My Top Ten Reads of 2017

This year’s top ten comes to you from a deeper data set than the previous two years. Though writing still occupied much of my time this year, I still managed to read my way through twenty tomes. The ten (plus one) below are the ones I enjoyed the most. With the exception of the plus one, below are my reviews of them in the order that I read them.

Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller

Timothy Keller has been preaching for the better part of the past 40 years plus and this book clearly demonstrates the passion of his faith and the wisdom of his age. In the introduction of the book, Keller identifies three levels of ministering the Word: informal one-on-one conversations (Level 1), counseling and teaching individuals and small groups (Level 2), and pulpit ministry (Level 3). Though he aims this work primarily at those involved in Level 2 and Level 3 Word ministry, I can think of no Christian communicators who would not benefit from the insights in this excellent work.

He sets the foundation of the work well on the only foundation that can hold the true weight of Word ministry: the accomplished work of Christ. Keller recounts reviewing two sermons from Mark 5 on Jesus’s healing of the demoniac. The first one pointed to Jesus as the demoniac’s deliverer and invited the hearers to bring their problems to Jesus for resolution. The second one more faithfully presented the Gospel for it gave the reason why Jesus could free the naked, bound, banished, and tortured man. He was able to do so because He would take the man’s place. He would be bound, stripped naked, tortured, and banished before God in our place. This is just one of many illustrations through which Keller brings home not only the absolute necessity of the message being centered on Christ, but also how to bring it home.

Subsequent sections and chapters deal with how we communicate Christ to our culture, to the late modern mind, and to the heart of the listeners so that the sword of the Spirit finds its mark and exposes all to their need for Jesus. In short, this book is a treasure trove and a great encouragement to all who are intent on sharing the Gospel effectively.

Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America by James E. Mitchell, PhD., with Bill Harlow

It seems that no film or TV show involving spies, terrorists, torture, or behavioral modification has been without a “waterboarding” scene or an allusion to the practice. James Mitchell is a bona fide expert in the field and everything you have seen is fiction. This book is educational, enlightening, and heartbreaking.

Politicians have warped the realities of war since before Athens was a city-state. After the CIA black sites and enhanced interrogations had kept us safe for almost a decade after 9/11, they lined up to paint a necessity of war (gaining actionable intelligence) as an atrocity on mankind and a stain on America’s moral fabric. But their labeling of the techniques that were approved by the Justice Department and used in the enhanced interrogation program as torture is like school administrators calling a sixth-grader’s fumbled kiss rape.

This book is a must read for those who want a “behind the walling wall” view of how Osama bin Laden and many of his lieutenants were found, apprehended, and brought to justice.

The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins by Robert B. Baer

I dabble in the fiction of what Robert Baer lived. A recipient of the Career Intelligence Medal, Baer brings his uniquely qualified observations on what makes for truly effective assassination operations. His 21 laws are the chapter titles in the book and could be a viral-worthy Pinterest post in their own right. (A couple of my favorites are Law #1: The Bastard Has to Deserve It and Law #19: Always Have an Encore in Your Pocket.)

Although it is a mix of memoir and political science musings, it comes off like a first-person, hard-boiled detective novel except the detective is a self-deprecating operative with a deep philosophical bent. Baer’s proverbial similes add plenty of spice to the text, some even sending me to my reference tools. If one wants to know what the morass of the Middle East looks like from the ground level of the CIA, this book is for you.

I purchased this book at Barnes & Noble along with Enhanced Interrogation as research material for my next Gypsy Spy novel (see Law #19 above). When I handed the cashier my educator’s discount card, he asked me, “With these books, should I be worried about what school you are teaching in?” Deadpan, I replied, “Homeschooler.” My comment didn’t seem to ease his concerns at all.

The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost—from Ancient Greece to Iraq by Victor Davis Hanson

Themistocles, Belisarius, Sherman, Ridgway, and Petraeus viewed through Hansen’s keen historical eye and explained in his always masterful use of ink. It is a thrilling ride through history showing the common principles of what it takes to lead others out of hopelessness when the opposition is intent on your defeat and your life and culture hang in the balance. The author carves a story arc from sea battles in ancient Greece to the modern counterinsurgency in Iraq and skillfully demonstrates that the character and skills required to save a lost cause have not changed in millennia. An informative, engaging, enlightening, and entertaining read. Hansen does not disappoint.

Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Productivity in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Be sure to read this one cover to cover as even the end notes have gems in them. Though some of the subject matter covered was familiar to me (SMART goals, Lean thinking, team dynamics), Duhigg offers history on the genesis of these standard productivity tools as well as a host of new insights. His skill in weaving them together through the stories of people and organizations that have been improved through their implementation is on full display and highly enjoyable. Not to be missed is the Appendix where the author shares his own application of this productivity tool box to the writing process. If you liked The Power of Habit, you will not be disappointed by this book.

America’s Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and Its Enemies by George Friedman

Friedman is the founder of Stratfor, arguably one of the most authoritative geopolitical intelligence platforms in the private sector. Borrowed from a friend’s bookcase in June of 2017, I found myself wishing I had known about it when it was published back in 2004 as I read it. Considering that in the year of its publication it was a near-event reflection on 9/11 and a fair piece of highly educated prognostication on how the War on Terror might progress, it proves the measure of prestige that Stratfor and Friedman hold in intelligence circles. Page 339 from the conclusion is highly insightful. “The weakness of the U.S. is not our soldiers, nor their numbers, but the vast distance that separates American leaders from those who fight … To them, the soldiers are alien, people they have never met and don’t understand. When the children of leaders stay home, the leaders think about war in unfortunate ways.” And this: “Either the U.S. will withdraw [we did] from the Islamic world, creating a vacuum to be filled by the Caliphate [which ISIS did], or Al Qaeda will be crushed and the spirit that gave rise to it will be defeated [it has not been].”

Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend by Ravi Zacharias, Author and General Editor

Ravi Zacharias is a treasure and his team brings a wealth of apologetic experience to the page. This book, written for popular consumption (as opposed to an academic audience), centers on the relational-reality model of apologetics. As Zacharias writes, “All reality is ultimately defined by the Holy Trinity, God who is a Being in relationship.” It is this insight and approach that I most appreciated in this work. Having read many apologetic books, mostly from the scientific or philosophical perspectives, this work from multiple authors and disciplines was very enlightening and encouraging. If you are a Christian seeking to grow in your presentation skills of the Gospel or a person curious about the claims of Christianity and its relevance to the modern world, I highly recommend this book.

A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg

I have a genius older brother who commented when I told him about reading this book, “Doudna is brilliant. She and her lab are involved in Nobel Prize worthy work.” I can think of no higher accolade than that. Though authored by two scientists on the forefront of CRISPR technology, it is told primarily through Doudna’s perspective. A Crack in Creation is the scariest book I have read since Regenesis by George Church. Unlike Church, whose hubris and trans-human intentions are on full display in Regenesis, Doudna’s humble and wise humanity shines through her prose.

Church observed that the 1990s were still the Stone Age of genetic engineering and that the state of the art had moved into the Industrial Age when he wrote his book published in 2012. Doudna published her paper on CRISPR applications for gene editing in Science in June of 2012. If 2011 was the Industrial Age of genetic engineering, 2017 is well into the Information Age. We have moved on from genetic engineering to gene editing.

One of the authors’ most chilling (and telling) statements is that “what used to require years of work in a sophisticated biology laboratory can now be performed in days by a high school student.” (p. 113) They state that a CRISPR lab can be set up for just $2,000. What is scary about this? CRISPR can make gene edits that are heritable. The age is upon us, exciting and chilling. Genome beware, Tinkering-man is coming for you!

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

An excellent book and affirming in an odd way. Based upon what Grossman documents, I got much of the psychological cost of killing right in Gypsy Spy. At least 12 dog-eared pages and multiple underlinings give evidence to my engagement with the book. The author has a fascination with Freud, but that can be forgiven. He doesn’t make any faith claims, but he is Biblically literate. He knows the difference between killing and murder and this book is on killing.

The history, psychology, and current social implications all combine to make for a very worthwhile tome. His section on killing in Vietnam made me appreciate even more what all the veterans of that war have had to suffer because of our treatment of them and the cause they served.

Heartening to all should be the revelation that despite the decrepit condition the human race is in and the awful instances of mass shootings at home and barbarism by our enemies abroad, mankind isn’t naturally predisposed to killing. It takes a lot to get someone to the point where he or she will kill another person.

Grossman quotes Swank and Marchand’s WWII study that noted that only 2% of combat soldiers exhibited “aggressive psychopathic” tendencies. He goes on to clarify that a more accurate conclusion of their finding would be that there is a “2% of the male population that, if pushed or given a legitimate reason, will kill without regret or remorse.” He later drops this jewel of an observation regarding this rare 2%: “Whether called sociopaths, sheepdogs, warriors, or heroes, they are there, they are a distinct minority, and in times of danger a nation needs them desperately.”

Fascinate, Revised and Updated: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist by Sally Hogshead

When we worked together, my brother often said, “You know me, I ride for the brand.” His comment, born from our love of the Western and the reality of our step-father’s livelihood is a strong reminder of what we mean when we talk about branding. In the days before ear tags, cattle had their flesh seared with the indelible mark of their owner’s identity. Our modern use of “brand” derives from the Middle English use of a torch. Burning wood heats iron and a branding-iron imprints identity. As Sally Hogshead so aptly demonstrates, we all carry a fire—corporately and individually—that is our brand. Her gift is a replicable method for identifying and leveraging one’s brand effectively and affordably.

If the reader is familiar with any of the various personality type inventories such as Myers-Briggs, DISC, or OCEAN then the sense of this work will be even that much more apparent. Hogshead has identified seven archetypes of brand advantage and illustrates how and why they work to draw the public’s attention. She then moves into how these can be used in a combination of ways for tactical gains in changing circumstances without a loss of central value or identity.

Reading this work fired my imagination, has reignited my personal author branding message, and has inspired deep conversations on marketing and branding in the company I work for. Whether we recognize it or not, most of us are involved in the business of marketing. Fascinate provides great tools to increase the impact and effectiveness of those efforts.

And … [drum roll] … the promised Plus One:

Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey by Isabel Fonseca

Fonseca’s Bury Me Standing is a singularly stellar personal and literary accomplishment for the author. Isabel Fonseca put herself in circumstances few would willingly venture into, gained access to a closed society dominated by men and mother-in-laws, and reported her findings with literary elegance and beauty. I first read this book over 20 years ago. It stands the test of time. It is vital reading for anyone who wants insight into the Roma.

My Top Ten Reads of 2014

My Top Ten Reads of 2014

I don’t read nearly as fast as my wife or brother. So, I am fairly confident of my inability to complete another tome before December’s end. This means that I can confidently present to you my top ten reads from this year without fear of any of them losing their spot on the list to a year-end upstart. They are listed in the order which I read them.

  1. What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell. A fantastic collection of some of Galdwell’s best work in The New Yorker, this volume would be a welcome introduction to the author for any who haven’t read him and highly enjoyable for those who have. Gladwell is a master story teller disguised as a social commentator with a uniquely objective view. In this book, he covers topics as widely divergent as the mysteries of ketchup to the development of the Pill, the power of structured interviews to the pointlessness of current policies regarding the homeless. He has a knack for the unusual in the ordinary and a true talent to set the reader thinking.
  2. Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit V. Benerjee and Esther Duflo. If you are a conservative looking for a book that substantiates the belief that hard work can raise anybody out of poverty, this book isn’t for you. The poor of the world work plenty hard enough. If you are a liberal looking for a tome by respected economists that shows more government intervention and redistribution of wealth are what is needed to solve global poverty, this book isn’t for you either. If, however, you are intellectually inquisitive enough to get a realistic view of the economic decisions the poor make and why, I highly recommend this book. The authors aren’t interested in ideology. They are after facts and empirically proven methods of making the lives of the poor better. For evenhanded comparisons, they use the concept of Purchasing Power Parity where the poverty level is set at 16 rupees and converted to the actual buying power in the states, which is roughly $0.99. The real poor live on $0.99 or less per day. Makes poverty in America appear to be a vacation! One of my favorite paragraphs comes from page 68: “The poor seem to be trapped by the same kinds of problems that afflict the rest of us – lack of information, weak beliefs, and procrastination among them. It is true that we who are not poor are somewhat better educated and informed, but the difference is small because, in the end, we actually know very little, and almost surely less than we imagine.” Amen to that!
  3. Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. Jonah Berger could be considered Malcolm Gladwell’s intellectual child. Berger was inspired by Gladwell’s now classic The Tipping Point and made it his life’s mission to figure out exactly why things catch on. Contagious is the result. If The Tipping Point be the original observation of the phenomenon in modern culture, Contagious is the empirically examined process of why things go viral. The principles are encapsulated in the acronym STEPPS: Social currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical value, and Stories. The notes about narrative on page 187 I found particularly insightful with applications for evangelism and teaching as well.
  4. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. In case you haven’t noticed, behavioral and cognitive sciences have made great strides in the past decade. This book not only rates high on the Fascinating Scale, it is also practical. It offers great explanations of how habits are formed, what triggers their expressions, and how to rewrite them. Information from this book helped me tell the tale of “Crawling Out of the Bottle” in a more frank fashion than I otherwise would have. Not prone to contacting authors, I actually reached out to Duhigg via e-mail to thank him for his work. To my delight and surprise, he kindly responded.
  5. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. An amplification of the work and theories that earned him the Nobel Prize in Economics – a prize in economics because certain physical scientists were uncomfortable with the establishing of a prize in social science – Kahneman takes us on a tour of the thought and lab experiments that he and his colleague Amos Tversky carried out over their long collaboration. It is a book on judgment and decision making and exposes many of the mind traps and blindsides we set up for ourselves. The author examines the two primary thought process – automatic operations and controlled operations – and their impacts and influences on the decisions we make.
  6. What Is Secular Humanism? Why Christian Humanism Became Secular Humanism and How It is Changing Our World by James Hitchcock. This book was a large part of the backbone to my post “Secular Humanists Have a Problem.” I first read this book some twenty-five years ago. The author’s insights into the modern influences of secular humanism still hold up today. My interest in the subject was rekindled when Kevin Swanson sent me Apostate: The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West after the debacle of Doug Phillip’s fall and the collapse of Vision Forum Ministries. Though Swanson’s book is more detailed in the personal lives of secular humanisms leaders, Hitchcock’s treatment of the subject is more engaging and even handed.
  7. Why Science Does not Disprove God by Amir D. Aczel. This is not a book written by an evangelical to debate atheists. This is a work by an award winning mathematician and author to explain how and why the New Atheists have overreached in their claims for science. In my reading journal, I jokingly commented that the title could have as easily been Against the New Atheists or Dawkins, Kindly Eat Your Hat! If I had to pigeonhole Aczel, I would call him an agnostic, but a humble one at that. A quote from the introduction gives you a taste of things to come. “Roger Penrose, addressing only one of the many parameters necessary for a universe that would support life, has put the probability against the emergence of our universe as 1 over 10^10123, meaning 1 divided by 10 raised to the power of 10, raised to the power of 123. Such numbers are humbling. Now consider the odds of intelligent life developing. To assume there is no God or act of creation behind our immeasurably unlikely universe seems to me presumptuous.” (from page 4)
  8. Breaking Free: Escaping an Exclusivist Christian Group by Reb Bradley. I catalogued some of my own experiences in an exclusivist Christian group in my post “Membership Has Its Privileges.” When I spoke with the author at a conference, he told me that he had stopped putting his name on the cover of the book because he started getting death threats from folks who were sure he had written it about them. At only 82 pages, it packs a punch. Most insightful is his admonition to former members to take responsibility for their involvement and to stop playing the victim. It was his testimony that he seldom saw true healing begin until this was done.
  9. The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek. First published in Britain in 1944, Hayek’s work stands the test of time. Writing in the gale wind of popularity that central planning held in economic and government circles of his day, Hayek did much to expose that Nazism and Communism were two sides of the same coin, slavery by different names. Hayek showed that social planners were inevitably forced to control more and more aspects of society if they ever hoped to hold it to their declared societal goals. The end result would always be the deterioration – if not outright eradication – of personal liberties. I consider it necessary reading for any serious student of real world economics and political science.
  10. Man: The Dwelling Place of God by A. W. Tozer. A compilation of articles that Tozer wrote on the subject, his depth of insight will challenge and bless your soul. Though Tozer died in 1963, his comments on the human condition, errant evangelical practices, and the markings of a real spirit-filled life are as applicable today as when he wrote them. Some notable quotes: “God is never found accidentally.” (p.41) “True faith brings a spiritual and moral transformation and an inward witness that cannot be mistaken. These come when we stop believing in belief and start believing in the Lord Jesus Christ indeed.” (p. 45) “Future historians will record that we of the twentieth century had intelligence enough to create a great civilization but not the moral wisdom to preserve it.” (p. 34) “The most fervent devotees of tolerance are invariably intolerant of everyone who speaks about God with certainty.” (p. 87) Drink slowly, absorb well.

Crawling Out of the Bottle

Beer was an acquired taste. But I took to hard liquor like it was my mother’s milk. The first drinks were mixed: bourbon and coke, vodka and orange juice, PGA and punch. I was fourteen. After a time, the mixer was too sweet for me, the bourbon too smooth. Scotch and water on ice became the standard. The problem with water, however, was that it diluted the liquor. So scotch on the rocks it was. But ice cubes melt and I quickly dispensed with the practice. When I stopped mixing my liquor with a glass, I should have realized I had a problem.

I am not an alcoholic, recovering or otherwise. I was a drunk. If you are a parent reading this, please understand that while I abused alcohol from my early teens, I was a highly functioning alcohol abuser. While in high school, I was a straight-A student, acted in regional theater, had a window cleaning business, worked twenty to thirty hours a week in restaurants, lead Bible fellowships, and paid monthly rent to my mother as well as supported most of my personal spending habits. If you were on the outside of my circle looking in, I was one of the “good kids”. If you happened to be in my circle, I was serving you drinks during the weekend wind down. I state this as a warning. Alcohol abuse can occur while folks function normally. Make sure you are aware of what your children are doing.

If you are my child and reading this, you’ve heard some of these stories before but probably not with such detail. I offer them not as a boast, but a recollection of my walk of shame and the goodness of God to save me from it. Our family has a long history of alcohol abuse. Should you dance with the bottle, understand that you won’t be the lead for long.

I could list numerous environmental reasons – causes of nature and nurture – for why I took to drink. Prime among them would be parental and sibling consumption of alcohol. And though it was a factor, it is far from an excuse. Ultimately, it was simply a matter of personal choice. It is amazing to me how small of a disincentive to self-abuse is the observed abuse by others. I watched my father die of his nicotine habit. It didn’t stop me from smoking. I was pained by the emotional damage my mother’s drinking caused the family. I still knocked back shots with her. No one twisted my arm. It wasn’t inevitable. Solid barriers were in my way. And yet, as a teenager living in a dry county I still managed to procure enough supplies to feed my binges and those of my friends. Choice, not chance. Failure, not fate.

Teenagers are renowned for their risky behaviors. I was a champion risk taker, a trait that was exacerbated through lack of immediate consequences. Steal liquor from my employer and get drunk with coworkers? Get promoted to cook. Stay up drinking all night at a cast party? Go to work three hours later, sober with no hangover. Buy out half a liquor store and not be old enough to vote? Get a smile from the pretty cashier and wish she lived in my town. Transport alcoholic beverages underage, across state lines, and into a dry county? Be a hero to your friends and let the good times roll.

While marijuana and hashish always made me nauseous and left me with a hangover, I wouldn’t suffer a head-banger from alcohol until I was in my early twenties. The ability to consume mass quantities and not suffer pain from alcohol toxicity was alarming to me in my youth. But I didn’t heed the warning. It wasn’t until my late twenties that self-induced sickness began to interfere with my work. By then, my habit was fairly entrenched.

Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit[1]documents what he refers to as “the habit loop” with multiple examples of how this loop plays out in our lives and culture. It looks like this:


From a young age, two habit loops formed a vicious feedback cycle in my life that accelerated my descent down the bottle: working and drinking. My cue for working was simple and basic: I needed money. When my father died, only my brother Timothy and I were left at home with my mother. That following spring, she informed us that she needed $100 a month from each of us to make ends meet.[2] It was 1979. Timothy was sixteen, I was fourteen. My summer job was never about college.

My routine was to go to work, early and often. During my sophomore year of high school, I would get up at 5 AM to make it to work by six, Monday through Friday. I ran there. After a two-hour shift of cooking, I would run to school. It wasn’t uncommon for me to put in sixteen to twenty-four hours during the weekend. I was rewarded with money for my work as well as respect from my mother because I wasn’t lazy. But the demands of life and work set off other cues: stress and pain.

I began suffering with back pain when I was fifteen. By the time it became chronic in my early twenties, alcohol was already my reliever of choice. My routine to handle the stress and pain was drinking, for which I was rewarded with relief and relaxation. But the payoff came with a price. As I abused alcohol, I lost money and respect. This became my cue to work even harder and around the circle I would go again in an ever increasing, downward spiral. My concentric habit loops looked something like this:


A serious case of sciatica set in within my first year as an office furniture installer. The chiropractor I went to strongly suggested that I find a different line of work. It would take me eighteen years to heed his advice. I’m hardheaded that way. Degeneration in a disk of my lower back put pressure on my left sciatic nerve. It felt like someone had jammed a metal spear through my lower back, down my left leg to my ankle and hooked it up with jumper cables to a car battery. Then they played with the juice and made me dance all day long. Maddening. I gradually turned into a fairly mean bastard.

The first time I herniated the disk, I called my wife and asked her to buy some medicine. It was eight o’clock in the evening. The state-run liquor stores closed at nine.[3] I was at work. My day had started at seven that morning and I still had a couple of hours to go. I came home to a fifth of Maker’s Mark® and killed half the bottle in less than an hour. It allowed me to make it upstairs to my bed without screaming. The Centers for Disease Control defines moderate alcohol consumption as two drinks per day for a man.[4] Half a fifth in less than an hour isn’t moderation.

Years later I was relaxing with my crew after a hard day’s work, enjoying a friendly game of spades as we shot the breeze and drank the booze. I should have known it wouldn’t end well when we threw the cap away as soon as the bottle was opened. I honestly didn’t think I drank much that night. I even bowed out early, heading home in the summer twilight. Trash carts were set out in neat lines along my route home. I recall how funny I thought it was to knock them over with my truck as I rolled down the streets. But then the pick-up headed toward a ditch. I pulled hard on the wheel to avoid disaster…and fell off my couch in the pitch black of night. I had no memory of getting home. To this day, I’m not sure if I knocked the trash carts over or just imagined it. But I am sure I blacked out. And I knew I was in trouble.

That event terrified me. I consumed no alcohol for six months thereafter, regardless the pain. But I didn’t quit. I forgot my wife’s anger. I disregarded my reckless behavior. I took no account of the lives I endangered. Work was stress and pain, alcohol was release and relief. Downward I dove.

Eventually, fun took a back seat to pain management. I commuted forty-five minutes to work and the clutch was torture on the back and leg. One night I stopped at a grocery store well shy of the halfway mark home and bought a six pack. I drank it in the parking lot. It was enough to cool the nerve and get me home to my scotch. A sane man would have sought medical help. A sane man would have slowed down. A sane man might even consider automatic transmission. But I didn’t. I’m hardheaded that way.

The pain became so severe that sitting, let alone driving, became nearly impossible. My wife would drive me to work and pick me up. Not working wasn’t an option. That addiction was stronger than alcohol. The day came when standing was out of reach of my stubbornness. I collapsed in the shower while getting ready for work. I wouldn’t walk for another two months.

Within the first couple weeks of crawling around my house on my hands and knees, I heard the Lord say, “So, is this life of yours working for you? Because it isn’t working for me.” The humble rarely get humbled. Unlike Jacob who earned a limp wrestling with the angel for a blessing, I was a crawling cripple for cherishing the curse of alcohol and the false identity of work. The realization was sobering.

Our third child was born. I went on the operating table. For four hours, the surgeon scraped away at the damage I had done to my back. Once the debris of the disk herniations was gone, my sciatic nerve could breathe again. Ninety percent of my alcohol need went away. The rest was habit.

I no longer got drunk with near the frequency I had. But I still drank. Honestly, I have no issue with drinking. I don’t think it immoral, sinful, or wrong. Drunkenness, on the other hand, is an issue. And so long as I drank, the danger of being drunk was ever present. Inebriation couldn’t be my relaxation. I had to learn to rest in Him. Work couldn’t be the determiner of my self-worth. I had to measure my value by what He was willing to pay for me. Life needed to be temperate if I hoped to drink wine with Him in the kingdom.

I’ve been sober for nearly twenty years now. I no longer hear the bottle calling my name in the dark of night. And I’m thankful for the love of my Lord and my wife who saw me through to the dawn.


[1] The full title is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. You can find Duhigg’s web site here:

[2] My father died on December 5, 1978. $100 in 1979 had the buying power that $326 has today.

[3] As I am now, I was living in Virginia at the time. We have ABC Stores. Having come from a region that had liquor stores with neon lights (we would travel up to Missouri from my hometown in northern Arkansas to purchase supplies), it took me a year to figure out what an ABC Store was.

[4] , accessed 5/18/14.