What I Read in 2019

If you're struggling with reading as much as you'd like, may I suggest a trip (sans children of course) to the beach?

Link Hoang

This past summer Katie and I visited the gulf coast where I finished two books on my list and made my way well into a third. In fact one day on the shore, I had to trudge my way through the white sand and back up to our condo's Wi-Fi so I could purchase and download another book on my list. It was glorious!

Katie and I at the beach.

But even if you can't get away this year, the best approach, of course, is consistent small steps towards a goal. On a typical day, I only read two to four pages and yet on average I finish eight books per year--a paltry number for the avid reader to be sure, but twice as much as the median reader in the United States. All with minimal (but consistent) effort!

With that preamble out of the way, here are three books I read in 2019 I think you might like:


The Weight of Glory


How can you go wrong with C.S. Lewis?

I originally rated this book four stars, but a few days later I recognized I was basing my rating in comparison to other Lewis works rather than letting the work stand on its own. Compared to other Lewis books, this one might merit four stars, but even the lesser of his works are pretty darn good. After recognizing my folly, I bumped the rating back up to five stars.

The Weight of Glory is a collection of nine speeches and sermons Lewis delivered between 1939 and 1956. The titular message refers to the burden of destiny each of us carries. We will outlast nature, Lewis says, and while it is possible for one "to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor."[1] Even the dullest among us, Lewis writes, will one day be like God or else "a horror and a corruption... All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations."[2] With this burden in mind we should treat our neighbors accordingly.

Although these addresses are nearing a century in age, I found myself repeatedly astounded at their relevancy to modern day. He writes about the expulsion of religion from public discourse in Membership. He writes about FOMO (fear of missing out) in The Inner Ring, and about our tendency to judge ancient cultures on current mores in Is Theology Poetry?

I enjoyed all nine addresses, but one that came to me at a needed time is the just mentioned The Inner Ring. Lewis warns that no matter what walk of life you find yourself in, there exists an inner ring, an exclusive club, in which most everyone wants to be included.

He writes, "I believe that in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside."[3]

I found myself in 2019 included in a certain inner ring at my church, and I had to pray on a regular basis for God to keep my motives in check. At times I found myself serving for want of approval and continued inclusion in the inner ring instead of serving to give glory to my creator.

And at the same time, some major changes occurred in my workplace that left me craving participation in its inner ring. But upon reading this essay, some introspection, and discussions with Katie, I came to realize that my desire for inclusion stemmed only from a fear of being left out of the club. Lewis sums it up well: "It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons, but to have them free because you don't matter, that is much worse."[4] Once I realized my motivation sprung from a desire to not not matter, I was able to move on and be at peace with the situation.

Every essay in this collection is worth a read, and taken together they exemplify not only the depth we've come to expect from Lewis, but also his breadth of wisdom surrounding the Christian faith.


More Than Enough: The Ten Keys to Changing Your Financial Destiny


No one will confuse More Than Enough for a great work of American literature.

The prose is, at times, choppy. And for being a product of a big five publishing house, I found more than a couple of typos in the book.[5]

In addition, many of Ramsey's pop culture references are out of date. For example I chuckled at the mention of a VCR and poured one out at the reference to the defunct Toys R Us chain.

Despite these limitations, More Than Enough contains enough wisdom and utility to make this list. Ramsey best encapsulates his premise for the book in this quotation: "Contentment is possibly the most powerful financial principle; with it, getting out of debt, saving, and giving are easy."[6]

As opposed to some of Ramsey's more nuts and bolts works like The Total Money Makeover, More Than Enough takes a philosophical approach, providing a foundation for the reader and building upon it with each chapter. The author starts with change, claiming we must have the desire to change our status quo, and then moves to core values. These values, says Ramsey, are critical assets upon which the entire book is built. He then focuses on vision, unity, and hope and continues to build on each of the previous principles to provide a framework for both building wealth and for living with contentment.

Although arranged differently and presented in a different style than I've encountered, the reader will be familiar with most concepts if he or she has had any exposure to Dave Ramsey in the past.

Nevertheless, although I have attended and later taught Financial Peace University, I still gleaned new nuggets of advice and inspiration. In particular chapter 7, Intensity: Feeling the Fervor, provided a financial spark I hadn't experienced in quite some time. The chapter shows the possible when people focus on a goal with intensity, and it left me wondering what Katie and I could accomplish if we were more deliberate with our finances. Six months later, we are only about nine more months away from achieving a goal we thought would take five years to achieve! It has taken some uncomfortable sacrifice, sure, but because we know there's an end in sight we're able to stomach the short-term pain.

These kinds of applications make the book well worth the investment. Katie and I do not struggle much with financial contentment, but the encouragement and inspiration of More Than Enough gave us a welcome catalyst to reignite our fire for financial progress and stewardship.



When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself

I can't remember where I first heard of When Helping Hurts. Like so many books, it ended up on my "to read" list on Goodreads and languished there for a few years while I consumed other books on my list. Nevertheless I do remember feeling intrigue at the idea that financial and service generosity could cause harm, however good-intentioned it was. Am I hurting others and even myself with my giving?

This is the premise of When Helping Hurts: despite good intentions on the part of individuals and churches, many ministries and missions actually do more harm than good.

One Wednesday night a few years ago while teaching a Financial Peace University class at church, a young lady interrupted class and asked she could speak to me. She explained in private that a woman showed up at the church asking for our pastor. They could not find him that evening. Would I speak to her? I agreed. The woman was middle-aged and wore no shoes; only dirty tube socks covered her feet. She said she had just had to pay for an expensive repair for her automobile and therefore didn't have enough money for gasoline. Could we spare $40?

What was I to say? Here I was teaching a class on biblical financial literacy. A Christian told to care for the poor and the hungry. I dug into my wallet and handed her what I had: $10.

About that time someone had found a deacon, and he came around the corner, asking the woman what was going on. She poured out her story again, and he said, "No we can't give you money, but we partner with Mission Norman [a local ministry in our community], and they can give you assistance."

Was the deacon cruel or was I a sucker?

Probably the latter. Although it is impossible to know now, the woman was likely hitting up every church in Norman, Oklahoma with the same story in a cycle of irresponsible money management and asking for cash.

If so, then the ten bucks I forked over actually did more harm to the woman by perpetuating her cycle of mismanagement and "emergencies." So what could I have done instead?

Authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert say the mistake many churches and individuals make in regard to giving is that they misidentify the type of assistance needed.

The authors break down giving into three categories: relief, rehabilitation, and development. Relief is immediate, emergent need. Think food and water and shelter for those hit by tornadoes in Joplin or Moore. Rehabilitation "seeks to restore people ... to their precrisis conditions."[7] Development is a longer term process of moving both the helpers and helped to restored relationships (more on this in a minute).

So although the woman was asking for relief, a handout, what she likely needed was either rehabilitation or development. So what could I have done? The deacon had the right approach. Our church already partners with a ministry designed to meet the needs of the impoverished in our community, and they are better equipped to ensure that they don't harm recipients with endless handouts. One thing more we should have done was to invite the woman back when the pastor was present so that we could work with her to help prevent these types of crises in the future. How? Through prayer, offering her small jobs around the church, encouragement, instruction, and helping her identify what types of strengths and assets she already possesses in order to help her restore broken relationships.

There's that word again: relationships. What do we mean?

The authors make a compelling case that poverty results from brokenness of four types of relationships:

1. God (poverty of spiritual intimacy),
2. Self (poverty of being--e.g. possessing a god complex or low self-esteem),
3. Others (poverty of community such as self-centeredness or exploitation and abuse of others), and
4. The rest of creation (poverty of stewardship--e.g. materialism, laziness/workaholic, loss of sense of purpose).

And, in reality, we are all impoverished in one way or another. Acknowledging this fact enhances our approach in assisting the poor, because we don't come into the mission or the event or service project with arrogance. Instead, we acknowledge that we all need assistance restoring relationships with God and others and we want to partner with people to help them accomplish restoration, because that's what Jesus calls Christians to do.

I don't agree with every concept in this book, but I do think Christians, especially Western Christians, can benefit from When Helping Hurts. I know I did. At the very least this book will cause you to re-evaluate your approach to charity to ensure you're helping isn't actually hurting.


A Giveaway!


How would you like to win one these books?

To celebrate the publication of my new discussion guide companion to The Last Lessons of Christ, I'm giving away one of the above books of your choice plus a copy of both The Last Lessons of Christ and The Last Lessons of Christ Discussion Guide to one lucky winner!
How can you enter?

It's actually quite simple: subscribe to my email list. That's it.

I typically send out two emails a month, including one on the last Tuesday with exclusive subscriber-only content. But there's no obligation to stay subscribed once the giveaway ends. To sign up, enter you email address below and click subscribe:








Already on the list? You're already entered!

I'll leave the giveaway open for seven days (through the end of 1/20/20 CST) and choose a random winner on 1/21/20. (Note: this contest is open in all territories, but since I'm based in the US, if cost is too prohibitive in foreign territories, I might sub out the prize with a gift card.)

I'll update this post with the first name and location of the winner as well as notify by email.

Good luck!

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Notes:
1. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins e-books, 2009), Kindle edition, 46.
2. Ibid.
3. Lewis, 146.
4. Lewis, 149.
5. I'm not a snob when it comes to typos. I'm sure if you read any of my books it won't take you long to find one. It just seems as if More than Enough had more than expected.
6. Dave Ramsey, More Than Enough: Proven Keys to Strengthening Your Family and Building Financial Peace (New York: Penguin, 2001), Kindle edition, location 3276 of 3464.
7. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself (Chicago: Moody, 2009), 100.
8. This post contains affiliate links which means I receive a portion of sales at no extra cost to you.

2 comments:

  1. I have the audiobook of When Helping Hurts. I need to give it a listen. Thanks for the reviews.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, give it a listen. I'm interested in your thoughts Andrew.

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