Each year’s end brings with it a bevy of lists–best albums, best films, best books, etc. Some quickly dismiss such lists; some eagerly await their release. I’m part of the latter group. I find that year-end lists help me to move outside of my typical cultural sphere, challenging me to enjoy and find merit in things that I might have otherwise overlooked.
Among those who compile lists of the year’s best Christian books, there is perhaps none more respected or frequently referenced than Christianity Today. This year’s Christianity Today Book Awards features a number of great volumes that are worth your consideration, but for our purposes today, we are excited to announce that Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard’s Why Cities Matter has received the “Award of Merit” under the category of “Christianity and Culture.”
Here’s what Gene Edward Veith has to say about the book:
“The Bible says a great deal about cities, from Babel to Babylon, from Jerusalem to the New Jerusalem. Christianity spread in cities, and the early church was an urban phenomenon, as was the Protestant Reformation. More recently, we’ve tended toward a rural, small-town, or suburban emphasis. But the cultural significance of cities is increasing. This book shows how to proclaim the gospel in today’s cities. The authors combine sociological research and biblical insight to create promising new paradigms for ministry.”
Congratulations to Stephen, Justin, and all the other award winners. I’ve certainly got a number of new volumes to add to my reading queue.
Beware of the illusion of “arrival.”
It’s common to think that once you cross “that” item off of your to-do list, solve that big problem, achieve that goal, make that change, or move to that new place, that then you will finally arrive. But, life doesn’t work that way.
The false belief is that a new accomplishment, experience, circumstance, or location will give you rest and security that your life currently lacks.
Nope. There’s always something. This side of the grave there will always be unmet goals, suffering, new problems to solve, and grass that looks greener. Arrival is an illusion.
Arrival (being home) will come when we meet Jesus face to face. Until then, the trick is to learn how to rest in God’s grace and care while getting used to (and thriving in) the ever-changing, challenging, never-arriving adventure called life.
Are you tired? I am. I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted from life and leadership. November and May seem to always be the times of year where I’m the most worn out.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to make things complicated when I’m exhausted. I over-think things. I try to solve everything. I try to fix everything. I work harder. But that’s not a wise way to handle exhaustion.
Instead, there is one smart thing to do when you’re exhausted: rest.
That’s it. It’s that simple.
Get some rest. Get a good night sleep. Sabbath. Don’t be responsible for a day or two. Recharge. Do things that you love to do. Exercise. Do whatever would be most restful for your soul and body.
Rest conquers exhaustion. Nothing else will work. Go get some rest.
Probably my favorite radio show/podcast is Steve Brown Etc. I recently had the joy of being interviewed by Steve Brown and crew. Here’s the description:
So, what’s your story? How’s that working out for you?
If things are sucking, you don’t need do-more, try-harder religion or 10 steps to your best self. You need a bigger story!
Join Justin Buzzard on Steve Brown Etc. this week as we talk about his new book, The Big Story: How the Bible Makes Sense out of Life.
Click here to listen to or download the interview. Share it with a friend.
I wrote The Big Story for both Christians and non-Christians. Now that the book has been out for four months we’re finding that one great use of the book is to give it to first time guests at your church (both Christians and non-Christians). Here’s what one pastor has to say about this:
We live in a city where a lot of unbelievers visit our church. We have been looking for a book we can put in their hands that communicates the gospel in a clear and compelling way. A book that talks about the big story, but also very directly about our need for Jesus. And, most importantly, a book that makes sense to people that know nothing about Christianity. The Big Story is the only book we have found that does all of that. We are excited to be able to give them out as a part of welcoming new people to our church on Sundays. -Toby Kurth, Lead Pastor, Christ Church San Francisco
You can get the book for $11 on Amazon, or you can buy in bulk and get up to a 50% discount by buying directly from Moody Publishers.
We sing about “Amazing Grace,” but we could change the adjective and also sing about “Destructive Grace.”
Grace is the undeserved love of God. It’s the most powerful force in the universe. And when grace comes into your life it destroys things.
Grace destroys the old you.
Grace destroys the idols that enslave you, breaking the chains you didn’t even know you had.
Grace destroys old habits, old ways, that had been part of your life for so long and had been killing you for so long.
Grace destroys the old operating system.
It’s a good destruction. Grace destroys in order to birth and build something new and beautiful.
Destructive Grace, how sweet the sound.
I thought it would be helpful to some people if I drew up a list: 10 Ways to Become A Better Preacher. Enjoy.
1. Enjoy God’s Grace/Stay Excited About Jesus
In my opinion good preaching is something that flows through the heart of a man who is excited about Jesus because he’s personally enjoying the love of Jesus. I think the single most important thing a pastor can do is wake up each day and focus his energy on enjoying Jesus and having as much fun as possible. This is the only thing I know of that will protect you from the burnout most pastors experience from the relentless strain of preaching and leading a church. I don’t think there’s much power in preaching grace if you yourself are not reveling in grace.
2. Preach A Lot
You get better at preaching by preaching.
Suffering makes you a better preacher because suffering breaks you and teaches you to live and preach dependent on Jesus’ strength, not your own. I’m not suggesting you seek out suffering, I’m suggesting that you embrace the perspective that your suffering exists, in part, to deepen your preaching and help the people you’re shepherding through your preaching.
4. Live An Interesting Life
Live an interesting life. Don’t settle for the status quo. Pursue your curiosity. Notice things. Spend lots of time with people. Things happen in my life everyday that shape my sermons. In my opinion, you should never use those preaching websites or read those books of collected sermon illustrations. I can’t see how that would make for fresh, good preaching. Earth your preaching in your real life. If you live an interesting life, you will always have plenty of fresh experiences, observations, conversations, and illustrations that will help you bring to life the text you’re preaching this week.
5. Sit Under Your Own Preaching
When I preach each Sunday I’m preaching to everyone in my church, including me. Each week as I approach the text I’m excited to discover what God will say to me. I love getting a break and taking a week off from preaching, but I’ve also found that the weekly process of preparing and delivering a sermon has become probably the most central factor in my own sanctification, growth, and deepening walk with Jesus. Ten years ago I dreaded sermon prep (mostly because I had made preaching an idol in my life, creating so much stress and performance anxiety for me around the whole preaching process), but today I look forward to the weekly rhythm of sermon preparation because I view it as a central source of joy and refreshment in my life. Preaching feels to me like exploring. Each week I’m exploring something new about God, life, and the human heart.
6. Ask Your Church to Pray for You
I love my church. I ask my church all the time to pray for me as I preach/prepare to preach. Remember, Satan hates you. Satan hates that you’re preaching Jesus. This is a spiritual battle. Preaching is war. So, you better be soaking your sermons in prayer, including other people’s prayers for you.
7. Be Yourself
Be yourself. If God has called you to preach, he wants you to preach as you. He’s uniquely shaped your story, personality, and gifting. Stand up in that pulpit each week and boldly be yourself with your unique strengths, weaknesses, style, and quirks. If you’re trying to be like or sound like someone else, stop that.
8. Get Feedback from the Right People
People love to give feedback to preachers. Ignore certain types of people, the types that somehow think their job in life is to critique your preaching and tell you all the things you can do better. Instead, get feedback from people who know you and love you. Have them speak into your preaching, using their feedback to become more self-aware of your preaching. Ask these people who love you not only to share constructive criticism, but also (mainly?) encouragement. For me, encouragement has shaped my preaching more than people’s critiques.
9. Don’t Focus Too Much on Your Preaching
Don’t focus too much on your preaching. Spend less time on sermon preparation. Instead, do what I’m talking about above: spend lots of time enjoying and caring for people, live an interesting life, notice the world around you, be a Christian, have a life outside of your job (having a hobby or two will really help your preaching). If you focus too much on your preaching your preaching will probably get worse.
10. Have Fun
I’ve been pastoring/preaching for 12 years now and I hope to do this for the rest of my life. Preaching is fun. I love what I do. If you’re not having any fun preaching, this might not be the right calling for you. I don’t see how we can become very good at things that we don’t enjoy.
Jesus gave his church one mission: make disciples. As a church planter I’m consumed all day with the work of disciple making, but the most important disciple making in my life happens with my three sons. The mission Jesus gave the church is the same mission we have as parents: make disciples.
In our church and in our home we define discipleship as “truth and love transferred through relationship.” Because parenting is just plain crazy and exhausting, and because every parent I know is very busy, I thought it would be helpful to share 10 tips for discipling your kids.
1. Bring A Kid Along for Errands
With three sons under the age of six our house smells like testosterone and is one non-stop wrestling match. With the constant chaos, it can be difficult to get the important one-on-one time we want to have with our boys. One way we solve this in our family is to bring one kid along when running errands. Whether it’s my wife or me running the errand, we turn that errand-running time into a discipleship moment–a time to better know, love, and train one of our kids. A trip to the pharmacy can turn into an important conversation about life, sickness, death, and the sovereignty of God.
2. Eat Dinner Together
We eat dinner together at 6pm five nights a week. Our kids are still so young and wild that these dinners haven’t yet turned into how we envision them several years from now: a long, festive, deep time of connecting around the table. But, even 10 chaotic minutes around the dinner table have become for us an important time for my sons to learn how to articulate a story from their day, to ask us questions about things they’re learning, and for us to love them and teach them something new.
3. Learn What’s Unique About Each of Your Kids and Capitalize on it
Every kid is different, a unique creation from God. So, we shouldn’t parent/disciple generically, but specifically. Your job isn’t to raise/disciple a generic kid. Your job is to raise/disciple each of the uniquely wired children God has given you. My three sons are all 100% boy and 100% crazy all the time, but they are each so unique and different from each other. While the general tenor of our parenting looks the same for all of our sons, we treat and train each boy a bit differently given their unique temperaments, personalities, strengths, and struggles. Regularly ask yourself this question about each of your kids: “What’s the key to understanding _____ and what makes him/her tick?” The more you explore that question the more you discover the most effective ways to love and train your kids.
4. Pray for God to Save Your Kids/Lead Your Kids to Christ
While each of our boys were in the womb my wife and I began praying for their salvation. Such prayers are never far from our lips. And conversations about the human heart, the glory of God, the need for rescue from Jesus, heaven and hell, etc. have always been normal and frequent conversations in our home. I have had the privilege of leading my two older boys to Christ. As we disciple them, we pray that as their younger brother reaches an age where he can understand these things that he to will experience the miracle of placing his faith in Jesus. I greatest gift I received as a kid was my mom leading me to Jesus. Don’t farm this out to others. Your child certainly may come to faith in a different way, but praying for this and aiming for this ought to be at the core of our heartbeat as parents.
5. Exercise With Your Kids
Look at the waistlines of many parents and you see that the one of the things parents often forgo amid the busy parenting years is exercise. I’ve found that exercise is not only critical for physical health, but also for mental and emotional health (sanity!). I’m a much better (happier and more patient) parent with exercise. To fit in exercise in the day/disciple our kids at the same time we’ve done several things. Sometimes I bring my boys with me to the local high school where they run with me around the track, I teach them how to do pull ups and pushups, and talk with them about the importance of discipline and hard work. Several times a week instead of driving our sons to school, my wife uses a double stroller to run our kids to school and get a great workout in.
6. Maximize Bedtime
We’re finding that when we put our sons to bed at night this is a time of the day when they’re uniquely receptive and impressionable. I do most of the tucking-in in our home and I vary how I use this time with my boys. Sometimes I read to them from the Bible or a devotional book. Sometimes I read them a fun story. Sometimes we all tell stories from the day. Oftentimes I make up a story and tell it to them over the course of several nights, building the tension so that they can’t wait to hear the next installment the next night. Sometimes I cuddle in bed with each of my sons for a few minutes. Almost every night I pray with my boys, either leading all of us in the Lord’s Prayer, having one of them lead us in some kind of a prayer (even as simple as saying, “God, thanks for a great day.”), or some other way I feel led to pray and teach prayer to my sons. And some nights I’m just so exhausted (and want to check out) that all I have energy for is to take twenty seconds to give each son a kiss and tell them I love them, but that God loves them even more.
7. Give Vision to Your Kids
Nobody can give vision to your kids like you can. From a young age start giving your kids a big vision of God and of how God could use them in this world. Child-like faith is something that we should never lose. Though adults often lose child-like faith and wonder in a big God who can do anything, I fear that in our generation kids never even develop a child-like faith. Our culture (and today’s parents) tend to squish wonder and a sense of the supernatural out of kids. This is terrible. I’ve written more about this here: Parent Your Kids With Big Vision.
8. Involve Others/Give Your Kids As Many Heroes as Possible
My wife and I have an army of people (mostly from our church) who love our kids and who are awesome role models for our kids. This didn’t happen by accident. We’ve sought to turn friends and babysitters into disciplers of our kids, heroes who our kids can look up to. We’ve given vision to these people about the impact they could make on our kids, and we’re seeing great fruit: our boys are learning a lot from our friends/church family/babysitters who are each uniquely helping train our sons. My kids love our church for many reasons, but one of them is because there are so many people in our church who love, care about, and invest in our kids.
9. Go on Adventures Together
It seems that the two great secrets to Jesus’ ministry of discipleship was lots of long meals with his disciples and lots of adventures together. One thing we do with our boys is that when a Buzzard boy turns three, I take him on a solo backpacking trip with me. I did this with my oldest son three years ago. I did this with my middle son two years ago. And this year I will enjoy this adventure with my youngest son. My older boys still talk about this trip they each took with me. They had to carry their own backpack (it only weighed about two or three pounds), hike in 2.5 miles with me, and spend a weekend learning about sleeping under the stars, cooking food on a camp stove, and making a campfire. Don’t skip the adventures. I can already tell that my kids will be talking about our adventures together decades from now.
10. Enter Their World
Enter your child’s world. Know the names of their friends/classmates/teammates, and why they like these friends. Learn what they’re most excited about right now and talk about this with them. Respond to their calls, “Hey daddy, come see what I made” or “Hey mommy, let me show this to you,” and celebrate these discoveries and creations that they are making. Put yourself in the shoes of your child, try to look at life the way they are looking at life. My short little two-year old sees things in our home, in our backyard, and in our city that I don’t see. He’s got a different perspective on this world and I’m learning to get down on one knee, see what he sees, and enter into it. If you don’t enter into your kids’ worlds, as they age don’t expect them to show much interest in what you have to say. Your kids want to be known by you.
PS. There are hundreds of more thoughts I could share, things I’m learning right now about parenting/discipling. There’s not space to do that here, but one thing to add: be careful with how much screen time you give your kids. Just think about what a smartphone has done to you: it’s made you less present and more distracted (and, let’s just say it: you’re less awesome and less fun than you used to be because you’re too tied to your phone). And you only started with a smartphone a few years ago. If you kids grow up with a screen constantly in front of them, just think about how that will shape them over the next twenty years. Be careful with the smartphones, iPads, laptops, home televisions, minivan televisions, etc.
Here is Rolling Stone’s take on the tragic event and suicide that happened last year where I live. Prayer and care is needed for all involved.
One brief comment: We need to be raising boys who protect women, instead of hurting and using them. Do whatever you can through your family, church, or organization to address the manhood crisis we have in our culture.
Join us this Sunday at Garden City as we begin a new series on the book of Acts.
This video is about Garden City 2013