The Game Changer for My Prayer Life This Year

Lots of people are posting about their favorite books of 2022. I’ll share the one I’ve read 12 times this year. This is the Illuminated Scripture Journal of the book of Psalms. Between each page of biblical text, there is a blank page for note taking, journaling, and writing out prayers. You can order it by tapping on the link above.

I’ve been reading through the Psalms every month for about 15 years now. Five Psalms a day for 30 days gets you through the whole book. Some days I will listen to them on YouVersion while I am on my way to work. There is an excellent plan called Psalms and Proverbs in 30 Days that I’ve now completed 60 times.

However, ever since reading Donald Whitney’s Praying the Bible earlier this year, I’ve selected one Psalm to pray through each day. It has changed my prayer life.

If you are looking for a way to deepen your prayer life in 2023, start with the Bible’s own prayer book— the Psalms. But don’t just read them. Pray them. Dialogue with them. Wrestle them, hold them down, pin them to the mat of your soul and say “I will not let you go until you bless me” (Genesis 32:26).

I promise you, they will.

Review of “The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11”

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everyone in my generation has their story of where they were on 9/11. And it seems to be one of the rare topics of conversation that elicits both one’s undivided attention and a sense of visceral empathy. More than any other single event I can think of, we want to hear what someone else’s experience is, and we want to share our own.

In “The Only Plane in the Sky,” Garrett Graff recounts the “Where were you” stories from hundreds of first responders, survivors, air traffic controllers, family members, politicians, journalists, military personnel, schoolchildren, and bystanders. He then organizes them chronologically and geographically, skipping back and forth between Manhattan, Arlington, Shanksville, Air Force One, and even the International Space Station. The result is a nearly minute by minute account of that flawless, terrible day. If you are looking for interpretation, this isn’t the book for you. This is the first draft of history before even the journalists got to it. It is raw, emotional, uplifting, and sad all at the same time, and for me, it was nearly un-put-down-able.

The audiobook is excellent, utilizing a cast of nearly forty voice actors, as well as archival audio of cockpit conversations with air traffic control, presidential speeches, and live journalism. When it comes to voicemails between victims and their family members, however, the audiobook mercifully does not provide the actual recordings. Personally, I am grateful for that modicum of discretion. What is there is devastating enough.

The Only Plane in the Sky is a powerful experience for anyone that lived through that day, and is essential reading for anyone that did not. It is a book that will stay with me for awhile.

View all my reviews

Review of “Committed: Dispatches From a Psychiatrist in Training” by Adam Stern, MD

This was a quick, easy memoir about a young psychiatrist, detailing his four years of residency at Harvard-Longwood school of Psychiatry. Adam Stern details his relationships with his fellow, high achieving, insecure classmates, his love life, and, most interesting to me, his experiences with his first patients. It’s a little like Gray’s Anatomy, without the blood.

But it is also the story of developing empathy, not just for one’s patients but also for his colleagues. And this turned out to be my favorite part of the book.

As a pastor, I resonated a lot with this book. Pastoral counseling has a lot in common with psychiatry in that they are both highly subjective, and at times you wonder if you are really making much of a difference. Broken people don’t get fixed very easily, and they don’t always stay fixed.

I loved Stern’s description of the Imposter Syndrome. That even when you have the title and the lab coat and the degree on the wall, you feel woefully unprepared to be the expert your job says you are. And yet, you learn by doing, you get better at it as you go, and at some point you give yourself the grace to say “Maybe I’m not such a train wreck at this as I thought I was.”

There are differences, of course. For one, pastors can’t prescribe drugs, and self medicating is generally frowned upon. Also, in my field, not everyone who hears voices is delusional. We actually encourage it. In all seriousness, pastors really do believe that God is guiding us and can provide wise counsel to those who seek him.

And while I can’t imagine doing my work without this core conviction that a benevolent God guides my steps, there is a point at which we pastors could benefit from the kind of cohort Dr Stern describes. I wonder how much more effective I would be as a pastor if I had had a period of residency, where I was closely supervised by veteran pastors. Where we would meet once a week with our colleagues to process the difficult cases that came our way that week. Where we would meet once a month for a “Morbidity and Mortality” review of how we responded to losing a church member. Without a doubt, we would have healthier pastors, and it is highly likely that we would have healthier churches as well. If pastors could adopt the “Never Worry Alone” maxim of the Harvard school of psychiatry, I’ll bet we would have fewer burned out pastors who need a psychiatrist.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being a pastor. I hold to the conviction that God guides me. But just because God is all I need, that doesn’t mean I have to act as though God is all I have. I need to find me a feelings class.

Review of Romans, Chapter 1, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

One down, thirteen to go! This is the main part of my reading goal for this year— to read through all 14 volumes of MLJ’s exposition of Romans. Pro tip: subscribe to the Martyn Lloyd-Jones podcast. The MLJ trust ( has converted all the audio recordings of his sermons to digital format. This basically allows you to make an audiobook out of this commentary. So every morning when I walk my dog I listen to a chapter. That is, I listen to one of his sermons.

How extraordinary they are! Preaching through Romans like MLJ did is one of those feats of strength and endurance that most people only read about. Like swimming the English Channel, or completing the Seven Summits. On October 7, 1955, MLJ began (on Friday nights, no less!) to teach through Romans. Thirteen years later, he concluded Chapter 14. The last word of the last sermon was “peace.”

After that, MLJ retired from his weekly pulpit duties because of illness. He did not complete the 16 chapters of Romans (slacker!) He spent the remaining years of his life editing the teaching notes and manuscripts that became this magnum opus.

Can you imagine a modern preacher doing that? He spent 29 weeks on the 32 verses of Romans 1, each sermon lasting almost 50 minutes. With no PowerPoint or video clips or LED lighting to set the mood or a worship leader to create the atmosphere.

Yet, to hear the sound of 1500 people rising to their feet for the closing prayer, on a Friday night, after this man spent fifty minutes on the phrase “called to be an apostle”— it is both a testimony to the power of God’s words spoken through a servant yielded to Him, as well as an indictment of how short our attention spans have grown in just half a century.

The sermons themselves are magnificent. As timely today in their critique of prosperity gospel and leader worship as they were in the decade immediately following WW2. If you read these, I can’t emphasize strongly enough how much it would benefit you to hear MLJ preach them. His style has been called “logic on fire,” and that is so apt. These are carefully constructed, systematic treatments of nearly every word of Romans, and the teaching leaps off the page. But then, you listen to the sermon! You hear Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his musical Welsh accent—with that epic rolling of the r’s—thunder about the r-r-r-rIGHTEOUSNESS of GOd! And the “grrrrrace of awr Lard Jesus Christ throughout our short uncertain pilgrimage.” Oh, if I could go back in time, it would be to London, on a Friday night in the early sixties. I would meet friends at a pub. We would have a pint of Guinness together. We’d walk to Westminster Chapel and settle in to our favorite wooden bench pew. Perhaps up in a corner of the horseshoe shaped balcony. And for the next hour, we would see and hear logic on fire, and come face to face with the righteousness of a holy God.

This year I’m trying to read through Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ 14 volume exposition of Romans. Lloyd-Jones began teaching through Romans on Friday nights at Westminster Chapel in London on October 7, 1955. Thirteen years later, at the end of chapter 14, he was forced to retire from the pulpit ministry because of illness. He spent the rest of his life editing the manuscripts of his sermons. All his sermons were recorded on tape, and are available at

Review of “Putting it Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park With George” by James Lapine

I was a theater minor in college, and in one of my classes we watched the musical “Sunday in the Park With George,” about Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. I had never heard of the musical or the painting. The most I knew was that Mandy Patinkin (who played Seurat) was Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, and the painting was featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

I got obsessed with the musical, and with the painting. When my creative writing class assignment was to write a poem about a piece of art, I wrote about Seurat’s painting, choosing the most complicated form and rhyme scheme I could think of (an Italian sonnet in trochaic hexameter or something) because I wanted to capture what a precise and technical painter Seurat was. The poem was awful, by the way, and I deserved the “pretentious and lifeless” comment from my professor when I turned it in.

When I went to Chicago, I made a pilgrimage to the Art Institute to see La Grand Jatte in person. I swear to you, my breath caught in my chest when I entered the gallery where it hangs, huge and beautiful and brilliant.

So when I was looking for something to read on Scrib’d, this one caught my eye. It is an oral history by James Lapine, who collaborated with Sondheim on Sunday, and would later team with him again on Into the Woods.

Lapine’s writing flows easily between exposition and interviews with the various actors, producers, and designers he worked with, as well as conversations with Sondheim himself. The audiobook does a great job of using various voice actors to read the interview bits. An extra treat for fans of the TV show Blue Bloods is that the voice actor who reads Sondheim is Len Cariou, who plays the patriarch of the Reagan clan. Of course, if the audiobook had actually had Sondheim, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Kelsey Grammar, Christina Baranski, and all the others that had a hand in the development of Sunday it would be priceless.

As it is, this is still a pretty incredible history of the making of this particular musical, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the whole process of collaboration and development for any creative work. Lapine doesn’t shy away from talking with the people he didn’t get along with on the set, and enough time has passed that no one comes across as still having an axe to grind.

If you ever saw Sunday in the Park With George, have ever listened to the music, or if you just like French Impressionism, this book is essential reading/listening. But even if you are just interested in the creative process, what it takes to put on a Broadway show, or are looking for some insight into how to work with creatives, you will enjoy this book.

Review of Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Follow my 2022 reading journey. I’ll try to write a review of what I’m reading throughout the year.

Dune is slow going at first, but richly rewarding if you stay with it. A blurb on the back of the edition I read commented that the only other work that does world building on this level is Lord of the Rings That’s not a bad comparison. You’ll find a lot of dense mythology,

Dune was first published in 1965, the year before I was born. I’ve never been much of a sci-fi fan, but I wanted to try this one after the movie came out this year. I was struck by how much its story arc has been imitated in other stories that have come since. Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, Avatar— all about outsiders with superior technology who learn the ways of the native people, become accepted by them, marry a local girl, rise as a leader, and then defeat the people they came from.

I don’t know if Dune did it first or not. I wouldn’t be surprised if Herbert was influenced by the real life story of Lawrence of Arabia. The idea of “desert power” certainly reminded me of the British hero of WW1, who fought alongside Arabs against the technological superiority of the Germans.

I do have an issue with the audiobook, though. Simon Vance is always excellent as a narrator, and I would have been fine with the entire book done by him. But there are some chapters that are dramatized— James Earl Jones as Baron Harkanen, Scott Brick (also one of my favorites) as Duke Leto, and later as Stillgar, I think. And that’s the problem. Either go all the way with one or the other. Or have some logical reason for switching to a dramatized version. And this isn’t Hamilton. Don’t have the same narrator reading multiple parts, unless he’s the only narrator you have. It was just so jarring going back and forth.

View all my reviews

Reflections on “Holy Justice” (from RC Sproul’s “The Holiness of God”)


holiness of god

I discovered R.C. Sproul fairly recently– last year I read Chosen by God as the first book I had read by him, and I felt like I was reading an American CS Lewis. This week, thanks to my friend Mark Knight trying to consolidate his library, I started reading Sproul’s The Holiness of God. And it is a fantastic book.

Chapter Six is called “Holy Justice,” and it deals with the harsh stories of God’s judgment against Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10); Uzzah (1 Chronicles 13-15), the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Canaanite nations that were driven out before the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land. As Sproul says in the opening paragraph, these are not stories for the faint or faint of heart.

It’s admittedly hard to square our “God is love” understanding from the New Testament with the God who put Nadab and Abihu to death for experimenting with the rituals of sacrifice. It’s even harder to think about Uzzah, whose only offense (if you could even call it an offense) was trying to keep the ark from falling into the mud when the oxen stumbled who were pulling the oxcart it was sitting on. But Sproul makes some great observations which help us understand this story:

  1. The ark should never have been on an oxcart in the first place. God’s law was clear that it was to be carried on poles inserted through rings (see Ex. 25:10-16).
  2. Uzzah should never have been in a position to touch the ark in the first place. Only the Levites were authorized to approach the ark, and even then, not all of them could. Sproul suggests that Uzzah might have been a Koathite, which would have allowed him to carry the ark in the prescribed manner (see the above point). But even if he was (and I think this is a big if. I’m not sure how Sproul comes to this conclusion); the Koathites absolutely couldn’t touch the holy things, or they would die (Numbers 4:17-20). David apparently learned from the mistake, because 1 Chronicles 15 is very clear that Obed Edom, who has been housing the ark, is among the Levites who ultimately transport the ark to the City of David.
  3. It was presumptuous for Uzzah to assume his hands were holier than the ground. Uzzah did what any devout Jew would do–he reflexively reached out to steady the ark. But who are we to believe our hands, attached to our bodies, which rebel against God time and time again, are holier than the God-created ground, which never disobeys God? Sproul writes “Uzzah assumed his hand was less polluted than the earth. But it wasn’t the ground or the mud that would have polluted the ark; it was the touch of man” (Holiness of God, p. 108).

As I was journaling on this today, it came together in a poem. I wrote the last stanza several years ago, but this expands on that one stanza. You can kind of sort of sing it to “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Enjoy.


Look at God’s ark, on an ox-cart.

That’s a bad start, ain’t it?

Where’s the long poles that the priests hold

So their hands won’t taint it?

Oxen stumble, Uzzah fumbled,

Put out his hand and grabbed it.

The deadly lesson–don’t go messin’

With holy things, like Nadab did.

Why should we who are sinful all through

Think our hands are cleaner

Than the mud that blooms and buds at

God’s word, and earth made greener?

Obed-Edom, how we need him

To handle the ark safely

He’s a Levite; he’s got the right.

But Uzzah wasn’t, was he?


Review of James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and LeadershipA Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James B. Comey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First things first: I am a conservative Christian. A Baptist Pastor. I live in Alabama, where yard signs for Democrats are as rare as college football championships everywhere else in the country.

So if you’ve already made up your mind where this review is going to go, congratulations: you have been influenced by the media.

See, media, by definition, is “that which stands between.” “Mediator”–someone who stands in the middle between two opposing parties, has the same etymology as “media.” So does “median,” which is a strip of land that divides two streams of traffic going in opposite directions. Which is an appropriate analogy for what the “mainstream media” literally does. It stands between the traffic going left and the traffic going right.

The only way NOT to be influenced by the media is to get your news directly from the source. Most of us will never get an opportunity to talk directly with the main characters in the news. So the next best thing is to read their memoirs. To that end, this year I’ve read “What Happened by Hillary Clinton (worth the read); “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff (totally NOT worth the read); “Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years by David Litt (a speechwriter for Obama whose wheelhouse was comedy writing–worth the read) and “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur (somewhere in the middle). What all these have in common with Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty” is that they were all written by someone who was actually “there” for the events that were making the news. Clinton’s book and Comey’s book were directly from the POV of the newsmaker; Litt’s and Tur’s were from several rungs down. But still, they represent, at least to some extent, unmediated media.

So, if you really want to make up your mind how you feel about James Comey, stop reading this review, go read the book for yourself, and then let’s talk.

Still here? Oh well, I tried. I guess I’m part of the media now.

So here it is: The book itself is very well written, and makes a compelling case for why the FBI and the Department of Justice must be separate and non partisan. Whether or not you agree with what Comey did with Hillary’s emails, his explanation for what he did and why he did it fits with his worldview and is consistent with what he says he has done throughout his career.

I really can’t say much about the politics. That’s beyond my level of expertise. So let me comment on what IS my area: Comey handles the Bible well. When he writes about the death of his infant son in 1995, he deals with Romans 8:28 and the book of Job with sound theology. When he casually mentions Proverbs 28:1 (“the wicked man flees though none pursue”) in the context of Trump’s over-defensiveness on certain topics, you realize that this guy has more than just a superficial relationship with the Bible. His handling of Scripture was much more skillful than, say, Trump’s (mis)handling of “Two Corinthians” 3:17 at Liberty University.

And for me, that matters. For me, that speaks to Comey’s credibility in his recounting of details. Add to that his quotes from Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr, two bedrock Christian ethicists and theologians; his allusion to Martin Luther’s “Here I stand” quote, and the fact that he made Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” required reading for all new FBI recruits, and I am much more likely to take what he says about integrity and honesty seriously. Much more likely than I am to swallow the version of his adversary, who so far is publishing his memoir 140 characters at a time.

As far as the much-maligned comparison of Trump to a mafia don, I can only say that once I realized Comey had ACTUAL experience with mafia dons, I was willing to give Comey the benefit of the doubt.

Comey seems to display a pretty high level of emotional intelligence, and makes a compelling argument for, 1) why it is an indispensable quality for leadership, and 2) how Trump is absolutely lacking in it. His insights into the various leadership styles of George W Bush, Obama, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, and John Ashcroft lay a foundation for accepting his negative comparisons to Trump and Jeff Sessions.

I’ll wrap up this review simply by saying that if you want to truly rise above media bias, then you have to get as close as you can to the source material. Read Comey’s memoir, and make up your own mind. Otherwise, just realize you are letting Anderson Cooper and/or Sean Hannity describe for you what the traffic is like on the other side of the MEDIAn.

View all my reviews

%d bloggers like this: