Book Review: The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley

There are very few books I’ve read which I would consider live changing.  Outside of the Bible, there are only two or three books which I can say have had such an impact on my life I can recall the specific title of the book, the author, and how it’s impacted me.  Granted, there are dozens of books which have influenced my thought processes and beliefs, but books that I can say impacted the direction of my life?  Those are few and far between.

The Principle of the Path is a book which certainly has the potential be added to my short list.  I say “potential” because its impact can only be measured over time, so I won’t add it to the list just yet – but give me a a year or so and I think it has a very good chance of being on it.  This is the first book I’ve ever read by Andy Stanley, but hopefully it will not be the last.  His writing style and humor remind me of John Ortberg’s – one of my favorite authors (in fact, at times I found myself thinking I was reading the latest Ortberg book instead of some other author!)  I found the book so captivating I actually read it in one 24 hour period (don’t get too impressed by that, it’s less than 180 pages long, and it took me less than 3 hours to read the whole thing).

Here’s the basic thesis of the book: it is our direction not our intentions, that determines our destination.  And it is our attention that determines our direction.  Simple enough, really, and something I’ve thought about plenty of times.  Stanley argues that many (actually, most) people are in situations in their lives that they never intended to be in not because of bad luck but because of bad planning (at times I felt like was writing advice written by my father!)  He spends the first few chapters of the book setting out his argument for why this is the case, and then the rest of the book detailing how to apply it to our lives.

Here are two quotes that sum everything up pretty well: “We don’t drift in good directions.  We discipline and prioritize ourselves there.” (p150) and “Attention determines direction, and directions determines destination.” (p153)  His position, in the end, is sound, and I find myself relating to and understanding it fully.  Too often we blame our situation(s) in life on our circumstances, forgetting that our choices led to our circumstances in the first place!   Stanley encourages us to set down a course to guide our choices so we can better control our destinations.  Stanley does a great job establishing that the Principle of the Path is not a law which can be violated/broken  but is something that is at work whether we acknowledge it or not – and we can harness it for our good or bad.

This is a book I highly recommend reading, and one that, if you read in partnership with Search for Significance by Robert McGee, would help you understand to a greater degree yourself (including your thought process, beliefs, struggles, failures, triumphs, and even fears).  A solid 5/5 stars.

I review for BookSneeze®

I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255


Goal Setting (3.15)

Many people use the beginning of a new year to set goals for the upcoming year.  Notice I don’t say “resolutions” because, in all frankness, most of the time resolutions are simply made to be broken!  But goals, if set correctly, can lead to real changes in our lives.  In order to set a goal you need to have a picture of where you want to be – and then determine how it is you’re going to get there.  And make sure that goal is measurable (meaning you can tell if you made it or not).  For example, a goal of “I’m going to exercise more” is pretty vague, but a goal of “I’m going to go for an early morning run three days a week” is much easier to know whether you meet it or not.  And when you can measure you’re goal it’s much more motivating to keep it (and reach it!).

Chris Goins, a pastor whom I enjoy listening to and reading, suggests asking yourself the question,  “Am I closer to God today than I was on January 1, 2010?”

While I’ll post more information and links on the blog (so you’ll definitely want to check this one out online), here are some places to start as you set your goals for the coming year.  Spend some time reflecting on and answering these questions, and I believe you’ll find 2011 could be one of your best yet!  These are borrowed from Chris’ blog

My Spiritual Life

  • What practices, ‘disciplines,’ or spiritual ‘graces’ will I build into my life in 2011 that will give me an opportunity to grow and become more like Jesus?
  • What small group will I be a part of?
  • Will I honor the “Sabbath” and regularly set aside a day for resting my body, recharging my emotions and refocusing my spirit?
  • Will I become an active part of a life-giving local church and invest my time, energy and resources into accomplishing the mission Jesus has established for the local church?

My Emotional Life

  • Is there someone I need to seek forgiveness from?
  • Is there someone I need to forgive?
  • Will I become an active part of a small group in order to fill my world with life-giving relationships?
  • Where is there “clutter” in my life that can be eliminated? My garage, attic, storage space, home closet(s), desk, filing cabinet, computer, car, truck, etc.? (Go ahead! Clean it out today!)

My Relational World

  • On a scale of 1 – 10 (“1” being “in the Intensive Care Unit and in desperate need of resuscitation” and “10” being “hitting on all cylinders / totally awesome”), how would I rate my marriage?
  • What practices will I build into my marriage in 2011 to increase intimacy and fulfillment?
  • What books will me and my spouse read or what marriage conferences will we attend in order to build intimacy and fulfillment into our marriage in 2011?
  • On a scale of 1 – 10 (use the same pattern mentioned above), how am I doing as a parent? How would I rate the relationship I have with my kids? How would my kids rate the relationship we have?
  • What practices will I build into my family in 2011 to bring our family closer together and move our family closer to Christ?
  • Have I scheduled a date night with my spouse for the month of January? When? What will we do? Why not?

My Physical World

  • How much do I weigh? For my body type, is that amount of weight okay?
  • Am I honoring God with my body?
  • Do I have a complete physical scheduled between now and October 31?  If not, schedule one!
  • Do I need to change my eating habits? What healthy eating plan can I build into my life in 2011?
  • Do I exercise? What exercise plan will I adopt in 2011 in order to honor God with the body He has given to me?

My Financial World

  • Are my finances in order? Is personal debt strangling the life out of me?
  • Do I have a written budget? Have my spouse and I reviewed this budget and agreed upon it?
  • Do I have personal debt other than a reasonable mortgage? Is being debt free in 2011 a possible goal? What will we do to get there?

My Intellectual World

  • What books am I going to read in 2011? (Biography, Spiritual Formation, Classics, Fiction, Business)
  • What is my reading goal for 2011? How many books will I read each week / each month? How many hours will I read each day / week / month?
  • What seminars / classes will I attend in 2011 to continue honoring God with my mind by using my intellect?

My Personal Calling

  • What do I do best and how can I do more of it in 2011?
  • What is my calling? What is my mission? Am I pursuing it? Why not?
  • Who do I know or who could I know in a similar field that God might use as a mentor in my life?
  • What caused me the greatest amount of stress in 2010? What am I going to do to fix it?

Extra links (not included in the printed devotional) – also borrowed from Chris’ Blog:

Lifeway Spiritual Growth Inventory

Bible Reading Plans from YouVersion

Your Spiritual Growth Plan (article in Christianity Today written by John Ortberg)

Oh to Be Like Jesus! (2.26)

I recently finished reading the chapter in Dug Down Deep on sanctification – the journey we travel with God as we are made more into his image.  Joshua Harris, the author, asked the following question and also gave his answer: “Does God really change people?  He absolutely does.  God’s Word promises it.  And the life of every true believer proves it.”

And this caused me to think: how am I becoming more holy?  What is God changing in me?  When I was a child my mother hand a sign that hung on the refrigerator which read, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to prove it?”

I have to say that one of the things I enjoy most in life is watching people grow and change – perhaps it’s why I became a teacher.  To see a person learn to do something new is a wonderful thing.  But what is truly miraculous is watching someone change a bad behavior pattern and replace it with a healthy one.  And that’s kind of what sanctification is all about – leaving behind the “flesh” (as Paul calls it) and replacing it with Jesus.  Jesus didn’t just come to save me, but to transform me.

One of my favorite books is entitled The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg.  Read what he has to say about spiritual growth:

“We are pregnant with possibilities of spiritual growth and moral beauty so great that they cannot be adequately described as anything less than the formation of Christ in our very lives…every moment of my life is an opportunity to learn from God how to live like Jesus…

“I suspect that if someone had asked the apostle Paul or the apostle John about his spiritual life, his first question would have been, ‘Am I growing in love for God and people?’  Practices such as the reading of Scripture and praying are important – not because they prove how spiritual we are – but because God can use them to lead us into life.  We are called to do nothing less than to experience day by day what Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus: ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love which he loved us even when we were death through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.’”

I absolutely love the image of being “pregnant” with the possibility of “spiritual growth and moral beauty,” don’t you?  Too often I see the sin in my life or the problems in my life that keep me from getting where I want to go, yet this phrase reminds me to always look towards the future.  What is the picture of “spiritual growth and moral beauty” that I am “pregnant” with?  It’s Jesus!

In a recent class I taught I told my students that my favorite phrase is, “The best is yet to come.”  And it’s true not only for eternity, but for this life as well.  Tomorrow I need to be more like Jesus than I am today, and the next day more than tomorrow, and so on… Too often we make the Christian life out to be a list of rules and regulations – a bunch of do’s and don’ts – but what’s really important is asking, “How can I be more like Jesus?”

Many times when I’m talking with someone and they struggle with discerning the will of God I ask them this question: Which of your choices, once chosen, will most make you like Jesus?  Once you know the answer to that question you’ll know what God’s will is.  God’s will is for us to be like his Son – to be transformed into the image of Jesus for others to see.  We are saved from Hell, but we are also saved for Heaven.  We are saved from sin, but we are also saved for good works.  All of this falls under sanctification and that whole “working out your salvation” thing that Paul writes about (see Phil 2).

I’m going to close with another quote from Joshua Harris.

“God’s saving work through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection has practical, real-world implications for our lives.  It is truth that can’t be kept on a page or in a house of worship.  It follows us home.  To our school.  To our work.  To our bedrooms.  It grabs hold of every detail of our lives.  Our thoughts.  Our sexuality.  Our money.  Our leisure.  Our relationships.  Our desires.  Our dreams.”

This begs the question: How does the saving work of Jesus spill over into “practical, real-world implications” in my life?  Over the next couple of weeks I hope to explore this thought process with you and, hopefully, offer some suggestions not only for us individually but also collectively as a choir.

Grace (2.22)

Okay, here’s the quotes of the week:

“Jesus says the great lovers are those who have come face-to-face with their own great brokenness and have been undone by great grace.”

This comes from the book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them.  The particular chapter shares the story of when Jesus visited the Rabbi Simon’s house and Mary washed his feet with her hair and tears.  Jesus told the story of two debtors whose debts had been forgiven and asks Simon who loved move, the one who had a big debt forgiven or who had a little debt forgiven.  Simon responds by telling Jesus the one with the bigger debt.

And then Ortberg writes this, “It is worth noting what Jesus is not saying in this parable.  He is not saying, ‘Simon, you are a righteous man.  You have hardly sinned at all.  You don’t need much grace.’  The difficulty is, Simon perceives himself to have little sin.  That is what makes it so hard for him to be overwhelmed by grace.  He really does think God is getting a pretty good deal in him.  He thinks of himself as a small debtor.  He looks at large debt people and wonders why they can’t be more righteous, like him.”

I fear this is the trap too many of us fall into as Christians – we don’t have an adequate grasp of our own fallenness.  Worse yet, we then project a hollier-than-thou attitude towards others – be they Christians or non-Christians.  Over the past two weeks I’ve read articles and blogs by people who set up all sorts of rules and regulations for being a Christian; rules and regulations that are no where to be found in scripture.

One pastor I listen to talks about what he calls the red-light and green-light principals (to be fair, he applies it to worship, but I think it can be broadened to not only include worship but many areas of Christian life). In short, the red-light principal is one that says, “Unless the Bible specifically allows for something, it is wrong to do.” The green-light principal, however, says, “Unless the Bible specifically condemns something, it is okay to do it.”  (okay, this is a watered down version, but you get the point; allowance is made for understanding principals in scripture as well as areas of conscience.)

The point is, Simon here lived by a red-light philosophy (not in a red-light district…).  But Jesus didn’t.  He was willing to show grace to a woman who needed it and who was asking for it.  Here was a woman who was changing her ways and looking for love.

She didn’t find it in the religious leaders of the day, but she did find it in Jesus.  Ironically, this conversation happened just before Jesus last week on earth…

Why is it that those of us who live because of grace are often the ones least willing to give it?

Making a Difference

Last night I was reading a book entitled Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg.. In one of the chapters Ortberg relays a story that brought tears to my eyes.

While not written from an education perspective, I believe there are many parallels that can be drawn from his story in regards to the impact one person can have on another, particularly a child. I hope you enjoy!

The Greatest Gift

In a town called Paradise, California, lived a young man named John Gilbert. I like to think of him as a friend of mine, though we never met; I have traded letters with his family. When he was five years old, John was diagnosed with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy. It is a genetic, progressive, and cruel disease. He was told it would eventually destroy every muscle and finally, in a space of ten more years or so, take his life.

John passed away a short while ago at the age of twenty-five. Toward the end of his life, he needed the help of machines even to breathe. He had only enough strength to move a computer mouse with his right hand. But he did that brilliantly. He sent me a manuscript of the story of his life that is one of the most moving pieces I have ever read.

Each year John lost something. One year it was the ability to run; he couldn’t play sports with other kids. Another year he could no longer walk straight, so all he could do was watch others play. Eventually he lost the ability to speak.

John knew something about the pain of exclusion. He wrote that junior high – not surprisingly – was perhaps the hardest era of his life. Junior high is difficult for almost everyone, I suppose.

But what John experienced was far worse than most of us could imagine. Certain groups of students used to humiliate him because of his condition and because he had to bring a trained dog to school with him. He attended on dance in junior high; it was a disaster, and he never went to another. A bully used to torture him in the lunch room, where there were no supervising teachers, until he was afraid to go to school. No one ever stood up for him; maybe because they were afraid for themselves. “What a silly species we are!” John writes. “We all need to feel accepted ourselves, but we constantly reject others.”

But there were other moments in John’s life. At one point he was named the representative for everyone with his condition in the state of California. He was flown to Sacramento and was ushered with his mother into the governor’s office for a private meeting. The governor took a large glass jar filled with candy and told John to dig in. John looked at his mother, who said it was okay to take one, but the governor said that he was the governor and John should do what he said. John stuffed his pockets.

That night the National Football League sponsored a fund-raising auction and dinner at which John was a guest. The player let him hold their huge Super Bowl rings, which almost extended to John’s wrist.

When the auction began, one item particularly caught John’s attention: a basketball signed by the players of the Sacramento Kings professional team. John got a little carried away, because when the ball was up for bids, he raised his hand. As soon as the hand went up, John’s mother flagged it down. In John’s words, “Astronauts never felt so many G’s as my wrist did that night.”

The bidding for the basketball rose to an astounding amount for an item that was not the most valuable treasure on the docket. Eventually, one man named a figure that shocked the room and that no one else could math.

The man went to the front and collected his prize. But instead of returning to his seat, the man walked across the room and placed it in the thin, small hands of the boy who had admired it so intently. The man placed the ball in hands that would never dribble it down a court, never throw it to a teammate on a fast break, never fire it from three-point range. But those hands would cherish it.

John writes, “IT took me a moment to realize what he had done. I remember hearing gasps all around the room, then thunderous applause, and seeing weepy eyes. To this day I’m amazed…Have you ever been given a gift you could never have gotten for yourself? Has anyone ever sacrificed a huge amount for you without getting anything in return except…the joy of giving?”

It was as simple as this: Somebody noticed. Somebody cared. Somebody acted. Somebody gave.

Have you bought a basketball for anybody lately?