A Few of My Favorite Things in 2018

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It’s that time when people list their favorite things from the year. Here’s mine.

Experiences

New Baby–The most exciting occurrence of 2018 is Laura and I getting pregnant with our first baby, Caroline. Caroline is slated to make her entry into the world in late February. I’m trying to enjoy my sleep now.

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Ministry Fruit–It’s always a joy to see people make professions of faith in Jesus at our church and also through the First Priority ministry at Tanner High School. Here at Tanner UMC we’ve enjoyed using our new projector system, which has added more accessibility and versatility to our worship. I’ve enjoyed growing in prayer through the Book of Common Prayer and leading a crash course in the BCP for others. I liked helping in a Walk to Emmaus spiritual retreat for the first time. It’s really cool to see how God has used our church to bless others–listen to my Dec. 30th 2018 sermon if you want to hear some of the numbers on how our church has blessed others.

Trip to England–Laura and I enjoyed a great vacation to England in April. We flitted about in London, Oxford, and Bath. It was my first trip to Europe, and it was a blast.

Here’s a very English picture of Laura and I at Christ Church in Oxford.

Here’s a very English picture of Laura and I at Christ Church in Oxford.

Trip to Los Angeles–In the same month, I got to go on a trip to Los Angeles with some other pastors from our area to visit different ministries. It was quite an impactful time, replete with lots of jokes, ribbing, and laughter.

Here’s our group at the edge of Dodger’s Stadium. Yes, we did serious stuff too :).

Here’s our group at the edge of Dodger’s Stadium. Yes, we did serious stuff too :).

Smashing Pumpkins Concert–I got to hear my favorite band from my high school days perform some of their best hits in Nashville. My brother and a former youth from my old church, Ethan, came with me. The Pumpkins rocked hard and got me in my feelings. The show was one of the best I’ve ever been to.

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Deer Hunting–While I grew up squirrel hunting with my dad on occasion, I never went deer hunting. A couple of guys at the church, Leeroy Gatlin and Joe Crumbley, are taking me under their wing and teaching me their ways. It’s peaceful and makes me feel better connected to my roots.

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Books by Genre (favorites are highlighted)

Political Theology/Politics

Public Faith in Action–Miroslav Volf & Ryan McAnnally-Linz–Great, concise Christian examination of multiple political issues, ranging from wealth, poverty, work, education, healthcare, migration, criminal justice, healthcare, war, beginning life, marriage & family, ending life, policing, and more. I’d put Volf and McAnnally-Linz center-left when it comes to their politics and theology. They are a bit more liberal than me, but I find a substantial amount of agreement with them. They helped stimulate my thinking on a few issues, particularly healthcare. I would have presented differently on a few things, but overall this is a very good entry point that has the rare combination of good biblical reflection, brevity, and practical action steps.

Just Mercy–Bryan Stevenson

The New Jim Crow–Michelle Alexander

The Third Reconstruction–William J. Barber II 

The Benedict Option–Rod Dreher

Theology

Healing–Francis MacNutt–MacNutt’s reflections informed the Healing services we had at Tanner and Riddle’s Chapel UMC, as well as my portion of the revival services at Bear Creek UMC this year. He gives a fairly comprehensive theological and biblical look at healing, arguing that aspects of the salvation Jesus brings involve healing. He divides healing into four realms–spiritual, emotional, physical, and deliverance (aka exorcism). He also brings decades of experience in healing ministry to this book, which makes for some very good practical advice. MacNutt isn’t a dumb enthusiast, either–he has a a degree from Harvard and a PhD. This book has set the tone for me when it comes to healing ministry. 

The Lost World of Adam and Eve–John Walton

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Need to Know–John Stackhouse

Changes that Heal–Henry Cloud

The Lost World of the Flood–Tremper Longman III & John Walton

Disunity in Christ–Christena Cleveland

Four Views on Hell–Edited by Preston Sprinkle, contributors Denny Burk (Eternal Conscious Torment), John Stackhouse (Annihilationism/Conditionalism), Robin Parry (Universalism), and Jerry Walls (a Protestant form of Purgatory). Yes, I read a book on hell. And I did a good chunk of it while at the beach, which made Laura’s family laugh at me.

Get Wise–Bob Merritt

Barking to the Choir–Gregory Boyle

History

The Civil War as a Theological Crisis–Mark Noll–This is a deep dive into the white American church’s most painful sin. The largely Protestant nation of America could not agree on an interpretation of the Bible when it came to the issue of slavery. Our simple, Bible-focused Protestantism (The Bible says it, I believe it) seemed to work fairly well on things that were clear in Scripture, but slavery was an issue that created a crisis over the Bible–just what exactly does the Bible say? How are we to interpret? On complex issues where there was not an easy “biblical” answer, people tended to be more formed by the politics, science, and economics of their region. Noll lifts up the pro and contra arguments concerning slavery from leading American pastors and theologians of the day, and provides some outside perspective on the debate from Europeans and Canadians. Pro-slavery white Americans tended to let implicit assumptions, the faulty racial science of the day, and their economic interests cover over the biblical teaching of the image of God in all people and the equality of all in Christ. Denominations divided over the slavery question, politicians were divided, economic interests were divided, and the nation ultimately resorted to guns to resolve the conflict. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the belief of many white Americans, particularly in the South, did not change. The church lost steam in being able to speak politically, and the public became increasingly wary of basing public policies on what people purported to be biblical teachings. This fragmentation of the church and its failure to espouse a unified political vision paved the way for increased secularization in American politics, which has had some pluses and minuses. Overall, this was a very interesting look at some history that has a lot of bearing for where we are today.

The Undivided Past–David Cannadine

Fiction

Americanah–Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie–Shoutout to Laura’s friend Laurel who gave us this book. This story contains a lot of good nuggets when it comes to examining culture and race. The story follows a Nigerian woman, her time growing up in Nigeria and her later travels to the United States, which creates ample opportunities for reflection. Adichie lifts up interesting thoughts on the intersection of African American culture, African culture, white culture, American culture, technology, education, mental health, and gender. While there are a lot of bright spots in the book, I didn’t particularly like the way it ended, which seemed shallow in contrast to the rest of the book and left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

(I know; I’m bad at reading fiction. Currently working on one other book loaned to me by a friend.)

Leadership

The Path Between Us–Suzanne Stabile–This book is based on the Enneagram personality system that has become the favorite personality tool for Laura and me. Stabile is a master Enneagram teacher, and she dives into the relational dynamics between different Enneagram types. This book can be helpful for better understanding interactions between different types in relationships and at the workplace. 

Finish–Jon Acuff

Comedy/Fun

Stuff White People Like–Christian Lander–This book is a hilarious and biting satire of moderate-to-progressive white culture, written by an observant insider. It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself sometimes. Short, sweet, and still surprisingly accurate for having been written in 2008. Read it if you’d like a good laugh, no matter who you are.

Based on a True Story–Norm MacDonald

Podcasts

Woodland Hills Church–Pastor Greg Boyd is the planter and primary preacher at Woodland Hills. He is more of a “head” preacher than a “heart” preacher, which I enjoy sometimes. 

United Methodist Church of the Resurrection–Adam Hamilton is a great preacher. I think differently from him on some issues, but he’s still one of the best preachers in modern United Methodism. 

Revitalize and Replant with Thom Rainer–shoutout to Keith Shoulders for getting me into this podcast. Rainer and his friends offer leadership thoughts for pastors of small, often rural churches in need of revitalization.  There is a lot of practical leadership advice in the podcast to help move your church in a direction that best honors Jesus.

This Cultural Moment–My wife learned about this podcast from some friends, and she got me into it. Pastor John Mark Comer is a church planter in Portland, Oregon, and he co-hosts the podcast with his friend Mark Sayers, who is a pastor in Melbourne, Australia. They talk about doing ministry in progressive, post-Christian cities and comment a lot on the current state of the West. Very interesting reflections on what is likely going to be the coming shape of doing ministry in the West.

Typology–As mentioned before, Laura and I love the Enneagram personality type, and Ian Morgan Cron interviews different people who are different types and explores different intricacies related to their type. Laura and I already nerd out when it comes to the Enneagram, and this indulges our nerdiness.

That’s it. Hope you enjoyed it! What did you like about 2018?

Stephen Fincher

Pastor in Tanner, AL with my wife Laura.