The best books I read in 2015

book pileI try to read as much as possible. I think the phrase, “Leaders are readers” fueled this in me. That and the fact that my then 92-year-old mother-in-law mentioned at our Christmas morning breakfast that she had read 123 books in 2014.

So I created a reading list for 2015 with 24 books on it (see my post from January 2). I only read 8 of the 24, but I read an additional 18 during the year to make 26 total (with a couple weeks yet to go!).

If you grade on a curve (meaning not every book gets an “A”), I came up with my top 8 books the I personally read in 2015. Maybe this will prompt you to check out one of them for your 2016 reading.  In order:

satisfied2#1 – Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption    by Jeff Manion

from the book…“Contentment is the discipline of being fully alive to God and to others whatever our material circumstances. Contentment is not achieved through getting everything we want but by training the heart to experience full joy and deep peace even when we don’t have what we want. It is not simply living with less. It is a satisfied heart, a spirit that is alive to God and to others, whether or not we have what we desire. Contentment is being fully alive whatever our situation.”

simplify2#2 – Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul, by Bill Hybels

from the book… “What would my schedule look like if God were in charge of it?… The question isn’t, “What do I want to get done in the next 30 days?”, but “Who do I want to become in this next seasons of my life?”



breaking through2#3 – Breaking Through: Communications Lessons from the Locker Room, The Board Room, & The Oval Office, by Kevin Sullivan

from the book… “Behind every data point, statistic, and financial figure is the story of a person. As communicators, it is our job to find the personal stories that bring the facts to life in a meaningful way.”


#struggles2#4 – #struggles: Following Jesus in a Selfie-Centered World              by Craig Groeschel

from the book… “Life is not about how many “likes” you get. It is all about how much love you show.” … “If you are checking multiple times a day to see what people are saying about you, let’s call that what it is: idolatry.”


husbands field guide#5 – The Husband’s Field Guide: Navigating Your Wife’s Essential Oil Habit, by Andrew Jenkins

from the book… “The founder of Young Living focuses on learning about the plants God has given us stewardship over – and how to use them in the best possible way to bring health and healing and wholeness… All throughout the Old Testament (particularly in the time of Moses), we see the prominence of essential oils. There are well over 200 references.”


fr guide to irresistible comm2#6 – The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications:, Real-World Field-Tested Strategies for Raising more Money, by Jeff Brooks

from the book… “Treat your fundraising as a relationship – a reciprocal, give-and-take between your cause and the good people who make it possible.”


undone2#7 – Undone: Making Peace with an Unexpected Life, by Michele Cushatt

from the book… “I discovered something as I talked and prayed with the equally broken, weary, and in-pain women whose paths crossed mine: authenticity ministers far more than put-togetherness. And vulnerability builds a far stronger bond than perfection.”


wooden2#8 – Wooden: A Coach’s Life, by Seth Davis

A provocative and revelatory biography of the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden by one of America’s top college basketball writers. When I was in 7th grade, I won a state oratory contest using Wooden’s Pyramid to Success. This book shows much more about the man, the teacher, and the coach.


  • The Book of God, by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
  • Creativity, Inc, by Ed Cartmull
  • Effective Staffing for Vital Churches, by Bill Easum and Bill Tenny-Brittian
  • David & Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell
  • 48 Days to the Work You Love, by Dan Miller
  • With Love from the Streets, by Nate Bull
  • Retention Fundraising, by Roger M. Craver
  • The Heart of Leadership, by Mark Miller
  • Fearless, by Max Lucado

Honorable Mention:

  • From Where God Sits, by Herb Shaffer
  • Toughness, by Jay Bilas
  • From Seed to Sapling, by Adam Sterenberg
  • The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, by Chapman and White
  • A Nice Little Place on the North Side, by George Will
  • Leading a Generous Church, by Todd McMichen
  • The Church Money Manual, by J. Clif Christopher
  • Preparing to Build, by Stephen Anderson
  • Extraordinary Money, by Michael Reeves
  • Successful Church Fundraising, by John Bisagno
  • The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, by John Maxwell


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Effective Communication starts on the inside

I’ve had the privilege of serving full-time in the ministry of Youth for Christ for the past 28 years. Everything we are and do as a mission organization is geared to impacting the lives of teenagers who don’t know Jesus, and communicating His life-changing message. I’ve had a front row seat to seeing literally thousands of kids having their world completely changed… what a rush!

If I’ve learned anything along the journey, it’s that kids can spot a phony a mile away. Authenticity and transparency are critical to ministering to teens, and I believe that those same characteristics are essential to effective communication – whatever the setting. I don’t quote Bill Clinton very often, but when he played his saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show, he talked about the fact that if the music wasn’t in your soul, it wouldn’t come out of your horn.  I think Paul said something like that in 1 Corinthians 13, too.

In his book, Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion, former YFC staff person Wayne Cordeiro shares the following in a section he titled “Miles without Maintenance.”

In 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all DC-10s because on one flight the engine fell off, resulting in the death of 213 passengers.  This unthinkable flaw didn’t take place overnight; it was the result of successive times of ignored maintenance.

When my wheels fell off, I knew that it was due to a longstanding practice of disregarding certain feelings of inadequacy, discouragement, and anger. I could no longer afford to ignore these things or tolerate them as unresolved issues in my life. The investigation began, and with the insight and direction of God’s Spirit, I found vulnerabilities that I had overlooked for too many years.

It’s like a car that someone drives for years without an oil change. You might squeeze 20,000-30,000 miles out of it, but the neglect will come at the price of an engine that grinds to a stop. That’s the course I was on… I was leading on empty.

I’m not a car guy, but I’m now learning to recognize what the warning lights on the dashboard of my life look like, and what I need to do to correct the problems. The reality of my life has been that…

  • I always thought I was a warrior because year after year I didn’t use all the vacation time I had earned (yep… really dumb).
  • I wore the fact that I regularly worked 60-70+ hours a week as a badge of honor (what was I thinking?).
  • I’ve frequently used the phrase, “running on fumes”… and never thought about the long-term danger I was inflicting on my family and my own soul.
  • I didn’t take time for me… ministry and work always came first. If there was extra time, it went to the family. Sure, I kept my spiritual time with the Lord and did OK in keeping the Sabbath, but exercise… nah. And replenishing activities like golf… there were always “more critical” demands that made it seem and feel like “time wasting leisure.”
  • And because I ran full-throttle so hard and so long, I would lapse into times of justifying actions or shortcuts… after all, I deserved it, right?

I can say with excitement that I’m in a different place today. I’ve certainly not arrived, but I’m on a much healthier path. I experienced loving intervention from friends and co-workers; without it, I probably would still be on a course to lose an engine or blow a gasket.

I’ve taken the authors example and “tweaked” it to fit my own. The two key words I’m focusing on are CADENCE and INTENTIONALITY (Wow… these words also are so important when you think about communication!). These lead me to ten “soul gauges” in various areas in my life to monitor, set action steps in, and keep fueled to a healthy level so I’m not running in the “red zone” (If you are interested, send me an email to, and I’ll share them with you).

So – my question to you is… is it time for you to have a “soul maintenance” check? As Wayne so candidly shares in his book…

  • What does that low-fuel warning light look like in your life?
  • Who is speaking into your life, helping you see what you can’t on your own?
  • What fills your tank and replenishes your soul?

Bill Hybels said at the 2009 Global Leadership Summit that “a ‘full bucket me’ is the best contribution I can make to my team and the mission.” You and I need to commit to change the cadence and intentionality of our lives, which will result in sustainability and fruitfulness – to His glory! And that, my friends, will ultimately result in the story of our lives and the story of our words that will change the world!

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Average or exceptional…

April 1st… opening day for the Cubs. I know that the Reds, Tigers and other teams had their first game yesterday, but for Cubs fans, today is opening day.

For all the teams, hope springs eternal, and everyone (well, almost everyone) thinks that this is the year for their team.

I was recently sent this photo of the last Cubs team to win the World Series back-to-back in 1907 and 1908. If you look closely, three of the names that stand out to baseball fans today are the famous double-play combination of Tinker to Evers to Chance.

I really didn’t know anything about these guys until today, when I found out that

  • none of them were exceptional hitters
  • none of them were home run hitters or big run producers
  • their first names were Joe, Johnny and Frank
  • Johnny was one of the smallest men to ever play in the major leagues
  • Frank not only was the 1st baseman; he was also the manager

And most importantly, they were enshrined together as a unit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.

On their own… just average.
As a unit… recognized as exceptional.

That’s a good synopsis of his life. On my own, nothing much to write home about. Working together with partners and the power of the Holy Spirit, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.


  • thank your partners today
  • invest in others. You’ll be stronger and more effective.
  • be a “got your back” kind of person. Loyalty is a rare trait in today’s society, but it is really treasured.

Tinker to Evers to Chance… a combination and a legacy that has stood the test of time. May it be so for me with those I work closest with. And Go Cubbies… this is our year!

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You have permission…

I remember reading in one of Bill Hybel’s books that he invites 6-8 people from his congregation to give him specific feedback on his talks. He gave them a sheet with several questions on it, and had them turn them into him a couple of days after his sermon to help him “stay on track” in effective communication. WOW – that’s transparent leadership, and a sign of someone who wants to get better and better.

So what about you and me? Do we invite people to speak into our lives to help make us better… help show a clearer picture of who we are and point out blind spots?

I was on the golf course two weeks ago with a good friend who speaks to hundreds of thousands of people every year. The two of us had been at a charity golf outing earlier that week, and I was asked to share a few comments in presenting an award. No big deal, right? I didn’t prepare anything…I didn’t really even think about it…I just “winged” it.

So it surprised me when my friend said, “Brother, can I share something with you about your award presentation on Monday? Do you realize that sometimes when you speak you close your eyes?”

OK…I’ll admit that everything inside me wanted to start defending and offering excuses, like the fact that I played the round with sunglasses on, but I took them off for the presentation and the sun was bright (you know, the ‘ole “the sun was in my eyes” line!). However, I knew that my friend was risking in sharing with me, but only for my own good. He just wants me to be the very best communicator God designed me to be, and I’m thankful to have friends like that in my life.

What about you? Who can you trust to invite constructive criticism into your life…into your communication skills? Here are a few questions you could throw out to co-workers and friends to “jump-start” the exchange.

• When I communicate, do you generally understand me?
• Do I have any habits in my communication that are distracting?
• If you could improve one aspect about my communication, what would it be?

Proverbs 25:11-12 in The Message says it this way…

The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry, and a wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger.

Oh, and by the way…thanks, Bill!  You, and others, have permission…

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Eight questions…

One of the few areas I have a lot of discipline in is planning. I’ve tried every kind of organization system… Franklin Planner, DayTimer, DayRunner, DayMinder, Planner Pads… you get the idea. I’ve finally settled in the last two years on my own system. It’s a single sheet of cardstock that I print each week. No more piles of sticky notes or multiple to-do lists… just this sheet. It has worked for me.

On this sheet of paper, I have eight questions I try to regularly ask myself. They are:

1. What do I need to do this week to bring more clarity in YFC?

2. What do I need to do this week to better control my attitude/emotions?

3. What do I need to do this week to be a more disciplined follower of Jesus?

4. What do I need to do this week to improve my skills/personal growth?

5. What do I need to do this week to invest more in others?

6. What do I need to do this week to demonstrate stronger character?

7. What do I need to do this week to love Debbie sacrificially?

8. What do I need to do this week to lead as a husband and father?

Obviously I have A LOT of work to in each of these areas to be the man God wants me to be, but I am intentionally trying to take a step further along the path to be more like Jesus in each of these areas. It’s not always pretty, and often they are either baby steps or the old “three steps forward, two steps backwards”, but I am certainly trying to listen to the Spirit’s whispers and promptings.

This past month, here are just a few of the “ah-ha” statements I was impressed with…

· God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer. – Mother Teresa

· You are what you pay attention to. No attention, no life. Everything comes to life when you pay attention to it. – Leonard Sweet

· The One we follow never stands still… never leaves us where we are. That’s why, as His leaders, we move and grown and motivate and envision others to see a world that can be better tomorrow than the one we see today, inviting others to join us. – Jim Mellado

· Obeying the Spirit instead of your own self-centered whims will lead you to places you’ve never been, challenge you in ways you have never been challenged, and invite leaders to sacrifices you never dreamed you could make. This is the power and the promise of full-throttle faith, of living a life fueled solely by God. – Bill Hybels, The Power of a Whisper

What questions do you need to regularly ask yourself?

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Friday I got to play just my second round of golf all summer. A good friend convinced me to get out on one of the hottest days of the summer, but it was great.  I had hoped to get out more and use the new set of clubs I received last summer for my 50th birthday, but it just hasn’t happened.

I set four goals for my round… (1) to stay spirit controlled and enjoy the day; (2) to not hit any shots out-of-bounds; (3) to not lost a ball; and (4) to break 100.

When you don’t play much, it’s really important to stay focused and concentrate… at least for me it is. And although I wasn’t scoring well, I was enjoying the day and on pace with my 4 goals. Until…

… until I answered the telephone.  Yes, I know… one of the cardinal sins on a golf course.  The person calling was a colleague at work, and I just knew I needed to answer – hoping it would be a short one.

10 minutes later – and three shots while he was talking – my concentration was nowhere to be found. I allowed a distraction to derail my “zone”… and it took it’s toll with an 8 and a 7.

It bugs me when I let technology run my life.  It’s a phone… it has voice mail for a reason. But no… I treat it too often like an electronic monitoring bracelet they put on prisoners out on parole to keep track of their location.

Louis Oosthuizen, the winner of the 2010 British Open, said in the TV interview after winning that he suffered from letting his mind wander during a round.  A sports psychologist suggested putting a red dot on his golf glove.  At the beginning of his pre-shot routine, he looks at the spot, helping him refocus and relax, and block out all distractions.  I think I need a “red dot”… about the size of the Target logo.

And then I think about how often I get distracted when I get alone with God. It often doesn’t take much to de-rail my there, too.

In Numbers 15:37, God spoke to Moses and instructed the people of Israel to make tassels on the corners of their garments and to mark each corner tassel with a blue thread.  The idea was a lot like the red dot… when they looked at the tassel, they would remember and keep all the commandments of God, and not get distracted by their surroundings, their feelings, their circumstances, and themselves.

Hmm… red dot or blue tassel? I probably need both of them.

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Those who know me would use words like “creative” and “idea person” to describe me. So I was drawn to an article entitled “Habits of highly creative people”, and was a little surprised to read that the #1 characteristic listed was SOLITUDE. Here are some of the comments…

  • creativity flourishes in solitude
  • with quiet, you can hear your thoughts
  • 1st thing in the morning, before doing anything for the outside world
  • creativity sometimes washes over me during times of intense focus and craziness of work, but more often I get whacked by the creative stick when I’ve got time in my schedule
  • carve out little retreats for yourself; make room for creativity
  • let there be space for creativity to fill your brain
  • it’s when we are alone that we can reach into ourselves and find truth, beauty, soul
  • take daily walks
  • quiet helps you to appreciate the smaller things that get lost in the roar

Interestingly, the second characteristic attributed to creativity was participation.  At first blush, you wonder how the two can coexist. The article gave the following insight:

We need inspiration from without, but we need creation from within.  You need to balance the two – they have to come at different times.  This time is for solitude, and this time is for participation. 

Yesterday I had the chance to preview a new media project being created, and the prominent speaker commented that waiting was one of the most difficult parts of life.  I remember a senior saint in a church I attended in the 80’s – Lou Hamilton.  He would often remind me that the “toughest 4-letter word in the Bible (and I’m thinking… ‘wow, I know I struggle with 4-letter words, but surely not this guy!’) was W-A-I-T.”

So what does that mean… especially during this 40-day period of listening?  I agree with the conclusion of the article… I think I need to be fully participating in life… in interactions with my kids & my wife & my family and friends.  If I am just going thought the motions or wishing away the present moment for “the next thing”, I am missing the blessing of right now. My creativity requires the habit of active participation and daily attention to detail.

So now I add waiting to listening…


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