Good News | Culture | Leadership | Fun
Christ of the Abyss is a bronze statue of Jesus placed in 1954 at the bottom of the sea off the coast of Italy. This may be my favorite piece of art depicting Jesus.
This statue reminds me that Jesus came down into the pressurized abyss of our lives, that he moved towards the deepest, darkest, neediest places. I don’t know the unique make up of your story, sin, and mess, but whatever is down there know that Jesus’ passion is to deal with your abyss. He came to know you and love you in the deep dark sea of your struggle.
What is your abyss? Jesus goes deeper. He meets you there. He loves you there. He’s with you there. He saves you there. A deep, dark abyss is no problem for Jesus.
You may or may not have a list of resolutions for the New Year. Whatever goals you’re chasing and whatever you’re facing this next year, I want to make a suggestion: simplify things this year.
Instead of trying to do a lot, what if you focused your full attention on just one exciting objective?
Here it is: Enjoy grace.
Grace is the undeserved love of God. This undeserved love is extended most climactically in the substitutionary life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, a historical reality that changes everything about your reality. And, this undeserved love comes at you every single day of your life. Everything you will enjoy in 2014 is grace, pure gift from God: the oxygen you breathe, the relationships you enjoy, the food you eat, the shelter over your head, the laughter of your children, those amazing sunsets, etc.
“What do you have that you did not receive?” -1 Corinthians 4:7. Everything you have you have received. All is gift. All is grace. The screen you’re reading this on is a gift, as are the fingers you’re using to scroll through this post. Enjoy this grace, this great gift of having fingers, exploring screens, and learning.
Enjoy grace! Focus your full attention and energies here, and everything else will follow: love for God, gratitude, joy, love for others, and good stewardship of the life, talents, resources, time, and opportunities God has given you. Nothing sucks the life out of things like entitlement, thinking you deserve a certain kind of life. And nothing gives life like grace, recognizing that your life and everything about your life is pure gift.
Though it feels like you’re sitting still right now, you’re sitting on a planet that’s hurling through space at roughly 2.7 million miles per hour. This wild orbit and the wild adventure of your life is sustained and empowered by the grace of God, undeserved love that holds the galaxies in place, feeds you breakfast, and puts a fresh fire in your heart.
Happy New Year!
Here is my Best Books of 2013 list, in no particular order. This isn’t a list of books published in 2013. This list is of the books I read in 2013 that I enjoyed/benefited from the most. See last year’s list: Best Books of 2012 (and links to past year’s lists).
The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. This book changed how I approach my week, as a “sprinter” instead of a “marathoner.” Very helpful. I had my whole staff read it.
Resolving Everyday Conflict by Ken Sande and Kevin Johnson. I don’t think this book is even 100 pages, but it’s loaded with simple, biblical wisdom. It’s one of five books we encourage every member of our church to read.
Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia. I found this book fascinating because my wife and I briefly met this family during a road trip to McCarty, Alaska nine years ago. When we met them something seemed really “off.”
Buffett: The Making of An American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein. Fascinating biography full of leadership (and investing) wisdom.
The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson. The truths in this book are the truths that should be singing in every pastor’s heart. If I had to pick one book on pastoral ministry for every pastor to read it would probably be this one.
Conquistador: Hernan Cortez, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs by Buddy Levy. Incredible writing. Captivating history/story. Full of hidden and not so hidden leadership lessons.
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. My mom is dying of cancer right now. This book is helping me. I haven’t finished it yet. I’m reading it slowly.
The Gone Fishin’ Portfolio by Alexander Green. If you had to read only one book on investing (you should read several), this is your book. I don’t follow this model completely, but I mostly follow it.
The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther. This book re-woke me to the wonder of the gospel.
Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This book is really strange and really good. I like how Taleb stretches how I think.
One Way Love by Tullian Txlkjdaoiuoijalkjoiunluijnoain. I was so hungry to read a fresh treatment of the grace of God that I asked my friend Tullian to email me the unedited version of this book this summer so I could read it months before it was published. My wife and I both devoured the book in several days. Tullian, sorry, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make fun of your last name.
Jack: Straight From the Gut by Jack Welch and David Byrne. I loved reading about how the culture of an organization can change through determined, wise leadership. Don’t read this book for tips on how to have a good marriage. Welch was a good businessman, but not a good husband.
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. I love learning what other people do to spark creativity and productivity. Everybody is so different.
Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne. Every leader I talk to who has read this book agrees: the wisdom here is golden. One of our elders quotes from this book so often we now make fun of him for it.
Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung. Short, spot-on, practical, actionable. We bought copies of this book for all of the deacons in our church.
The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papsan. Read this book along with The Power of Full Engagement and Crazy Busy and you’ll have plenty of 1) reasons to see why your schedule is out of whack and 2) plenty of help for re-prioritizing how you manage your priorities and time.
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.