Favorites of 2015 (Books, Music, Food, Experiences)

Books

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Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Berry's descriptions of the river, living in a small rural town, and farming were beautiful and made me want to ditch everything and move to Port William. His insights into human nature, love, faith, and community are profound.  

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman

Trueman's treatment of Luther is part biography, part major theological themes. It is an engaging summary for those who've appreciated Luther for a long time as well as great introduction for those not as familiar with the Reformer.

Matthew: A Commentary by Frederick Bruner

Some theologians struggle with not just saying why something is true but also why it is good. Bruner is not one of them. His commentary was both helpful, enjoyable and, dare I say at times, even tweetable. 

How Not to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James KA Smith

This book was an absolute game-changer for me as a pastor and helpful for congregants in giving them words for things they'd been feeling or experiencing but been unable to experience. I'd argue that every pastor and Millennial Christian should read Smith's book.

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal

Over the last two years I've read a good amount about the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan by the US Military and I think General McCrystal's book is the best summary of the lessons and stakes in regards to leadership. It is military in its context but broad in its implications and applications. If you like Patrick Lencioni you'd definitely like Team of Teams. 

Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal's Pensees by Peter Kreeft

In the same way Smith's book took a huge niche work like Charles Taylor's and made it understandable for the everyman, Kreeft's book brings Blaise Pascal before readers who wouldn't otherwise have read him. Highly recommended.


Music

Carry the Fire by Dustin Kensrue

I'm proud of my friend, Dustin. Carry the Fire is a beautiful, powerful, challenging record. Don't miss his album commentary on YouTube if you want to take your appreciation of the album to another level. In an age of spectacle he is creating art for the human condition. Don't miss it.

Uncomfortable by Andy Mineo

Is it fair to say that Mineo is Lecrae's protege? In my opinion "Love" is the stand-out track but the whole record is solid. 

The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us by Beach Slang

Beach Slang sounds like if Gaslight Anthem was from Gainesville (for you Hot Water Music fans). While it is musically awesome, I'd love to have a beer with James Alex and talk about whats underneath some of his lyrics.

"I'll Show You" by Justin Bieber

Yes, I'm actually putting this on my list. Just give the song a chance. 

Wilder Mind by Mumford & Sons

They dropped the banjo, kept the great songs, and were able to do what many other bands aren't able to - break through being defined by a genre or sound.

 

Dust & Disquiet by Caspian

This record is darker than their previous few but its still my favorite instrumental, post-rock albums this year.

 


New Restaurants

Than Binh II, Lake Forest

Easily the best pho we've found in Orange County. Try the oxtail pho. It is one of our favorite cheap date night options. [yelp]

Hammerheads, Louisville

Pork belly lettuce & tomato sandwich on Texas toast, BBQ ribs, fried soft shell crab sandwich, and a great beer selection in a dingy basement-like setting make this a must-try in Louisville. Orange County friends, just read the reviews and look at the pics. [yelp]

Baco Mercat, Downtown LA

This came as a recommendation from friends who used to live in DTLA and I daydream about the oxtail baco and caesar brussel sprouts. [yelp]

Hopper & Burr, Santa Ana

True story: I watched a large group come in one day and look at Hopper and Burr's five-item coffee menu. "That's it?", they exclaimed as they walked out on the hunt for a Starbucks. They may have found their way to a larger menu but they missed out on the best coffee in Orange County. [yelp]


The Voice of the Father & the Silence at the Cross

Few people are fortunate enough to have a father who was not only present but affectionate as well; one who was not only at athletic events but said that he was proud of you. Even better and far more rare, a father who expressed his love and pride in you even when you struck out, blew it on a test, or got fired - he loved you in the depths.

For most, simply hearing from their father would be a miracle. In a country where 1-in-3 kids will go to sleep tonight without a father[1], and in a state and county with a 60% divorce rate [2], this is the reality for many people. Maybe your father wasn’t present, or maybe when he was the only voice you ever heard was once of criticism or displeasure - pointing out all that you should’ve done or didn’t do. Maybe the voices who’ve filled that void have offered the carrot and stick of conditional love, only offering affection when their demands are met, and coldness when they are not.

 

 The Voice of the Father

In Matthew 3:17 God the Father speaks. He says something of such immense importance that it helps to hear it in a few different ways.

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (ESV)

And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (NLT)

A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, and I love him. I am very pleased with him.” (NiRV)

And along with the Spirit, a voice: “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” (Message)

 

There are two important things to see in God’s words for his Son. First, they are a spotlight on Jesus. The Father says, “This is my Son, the One who I promised. If you want to know me, know him. If you want to understand how I work, listen to him. If you want to come to me, you must go through him."

 

Second, the timing of these words is crucial. God states his love, affection, and delight in his Son before he has done anything in his ministry. He hasn’t preached a sermon, healed a sick person, cast out a demon, calmed a storm, or raised anyone from the dead. God’s love is given prior to performance.

 

This is of immense importance because, through faith in Jesus, the words the Father speaks over his son are for you. Scripture is clear that God loved and chose us to be adopted before he created anything (Ephesians 1:4-5). God decided to make you his son or daughter millennia before you existed, before you could contribute anything to the equation, and in full knowledge of your sin (Ephesians 2:4-5). The sin that haunts you doesn’t surprise him. God didn’t only perform a transaction in salvation, he rescued you because he loves you. He doesn’t merely tolerate you, in Jesus, he enjoys you. You’re not an obligation, he wants you to know his love and pleasure today, and everyday (Ephesians 3:14-19).

 
The Silence at the Cross

How secure is that love? How can you be assured of it? Look to what length the Father went to make it possible. Jesus, his Son, whom he delights in, loves, and cherishes; had another conversation with his Father at the end of his ministry. On the cross, the guiltless dying for the guilty, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

 

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (NLT)

“My God, my God, why have you deserted me?” (NiRV)

 

The Father was silent. The beloved Son was rejected so that you could be accepted. He was cast off so you could be brought near. Jesus was cursed so that you could know the blessing of being the Father's beloved child. The Father will never withdraw his love from his children because Jesus’ death and resurrection has made them as acceptable, perfect, and delightful as him. He will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), not because he is obligated to but because he is a God who loved you at your worst, loved you enough to give up everything to make you his. That is love in the depths, and love in the depths is a love that is secure.

 

[1] http://www.fatherhood.org/social-problems-in-america

[2] http://www.ocregister.com/common/printer/view.php?db=ocregister&id=360281

God's Merciful Memory

You could say that on the internet everything is remembered and nothing is forgiven. For some it is a regrettable picture from a night of partying; for others, memes created in the wake of a foolish decision made in front of 100 million people.


These are simple reminders of how God treats his people in a very different way.

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." (Isaiah 43:25)

"For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12)

Google may remember your sin forever and Facebook or Twitter may broadcast it like a bullhorn but because of Jesus’ death for those sins, God has promised that they are gone. The mental pictures in your memory that haunt you, the stories that your friends tell about you that remind you; God has promised that he doesn’t remember them. They are gone; paid in full at the cross never to return again. By doing that, he has taken the weapon of condemnation and shame out of the Enemy’s hand (Colossians 2:13-15). So, when you see stories and internet memes about people’s foolishness or sin, remember God’s merciful memory.