A Real Gift

In this season of giving, there may be no more meaningful gift that you can give than the gift of yourself.  

Wholehearted. Present.  Alive.

Let’s face it: the world is chaos.  One holiday trip through Walmart on Black Friday will score you a TV for 80 percent off, a black eye, and an even more cynical view of humanity.

But the Kingdom of God is different.

It is ever fresh, inexhaustibly good. It is peaceful, rooted and established in love.  And it penetrates. It penetrates even the most fallen of places in the world and, if we let it, in us.

The energy of the Kingdom is God’s love chasing after us. All the way. All the time. It’s not in a hurry.  It’s rich, abundant, generous. And it is available. Here.  Now. Right in your story.

And it is activated through our consent. Moment by moment.

Jesus is always extending to you and to me a personal and sincere invitation to learn from Him how to lead our lives in the Kingdom of God as He would if He were us, leading our lives. (See The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, chapter 8.) He is inviting us to learn from Him complete reliance upon the magnificent Father (John 5:19)—His kindness, vastness, generosity, beauty, and potency—and to draw our lives from the endlessly creative Life of the Trinity.

Our wholehearted elder Brother has offered us a full ride to His master course in Kingdom Living. Call to mind the most brilliant and effective teacher you know: Jesus is more. He is the most competent and engaging teacher of all time.

The day will come when the Kingdom of God will have penetrated each of us inextricably (1 John 3:1-2), as inextricably as yeast mixed in with flour (Matthew 13:33). In the meantime, we have being made available to us the radical joy of interacting with our most helpful Teacher every day as He conspires to bring the life as it was meant to be in full, both in us and through us.

This interactive course in Kingdom living is available, even today. And showing up for it comes significantly through simple steps of daily soul-care directed at reconnecting us with the ever-replenishing life of God.

So here’s the question:

What would it take for you to grow in Kingdom Living today? What action steps could you take to become even more the kind of person who is connected to God and, from that union, fully present to your family and to a few good friends this holiday season?

Maybe the path is counterintuitive.  Maybe the best way to have more to give is to choose to take some time for your own heart.  To receive the lavish love of the Father.  To take Him up on His invitation to a shared life of adventure, rest, honest work, and maybe even some play.

What would that look like for you?

Confession: I devour books. And when I’m done, I go back and gnaw on them like a dog on a bone.

For me, making it a priority to sit by the fire in the early morning or after the kids go to bed and gnaw on a really good book is one of the most effective ways for me to reorient my soul from the chaos of this world to the Kingdom Among Us.

In the Become Good Soil blog, I do my best to make regular book recommendations that I hope might nourish you as a man—body, soul, and spirit.

You can find many of those recommendations in the Books section of the Dig Deeper link on this blog.

Of the many books I’ve been gnawing on in 2015, I wanted to pass along a handful of new recommendations.  Each of these is significantly strengthening, sharpening, and helping me to become more whole, strong, and true.

Pick one up for yourself.  If you want to bring some Kingdom Mojo into the life of someone you love, pass some of these along. You won’t regret it.

And if your curiosity is piqued and you want to consider more about the most prized Christmas gift you could give this year, go in deeper here:

Deeper Magic

The Best Christmas Gift You Can Give

So here they are, for your heart and the hearts of those you love, a few of my top suggestions from 2015:

Adventure & History

Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

In the vast sea of humanity there forms, in rare moments, a team of men, a band of brothers, whose lives become so extraordinary that they have the divine effect of drawing us all into a story greater than ourselves.

Daniel James Brown’s Boys in the Boat is a gripping tale of tragedy and triumph. It opens on the eve of World War II and is a Polaroid snapshot of that extraordinary time in our world’s history. This book reminds us that God is deeply at work in the personal fabric of our lives.  Out of the goodness of His heart, He authors a story that perennially invites us to risk, dream, and dare to live and become that which others believe is impossible.

Nine ordinary, working-class men formed Washington’s 1936 varsity crew team and became legends by saying yes to the same invitation that beckons us today.

Wholehearted Integration of the Human Person

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer did it again.  My awe of this man started with my initial reading of Let Your Life Speak.  Palmer articulates a thorough and thoughtful understanding of the restoration of the true self.  As I’ve learned more of his story, I’ve come to appreciate what gives him such a keen ability and heart to do so.  He masterfully helps us recover the path to an undivided life. Coming from a significantly different lineage from many contemporary believers (he’s a Quaker pacifist, for heaven’s sake…saying I’m not a pacifist is like saying the Pope doesn’t date much), he brings a perspective that, with a bit of humility, can do wonders for restoring the heart and strength of men, even, ironically, as warriors…

History, Brotherhood & Battle

Beyond Band of Brothers by Dick Winters

In the movie Fury, a Sherman tank commander says, “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” While Hollywood brings us stories in living color, there is nothing like hearing the story from the man himself.  Dick Winters was one of the greatest heroes of WWII.  His heroism was exercised not from the top (alongside the likes of Churchill, Eisenhower, Roosevelt), but from within. He was an infantry man, a paratrooper… one of the few American soldiers to have his military career fully overlap both the creation and dissolution of Easy Company 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. For such a time as this, indeed.  Dick Winters became a giant—an ordinary man who chose to say yes. Yes to God. Yes to his men. Yes to an extraordinary mission. He is a living legend. One of the last of his era still walking this earth.  Stephen Ambrose shared much in Band of Brothers. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg followed up with the powerful 10-part documentary series of the same name. But in many ways, Beyond Band of Brothers is the most powerful because it tells the the untold story, told by the man who led his paratroopers through intense training, a debacle of a first jump into Normandy with nothing but a boot knife (all of the paratrooper leg bags with all weapons and ammo were ripped off in the jump by excess prop blast).  He led his men from Normandy, through the hell of Bastogne, all the way to the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s private mountain house.  To understand our future we must learn from our past.  Sitting at the feet of Dick Winters would do all of us well.

Spiritual Formation

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

Though a self-educated and humble pastor in Chicago in the early and mid-1900s,  Tozer will be read for centuries alongside the great classic works of Lewis, Chesterton, and MacDonald.  He cuts through religious bullshit and helps us recover once again both the path and the possibility of a life lived in and with God.  Samuel Zwener suggests in the introduction, “Here is a masterly study of the inner life by a heart thirsting after God.”  Gnaw on this and it’ll rock your world.

Getting Naked and Becoming Whole

Rising Strong by Brené Brown

I believe that history will prove Brené Brown to be one of the great heroes of our age who helped thousands recover a core part of the Gospel and the path to becoming fully human. The world’s most formative researcher on shame and vulnerability, Brené began with her inaugural work on shame, I Thought it Was Just Me. She continued with the matchless The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.  But her latest work in some ways holds the keys to an even bigger slice of the Kingdom as she shares more candidly from her own story than ever before. Through her “reckoning” and “rumbling” with her own story, she unlocks many golden Truths that can help us love well and love deeply as we invite God to restore our true selves.  This is a great one to share with your spouse as well.


Life’s Golden Ticket by Brendon Burchard

Story is the language of the heart.  We live in narrative, and if we are ever to understand life, we must embrace it as story.  As Dan Allender says, Take seriously the story that God has given you to live. It’s time to read your own life, because your story is the one that could set us all ablaze. Brendon Burchard has composed a modern day parable to understand the journey of the heart and the paradox, mystery, and possibility of restoration. The ending is worth every page of this book.

History and the Way of a Warrior

Indian Boyhood by Charles A Eastman (Ohiyesa)

It’s been said that history is told by the victors.  Because of this, it is a treasure to glimpse the culture and story of people groups whose civilization largely did not prevail.  Ohiyesa is that truth-teller for the American Indian.  Born a Sioux warrior, he was raised in the last generation of Indians with the freedom to hunt and live in with wild expanse of America’s West.  Through a wild and arguably very unfortunate change of circumstances, he found himself completely removed from the Indian ways and fully submitted to the white man’s world and its systems of education, law, and living.  He spent his adult years fighting a losing battle for the rights of his people against the westward expansion of white settlers.  Ohiyesa, who took the name Charles A. Eastman in his later years, provides a window into the actual life of a Sioux warrior in a way that a removed historian could never do.  As a father to a son, and as a modern man with a deep and growing appreciation for the ways of the premodern age, this book holds treasures for the initiation of our sons that aren’t readily found in modern writing.  It’s worth a read, if only to remember that it was just a moment ago that we lived off the land, and there was a life that worked quite well and had much dignity before the age of technology and progress.

Receiving God as Father

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

There’s much written and considered about the younger son in Jesus’ famous parable of the Prodigal Son.  Yet so very little is told of the life, heart, and implications of the elder son.  With riveting perspective, Keller illuminates the Kingdom story not only of the younger brother, but of the elder one as well.  His writing takes a wild twist to open the possibility of the True Elder Brother in our Jesus and new possibilities for us as sons beyond what we could have hoped for.  If you take seriously the radical invitation to become a son, this book holds essential keys to the recovery of this lifesaving and life-transforming identity for us all.

In this season of giving, give your family the greatest gift you have: YOU.  Give them more of you.  Wholehearted. Present and true.

Consent to the Father to light your fire—to fan into flames, as Paul suggests, the treasure of God and His Kingdom.  Maybe then it will be said of you as it was said of Tozer and other great lovers of God in the past: that others might light their candle at your flame.

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