June’s top ten articles at Blogging Theologically

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Let’s take a trip back in time and check out the top ten posts in June:

 

  1. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  2. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  3. 5 books every new Christian should read (May 2014)
  4. Six books every Christian should read on prayer (August 2014)
  5. How do we keep these things from happening? (June 2015)
  6. What should the church expect as same-sex marriage moves forward? (April 2015)
  7. Five phrases Christians should never use again (May 2015)
  8. Seven books to read on Christianity and homosexuality (August 2014)
  9. Long preaching isn’t always good preaching (May 2015)
  10. Five books Christian dads should read (June 2015)

And just for fun, here are five favorites written over the month:

If you haven’t had a chance to already, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check out a few of these articles.

May’s top 10 articles at Blogging Theologically

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Let’s take a trip back in time and check out the top ten posts in May:

  1. Five phrases Christians should never use again (May 2015)
  2. What should the church expect as same-sex marriage moves forward? (April 2015)
  3. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  4. Long preaching isn’t always good preaching (May 2015)
  5. The way we show love to abusive leaders (May 2015)
  6. Preaching and Pragmatism (July 2011)
  7. Church Buildings: They’re actually useful! (December 2009)
  8. Six books every Christian should read on prayer (August 2014)
  9. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  10. What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (April 2015)

And just for fun, here are five favorites written over the month:

If you haven’t had a chance to already, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check out a few of these articles.

Why haven’t I been reviewing a lot of books lately?

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One of the early features of this blog was book reviews. I started writing these almost by accident. I was broke, liked reading, discovered blogger review programs, and away I went. That’s literally about as much thought as went into starting.

But recently, I’ve been writing far fewer reviews. Where at this time last year, I’d probably written 20 or more, I’ve written maybe 10 (which, in all honesty, is still probably quite a bit considering the average 18-to-29 year old finishes nine books per year). I still love writing them because they’re among the most challenging things to write.

So why haven’t I been writing them as often? A few reasons:

1. They’re exhausting. Up until about six months ago, I was probably writing at least one book review every week. Think about that for a second: to write one of these every single week meant having to have read at least one book every single week (usually more), and to have enough time to think through what I’ve read. I think I hit a wall because, even though they’re fun to write, they’re such a difficult thing to write well.

2. Changing demands on my time. I’m always trying to make sure I’m leading a healthy lifestyle, one that includes getting a decent night’s sleep (which is very hard for me). The one class I was taking for seminary last term took up a great deal of my time with writing reflection papers on the books I was reading, as well as my term paper, which took nearly as much time to write in terms of effort as half of my second book. I’m also getting ready to make good on some promises I made back in April to write some book proposals, which means on the off chance one gets picked up, I’ll probably be spending a lot more time working on whatever one of those turns into. Then there’s this other idea I’m just starting to plan out… (But I’ll talk about that another time.)

3. I’ve been a bit bored with what I have been reading of late. Something I’d mentioned in my recap of last year’s re-read project is many of the books I’ve been reading have been well-written, but they’ve felt fairly safe. I haven’t really felt strongly about the books I’m reading, even the good ones. So if they’re not inciting a passionate response in me, I’m probably not going to be inclined to share too much about them.

So does this mean I’m done with reviewing books? Not even a little. It just means I don’t know what my routine looks like yet for writing reviews. Maybe I’ll get back to doing one a week. Maybe I’ll do one every other week or every month. It really all depends on whether or not a book I’m reading actually warrants me writing about it.

The best of April at Blogging Theologically

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Let’s take a trip back in time and check out the top ten posts in April:

  1. What should the church expect as same-sex marriage moves forward? (April 2015)
  2. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  3. Why aren’t unknown pastors headlining Christian conferences? (April 2015)
  4. 3 favorite teaching moments from #TGC15 (April 2015)
  5. What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (April 2015)
  6. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  7. Six books every Christian should read on prayer (August 2014)
  8. Announcing my next book: Hannah’s Dilemma (April 2015)
  9. Preaching and Pragmatism (July 2011)
  10. 5 books every new Christian should read (March 2015)

And just for fun, here are five favorites written over the month:

  1. The answer to our worship problem
  2. What do you do when books attack? (a #bibliophileprobs poem)
  3. What do true teachers do?
  4. The only reasonable thing to do
  5. Don’t invite them to church this weekend

If you haven’t had a chance to already, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check out a few of these articles.

Why I’m excited about For the Church

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Today’s an exciting day for my friends at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: their new venture, For the Church, launches today! What’s even more exciting for me (from a purely selfish perspective) is that I get to be a part of it as a contributor.

Here’s why I’m particularly keen on this new site:

1. The vision. For the Church is all about  engaging, encouraging, and equipping the Church with gospel-centered resources that are pastoral, practical, and devotional:

This tone—being practical, pastoral and devotional–is really important, especially in a world where we have far too much bad news thrown at us, including from our fellow believers. I don’t know about you, but I get a little tired and depressed after reading 18 posts on the latest violation of Americans’ fundamental freedoms, or the continuing crisis in the Middle East. By no means should we stick our heads in the sand; but we do need to remember that if all we’re getting is this message—difficulty, trial, persecution, suffering—then we are going to be living our saddest life now.

We need fuel to face the bad news that constantly assails us. We need to encouraged in the gospel, and to be strengthened for what lies ahead. We need to inform our heads, yes, but we also need to strengthen our hearts. That’s For the Church is offering, and it’s something I am eager to read.

2. The contributors. MBTS has put together a phenomenal crew of writers for this site, including Brandon Smith, Michael Kelley, Joe Thorn, Erik Raymond… these are guys I enjoy learning from and folks whose writing makes me want to be a better one. That is pretty exciting to me—and I hope it will be to you, as well, especially if you’re an aspiring writer. Just as with preaching, you need to read a lot (and read a lot of different styles) to really find your own voice. Reading work from as diverse a group as For the Church’s contributors will go a long way.

3. Jared Wilson. I’m not gonna lie: Jared Wilson is one of the guys I most respect, both as a pastor and a writer. His writing has been consistently helpful to me (and he’s been kind enough to put up with periodic emails from a knucklehead like me for years). So, him asking me to contribute is not something I take lightly, and I’m grateful to be a part of the team.

So what will I be writing on? 

One of my first posts should be up on today called “The Challenge of Contending.” This is a post that gives a snapshot of how to contend for the faith without being contentious. Following that, I’ve got a new series that will be starting sometime in the near future based upon the things I wish I’d known as a new believer.

There’s lots more that I could say about this new endeavor, but for now, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the exciting  the most important is to encourage you to check it out for yourself. Enjoy the first batch of articles, and be sure to add For the Church to your favorite feed reader today!

The best of March at Blogging Theologically

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Let’s take a trip back in time and check out the top ten posts in March:

  1. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  2. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  3. 3 reasons why reading the Bible feels like a chore (February 2015)
  4. Six books every Christian should read on prayer (August 2014)
  5. Church Buildings: They’re actually useful! (December 2009)
  6. 5 books Christians should read on Islam (March 2015)
  7. Preaching and Pragmatism (July 2011)
  8. Ministry Idolatry (January 2011/rewritten in September 2014)
  9. 6 thoughts on 6 years of blogging (March 2015)
  10. 5 books every new Christian should read (March 2015)

And just for fun, here are five favorites written over the month:

  1. Why I try to pray right away
  2. Seven words you should never say to creatives
  3. The number one way to encourage rebellion
  4. When should we use harsh language?
  5. Four guidelines for literary evangelists

If you haven’t had a chance to already, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check out a few of these articles.

Why I keep waffling about starting a podcast

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So, every so often, I entertain the thought of starting a podcast. Why? Mostly because I like trying new things.

Podcasting, while not being something new, seem to have exploded in cultural awareness… and maybe that’s why I waffle on the idea, too. Am I entertaining the idea because it’s cool to do right now, or because I actually want to do one and have something to contribute?

Can you see my dilemma?

On the one hand, I really do like to do things that are fun and interesting. Those things also usually take a fair bit of work (which doesn’t scare me in the least). On the other hand, is what I’d do in one actually interesting enough to people who aren’t me that they’d benefit from it?

I guess it depends on the idea, doesn’t it?

Currently, I’m toying with the idea of interview style discussion of practical ministry combined with discussion (and possible debate) over the most important meal of the day. Personally, I could have a lot of fun with this, in no small part because of the idea of combining my love of preaching and pancakes. Plus, I’m Canadian, which means you Americans might hear me rant about that weird white sauce sausage gravy.

So what do y’all think? Should I hit the go button on this or keep waffling?


Photo credit: Waffle via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

6 thoughts on 6 years of blogging

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Last week, I celebrated six years of doing this whole blogging thing. By “celebrating”, I mean I said, “Have I really been at it that long?” And then I looked at how many archived posts there are. And shortly after that, I realized this blog is older than two of my children. So, yes, it really has been that long.

In light of this anniversary of sorts, I thought I’d take a moment to share a few thoughts about the last six years:

1. Content curation matters. Probably the best thing I’ve done in the last three years was adding the “Links I like” daily article, collecting the most interesting material that came into my RSS reader. I’ve always been thankful whenever someone has liked something I’ve written enough to share it with their readers (bloggers) and friends (social networks), and it’s nice to return the favor.

2. I don’t have to write about everything. Sometimes I don’t have anything to say about a specific topic. Sometimes I do, but it’s best left to myself. Knowing when to speak and when not to has been something I’ve struggled to learn how to do, but I hope I’m at least starting to do well.

3. Schedules are tools, not masters. Although there’s no real pressure (it seems) from you all to post daily, I do enjoy doing so. However, with travel, school, illness, and a few other projects that came up, I definitely felt the crunch in February. As a result, I didn’t write as many new articles, though I did still have something up every day. In my silliness, I don’t know if I would have done the same a few years ago. Correction: I know I wouldn’t have done the same a few years ago. I’d have probably had a mild panic attack or something.

4. It’s easy to forget what I’ve already written. Seriously. I had an idea for a post just today, and realized I’d written it three years ago. That said, I’d probably say it differently now, so I may still revisit.

5. Blogging has opened up a number of new opportunities. I’d have never written a book if I hadn’t started blogging. I wouldn’t have spoken at a conference if I hadn’t started blogging. I wouldn’t have met some terrific people—including Dan Darling, Chris Poblete, Nathan Bingham, Matt Smethurst, Dave Jenkins, Steve McCoy, Joey Cochran, and a ton of others who I hope won’t be offended because their names aren’t in this list—if I hadn’t started blogging. I am very grateful for all of these things, and more besides.

6. I’ve got really great readers. I know it’s a bit cliché, but it’s true. I really do have some terrific readers here.(And if this is your first time here, “hi!” Be sure to go here to see what I’m all about.) Some email me to let me know when there’s a typo (which I appreciate). Others are willing to offer correction when I’ve made an error. Others still occasionally let me know how something they’ve read has helped them in their walk with Christ (which, to me, is pretty much the best). The fact that you read however often you choose to read is very encouraging to me.

Three things I’d like to see in the Christian blogosphere in 2015

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Over the last few years, I’ve developed a bit of a tradition: thinking about a few things I’d like to see in this strange corner of the Internet known as the Christian blogosphere each year (here’s a look at the 20122013 and 2014 editions). For me, this is somewhat therapeutic—and not in the “venting about all the things that grind my gears” sense. For me, it’s a chance to look back and consider where bloggers–particularly me—can grow and change as we represent Jesus on the Interwebs.

Here are three things I’d like to see (and am hoping to do) this year:

1. Fewer blind eyes turned to serious issues. This is a strange one for me to include, since I’m not a fan of chasing controversy. But one of the reasons controversies happen in the first place—at least to some degree—is because people are silent. As the curious ethical decisions and/or compromises of many Christian-famous types continue to come to light (see, for example, Christianity Today’s recent piece on buying your way onto bestsellers’ lists), my encouragement would be that we not shut down discussion, ignore or turn a blind eye. Instead, we should actually wrestle with the issues being raised—and talk about them.

 

2. More admonishing with tears. However, even as we do speak up about problems, we must avoid seeming prideful and arrogant in how we address them. Ad hominems should not be known among us. Instead, we should model ourselves after Paul, who wept for those he warned. Where I feel compelled to offer correction or speak up on an issue, I want to do so in a way that makes it clear that I’m doing so out of great concern for those involved.

3. Write like you like writing. If you’re a blogger, I’d hope it’s because you do it for a really good reason… like because you enjoy writing. It’s easy to get overly concerned with figuring out how to drive traffic to your website; but the problem with getting overly concerned about numbers is it’s easy to start caring more about traffic than writing content you care about. (I’m especially talking to myself here.) Don’t worry about finding the perfect formula, or the right combination of times when to tweet a link or update Facebook, or whether or not you’re SEO-ing hard enough. Write something you like. Something that matters to you. Play. Have fun. Write like you like writing, and let the Lord sort out the rest.

That’s what I’m hoping to see in the months ahead—and what I’m going to be trying to do. What about you?

What should I review?

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Every so often, it’s fun for me to ask your advice on what to review. The very first time I asked was back in 2010, and wound up reviewing Sun Stand Still as a result. The next time, I reviewed The Gospel Transformation Bible and Delighting in the Law of the Lord. And most recently, with your encouragement, PROOF and Facing Leviathan.

And now, I’d love your help once again! Here are five options I’m considering:

…or something else! If these choices look a bit too “safe,” recommend something else!

So how about it—if I were going to review one of these books, which should it be?

Let me know in the comments over the next couple days, and I’ll let you know which to expect a review of in a few days.


Photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

My blogging toolkit

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Every once in a while I get a question about how to get started in blogging. While there’s lots to say about the writing side, something I don’t want to ignore is the blogger’s toolkit. The tools we choose—from our platform to where we source images—play a huge role in a reader’s experience. So what do I use?

Here’s a look at my current toolkit:

1. WordPress. While there are a lot of great blogging platforms out there, I’m a big, big fan of WordPress. I started out on WordPress.com and moved to a self-hosted platform in 2010. I love using WordPress because it has all the functionality I need and then some. Although I didn’t find it terribly appealing back in WP’s early days (back when they hadn’t made it for “normal” people to use) it has grown into a powerful content management system and (finally!) has a lovely and functional interface. (For those curious, if I were to ever leave WP, I’d probably consider Ghost. Here’s a good write-up on the differences between the two.)

2. StudioPress. I’ve tried a lot of different themes over the last few years, and only three have ever been seen publicly. For years, I used the now defunct Standard Theme. About eight months ago, I switched to StudioPress.com‘ Sixteen-Nine theme. It’s elegant, simple and keeps the focus on content—and the Genesis Framework keeps everything running beautifully. I’ll definitely be continuing to use StudioPress for the foreseeable future as I continue to improve the look and feel of this website.

3. Disqus. Although WordPress’ native commenting system has improved greatly in the last couple years, I absolutely love Disqus, which is a powerful and effective comment management platform.

4. Mailchimp. Initially, I didn’t really manage my mailing list. And then I smartened up and switched to Mailchimp. It’s easy to use, it’s interface is super-attractive, great analytics and a ton of great templates for emails.

5. Wufoo. There are a lot of great survey and form tools out there (including Survey Monkey), but these days I’m really enjoying Wufoo. Like Mailchimp. it’s interface is pretty easy to use, it has great reporting tools and you can do a fair bit with no or little money.

6. Photo Pin. Photo Pin offers up a wide variety of images (of varying levels of quality) from Flickr for bloggers to use for free, provided they include the proper attribution. I find a lot of what I need here, and I’m almost always happy with it. Except…

7. LightStock. This is a paid service which offers high-quality stock images ideal for faith-based organizations and content. When I’m looking for a really specific image, this is the place I go. (They also have a free photo of the week available to anyone with an account, which isn’t too shabby at all.)

8. Canva. Although I do use PhotoShop for a lot of work, these days I’m using a new addition to my toolkit for social media graphics and simple items on the blog: Canva. I absolutely love this tool because it allows anyone who’s willing to put in a bit of time to have beautifully designed images to share online.

What I learned in the 2014 readers survey

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A few weeks ago, I asked you to participate in my first-ever readers survey. The survey was intended to help me learn a little bit more about you and how I can better serve you through this blog. Here are a few of the key content-related findings:

Post frequency: The vast majority (88.8 per cent) think the amount of content is just right.

Why it matters: This is helpful to know since it apparently means I’m not overwhelming the majority of you with daily posts. A few people suggested an increase in frequency, which I found fascinating, but because I need to sleep sometimes, I’m going to have to say no.


Most and least enjoyed content: Of the content you most enjoy, theology and Christian living articles tend to be the favorites, followed closely by “links I like” and book reviews. Of the content least enjoyed, only a handful of people responded, but of that handful, most are not fans of family-related articles and quotes.

Why it matters: This is helpful because it means that, more or less, I’m on the right track with producing content you actually want to read. That said, I do want to take seriously the “least enjoyed” responses, which is why you’ve probably noticed that I’ve reduced the number of posts sharing quotes on the weekend.


On the change I’m considering: Regarding the big change I’m considering—that is, the addition of sponsored posts—you’re overwhelmingly (76 per cent) neutral or (15 per cent) warm to the idea. But for both positions, there is a directive from you: sponsored posts need to add value and not be giant commercials.

Why it matters: I’m still mulling over the idea of sponsored posts, and I believe it is something I’d like to introduce at some point in the near future. I’ll continue to investigate what this could look like, and when I’m ready to make a decision, I’ll make an announcement.

Thanks very much to all who participated in this first survey. I’m looking forward to doing it again next year and seeing what more I can learn from you so I can better serve you. (And if you haven’t participated, you still can: the more responses I have, the better my information will be.)


Photo credit: hfabulous via photopin cc

Three books to read and a final encouragement on writing better

All this week, I’ve been writing on writing—specifically sharing what advice I can to help you grow as a writer. Today, I’d like to wrap up recommending a few books on writing that are well worth your time, as well as a final encouragement:

Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson. Wilson’s writing is not for everyone (I know some who downright hate reading him), but the advice he gives in this book is some of the best you’re going to get anywhere. Seriously.

How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark. Clark’s advice is practical, helpful and geared to writing in an age of short-attention spans: “We need more good short writing—the kind that makes us stop, read, and think—in an accelerating world. A time-starved culture bloated with information hungers for the lean, clean, simple, and direct. Such is our appetite for short writing that not only do our long stories seem long, but our short stories feel too long as well.” Well worth checking out.

On Writing by Stephen King. There are few authors as prolific as King, and even fewer who’ve made the impact on popular culture he has. Although I’ve personally not been a fan of his work, On Writing is wonderfully helpful and full of tough love for aspiring authors.

Now, for the encouragement: The last bit of advice I’ve got for any aspiring writers is pretty simple: just write. 

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This isn’t mind-blowing by any means, but it’s so necessary. If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write. Don’t write for an audience “out there,” write for you. Write what you enjoy. Write what makes you smile. Write what makes you feel something. Be really comfortable with stinking for a good long while. Don’t worry about how to get published. Don’t worry about how many people are or aren’t reading your blog. But do write. And the more you write, the more you learn from your mistakes, the more you are willing to be coached, if you truly do have a gift for the craft, the better you will become.

Write more better: learn to play!

All this week, I’ve been sharing advice on how to improve as a writer. Among other things, writers need to embrace simplicity, be coachable, and read a lot. But one of the worst things a writer can do is play it safe. I don’t mean intentionally trying to be controversial or anything like that. I mean never try anything different. They stick to their strengths continually, and never attempt to develop in any areas of weakness.

Tip 4: learn to play.

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For a writer to grow, he or she needs to be willing to try new things. Here are a couple of key things I’d suggest:

Play with genres. If you write children’s stories, try writing a non-fiction article. If you write on theology, write a poem. These never have to see the light of day, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth trying. One of the best I know in this regard is Stephen Altrogge, who regularly releases short stories, collections of essays, and serial novels through Amazon. This is also why I’m glad my work requires me to write differently than I would here. I write fundraising material during the day (when I write anything). I write about theology and books here. You can’t think about these the same way. And this is a really good thing for me because it makes me a more nimble writer.

Engage in word play. There’s a reason I called this series “Write more better,” and it’s not because my grammar is terrible. It’s because it’s fun to play with words—pay attention to the rhythm of your writing, effectively wield irony, alliteration and other literary devices for the good all who read your work. Try to write something that makes you smile! When I can see an author’s love of words in what he or she writes, I get excited.

Don’t underestimate the value of “fun” as a writer. When you’re in a rut, it shows. When you play it safe, your readers know it. But when you experiment, you’re more creative and engaging (even if the only person who knows about your experiments is you).