Good News | Culture | Leadership | Fun
Here is my Best Books of 2014 list, in no particular order. This isn’t a list of books published in 2014. This list is of the books I read in 2014 that I enjoyed/benefited from the most. Click here for last year’s list: Best Books of 2013 (and links to past year’s lists).
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. Of all the books I read this year, this is the one that has impacted me the most. I’ve grown in gratitude and living more fully in the moment as a result of stewing my way through this book.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Originally I decided not to read this biography because I’d read a few reviews of it and concluded I already knew the gist of the book: Steve Jobs was an uncommon genius and jerk. But then a pastor friend told me he couldn’t put this book down and learned a lot from it. I picked up the book and experienced the same: I couldn’t put it down. This book is packed with leadership lessons (what to do and what not to do) and it provides a fascinating mini-history of Silicon Valley.
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller. For me, this book ties with Eugene Peterson’s, Answering God (noted on my Best Books of 2010 list) as the best book I’ve ever read on prayer. Peterson defines prayer as “Answering God.” Keller defines prayer as, “Continuing a conversation that God has started.” These two definitions are key to cultivating a rich prayer life–we first listen to what God says to us in his Word, then we keep the conversation going by responding to God in prayer.
Zero to One: Notes On Startups, Or How To Build The Future by Peter Theil. Thoughtful writing on entrepreneurship and leadership. I take back what I said above about One Thousand Gifts. Zero to One is a tie, I think this book has impacted me just as much. No, actually, it’s a three way tie between these two and Prayer by Keller.
Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit And the Primal Future of Fitness by J.C. Herz. I started doing CrossFit a year ago. I really like it. This book tells the CrossFit story and provides a great education on fitness. I couldn’t put it down.
Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul by Bill Hybels. Significant practical wisdom from a leader who has been around the block. I had two big takeaways from this book that I’ve carved into my life, and I’m better for it.
Looking for Alaska by John Green. One awkward character’s quest for “The Great Perhaps.” A good story. Good fiction.
Comfortable Words: Essays in Honor of Paul F.M. Zahl. Many of the essays in this collection are really good–great thinking on the gospel and our culture.
Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Six Operator Adam Brown by Eric Blehm. The story of a man changed by grace, who then gave up his life for others.
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This summer I worked through much of this book in preparation to preach The Sermon on the Mount, which I’m preaching right now. MLJ’s material warms my heart and is, in my opinion, the best content out there on The Sermon on the Mount.
The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund. What makes this book so good is Ray’s articulation of a gospel culture, and the reality that Ray is the real deal–a man continually changed by and passionate about the good news of Jesus.
The Interestings: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer. I have 50 pages left in this 468 page novel. I started it the first week of January. Throughout the year I’ve put it down and forgotten about it, but then a few weeks later I’m so curious about what happens next that I pick it up and read another few chapters. What makes this novel shine is the length of time it covers and the depth of its character development. The narrator repeatedly returns to each character’s backstory, showing why people are the way they are. Note: There’s a good bit of depravity depicted in this novel.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull. You have to be proactive to stay creative and innovative, and to keep such a culture alive in your organization. I got a lot from this one.
At Garden City Church we’re working hard to build strong, healthy teams: our elder board, our staff team, our team of deacons, our various volunteer/serving teams, etc. I’m learning a lot along the way. Here are 10 keys I’m personally discovering to building strong, healthy teams.
1. Stay humble. Be open to learning a lot more about yourself, other people, and your organization as you build your team. You will learn and grow a lot more in a team leadership environment than you will in a solo leadership environment.
2. Be clear. One of the most important things a leader can do is be clear. As you develop your team, get rid of the murky confusion and clutter that creeps in and bring fresh clarity to the purpose of the team and each person’s role on the team. I don’t mean twice a year. I mean weekly. Every week you need to work hard to ensure clarity. This will never end.
3. Build a diverse team. Healthy teams are diverse teams. Put people with different strengths, personalities, backgrounds, etc. on your team. Read Team of Rivals for inspiration. Find out what is unique about each of your team members and utilize their unique strengths.
4. Pray a lot. It takes a lot of prayer and wisdom that you do not yet have to build healthy teams. Jesus got away to pray before building his team.
5. Introduce conflict. Introduce conflict to your team and watch how the team handles the conflict. Ensure that your team is unified around your values, not vague fuzzy feelings. If your team is truly united around your values, you’ll be able to navigate the conflict humbly and wisely and experience more unity and effectiveness on the other side of the conflict. Healthy teams argue.
6. Run to the tension. As you build your team, tension will come. It will never stop coming. Tension is inevitable in teamwork. Healthy teams “run” to the tension and directly deal with it. Unhealthy teams ignore the tension. Create a culture where “issues” are handled directly and quickly.
7. Remember: Culture is everything. Know in advance the culture you want to build in your church/team/organization and fight hard to protect and nurture that culture. Don’t think in terms of rules or policy, think in terms of the overall culture you are setting with your team. Ask questions like: Is our leadership nurturing or harming the culture we value?
8. Go slow. Don’t rush team building. Move slowly and make sure you’re putting the right people on the team. You’ll rarely regret moving slowly. You’ll often regret moving too quickly.
9. Enjoy your team. Don’t only lead your team. Enjoy your team. Make space to simply be together as a team and enjoy your relationships. I think it’s important for teams to have fun together.
10. Love your team. Don’t only lead your team. Love your team. People will follow you if they know you care about them.
We used to be different. I know I was different. The empty spaces of my day I gave to communing with God, silent little prayers, thinking, stumbling upon new ideas, and being fully present in the moment.
Things are different now. I’m different now. I’m drawn into the digital world/black hole, frittering away portions of my day and energy instead of investing them for fruitful, focused purposes. I’m waking up and realizing that I don’t like this. I thrive on focus, being fully present, making steady progress forward each day, and connecting often throughout the day with my ever-present God. I’ve always thought that my ability to focus was a great gift from God, an important joy-inducing discipline, and a way to serve others. I’m discovering that I’ve lost some of this muscle. I’m weak where I used to be strong.
I’m not suggesting we throwaway our smart phones and cancel our twitter, Facebook, etc. accounts. Created in God’s image, we are designed to communicate, connect, explore, and learn. Today’s technology gives us amazing opportunities to communicate, connect, explore, and learn. I’m going to keep leveraging technology to do that. But, I’m going to make some changes.
I’m not sure what the specific changes will be, but the over-riding principle is this: I’m going to do what I want to do instead of doing what I’ve become habituated to do. What I want to do is live free, enjoy God and his grace, live fully present in the moment and love others well, and give more time to prayer and thinking. What I’ve become habituated to do is lose energy and joy by too much digital distraction and frittering away of my time.
World Magazine recently ran a great interview with Elyse Fitzpatrick. I loved what she had to say about parenting. Here are a few excerpts (click here for the whole thing):
And none of us is consistent. Do you hear people tell parents that their children’s salvation depends on their consistency? When I hear that, the top of my head wants to blow off. Listen, if the salvation of our children doesn’t depend on Jesus Christ and Him crucified and the sovereign work of God through the Holy Spirit, if it depends on anything else, then nobody will be saved. I have never been consistent doing anything in my entire life. I write books about the gospel and I consistently forget it. That’s the only consistency I’ve got.
We press our kids to be good outwardly? I’ve heard parents tell kids that if you say “please” and “thank you” and you say you’re sorry, you make God smile. But self-righteousness was at the heart of why that rich young ruler went away sad that day. Jesus wasn’t saying none of us should own property. Jesus knew that the man really didn’t love his neighbor and really didn’t love God. He was able to perform all this stuff outwardly, but inwardly his heart was set on himself.
The prostitutes knew they needed help. Zacchaeus knew. And Matthew knew. But the Pharisees didn’t know, and the thing that guaranteed Christ was going to die on the cross was His love for sinners, because the Pharisees didn’t think they were part of that group. Yes, of course, we might sin somewhat if we take too many steps on a certain day, but we’re not really sinners. The thing that drove them to crucify Him, of course in God’s sovereignty, was that He didn’t pander to their religion. He told him their religion was the very thing that kept them from God. So we have to not only repent of our badness (I didn’t make this up) but also our goodness. There is nothing more difficult to accept than the truth that you bring nothing to the table except your sin, and He has to bring everything else.
I have a number of questions I like to regularly ask myself. These questions keep me focused on what is most important. One of the questions I regularly ask myself is, “What am I doing now (or not doing now) that I would regret in the future?”
This question makes me look at my life with a bigger-picture perspective. This question gives me a higher-up vantage point on how I’m currently investing my energy, the problems that are currently stressing me out, and the dreams that are currently exciting my heart. This question/vantage point brings me quick clarity. Exploring the regret question sharpens what is most important to me, showing me what adjustments and decisions I need to make–and what prayers I need to pray. This question has immensely helped my life, my marriage, my parenting, and my leadership.
It can help to attach a time frame to the end of the question: “What am I doing now (or not doing now) that I would regret in 2 weeks/4 months/1 year/5 years/20 years/etc?
I encourage you to ask yourself this question regularly. What are you doing now (or not doing now) that you would regret in the future? It could be a wise use of your time this week to take 20-30 minutes with pen and paper to wrestle with this question.
Sometimes I forget important stuff. So, a while ago I tattooed a reminder on my right wrist.
“Tetelestai.” This Greek word is one of the final words Jesus spoke from the cross. We translate this word in English as “It is finished.” This word changed my life.
I’m an achiever. I like to get things done. I need the daily reminder that my identity comes not from what I do, but from what Jesus had done for me. This word/work of Jesus is a constant reminder of who I am: I am an unfinished man with an unfinished life resting in the finished work of Jesus.
Above the word sits an anchor/cross (or you could say, an anchor-cross). Some of the early Christians, while undergoing persecution, disguised the cross as an anchor. The anchor is a symbol of strength (and is used as powerful imagery in Hebrews 6:9) and the cross is a symbol of the center of the Christian faith. My wrist is a reminder that my life is anchored in the finished work of Jesus.
I think one of the most powerful questions you can ask someone is, simply: “How are you?”
Ask this question to a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or stranger. Then, listen. Really listen. Most people would love to have a safe and caring person/place/community where they can share how they’re really doing. Most people rarely get to share what’s really going on because 1) they’re rarely asked and/or 2) most people don’t listen, but instead simply take turns waiting to talk.
Good listening is a byproduct of understanding grace and how the human heart works. As I’ve written before: grace creates safety (which includes an environment of listening), which creates change.
How are you? It’s a great question be asked, and it’s a great question to ask.
Yesterday Garden City Church turned three years old! Three years ago a handful of us started this church with a dream to engage Silicon Valley with the good news of Jesus in a fresh way. You can click here for more of the story of how we got started. We are amazed and grateful over how God is building our church. The picture above shows part of our gathering yesterday.
In contrast, this is a picture of our first core group meeting. What you’ll notice is a lot of empty seats. Starting a church is far from easy.
Our favorite thing to celebrate at Garden City is baptisms, when people go public with their faith in Jesus. Yesterday we celebrated a lot of baptisms–our most ever in a single day.
The baptisms included two dads who baptized their oldest kids. Here, Garden City elder, Matt Lyon, hugs his son George after baptizing him.
Garden City people like to have fun. Here some people from one of our Neighborhood Groups (the family rooms & front lines of our church) strike a pose at the photo booth we set up at yesterday’s party.
One of our downtown San Jose Neighborhood Groups having some fun.
The fun included free food for everybody, good music, and face painting for the kids.
This is Barry. We love Barry. Barry is constantly encouraging people, praying for people, and cracking jokes.
My wife and I had the joy of baptizing Michele, our friend and our son’s Kindergarten teacher.
This is Michele’s story. We showed this video yesterday and the congregation cheered and clapped at the end.
We have a lot of kids and babies in our church family. Right now the average might be that a new baby is born here every two or three weeks.
Yesterday’s service included a powerful spoken word by our Family Pastor, Steve Patton, accompanied by the Garden City band playing, “Redeemed to Redeem.” The church went crazy over this. We hope to have a full video later, for now click here to catch a few seconds of it.
This is the Garden City staff. I love, love, love the team we’ve assembled here. Each member of this team has a big heart for loving people and has unique leadership abilities that complement the team. It feels great to be part of a great team. From left to right: Chad (Intern), Colin (Worship Leader), Nick (Executive Pastor), Noemma (City Coordinator), Ronnie (Communication Coordinator), Steve (Family Pastor), and me.
Yesterday I preached an important message, Give Your Church To Your City. We’re excited to grow as a church in both declaring and demonstrating the gospel of Jesus to our city.
Yesterday we passed out stickers with the Garden City logo. Our goal with these stickers is to stir up curiosity, for people ask about these stickers and to get a chance to tell people about Jesus and our church family. When you see one of these stickers around the city, post it on twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc. with the hashtag #GardenCity.
My middle son put his sticker on his Kindergarten folder.
I love my church. I love this adventure we are on together. Thank you to those of you who have been praying for Garden City for three years now. Keep doing it. And, if you know of someone looking for a church in Silicon Valley, you can send them to other great churches in our city or you can send them our way. Send them to one of our Sunday gatherings, at 4pm or 5:30pm. We’re excited to watch Jesus keep building our church and keep building all of his churches in the Bay Area.
In yesterday’s sermon, The Kiss of God, I announced the re-wording of Garden City Church’s mission statement. As you’ll see below, the mission of our church hasn’t changed and it will never change. But, for some important reasons we changed how we word our mission statement. If your church or organization has been around for a couple of years, then you have more wisdom under your belt from when you first started your organization and re-articulating your mission might be a healthy move.
Below is an email I sent to all of the deacons of our church last week, explaining to them ahead of time this change we announced on Sunday.
For quite a while now I’ve been thinking and praying about how it might be wise to change the wording of our mission statement. That turned into exploring and praying about this as elders, and asking the staff to explore this with us and give their input. It was a fruitful process that led us to an exciting decision.
Towards the end of my sermon this Sunday I’ll be announcing a re-wording of our mission statement. Note: this is NOT a change in our mission—our mission still is and always will be to make disciples (Matthew 28). This is re-wording how exactly we articulate our mission, wording that we think is healthier for shaping the culture of our church.
Our old mission statement: Making disciples to impact the city for Jesus. (8 words)
Our new mission statement: Disciples Making Disciples. Enjoying Jesus And Loving People. (3 words + 5 words = 8 words)
Why the change in wording? For one main reason: a desire to put grace/identity in the forefront of people’s minds and hearts. Though “Gospel” is our #1 core value and we constantly preach grace, we realized that after nearly 3 years of also constantly stating our mission people were mainly just hearing our mission as work that they need to do (“Oh yeah, I better get busy and make disciples to impact the city for Jesus”) rather than as a response to God’s grace.
We wanted to re-word our mission in such a way that would be more life-giving, theologically accurate, and effective. Our new mission wording is comprised of two sentences:
Sentence 1: Disciples Making Disciples. This is the most concise and memorable way to sum up our mission, which is why it appears in bigger font. The first word, “Disciples,” reminds our people of their identity first: that they are disciples of Jesus, people known and loved by God. In our preaching and other mediums of communication we will regularly unpack the rich identity and grace loaded in the word “disciples.” What is Garden City all about? Disciples Making Disciples!
Sentence 2: Enjoying Jesus And Loving People. This second sentence is a way to further unpack our mission, a subtitle of sorts. The first verb/call to action is a call to enjoy the love and grace of Jesus. The second verb is a call to love people, as knowing and loving people is central to how we make disciples in our city. It’s really the 2 great commandments: 1) To love God with all your heart (which starts with knowing that he first loved us through his Son) 2) Love your neighbor.
What is our hope in making this change? Our hope is that this change in wording makes for a healthier church, that it reminds people of their grace-based identity first and then their mission second. Words matter, and we think this re-wording will be important in shaping the culture of our church family. We will still talk all the time about out city and wanting to impact it (and our old 8 words will still hang on the blue banner in the lobby and in a few places in our documents), but this new wording will be the primary way we articulate who we are and what we do.
We think that as we enjoy Jesus and make disciples/love people, that we’ll make a great impact in our city.
Please keep this information confidential until Sunday. After my sermon on Sunday these changes immediately go live on our website, Membership Handbook, etc. If you have any questions, ask me, Matt, or feel free to ask a staff member. Thank you! NOTE: After Sunday feel free to use/forward this email to your Neighborhood Group to help explain this change to your people.
We’ve all experienced (and contributed to) this dynamic: You are afraid to share what you’re really thinking and what’s really going on in your life with your spouse/friend/parent/church leader because you fear they will use this information against you. You’re afraid that sharing reality will result in being challenged, fixed, or judged, instead of being known, understood, and loved. This dynamic creates unhealthy cultures in marriages, friendships, churches, and workplaces–people never share what’s really going on because they’re afraid, and this stunts both intimacy and growth.
Fortunately, this unhealthy dynamic can be replaced with a healthy dynamic: grace. Grace is God’s undeserved love. When an individual embraces a grace-based identity (instead of a performance-based identity) and standing with God, he or she becomes capable of extending grace (undeserved love) to other people. This individual becomes secure, and safe. This individual now has the ability to truly listen to what another person is really thinking, to what is really going on, without attempting to immediately use that information against the person.
See, grace creates safety. Grace creates a culture of safety where people can face and talk about reality. And, lest any of you think I’m being soft on sin, change, or sanctification, the crazy truth is that this grace-soaked culture of safety is what finally results in people changing.
Think about it. Environments and relationships that approximate unconditional love are what resulted in true, deep change and healing in your own life. When you experienced grace and felt safe, you finally opened up. And then you finally began to get help where you most needed it.
Grace creates safety, which creates change.
How can you be such a person to others? How can you use your leadership to create such environments?
“‘I will place him in the safety for which he longs.'”-Psalm 12:5