Well, it’s that time of year again. Every year I like to keep track of the books I read and then take a look back at what shaped me and what stood out most. First, the list – then I’ll give you some thoughts on some of my favorites.

  1. The Barbarian Way – McManus
  2. The Bourne Identity – Ludlum
  3. Things Fall Apart – Achebe
  4. Notes from Underground – Dostoevsky
  5. The Bourne Supremacy – Ludlum
  6. The New Rules of Love, Sex and Dating – Stanley
  7. The Bourne Ultimatum – Ludlum
  8. Vanishing Grace – Yancey
  9. Let Your Life Speak – Parker
  10. Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good – Wright
  11. Good Leaders Ask Great Questions – Maxwell
  12. Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff – Moore
  13. Scary Close – Miller
  14. Leadership Pain – Chand
  15. The Silver Chair – C.S. Lewis
  16. Inside the Box: A proven system of creativity for breakthrough results – Boyd, Goldenberg
  17. Procrastinate on Purpose – Vaden
  18. The ABCs of Financial Freedom – Cameron
  19. The Key to Everything – Keller
  20. H3 Leadership: Be Humble, Stay Hungry, Always Hustle – Lomenick
  21. Love, Live, Lead – Brian Houston
  22. Millones Cajones – Bell
  23. Leading with the Heart – Krzyzewski
  24. Coaching 101 – Logan

I started the year with an old favorite, The Barbarian Way by Pastor Erwin McManus. Years ago that book gave me a fresh look at faith that caused me to begin to dream crazy dreams and it was good to dip back in to that.

Five of the next six books I read were fiction, and nine total on the year – which has to be some kind of record for me, at least since college. And of course, that’s if you count The Bourne trilogy as actual books. They were incredibly fun to read and hard to put down. I probably didn’t learn much from them but I do know several ways to turn everyday objects into weapons if need be. So there’s that.

I read Things Fall Apart and Notes from Underground on the recommendation of a friend. I get it. Classic literature isn’t always about entertainment. In this case, they were both kind of laborious, but if I’m honest – they have stuck with me in ways other books haven’t. They disturbed me and weren’t necessarily “fun” reads, but probably important nonetheless. (You’re welcome Jared.)

Probably one of my favorite reads this year was “Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff.” The story is told by “Biff” who was apparently the childhood best friend of Jesus. I laughed out loud a lot reading this while on vacation. It’s disturbing at times, and would be deeply offensive to some I’m sure. But in some weird way it made the humanity of Jesus so much more real to me. I loved it. There’s one scene in particular where Jesus’s cousin John is sort of bullying the other kids and won’t stop dunking them under water which basically had me losing it. So good.

On the leadership end, I think Sam Chand’s “Leadership Pain” was so timely for me and one I’ll come back to again and again, while Matt Keller‘s “The Key to Everything” was probably one that resonated deepest with my own leadership values and beliefs. Matt has been a mentor and a friend to me and his voice has been one of the loudest in my life and for that I’m thankful. It has quickly become the must-read book I give to other leaders. I also really loved Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s book “Leading with the Heart.” I’ll admit, I’m a Duke fan so maybe I’m biased. But anytime I get to mix my love of sports with my love of leadership I’m probably going to say it was awesome no matter what.

Well, that’s the quick rundown of the books that shaped me in 2015. What did I miss? What would you recommend I pick up in 2016?

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The local church is unlike any other institution around. As a community the local church is just that – local. It is made up of the people who live in the neighborhood. Today, the “neighborhood” is bigger than ever. It used to be that the local church was made up of those who could walk to it. Today, commuting several miles – even to another city – is quite common. And with all the amazing connections possible through technology – the “neighborhood” is now anyone with internet access.

In some ways the easy access and availability has resulted in the elimination of borders and boundaries. And yet, in many churches those who walk through the doors all look the same. There are lots of reasons for that, many of them good reasons. Some communities are very homogenous. Some styles are simply preferred by people of similar ethnicities. Sometimes there’s an ultra practical issue like a language barrier.

Despite those very normal reasons people end up gathering with others who are like them, the scriptures are full of language highlighting the fact that heaven will be a place of great diversity. People of “every tribe, tongue and nation” will gather together in the worship of God.

STORYCHURCH happens to be in the middle of an extremely diverse community in Durham, NC. In fact, statistically speaking there is no majority group here. No one group holds more than 50% of the population. That fact alone creates a really rich dynamic in our city. Add to it the fact that people from all over the world come here to study at world class institutions like Duke, UNC and NC State, and you’ve got an incredibly diverse community.

Which brings me to my dream for our church. 

 If this is what heaven is going to look like then how great would it be to see a little bit of that here on earth? It won’t be easy. It will create some difficult situations. We’ll have a lot of work to do to be understanding with one another. But I’m just crazy enough to believe it’s possible.

In fact, I think we are starting to see it. As I was writing this post I noticed a picture one of our group leaders posted this week of a gathering of women from our church and I couldn’t help but smile. It’s happening.

ladiesofstory

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IMG_2099(This series is based on a recent teaching I did at STORYCHURCH. I don’t normally do this but it was so important I’m asking you to listen or watch when you can.)

To read part 1 of this series, go here.

The picture above demonstrates so clearly the heart of God.

In James 1 it says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

In other words, take care of the vulnerable, namely vulnerable children and vulnerable women. In our culture today it may not be orphans and widows, it may be foster kids or single parent homes (mom or dad). It may be kids being raised by grandparents or it may be a teenager whose father is incarcerated.

My dream for our church is that we would be known in our city as a church that is taking serious the call to be mentors, coaches, tutors, foster parents, respite providers, youth leaders and advocates for those without a voice.

I pray that teenagers in our city find our church to be full of people who believe in them and want to see them succeed. I pray that single moms find support and mentors for their children. I pray that young people are empowered and raised up to be leaders who shape their culture and break the cycle of pain in so many of their families.

My wife and I have been praying these prayers for a decade or more now and when we moved into our first permanent facility in 2014 we wrote those prayers on the door frames, on the floor and on the stage before finished our renovations.

fatherlesspic We believe these prayers are beginning to be answered. Multiple families within our church are checking in to becoming foster parents, some have already completed classes (including my family!). And this fall we will be hosting Durham Social Services as they train dozens of new potential foster parents right in our facility. It’s an exciting start to what we hope is a movement within our church and ultimately our city.

If you’re interested in learning more about foster care in Durham County, you can go here.

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This weekend I got to teach one of the most important sermons I’ve ever given. I know that’s kind of a big statement but I think it’s true. It turned out to be a message not only about all that God has done in and through our church but about what he was stirring in us for the next season of our church as well. It was a day when so many things came together and we were able to celebrate as we looked back and to anticipate as we looked ahead.

I don’t normally do this, but given the importance of this particular message, I’d actually like to ask you to listen or watch it online – particularly if you are a STORYCHURCHer.

In the coming days I’ll be posting a little bit here on each of the 5 Dreams. For now, here’s the 4 things I said were important for seeing our dreams become reality.

4 STEPS TO SEEING YOUR DREAM BECOME A REALITY.

1) Give your dream voice.

  • When we speak our dreams out loud or write them down on paper we give birth to them. We allow them to live and they can start to grow. If a dream just lives in our head then it hasn’t really moved any closer to ever happening.
  • When we give it birth, it’s natural to experience fear. Don’t let that stop you from giving it a voice.
    • Have you written it down? Does anyone else know it?

 

2) Entrust it to someone safe.

  • Not everyone can handle your dream with the care you need them to use. Some people will be quick to poke holes, to tell you why it could never happen or to shoot it down as an impossibility. Your dream is fragile in this stage. Entrust it to someone who will encourage you, who will pray with you about it, or who will simply celebrate the idea with you.
  • In Genesis 37:19-20 we have the example of Joseph who shared a dream with his brothers about how they would one day bow down to him. Not a good idea.
  • Side note: Be a safe person for others to dream with. Don’t go into problem solving mode, don’t give them a “reality check,” and don’t start poking holes. Offer encouragement, prayer, excitement. We can worry about the details later.
    • Who is the safe person in your life? Schedule a coffee or make it a point to turn off the TV and share your dream tonight.

 

3) Trust the process. (Don’t rush it)

  • Sometimes we get an idea or we feel like God shows us something so we go out and rush to make it happen. If we try and force the dream before it’s ready we can mess things up pretty badly.
    • 3A – We could miss the miracle. It could be that God has just given us a glimpse of what could be and when we go out and max our credit card or jump into a relationship with the first breathing person we find, or quit our job – we could be missing out on the way that God wanted to provide for us. Pastor Andy Stanley says “What God originates, He orchestrates.” In other words, if God gave you the dream, he’ll make it happen. We don’t need to force it.
    • 3B – The other thing that could happen is that we could misinterpret the dream. We may not have the full picture just yet. In Genesis 37 Joseph has a dream that his brothers will bow down to him. He thinks it’s a dream about him and his future. The truth is that it’s a dream about how God is going to rescue his people. Joseph doesn’t get that yet and it takes a lot of pain before he learns the full meaning of the dream.
  • Some of the safe people in our lives (see #2) have sometimes started poking holes too soon in the past because we’ve been the kinds of people who jumped into something without really allowing that dream to develop. We didn’t really trust the process. So those safe people have felt like they better act quickly or we’re likely to sell our houses and move to Indonesia tomorrow. If we’ll trust the process, those people around us will probably become safer people as well.
    • Where do you need to trust the process? 

 

4) Take the first step.

  • Maybe the first step is an act of worship. Jacob (Genesis 28) wakes from a dream where God reveals to Him all that He’s going to do to bless him and his family. The first thing he does is worship God. When’s the last time we thanked God for the thing we don’t yet have but believe He’s promised to us? What if we thanked him for the future spouse? For the kids we don’t yet have? For the freedom we will have when we get out of debt? For the job we pray about?
  • Additionally, sometimes the first step is an act of faith in that it’s the first baby step toward the dream. It’s signing up for the class. It’s buying the running shoes. It’s saving the first $100 toward our goal. It’s making the phone call. You’d be surprised how one small step can be the catalyst that changes everything.
    • What’s your first step?

 

Pastor Tommy Barnett of the “Dream Center” in Los Angeles recently tweeted: “Dreaming is an act of faith.” I couldn’t agree more.

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3 Shocking Words

July 7, 2015 — 2 Comments
Acts 6:8-9 – “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however….”

This story ends with the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the church.

Maybe it’s because I’ve heard this so many times, but it’s hard to read this with fresh ears. It’s hard to approach a story that you already know how it ends. And yet today I read this first line in a new way. I read it with a little bit of surprise and shock. Here’s why.

Stephen is described as a man “full of God’s grace and power.” I’ve known a couple of people in my life who were full of God’s grace. Someone full of grace is hard to hate. They have such an incredible way of loving people, of removing their own self, of getting out of the way and not being easily offended. They are full of compassion, of understanding, and of, well, grace. Stephen is full of God’s grace AND power. And as a result he “performed great wonders and signs among the people.” On top of the grace piece and just being an incredible guy to be around, Stephen is performing wonders and signs. He’s healing people. He’s providing answers to prayers and setting people free from bondage.

Which begs the question – How could anyone not like this guy?

And that is what makes the three words that follow a bit shocking: “Opposition arose, however…” Why would anyone oppose someone full of grace who was helping people and performing such amazing signs and wonders? This guy sounds like the greatest thing since, well – Jesus himself.

The truth is there will always be opposition. Not everyone will love the decisions we make. Not everyone will be as excited about the promotion. Some people will actually root against us. And yet we think that if we just make the perfect decision or if we just make sure to think of everything that somehow we will make everyone happy.

Reality check: It isn’t going to happen. No one has ever been able to please everyone. Not even Jesus. Our job as leaders (or moms, or employees or neighbors) is to be full of God’s grace and power. To do everything we can among those we lead to point them to Jesus and to show them a different way. But make no mistake – opposition will come. So let’s get over the shock of it and stop trying to please everyone and get about the business of doing what we know God has called us to do – to live with His grace and power.

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I was reading recently about Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. Before it happens, Jesus is in another town some distance away. Word is sent to him that his friend is really sick and they beg Jesus to come quickly. Everyone expects that Jesus will drop everything and come to the rescue. After all, it’s an emergency. In fact Jesus even says:

“This sickness will not end in death. No it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

Perfect. Jesus sees that this is serious business and assures everyone that this whole thing won’t end in death. This is where Jesus comes running or maybe even teleports over to Judea and heals Lazarus of his sickness right?

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…”

Wait, what? Jesus hears about the emergency and decides to stay where he is for two more days. And now, when Jesus finally makes it to Judea, it’s too late. What happened to “This sickness will not end in death” Jesus? Lazarus is dead and buried. It’s over.

Until it’s not.

Jesus of course raises him from the dead and he and Lazarus are hanging out again by dinner.

I find it fascinating the words Jesus uses. Jesus specifically said “This sickness will not END in death.” Of course everyone else figured that once Lazarus died that Jesus had in fact been mistaken. But Jesus knew better. For Jesus, the death of Lazarus was simply a step in his healing and restoration. It wasn’t the end. The sickness wouldn’t END in death. Oh there would be death. It just wouldn’t be the end.

Which brings me to us. I wonder how often Jesus hears our pleas and then decides to wait two more days, or twelve more weeks, or three more years. I wonder how many of our dreams or our hopes have died only to have us give up on a promise He gave us?

I’m learning to hang on to the promises of God even in the face of what feels like the end.

So when the door shuts, when the judge says it’s final, when the bank account runs dry, when they leave, when the cancer returns, when the boss says no, when the church plant fails, when the startup never gets off the ground, when the relationship turns cold – If Jesus promised you that it won’t end in death, I’d suggest you believe him.

 

 

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Pray for me

April 17, 2015 — 4 Comments

It’s always awkward to ask for prayer. For one thing, it’s an admission that we’re vulnerable and weak. It’s a statement that we recognize our need for help. Something in our world has gone awry and we feel powerless to fix it. I suppose it’s weird that we would ever feel powerful enough to fix it on our own, but still for some reason most of us hesitate to ask for prayer.

I know for me there’s another reason that sometimes I hesitate to ask – specifically as a pastor. I talk to other pastors and leaders all the time and I recognize and know that there’s a tendency to overstate my problems and attribute everything to some spiritual force at work against me. I know that not everything that happens to me is because I’m a pastor. Every plumber, teacher, and insurance salesman has car problems and sickness. I can’t always blame my flat tire on some sinister plan of the devil.

And yet, I want to cautiously and carefully step into that conversation a bit. The truth is that those in spiritual leadership face a special kind of opposition. In Luke 22 after Jesus tells the disciples that they will hold important positions in the kingdom of God, he drops this little tidbit:

31“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail.”

Satan had it in for the disciples specifically. Paul warns Timothy about the challenges of leading and describes over and over the trials he has faced “because of the gospel.” Think of Moses, Joshua, Jeremiah, Nehemiah. On and on the list goes of leaders who faced almost unbearable burdens because of their position.

Every pastor I know has stories. They’ve battled depression. They’ve had unexplainable sickness. They’ve had intense seasons of temptation. They’ve had overwhelming conflict. They’ve experienced crippling disappointment. Most of them feel alone. Many are considering quitting. And here’s the problem – that reality isn’t consistent with what we see from our pastors on Sunday. They preach, they smile, they encourage others. They show up at the hospital to hold babies and to pray before surgeries. They fill us with hope and with joy and with peace. It sure feels like things in their world are going great. But chances are, underneath all of that is a man or woman who is struggling.

So all that to say, those in spiritual leadership are targets. Does that mean that every flu-like symptom is a spiritual attack? No. Of course not. But here’s my point. Pray for those in spiritual leadership. Pray for their families. Pray for their marriages. Pray for their finances. Pray for their energy, their hope, their peace, their strength. Pray, as Jesus did, that their faith will not fail.


  *Disclaimer: I realize this post can come off as some kind of personal plea. Frankly, it is. But it’s more than that. It’s a plea on behalf of my friends who faithfully pastor and lead and sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. My hope is that you will share this with others who will be prompted to pray for and support their pastors in consistent, life-giving ways.

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My girl

February 14, 2015 — 1 Comment

I love this woman. A lot.

kimicamera

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Focus

February 2, 2015 — 1 Comment

I have a hard time with focus sometimes. I’m sure I’m not the only one. We’ve all got a thousand things asking for our attention. I’ve recently made some strides toward some major goals that I have and I thought I’d share real quickly how I made that happen, in case it’s helpful for you.

Here it is:

I said NO to those thousand things. And then I said YES to these two:

  • I wrote the email and pushed “Send.”
  • I took my daughters to lunch and talked about their dreams, their friends and their future spouses.

See, one of my goals has been to gather a group of ministry friends together. The other goal has been to intentionally date my daughters and have meaningful moments with them. But all around those goals were other things screaming at me: plumbing issues, roof issues, trips, sermons to write, books to read, bills to pay, emails to answer, dishes to wash, bags to pack, a desk to clean, conversations to have, FB messages pinging, Twitter feed filling up, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…. You get the point.

Focus it seems, is about saying NO. And then saying YES.

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Books that shaped me in 2014

December 30, 2014 — 1 Comment

creativityinc_coverSo this has become a bit of a favorite post every year for me. It’s my annual “here’s what I read” post. If you aren’t really a reader let me push you a bit to make 2015 the year that changes. Set a reasonable goal for yourself and get started. Maybe one or two of these will be interesting to you:

  1. 24/6 – Sleeth
  2. How to be Rich – Stanley
  3. Growth Hacker Marketing – Holiday
  4. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right hook – Vaynerchuk
  5. It’s Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men – Cathy
  6. Worry Free Finances – Siebeling
  7. The Essential Wooden – Wooden
  8. Silos, Politics and Turf Wars – Lencioni
  9. Emotionally Healthy Church – Scazzerro
  10. Be Real – Bezet
  11. Unleash! – Noble
  12. Overwhelmed – Noble
  13. The Rise of the Nones – White
  14. Difference – Jiwa
  15. I like giving – Formsma
  16. Four Cups – Hodges
  17. Switch – Heath
  18. Creativity, Inc. – Catmull
  19. Moment Maker – Whittaker
  20. The Zimzum of love – Bell
  21. Cover Her – Hairston
  22. The Grace of God – Stanley
  23. The War of Art – Pressfield
  24. Die Empty – Henry
  25. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – Lewis
  26. The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player – Maxwell

My favorite read this year would have to be Creativity, Inc by Catmull. It’s basically a behind the scenes look at the world of Pixar and their creative processes. I absolutely loved it. I loved the stories behind the stories – like how the movie UP was originally about a castle floating in the sky where a king lived with his two sons – each one trying to inherit the kingdom.

Another great read from this year was Andy Stanley’s The Grace of God. Honestly, if you’re looking for something to renew your faith or maybe you are exploring faith in general – you gotta read that book.

Looking over the list I see books covering marketing, leadership, finances, spiritual development, emotional health, marriage, and creativity. I’m thankful for the ways these authors shaped me this year and I believe I’m better because of them.

2015 already feels to me like a year where I want to return to some of my favorite books that birthed some of my biggest dreams. There are at least 3-4 books I can’t wait to re-read that moved me for the first time as many as 10 years ago.

How about you? What were your favorite reads from the last year? Anything you’d recommend for me?

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