Book Review: Scary Close by Donald Miller

November 4, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

In 2006, I had just been fired from my job as a pastor in St. Louis.  I was struggling a lot personally and professionally.  I had an interview that spring for a new pastor job.  I had made it to the final 3 candidates for a church in Austin.  I was in St. Louis, and the lead pastor of that church flew to Chicago and set up at a hotel restaurant at the airport.  He met all of the candidates there.  I flew to the Chicago airport, had the interview and flew back.

scary closeThe meeting went really well.  He actually helped counsel me some in how I was struggling.  I recognized that I still needed a lot of help.  Before I got back on the plane, I went to the bookstore in the airport, where they sell books for the low cost of 120% of the cover price.  I saw the book Blue Like Jazz.  I’d heard a lot about it, but had never read it.  I picked it up.  I then read it in one sitting.  It impacted me big time.  Donald Miller gave voice to some of the confusion and hurt I was feeling and he gave me hope and courage to keep going.

After reading his book, I heard rumors that he had drifted from the Christian faith.  It had already happened to some prominent Christian authors that were “rethinking church.”  It’s still happening (cough, cough, Rob Bell).  I didn’t want it to be true, so I chose not to read any more of his books.  I wanted that book to have its place in my heart, without being tainted by him rejecting Christianity(the way the Nooma videos are now). I know that’s not the most mature perspective in the world, but it’s what I did.

Then a couple of months ago, Mark Palfreeman picked the book that we would read as a staff and it was a new book by Donald Miller.  I was nervous, but I didn’t need to be.  The book was tremendous.

Book: Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy (Click here to buy on Amazon)

Author: Donald Miller, Author and Director of Storyline and Storybrand

Why You Should Read It: Miller tells the story of how he discovered, through the pursuit of his girlfriend that would become his wife, how broken and dysfunctional he was with relationships and in his own heart.  As he is telling his journey to personal, relational and spiritual health, he gives insights into what keeps us from our own health.  There are no lists or proof texts or 5 keys to anything.  He is a master storyteller that I am now convinced lives in my head.  We have been discussing the book in staff meeting and it has taken over, in a good way.  We start discussing it and the next thing we know, staff meeting is over.  We are a diverse group of people and everyone is being impacted by this book.

Why Some Would Say You Shouldn’t: It’s that Blue Like Jazz guy.  Is he even a Christian? I heard he doesn’t go to church.  There aren’t any Scripture references in this book.  Where are the action items? Is this even a Christian book?

Why They Are Wrong: It’s not a traditional Christian book.  It is not linear.  It doesn’t have to-do lists.  He barely references the Bible at all.  He also doesn’t go to a local church.  All of that is true.  However, he is clearly gifted in communicating truth.  He is incredibly insightful into what goes on inside the human heart.  Go in understanding that this book is unlike the other Christian books out there and you will be challenged.

Questions to consider: What is holding me back from intimacy with other people?  What has happened in my past that is holding me back?  What dangerous things do I believe and think that I’ve come to believe are just “who I am?” How are these keeping from being who God has called me to be? Am I emotionally and personally healthy? Am I willing to even ask that question? Do I even understand that question?

Conclusion: Buy this book.  Get a group of people you trust and read it together and discuss it.  Don’t read it alone.  Read it with people that can process with you what he’s talking about.

Book Review: The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

September 7, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

New feature here at  I will periodically recommend books, blogs, and podcasts that have been particularly impactful for me, and I believe could do the same for you.  I probably won’t blog about the books that I have read and don’t like. That just doesn’t seem cool.  It seems more like trolling.  You might could talk me into it though if you thought it would be helpful.  We will start with a book that I have already read once with our staff and a small group.  3 years later, I am reading it again with our staff.

Book: The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears (Click here to buy on Amazon)

circle maker

Author: Mark Batterson, Lead Pastor of National Community Church

Why You Should Read It: Batterson challenges way too common Christian approaches to praying that I have struggled with for much of my Christian walk.  I pray timid prayers.  He says that a big God is honored by bold prayers and is bothered by timid ones.  God doesn’t want us to hedge our bets when we pray. “God please do this, but if you don’t then make me happy with that or whatever you are going to do.  Never mind.  Sorry to bother you.”  By using stories from his life, others lives and powerful Biblical stories, Batterson makes a strong case to believe that God wants to do big things through your life and in your life. If you will pray with confidence and persistence, you will see God show up in much bigger ways than most people see.

Why Some Would Say You Shouldn’t: He uses as his primary metaphor a story that doesn’t come from the Bible from the time between the two testaments of the Bible.  Honi prays that God will bring rain during a drought by drawing a circle in the sand and says he won’t come out until God answers.  Since the story is not from the Bible it is dangerous to build a case around it.  Even when it is paired with other stories from the Bible, it is dangerous because it could lead to “name it, claim it,” and us arrogantly believing that we can tell God what to do.

Why They Are Wrong: It’s a story and a metaphor.  That’s it.  His metaphor is drawing circles around your prayers which means confidently believing that God will answer.  Any metaphor would work, he likes this one because he likes Honi and that story.  As far as name it claim it goes, Batterson does a good job of giving examples of unanswered prayers, but he is not timid in saying that if God wants it for us, we should boldly pray and expect God to do it.  Most of us need to hear that message because we have come to expect a God that doesn’t intervene in our lives and doesn’t want to do big things.

Questions to consider: Do I believe that God wants to do big things in my life?  Why do I pray timidly? Is it really because I don’t want to offend God or is it just that I am timid?  Why do I believe that God did big things in the Bible, but I settle for small and ordinary in my life?  What big dream has God laid on my heart that I am afraid to pray passionately for?

Conclusion: Buy this book.  While your at it, buy anything that Batterson has written.  He is a great author with a refreshing take on what God wants to do in your life.