesn’t include lights, sounds, and video it’s not worth doing. But a simple picture, an object lesson, or the telling of a great story are all easy ways to be creative. Video has been around for less than a century now, but creative public speaking has been around for millennia.

Creativity may mean you have to change your communication style or adapt to new technology. That means you need to go back to step 1 and go through the cycle again. Of course all great communicators are always working to hone their craft and be the best they can be.

I can’t guarantee that everyone who listens to your message will get it. There will still be some that are distracted, fiddle with their phones, or even fall asleep when you’re speaking. But if you follow these four steps – Be Competent, Be Clear, Be Concise, Be Creative – you’ll go a long way to closing the communication gap.

What are some times you’ve encountered the Communication Gap?

A Person, Not a Project

I tried growing a beard one time. Tried.

Let me just say, I’m not sure what kind of genes kept me from sprouting a full on beard, but I suspect it’s the 1/16 Native American that all of us Oklahomans claim to have in us. And it’s not like I’m all peach fuzzy or anything. I’ve been shaving since I was eleven years old. I was shaving every single day of the week by the time I was in middle school. But the beard on my face was a bit…spotty…a bit…blotchy.

I kept with it. I grew that thing all during No-Shave-November. I kept going all the way through the middle of December when my wife said, “I know what you can get me for a Christmas present: shave your face.”

So, my beard was a failed project. I’m not a “beard guy.” That’s genetic proof that I’m not a hipster, in my opinion. Good enough for me. I can wear my skinny tie with pride now knowing that I’m not a hipster. And like most failed projects, my beard taught me a few things – like who my real friends are (those that told me I looked ridiculous) and that a beard can get stuck in the zipper of my coat (ouch!).

I used to feel like a failed project a lot of times. I felt like the scattered whiskers on someone else’s face. I felt started and stopped, like I was doomed to a cycle of try – fail – repeat.

About a year ago I hit a wall. I realized that I couldn’t keep going if I really thought of myself that way. So, I got real deep down inside of myself and took a look around at some of the dark corners of my life, places where I hadn’t been in a while and had closed off and stopped thinking about. I found shame. I was ashamed of who I was.

And then I talked to God about it. Know what? He told me he wasn’t ashamed of me. He told me he was happy with who I was, even in the dark corners. He told me that I wasn’t a failed project, but that I was a fully formed, whole individual.

There’s an old song that says, “God’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.” That’s song is fine, as long as we understand that God’s never finished with us. He’s such a perfect builder, but he never stops building our lives. That tells me one thing: He doesn’t think of us as a project or a check on his To-Do list. He thinks of us as individual people whom he loves. We don’t have to achieve anything in order for him to love us.

God doesn’t view us as a means to an end – we are the end. He doesn’t view us as a prospect or a project. We are the product of his great love.

The process of growth in our lives involves us being honest about what’s wrong with us. But so often the process gets stalled and we’re left focusing on what’s wrong without any movement towards what’s good. We need a little boost, a slight shove into the goodness that we all contain as image-bearers of God. I hope I can be that boost or shove for people, because I can remember vividly many times in my life how I needed it.

Do you need a boost today, to remind you that you aren’t a project or prospect but a person? Who can you help shove back towards the goodness inside of them?

Building Teams That Work

LeBron James said it best: “Teamwork makes the dream work.” If you don’t already have a team that helps you with creative ideas or message content, you need to start. Two are better than one, and other people bring insight you’ve never even thought of.

But not every team works. Over the course of my time in church ministry I’ve worked with plenty of teams. There have been good teams, bad teams, and teams that were so ugly they ended in shouting matches and hurt feelings. The key is to assemble the right team before you even begin.

Here are some keys to make sure your team works!

1. Find People Who Are Passionate About The Church

It’s actually easy to find people in your church who are creative. No matter the size of your congregation, chances are someone has a background in drama, writing, art, or music. What’s not so easy to find is passion, especially passion for church.

In today’s culture, the church seems to have taken a beating. Some of that criticism is justified. But it’s this complicated, imperfect grouping of people from different walks and ways of life that we call “Church” that God is using to bring people back to him. So look for people who are as passionate about the church’s mission as you are.

2. Find People Who Think Like You Do

Some people like to get a big team together and throw out as many ideas as possible. Others only want two or three people on a team who really focus their ideas in one direction. No one way is better than another, and it’s up to the leader to decide how best to generate ideas and produce results.

Understanding how the leader thinks is important. No matter what, the team should reflect that leader’s style. If you’re a free thinker, surround yourself with people that can easily throw out fresh ideas every five minutes. If you’re a focused thinker, surround yourself with people who are analytical and task-oriented. Whatever thinking style you have, make sure the team can work well with that.

3. Find People Who Are Different Than You

Having said that, you also need the opposite. Look around at the people on your team. Do they all look alike, dress alike? Do they all live in the same neighborhood? Do they all share the same hobbies? Then it may be time to overhaul that team.

Having people on your team who are different than you will help you develop multiple viewpoints for your messages. Think about who your audience is. Hopefully it’s made up of people of different races, ages, and backgrounds. Make sure your team is representative of those differences.

In most churches, the men outnumber the women in leadership. However, in the pews it’s the complete opposite. For a male pastor, getting a woman’s perspective is vital in connecting with the women in the congregation. Don’t neglect this just because it’s always been done a certain way.

4. Find People Who Will Tell You “No”

The worst thing you can do is have a team that’s afraid to tell you when you’re wrong. If all they’re doing is rubber-stamping your ideas, then all your ideas will get through – even the bad ones.

You also need to make sure you can tell your team “no.” Be honest with your team. If someone has a bad idea, don’t tell them, “I like that!” and then do nothing with it. It’s so frustrating to give good ideas, be told they’re good ideas, and then not see them used.

If you like the idea and you intend to use it, tell them. If you don’t want to use it say, “I like that, but how can we make it even better?” If you don’t like the idea, just be honest. It usually takes a few bad ideas before the good ones start rolling anyway.

5. Find People Who Are Committed

Finally, make sure your team is committed to the mission and vision of your church. If they aren’t, then you could face rebellion. Also, when you assign action items at the end of meetings, make sure this is a team that will fulfill those items.

Above all, don’t let fear stand in the way of using a team approach to planning content and creative elements for your messages. I know pastors who are lone wolves, who would rather do everything by themselves rather than share the workload and possibly encounter delays or imperfections. That’s a great recipe for burnout!

But working with a team is really great when you have the right team in place. And by following these simple keys, I’m sure you’ll find the best people for your team!

How do you find people for your team? What are some other keys to assembling a great team?

A Lesson from the Dancing Girl

A couple weeks back I took the family to the Springfield Cardinals game for July 4. Not because of my family’s love of baseball, but because there was a free concert and fireworks show afterwards. (Though the point of calling a concert “free” for people who have already paid escapes me.)

Following the last out, everyone was invited down to the field to get a better view of the band and the fireworks. So we made our way down to the outfield grass with our blankets and $4 bottled water.

On the field I noticed kids running around. And I don’t mean they were playing, I mean they were running, as in a dead-sprint., hair-on-fire running. Sweaty-hot-July-night running. Their sweaty faces looked like glazed donuts.

“Where are their parents?” I thought indignantly. “My kids won’t be doing that,” I added self-righteously.

Then I saw her. She was probably in her mid-twenties, though she was too far away for me to tell. But she was close enough for me to see her dance. And dance she did! She was herking and jerking, all appendages akimbo. Elaine Benes had nothing on this girl!

She would pause before each song to see how she wanted to proceed. “How’s the rhythm? Is it fast or slow? Is this really my jam?” But those pauses seemed irrelevant as she danced the exact same way with each song. At one point I think I saw her air drum and air guitar simultaneously – a site I had only seen once before, at a Friday night worship gathering in the 90s.

She was dancing as if no one was watching. But we were! And I did what any American would do in that situation – I took out my iPhone and started filming.

I was embarrassed for her. I really was. But later on the car ride home I thought “Why?” Why should I be embarrassed for her when she wasn’t embarrassed for herself? In fact, I should be jealous – jealous that she enjoys dancing in the outfield more than I enjoy anything in my life.

I’ve often had a skewed view of what it means to enjoy life. Take church for instance. I used to think that in order to enjoy church you had to feel real bad about yourself. You had to feel awful about all the dirty sinning you did during the week. If you didn’t feel bad at church, then God probably felt bad about you.

When I first started preaching I never smiled. Smiling was for frivolous stuff – NOT for preaching! This is serious stuff! You better not enjoy telling people about Jesus!!!

How wrong I was. In fact, if you don’t enjoy telling people about Jesus, how are they supposed to know that he wants us to enjoy following him?

God wants us to enjoy life. Life is a gift from God. Wouldn’t you be offended if someone didn’t enjoy the gift you gave them?

I look back on that hot July night with a bit of regret about my attitude. I missed out on letting my kids run around sweaty faced. I missed out on making a fresh fool of myself by dancing. I missed out on an opportunity to enjoy life.

I hope my kids don’t inherit my sensibility when it comes to enjoying life. I hope they feel free to dance like lunatics at minor league baseball games. I hope they let their kids run sweaty-faced on hot July nights. I hope they enjoy life a lot more than I have.

But it’s not too late for me. I’m going to start enjoying life more. I think I’ll go try out some new dance moves. But please put away your iPhones before I start.

How do enjoy God’s gift of life? When have you missed out on enjoying life because you thought you weren’t supposed to?

It Only Takes a Spark

Every week there’s a Sunday. It’s guaranteed. But what we can’t guarantee is that you’ll have a spark of inspiration every week. So how do you keep your messages fresh week after week without running dry in the inspiration well?

Fresh inspiration gives you the fuel to make your message matter to people each week. Let me give you some tips on how to keep the sparks flying.

1. Have a Team Ready

Teamwork is so essential to being a consistently masterful message maker. When you’re a lone wolf, the weight of the world falls on your shoulders. But when you’ve got a team around you – people who love to research deep texts, who love to flow creatively, and who love to give great feedback – you can lean on them as a continual pool of inspiration.

The fact is we can’t all be inspired every day or every week. But when you have a team around you, chances are someone will have a good idea that will spark inspiration for you.

2. Keep a Notebook Handy

When I was fresh out of college I went to work at a church with one of my friends. He kept a little 2” by 3” notebook in his back pocket at all times. I asked him about it one day after I saw him take it out and scribble down some notes. He told me that he picked it up from a mentor of his to always have a notebook handy because you never know when inspiration will strike.

When you get that spark of inspiration, don’t wait – write it down! And you don’t need a little notebook anymore. Apple has so graciously provided plenty of ways to do that with our iPhones (or whatever smart phone you have). Whether you use the factory installed notes app or some other app, like Evernote, use it like you would a notebook. There are even some apps that take dictation so no typing on a small screen needed.

Even if you have a notebook handy, that doesn’t mean you’ll get the spark. You have to keep your eyes peeled for when inspiration is ready to strike. It could be while you’re in a meeting, running errands, or playing with your kids at home. If you take thirty seconds to write it down right then – or type it out, or record it – you won’t go looking for it later in the sea of thoughts that swirl through your mind daily.

3. Give Yourself a Break

Feeling drained by the day? Go outside and get some fresh air. Turn off you phone for an hour. Shut down you email and disconnect. Taking a walk around the neighborhood will do wonders for helping you find new energy and inspiration.

Another way to take a break is by scheduling regular intervals when you don’t speak on a Sunday. Make a yearly calendar and find five, six, ten, or more weeks where you aren’t the main communicator. You don’t have to take the week off and go on vacation. In fact, if you’re the lead Pastor of the church this is a great way to check in on other areas of ministry to see how well they’re doing.

4. Take a Dip in the File Cabinet

If you’ve been speaking regularly for a while I’m sure you’ve built up a reservoir of great messages. Don’t be afraid to take a dip into your past material. I know what you’re thinking, “Sister Ethel is bound to remember when we did this ten years ago.” And that’s true. But for every member who remembers, there are twenty who have forgotten. And those who do remember may need a good reminding.

When you find a good message from the past, use that same spark you got years ago to reignite some passion today. Maybe you’ll be inspired to go down a different track than you did before. Or maybe you can repackage the message with fresh illustrations. This is why keeping your notes as detailed as possible is so important. If your notes only consist of three lines and scripture reference, it will be hard to figure out where the inspiration came from years ago. But holding onto all your research notes will give you an idea of the path you were on and what you can do different next time.

One final word for those who feel like the spark of inspiration is going dim: Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re a great communicator, so just go and communicate. If you ever feel like sparkless, just go back to what you know – the mission and vision of your church. That was the original spark that got you going in the first place. And if you’re church is still alive then that spark is still glowing.

I’m Rooting for Alex Rodriguez

I’m rooting for Alex Rodriguez. He’s batting .284 with a .513 Slugging Percentage. He has 16 home runs to go along with 12 doubles at the halfway point of the season. The Yankee’s designated hitter should be an All Star, but most think he doesn’t deserve to even play the game.

But not me. I’m rooting for him.

Alex Rodriguez has a troubled past. An admitted drug user, his legacy tarnished by PEDs. He has lied, cheated, and denied the charges against him. But he finally relented, admitted, and accepted his punishment. He sat out an entire season to atone for his past sins. And now, fully rehabilitated, he rejoined the New York Yankees in their pursuit of an historic 28th World Series title.

But still, most baseball fans don’t like Alex Rodriguez. They boo him any chance they get. They call him a bum, a cheater, a steroid bloated junkie.

But not me. I’m rooting for him. And here’s why.

Alex Rodriguez’s story is so similar to every story I’ve ever heard before. A person’s sins are uncovered. They deny it. They negotiate. They plead and beg and lie. And then finally, they relent. They confess their sins and pay the cost.

Once our sins are uncovered and confessed, how long must we suffer? I’m not talking about excusing illegal behavior. But once the full debt has been paid, and in the case of Alex Rodriguez it has – a full season of lost wages and playing time. Once a person has paid for their sins, how long must they suffer?

The story of Alex Rodriguez is one of brokenness, but it is also one of redemption. The contract he signed in 2007 specified certain bonuses for breaking certain baseball records. The Yankees indicated they would renege on their promise due to Rodriguez’s admitted PED use. The two sides recently settled their dispute with a payment of $3.5 million going to charity instead of the slugger’s pocket book. That right there is a picture of redemption. Let me explain.

In Luke 12, Jesus tells a story about workers who diligently await their master’s return. They keep their lamps burning all through the night. The implication is obvious – keep doing what you’re supposed to do, because we don’t know when Jesus will return. He ends the story with this lesson:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.

Luke 12:48

In other words, those who are faithful are faithful because they have been given much by the master. Part of the gift from our master is grace – forgiveness and favor that we don’t deserve. Since we’ve been given grace, we must give grace.

Alex Rodriguez doesn’t deserve to play baseball. He broke the rules, lied about it, tried to cover it up, and disgraced an entire organization. But he is playing baseball now. He was given grace to return to the game he once loved. And now he’s returning that grace by giving to charities.

That’s the essence of redemption. We don’t receive forgiveness to wipe our slate clean so it can be dirtied again. We receive forgiveness so that we’re changed. And since we’re changed, we act differently. Since we’ve been given grace, we show it everywhere. I’m rooting for Alex Rodriguez because I’m rooting for grace. And his story is a picture of what we should all do when we receive grace.

The Strong Struggle

I recently started working out…again. This is about the 38th time that I’ve started. But this time I’m committed…to last at least a week.

I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle at it. I struggle with lifting weights and the proper form. I struggle with motivating myself to go down in my basement and actually do it. I struggle most of all with not eating every single cookie in the house as a reward for a 30 minute exercise.

I struggle. But if I’m struggling, that at least means I’m not quitting.

The strong struggle. Every strong person you know in your life has struggled with something. In fact, every strong person you know continues to get stronger because they continue to struggle. The opposite of struggle is to quit, to give up, to throw in the towel. The weak quit, but the strong struggle.

I struggle with God. I struggle with the idea that God is all powerful and all loving but there is still such devastating disaster in the world daily. If you don’t struggle with that, I don’t think you’re human. I struggle with reading my Bible all the time and praying. Oh, do I struggle with that. I have such an active mind it’s very difficult to sit still for 20, 30 minutes at a time.

But I struggle, I don’t give up.

The Bible is full of stories about people struggling with God. The most famous is the story of Jacob wrestling God all night long (Genesis 32). When dawn broke, God gave in and blessed Jacob, turning him from a liar into a prince.

This story of physical struggle represents a lot of mental and spiritual struggles we have with God. And a lot of those struggles happened in the Bible too.

  • Job struggled with defending a God who would allow his whole family to be wiped out.
  • David struggled with those who ridiculed him for trusting in a God who seemed to abandon him.
  • Elijah struggled with depression and isolation.
  • Daniel struggled with those who tried to kill him for following God’s word.
  • Even Jesus struggled on his last night on earth when he asked, “Can you take this cup from me?”

It’s normal and natural to struggle. We shouldn’t be surprised when we struggle. If you’re not struggling with something in your life, you’ve likely given up. Whether it’s the struggle to stay spiritually disciplined, the struggle against a particular sin, or struggles in your relationships with others, you’ve got a fight on your hand.

But the strong struggle because to give up would be weakness.