July 30, 2009

Books I've Read & Recommend

I get handed quite a few books to read - recommendations of books that others have read and found worthy of the time. As of right now, I have a pile (maybe a more organized-sounding word is "stack") behind my desk, waiting in the queue for my attention.

The other day someone asked me, "What are a few of the best books you've ever read?" This made me think. So I took a few minutes and tried to retrace my steps and remember some of the important or impacting books in my life. If you're interested, here's the shortlist in approximate order of when I read them:

Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges.
This is one of the most foundational works I think a new believer can read - specifically to aid you as you begin to walk through scripture and gain an understanding of God's desire for how you should live.

Passion & Purity, by Elisabeth Elliot.
The wife of martyred missionary Jim Elliot shares her journal and thoughts from the time period where she met, was "courted by", and eventually married her husband. NEVER have I been more challenged to walk with purity with the opposite sex.

The Complete Green Letters, by Miles Stanford.
At a time when I was really beginning to hunger to go deeper in my walk & my understanding of scripture, Stanford's book (a compilation of several of his works) illuminated for me the difference between the "condition" of my heart and my "position" in Christ as a believer. A great devotional work!

Hinds Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard.
If you don't have an imagination, don't read this book. Hinds Feet is an allegory - a story about a girl named Much Afraid and her journey away from her Fearing family to the Great Shepherd, accompanied by her companions, Sorrow & Suffering. Inspired by Habakkuk 3:19.

Spiritual Leadership, by Oswald Sanders.
No pastor, minister, or Christian leader of any kind should go without reading this book. A timeless challenge to "character, passion, and godliness", as John MacArthur puts it.

Next Generation Leader, by Andy Stanley.
If you have the courage to truly "equip the saints for the work of the Kingdom" - to release others in ministry - and to passionately focus in on the one thing God has set your heart on fire to do for him...this book is for you!

Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller.
At a time in my life when I least expected it, Miller reminded me that, while I am a Christian, I'm a human as well - and that loving others is more than frivolous words - it requires action and hard work. Faith and following Christ - "working out our salvation" - is often not as easy as we'd like it to be!

The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard.
After about the 15th time I read someone quoting Dallas Willard, I decided I should probably pay attention. I have read no other book that so powerfully & clearly calls us back to the genuine holiness that Christ beckons us to. While this book is no "easy read", it will take you back to the words of the Savior to rediscover what "life in Christ" was intended to look like in the life of the believer.

Love & Respect, by Emerson Eggerichs.
Inspired by the simple, yet somehow overlooked principle given by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:33, L & R literally changed the way I viewed my wife and my marriage. I wish I had been given this book before my wedding day! If you're dating, engaged, married, or ever hope to be - read this book!

Communicating For a Change, by Andy Stanley.
As a communicator of the Word of God - someone called to "rightly handle the Word of Truth" - Andy Stanley once again kicked me out of my box and caused me to truly examine HOW I approached, studied, prepared, and preached the Word. Every preacher & communicator should read this book!

Again, this is the shortlist. There are many, many other books that have drastically impacted and affected me. But let me conclude by pointing out what is hopefully the most painfully obvious truth for all of us: the Word of God is LIFE! As followers of Christ we have no greater tool or gift than to be constantly "hiding God's Word in our hearts", discovering that we find life in "every Word that comes from God". For every moment I spend reading these great works and others, I should be spending countless hours feasting on the "Bread of Life". If you're not reading the Bible, don't waste your time with anything else! Open the Word, read it, meditate on it, hide it in your heart. These are the words of life!

July 27, 2009

Personality & the Pastor

Not even a year ago I found myself catching up with an old friend. Like me, he's in ministry. At the time we were both sensing that the Lord was preparing us for something new - readying us to step out in faith in a new season of ministry. In our conversation he said something to me that - as someone preparing to become a pastor - really hit me upside the head. He told me, "I think I've come to the realization that we've built a church on my personality. And my personality can only take us so far." He was worn out, weary, burdened...and convinced that this was NOT what the Lord had in mind. It took me awhile to really absorb what he had said. Maybe you need a minute to let it soak in as well.

As these words stayed on the surface of my mind, and we spent the weekend seeing the Lord move & work in the lives of students, I was floored by the amount of humility it had to take to not only come to this conclusion - that I've been trying to build a church on my personality & charisma - but to share that with someone else. My respect for my friend went through the roof! I already had an enormous amount of love, respect & trust for him, but now I knew, "This guy is the real deal!"

Lately, I've been reminded several times that as a Pastor there are certain things the Lord has called me to that must take priority - the bottom line, if you will. As I read Ed Stetzer's blog even today, the mandate of Ephesians 4:12 was put back in my face: my "responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ." Am I equipping God's people? Am I cultivating "innovators" rather than "commentators" (as Mark Batterson put it)? Are we - as a church - equipping, empowering, and releasing people to BE the church?

Most pastors (if nothing else but by nature of personality) are going to have some level of charismatic Type A personality. We're in front of people - leading people - put in a position of capturing people's attention. But one thing we better remember (even in the case of - hold onto your hat - Billy Graham) there is a vast difference between a preacher and a pastor.

Cue the distinctions in Ephesians of the gifts to the church: "the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors & teachers." There are times when those of us the Lord has called to pastor are tempted to try and put one foot in the world of being an "evangelist" while juggling the call & responsibilities that come with being a pastor. And while maybe there are a select few out there who can pull this off (and probably these are the same people who can juggle the flaming torches while spinning plates on the nose), the majority of us human pastors better think again. WHY? Because trying to pull off this juggling act will almost always result in trying to build, grow & lead our church simply out of our own personality. And while you may have the charisma & ZANG-POW! of Brad Pitt, Regis Philbin & Bono rolled into one...it will only take you so far. It will only take your church so far.

What is the Lord calling you to do?
Have you made the distinction?
Do you have the courage?
Yes, you do!

Thanks again to my friend for his humility. And praise God that he is serving, thriving, and being used by the Lord like never before!

July 23, 2009

Parenting, Hard? Really?

Let me start by telling you something you already know: parenting is hard! Don't get me wrong - being a Dad has totally changed my life. My children are a treasure. They have wrecked my heart in so many amazing ways I can't put words to it. And I guess, if I'm real, that's what makes it so hard at times. Disciplining your child - really "disciple-ing" them in truth and love - can feel like an overwhelming and monumental task. But if we love them - really, truly love them - how can we not?

I read in Proverbs this morning, "Don't fail to correct your children. They won't die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death." (23:13-14) I love Solomon's affectionate tenderness: "They won't DIE if you spank them!" (He actually sounds a bit like me) This kind of discipline is hard because it requires patience. It's hard because you & I cannot allow ourselves to do it in anger! My flesh often wants to let it rip and *POW*, right to the moon! But this is not the way of the Lord. It's a much harder thing to send my son to his room, look him in the eye and make sure he understands what he's done wrong, and that he has chosen this path. It's easier to fly off the handle than it is to patiently explain, "Because of the choice you made, I have to spank you." NOT easy!

Earlier in Proverbs 22:15, Solomon says, "A youngster's heart is filled with foolishness, but discipline will drive it away." [Let me begin by pointing out that Solomon made himself sound 90 by using the word youngster - but that's another story for another day.] We have to make sure we grasp that DISCIPLINE will drive it away. Not anger. Or sarcasm. Or belittling them. Or lazily expecting our spouse to always handle it. Discipline. And make no mistake - discipline is a LOT harder than the alternatives. But your children are so worth it!

Maybe you've had all this figured out for awhile. Bravo! If not - like me - keep asking the Lord to grant you what you need to show your kids the love of Christ. And asking him to give you the courage & wisdom to make disciples in your own home. That's where it starts!

July 20, 2009

What I Learned Watering the Yard

I'm finding it interesting that most of us seem to have this tendency toward entitlement. We gain ownership of something that we didn't have before and we're so grateful: a new car, inheritance, wedding gifts, a gym membership...on and on. But there's this invisible threshold we cross at some point after where we begin to feel like we were always entitled to it. "I should have had this all along!" we think. We go from excited to grateful to entitled to something close to indifferent.

How do I know this? Because the only time you awaken from your entitlement is when you no longer have something you thought you were entitled to. Like a sprinkler system. I know...I know. Some of you would say, "Brian, I don't even have a yard!" Good point. But if you ever did have a yard, you probably started to think you were entitled to a yard - like the world and God owe you a lawn. For 10 years I had automatic, programmed, work-while-I'm-sleeping sprinklers to do the work for me. Not anymore. And in many ways...I'm glad. I need to remember that even if the Lord does have a direct line to Rainbird, He doesn't owe me this.

Do you have sprinklers? If so, are you grateful?
Have you had to go outside to go to the bathroom lately?
Are you thumbing a ride to work - catching the bus - riding your bike - or do you have a car that gets you from A to B?
Computer? Cellphone? TV? Running shoes? Golf clubs? Refrigerator?

I know - shut the heck up, Brian! We get it.
Do we? Or do we just not want to hear it?

If you're like me, there is probably something in your life that at some point you were very grateful for - and now you've allowed yourself to think that you should have had this all along - that your life couldn't go on without it - that the world simply owed it to you. Think again.

The only person entitled to anything is God. And He's entitled to our gratitude - for life, hope, peace, salvation, comfort, and for sacrificing His Son so we could be forgiven. And rest assured, I'll remember this tomorrow while I'm watering the yard!

July 4, 2009


Looking forward to tomorrow. Heading out to the IOP for some time with my family. I'm anticipating the therapeutic moments of refusing to open my laptop, pick up my cell phone, or think that everyone (or anyone for that matter) is hanging on pins and needles for me to Tweet what I'm doing and what music is playing in the background. I have a mission above & beyond every other these next few days: disconnecting.

Hopefully you understand the reality of this problem. The fact that I'm blogging about it now - and will be tempted to blog about it in the very middle of actually disconnecting - further reveals my point.

And someone might interject, "Brian, shouldn't your main priority be spending time with your family?" My response to that is an emphatic "YES"! But if I'm being honest with myself (and with you) I will not be truly giving myself - my time and attention and love - to my family unless I intentionally and purposefully disconnect. And this is something that we have to begin to practice more regularly than just when we're on vacation. We don't even know how to take our "Day Off" anymore.

Here's what I plan to CONNECT with over the next few days: my wife, my kids, family, the beach, Wild Dunes Harbor Course, lots of shrimp, key lime pie, Momma Brown's BBQ, running down Palm Boulevard, pralines from River Street Sweets, worship at Seacoast, and some extended time in the Word on my in-laws front porch. These connections depend on some very intentional disconnections.

Maybe you're like me - you need a HARD RESET. Push the button. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to your family. And the Lord has some things He's probably been waiting to whisper to us about. Things we really need to hear. Listen. And don't worry about who else you're going to Tweet it to or how you're going to blog about it. BE THERE.


July 2, 2009

Run For Your Life!

An old friend sent me a message the other day asking for some helpful motivation & accountability to try and get back into running. I thought through it for awhile, having just gone through a bit of a hiatus myself. Moving to AL from KS I have had to get adjusted - my body has had 10 years of flat & dry, and now it's been thrust into hills & humidity. I've had to get re-motivated myself.

Thought I'd share with everyone else the encouragement I sent his way. For anyone trying to get your backside back off the sofa and back on the pavement - or for anyone who's thinking about giving running a try - here you go:

1. Find someone else you know well who's either a runner or who you can convert. For me - I'm lucky - that person lives under my roof. Morgan loves to run as well. Whether it's a friend, co-worker, whoever. And not that they have to run with you, but you can set goals with each other, etc.... This is probably less about about accountability, more about camaraderie.

2. Races are the easiest way to set goals! Start w/5 & 10K races. To give you an idea, I did at least 8-10 10K's and several 10 mile races before I ever thought about a marathon. Great distance, great atmosphere at those events. Most semi-metropolitan cities have at least a 5K or 10K.

3. Mix it up. Find different routes & routines.

4. Buy
Runner's World. It's a HUGE motivator when you start reading a running magazine. And that is by far the best one.

5. Make sure you have the right shoes. Do NOT buy your running shoes at Finish Line, Dick's, etc.... Find a good, local running store. It will make a big difference. Also, buy some good running clothes. Once you've spent $$ on this, you're more motivated & you're better equipped.

6. Hydrate. I drink 3-4 liters of H2O a day.

7. Make the decision to call yourself a "Runner". I know it sounds cheesy & crazy, but it will change your mentality. And when people begin to look at you that way, you start to expect it of yourself.

Hopefully that provides you some motivation - a swift kick in the can - to get you on your way. Maybe you have some additional thoughts or ideas. Let's hear it!

Run for your life!