What If Publishing Funded Non-Profit Work?

Writing has the power to change hearts and minds. And that’s a start. But it’s not enough. We need to give people tangible action steps. But how do we do that in a world where publishing is struggling? 

The written word, that is publishing, has its fair share of problems. And so does the world of non-profit. This means that the companies we rely on for information are in turmoil. And likewise, the organizations we rely on to help us take action are in peril. Is there a way forward in this modern age?

This is the question I often think about. And I’m working on the solutions. Why? I happen to have lived in both worlds and know these struggles deeply.

Question: What if the core answer to fixing the sustainability issues of both publishing and non-profit was in the two coming together? To answer that question, we need a bit of back story.

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Creating Jobs and Empowering Women: My Birthday Dedication

This year, I’m dedicating my birthday to empowering women from impoverished communities. A woman empowered through business can lift her entire family out of poverty.

I remember the day that I decided that the organization I lead, Jesus’ Economy, would create an Empowering Women program. Here’s the story. Continue Reading…

Why You Should Volunteer and How to Inspire Volunteers

I learned much of what I know by volunteering. I originally started volunteering because I believed in a cause, but I quickly discovered that investing in other organizations accelerated my professional growth — win-win!

In a setting where people need volunteers, you can be involved in high-profile roles very quickly. And this means you learn things that a regular career will never teach you (or at least not when you’re young). No one at a regular corporation will invite you to discuss the company’s financial situation, unless you’re an executive or in finance, but on a Board of Directors for a non-profit, this is a regular activity. And this is just one of dozens of examples that volunteer non-profit work will teach you.

As the CEO of an all-volunteer organization, I need volunteers to accomplish our mission. I need labor. And people need experience. I can teach; they can get things done. And we both win.  Continue Reading…

On Writing Daily, Devotionally

The key to writing is writing. Reading about writing isn’t writing. Thinking about writing isn’t writing. If you want to be a writer, write.

I’m not the first to make this argument. From William Zinsser to Steven Pressfield to Stephen King, you will hear that the act of doing is how you become a professional writer. No one can write for you, only you can do that.

After editing Faithlife Study Bible and Lexham Bible Dictionary, it was hard for me to even look at a screen. I had no desire to write. Every article was pain, perhaps even post-traumatic stress. When you have spent the last two years of your life working 70 to 80 hours per week writing and editing, it’s difficult to convince yourself to pick up a pen. There is no pleasure or fun left in the task. For the first time in my life, I experienced authentic “writer’s block.” Continue Reading…

Chasing Rainbows and Making Peace

When we’re in the process of dealing with difficult relationships, we have to be able to see the good in others. If we simply look for what needs to be corrected, we will not be able to make peace.

In Paul’s kind remarks to the Corinthian believers, he shows us that there are many ways to look at God’s light. The Corinthian believers—or some of them, at least—are on the verge of stepping into the realm of Satan, away from God’s light. At the same time, Paul affirms the beautiful work that Christ is doing in them. Paul sees the beautiful colors of God at work among them. He recognizes God in them—and in that he finds a connection (2 Corinthians 7:8–11).

I’m betting that all of us who are Christians have felt this connection with other Christians before, even those we struggle to deal with. The connection is a bit like experiencing a rainbow with a stranger: You both stand in awe of it, wondering how this cosmic event can make both of you feel like you’re the same when you’re so different. Of all things, a song by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher summarizes this well:

Have you been half asleep?
And have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound
That calls the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it,
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it,
The rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers, and me.

And at one point, the song says, “All of us under its spell, we know that it’s probably magic.” And that is what believing in Jesus is like, and the connection it creates between us. It unites us. It pushes us forward. It feels like magic. It’s the sweet sound of the voice of God calling us, like a sailor is called to the sea.

As we make peace with others, we must be able to see the “rainbow connection” between us and them. For believers, we must be able to see the image of God at work in them and celebrate when the image of God takes over a part of their lives they once led themselves—or allowed Satan to lead. For those yet to know Jesus, we should see the potential of the image of God to reign in their lives; we should recognize the beautiful things in their lives that are from God—even when they themselves don’t recognize those things—and prompt them to move toward all that is good, true, and wonderful, all that is God’s will. We must see the colors of the light in our world and affirm it when we find it.

God’s work is as colorful as an Indian street market or downtown New York City. God created the colors and every living creature—everything that is beautiful is from him. When God showed us how much he loves this world when he gave us the rainbow—after the flood. God brought the flood to restore humanity and creation as a type of last resort. After the flood, the rainbow is a sign of the covenant God makes with Noah (Genesis 9:13–17).

The story of Noah puts into perspective much of what is happening in 2 Corinthians. Evil exists and belongs to the realm of Satan, but God wants to redeem humanity. Rather than issue destruction, like he did in the time of Noah, he is redeeming humanity through the work of Jesus Christ—which also is seen in believers through the Holy Spirit working in them.

Scientifically speaking, a rainbow is light being reflected and refracted off water droplets. This is some of the most beautiful imagery in the Bible since it comes after the destruction of the earth by water. Yet the rainbow itself can be revealed only through water. The rainbow also reveals the reality of light itself. Light is not white; it’s composed of colors. And just like light, God is not simplistic but multifaceted. God reflects his very image off of humanity—and humanity is at its height when we allow for this reflection to occur. The process of the Spirit of God filling our hearts, and redeeming our actions as a result, is the very process of refraction. Like light being refracted through water, God’s transformative work in us reveals the reality of who we really are. As the old self is destroyed, like water destroyed the earth, something more beautiful emerges in all the colors of God.

Paul makes a similar point in 1 Corinthians 12–14, where he talks about the body of Christ having many parts—all of which are used for God’s purposes. Spiritual gifts demonstrate how God is manifest in different ways to different people. Likewise, we see this in the Old Testament when God comes as a burning bush, rider on the clouds, pillar of smoke, and still, small voice (e.g., Exod 3:2; Psa 68:4; 1 Kgs 19:11–12). We also see this through the way the Old Testament is structured, with God speaking through the priests (the Law), the seers (Wisdom literature), and the prophets, and we also read about God speaking through kings. God uses different types of literature, and different types of people, in the process of explaining who he is.

All of this shows that God is, in fact, an artist, molding his world to match his design.

This blog post is excerpted and adapted from my new book, Cutting Ties with Darkness: 2 Corinthians. In celebration of the release of Cutting Ties with Darkness, six of the books I authored or edited are currently on sale for Kindle for $0.99, but only for a very limited time. Pick up your copies here.

Calling is Complex — Review of Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again

Calling is complex and few have unraveled it as well as Ryan J. Pemberton. Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again is an impassioned testimony that shows what it means to follow Jesus—it’s inspiring, witty, honest, and brave. Pemberton will help you change your life for the better.

I have known Ryan Pemberton for about three years (give or take). We even now serve on a board of directors together. During that time, I have had some of the best conversations of my life. And it’s that conversational tone that we see in Called. Now you get to experience the incredible insights of one of my best friends. I have about a half a dozen friends who have influenced me more than any other people in the world and Ryan is one of those people. You will see why when you read Called.

This is a memoir and Ryan has truly lived this journey. In addition to Ryan’s journey being a splendid spiritual endeavor, and one we get to join him for, Pemberton also teaches us about C.S. Lewis. We go to Oxford with Pemberton, into Lewis’ home, and back again.

But for all this wonderment and vicarious living, there’s much more here. Pemberton offers insights into calling in general — a topic that my generation especially wrestles with. There is pain here. There is growth. And there is life.

Ryan J. Pemberton is the closest thing to a C.S. Lewis for our generation, yet with his own unique voice.

I have written lots of book reviews and said nice things about lots of books. But I have personally (and publicly) only endorsed two books — meaning wrote an endorsement that I knew would be included in (or on the cover of) the book itself. Called is one of those two books. So, go for it: Read this book. It will change your life for the better. It did mine.


P.S. The only thing I received for this endorsement and review was the opportunity to read this book in its draft stage. I imagine I will probably also get a free print copy, which I will promptly give to someone who should read it. But I would endorse this book either way.

The Real Walt Disney: Review of Walt Disney, An American Original

Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas (The Walt Disney Company, 1994)

Bob Thomas’ Walt Disney: An American Original is not just one of the best biographies I have ever read—it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Bob Thomas was an Associated Press reporter during Hollywood’s heyday and is best known for his biographies of the icons of the era, including Howard Hughes and Abbott and Costello.

Thomas’ wonderful work is best cast against another leader in its genre, The First Tycoona book I also loved. When you finish an incredible biography like The First Tycoon about Cornelius Vanderbilt, you’re left feeling a little gross, because you can’t believe the corporate world of today was formed by such a relentless and ruthless man. But, when you read about Walt Disney’s relentlessness, which formed modern animation (and entertainment at large), you’re inspired. Both The First Tycoon and Walt Disney are full of intrigue, suspense, backstabbing, and ultimately insight. Both make you want to do more and be more, but the character of Disney makes you want to be a better person. Thomas makes you want to tell a better story with your life and—if you’re a writer—Thomas also makes you want to improve your craft. Thomas’ prose is eloquent. At times, the details are mind-numbing, but even those usually get picked up on later, making you realize that Thomas really is as good of a writer as you suspected. (Even Disney’s childhood and youth years are entertaining, which include Disney impersonating older people to get jobs or simply get a laugh.) Continue Reading…

Why Customers Are the Focus: Book Review of Delivering Happiness

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieth (Business Plus, 2010)

Delivering Happiness will make you happy and it will probably make you better at business—if you’re willing to take the necessary risks.

Tony Hsieth (pronounced Shay) sold his first major startup LinkExchange to Microsoft for $265 million. He was only 24. This left Tony with the question, “What next?” He started a small venture capital firm, which led him to the founders of Zappos. After a time of simply being an advisor and investor, he went “all in” as Zappos’ CEO—and for Tony, that meant “all in,” because Zappos’ survival would eventually mean selling nearly everything he owned and dumping all of his money into the company. Zappos now does over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually and is owned by Amazon (Amazon exchanged shares for the purchase, at a deal valued at over $1.2 billion). Continue Reading…

Delivering Great Customer Service: Book Review of The Nordstrom Way

The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence: The Handbook for Becoming the “Nordstrom” of Your Industry by Robert Spector and Patrick D. McCarthy (Wiley, 2012)

I enjoyed The Nordstrom Way, but not as much as I thought I would.

Author Robert Spector loves customer service and loves writing about it. In addition to the classic The Nordstrom Way: The Inside Story, which this title replaces, and his book The Mom & Pop Store, he is working on a book about Amazon.com. He is also a speaker, trainer, and consultant, who has authored articles for the three big U.S. newspapers. The coauthor, Patrick D. McCarthy was Nordstrom’s top salesman for 15 years; Patrick now applies his experience of managing a 12,000 person customer list to consulting opportunities and presentations.

The Nordstrom Way emphasizes that sales is really a customer service function—guiding the customer to make the right purchase for them, while building a lasting relationship. It provides story after story of Nordstrom employees doing outlandish things to serve the customer. When you join Nordstrom, you’re told “Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service” and that Nordstrom only has one rule: “Use good judgment in all situations” (pg. 29). From that point forward employees are encouraged to act like they own their department and their store; employees are entrepreneurs. They do everything from generating their own lead lists to starting their own personal social media channels where they recommend products. As long as an employee’s decision is about helping the customer, Nordstrom will back them. This freedom, combined with the right talent, is what makes Nordstrom so special (pgs. 45, 57). Nordstrom even shares profit with employees to emphasize their faith and trust (pgs. 57, 106). Continue Reading…

Minimizing to Be More Effective — Book Review: The Power of Less

The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential … in Business and in Life by Leo Babauta (Hyperion, 2009)

I nearly stopped reading this book—that would have been a mistake. The Power of Less doesn’t have a powerful hook or interesting leading chapter. It’s not dogmatic or even persuasive. It’s simple. Like it’s title, it’s about “less.” Babauta, a reporter, editor, and speechwriter, is subtle. He likes to gently guide you in the right direction, hoping that you will in the midst of his do-it-yourself steps, see best way forward. It works.

We all know that focus is essential and difficult to come by because of the demands on our attention. We also all know that those with the most focus are likely to be the most successful. Babauta has probably close to 50 tips for how to be more focused. The best one is his suggestion to work on one major life change at a time and to introduce it into your life a little bit at a time. Because of this one piece of advice, Babuata says that he now rises at 4:30am (he gradually woke up 10 minutes earlier each day to learn to do so), has quit smoking, and lost nearly 40 pounds (e.g., pg. 150). He also says that this tip has made him more successful at getting things done—he takes one goal, breaks down into smaller goals (pg. 39), and then works on the smaller things with extreme focus (one thing a time). It’s great project management.

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