Charlie Tremendous Jones not only has a great name, he also has a great quote: “You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” We can’t always control the people we meet, but we can control the books we read.

Over the past few years, I’ve post a couple lists of a few of my favorite books. If you’ve finished your summer reading and are looking for some new books to add to your list, here are my recommendations:








  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The most enjoyable book I’ve read in the past year, this tells the fascinating story of the nine members of an American crew team and their quest for gold at 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Their humble beginnings, work ethic, and team commitment, all with the backdrop of Hitler’s rise to power, make this book hard to put down. The writing is outstanding, with details and descriptions that make you like you’re literally in the boat.
  • Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. In the follow-up to Freakanomics, Levitt and Dubner use gripping storytelling to challenge our core assumptions and to reveal the power of asking the right questions.
  • The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes by Bryan Burrough. I’ve grown to love Texas, and the stories captured in this book have helped me better understand the unique culture and identity of Texans. Reading about the burden of wealth and the negative impact on each family also made me pray, “Give me neither poverty nor riches…”
  • United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity by Trillia J. Newbell. This book beautifully articulates the need for diversity in the Church. Using her own experience as a black member of a predominantly white church, Trillia provides Scriptural and experiential arguments for the importance of multi-racial churches.
  • Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem by Jay W. Richards. Before debating with Shane Claiborne earlier this year, I reread this book. Jay combines clear communication with clear thinking to make a draw clear conclusions about what really makes a community and nation flourish.
  • Clearing Obstacles to Work: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Fostering Self-Reliance by David Bass. With so much talk about how traditional charity doesn’t solve the problems of poverty, this book refreshingly focuses on solutions. Looking at case studies and examples of ways to promote human flourishing, Clearing Obstacles to Work takes an uplifting look at solutions to poverty.
  • Half a Piece of Cloth: The Courage of Africa’s Countless Widows by Jane L. Crane. By capturing the daily realities and experiences of women living in poverty, this book reminded me to not allow distance to develop between me and the people we serve at HOPE. May we never grow cold to the realities of so many in our world.
  • From Dependence to Dignity: How to Alleviate Poverty Through Christ-Centered Microfinance by Brian Fikkert and Russ Mask. We all remember how When Helping Hurts stopped us in our tracks, forcing us to confront our most fundamental misconceptions about what it means to serve others well. Now, in this follow-up of sorts, Brian takes a closer look at the effect of Christ-centered microenterprise development and even shares some incredible generous things about HOPE. I’m so thankful for the friendship and partnership of Brian and the Chalmers Center.
  • Look and Live: Discover the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ by Matt Papa. Written by a worship leader, this book talks about how right behavior comes not from trying harder but from focusing more on Christ. Such a good book, especially for us “older brother” types.
  • A Resilient Life: You Can Move Ahead No Matter What by Gordon MacDonald. Gordon writes about what it takes to sustain a life of service. The message of this excellent book profoundly shaped our thinking on 40/40 Vision.
  • Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins: Learning from the Psychology of Ancient Monks by Dennis Okholm. Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the seven deadly sins and historic understanding of our frailty. Details how pride is the root of all vices.
  • Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith by Todd Wilson. Real Christian describes markers of Christ-followers that might surprise those of us in the American Church: broken-hearted joy, a humble disposition, a readiness to acknowledge sin, an ability to live balanced and avoid legalism, a deep spiritual hunger that drives growth, and most of all―love.

Next books I’m planning to read are Five Gears: How to be Present and Productive When There is Never Enough Time by Jeremie Kubicek, and For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. What else should I add to my list? 

On my recent flight back from Haiti, the plane was full of short-term trippers. It was the matching t-shirts and sunburned skin that gave them away (no judgement from me… my skin color matched theirs, and I’ve worn my share of matching t-shirts).

I wasn’t trying to be nosy, but I overheard one enthusiastic high school-er comment, “I’ll never be the same.” And I sincerely hope she’s right.

Long-term impact of short-term trips

Like few other experiences, short-term trips have the potential to help us see our own materialism, grow in our appreciation for other cultures, form paradigm-shifting friendships, and experience the Gospel outside of our cultural blinders.

As ease of travel, income, and global awareness have increased, the number of short-term trip participants in the U.S. has increased from 540 trippers in 1965 to an estimated 1.5 million annually today. And unlike some who are calling for an end to short-term trips, I think the radical jump in those who’ve had these experiences has much positive potential. In fact, I’d be thrilled if, as a modest goal, the number of short-term service trippers matched the number of Americans who go on cruises every year (currently over 20 million).

For short-term service trips to make a lasting impact on our lives, though, it’s crucial for us to ensure we go with greater humility, we serve in a way that doesn’t perpetuate paternalism or dependency, we listen and support local leaders who continue to serve after we leave, and we give thought and attention to our experience after we return. Ironically, what happens after a trip typically receives the least thought and attention, yet it’s an essential part of every experience.

Here are five suggestions for ways to ensure that your short-term trip makes a long-term impact:

 1.       Love your neighborsthe ones next door.
Sometimes, it’s easy to love people who are far away or to give generously and selflessly to others on a short-term basis, while missing the need and hurt that surround us every day. While a week-long service trip in another part of the world can absolutely make a difference, we can often have an even greater impact on those we see every day—our family members, friends, and neighbors. Love your neighbor.

2.       Suspend judgment of others.
I consider myself a pretty peaceful person, but when I returned from Cambodia on my first longer-term cross-cultural experience, I almost erupted in a grocery store. Having just spent time living with those in poverty, I entered the store and was overwhelmed by the excess of America. I hit my breaking point in the cereal aisle, where I saw a child complaining about wanting a different kind of cereal than her mom was unwilling to buy. People were starving. And she was a selfish, wealthy, and entitled spoiled brat.

In my self-righteousness, I forgot that not everyone had seen what I saw, felt what I felt, experienced what I was privileged to experience with my Cambodian neighbors. As Christ said, “Take the plank out of your own eye”—before judging people in the cereal aisle.

3.       Look for ways to stay connected.
There are many downsides to social media—but one of its greatest advantages is offering an incredibly easy way of staying in touch with people far away. When you return from a trip, become Facebook friends with the people you met on your trip. Share photos and messages about your time and nurture those new relationships. And make sure your friends globally would be proud of the way you are talking about their country, their friends, and your experience with them. Enter into long-term relationship, and continue to learn through the gift of global friendships.

4.       Simply fast.
As much as we promise “we’ll never be the same,” the reality is that we will quickly forget the experience unless it’s combined with habits to help us remember. An uncomplicated but powerful way is to start fasting, committing to a complete fast or to eating a simple meal like rice and beans one day a week. Globally and historically, we are living in unparalleled opulence; we must be intentional about remembering just how much we’ve been given.

5.       Share, pray, and give before you go again.
It sounds modest, but after a trip, invite friends over for a night of sharing about your time, commit to praying daily for those you met, and grow into greater generosity. Don’t allow yourself to go on another short-term trip, if you haven’t spent your time and your money supporting the people and causes you experienced. Become a friend and ambassador to the people and projects which stir your heart and move you to action.

Want more resources on short-term trips? Here are four excellent resources I recommend:

What else do you do to make sure that your international service experiences make a lasting impact?




August 10, 2015 — 7 Comments

It wasn’t the first time that I’ve felt raw fear course through my veins. I’ve been attacked by a gorilla in Rwanda, and held at gunpoint by bandits in Haiti. But never have I felt the sort of crippling fear that I felt this weekend as I watched my son be dragged into the ocean by a relentless riptide in Delaware.

The whipping wind and overcast skies made for a less than ideal beach day, but our kids didn’t seem to mind, energized by the towering waves crashing on the beach. Oversized waves seemed like the perfect challenge to our adventuresome 10 year old Keith. With his neon boogie board tightly clutched in his arms, he excitedly raced across the wet sand and into the ocean.


It happened in the space of a heartbeat. One minute we were laughing in the crashing waves and the next, I saw a look of pure terror on his eyes as the churning waters began to violently drag him out into the ocean. A nearby lifeguard began frantically blowing his whistle, but we all already knew that Keith was in trouble as massive waves pummeled him and like a cruel, unrelenting opponent, dragged him out further. Separated from his boogie board, he kept submerging under each wave. I began to desperately swim towards my son, but the distance between us only grew. Panic surged as I realized that the ocean was winning.

The lifeguard reached him first. Holding him tightly, he pulled Keith under each wave and slowly made his way back to shore.

Meeting him in the surf, I grabbed his hand and we walked up to shore as people applauded the lifeguard. In short order, lifeguards made three similar rescues until all swimmers had cleared out of the churning waves.

Safely back on the sandy beach, Keith and I went for a walk. Both trembling as we processed what had just happened, we had one of the most precious conversations we’ve ever had. It’s amazing how a shocking reminder of the brevity of life can bring clarity to the things that truly matter.

There’s a startling line in Ecclesiastes which states, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting…” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). How is weeping in sorrow better than laughing in joy? How does this make any sense?

It’s because any experience close to death brings clarity and has a unique way of bringing life into sharp focus. Almost everyone walks away from a funeral or a near-death experience a bit more thankful for life and loved ones. We feel a little more love, a little more gratitude, and a little more urgency to make our days matter. We have no dominion over death, but we do have dominion over our daily decisions. We can make better, more purposeful choices.

When we are reminded that our days are numbered, we spend less time arguing about politics and more time loving people. We spend less time complaining about trivial inconveniences, and more time sharing the substantial matters of life. We become less consumed with building our portfolios, and far more interested in building up the people around us.

I am deeply thankful to God and a Delaware lifeguard with a compass tattoo on his back. And I’m also thankful for one more reminder of what really matters.

Today is a gift. And it’s one that I’m not taking for granted.

In the Bible, 40 plays a prominent and recurring role. It crops up everywhere. Many of the best-known stories have the number 40 associated with them:

  • It rained 40 days on Noah.
  • Moses spent 40 years in Egypt, 40 years in Midian, and 40 years post-exodus. When he went up on Mt. Sinai, he stayed there 40 days.
  • Joshua did 40 days of recon on Canaan.
  • Israel wandered the wilderness for 40 years.
  • A criminal got 40 lashes max.
  • For 40 days Goliath taunted Israel.
  • The kings of the united monarchy—Saul, David and Solomon—all reigned 40 years.
  • For 40 days Satan tempted Jesus.
  • For 40 days Jesus appeared after his resurrection.
  • Women are pregnant for 40 weeks.
  • The army demands you do 40 push-ups.

Ok, those last two aren’t specifically biblical, but you get the idea. There’s a whole world of 40s out there. What’s with that? Is it sheer coincidence or some sort of Bible code?

Well, it’s not so much a code as a condition. It seems God deems “40” the appropriate period for testing, judging or proving something.

Just about anybody can drop and give you 20. But make it to 40 and we learn something about you.

That seems to be God’s intention for the number. When it comes to testing, “Let there be 40.”

Forty days of rain proves how dirty life on earth is. Forty years in the wilderness certifies the failure of an older generation, while creating faith in a newer one. Goliath’s forty-day taunt confirms the cowardice of one king, while Satan’s forty-day gauntlet proves the character of another.  And if you can’t get with the fact that the latter king ascended into heaven after 40 days, well, his kingdom marches on without you.

Forty. It’s God’s favorite challenge.

The Dangers of Our 40s

“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita,mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,ché la diritta via era smarrita.”[1] Dante Alighieri

Dante was about 43 years old when he began writing the Divine Comedy, nearing the nadir of midlife. The year was 1308, centuries before we invented psychology. No matter. His description is perfectly apt for today:

“Midway this way of life we’re bound upon, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, where the right road was wholly lost and gone.”

I think the disorientation of midlife is hardwired into the human experience every bit as much as puberty. The times may change, but this time doesn’t. Everybody goes through midlife.

And in the dark wood, dangers abound.

We can fall off a cliff through our own blind wandering. Like the strong man Samson who, somewhere in the middle of his life, started taking liberties with his holiness vow. As one called to be a nazir, meaning separated or consecrated, this ancient knight was not permitted to consume alcohol, touch a dead body, or cut his hair. But he brazenly did the first two, then foolishly permitted the third. Both the Lord and his strength left him (Judges 16:20), and Samson didn’t even notice until it was too late.

We can fall prey to ravenous predators. As 1 Peter 5:8 warns, “Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” And Peter knew what he was talking about. In the darkest moment of his spiritual journey, Satan nearly drained the faith right out of him, as three times he denied Christ.

We can fall into the hands of the living God. For reasons only he knows, God sometimes allows us to enter into a rigorous “40 test” when we least expect it. Deuteronomy 8:2 reminds us that Israel’s forty years in the wilderness were designed to humble and test them, in order to reveal what was in their hearts. Similarly, somewhere in the middle of King Hezekiah’s reign, circa 700 BC, God “left” him temporarily to know everything that was in his heart (2 Chron 32:31). And don’t forget Job. His was the crisis to end all crises, losing health, wealth and family in a moment. When Job awoke, the wood was darker than any of us could fathom. But if he could hold onto faith and sanity, perhaps we can too.

Midlife is a time unlike any other. It’s a moment when we are able to look back at the first 40 years of our lives and gain a new perspective for the next 40. It’s what we’re calling 40/40 vision.



Excerpt from 40/40 Vision by Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty

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[1] “Dante and the Divine Comedy: Did You Know?” Christianity Today, April 1, 2001,