Book Notes | Life is Mostly Edges

bookI recently read Calvin Miller’s memoir: Life is mostly EdgesI don’t normally like memoirs, because they tend to be filled with stories that I don’t care about. I often find it hard to care about someone’s childhood in a book or the stories about their family they find fascinating. What I appreciated about Miller’s though was how I could relate to it. He was a pastor for decades and then a seminary professor. I found his stories to be fast paced and easy to relate to as a pastor. Also, when you are a pastor, you want to hear from pastors who have retired as pastors, who survived ministry. This is a chance to do that.

Here is some of the wisdom I highlighted:

  • We all like the middle. The middle is safe. You can’t fall off the middle. Only the edges are dangerous. The great lessons, the deep tragedies, the storms of unbearable heart-quakes always happen along the edges.
  • Joy rarely erupts in the safe centers of our lives. Laughter may inhabit the middle, but not joy. Joy rises only along the edges.
  • The bad times are never as memorable the good times, and the best memories live longest.
  • Religion and sexuality are the two strongest drives in the human heart. Of the two, I believe religion is the stronger, for it motivates us from the very center of our lives. It is a slow and steady light. The sexual need, on the other hand, is a matter of appetite gone mad only for brief minutes of indulgence. But religious passion motivates us through a lifetime of difficult and demanding service.
  • All marriages begin with people telling each other how in love they are. Most of those marriages die in divorce courts. I’m going in and making a promise to my woman, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life living up to it. ’Cause if you’ve got honor when you’re making a promise, you can find love just about anywhere. Honor is the bedrock of every real promise, and I believe it is the bedrock of every marriage that lasts. I will never love Barbara any more than the sacredness of my promises. In a minute I’m going to look her in the eyes and say, ‘For better, for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.’ And when I say that, I’m going to mean it as no one standing at any altar has ever meant it. I believe that somewhere out there in the future, I will be more certain about love, but I will never be more certain about integrity than I am right now.
  • Sermons are only noble when they are so “see-through” that the pastor’s need for God is clearly visible through his words.
  • What I specifically learned was that people can forgive a leader whose vision may be errant, but they will never forgive a leader who isn’t visionary.
  • Congregational schisms are never about serious things we agree or disagree on. They are rarely heartfelt quarrels about theology or doctrine. They are nearly always contests about who runs things or would like to.
  • I would never be much good to God until I came to the place where I didn’t need the church.
  • The decision Barbara and I made on that one desperate night, we would prize evermore. We put our love for Christ and for each other above our need to be accepted by anyone. This became our inviolate creed of marriage.
  • Did I as a pastor love the things of God or did I love God?
  • When I dropped my guard and focused on Christ, what I had tried to make happen, happened automatically. The church began to grow.
  • None of the great saints of the church made his or her mark by trying harder.
  • It is impossible to hate your fellow man and pray at the same time.
  • Our lives belong to God, and I suppose it doesn’t much matter what we spend them doing as long as we desire his perfect will to be carried out in our love for him.
  • Bitterness is never appropriate. Hard times are never a matter of personal choice. Bitterness is.
  • Herein lies my greatest fears for the Emergent Church: in its attempt to start where the culture is, it rarely stops and asks, “Is this where the culture should be?”
  • Will somebody please tell me why God’s people, who surfeit under a mighty surge of grace, have so much trouble telling other people they are loved?

If you are a pastor or thinking about becoming a pastor, I would check this book out. To see other book reviews and book notes, click here.

My Holiday Reading List


I tweeted today about starting my holiday reading list and then started getting texts from friends about what was on it. While I won’t get through all of these books over the next couple of days, here are the ones I’m most excited about:

Life Is Mostly Edges: A Memoir by Calvin Miller

One man’s backward glance at unexpected lessons, the beauty of relationship, and God’s mysterious guiding hand. Bestselling author and poet Calvin Miller turns his hand to the most moving story of all – his own. The reader is taken through a myriad of experiences of a young man coming of age in mid-20th century America. Following his life into college, seminary, a small local church and eventually to a new life as an author and professor, the memoir touches on those points that make all of us uniquely human and intensely vulnerable.

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford

Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic is a wonderfully pugnacious defense of Christianity. Refuting critics such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the “new atheist” crowd, Spufford, a former atheist and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, argues that Christianity is recognizable, drawing on the deep and deeply ordinary vocabulary of human feeling, satisfying those who believe in it by offering a ruthlessly realistic account of the grown-up dignity of Christian experience.

Hacking Leadership: The 11 Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets to Closing Them Quickly by Mike Myatt

Hacking Leadership is Mike Myatt’s latest leadership book written for leaders at every level. Leadership isn’t broken, but how it’s currently being practiced certainly is. Everyone has blind spots. The purpose of Hacking Leadership is to equip leaders at every level with an actionable framework to identify blind spots and close leadership gaps. The bulk of the book is based on actionable, topical leadership and management hacks to bridge eleven gaps every business needs to cross in order to create a culture of leadership: leadership, purpose, future, mediocrity, culture, talent, knowledge, innovation, expectation, complexity, and failure.

Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent by N.D. Wilson

A poetic portrait of faith, futility, and the joy of this mortal life. In this astoundingly unique book, bestselling author N.D. Wilson reminds each of us that to truly live we must recognize that we are dying. Every second we create more of our past—more decisions, more breathing, more love and more loathing, all of it slides by into the gone as we race to grab at more moments, at more memories made and already fading.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

 From the world’s leading thinker on innovation and New York Times bestselling author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton M. Christensen, comes an unconventional book of inspiration and wisdom for achieving a fulfilling life. Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, notably the only business book that Apple’s Steve Jobs said “deeply influenced” him, is widely recognized as one of the most significant business books ever published. Now, in the tradition of Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture and Anna Quindlen’s A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life is with a book of lucid observations and penetrating insights designed to help any reader—student or teacher, mid-career professional or retiree, parent or child—forge their own paths to fulfillment.


Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.


  1. If you want to be a great leader, you must have vision.
  2. Donald Zimmerman on How to structure your worship ministry. This makes me appreciate Paul Ingram all the more.
  3. Personal branding for introverts.
  4. Tim Challies on Do you have a personal relationship with Satan?
  5. Great leaders are rarely normal, well-adjusted people.
  6. Garrett Kell on How to destroy your marriage before it begins.
  7. Hannah Joiner on Secrets for dads with daughters.
  8. Stop trying to date yourself. Great word for singles.
  9. Chan Kilgore on What he wished he would’ve known about leadership, parenting and satanic attacks when he started pastoring. If you are a pastor or thinking about it, this is a great series of blog posts.
  10. Will people have a chance to repent after they die?
  11. Trevin Wax on When your kids say “Dad, I know all the bible stories.”
  12. What one pastor wish he would’ve known about critics and parenting when he started pastoring.
  13. Thom Rainer on 7 tips for introverted pastors.
  14. The most important interview Rick Warren has ever done. I watched this last night and was blown away while watching it. Really a moving interview.
  15. How to not make a hiring mistake.

An Awkward Interview on a New book

Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition

While Preaching (kindle version) by Calvin Miller does not say anything other preaching books don’t say. This was easily one of the most helpful preaching books I’ve ever read.

The premise of the book is that expository preaching is what pastors should using when it comes to preaching. The reality of our culture and the way our brains are wired is that stories and images (narrative) is what sticks. The goal of preaching is to bring these two things together.

One of the more helpful things from this book is how Miller talked about exegeting the pastor and the church before anything else. This gets skipped very often, but the kind of person a pastor is affects his sermons in a big way. If he is untrustworthy, does not have character, is not prepared. All those speak to his sermon and the impact it makes, or lack thereof. A church also wants to know how a passage has affected you as a person. This insight was huge for me. Don’t just tell your church what the Bible says, tell them how it has changed you, why is this so important to you personally. If it isn’t, you will struggle to make it impactful to them.

Understanding an audience is crucial to a sermon. Knowing where they, their struggles, questions. All go into what you say. While we need to preach the Bible unapolegtically, we need to know our audience to know how to most clearly communicate it to them.

Here are a few things he said that jumped out to me:

  • Most people go to church expecting to be challenged with the ought-tos of life.
  • Preaching is an art in which a studied, professional sinner tells the less studied sinners how they ought to believe, behave, and serve.
  • Preaching has a calling far greater than just making sermons interesting. Preaching exists to create the kingdom. Merely getting and keeping attention is too small a job description for this critical, redeeming art. Preaching has work to do – a lot of work to do – and honest sermons are in league with God’s ultimate plan of conforming souls to the image of his son.
  • Preaching must be committed to 2 goals: first it should be passionate and second, fascinating.
  • Preaching is rescue work. It arrives on the human scene with splints and bandages to save and heal – and restore the world to all that was lost when the gates of Eden clanged shut.
  • If I kept reminding the church of the Savior’s commission to go into all the world and make disciples, things tended to go pretty well. If I failed to remind them of that, the people didn’t do as well.
  • When the times comes to stand up and preach on Sunday, the pastor may be well assured that all those smiling faces are not schooled on doctrine, but they believe fervently what they believe. They do not have a lot of convictions, but they never run out of opinions.
  • Every sermon must continually do two things. First, preachers must never forget the chasm that exists between secular thinking and what the word of God says. further it must always keep in mind that the distinction between these two understandings is easily blurred.
  • Doctrinal preachers often fall into the trap of giving their congregations the notion that the Bible is something to know but not necessarily live by.
  • The noblest of prophets should feel before they advise.
  • Preachers must always be thinking of the application all the time they are dispensing information.
  • Good preaching can do great things but only when it deals with life in the moment.
  • Sermons are preached to effect change.
  • The difficulty of achieving clarity when we preach most often lies in failing to adequately answer the question, “Why are we preaching?”
  • To really hold an audience, they must sense that what you are saying is important, at least to you.
  • To prepare a great sermon begins with a greatness of being that comes from a magnificent obsession with the Savior.
  • Listeners are needy and want a firsthand confessional exegesis of the text. They want to see inside the preacher’s soul. They want to know how the preacher first discovered the text, how it came to mean so much, and in what ways it is found to be true.
  • Sermons go a step further in making a definite moral point. Sermons, far more than novels, exist to be changers of behavior and opinion. Sermons are heart cries to make some point that is crucial to God become crucial also to the believer.

What I appreciated most is that I agree with the goal that Miller has for preaching: Transformation. Passing information can happen in a book or a class, but people are changed in a sermon. Miller said, “Preaching is effective as long as the preacher expects something to happen – not because of the sermon, not even because of the preacher, but because of God.”

If you are looking for a great book on preaching, this is one worth picking up.  

Letters to a Young Pastor

Letters to a Young Pastor (kindle version) by Calvin Miller is one of those books I wished I had read several years ago. Miller is in his 70’s after spending most of his life as a pastor and writes about the things he’s learned, what he’d differently. It reads like sitting with an older mentor at Starbucks. Each chapter averages 4 pages and are written as short emails or letters from Miller to a young pastor.

I was struck by how much time Miller spent talking about character. Most books on pastoral leadership and church growth center on techniques, but it was refreshing to see him spend such a bulk of time on character. Without character, you won’t last in ministry. I also appreciated how by the time you are Miller’s age, in your mid-70’s, the things that used to matter don’t matter like they used to.

The other thing he emphasized was tenure, gutting it out when being a leader or pastor becomes difficult. The average pastor now stays at his church 18 months. This is one of the main reasons for a lack of effectiveness among pastors and churches. I am 3 and a half years into Revolution and we are more effective and healthy than we’ve ever been. I thought back to my 18 month mark and it was one of the hardest seasons of my leadership, but on the other side of that came a lot of vitality.

Here are a few things that jumped out, some of the best advice if it were:

  • “People will endure anything in a church except an absence of vitality.”
  • Not everyone seems to believe it, but at the center of this minor formula for success is tenure. So many of the letters in this book focus on the long haul and the power of sticking to one thing: tenure.
  • Every call makes one statement: One preaches because one must.
  • “Pastoral care is a world of unbearable pain. However high we lift our spirits in personal or public worship, it is good to remember that many in our congregations come and go from our worship with broken hearts. In some ways this is what is most wrong with public invitations. We ask all those who are shrinking back from life to come forward. But they are refugees from sociability. They want to hide; they do not want to come forward. They want to hide out, so pastors must go to their hiding places. We must come down from our soaring worship and agree to enter the world of unbearable hurt.”
  • Churches that ignore their communities will not grow, and churches that will not globalize don’t matter much.
  • When you can’t find Jesus, just play Jesus for someone else, and you’ll soon have all the Jesus your errant heart can hold.
  • Theology only really matters when it is affecting and changing the culture.
  • Read the Bible as though the faith depended upon it.
  • Never ask your people to do anything you have never done and wouldn’t do. Never ask them to run a play you consider beneath your dignity.
  • Visions should always be bigger than our life span.
  • One of the things I wish I had learned earlier is that my sermons do not have to get better week by week. This would seem an easy thing to know. But we get caught in a trap for approval. We are so eager for our people to keep bragging us up, and so we work even harder, to keep getting better. This is a snare. Avoid it.
  • Anytime you speak over people’s heads to exhibit your own brilliance, you injure the gospel.
  • People will sooner or later guess by the powerless life you live that you’ve lost your openness with a holy God.
  • Never go into the pulpit without a definite plan to change the world in some way. Preaching is to change.
  • The apostle Paul was more famous for his trials than his successes, I suppose.

If you are a young church planter or leader, then this is a book that should move up your reading list.

Links of the Week

  1. Letters to a young pastor. I’m reading this book right now and it is a great book for young pastors, tons of wisdom.
  2. Phil Cooke on the secret to great teams.
  3. Porn blamed for children’s sexual behavior.
  4. Dave Ferguson on What stats a church should count.
  5. Russell Moore answers “Should I marry a man addicted to porn?
  6. Start – Stop – Continue. Great advice for pastors and leaders.
  7. Teens & porn: stats you need to know.
  8. Dave Kraft on The importance of picking the right people for the right teams.
  9. Forbes on Girls for Sale! Changing the Conversation on Exploited Kids in the U.S.

Sunday Afternoon Mind Dump…

  • Been loving this series we are in right now on 1 & 2 Peter, seems to be perfectly timed for our church
  • Last night was one of those nights where the message seemed to hit its mark and be exactly where many people were
  • If you missed it, you can listen here
  • You can also download the study guide questions and family bible study guide questions here
  • Talked through the idols of the heart and how they fall short on giving us the hope we long for
  • If you’re curious about discerning the idols you live out of, you can check out the questions we worked through last night here
  • Finalized the preaching schedule for the rest of 2012 this past week
  • After we finish up 1 & 2 Peter, we’ll do series on Habakkuk and Joshua
  • Really, really excited about working through these 2 books
  • Last night after church, I started reading Letters to a Young Pastor by Calvin Miller, if you are young pastor, you need to read this book, so much wisdom in it
  • I’ll share next week where things are with our Christmas offering, if you’d still like to give to it and help us move forward with church planting, you can do so here or next Saturday night
  • Speaking of church planting, we are looking for where we’d like to plant our second site, so please be praying as we look towards that
  • Lots of details and we need the Holy Spirit to open the right doors and close the ones we need to not walk through
  • This week, Katie and I are going to see The Civil Wars in concert, so excited about seeing them
  • We keep getting requests from guys about being church planting interns, so I’m beginning to work on what that will look like
  • Excited to see how that turns out
  • Pretty excited about next week at Revolution
  • I’ll be preaching from 1 Peter 1:6 – 12 and talking about how we handle life when it doesn’t go as we planned, what that says about God and what that says about us
  • I think it will be a powerful night
  • Gonna sign off and spend some time watching some football with some friends and some people that attended Revolution for the first time last night
  • Love hanging with Revolutionaries
  • In case you missed it on twitter, my super bowl prediction is 49ers vs. Pats, although the Giants would make it a better game against the Pats
  • As a Steelers fan, I hate the Ravens so I can’t pick them