The Challies 2016 Reading Challenge

Want to read more in 2016?

Me too.

One of my favorite bloggers, Tim Challies, created the 2016 Reading Challenge to give direction to people who want to tackle more books this year.

Here’s a link to the 2016 Reading Challenge. He’s got plans for 13, 26, 52, and 104 books. You can click the image below for a larger view.


I’m currently tackling the 52 book challenge, aiming for a book a week to keep pace.

If your year of reading hasn’t started out how you hoped, never fear! You can start fresh today and still easily tackle 13 or 26 books, or if you’re ready for a quicker pace, you’ll need to read a book a week plus squeeze in an extra seven somewhere along the line.

Instant is in and tweets and status updates are easier to digest because of their low caloric value. But book readers continue to be influencers and leaders because books change and sharpen minds.

I had to do a little retrofitting to make the books I read so far fit this list. It’s going to take more planning going forward to make it all work, so that’s my next task.

Here’s what I’ve read so far in 2016.

Completed in 2016

  1. The Damascus Countdown – Joel Rosenberg The final book in The Twelfth Imam trilogy. My friend Grant got me hooked on Joel Rosenberg, who some call the “modern day Nostradamus.” I’m not sure his interpretations of some biblical prophecies are completely accurate, but he writes captivating Christian thrillers.
  2. The Speechwriter – Barton Swain A hilarious tale of being a speechwriter for former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, you’ll laugh a lot but probably walk away from the inside view of a political office with a more jaded perspective.
  3. The Third Target – Joel Rosenberg From ol’ Joel’s newest trilogy, a first-person perspective of a journalist meeting with leaders of ISIS and navigating reporting on a peace process in the Middle East. One of my favorite Rosenberg books.
  4. Awe – Paul David Tripp – Tripp says our problem with worship is that we aren’t in awe of God and his love for us, so we look to other things (money, sex, relationships, work) for temporary satisfaction. I agree with the premise and recommend the book because I see the battle happening for my awe daily in my own life.
  5. Stuff Matters – Mark Miodownik A fascinating look at the everyday materials that make up our world. Miodownik’s passion for the seemingly mundane (like paper and concrete) help you appreciate the simple stuff we take for granted.
  6. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr A captivating historical fiction novel set during WWII from the perspective of a young blind girl in Paris and an orphan boy in Germany. Doerr crafted some of the most incredibly, descriptive prose I’ve ever read, and the story is a simultaneously heart wrenching and beautiful picture of humanity.
  7. Do Over – Jon Acuff Acuff melds helpfulness and humor in an amazing way. I was highlighting like a madman and note taking nonstop in this book about taking charge of your career, and laughing the whole way through. I’ve already given this one away as a gift.
  8. Fool’s Talk – Os Guiness The great-great-great grandson of the famous brewer helps us think about the role of apologetics and persuasion in evangelism, tackling big objections to Christianity and sharing interesting anecdotes along the way. Fairly intellectual, but a helpful guide on evangelism in a pluralistic, postmodern world.

Currently reading

  • Triggers – Marshall Goldsmith I have a habit for reading books about habits. Goldsmith is an executive coach who helps people who dominate the business world handle that nagging problem of behavioral change, and he only gets paid if they’re successful. Chockfull of “of course!” wisdom on changing habits and behavior, but helpful because of the sheer simplicity.
  • Future Crimes – Marc Goodman We’re currently watching Person of Interest and I’m reading this book, so I’m ready to go off the grid entirely and smash all of my internet-connected devices. A pessimistic but realistic look at the reality of everything being hackable, and what that means in a world of hackers, criminal masterminds, and organized crime. Eye opening and fear inducing, and if you don’t have eternal hope for the future, well, I don’t know how you make it through this one without being entirely freaked out and saddened at the state of our world.


  • A book about Christian living (Awe – Paul David Tripp)
  • A biography
  • A classic novel
  • A book someone tells you “changed my life”
  • A commentary on a book of the Bible
  • A book about theology
  • A book with the word “gospel” in the title or subtitle
  • A book your pastor recommends
  • A book more than 100 years old
  • A book for children
  • A mystery or detective novel
  • A book published in 2016
  • A book about a current issue


  • A book written by a Puritan
  • A book recommended by a family member
  • A book by or about a missionary
  • A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize (All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr)
  • A book written by an Anglican (Fool’s Talk – Os Guinness)
  • A book with at least 400 pages (The Damascus Countdown – Joel Rosenberg)
  • A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien
  • A book that has a fruit of the Spirit in the title
  • A book with a great cover
  • A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers (Stuff Matters – Mark Miodownik)
  • A book about church history
  • A graphic novel
  • A book of poetry


  • A book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with
  • A book written by an author with initials in their name
  • A book that won a ECPA Christian Book Award
  • A book about worldview
  • A play by William Shakespeare
  • A humorous book (The Speechwriter – Barton Swain)
  • A book based on a true story
  • A book written by Jane Austen
  • A book by or about Martin Luther
  • A book with 100 pages or less
  • A book with a one-word title
  • A book about money or finance
  • A novel set in a country that is not your own (The Third Target – Joel Rosenberg)
  • A book about music
  • A memoir
  • A book about joy or happiness
  • A book by a female author
  • A book whose title comes from a Bible verse
  • A book you have started but never finished
  • A self-improvement book (Do Over – Jon Acuff)
  • A book by David McCullough
  • A book you own but have never read
  • A book about abortion
  • A book targeted at the other gender
  • A book by a speaker at a conference you have attended
  • A book written by someone of a different ethnicity than you

Chemex Instructions: The Best Way to Brew Coffee

The AeroPress was my first love when it came to moving beyond the automatic drip coffee maker. It’s still my favorite way to make coffee when I’m traveling.

But there’s a new brew method in my life, and we’ve been going steady for nearly two years.

Meet the Chemex.

8 cup chemex instructions

If we were judging brewers by their covers, there’s no doubt the Chemex could win a beauty contest.

But beyond that pretty hour-glass figure is a simple way to brew the cleanest, most delicious coffee you’ve (likely) every had at home.

The Chemex is just a fancy pour over (meaning you physically pour water onto the grounds which are in a filter). What makes the Chemex special is its filters. These unique, thicker filters remove any bitterness from the coffee.

If you’re ready to dive into amazing coffee, you might get held up wondering how to use this thing. Here are my Chemex instructions for how to brew and what equipment you need.

How much coffee do I use?

The magic formula for us is using 15 grams of water for every 1 gram of coffee beans / grounds. That’ll give you nice-tasting, not-too-bold, not-too-watery coffee. We have an 8-cup Chemex (with the wood collar, naturally) and we normally brew 50 grams of coffee (750 grams of water) which produces 3 mugs full of coffee (2 for me and 1 for my more caffeine-sensitive wife).

What temperature of water?

Start with 195° Fahrenheit for my American friends or 90.5° Celsius for the rest of the galaxy.

Depending on the surface you put your kettle on, the temperature will start dropping rapidly. You can keep the kettle on a burner to keep it warm, or just pour quickly (but not too quickly, noted below).

How Should I Put in the Filter?

I’m glad you asked.

You should wet the filter (I just swish it under running water) and center the side of the filter with 3-folds directly over the lip where the coffee pours out.

Lots of people complain that the Chemex hiccups (and I did too!) until some genius on the Internet mentioned that if you put the 3-sided part of the filter over the pour spout it leaves a gap for air to release. Surely this was done by design, so that pour spout is also an air escape.

How much water should I add at a time?

With the first pour, if you’re using freshly roasted, freshly ground coffee, the coffee should bloom (i.e. puff up). I normally start with 150 grams, and once the bloom collapses a bit and the water has mostly dripped through, I add 150–200 grams of water at a time.

If you add a bunch of water all at once (say 400+ grams), your coffee will probably taste murky, like you just found it in a closet of your grandma’s mothball-ridden clothes. I’ve done that on more than one occasion and basically cried the rest of the day.

Don’t get too zealous with your pouring. It’ll ruin everything.

How long does it take and in what order should I do everything?

The entire process, with heating your water (mega fan of the electric kettle, which makes things much quicker), grinding coffee, and adding water should take about 15 minutes. The process is mostly dependent on how quickly the water heats up and how much coffee you’re brewing.

I do things in this order:

  1. Heat the water in (electric) kettle
  2. Measure whole beans on a scale
  3. Grind the beans coarsely
  4. Wet the filter and put in Chemex
  5. Add coarse coffee to Chemex
  6. Check temperature of water and begin adding when it hits 195°
  7. Add water 150 – 200 grams at a time
  8. Drink like a champion

What grind of bean should I use?

Medium-coarseness is ideal.

If it’s too fine, your coffee will turn to mud in the filter and get clogged and taste awful.

If you use coffee that is too coarse, the water will drip through too quickly and the coffee won’t have much taste.

Adjust accordingly.

What equipment do I need?

These five items are listed in order of importance. Picking them all up will set you back around $215, which is no tiny investment.

I suggest getting started with the Chemex and filters along with a kitchen scale, so that you can accurately brew. That combination will set you back $90, assuming you already have a way to heat water via a standard tea kettle or electric kettle, and you’ll have to grind the beans at the store or shop you purchase them in.

Chemex and Filters

Surprisingly, if you want to use a Chemex, you need to have one in your possession.

For $70 you can snag the classic 8-cup Chemex (for the thirsty / party people out there) and a pack of 100 filters.

It’s way cheaper to buy filters at a local hipster coffee joint (normally around $10 / box of 100) or World Market (shocking, right?). Amazon, for some reason, rarely has fair prices for filters.

If we’re getting particular, I like the square unbleached filters because they look cooler and are easier to grab and chuck in the trash when you’re done brewing.

Chemex Bundle: 8-cup Classic Glass Coffeemaker and 100 Circle Filters for $69 at Amazon

Chemex 8-cup Coffeemaker for $60 at Amazon

100 Square Non-Bleached Filters for $18 at Amazon

Kitchen Scale

eat smart kitchen scale
To start, hands down, you 100% should buy a cheap kitchen scale. It will take your coffee game to the next level overnight.

Any scale with a decently wide base will do–just make sure the Chemex can rest safely on it. I also prefer a scale that measures in grams, but hey, whatever mass-measuring system that floats your boat will do. The 8-cup Chemex fits perfectly on the EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale.

EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale $20 at Amazon


weber thermometer
This may seem silly, but burning your coffee is easy to do. Please, for the love, don’t pour boiling water over your grounds. That’s just wrong.

This $10 Weber one has served us well, but be careful not to submerge it fully under the water.

As a bonus, it works as a meat thermometer too.

Weber 6492 Original Instant-Read Thermometer $10 at Amazon

A Burr Grinder

burr grinder
Fancy burr grinders can set you back hundreds. If you want to start with a more reasonably priced grinder and you’re not afraid to use a little elbow grease, this $22 Hario hand grinder will get you going.

We’ve been using this low-end1as far as burr grinders goCuisinart Burr Grinder for years. It’s not good enough for a coffee shop or espresso, but for the Chemex you’ll be just fine.

Hario Coffee Mill (Hand Crank) $22 at Amazon

Cuisinart Burr Grinder $65 at Amazon

Gooseneck Kettle

Hario Gooseneck Kettle
For just over $40 you can add the most unnecessary yet somehow life altering tool to your coffee crafting collection: a gooseneck kettle.

Most kettles have a normal spot and pour from the top, meaning you end up with about half of the water you brewed on the floor, counter, and your toes (if you brew barefoot).

The Gooseneck, like a gentleman and a scholar, has an appropriately named gooseneck spout that pushes the water from the bottom of the kettle so you can pour like a decent human being, not wasting a drop of your perfectly brewed water and being able to properly wet all of the grounds in your Chemex evenly and fairly, without discrimination.

Hario V60 Gooseneck Kettle for $42 at Amazon

Wrapping Up

It’s a big step forward to dive into a coffee apparatus that takes more time than a standard automatic coffee maker or, heaven forbid, a Keurig. But the Chemex process is a delightful one and your taste buds (and friends you share with) will undoubtedly thank you for it.

Barebones Chemex Equipment ($90)

All-In Chemex Equipment Setup ($206)

Simple Chemex Instructions and Recipe

20:1 ratio, water to coffee | 195° F brew temperature | 3 cups = 35 grams of coffee grounds and 700 grams of water

  1. Heat the water in (electric) kettle
  2. Measure whole beans on a scale
  3. Grind the beans coarsely
  4. Wet the filter and put in Chemex
  5. Add coarse coffee to Chemex
  6. Check temperature of water and begin adding when it hits 195° F
  7. Add water 150 – 200 grams at a time, using a ratio of 20 grams of water to 1 gram of coffee grounds
  8. Drink like a champion

Footnotes   [ + ] far as burr grinders go

The Focus Course Review

As I reflected on the year in 2014 and 2015, the two things I said I wanted to improve the most was my focus. I still have a long way to go, but I’m convinced in an increasingly distracting world, focus is what separates those who make an impact and those who get lost in the shuffle.

I want to focus on not being distracted by social media and giving my full attention to the people around me.

Jim Elliot’s quote continues to resonate with me.

Wherever you are, be all there.

I haven’t come close to fully living that out yet. But I’m working on it, with a lot of help from The Focus Course by Shawn Blanc. Shawn is a prolific writer about creativity, focus, intentionality and runs a few of my favorite websites: Tools and Toys and The Sweet Setup.


What is The Focus Course?

The Focus Course is a 40-day online course that helps you:

  • get clarity about what you want to be doing
  • get real about what you’ve actually been doing
  • plan for what you want to do
  • and helps you take action to be where you want to be and become who you want to become.

The course is split into five modules.

  1. Foundations
  2. Honesty
  3. Clarity
  4. Action
  5. Planning

This course stretches beyond the scope of focus and gets to the heart of living a meaningful, purpose-filled life. It’s about being intentional about how you live and work, putting your values at the center of everything, and making a lasting impact with the one life we have here on earth.

Who Is It For?

Anyone who wants to live with more focus and intention.

I wish I would have taken this as a college student, so I could have more fully lived out the principles embedded in this course.

I’m grateful I took this course as a young professional with a newborn (I started the course in the hospital just after our daughter’s birth!). It will continue to help mold and shape the person (and dad) I want to become.

I’ll retake this course as I grow in my career, my marriage, my relationships. As I start side projects and tackle areas of my life I want to continue to grow in.

Basically, if you have a pulse and want to increase your focus, make a difference, and live a more  purposeful life, The Focus Course is for you.

How Long Does It Take?

Each day takes about five to ten minutes to watch the video or read through the content, but there are additional exercises and assignments you’ll need to complete, which is where the true value comes.

As a warning, the second module about Honesty takes lots of extra time and effort, but it will help you live in reality and see who you want to be and become. It takes serious discipline to keep trudging through days 12 – 17 and finishing the tasks you need to. I promise it is worth it.

Altogether it’s a 40-day course, and I love the way the course is set up. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and having to diligently work through each day and each module means you’re chipping away at bad habits that have been built over a lifetime.

Extras and Improvements

Beyond the daily modules, there are all kinds of assessments for finding what’s distracting you, if you’re addicted to notifications and checking your inbox, extra articles for going deeper in areas like personal integrity, daily habits, tips for how to use your Mac, how to overcome the fear of missing out (FOMO) and a whole lot more.

Shawn continues to improve the course and invest in it heavily. Shawn recently released version two of the course, which adds a video to every single day.

It’s beautifully designed and you can cruise through the course with any device. My personal preference is on iOS. You’ll be able to see all the modules you’ve completed and see your progress as you go through. There’s also a members forum section where you can provide feedback, connect with others, and share what you’re learning and processing.


Favorite Aspects

The most valuable portion of the course for me was thinking about the person I want to become. If a morning manifesto is what is true about yourself, then crafting your values on Day 10 of the course is what guides you in who you want to become.

The course drips with authenticity, attention to detail, and beautiful design. I didn’t know an online course could look so good. Shawn pulled out all the stops in an effort to make the packaging look as good as the product.

I’m a huge fan of the additional articles and assessments for increased productivity I mentioned above.

I’ve started working through the course again to start 2016.

Is It Worth the Money?

In short: absolutely. I fully believe an investment in ourselves in an effort to make a greater impact on the world around us is one of the best ways we can use our hard-earned cash.

If it wasn’t worth the money, I would have asked for a refund. Shawn backs his course up with a 60-day money-back guarantee.

This is a course about intentionality, focus, productivity, making an impact, and living with purpose, all rolled up together. I can’t think of a better way to start the new year.

I can honestly say the cash I dripped on The Focus Course was far and away the best money I spent in 2015. I’m excited to get back into the course again this year.

If you aren’t sure you’re ready to invest a few hundred dollars on the course, Shawn offers a free course called The Elements of Focus with a 16-day email series that will give you a taste of the full Focus Course.

If you decide to sign up for The Focus Course, I’d be grateful if you use my affiliate link. I can’t recommend the course highly enough, and I’d love to hear from you (jshirkman at gmail dot com) if you decide to check out the course.


Anonymity vs. Accountability

Don’t read the comments.

It’s the first rule of using the Internet. Nothing good happens there, and there’s a 99.9% chance you’ll be wishing you could get those precious few moments back that the comment section ripped from your fingers. Now you’re fuming because KoolGuy2596 said all (gender, faith, race, and / or nationality that describes you) are idiots.

It’s not the Internet alone that makes people say terrible things, but it sure helps.

And why is that?

Because it’s anonymous. 1Ok, not really 100% anonymous, but anonymous enough to be the righthand man of foolishness.


It’s the same reason that we wish the most horrible kinds of evil on that person who cut us off in traffic.

We lose sight of reality. The reality that crazy commentators and wild drivers are humans. We have no personal connection with them–only an emotional reaction to something they said or did.  Continue reading

Footnotes   [ + ]

1.Ok, not really 100% anonymous, but anonymous enough to be the righthand man of foolishness.

Three Tiny Steps to Building Lasting Habits

Of the things we do each day, the majority are things we’ve done before–hundreds or thousands of times before.

Our subconscious is constantly processing things for us so we don’t have to think about how to brush our teeth or shower or the way to drive to work.

Or how to be impatient with people who frustrate us or how to sit on the couch and watch Netflix instead of exercising or how to waste money on frivolous purchases.


For the last year and a half, I’ve been thinking a lot about habits. I’ve written about developing new ones and recorded a podcast on habits, and I’ve encountered a number of books focusing on these tiny building blocks that dictate so much of what we do.

I’m convinced that habits are one of the most important things we can focus on if we want to live a life of purpose, because they are a powerful force that are constantly moving us further and further in a direction and becoming more deeply ingrained with each passing day.

Just think about the things you do each day.

How many of them are truly new things? You likely eat similar foods for breakfast, take a shower at a similar time, hang out with some of the same people, ask the same questions, do repetitive tasks at work. And we don’t seek out novel ways to do things when we already have a way. I’m not trying to find a unique route to commute to work–I’m going the way I always go because it’s the easiest.

The classic quote,

“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”

emphasizes our habit for habits.

Good or bad, the more we do something the easier it is to do it again.

So how do we start making changes?  Continue reading