Free "Sin Boldy" audio book for a limited time from Zondervan

Becky Garrison (author of The New Atheist Crusaders … , Red and Blue God …) was kind enough to forward this to me.  Sin Boldy is a new book by Cathleen Falsani and for a limited time, Zondervan is giving away the audio version for free here.

For the past few years, I’ve really started to appreciate Zondervan.  It’s like they are learning lessons from the giant labels in the music industry that nickel and dime the public.  Maybe I’ll never buy this hardcover, but I may buy the next one.  Or maybe I’ll love the audio book so much that I’ll have to buy it for myself or as a gift for someone.  Or, maybe I’ll like this idea so much that I will go out and buy the book.  

I downloaded, listened to it and It worked for me.  Now I am sinning more boldly so it’s obviously a very practical and easily applicable book.  In case you might not know, the term “sin boldy” is from a letter Martin Luther wrote to Melanchthon in 1521.  

Here’s a review from Publisher’s Weekly (from

From Publishers Weekly
Ranging from Chicago to Kenya, New Orleans to Ireland, Big Sky to Graceland, Falsani dons her investigative cap and scouts for grace. This religion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times is a charming guide to places and people who reveal “grace when and where it happens.” Eschewing technical theological definitions, Falsani opts instead to tell how she has experienced grace. And we are vicarious travelers, seeing grace—”audacious, unwarranted, and unlimited”—through Falsani’s eyes. She marvels at the devotion of young people who crowd to the pope’s funeral and at the astoundingly independent women of Asembo Bay in Kenya. She wrestles with anger at a misogynist Tanzanian tour guide and anger at God when her mother and beloved cat face cancer. We traipse along with the author and eavesdrop on her conversations, both external and internal. The result is a pastiche of images meant collectively to reveal God’s grace. Though some may find the premise contrived, only a fierce cynic could fail to be drawn in to Falsani’s tales and candid reflections.

Happy Birthday Susan

Today is my wife Susan’s, birthday.  Every now and then, I think back to what she was thinking when we started dating.  Though it’s hard to imagine, I wasn’t always as amazing as I am now.  In fact, if there was ever a time I could have used a Todd Hiestand re-design, it would have been upon entering freshmen year of college.

Dating Susan was a no-brainer for me but I always imagine her surrounded by dorm friends, pie-charts, plus and minus comparisons, spreadsheets, profile, anaylis, and headshots of other guys, and perhaps a lot of wine at our conservative Christian school trying to navigate the uncharted territory of Christian guys at our school (thank God, I was only up against Christian guys – lol).  Aside from me explaining to her that I was destined to have a lucrative career in youth ministry and that we would have a church van at our immediate disposal (provided that we properly sign it out), I’m not really sure what she was thinking.  Maybe she mooched off her friends too much and their encouragement of me was their revenge.  Maybe her former boyfriends were Kirby vacuum cleaner salesmen, or maybe she is crazier than me and I haven’t realized it yet.  Hmmmm.

Well, it’s been quite the year.  I’ve been saying that a lot lately and I hope (and for all of you) it becomes cliché because it generally means it was a year worth living.  Some of our prayers were answered this year and we’ve entered into a great season of parenthood.  We’re enjoying our church and receiving (and hopefully giving) a lot of love.

For years we’ve had conversations about the will of God and how they may not include our plans and dreams.  We were always convinced that our faith would not waiver for those types of reasons and sought His peace as we journeyed together.  These days, we’re better at doing life, our marriage is stronger, and we’ve been encouraged by God’s goodness once again.  We know that we will be in and out of good and tough seasons but it’s nice to have both kinds of pictures in the scrapbook.

Susan, you have become (and is becoming) an amazing woman.  Your beauty, joy, humor, spirit of forgiveness, and faith are gifts you give each day.  What can I give you on your birthday when material gifts would only dilute these words and my reciprocation wouldn’t measure up?  Still trying to figure that out after all these years, thanks for your patience, I hope our love is enough, Happy Birthday, Susan.  

Reflecting on Competition, the (Christian) American Dream – Post 2

I received a couple of emails and encouraging words of the USA Today post and competition as being part of the problem with our teen-agers.  I’d like to go a little further (which usually only ruins a good point and becomes the blog equivalent of smashing your guitar at the end of the set).

What would it look like if we didn’t put as much pressure on our students?  Before I delve in, here are a few qualifiers:

I am not against competition as a whole, there is fruit in it. 

I believe in personal responsibility and am trying to avoid being overly sympathetic to teenagers and see them as victims.

But I do want “us” (“us” = all from parents, to youth workers, to teachers, to politicians to rock stars, to baristas…) to be faithful to our callings and responsibilities.

I see a couple of questions:  What would it look like if we didn’t put as much pressure on our students?   What kind of dream are we encouraging our students to pursue?  Are we actually leading them (and ourselves) to good, healthy, meaningful lives?  Oh, and how about one more – what is the meaning of life?

My main problem is the “dream” that we sell our kids.  As you know, it goes something like this:  If you get good grades, and are balanced with music, sports, theater, you can gain entrance into a good college, and if you do well there, you can land a great job, marry a great person, get a nice home, vacation wherever you want, and do whatever you want to do.” 
In our Christian homes, we add “and make a commitment to Jesus …” making it the Christian dream. 

I don’t know anyone, literally, who does whatever they want to do.  Even rock-stars don’t do whatever they want.  (Not even if it appears that way on stage).

The dream is a mirage and you can feel free to deconstruct it.  And while I value education and encourage our students to meet their potential, and think SAT prep classes are a good idea, and believe there are many lessons learned in sports, theater, writing in the school newspaper, editing the yearbook, and the numerous other extracurriculars, most of us know that there is more to life.

Though it’s preached in churches, it also makes it’s point in movies like, “Family Man”, “Braveheart”, and even in “Spiderman” (and many others).  And the point is life must have meaning.

If I can transition from our students to “us” as a whole, I’d like to wind down to some kind of conclusion.    Though I believe the aforementioned pursuits and extracurriculars are worthy, important, necessary but only to an extent.  I value education but I also value love. I love athletics but also need the pursuit of peace.  I enjoy being entertained but desire the call to justice. 

Of course, being a youth pastor, I am expected to finish this with a commercial justifying the existence of my position and work.  Don’t fault me too much, I do believe in what I do. 

But this post isn’t intended to convert anyone.  This being a post on the internet, I do not want to presuppose my faith and values on you.  But can we agree that life must have meaning and that our world would be better if we encouraged ourselves and those that come after us to pursue a better dream?  I know as this conversation expands we would have different ideas of that dream and this is among the reasons why we have millions of books, but can we at least agree that the present dream is flawed?

Reflecting on USA Today Article: “Students Cheat, Steal, but say They’re Good.”

From this USA Today article:  “Students Cheat, Steal, but Say They’re Good”

“In the past year, 30% of U.S. high school students have stolen from a store and 64% have cheated on a test, according to a new, large-scale survey suggesting that Americans are too apathetic about ethical standards.

Cheating in school is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four percent of students cheated on a test in the past year and 38% did so two or more times, up from 60% and 35% in a 2006 survey.”

Other findings:

• Thirty-six percent said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33% in 2004.

• Forty-two percent said they sometimes lie to save money — 49% of the boys and 36% of the girls.

Despite such responses, 93% of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77% affirmed that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

Why and how can this be?  Well the answer is Marylyn Manson of course!  Since his career faded out of the popular eye, this world has gotten a lot safer hasn’t it?  Kidding, my point is that you can’t blame pop-culture for the primary reason for these sorts of issues. 

Whose fault it is?  Everybody’s.  From parents, to teachers, to youth pastors, to marketers, to toll-both collectors to the students themselves. 

We create this incredible pressure on our students that they have to win at any cost, make money at any cost, look great at any cost, live the American dream at any cost.  Cheating, lying, stealing becomes part of the pragmatism to achieve that.

We create this huge pressure and then celebrate the brief positive moments that result.  All the while they stress out, cry themselves to sleep, tear ACL’s, go through eating, sleeping, and emotional disorders so we can clap proudly at graduation. 

Also, some of this is the human sinful condition.  (So to the person who might comment, “People are sinful.  Read Romans 3:23, it’s that simple…”) – yes, I understand that but I think it’s even deeper and more complicated. 

What’s the solution?  Sorry this is a blog so there aren’t too many solutions on these types of posts but I’d like to throw this out there. What if did our part to help get rid of competition?   Aren’t pick-up games more fun when you don’t really keep score?  Professional games that keep score are only fun for the winning team and its fans, right?  Is there a Cubs fan here that can yell a tearful “amen”?  (Until last month, Phillis fans were too depressed to even get on the internet, now they’re the most joyful people I know.)

As a youth pastor, I tell our students that I won’t pray for their grades or their class rankings (or that they get the lead in a play or the solo in elite choir), but will pray for their work ethic, stress, and time management skills.  As others have, I try to expose the “straight A” student as not the ideal life.  Nor is it the gamer or the first chair cello player.  What good is it for a person to graduate Valedictorian but lose his/her soul?

I want to be careful here and not be responsible for encouraging a generation of underachieving Bart Simpsons but a show full of Lisa’s is quite boring and not well-lived from my perspective.  Back to the point, we must do our part to discourage the succeed at any cost, competitive game that we seem to be caught up in.  More to say, but thoughts?

You Saw It Here … Second Last

Some blogs call it the weekly round-up but so far the above is my title. 

I know the virtues of blogging is posting things instantly.  Well apparently, I’m not one of those blogs.  But I do have a decent job bookmarking and placing things in “To Read Later” folders.

About a week or so ago, Thom Turner tweeted that he had liked this post.  I did too.  It’s from NPR writer Rod Dreher who wrote an open letter to Obama.  It’s called, Guess Whose Coming to Dinner.

Earlier this week on the EV Weblog was this gem. Pastor Abandons His Church. It’s an interview with a mega-church pastor who, alongside with his leadership, decided to sell the church facility and restructure pretty much everything.   You need to read to the end to really appreciate it and the comments are great.   

And of course, the Hitler-Emergent Video.  Like everyone has been saying – it is hilarious.  And I like that it pokes fun of emergents (whom I identify with).  I need to find the background story to it or the “Behind the Making of an Emergent You Tube Phenomena” (if this blog was VH1).  Some aren’t sure if it was a bit too far to use Hitler and again, though it’s hilarious and i’d like to continue thinking it was meant as a joke, I’d like to be sensitive too. Check out Evan’s post for some of his initial thoughts.  

Monday Morning Brief – 12.1.08

Highlight of the Week – 1.  Yesterday we dedicated Nathan in our church.  We’ve prayed for this day for a while so that was cool. Also loved the little gathering at our place afterwards.  Wished we could have invited everyone but it was nice to be among family and a couple of friends.  2. Sister, brother-in-law, parent in-laws flew in for Thanksgiving (and dedication) 3. Really nice Thanksgiving Eve service.  (mentioned some of it in my thanksgiving reflection).

Disappointment of the Week – Aside for all the preparations for the dedication, I think my biggest disappointment was one of my fantasy football teams performing so poorly this season.  I really had high expectations this year.  Granted we lost a couple close games and had some tough match-ups but I’m paying a lot of fantasy money here and I really expected some better results.  Fair warning – no loyalties to anyone next year.    I am however, first in our other league. First round bye next week.   Not sure how strong we are heading into the playoffs though.  Haven’t had a good QB  and have been dragging Braylon Edwards the whole season (argh!).  We’ll see if it becomes a showdown between me and Evan.  These are my disappointments, so yeah, it’s been a good week.

Listening to: same as last week.  If you like good music though (as opposed to those who choose crappy music.  you know who you are), the best musician who you may never have heard of – Andy Zipf was named American Songwriter of the Week.  “Andy Zipf has built himself quite a cottage industry by constantly writing, touring and building a fan-base one friend at a time…”  I should blog about him sometime.  He really is the definition of an independent artist.  Owns all his music rights, plays shows constantly and never takes a short cut.  He is also a brilliant artist.  

Just Watched: Charlie Wilson’s War.  Really liked it.  I guess I didn’t realize it was rated R and watched it with some people who I wouldn’t normally watch such a movie with.  All consistent with the title. A little too much sensual gratuity, profanity, (apparently that’s how Charlie rolled according to the History Channel special) and of course scenes of violence (as usually is the case in “War”).  Once again, Tom Hanks is brilliant and a lot of fun to watch.  I couldn’t stop laughing at his wit and humor.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman was fantastic.  (Susan really liked his role).  Oh, and Julia Roberts is in it. I guess you tend to forget that it’s her so I guess that means it was a good performance. 

Youth Ministry Has Been:  off for Thanksgiving.  We had the Thanksgiving Eve service so no youth group that night.  Did have Sunday school and the day before had our annual Turkey Tackle Football game.  Good times.  Was also great to see returning college students too.  Most of them seem to be doing great.

Need To: Do a ton of schoolwork and a million other things.  This was a nice break though.  

Keeping in Mind:  The beginning of Advent and World AIDS Day. Hope to meditate on them both in the upcoming days.