Check Out My New Review Site: Love/Like/Hate

Some of you have already visited my new review site Love/Like/Hate. Thanks for stopping by! If you haven’t visited the site yet, please check it out. The URL is:

https://lovelikehateblog.wordpress.com/

As a member of Blogging for Books, Best Buy’s Tech Insider Network (and top-250 review contributor), and Thousandshores Power Users, I frequently receive items for free – or at a substantial discount – to review. Consequently, I recently realized I spend a lot more time writing reviews than I do writing my normal blog entries, so it made sense to put all my reviews in one place. So I started the new site in March 2017. Of course, I also review items I purchase at retail.

I know when I’m shopping for a new item, I pay close attention to meaningful reviews; so I try to be diligent about making sure my reviews are actually helpful.

As of now, most of my prior reviews have been posted on the site. In fact, you’ll see some that were previously published here. Others were first published on Best Buy, and some others on Amazon. A few others were at other sites. My general plan going forward is to upload at least one review per day, so check back often for new content.

Anyway, I hope you find it useful. At the very least, it’s been a fun project for me.

You can also follow the “review version of me” on Twitter as @LLHReviews:

Goodbye 2014

Dear 2014, you were an enigma.

First, let me say I am sorry I didn’t write more.  As in, any.  Hard to believe this is my first post in 2014.  And I guess it’s my last one, too.

How to sum up the events of the past year?  I don’t know.  A lot of stuff has happened, a number of those things have touched us deeply.

The kids continue to grow (quite literally when we talk about Eric and the fact he is closing in on 6′ 6″).  Both kids have their driver’s licenses now.  Ally is in the middle of her senior year in high school.  We’re finding that choosing a college – and especially filling out all the financial forms – seemed FAR easier all those years ago.  Ally is a tremendous young lady and incredible student.  I am confident she will be a success wherever she goes, and I pray she finds her path soon.  Eric is a great young man with a tremendous heart.  He is becoming a better swimmer by the day.  Word of warning – teenage boys eat a lot.  Teenage boys who swim competitively eat an insane amount.  Your grocery bill has been warned.

Maggie remains amazing and is the light in every day.  The effort she puts into being a great wife, friend, mom, sister, and daughter inspires me.  I continue to try to be a better husband and friend to her, but I don’t think I can ever be as good as she deserves.  I can try harder, though.

We are in the middle of preparing for a move.  After over 6 and a half years in Cary, we’re moving back to Durham next month.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I have loved our location in Cary.  And I like our house a lot.  But we began talking several years ago about downsizing to have more financial flexibility.  We believe we have been blessed in order to be a blessing to others, and we want to be able to give more than we do.  We also want to be good stewards, saving and planning better for the future.  Plus, with college costs looming, we finally decided it was time to take the plunge.  God was gracious in the process; we are moving to a gorgeous home that is in many ways better than our current home – yet our mortgage will go down by about 30%.  Win-win.  The move will be good for us in other ways, too; it’ll be especially nice to be closer to Mom & Dad – and to the office.   But one of my (many) faults is that I get emotionally attached to things.  I get sad when I sell a car or a house – or even an old toy; hence the mixed feelings about selling the house.  OTOH, Maggie is happy to finally have an excuse to have me get rid of much of the junk I hold onto for no good reason.  See?  It all works out for the best.  One of the other neat things is that we can stay with our church, since the church has multiple campuses.  We’ll actually be just about 5 minutes from the main campus, so I’m looking forward to that.

Another cool thing is that my brother got a motorcycle this year, so we can finally ride together.  I love being out on the bike.  It is a personal cleansing time, just like hiking or skiing.  Work is wonderful, but we deal with so much tragedy on a daily basis that it helps to get away.  Riding does that for me.  Plus, it reminds me how vulnerable we all are, which makes me that much more determined to help those who have been hurt by others.

We have much to celebrate, but there have also been dark clouds and storms this year.

RIP, Uncle John. You are missed and loved.

I could rattle off the few little losses and bruises we had this year, but they all pale beside the thing that really broke my heart: the passing of my Uncle John last month.  John was only 55 and more like a close cousin than an uncle.  He was a great guy who would help anyone, and he was very active in his church and tried to live out his faith.  But somewhere, somehow, he was suddenly engulfed in a darkness he felt he could neither share nor bear on his own.  It’s still hard to comprehend.  I hate that he was in such a dark place that he felt suicide was his best – maybe only – option.  It happened too quickly.  The traditional warning signs weren’t there.  One day he was his normal self.  The next day, there was just a series of very hard phone calls – family telling family the horrible news and coming together to support one another as best we could – and the knowledge that we didn’t have a chance to help him.  He was gone, leaving a void we are still battling this holiday season.  I must admit, it’s been hard to hold onto a James 1:2 attitude in this one; but the prayers of friends and loved ones has been a huge blessing to all of us.  Thank you.

So, my two lessons from this year:

  1. Let go of stuff.  It’s easy to find yourself attached, even if you have a generous heart.  Store up treasures in Heaven, don’t hoard stuff here.  You can’t take it with you, anyway – even if you’re only moving 12 miles down the road (as I’ve found out).
  2. Hold onto those you love.  Do what you can to let them know you will love them no matter what.  Talk to them regularly about hopes, dreams, and failures.  Maybe they will turn to you before they are consumed by the same darkness that stole John from us.

That closes out 2014 for me.  I hope 2015 is an amazing year for you and those you love and that you feel the Spirit of God around you at all times.

Ally’s Mission Trip to Costa Rica

The time has finally arrived.  We take Ally to RDU at 4:30 tomorrow morning to see her off for a mission trip to Costa Rica.  The trip is arranged through her school, GRACE Christian School in Raleigh.  Parents are not allowed to go because part of the idea is to help the students learn to rely more on God than on mom and dad.  It’s a good goal, but a little unnerving for protective parents!

Costa Rica TeamThe team is 26 people strong.  They will be working near San Jose, Costa Rica.  Much of the ministry will center around orphans.  They will be serving Casa Viva, an organization designed to help orphans in the area.  It’s a great ministry, and we are very excited the team from GRACE will be able to join with them to minister to these children.

If you look closely at the picture to the right, you’ll see Ally right in the middle of the group.  The team is comprised of 23 teenagers, from ninth grade through twelfth grade.  There are three adults on the team, Mandy Gill, the principal of the Upper Campus (junior high and high school) and Isaiah Whelpley, one the school’s Bible teachers.  Isaiah’s wife Kat is the other adult member of the team.  We have a great respect for Mandy, Isaiah, and Kat and are extremley grateful for their leadership with the kids and this team.  They have each already had substantial positive impact on Ally.

We are excited with the growth we’ve seen in her during her time at GRACE.  She is, as always, an excellent student.  But more importantly, GRACE also challenges her to more fully align her heart with the love of Christ.  It is for this reason she feels compelled to share that love with others, especially underprivileged children.   I really admire her heart in this regard.  As parents, our greatest hope is that she be filled with the Holy Spirit and that she love and serve God with all her heart.  This is the basic prayer I have prayed over her almost every day of her life.  It is exciting – and a little scary – to see God answering that prayer!

The team will be gone for 10 days.  During that time, we will have little contact with them.  This, of course, will also be hard on anxious families, but it is a good opportunity for us to remember that our children are always in the hands of their loving Heavenly father, whether they be by our side or in a different country.

Short-term mission trips are great for many reasons.  They take you out of your comfort zone and help you learn to rely on God.  You are also able to step into a different world and bring a new perspective to those you touch, as well as learn from their perspective.  In terms of lives changed, short-term missions often accomplish more than local ministries can on their own.  It’s great that God uses our differences as a bridge when we are placed in other cultures; people can be drawn to Him through their curiosity about what they see in us.  We often hear stories about doors that have been closed to the gospel for decades opening when short-term missionaries come to an area.  Even though a trip like this is only for a short period in time, the goal is to have an eternal impact.  It’s amazing how God works and even more amazing when we get to participate in His work.

Please keep Ally and the team in your prayers.  I don’t want to list the full names of all the students, but I will list their first names.  In addition the adults listed above, the students going on the trip are:

  • Ally (guess you can figure that one out)
  • Alex
  • Abby
  • Maddie
  • Taylor
  • Hannah B
  • Sulli
  • Stephen
  • Nico
  • John
  • Victoria
  • Ashlyn
  • Molly
  • David
  • Hannah M
  • Hannah O
  • Christiana
  • Andrew
  • Rebecca
  • Kim
  • Hailey
  • Rachael
  • Tori

Selfishly, we pray for safety and health.  But, most importantly, we ask you to join us in prayer for God’s will to be displayed through the team and this trip.

Review: Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs by Bruce Wilkinson

I have to admit I was initially turned off reading this book due to the very casual writing style early in the book.  If I recall correctly, much of the early section of the book was adapted from presentations Wilkinson has given to large groups.  In that setting, the familiar style probably worked better.  But I really got tired of sentences being punctuated by “friend” so frequently.  However, I’m glad I kept reading because Wilkinson offers up some great advice in this book.  

The book is divided into three main sections.  The first (and largest) section of the book talks about individual faith.  The second talks about marriage and the third explores relationships between parents and their children.

Wilkinson says there are three types of faith: the First Chair, Second Chair, and Third Chair.  As you might imagine, the First Chair believer is the one who is all in.  As Wilkinson describes it, “First Chair living is anchored in a person’s whole intellect, will, and heart.”  The Second Chair believer sounds like an accurate description for many of us; this person has committed to belief in Christ but is inconsistent and often compromises with the world around him or her.  As Wilkinson says, “The Second Chair person has God on the tip of his tongue but self on the throne of his heart.”  Meanwhile, a Third Chair person has not personally committed to faith in Christ, although they may be immersed in something Wilkinson calls “churchianity” – surrounding oneself with the trappings of faith (such as church attendance) but not having a personal relationship with Christ.

Wilkinson’s goal in this book is to help the reader move into First Chair faith.  He uses Biblical examples of men from these different chairs to illustrate the impact our position has on our relationship with God and those around us.  He also then gives an example of each chair from modern life.   He has a good discussion about how goals differ from these different chairs and does a nice job of showing the slippery slope of compromise.

Most of Wilkinson’s target audience would likely identify themselves as Second Chair Christians, under the rubric he proposes.  It is of some note, then, when Wilkinson says, “From personal experience I can tell you the most unhappy, frustrated, stressed, and disillusioned people in the world are not non-Christians as you might expect, but Second Chair people who know Christ yet who fight Him and His leadership for years and even decades.”

Wilkinson spends significant time explaining the effects of being a Second Chair Christian and then begins to work toward a solution by proposing a series of questions to work through in order to gain a better understanding of lordship in our lives.  The primary tool he recommends is confronting personal sin, and he devotes significant time to discussing how to confront these sins in our lives.  He also offers practical tips for recognizing recurring sin and developing a strategy to avoid remaining ensnared by it.

He says there are two primary motives at the root of sin:

  1. We seek the pleasure that comes from that sin, and
  2. We seek the absence of pain that is the immediate source of our temptation to commit that sin.

He then begins to turn the book toward personal relationships, noting that 70% of “our inner conflict” results from unforgiveness.  This leads him to a discussion of marriage that at first felt a bit out of place in the book, but seemed appropriate once I got a little further in.  Of course, he talks about having a First Chair marriage, too, and he spends some energy discussing how a marriage should look.  He addresses the roles of husbands and wives.  Although he generally espouses traditional headship and helper roles (with a good bit of clarification since there is such misunderstanding in public discussion), he also cites Scriptural authority for the wife to rule her household.  He also discusses what he calls the “The Seven Stages of Marital Slide” and calls on men and women to find joy in their marriages.  He had a great personal example from his life of taking a year away from ministry to focus on his marriage and his wife because his wife confronted him on the fact he had prioritized his ministry over her.  This section led to a very nice discussion on restoring marital oneness.

He then moved on to discussing being a First Chair parent.  By now, I was looking forward to the advice he would offer in this section.  He exhorts parents to raise godly kids, not just good kids, and he makes good use of a sports metaphor to explain how critical it is that we pass along true faith to our children.

A relay event has always struck me as a powerful illustration of parenting. Success for us as mom and dad isn’t just about how well we run as individuals, but about how well we pass the baton. And only when the story of the generations who follow us is told will our “win” at raising godly kids be known.

Wilkinson goes on to discuss different parenting styles and the effects these styles can have on our children, and he proposes seven steps to raising godly children.  He spends the last chapter explaining that pain in a child’s heart can haunt them as adults, so he suggests an approach in order to deal with this sort of “heart wound.”

Overall, the guidance in the book is good, and I certainly felt much better about the book when I finished it than earlier when I was frustrated so many statements ended with a causal address.  On the whole, I recommend the book, and there are some sections that are particularly strong.  If you want to check out the first few pages of the book, you can do so for free at Amazon.

Disclosure – I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Review: When Work & Family Collide by Andy Stanley

I was excited to see this book available for review recently.  Andy has a way of conveying Biblical truth in a way that connects to the struggles of day-to-day life.  This particular struggle, balancing family and career, is one I believe to be of great importance in our success-driven society – and in my own life.

When Work & Family Collide

The book begins with Andy offering context to those of us who are workaholics or who struggle with prioritizing the demands of work with the needs of home.  Essentially, he wants us to understand that when we choose to work long hours, even for good purposes, we are putting work at higher priority than spending time with loved ones.  And the message to those loved ones resonates at a deeper level than we might realize.

Andy proposes two solutions.  First, honest communication.  Ask family members how they feel about your work schedule or when you miss their events.  Second, action.  Make a deliberate and calculated schedule change that glorifies God by emphasizing family.  I should note that Andy focuses the book mostly on the impact time away at work has on those closest to us, but it also has a significant impact on our service to God.  Andy does spend a good amount of time explaining that we are to honor God with our time, but in this book, the focal point of that desire is expressed through interaction with loved ones.

One thing I appreciated was how Andy defined the problem of time commitment:  “Your problem is not discipline. Your problem is not organization. Your problem is not that you have yet to stumble onto the perfect schedule.  And your problem is not that the folks at home demand too much of your time.  The problem is this: there’s not enough time to get everything done that you’re convinced – or others have convinced you – needs to get done.” (page 14.)

Throughout the book, Andy says you either “cheat” your family or you “cheat” work.  I’m not a huge fan of this sort of language, but I understand what he’s trying to say.  In essence, there simply is not enough time in the day to do everything work requires and meet every need or desire of your family.  I’ve lived with that tension for my entire career.  Even though he says you need to “cheat” work, Andy’s solution of prioritizing time is predicated on open and honest communication at work, too.  In that respect, I quibble with the use of the word “cheat.”  His main goal in using “cheat” seemed to be to emphasize how we treat our families when we don’t make them the priority, and he certainly is not advocated doing anything unethical to your employer.  I just felt the language was clumsy on this issue.

But his conclusions are powerful, as are some of the examples in the book.  I was shocked to learn that in his own life as a church planter, Andy committed to spending no more than 45 hours per week at work.  In fact, I can hardly fathom that he was able to build such a strong ministry with that sort of time commitment.

And there is the rub with our earthly thinking: Andy did not build that ministry.  God did.

Likewise, God ordains the paths of our lives and, if we are to believe the Bible, is sovereign in all things.  This means we can expect God to bless our commitment to follow His leading and His paths, such as investing time with our families.  Andy showed the provisional side of God’s character throughout the book; and God truly will fill in the gaps when we are committed to following Him.  The issue for many of us is that we believe but do not truly trust, so we try to handle things ourselves.

I heard a pastor recently tell an analogy that lined up perfectly with this truth.  He talked about a rappelling trip he took when he was just a teenager.  Although he was afraid, he forced himself to lean back on the rope and repel down the mountain.  His friend, try as he might, could not will himself to put all his weight on the rope, so the friend tried to climb down using the rope as a safety net.  Unfortunately, that’s not the way rappelling works, so the friend was unable to get down and had to climb back up.  The friend was exhausted, had not accomplished his goal, and was now embarrassed.  These are the same consequences we often face when we refuse to lean fully on God and try to do things ourselves.

When we spend long hours at work, our spouses shut down because they don’t feel prioritized in our lives.  Everything in a marriage becomes harder.  We become ashamed.  Our children may lack feeling truly loved, causing them to seek the wrong sort of attention or – even worse – viewing God’s love as conditional or limited, like ours.  They lack direction and focus.  These are things that happen because we think we have to “get it done” at work ourselves rather than fully trusting God to provide for our families.

One thing the book does not do is promise some sort of pie-in-the-sky response by God.  Andy clearly says you may make less money if you work fewer hours.  He clearly says you may have to give up some of the “toys” you thought you wanted.  But he also very clearly says God will honor your commitment to following Him.  It is not the prosperity gospel, but it is the truth of attaining an abundant life, and Andy is clear that we also honor God by providing for our families (in case anyone thought the answer was simply to abandon work!).

Andy encourages us to trust God.  He gives some specific steps for how to trust God.  And then he gives a general plan of action for how to properly prioritize family rather than just follow some general sense of work-life balance.  Andy encourages us to 1. Make up your mind to quit “cheating” at home; 2. Come up with a plan for how to handle a transition (and also communicate it to the appropriate people, including your manager); and 3. Set up a test period to see how well it works.

One last note, since I just alluded to the concept of work-life balance: A friend saw me reading When Work & Family Collide, and we had a brief discussion about the subject.  He said he had been to a work seminar recently in which the theme was not just work-life balance, but “work-life integration” – as in, always being available for work.  My friend rightly scoffed at this concept, but I have to guiltily admit this same concept has often been my attempt at finding a way to spend more time with family; just bring the work with me.  Unfortunately, distracted time causes the same frustration to those around us as lack of time.

My point being, don’t try to half-step your way through it, like I have done for years.  Pray.  Do your best to discern God’s leading.  Commit to following that lead.  Communicate your intentions, and then do it.  I am attempting to apply this lesson in my own life; I encourage you to do the same.

In closing, Andy had one final bit of encouragement that I also want to relate here.  While we can quibble with some of his assumptions, the conclusion seems sound:

When successful men and women reminisce, their defining moments professionally are never related to how many hours they worked. And I’ve never heard of a business failure attributed to a work schedule.  Success is always related to good decisions, unexpected opportunities, market conditions, and a host of other things that nobody really had any control over. The sixty hours you work this week may not reap nearly the same productivity as the sixty hours you put in next week. Why? Because of things you have no control over. …

But the opposite is true in family life. Happily married couples never attribute their success to unexpected opportunities, market conditions, luck, or good timing.  You’ve never met a healthy family who chalked up their success to being in the right place at the right time.  With family, success is always related to time. In the world of family, you have far more control over the things that really make a difference.  (pages 102 – 103.)

Disclosure – I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

A Step Back

Many of you reading this post are aware that Ally and I have been planning to go on a mission trip to India next month with the Youth at First Baptist Cary.  A number of you have contributed to our fundraising efforts and even more have spent time praying for us.  Thank you.

However, I am writing to tell you some recent setbacks (including having our passports stolen) have caused us to spend a lot of time this week wrestling with God over whether we truly should go on this trip.  In the end, we believe there are enough spiritual caution signs that we must step back from the trip, so we have notified the church we are not going.

As you might imagine, that was a hard conversation for everyone involved.  While we feel like this is the decision God would have of us now, we still have heavy hearts and we worry about the effect on the remaining team members.  Please continue to keep the team in your prayers.

Some of you may ask what happens to the money you donated on our behalf.  I don’t have a complete answer to that question.  It may be possible the money can be refunded, if you so desire.  Otherwise, it would be split among the remaining team members and credited toward their fund-raising.  I am sure that would be a great blessing to them and hope you consider allowing your donation to be used in this way.  But if you want the donation refunded and the church refuses or is unable to do so, please let me know and I will refund the money to you.  I appreciate that you donated money on our behalf and want to honor your commitment to supporting us.

Through this process, we have learned a lot about ourselves, other team members, the mission process, India, and God’s guidance.  I cannot tell you how proud I am of Alyson and how gracefully she has dealt with this situation.  I wish I had such a great spirit at 15!  She is a special young lady, and I am truly blessed to have her as my daughter.

My apologies to everyone.  We thank you for your support and encouragement, but regret that things have ended this way.  We do plan to seek other mission opportunities, and we ask for your continued prayerful support.