Five Books You Should Read in 2019

I have had a love/hate relationship with reading in my life. I loved reading as a child, but the further I went in school, the more required readings I was assigned. So, the time left over to read books of my own choosing was somewhere between limited and non-existent.

But over the past couple of years, I’ve come to enjoy non-required reading again. There are so many good ideas out there that can be found in books. I’m particularly a nerd when it comes to anything that has to do with ministry, Christian leadership, or self-help (as you’ll see in the list that follows). But I’ve learned that many of these books are insightful enough to benefit anybody on any walk of life.

With that in mind, allow me to share with you five books I’ve read recently that should be at the top of your list for 2019. These are in no particular order. I’ll link you to the Amazon page for each book in the title should you decide you want to purchase.

1. Finish by Jon Acuff

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Summary: “Starting is fun, but the future belongs to finishers.”

92% of people don’t finish the goals they set out to complete. “Finish” is written to anybody who want to be part of the 8%. Studies have shown that the strategies that most help people accomplish their goals are the ones that take the pressure off. In doing this, we eliminate the negative influence of perfectionism. In Acuff’s words, “The goal is not to be perfect. The goal is to finish.”

These are Acuff’s six strategies for finishing:

  1. Cut the Goal in Half
  2. Choose What to Bomb
  3. Make it Fun if You Want it Done
  4. Leave Hiding Places and Noble Obstacles
  5. Abandon Secret Rules
  6. Use Data to Track Imperfect Progress

Five Important Quotes

  1. “When you work on something consistently for 30 days, you get better at it” (P. 4)
  2. “The next time you work on a goal, I dare you to ask yourself these two questions: 1) Could this be easier? 2) Could this be simpler?” (P. 96)
  3. “Perfectionism hates data. Why? Because emotions lie. Data doesn’t. Our emotions will give us a completely false impression of a given situation.” (P. 126)
  4. “If you don’t learn what makes you work best and repeat it, you will never get better.” (P. 161)
  5. “Every kid is one adult away from being a success story” (P. 181)

Why I’m Recommending This Book: Using humor and real-world examples, Acuff has created a useful and practical guide for anyone who wants to ditch perfectionism and reach their potential.

NOTE: Acuff is currently attaching a bunch of free resources for anybody who purchases the newly released paperback. See more here.

2. How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge by Clay Scroggins

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Summary: Many people think they must receive authority before they can lead. They say to themselves, “Once I’m in charge, I’ll do things differently.” Clay Scroggins argues that influence, not a position of power, is the key to effective leadership. And good news for people who don’t have titles, corner offices, or large staffs working under them: you can start leading TODAY, wherever you are.

Scroggins identifies a few key factors in our ability to cultivate influence without authority:

  1. Our own perception of our identity
  2. Leading with righteous ambition rather than selfish ambition
  3. Leading ourselves well
  4. Choosing positivity
  5. Thinking critically
  6. Rejecting passivity
  7. Being thoughtful and intentional about how challenging up – but also not being afraid to do so

Five Important Quotes

  1. “A kabash leader is courageous, not because they possess inner strength, but because they know God is the one who controls the destiny of every man and woman. A kabash leader pours out, trusting that God’s new mercies will be enough every day to fill them up.” (P. 84)
  2. “While people will probably tell you that your plan for your life rarely works out the way you think it will, aiming at nothing will take you nowhere.” (P. 103)
  3. “You can take all the energy you’re using to be mad or frustrated and use it to improve.” (P. 129)
  4. “Great leaders know how to communicate critical thoughts in a way that benefits others.” (P. 145)
  5. “Great leaders love what they do, who they do it with, and who they do it for.” (P. 224)

Honorable Mention for Married Couples: “The most common behavior in every great marriage is the decision to believe the best about the other person. Find the most generous explanation for each other’s behavior and believe it.” (P. 197)

Why I’m Recommending This Book: Whether you’re in charge or not (and Scroggins would say that everyone is accountable to somebody else), this is a book worth reading for anybody who wants to better understand God’s design for leadership and how we can grow in our ability to positively influence others while also leading ourselves well.

3. Didn’t See it Coming by Carey Nieuwhof

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Summary: Life poses many challenges for leaders, and these challenges often come as a surprise. Nobody sets out to be cynical, disconnected, prideful, or empty, but these things often come when we least expect them. Carey Nieuwhof helps us think through how we can get out in front of each of these issues to guide our hearts back to God and to become the healthiest leaders we can be.

These are the seven challenges or pitfalls Nieuwhof discusses (each followed by a brief paraphrase containing my summary):

  1. Cynicism – “Cynicism doesn’t happen because we don’t care. It happens because we do care and we get burned. The solutions to cynicism are to find hope in the Gospel and to cultivate genuine curiosity.”
  2. Compromise – “Character, not competency, determines how far you will go in life. So intentionally work on your character.”
  3. Disconnection – “Although our world is the most connected that it’s ever been, we often feel isolated and disconnected. To solve the problem, we must embrace others through confession and slowing down (eliminating hurry) and take a genuine interest in others by loving them and putting them first.”
  4. Irrelevance – “It’s easy to fall into irrelevance because change never asks for permission. Change is hard to embrace, but we must become accustomed to changing methods while staying true to our mission.”
  5. Pride – “Pride is one of the single greatest threats to our faith and well-being. Simply put, pride is any obsession we have with ourselves. To beat it, we must cultivate humility and gratitude as we kill jealousy and selfish ambition.”
  6. Burnout – “In order to prevent burnout, take care of yourself, know your limits, and REST. Live today in a way that will help you thrive tomorrow.”
  7. Emptiness – “Most appetites lead to cravings that can never be fully satisfied and will never fulfill you. The solution is to know our greater mission, pursue self-care rather than self-medication, and put others first.” 

Five Important Quotes

  1. “The curious ask broad, probing questions – and then sit back and listen.. If you listen longer than most people listen, you’ll hear things most people never hear.” (P. 28)
  2. “I want the people who know me the best to love me the most. Character matters more than anything because you bring who you are into everything that you do.” (P. 41)
  3. “God’s transformation in our lives is the solution to our relationships. Conversations – even frustrating ones – are exercises in humility and spiritual growth. When you take an interest in others more than yourself, it’s a small form of dying to yourself, something very close to the heart of Christ. When you give your life away, something greater rises.” (P. 80)
  4. “Gratitude fosters humility because it moves you out of the role of star in your story. Express your thankfulness regularly. Fall more in love with the giver than his gifts. And never claim full credit for your story. Acknowledge the role of grace and providence publicly when you talk.” (P. 134)
  5. “God’s favorite people to use are the broken ones. Broken people get to the point that they realize the poverty within and have to look beyond themselves for renewal and strength. You become more responsive to God when you realize there is less of you.” (P. 167)

Why I’m Recommending This Book: I’m only 25, but I’ve been in ministry long enough to realize that there will be challenges along the way. The roadblocks that Nieuwhof writes about are all too real for many people. This book is for anybody who wants to be prepared for potholes that may lie ahead. These principles will also help you become more self-aware and attuned to the needs of others around you.

4. Letters to the Church by Francis Chan

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Summary: “Imagine you find yourself stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a copy of the Bible. You have no experience with Christianity whatsoever, and all you know about the Church will come from your reading of the Bible. How would you imagine a church to function? Now think about your current church experience. Is it even close?”

Francis Chan wrote “Letters to the Church” out of a belief that the church, in many places, has drifted away from the values that God once established as vital. In order to help us re-embrace God’s model for church, Chan spends these chapters thoughtfully reflecting on Scripture and calling us to a greater vision for the future of God’s church. Each chapter represents a responsibility or area of importance in the church that Chan feels that God has called us to focus on:

  1. Sacred – Are we giving the things of God the reverence they demand?
  2. Order – Have we followed God’s design and instructions for his church? Are we doing what is commanded or what is expected? Are we prioritizing what gives us pleasure or what gives God glory?
  3.  Gang – Are our churches truly family, or have we reduced church to a meeting that takes place during an hour each week?
  4. Servants – Do we lay down our lives to truly serve others?
  5. Good Shepherds – What does Godly leadership look like?
  6. Crucified – What cost have we paid to follow Jesus?
  7. Unleashed – Are we Christians that live in a zoo, or Christians that live in the wild?
  8. Church Again – What advice do people need to hear in order to best set up the future church for success?

Five Important Quotes

  1. “The Church has real issues, but Jesus still refers to the Church as His body, His Bride! We must love His Bride, not gripe about her or leave her.” (P. 22)
  2. “Many want to change the Church, but it is often motivated by personal preference rather than biblical conviction.” (P. 23)
  3. “The early church didn’t need the energetic music, great videos, attractive leaders, or elaborate lighting to be excited about being a part of God’s body. The pure gospel was enough to put them in a place of awe.” (P. 44)”
  4. “If prayer isn’t vital for your church, then your church isn’t vital. This statement may be bold, but I believe it’s true. If you can accomplish your church’s mission without daily, passionate prayer, then your mission is insufficient and your church is irrelevant.” (P. 62)
  5. “Jesus’ prayer was not that we would just get along and avoid church splits. His prayer was that we would become “perfectly one.” He prayed this because our oneness was designed to be the way to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus said the purpose of our unity was “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them.” (P. 77)

Why I’m Recommending This Book: I’ve read several Francis Chan books, and I feel like he never lets me “off the hook.” His words are always highly applicable and challenging, and “Letters to the Church” is no different. This book is important for anybody who has influence in the church to consider and reflect on its God-given purposes and intentions.

5. Divine Direction by Craig Groeschel

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Summary: Our lives are made up of decisions, both big and small. In Groeschel’s words, “The decisions we make today determine the stories we will tell about our lives tomorrow.” Many people falsely assume that a successful or meaningful life is the result of a few big or key decisions along the way. However, it’s actually the small choices, the ones we make every day, that have the power to make a real difference. This is more than a self-help book, this is a book for people who want to pursue Jesus and make more Godly decisions.

As Groeschel says in the title, there are seven decisions we make every day that have the potential to set our lives on a different course. Here they are (based on the order that they are presented in the book):

  1. Start – Start a discipline today that will change your story forever. What does God want me to START?
  2. Stop – God may call you to abort, abandon, or abolish something, to stop one thing that helps you live the story you want to tell. What does God want me to STOP?
  3. Stay – When you’re tempted to walk away, make sure you seek God, because you never know what he might do if you have the courage to stay. Where does God want me to STAY, even if it would be easier to go?
  4. Go – To step towards your destiny, you might have to step away from your security. Where does God want me to GO, even if it would be easier to stay?
  5. Serve – One of the quickest ways we forget about God is to be consumed with self. We fight this temptation through sacrificially serving others. Who does God want me to SERVE?
  6. Connect – Often times, we become the average of the five people who we spend the most time with. How are those people helping us become more like Jesus? Who does God want me to CONNECT with?
  7. Trust – Jesus walks with us through all seasons of life, both good and bad. How can the decision to trust God impact the story we will tell after the storm passes? How can I TRUST God more daily?

Five Important Quotes

  1. “If we learn to choose well, we can connect the dots between where we are and where we want to be.” (P. 14)
  2. “God is focused not on your happiness but on your pursuit of Jesus, which satisfies your soul like nothing else.” (P. 21)
  3. “God wants us to contribute rather than to consume. When all of culture says, “Fill yourself,” God tells us to fill others. God didn’t create us to be takers. He created us to be givers.” (P. 120)
  4. “Show me your friends and I will show you your future.” (P. 139)
  5. “Will we trust that God is good even when life is not? Our response to pain and challenges determines so much about our future.” (P. 170)

Why I’m Recommending This Book: Groeschel has done a beautiful job of combining practical life principles with the mission we are called to as followers of Jesus. By making wise, daily decisions in a pursuit of Christ, we put ourselves in position to see God work in our lives, and to experience his presence more often. This book is for anybody who wants to grow in their faith and form better daily habits.

Note: Craig Groeschel also preached a four-part sermon series on Divine Direction that I found enjoyable and insightful. Those videos can be found here or downloaded via the LifeChurch podcast, available wherever you download your podcasts.

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Now that I’ve had a chance to share, I want to hear from you. What books have you read recently that made a difference? What books are on your wish list? I’m always looking for good reads. Find me on Facebook or Twitter and connect with me. Maybe a book from your 2018 list will make my 2019 list.

Making “Spiritual” New Years Resolutions

At some point over the next couple weeks, you’ll probably be asked about making a New Years Resolutions. Statistics show that about two thirds of people will make some kind of New Years Resolution, and many of us will make similar resolutions. As reported by statista.com, here are some of the the Top Resolutions from 2018*:

  1. Eat healthier (37%)
  2. Get more exercise (37%)
  3. Save (more) money (37%)
  4. Focus on self-care (ex: get more sleep) (24%)
  5. Read more (18%)
  6. Make new friends (15%)
  7. Learn a new skill (15%)
  8. Get a (new) job (14%)
  9. Take up a new hobby (13%)

*The number in parentheses indicates the percentage of people who expressed a desire to pursue that particular resolution. Participants were allowed to select more than one answer. Almost one third, perhaps more realistically, said that they wouldn’t be bothering with any resolutions. Over 1,100 US adults were surveyed. Conducted December 8-11, 2017. Original source: YouGov. 

I’m fascinated by the New Years Resolutions people make, and if they follow through or not. I am a self-proclaimed nerd when it comes to goal-setting and habit formation. It drives my wife crazy. Admittedly, I’ve probably set more goals in my life than I have actually accomplished, which is probably not a good thing, but that’s a topic to discuss on another day. Maybe that can be a 2020 resolution.

However, this year, I am asking a new question:

Is there anything spiritual about making New Years Resolutions?

In other words, does God care about the New Years Resolutions that I make, or if I make any at all? What new thing (or things) does God want to see happen in my life this year? What goals does God want me to make for 2019?

All these questions lead to a bigger fundamental question that all Christians have asked (or will ask) at some point during their life: what is God’s will for my life?

I suppose there are a lot of ways you could answer that question. The best possible approach, if you ask me, is to let Scripture do the talking.

There are two places in 1 Thessalonians where Paul tells us explicitly – no games, no riddles, no beating around the bush – what God’s will is for us.

Side note: 1st and 2nd Thessalonians are SUPER interesting books. In Acts 17, Paul goes to Thessalonica to preach, but some Jews in the area get so angry they form an angry mob to go hunt him down. They even arrested the guy who Paul and Silas stayed with while they were visiting town. If that had happened to any of us, we probably would have considered the visit a failure, but Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2 that his visit was “not without results.” My New Years Resolution is to see life the way that Paul saw it. Nothing mattered more to Paul than sharing the Gospel – not even his own life.

Anyways, here we go:

God’s Will, Part One: God wants us to be sanctified

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3a*

*(The context of this verse is sexual purity. I believe this is one application of sanctification, but not the only application. Therefore, I feel this verse can be used to speak to a much wider range of issues, as you will see below.)

The simple definition of sanctification is “to be made holy.” But in order to really understand sanctification, and why it’s so important, you have to understand how the process of being sanctified has changed over time.

To best understand sanctification, you have to go all the way back to Leviticus.

Wait, really? Leviticus? Why Leviticus?

Leviticus is an ancient book that’s hard for a modern audience to read. But what’s easy to miss from list after list of ancient laws in Leviticus is the original purpose of the book, and why it mattered so much for God’s people.

Leviticus existed to teach ancient Israel how to be sanctified.

A key part of God’s covenant with Moses involved God setting up camp among the Israelites and living with them in the Tabernacle – kind of like God had lived in the garden with Adam and Eve at the very beginning. But, as you may remember from Genesis 3, once sin enters the picture, it causes separation between God and his people. God is holy, and for human beings to be able to enter into God’s presence and not die, they must become holy as well.

This is where sanctification comes into the picture. Sanctification bridges the gap between God and his people so that a relationship becomes possible. And, at that point in time, the only way to be sanctified was through ritual purification laws. Leviticus provides those instructions for those laws.

So why don’t we follow those same laws anymore?

The simple answer is Jesus. Jesus came onto the scene and redefined what it meant to be sanctified. He did this not only through his death (which functioned as a once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin), but also through his life. Jesus set a new standard for holiness that was (and still is) revolutionary.

For example, there are two entire chapters in Leviticus (Chapters 13 and 14, if you’re curious), that talk about what to do if somebody has a defiling skin disease. Here’s the gist: “Stay away from people who have defiling skin diseases so that you don’t become unclean yourself.”

But then, in two of the Gospels, we have a story about Jesus touching a man with leprosy and healing him. Shockingly, instead of diseased person passing his uncleanliness onto Jesus, Jesus passes his holiness onto him! This former lepers walked away clean, not because of something he did to purify himself, but because of an encounter with Jesus.

Jesus’ ability to heal people of physical conditions points to an even greater power he has – the power to forgive sins.

In Mark 2, we come across a story where Jesus is preaching and teaching inside a house that is so full of people, you couldn’t even enter through the front door. A lame man who wants to see Jesus is lowered through the roof by four friends. When Jesus sees this man, he tells him that his sins are forgiven.

The Pharisees are quick to criticize Jesus for what he said (“Who can forgive sins but God alone?”). Jesus goes on to tell them that he does, in fact, have power to forgive sins, and he demonstrates this power by instructing this man to get up and walk. Everyone would have thought that the man’s disability was a punishment for sin, either his own sin or his parents’. By healing this man’s physical condition, Jesus demonstrates his power (in the context of his audience’s understanding) to forgive sins and transform not only his physical condition, but his spiritual condition as well.

This is good news for us all. We are all spiritually unclean because of past sin. Jesus is able and willing to take away our uncleanliness and make us holy. There’s nothing that we can do to earn this forgiveness – it’s a gift given out of divine love and mercy. Jesus taught us that we don’t become holy by doing the right things. We become holy by the work of Jesus on the cross.

Paul reminds us of this in Ephesians 2:8-10:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

What a beautiful passage that reminds us of the unconditional love and mercy of God. We are saved by grace, through faith, and it is not something that we earned or worked for or deserve, it is simply a gift from God.

Because of Jesus, sanctification is no longer about what WE do. It’s about what Jesus has DONE. And it leads to a new order of things. Sanctification reminds us that God cares more about who we are than what we do.

However, this doesn’t mean God doesn’t care about what we do.

Paul is clear that we aren’t saved BY our good works. But he would argue that we are saved FOR good works. In fact, that’s what he says in Verse 10 – “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”

God cares more about who we are than what we do. But that doesn’t mean that what we do doesn’t matter.

In addition to reconciling us to God through the saving work of Jesus, sanctification also transforms our identity, which equips us to do the work God has called us to do. It is our new identity is what empowers us to do these good works.

When it comes to changing a habit, there are two ways to do it – and spoiler alert, one way is better than the other.

The first way to change a habit is by changing the process. If you want to get in better shape, you might start going to the gym, or you might go on a diet. If you want to save more money, you open up a savings account and make plans to deposit a certain amount each time you get paid. This is one way to change, but it’s not the only way, and I would argue that it’s not even the most effective way.

The more effective method of change is to change your identity. For example, one of my New Years Resolutions is to decrease my screen time (before you give me too much praise or credit, you should know that resolution this wasn’t my choice – it was assigned to me by my wife).

There are two possible ways I can work to decrease my screen time. I might decide to leave my phone at home when I go to meet a friend. I might tell that person that I left my phone at home because “I’m trying to cut back on my screen time.”

This is somewhat effective, but the language that I used still reflects a belief about myself, that I am a person who uses my phone too much. It’s not enough to change our behavior. We need to also change our beliefs.

So what if, instead of saying that I am leaving my phone at home to decrease my screen time, I tell myself that I am leaving my phone at home because I value being present in my interactions and I want the person who I am with to get my full, undivided attention?

Both of these examples feature the same process (I’m leaving my phone at home). But only one situation reflects an identity change. In the first example, I still believe that I am a person who struggles with using my phone too much, and the way I explain my actions reflects that belief. But in the second example, I have changed the way I see myself. I have a different attitude and different values. And because I have chosen to see myself this way, I am far more likely to

Shifting your identity, not adjusting your processes, is the best way to change your behavior.*

*(For more on this idea, see Atomic Habits by James Clear, specifically Chapter Two)

This idea is highly practical, but it has spiritual and theological roots. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul tells us that we are a “new creation in Christ.” He tells us that our old self has gone, and our new identity is here. This identity shift leads us to a new way of life, guided by a pursuit of Christ and not selfish ambition or desire.

Sanctification isn’t earned by our actions, but it should naturally affect our actions. When I tell myself daily that I am a transformed follower of Jesus, it causes me to live differently. It changes the way I think, speak, and act. It affects the way I see others. It fills me with hope and compassion rather than cynicism and selfishness.

All of a sudden, I am not just a sinner who is trying to live a better life. I am a person who has been transformed by the saving work of Christ. 

God’s Will, Part Two: God wants us to have joy

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The Bible never said, “God wants me to be happy.” It’s a popular narrative in our world today, but that doesn’t make it true. This false belief can be used to define lots of things that are not God-honoring, or that don’t make an eternal difference.

Scripture never says that God wants us to be happy. But Paul does tell us that God wants us to find joy – and find it often.

Happiness and joy are related, and similar in some ways, but not identical. As we realize their differences, we can better identify what qualities God wants us to pursue.

Happiness is best represented by a lack of desire. When all of your needs and wants are fulfilled, you feel happy.

The problem here is that human beings constantly struggle with comparison. We see a co-worker with a better job title than us, or a friend with nicer stuff than us – house, cars, possessions, and so on. These feelings of jealousy have the potential to destroy us. This is why God originally warned the Israelites not to covet. Coveting not only dishonors God, but it’s harmful to God’s people.

On the other hand, joy is best represented by a feeling of pleasure. Pleasure can come from a number of things: meaningful relationships, special moments, utilizing talents, awareness of God’s presence, and the list goes on and on. Encountering God can bring us joy. Spending time with family and friends can bring us joy. Doing something significant or meaningful can bring us joy.

Finding joy isn’t about “having it all” – in fact, some of the people I have met in my life who have the most joy also have glaring physical or spiritual needs. Finding joy is about seeing the beauty and goodness in what we DO have.

The secret to finding constant joy is recognizing that perspective matters more than circumstances.

As Chuck Swindoll once said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond.”

That being said, I don’t want to make light of any situation that somebody might be going through. I’m aware of the struggles of many people close to me, and it hurts me to see the burdens placed on people I love. However, I still believe that joy is possible for all of us, because joy is not the result of a lack of struggle. Joy is a result of the awareness of how we have been blessed.

All of us, whether we realize it or not, have been blessed beyond measure.

I’ll give you permission to disagree with me, but first, you must do this exercise. Sit down with a pen and a piece of paper and spend five minutes writing down things you’re grateful for. I’ve done this exercise multiple times with youth groups over the past several years, and it lifts the spirits of each person in the room. It’s hard (I would even say impossible) to be sad while giving thanks.

Cultivating gratitude is the easiest way to discover joy. 

That’s why Paul says, in the same breath, that we should rejoice “always” and give thanks “in every circumstances.” If anybody had an excuse to not give thanks, it was Paul. In his lifetime, he encountered frequent opposition and persecution. But at the same time, in nearly every letter he wrote, he mentioned giving thanks to God for a multitude of reasons.

I mean, he even gave thanks when he was under house arrest chained to a prison guard waiting to go to Rome for his almost certain death as a martyr. I want to have that same kind of attitude about life. 

Paul was able to maintain this attitude of gratitude because he chose to celebrate not only the blessings in his own life, but in the lives of others as well. Take a look at some of these passages where Paul gives thanks on behalf of others:

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.” – Romans 1:8

“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” – Ephesians 1:15-16

“I thank my God every time I remember you.” – Philippians 1:3

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people.” – Colossians 1:3-4

This is a powerful discipline, and one we would do well to adopt. What if we chose to spend time intentionally celebrating the goodness of God in the lives of others, even though we are struggling with jealousy and comparison in our own hearts?

“God, thank you for giving that person a promotion, even though they got the job that I wanted.” 

“God, thank you for helping that person find someone they love to spend the rest of their life with, even though I’m still single and would really like to be dating somebody.”

“God, thank you for blessing that couple with children, even though my spouse and I have been trying for years and are still unable to conceive.”

This is HARD to do, and you probably won’t ever feel like saying these things. However, gratitude in the face of jealousy is powerful. It has the ability to turn envy into joy, to replace coveting with giving thanks. In doing so, you point your heart back towards God and you gain a new attitude, one centered on the goodness of God.

To sum this up – want to have more joy? Spend time being thankful. Work on your perspective. Look for God in the little things. And never forget that you are blessed.

So a quick recap:

God’s Will for My Life

  1. Be sanctified
  2. Have joy

Now, if I can, let me add one more to the list. This isn’t written verbatim in 1 Thessalonians (or any book for that matter). But I still think this concept is biblical. I believe it represents a truth close to God’s heart.

God’s Will for My Life

  1. Be sanctified
  2. Have joy
  3. Pursue a gift or talent that glorifies God

I love this quote from JD Grear: “Whatever you’re good at, do it for the glory of God. And do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.”

I believe God wants us to pursue things we’re passionate about, things that we’re good at, and things that we enjoy doing. Once we discover these things, God desires to use these gifts to contribute to his mission. That’s Jesus’ vision for his new kingdom – everybody participates, everyone contributes, everyone brings something unique to the table.

That paragraph opens up a few questions for us to answer as we consider what God wants us to do:

  1. What am I passionate about? What do you wake up in the morning thinking about? What is the first thing you want to do each day (after you get up and make a cup of coffee, of course. Nobody can think clearly before coffee!) In my work with the local church, I love getting to watch passion and ministry intersect. This is usually where people do their best work, because they see it as important and meaningful.
  2. What am I good at? Everyone has been gifted with a talent or skill of some kind. God’s hope for you is to recognize that talent and use it for your personal fulfillment or joy, as well as a contribution to his mission. If you don’t know what that gift is yet, it’s not because it doesn’t exist, it’s only because you haven’t discovered it yet. And if that’s you, take some time to pray that God would reveal to you what your greatest strengths are.
  3. What do I enjoy doing? We tend to think of hobbies as things we do in our spare time, and not things that we can use for a greater purpose. But, if you enjoy doing something, why can’t that be a way that you share the Gospel with others? This is a key component of youth ministry – I have bonded with teenagers over shared hobbies more times than I can count. Next time you’re doing something you enjoy – whether it involves sports, music, art, construction, or food, ask yourself how you might be able to use that to show Jesus to somebody else.
  4. How can I use these things to contribute to God’s mission?

This is not about you being the star of the show – this is God’s desire for the entire community. Paul talks frequently about how the church is the body of Christ. What a cool metaphor to describe God’s desire to use each of us as a part of his mission. God doesn’t call one person to do everything, but he calls each person to do something, and he gives you the skills necessary to participate in his plans.

One more question – why does all this matter?

To answer the question from the very beginning, yes, there can be something spiritual about making New Years Resolutions. God cares more about who we are than what we do, but that doesn’t mean that what we do doesn’t matter for anything. Our actions are a reflection of what’s in our heart. You can tell a lot about somebody’s relationship with God based on what they say and do.

So maybe this is the year that you decide to be sanctified.

Or, maybe this is the year that you choose joy.

All of us have been gifted by God to do something specific and something meaningful. Maybe this is the year where you take steps to figure out what that is. Maybe you’ve known for a long time what God wanted you to do, and 2019 needs to be the year when you take that first step.

I hope that following God’s will for your life is an exciting thought for you. If it’s not, maybe that’s because you’ve misunderstood who God is. Too many people view God as moody, demanding, or fickle – quick to give and take away love based on your most recent performance. Unfortunately, this take on God comes from our all-too-common interpretation that the Bible is a book of rules, and God is like a teacher with a clipboard grading us on our performance and effort. Better not make too many mistakes, or God won’t be happy! 

Here’s a powerful truth, and if you don’t hear anything else I say, hear this: God wants something FOR you more than God wants something FROM you.

God’s will for your life is not about achieving performance so that you can earn God’s favor. God’s will for your life is meant to help you discover your unique identity, purpose, and skills, so that your relationship with Jesus will grow and so that you will reach your God-given potential. As Jesus says in John 10:10b, his goal in coming was that we would have life, and life to the fullest. 

Does this mean that God doesn’t care how we live or behave, as long as we are living life to the fullest? Of course not. In fact, it means just the opposite – God wants us to follow his design for living, because that’s where ultimate satisfaction and fulfillment is found.

God has shared with us about his will for our lives, and this can be the year where we do it.

So it’s time to get really practical with this – you’re going to make three spiritual resolutions:

  1. Sanctification – How can you shift your identity in order to better understand who God wants you to be in 2019?
  2. Joy – How are you going to experience God’s joy this year? How can you cultivate gratitude?
  3. Gift/Talent – Think back to the questions above. What are you passionate about? What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? And how can you use these things to contribute to Jesus’ mission and contribute to God’s kingdom?

I can’t wait to see what God does in my life and in your life in 2019. I think it’s going to be our best year yet.

Do This Before 2018 is Over

We live in a world obsessed with hurry. Many of us are always rushing, often anxious, and still feel like we can’t get anything done. I know these things, and yet I still struggle with hurry as much as anyone.

When we become trapped in hurry, it’s easy to miss out on the “finer things” in life.

One thing hurry robs us of is the chance to pause, reflect, and celebrate. For most of us, celebration doesn’t happen as often as it should. While it may not seem like an efficient use of time (why would I celebrate when I have so much to do?), celebration adds meaning to life and makes special moments taste even sweeter.

In other words, celebration helps create memories.

So let me challenge you, as well as myself, with an idea. What if we took some time before we close the door on 2018 to celebrate some of the highlights and milestones from along the way?

Here are five memories I’ll treasure from 2018. This could be a much longer list, but it’s a start:

Spring Break OKC Mission Trip

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This was our second year to take a spring break trip to OKC, and both trips hold a special place in my heart. OKC will always be home (after all, I spent 20 years of life there…how could it not be?), and it brings me joy to share this place with my Crestview family.

This year we cleaned up trash, raked leaves, laid compost, and sorted and packed food at the OKC Food Bank. Service is one of our youth ministry’s favorite things to do, and I love getting to work alongside them. In our free time, we watched a Thunder game, took over Quail Springs Mall, and ate Braum’s ice cream together.

Some of my favorite memories include staying up late with the guys in my room (124 for life!) and orchestrating a prank involving LOTS of saran wrap. So many laughs along the way. So many stronger relationships after we got home. This was a good week.

Pepperdine Trip

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Knowing it might be our last trip without kids for a while, Mary and I went to the Pepperdine Lectures in May. We stayed at an AirBnB in Santa Monica that was within walking distance of the pier. We enjoyed the classes and keynotes, but we enjoyed the extended time together even more. We had several conversations about our hopes and dreams for our future family. It was a wonderful week.

Just one regret – it was too cold to go to the beach except for a quick trip to Zuma on our last day in town. We still only got toe-deep in the water, but we weren’t going to go the entire trip without one visit!

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For our youth ministry, the defining moment of the summer (if not the year) is our High School Mission Trip. This was my third summer mission trip with this group, and my second to lead. We took 42 students and adults to spend a week in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where we built houses, played with kids, and saw God’s love manifest itself in many ways.

I was so proud of the attitude of our group that week. I saw growth, maturity, and Christ-likeness in each student who came on the trip. It was a treat to watch our students put their faith into action. I was blessed to experience that trip with that group.

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For years, I have wanted to to compete in a triathlon (more on that here and here). In 2018, I finally worked up the guts to do it. On July 15, I participated in TriWaco, finishing the sprint distance. Even with all the training, the swim was grueling (needless to say, open water swimming is VERY different from swimming laps at the gym). Still, my first race was an incredible experience and I can’t wait to do another one.

That being said, next time I might do a race in the fall, so I don’t have to do the bulk of my training in June and July. I ran way too many miles in 100-degree heat last summer!

Bennett’s Birth

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Obviously, the birth of my child had to make the list, right? Seriously, I can’t put into words what that experience was like. After all the months that Mary was pregnant, all the dreams about our future, the baby showers, decorating his room, and anticipating the life change that was about to take place, there was an incredible rush of emotion in that delivery room.

And now, even five months later, I still feel more love for that boy with every single day that goes by. Parenting is the hardest, but most rewarding thing, I have ever done. (And having a great partner like my wife makes it even more fun. I like to think we make a good team).


In short, 2018 was a wonderful year for me. Several highs, a few lows, and constant reminders of God’s faithfulness and provision in my life.

Now what about you? How did God bless your life this past year? Perhaps you’re like me, and you think in moments. Or maybe, when you look back on 2018, you remember specific accomplishments, deeper relationships, or significant transitions.

Whatever it was that stood out to you from this past year, I hope you’ll take some time to reflect and remember. And if you do, I would love to hear about it! Feel free to share your Top Five with me in a comment on this post, a Facebook message, or a text.

Let’s send 2018 off in style and celebrate the wonderful year that it was!

What I Do After I Finish a Book

I’ve read hundreds of books in my life. Unfortunately, I don’t remember many of them. My shelves are full of books that contain the wear and tear of turned pages, but those ideas are no longer in my memory.

Perhaps you can relate. It’s easy to pick up a book, read it, put it back on the shelf, and hardly remember anything you read a few weeks later. This is perfectly fine if you’re reading for fun – I don’t beat myself up because I don’t remember every detail from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. However, if your goal for reading books is increased knowledge or self-growth, you want to make ideas from that book stick.

So how can you make reading an activity with compounding interest? How can you turn books into usable resources that pay dividends long after the book goes back up on the shelf?

This is the system I’ve come up with. It’s not perfect, but it’s worked for me. If you do something similar, I would love to hear more about it. My hope is that this post is the beginning, rather than the end, of a conversation.

Also, a disclaimer: I normally fill in this outline after I finish reading a book. In addition, here are some of the things I do while reading that help me retain information:

  1. I highlight on almost every page.
  2. I dog-ear pages with especially important ideas or concepts. This way, I can easily reference them later.
  3. Occasionally, but not often, I take notes in the margins of the page.
  4. After I finish a chapter, I will go back to the first page of the chapter (which usually has space above and/or below the chapter heading) and I write 1-2 sentences to summarize the chapter.

And then, after the book is read, I process the information into the following outline and save it into a folder on my computer.

Title
Author

Action Steps 
Note: Action steps are very important. If you skip this step, your book will become a paperweight minutes after you finish reading. Make clear goals about what your response will be to what you have read. Also, I would choose three action steps maximum. Any more than that and application becomes harder to follow through on.

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .

Basic Summary

Overall Book Summary (Pretend you’re writing a one-paragraph summary of the book to put on its Amazon listing. What would you say to capture the main ideas of the book, without giving away the whole story?)

Format of Book (What makes it unique? How are the chapters broken down? Are there application questions at the end of each chapter? Is there an appendix with helpful resources at the end of the book?)

List of Key Components/Chapters

Important Quotes (I sometimes limit myself to five, but feel free to do however many you want)

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .
  4. .
  5. .

Application Questions (These could be questions provided by the author somewhere in the book, or questions you make up on your own)

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .

So, what do you do to remember key concepts or information from the books that you’ve read? What works for you? I would love to hear!

The #1 Lesson I Learned in 2018

NOTE: This post was originally shared on strongchurch.org, which my friend Jack Dodgen helps run. Check out their site when you get a chance!

I’ll admit from the start that this shouldn’t have taken me so long. For many people, this will fall under the category of “obvious” or “well duh” or “I could have told you that YEARS ago.”

Yes, online stranger. Maybe you could have. And if none of this is news to you, then I’ll be happy for you.

That being said, I’m grateful to have learned this lesson later rather than never. And perhaps somebody else needs to hear this lesson as well. In my opinion, it’s too important for any of us to miss.

Many authors have written about the voices or secret rules that we hear inside our heads. In his best-selling book “Start”, Jon Acuff admits that he once believed that his work didn’t count if he was required to learn something new in the process. In his “Apprentice” series, James Bryan Smith frequently identifies false narratives that run contrary to the Gospel, but dominate the landscape of modern-day Christianity (ex: “I earn favor with God by doing good things,” Good and Beautiful God). These voices become more difficult to deal with over time, as they grow embedded into our consciences. We may be so used to hearing these voices that we don’t even realize they are present. Unfortunately, that’s when they can be the most dangerous.

One of my voices had been telling me for years that I didn’t need to ask for help. “The best leaders do it alone.” “Asking for advice is a sign of weakness.” “You have to be smart enough and wise enough to solve your own problems.” “If it was someone else’s idea, it doesn’t count.” You can hear the narcissism and pride bleeding through each of these statements.

I thought I was proving myself through my self-sufficient work, but here’s the truth: isolation is one of Satan’s favorite tools. And if you buy into his lies, you will greatly limit your own growth and effectiveness, at the expense of yourself and others.

While I felt like I was blazing my own path, in reality, I was digging my own grave. People will tell you that you should trust your gut. But your gut should never be the only option you consider.

So earlier this year, based on the advice of a couple friends, I began to evaluate the way I make decisions. I started to realize that I wasn’t helping anybody by thinking and working alone. I came to the conclusion that I needed to transform personal discernment into a group project. This has been a game-changer for my marriage, ministry, and life.

Now, I have two men that I meet with regularly to discuss ministry, marriage, parenthood, and life. These men are several years older than me, and I have been greatly blessed by their wisdom and insight. I’m also slower to make decisions than I was before. I used to be pretty quick to the trigger when presented with a problem or issue. I confused efficiency for effectiveness, which was a critical mistake. Finally, I’m no longer afraid to ask for the perspectives of others, especially people who have been there before. Their expertise has been invaluable.

Maybe this isn’t news to you. Maybe you already have a mentor. Maybe you have trusted friends who help you navigate the winding paths of life. But if you don’t, now is the time to start. This is too important to put off. To borrow language from one of my favorite authors and speakers, “You might say that you’re too busy (to seek advice from others), but the truth is, you are too busy NOT (to seek advice from others).”

I hope that somebody will learn from my mistakes. Own up to the voices in your head, and silence them with the truth. Open up your life to the guidance of people you trust. Sit at the feet of people who have been there, done that. You aren’t doing yourself any favors by secluding yourself. Time spent being led is always time well spent.

How to Train for a Triathlon in 260 Weeks

Note: If you REALLY want to run a triathlon, you can get ready much sooner than 260 weeks. For a real, actual, triathlon training plan that will only take around 12 weeks if you’re committed, check out this link.

I decided to run a triathlon when I was 19.

I was sitting in a Bill Millers Restaurant in San Antonio waiting for a massive order of fried chicken. I’m not sure how that relates, or if it does at all. In my experience since that day, fried chicken and triathlon running don’t often cross paths, unless you’re like me and your favorite thing to say after a workout is, “I earned this.” Often times, what I felt I had earned came in breaded strip form, with lots of sauce on the side, and a sweet tea to drink.

That day, I was in college, working as a summer youth intern in San Antonio. I had spent the past year and a half getting into the best shape of my life. I had found both a hobby and a passion in working out, and I felt like it was time to take the next step.

I didn’t actually run the race until I was 25.

Why did it take so long?

If you don’t know me or my story, you might assume that I trained slowly and methodically. Perhaps I drew up a training plan, or borrowed one from an expert. Maybe I set aside a few hours a week and gradually increasing my workload over time. Finally, with several months to go, I circles the date on the calendar where I would, at long last, compete for the first time. This would be when my training became the most vigorous. And then, on that day, with all the right triathlete gear, and knowing all the right lingo like “transition area” and “block training,” I would take my talents to the course, finish without breaking a sweat, and cross the finish line with a satisfied, but subdued look on my face. Mission accomplished. Just like I had always expected.

What actually happened?

I didn’t run for several months. I didn’t swim laps for nearly three years. I developed a borderline food addiction (more on that here). I put on nearly 50 pounds.

Of course, I did some good things during that time too. I finished two degrees. I got married. I took my first job after college, then my first full-time job. I traveled. I watched The Office approximately 49 times start to finish. Surely that’s worth at least one Dundie, along with a bronze (or blue) yogurt-lid medal.

Still, it took me over five years to accomplish my goal. With such a long a timeline, can I still consider this to be a success story?

Yes. Without a doubt. Absolutely.

Why might somebody say that I wasn’t?

Because perfectionism wants you to believe that success is linear. Like an elevator ride to the highest floor of a building, perfection wants you to think that anybody who rides to the top does so without any setbacks or stumbles along the way.

I’m here to tell you, that’s simply not true. The journey to success more closely resembles a roller coaster ride. A ride with rises and falls, peaks and valleys, twists and turns. The journey to success is going to be messy, emotional, and sometimes hard to predict.

But does the journey lessen the reward at the end? Absolutely not. No matter what you accomplish or how long it takes, achieving success still feels awesome.

On July 15th, 2018, I ran the TriWaco Sprint Triathlon. I honestly don’t remember where I placed (I wasn’t first, but I also wasn’t last) or what my times were. All I remember is that I finished.

And once you get there, nobody can take that away from you.

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So what about you? What’s your goal? Did you begin a project a few years ago that you set down once life got too busy? Did you hit a road block and get stuck? Let me encourage you to go back, to pick it up again, to hit reset and start again.

Because nobody will remember WHEN you finish. They’ll just remember if you did or not.

Let’s be finishers together.

PS: For more on finishing, check out one of my favorite books here. Coincidentally, it’s titled “Finish.”

Don’t Do Anything “Soon”

One of* my favorite scenes from “The Office” involves Kevin and Pam discussing what the term “soon” means.

(Disclaimer: I have about 150 “favorite scenes” from The Office. It’s my all-time favorite show and I’ve watched the entire series more times than I’m willing to publicly admit.)

Pam has ordered a new copier for the office, but hasn’t set it up yet. Kevin comes to her desk and asks when the copier will be ready. Pam’s reply?

“Soon, Kevin. It will be ready soon.”

Kevin’s response is incredibly interesting to me. Kevin (how do I put this nicely?) doesn’t have the reputation of being the “most insightful” character on the show, but I think he brings up a good point here.

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Kevin replies, “Soon could mean anything. Soon could mean three weeks.”

Yes, Kevin. Yes it could. Or three months. Or three years.

Soon is the most non-committal word in the English language.

There’s a Fuzzy’s Taco Shop being built close to my house. We have a Fuzzy’s in downtown Waco that has opened since we’ve moved here. My wife and I eat there about once a week, so I’m looking forward to all the money I’ll save on gas once the closer store opens up.

(I’ll probably just spend that money on queso, but still, a penny saved is a penny earned, right?)

However, I get frustrated every time I drive by the store. I’m still waiting to see the sign that says, “Opening on (This Date).” I can’t wait to circle the date on my calendar and maybe – if I can talk Mary into it – show up early to be one of the first 100 in line. I’m sure that will guarantee me free Fuzzy’s for a year and ultimate taco happiness.

Instead, they have had the same sign up for weeks – “Coming Soon.”

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Now I get it, when you’re in the restaurant-building business, it’s hard to commit to a specific date. Too many things can happen. Rain can delay construction. A late shipment of equipment or supplies might prevent you from being able to train your new employees on time. I get it.

But how often do we take the same approach without similar excuses? How often do we have goals, dreams, and aspirations that we plan we’re going to get to “soon?”

Anybody can do anything soon.

I’ve never sang in front of an audience, but I could tell you that I’m going to release my debut album soon. Or maybe I’ll start a band, put out a couple albums, get my name out there, and then, after a power struggle with the guitarist, I’ll go solo. That’s how everyone else does it, right?

I could tell you I plan to start “soon,” and if it never happens, that’s okay. I haven’t lost anything. I just never got around to it.

If you make plans to do something soon, you probably have good intentions. You want to get it done. And one day, maybe, you will.

But the word “soon” is often a roadblock on the road to done. So let’s stop doing things soon.

If something is REALLY important to you, give yourself an artificial deadline. Say, “I’m finally going to do that, and I’m going to do it now.” Or, “I’m going to do it by the end of the week.” Or month. You get it. Give yourself an appropriate timeframe to complete your task. And use the natural pressure of that deadline to hold yourself accountable to finishing.

You don’t have to do this for everything, because not everything carries the same level of importance or urgency. Would I like to clean my garage one day? Sure, I’d love to see what’s been hiding in there for years. Do I have to do that by Sunday at midnight? No, absolutely not. And it would be foolish to limit myself to that goal and, in the process, neglect more important matters.

Some things aren’t priorities. But other things are. And maybe, just maybe, they’re too important to do “soon.”

Set yourself up for success. Give yourself a deadline. Hold yourself accountable. And celebrate the win.

PS: I heard through the grapevine that the new Fuzzy’s is supposed to open by the end of the year. Let’s celebrate 2019 with queso!