Top Twenty Christian Books

A few weeks ago, an individual in our church asked me to write a post on the best Christian books to read.  “Hang,” I thought to myself, “that’s a tough call.”  There is SO much good stuff out there – where do I start?”  Yet, I remember as a young Christian asking the same thing to many Christian leaders and Pastors.  I wanted to know the books that had the most impact on their lives.

So here’s my top twenty.  Of course, not everyone is going to agree with this list, as it is entirely subjective.  Yet I do believe there is content here that you will find in many other “best Christian books” lists.  Some of these are classics (such as “Pilgrim’s Progress” and “The Knowledge of the Holy”), having been around for years, and others appeared only the past decade.   Some influenced me early in my Christian life and others more recently.  There is a real good mix here – theology, biography, church history and apologetics.  It’s not an exhaustive list, and doesn’t cover the entire spectrum of the Christian life or hit every Christian doctrine.  They are just, simply put, great books.

These are not in order of priority, with the exception of the first five, which I would recommend that every Christian read at some point or another.  So here we go:

1. Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan.

It’s a classic.  I believe every Christian, young or mature, should read this book – seriously.  I suggest a modern language version; you’ll find it easier and more pleasurable reading.  But the original rendition is still fine.

2. The Knowledge of the Holy, by A.W. Tozer.

This little book packs a serious punch.  Tozer explores the different attributes of God and then at the end of each chapter invites you to bow down before the greatness of God.  The opening words in the first chapter are priceless: “What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  Read that again.  Think about it for a moment.  Then get hold of the book.

3. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, by Paul Miller.

Every Christian should read books on prayer from time to time in order to keep their prayer life alive (I do this annually).  This the best of the bunch.  It is encouraging, grace-filled, faith-filled, and not condemning!  The opening chapters on becoming like a little child and learning to talk to God as Father are precious beyond words.  It will change the way you view God as well as prayer.

4. Knowing God, by J.I. Packer.

If you want to know what God is like, this is your book.  It’s sold millions of copies and still continues to benefit thousands of Christians around the world.  You’ll learn more about God as well as yourself.  You’ll come to understand the weight of sin and the beauty of the gospel.  “Sons of God” (chapter 19) is all about our adoption and has to be one the sweetest, richest chapters on the reality of our salvation I have ever read.

5. Tortured for Christ, by Richard Wurmbrand.

This may surprise some that I have this book as one of my top five.  But I think it is a must read for every Christian.  Pastor Richard Wurmbrand endured fourteen years of Communist imprisonment and torture in his homeland of Romania.  He documents the sufferings he endured, but also the sweet communion with God he enjoyed through, by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  His strong faith and love for his torturers will inspire and encourage you.

6. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, by Donald Whitney.

A rich Christian life doesn’t come without discipline, and in this book Donald Whitney examines many different disciplines for the Christian life, such as Bible reading, prayer, journaling, fasting, and solitude.  This is the best book on this subject in my view; it’s biblical, practical and thought-provoking.

7. The Ultimate Priority: Worship, by John MacArthur.

This is not a book about worship in the church.  It says little about music styles and taste.  This is about the heart, and will help you think rightly about what true worship is all about.  It also spells out what true worship isn’t.

8. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs.

This is my all-time favourite of the Puritan Paperback series.  Burroughs defines contentment as “that sweet, inward, quite, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly discipline in every condition.” (p.19).  He then unpacks that in the remainder of the book.  If you find yourself struggling with contentment in your job, marriage, or any other situation, this book is for you.

9. Christ’s Call to Discipleship, by James Montgomery Boice.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked this book off my shelf in my sermon preparation.  This still the best book on discipleship that I’ve ever read!  It will challenge your perspective on Christianity in a number of areas and make you ask some hard questions about the superficiality of the contemporary church.  Boice doesn’t sugar coat anything, so prepare to be challenged.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

10. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, by John Piper.

There are few books that have my understanding of what it means to love God than this one.  Loving God is more than just duty, it is delight. “One has already made a god out of whatever he finds the most pleasure in,” writes Piper.  His mission is this book is to have you finding your greatest pleasure and delight in this life in God.

11. Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, by Jerry Bridges.

All of us will go through trials of some sort, and this book will equip you to trust God in even the most difficult circumstances.  The chapter of the Sovereignty of God is just brilliant: personal, biblical, and faith-filling.  My favourite quote: “Trusting God is not a matter of my feelings but of my will.  I never feel like trusting God when adversity strikes, but I can choose to do so even when I don’t feel like it.  That act of that will, though, must be based on belief, and belief must be based on truth.” (p. 52). Bingo!

12. The Reason for God, by Tim Keller.

In an age of doubt and skepticism, Tim Keller offers wise, winsome answers to those who are asking questions.   This is a great book for believers because it gives a solid platform on which to stand when thrown difficult questions, and a great book for skeptics, atheists and agnostics, because it provides a challenging argument for the existence of God and the reasonableness of the Christian faith.  You should always have one of these one your shelf to give to an unbeliever.  Then go have coffee with him (or her).

13. Shadow of the Almighty, by Elizabeth Elliot.

Every Christian is familiar with the story of Jim Elliott and his four missionary friends who were speared to death trying to reach an unreached tribe in the jungle of Ecuador.  But few know about his life.  In this book you’ll follow Jim from childhood through school and into adult life.  It’s filled with excerpts from his personal diary, letters to Elizabeth when he was courting her as well as a plethora of other spiritual jewels which will enrich your soul.  If you are going to read one Christian biography in your life, read this one.

14. The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul.

R. C. Sproul, in this classic work, puts the holiness of God in its proper and central place in the Christian life.  He paints an awe-inspiring vision of God that encourages Christian to become holy just as God is holy.  This is not a safe book.  Once you encounter the holiness of God, your life will never be the same.

15. Disciples are Made, Not born, by Walter A. Henrichsen and Howard G. Hendricks

This is the go-to book on discipleship.  My wife and I have taken scores of people through this in our discipling.  It’s a great book for training leaders (especially Youth Group Leaders) because the emphasis is on life-on-life transformation, not activities and entertainment.

16. Don’t Waste Your Life, by John Piper.

I took a group of men through this book a number of years ago.  Some of them are still talking about it.  On the back cover it reads, “Most people slip by in life without a passion for God, spending their lives on trivial diversions, living for comfort and pleasure, and perhaps trying to avoid sin. This book will warn you not to get caught up in a life that counts for nothing.  It will challenge you to live and ide boasting in the cross of Christ and making the glory of God your singular passion.  If you believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain, read this book, learn to live for Christ, and don’t waste your life!”

17. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis.

I could recommend a lot of different books by C.S. Lewis, but this one is probably my favourite.  Written as a conversation between a senior demon and a younger demon, it provides fascinating insights into the ways of Satan.  You’ll never think of the devil the same way again!

18. Church History in Plain Language, by Bruce Shelley.

Every Christian should be somewhat acquainted with their history.  And there’s plenty of it (over 2000 years worth).  As the famous quote goes: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana).  In order to remember it, you first need to know it!  You’ll learn everything you need to know about the early church councils and the battles that were fought, famous Christian leaders as well as heretics (there’s a good dose of them).  You’ll also learn about great periods such as the forming of the Bible, the first Pope and the Reformation.  Easy reading, as well as accurate, which is why I like recommending this book.

19. Humility: True Greatness, by C.J. Mahaney.

There are few things more important to God than humility.  If you want to grow in humility, read this book (it’s worth it for chapter 2 – “The Perils of Pride” alone).

20. Found: God’s Will, by John MacArthur.

Navigating the decision-making process as a Christian can be so confusing in life, whether it’s deciding on a new job or making a choice on which church to go to.  MacArthur strips away the confusion and makes it all very simple.  You could read this in one setting.  It’s short, simple and to the point. Great for a new Christian as well as leaders.

 

 

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Warning Lights for Highly Vulnerable Leaders (part 3)

Over the past couple of weeks, we have considered a number of warning signs that our spiritual life might not be as healthy as what we thought.  These came to my attention while at a pastor’s retreat some weeks back led by Rowland Forman.  So far we have covered six of them: pride, prayerlessness, oversensitivity, joylessness, fatigue and disillusionment.  Today we cover the last three – insensitivity, immorality and impatience.

WARNING LIGHT #7: INSENSITIVITY

Are you neglecting those that are closest to you?  Rowland writes:

“Thankfully, after attending a parenting seminar, early in our ministry life, my wife Elaine and I adopted a value that we come back to often: “No amount of success in God’s service is worth failure at home.”  We apply that to our marriage and to our family.  I’m aware that ‘success’ at home base is all of God’s grace, but we do need to take 1 Timothy 3:4-5 seriously.  How can we manage God’s household if we are making a mess of our own?”

The question posed to us was:

  • What would your spouse say if someone asked how you are navigating ministry and family?

Well, I decided to ask Francelle this.  Her answer was, “Do you want the honest truth?” (I always struggle with that question).  She did, and I don’t have to repeat that here.  The point is, this is an area I need to constantly guard.  When things are going smoothly at home, there is the potential to neglect quality time with my wife and my children.  Then there is a small crisis, the pendulum swings, and I over-compensate – for a week or two.  Then I fall back into my old habits.

This is the prayer I wrote after contemplating these things:

“Lord Jesus, I know I neglect those closest to me – my wife, my daughters and my sons.  I think this is due to my working too hard (question to myself – for what? What’s driving that?).  Or it may be due to selfishness and lack of real care.  Please work in me a deep, caring love for my family Lord, for your glory and their joy.” 

WARNING LIGHT #8: IMMORALITY

Are you spying greener grass?  Rowland writes:

“Have you been taking liberties – becoming more intimate with members of the opposite sex?  Like King David, have you begun to feel indestructible?  It’s as if everything was on the rise for David up to the affair with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel Chapter 11, and everything was on the decline after that.  Joy disappeared from his life (Psalm 51:12), fatigue became the norm (Psalm 32:4), and his family disintegrated (2 Samuel 12-24).”

Just this past week I was alerted to another incident with a high-profile Christian leader: Ravi Zacharias.  If you are unaware of the detail you can read his statement that he wrote for his lawsuit here: www.rzim.org/global-blog/ravi-zacharias-statement-on-my-federal-lawsuit/

Going on everything I have read, and especially this statement from him, I believe he has being truthful.  This was an innocent exchange (on Ravi’s end) of correspondence in order to help someone that he thought was genuine.  It all came back on his head.  This was a very close call for him.  It could have ended his ministry.

I wrote to my elders asking them to read the report and to pray for Sean (our Youth Pastor) and myself, as well as our whole staff team.  I asked them to pray that Sean and I would be vigilant and wise and careful whenever we correspond to, or meet with women – especially outside of our church family.

The world’s a minefield for this kind of thing.  Pornography, sensuality, sexual exploitation of women and children, immorality and unfaithfulness and the list goes on.  Pastors and Christian workers are not exempt.  In fact, if anything, they are MORE vulnerable.  They are direct targets for the enemy, who seeks nothing more than their total spiritual ruin and disqualification from ministry.  If you are a pastor like me, you need to be extra vigilant.  You need to have people who will get in your face and ask you the hard questions.  And if you are married, you need a jealous wife (the more suspicious, the better).

The question asked of us was:

  • How are you doing in the crucial area of purity of mind and body?

Here was my prayer:

“Lord, thank you for alerting me once again to this danger.  I know how easy it is for me to become lax in this area, thinking that as long I am the Word and in prayer each day, and I’m not looking at lewd or sensual images, I’m all-OK.  Lord, how foolish I am to think that.  Lord, the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).  I cannot trust it.  How quickly I can rationalize some foolish action – “it’s fine to meet with so-and-so alone; nothing will happen” or “there’s only a couple of sexually explicit scenes in this movie; the rest is OK.”  Lord Jesus, help to guard what I do, what I watch, what I read and where I go.  Keep me close to my wife, so that I will cherish her and love her and remain faithful to her to the end of my days.”

WARNING LIGHT #9: IMPATIENCE

Rowland shared with us the story in Numbers chapter 20, where God instructed Moses to take his staff, gather the assembly of Israel, and speak to the rock.  He did the first two and then he lost it.  He struck the rock and spoke roughly to it.  He didn’t obey God’s instruction, nor did he trust him with the outcome.

Rowland writes:

“Are you patient with your people?  Are you tired of trying to do the right things, of applying church growth, then church health principles and then apparently failing? Craig Brian Larson in Pastoral Grit tells of one-step-forward, three-steps-back experiences in several small churches he pastored.  Then he says, “I must have patience.  I cannot be intimidated by the expectations of others but must have a sense of security about who God has made me.  And I must have faith in God’s Word despite what I see now.  In short, I must follow in the steps of Abraham.”

The question we then had to contemplate was:

  • To what extent are you impatient with people and progress in ministry?

Well this one really hit home.  I am, by nature, a very impatient person who rushes from one thing to another.  I have a hard time staying with God’s timetable, which typically operates a lot slower pace than my own.

Here’s my prayer in response:

“Lord Jesus, you know how impatient I can be with you and with your people.  I want things to happen in my time, not your time.  I am often unwilling to wait on you and let you build your church your way and in your timing.  Forgive my impatience Lord.  Expose every sinful frustration and annoyance and every ounce of resentment.  Cause me to love your people the way they are, and not what I want them to be. Amen.”

CONCLUSION

If you were the sole driver in a car and saw warning lights come on the dashboard but took no notice, that would be very sad.  But if you were a pilot of a 777, responsible for hundreds of people, or an air traffic controller accountable for thousands of passengers as well as flight crews, and you ignored flashing lights, the result would be catastrophic.

Keep a record of these warning lights somewhere.  Tuck them in the flyleaf of your bible or put them somewhere where you can quickly retrieve them.  They may one day save your life.  Really.

(You can read Part 1 of this series here and Part 2 here)

 

Warning Lights for Highly Vulnerable Leaders (part 1)

A few weeks ago, I attended a retreat with a group of pastors in our network.  The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, nor the location for that matter.  We were situated in Akaroa, a beautiful little town on the Banks Peninsula, southeast of Christchurch.  We were all tired after a busy year of ministry.  It was great to grab a couple of days together where we had no responsibilities except eat, sleep and have an open heart to what God might be saying to us.

The highlight for me was the session by Rowland Forman called “Ten Warning Lights for Highly Vulnerable Leaders.”  We all know about warning lights.  I have one on my stove top at home.  It glows red when the element under the glass is still hot.   You have a few warning lights on the dashboard of your car.  They are there for your safety as well as your passengers.  They are not to be ignored.

There are warning lights also in our spiritual lives.  We all have them; not just pastors.  Ignore them and not only will you suffer, but also those you lead.  These particular “warning lights” from Rowland were so good I wanted others to be aware of them.  With his permission, I am sharing them in this post.

Pondering over the warning lights. Rowland is seated on the far right.

WARNING LIGHT #1: PRIDE

I could have spent the entire morning just thinking on this one.  In every sphere of Christian life and ministry, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.  Pride was the first sin – among angels and men.  Pride is the essence of all sin, and it is the sin that God finds most offensive.  Why does God hate pride so much?  Charles Bridges summed it up well, “Pride lifts up the heart against God. It contends for the supremacy with him.”

Rowland writes:

“The story of King Uzziah, recorded in 2 Chronicles 26 always gets my attention, as I think of my propensity to listen to my own press [I underlined that one with my pen].  In verses 1-14 of this chapter, Uzziah was on a roll.  He reigned successfully for 52 years.  He was in touch with God, famous and creative [a pastor’s dream].  Verse 15 records a turning point – he was marvellously helped of God until he became aware of his own power.  No longer would he listen to the reproofs of those closest to him, and he ended his days as a lonely leper.”

3 questions were posed to us:

  • Which aspects of Uzziah’s pridefulness do you do you identify with?
  • What are some signals that indicate you may be more prideful than you realize?
  • How will you respond to those signals?

I found these questions deeply convicting.  There was more propensity toward pride within me than I realized.  I answered them by way of a prayer which I wrote down:

 “Lord, you know I am a prideful man.  I am a glory-seeker.  I love admiration and praise; I secretly covet both.  I like my accomplishments to be noticed; I want people to think well of me.  This affects my relationship with you, with my wife and my children, as well as my church, neighbours and everyone I come into contact with in the world.  Please forgive my sin and make pride odious to me.  Make it repulsive and revolting.  Help me see it in its subtlety so I may abhor it, repent of it and seek to glorify only you.”

WARNING LIGHT #2: PRAYERLESSNESS

Rowland writes:

“Imagine being able to tell whether something was accomplished through prayer or in the flesh.  The scary thing is that churches and ostensibly flourishing ministries can run without prayer.  Mark chapter 9 contains the story of the disciples’ inability to heal a demonized boy.  They couldn’t work out why they were so busy, yet so powerless.  Jesus; answer needs to become a motto in our churches: “This kind can only come out by prayer (some translations add ‘fasting’).”  Now there are some things I would try without prayer, but driving out demons is not one of them!”

Here were the questions for us:

  • What has our church accomplished lately that could only be attributed to prayer?
  • To what extent is this warning light flashing on your spiritual dashboard?
  • What steps do you need to take?

Before reading this I would have scored myself quite high on the prayer-chart.  I start each day with the Word and prayer.  I have a number of people and ministries that I pray for each day.  And yet, when it comes down to it, I’m often too busy serving God and writing sermons to spend time on my knees.

Here was my prayer:

“Lord Jesus, I want to grow in my dependence on you.  I am self-sufficient by nature.  I have too big of a view of my own abilities.  My “can do” attitude hinders me from coming to your throne on my knees and seeking your enabling.  Forgive me Lord and cause me to seek your sufficiency, all through the day.”

WARNING LIGHT #3: OVERSENSITIVITY

In our ministry amongst God’s people, we can often take things too personally – especially criticism.  We need to be reminded we are in a battle (Ephesians 6:12).  When a soldier is shot at, he isn’t surprised.  His feelings are not damaged.  He doesn’t raise his head above the parapet and say, “Did I say something wrong?” He is prepared for it; he’s in a war.  When we are oversensitive to the criticism of others, that’s a warning light that we take things way too personally.  It’s not about us.  It’s about God and his cause.

The question posed to us was:

  • To what extent are you over-sensitive to the criticism of others?

Here’s my prayer in response:

“Lord, whenever my feelings are hurt by criticism or negative comments, I forget who I am, and what you have called me to do.  I ought to be criticized and opposed if I am faithfully following you.  Give me a thicker skin and the ability to welcome criticism – for often it is correct and deserved. Use it to humble and refine me.  Amen”

I trust these were helpful to you as they were to me.  Perhaps you might think about writing out your own prayers (you are free to use mine!)  In my next post we have some more warning lights to cover:  Joylessness, fatigue and insensitivity.  I think you’ll find them very helpful also.

(You can read Part 2 of this series here)

Leadership exemplified

“Be an example to your men, in your duty and in private life.  Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you don’t in your endurance of fatigue and privation.  Always be tactful and well-mannered and teach your subordinates to do the same.  Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide.” ― Erwin Rommel

I very rarely quote Word War II Generals in my blog, but I couldn’t resist this one.  The similarities with the duties involved with spiritual leadership, and pastoral ministry in particular, are indistinguishable.

  • Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
  • But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)
  • The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness…” (2 Timothy 2:24-25) 

 

Pride

Courtesy of Eric Gieger

I had an experience this week which was a wake-up call for me.  I didn’t see it at the time.  It was only after the fact.

I had a quarrel with my wife – actually, it was three quarrels over the course of a couple of days.  She had asked me not to take photos of her while on our Heaphy Track walk (you may have read my post here).  Her reasons where personal.  Well, being the camera junky that I am, I kept snapping away regardless.  She knew I was doing it but kept her peace.  Then, when it came to writing about the journey and adding pictures, she reiterated her request – “Please don’t put my pictures up.”  I started taking issue with this (for no real reason), not just on one but two or three separate occasions.  It all ended fairly badly with me looking like an idiot.

I knew I was wrong and this had to come before the throne of God.  Jesus would require some explanation.  My wife is given to me to be my close companion.  I am to serve her and lay my life down for her (Eph. 5:25).  I had done everything but that over the past couple of days.  After a good period of confessing my sin and selfishness, I thought it was over.

It wasn’t.

The next day I met with a staff member who was holding me accountable for personal outreach and evangelism.  One of the questions she asked me was, “what is the greatest obstacle for you in reaching out to lost people?”  I paused and said, “fear of rejection.”  I’m a full-blown people pleaser and I know it.  “And what do you think, it is the root cause of your desire to please people?” she asked.  I went quiet.  Then I sensed a voice within me, You know what it is – tell her.  “Pride,” I suddenly said, wondering how it came out of my mouth.  Then the scene of my argument with my wife flashed up in front of me.  I sensed a deep work of conviction by the Spirit of God.  Oh dear, more to do here.

A little later I’m having a Skype session with my personal mentor, Rowland Forman.  I shared with him some of the great things God is doing in our church.  Rowland listened patiently and then read from 2 Corinthians 12:9 where Paul says, “Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.”  Rowland asks me, “So what do you think is your greatest weakness?”  I went silent as stone, and just sat there, looking at Rowland’s face staring at me through the computer screen, waiting for an answer.  God had me well and truly cornered.

Pride is insidious.  It is incredibly deceptive.  It loves to hide behind masks of respectability and accomplishment.  It’s the one thing God hates above all else (Proverbs 8:13; 16:5).  It evidences itself in many ways, but most often via the tongue.  Sooner or later you’ll blow your cover.  And others see it long before you do.  It’s not like you’ll start talking about how great you are.  You’ll just begin to assert yourself and insist you are right and everyone else is wrong.  And you’ll wind up hurting and offending those you love.

The very next day I came across a post by Eric Geiger.  It’s called 10 Signs You Are More Prideful Than You Realize.  He’s speaking specifically to Christian leaders, but many of these apply to all Christians regardless.   A couple of these really spoke home to me – especially no. 9: Caring more about success than sanctification.  God is richly blessing our church at this present time.  It is all too easy to get caught up in that.  Perhaps one or two of these might speak to you.  Here is the post:

10 Signs You Are More Prideful Than You Realize

Though all of us struggle with pride, we often don’t recognize pride in our own lives and leadership. C. S. Lewis called pride the great sin and the sin we see in others much more easily than we see in ourselves. Following are ten signs leaders are more prideful than they realize. I wrote the list directed to the leader, and it is filled with sarcasm. I have seen them all at some point in my 20 years of leading, which means, according to Lewis, that tragically they have certainly existed in my own heart and life at times.

1. You don’t think you struggle with pride.

You know others struggle with pride, and you wonder why they do, because in your mind they do not have much to be prideful about. You do, but you have fought it off better than most have.

2. You feel you are owed.

You have done so very much for the organization that you have put them in debt to you. They owe you more money, more time, more of a lot of things they are not giving you.

3. You overestimate your contributions.

You secretly, and even not so secretly, pontificate on how much better things are because of your influence and contribution.

4. You underestimate your team’s contributions.

If you overestimate your contribution, you are sure to underestimate the team’s. You believe that you are the multiplier to all their work, creativity, thinking, and focus.

5. You rarely say “thank you.”

Ingratitude and pride are close friends. Why would you thank others, after all? They should be thanking you!

5. You think your successor will have it hard following you.

You wonder aloud to others how the whole organization will need to adjust when you leave because no one can fill your shoes. And if the organization does not adjust, and they put another person in your role, you express how you feel sorry for the pressure he/she will have to endure because of your amazing legacy.

7. You think your predecessor was an idiot.

You love to make snarky remarks about the person before you. It is such good news that you are now here to right all those foolish wrongs.

8. You often compare yourself to others.

It is important to find people whom you outpace in work ethic, intensity, learning, and results. After all, you need constant benchmarks to be sure you are dominating.

9. You care more about success than sanctification.

Your sanctification can come later, it is time for success now.

10. You can’t learn from people different than you.

People who are different than you should learn from you. Of course, everyone should. But they don’t have much to offer you because your context and your approach is just so unique

 

 

 

A new era for Grace Church

You’ve seen it all before.  The Pastor gets up on Sunday, all pumped because he thinks he’s found winning formula to triple the size of his church.  He’s got the hip new mission statement, a sharp-looking website along with gift pens to give to your neighbours.  He’s even got a personal endorsement from Richie McCaw.  The first Sunday he’s got everyone revved.  The second Sunday the wind has gone out of the sails.  A month later its fizzled and three months later it’s dead.  Richie’s picture is taken down and everything is back to the way it was.  And do you know why that happens?  Because God wasn’t it.  He wasn’t in it from the beginning.

When the elders and I set about creating a new mission and vision for Grace Church, we didn’t want it to be like that.  We didn’t want it to be a lot of hot air.  We said, “Lord, whatever we come up with, it has to be of you.”  So for a period of 18 months we set about seeking the face of God, praying and searching the Scriptures.  We wrote, re-wrote and then re-wrote again.  Finally, we ended up with something that we believed fitted with where we wanted to head and more importantly, where God was already heading.

And I think that’s the point many churches miss.  They want to come up with something new, something hip and something cool.  So they dream up ideas and words and phrases and then sell them to their congregation.  The congregation buys it because they think it’s from God.  But is it?

Before we could answer the question, “what is going to be our church’s mission?” we needed to answer, “what is God’s mission?”  What’s his purpose for the universe?  For the Church?  For you and me?  The answer is clear in Scripture: It’s all about His glory.  Everything that God does – whether creating the world, making plants grow or saving people is for his glory.

  • The heavens declare God’s glory (Psalm 19:1)
  • We have been created for his glory (Isaiah 43:6-7)
  • God calls Israel for his glory (Isaiah 49:3)
  • He raises up Pharaoh for his glory (Romans 9)
  • Jesus does everything for the Father’s glory (John 7:18)
  • One day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of His glory as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)

God chose to display his glory through his covenant people.  It began with Abraham.  God says to Him in Genesis 12:2, “I will make you into a great nation.  I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.”  And then God reveals to Abraham his deeper purpose, “All the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3).  God blesses Abraham, but it’s not ultimately for Abraham’s sake.  He blesses Abraham so that he might be the conduit of God’s blessings to all the earth.

“Enjoy my grace Abraham, and extent my glory”

Abraham became a nation. God calls the nation to himself and he says to them, “I’m going to bless you, but it’s not just for your sake.  It’s so my glory and my grace will be made known to the nations.”

“Enjoy my grace Israel, and extent my glory”

And as spiritual children of Abraham (Gal 3:8-9), that is our purpose in the world.  God has blessed us richly.  We experience far greater blessings and spiritual riches than Abraham or the nation Israel ever had.  We have salvation in Christ.  We have forgiveness of sin.  We have been called out of darkness and into God’s marvelous light.  We have been made sons and daughters of the living God.  And God’s purpose for us is to make known these blessings to the world.

“Enjoy my grace Grace Church, and extent my glory”

This is our calling.  This is what we are here for.  It’s not for ourselves.  It’s not about us.  It’s about making known God and his glory and his grace – by way of the gospel, to the world.  And here’s what it looks like for our church:

God grace, to us, for the world.

We are recipients of God’s marvelous grace.  This grace comes by way of the gospel.  By faith in Jesus, we receive a new identity and are remade in his image.

This gospel has created a new community of redeemed people called the church.  That’s the “to us” part.  The church is made up of disciples (or Jesus followers) who are growing in grace by the power of the Spirit through the teaching of God’s Word.

God did all this, not just for our sake but for others.  He sends us on mission to reach the world.  And we are not talking about Africa and Asia and China.  We are talking about the people on our street and the ones we rub shoulders with each day at work.  They are the ones God wants to reach.  And he wants us to be the conduit to reach them.

It’s not perfect.  Nothing we do ever will be.  And it’s not the only way we think you could say it.  Someone might come up with something better (and likely they will).  But we think it fits – both with the pattern of what God does in history and with the commission that Jesus has given us, to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20).

We are hoping and praying that this mission will put us in good stead for many years of fruitful ministry ahead.  For the glory of God.

Many thanks to Jewel Turinsky who designed our new logo. Jewel worked with us over many months, creating a number of different designs, centred around a tree and leaf motif (we have 7 large oak trees on our church property). We wanted something crisp and modern, and that would communicate something about the new life we have in Christ. We also wanted it to reflect a church that’s alive and on the move. The result is something we are really pleased with –  and is uniquely our own. Jewel is married to Mike and serves as Marketing and Systems Developer for Young Life in Auckland. 

Note:  The content of this post is based on the first message of the “Mission Possible” series which unveils the new mission and vision for our church.  You can listen to it here.

 

Meet Rowland – my mentor and friend

wp_20161025_004-2You’ve probably heard it said, “Every pastor needs a mentor.”  This is true not just for young pastors, but for old timers like me (I just turned 50 so I can say that). For one thing, it’s biblical. Think of some of the famous mentoring relationships – Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha and Paul and Timothy. Secondly, experience is a great teacher. We know things now because of mistakes we make in the past. Older, mature mentors can help us making those mistakes in the first place. Thirdly, we all have blind spots – weaknesses and flaws in our life and character that we cannot see, but others pick up on. And then fourthly, leaders get lonely. They need close friends around them that they can confide in and trust.

However, finding a good mentor is another thing.

I’ve had a few mentors in the past, but they weren’t very good. They didn’t really know me (or make an effort to do so); they never asked the hard questions and nor did they teach me anything. It was a cup of coffee and a social chat. Afterwards I would think to myself, What was that all about? I just wasted an hour of my day.

Then I met Rowland, or should I say Rowland met me. He called me one day and asked if I wanted to get together with him. I came up on his radar through contact with some pastors that were in his circle of relationships. He wanted to know a little more about me. That’s kind of how it started – a simple friendship. I found we had a number of things in common – a love for the Scriptures, the spiritual growth of God’s people, and reading good books. There was one thing that separated us however: age and experience. And that made all the difference. When I started my new ministry at Grace Church last year, the elders insisted that I have a mentor. There was no hesitation in my mind; I wanted Rowland.

Here are some of the reasons why Rowland is such a good mentor:

  1. He listens. I mean he really listens. He listens – not just to what I am saying but what lies beneath what I am saying. He listens for my heart. For example, I might be describing an event or situation that is happening in my life and Rowland will say, “I sense you feel really disappointed about this” or “I can detect a real joy in your heart about this – you must be encouraged.” So I think to myself, “Yes, I am encouraged” or “Actually, I am disappointed – this person let me down.” Sometimes we needs life interpreters – doctors of our souls.
  2. He asks great questions. I’ve had other mentors say things like, “So how are you doing spiritually?” or “how is your relationship with your wife?”.  Rowland says, “In the book of Revelation we find letters from the risen Lord Jesus to number of different churches. In those letters he describes what he thinks about them. If Jesus would write you a letter right now, what do you think he would say? How would he describe your spiritual life?”  That question puts a whole different spin on things.  Or, Rowland would ask, “How would your wife respond to this question?” Again, that gives reason for pause and deeper reflection. You can’t answer that glibly or superficially. Rowland asks questions that help to open up my soul.
  3. He does not answer hastily. This is a great temptation for us all. We are prone, when people share things with us, to offer them glib answers and superficial solutions. Not so with Rowland; he weighs words. He thinks over what I am saying, taking notes (see no. 5 below) or – I’m sure sometimes, silently prays.
  4. He opens up his own life to me. It’s not all one way. It is not Rowland the expert lecturing his student. It is Rowland the fellow pastor, father and friend sharing his own weaknesses and strengths, victories and failures, and hopes and dreams with me. I don’t feel inferior in our time together. In fact, sometimes it seems as if he wants to learn something from me.
  5. He takes notes. While I am sharing, he is writing and recording details about my life and journey. Then in our next session, he raises these things in the conversation and says, “So what happened about so and so…”  I have forgotten all about it. He hasn’t.
  6. He comes prepared. He does not wing it. He knows time is precious – my time as well as his. I have met with previous mentors who were nothing more than sounding boards. Hard questions are never asked. Deep issues are never probed – in fact, they didn’t even surface. Not so with Rowland. He does not enter my world hastily or carelessly, but wisely, cautiously and sensitively. He is like the skilled surgeon who has examined his patient and knows what needs adjusting, what needs mending and what can be left alone (or at least, left for another time).
  7. He prays spontaneously. He does not wait until the end of our time together before talking to God about the issues we have discussed. He talks to God throughout. Sometimes he warns me – “Let’s talk to the Lord about that…”, and sometimes he doesn’t. One moment I’m sharing something and the next I hear Rowland speaking to God. You see what this does – I suddenly sense that it is not two of us in the meeting, but three. There is a Senior Mentor present; the Holy Spirit. The effect this has on our time together is not only profound, but immensely powerful.

Perhaps when I take a step back for all this, I could sum up Rowland’s mentoring in two simple words: LOVE and TRUTH. All these things that I have observed; listening carefully, probing gently, weighing carefully, taking notes, preparing what to say and what to ask, and praying spontaneously – they demonstrate a care and concern. They demonstrate love. And the carefully weighed answers are sincere, heartfelt and biblical. He is a great example of one who speaks the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

I have discovered over the past year that Rowland has given me another life goal: I want to do what he does. I want to become this kind of mentor to younger men. As a fellow mentee of Rowland said to me this past week, “Rowland models what I want to become.” I couldn’t say it better.

Thank you Rowland, for being such a humble, Christlike father and friend to me and the other men you so faithfully and lovingly serve.

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