What Do You Recommend?

Many are “sheltering at home,” but what should we be doing during this time? God wasn’t surprised by the coronavirus, and He wants to use this time in your life. This is not a parenthesis in your life. No one hit pause. Actually, God wants to use this unusual experience to grow you to be more like His Son. Not only can we accomplish some things around our home we’ve been putting off, but we can also work on our own personal growth and spiritual life.

We should focus on several activities that will help us to grow. I urge you to spend time in prayer, reading your Bible, worshipping the Lord, and playing with your family. I also encourage you to read books. You will find many wonderful books God can use to feed your soul, speak hope to your circumstances, develop your mind, and lead you to laugh.

A member of my church suggested I put together a list of good books to read while many stay at home. I read a lot of books on many different topics. Although some would interest you, others would not be beneficial. I will share with you a list of a few books I think would be helpful to anyone, regardless of their unique interests.

I’d love to hear back from you on additional books you’ve enjoyed that I didn’t include on my list. I’m creating a list of “The Ten Books Everyone Should Read” for a book I’m writing now called “How to Cultivate the Fruit of Success.” Please share with me your favorites.

I read a lot more nonfiction books, so my list of fiction doesn’t come from a hefty repertoire of books. I’m also confident I’m forgetting a title that’s awesome, but I’ll do my best. So as not to make this blog too long, I’ll share my suggestion of nonfiction books today, and I’ll write about a few fiction titles in my next blog. I’m including links to Amazon where you can read more about them, but I’m sure they’re available from any retailer that sells books. After the list, I’ll share a few thoughts about each book.

Nonfiction Books:

Knowing God by J. I. Packer is possibly my favorite theological book on the character and nature of God. It’s a little heavier book to read, but it’s well worth the effort. Every Christian should read it. Prodigal God by Timothy Keller was eye-opening for me when I read it a few years ago. It has a powerful message about God’s nature and our reaction to His immeasurable love! Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozier is also an excellent book on God’s nature and easy to read as a daily devotional.

You will find many wonderful books on living the Christian life. One of my favorites is Joseph Stowell’s Following ChristI found that Lifetime Guarantee by Bill Gillham presents one of the clearest pictures I’ve seen of what it means to live the “crucified life.” Nik Ripken’s The Insanity of God will challenge you to live the Christian life faithfully as you read a true story of believers who have given everything to follow Jesus. God has used Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life (the new edition is called What on Earth am I Here For?) in a phenomenal way to lead people to trust Christ and to consider what it means to live out your purpose.

One of my favorite books on spiritual growth is John Ortberg’s The Life You’ve Always Wanted (I’ve enjoyed every book of Ortberg’s I’ve ever read). I loved Richard Foster’s The Celebration of Discipline many years ago and was profoundly impacted by it, and I found Ortberg’s book to make the idea of spiritual disciplines a lot more accessible. I recommend both books. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala will lead you to celebrate the power of God and long for a fresh movement of God in your own life. A friend recommended I read The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. I read it after hearing Mark speak at a conference. It’s a powerful book on prayer.

It would help everyone to read Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It is a practical and applicable book on personal growth, life management, and discipline. You’ll want to study the principles and determine how you will live them out in your life. Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover will change your life and guide you into debt-free living. Finally, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis should be read and studied by every human on the planet. It offers a powerful presentation of the meaning of Christianity.

I’ve written a few books you may also find encouraging. Some are a resource for spiritual growth and will help you grow a passionate relationship with Jesus. I’ve also written a few books to help writers be more effective as an author. You can find them described here

I’d like to hear from you. Please share in the comments titles of additional books that you think should make the list. Happy reading.

15 Days of Faith – Day 5

I don’t know many people who like being tested. I used to think that if I ever got out of school, I’d never have to take another test in my life. Boy, was I wrong. I have an oral report I give every Sunday (called a sermon), turn in an annual report of my finances to the IRS, submit reports and updates to ministry leaders in my church, and I have to go to the doctor for physicals and the dentist for checkups. Tests are a part of life.

The Bible says that God tests our faith. In today’s video, I speak briefly about why our faith is tested, but I want to write for a moment about how it’s tested. Usually, when something is tested, pressure is asserted. It may be mental pressure, like a student in school, or physical pressure, like an athlete on the football field. You’ll find that in spiritual testing, pressure is also applied to our lives.

I don’t want to say that God initiates all of the pressure on us for the testing of our faith, but I know that God uses it. Sometimes, our faith is tested because someone else acts out their brokenness and we get injured as collateral damage. Everyone is broken by sin. People act like broken people because of sin, and those actions can cause a lot of pain and struggle in other people’s lives. Although God is not the cause of those actions, He always harnesses an opportunity to grow us into the likeness of His Son. Do you remember David in the Old Testament? One of the great tests of his life came from his own son’s rebellion.

We may be tested by physical struggle. This struggle could come in the form of sickness or financial struggle. Again, God doesn’t always cause these issues, but He uses them to grow us and shape us. Job fell into this category. The Apostle Paul also had a physical struggle. We don’t know what it was, but we do know that he asked God to remove it from him on three different occasions. Here’s how God responded to Paul’s request, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Paul learned that being weakened or even broken was not necessarily a bad thing. God’s power grows in our brokenness.

The Bible says that God has a purpose for our testing, and the bottom line is that it’s always for our good. Testing matures us and strengthens us. It helps us to know ourselves and teaches us how to depend upon God.

Are you being tested now? Cry out to God. Learn from God during this time and let Him work in your life. One day you’ll see that you will come through the fire and survive the struggle. You’ll find that you are stronger in the Lord than before and more equipped mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually to serve the Lord.

In the meantime, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,       knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Watch today’s video by clicking this link.

One Degree

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” I just spent some time reviewing my 2020 personal growth goals and noted that some of them are making a repeat appearance from my 2019 goals. I’m not a lazy person, and I’m typically pretty disciplined in most areas. So, what’s the problem?

One problem is that I usually set too many goals. I’ve decided that while I’m going to hold onto my current list, I’m also going to whittle it down to five key goals for 2020. It’s a lot easier to keep five things on my mind and work toward their accomplishment.

I’ve also considered the fact that I’ve got to do something different. I can’t live the same way in 2020 as I did in 2019 and expect a different outcome. For example, I want to be a healthier person. This can start by choosing one change I want to make in my life. It doesn’t have to be a big change. A small change is like a pilot flying to London making a one-degree course correction as he flies over Atlanta. One degree may not seem noticeable ten miles out of Atlanta, but it could make the difference between landing at Heath Row or in the middle of the English Channel.What’s your one-degree change? I’m going to come up with five and see where I land in 2021. Why don’t you come up with five one-degree changes, write them down, and share them with someone as you begin your new year?

Mountain Climbing

“Did you enjoy your hike?” I bet I’ve been asked that at least 50 times since returning from my most recent backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. My first answer is “No!” I didn’t enjoy my trip because it was a really tough hike. The definition that comes to my mind with the word enjoy is “to take delight or pleasure in.” On this last hike, I covered a section called the Roller Coaster, and I don’t think the name does it justice – especially when the region was experiencing a heat wave that made five of the eight days feel like a hot summer day in July, and the last three days were cold and windy with driving rain.

I started some years ago trying to accomplish the goal of hiking the entire 2190 miles of the Appalachian Trail one section at a time. With this last hike of 100 miles, I have made it from Springer Mountain in north Georgia to the Pennsylvania state line. When I first started, I would hike only 3 or 4 days a year, but now I’ve started trying to hike at least a week or more at a time. Unfortunately, I get older every year, and I don’t want to have to climb Mt. Katahdin in Maine with a walker.

I looked up enjoy in the dictionary and discovered that I did enjoy my hike after all. The second definition says that enjoy means “to possess and benefit from.” The fact is that hiking 100 miles on the A.T. brought me great benefit: I’m closer to accomplishing my goal, it was great exercise, I faced a tremendous challenge and won, I did a lot of praying, I met some great people, and I got to spend time with my father, who met me at the end.

I reminded myself numerous times through my hike that life is not just about having fun. It is about personal growth, victories, character, and facing challenges. It is about becoming the person God wants me to be. The fact is that we can’t become the person God wants us to be without struggle and pain. God wants to shape our character, and mountain climbing is part of the recipe for personal growth. Your mountain may come in the form of financial struggles, parenting challenges, or setbacks with your health. We’ve all got mountains to climb, and they’re all part of God’s divine plan to help us to become the person that not only He wants us to become but also the person we want to become.

Are you climbing a mountain right now? Is life kind of difficult in this current season? You’re probably in just the right place, so enjoy it.

If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done…

I just watched the University of Georgia score another touchdown against Alabama increasing their lead to 20-7. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I happen to be at a restaurant which is playing a rerun of the college football national championship game. I happen to know that Alabama came back to beat Georgia, so I don’t think the outcome of the game I’m watching today is going to change what I know to be a sad history.

Do you ever do the same old thing hoping for a new outcome? We do it all of the time. We eat the same fattening food hoping that this time we can enjoy calories without consequences. Unfortunately, it’s no different this time than it was last time. We pull out plastic to pay for something we shouldn’t buy promising to pay it all off at the end of the month. The problem is that we find that we have more month than money. That happened last month, too. We walk precariously on the pinnacle of temptation hoping that this time we can maintain our resolve and not fall into sin. Oh, well. Our resolve doesn’t seem to be any stronger this time around as it was last time.

Here’s the lesson I’ve gained by sitting here watching Alabama slowly come back on Georgia and take the lead. If you want the outcome of the game to be different, you’ve got to change the plays. What plays do you need to change in your life so that today is not a rerun of yesterday?

 

Which Way Should I Go?

How many of us have ever struggled with discerning God’s direction for our lives? I think I just saw everyone’s hand shoot into the air. I really don’t think that God has made His voice so indiscernible and will so elusive that knowing His will should be so difficult. Maybe the problem is not with God. Maybe it’s us. My church is currently involved in a fall spiritual growth emphasis, and we’re using Craig Groeschel’s book, Divine Direction, as our small group study. His book is AWESOME. It will possibly make my best book of 2018 choice. I am also preaching a short series to go along with the study. The first two messages are posted now, and the third should be up by the end of the week.

In my first message, I emphasize the fact that we are writing our life’s story every day that we live. I’ve got to confess that at times in my life, I have written a few lines carelessly. I wish I could find the delete button and re-write a few pages. While I can do that with the books I write, I can’t do that with the life I’m living. My life’s book is permanent as it’s written, and so is yours. Our challenge is to think ahead to what we want the final chapters of our lives to say. Is the chapter you are writing today going to get you to those final chapters you have envisioned? The chapter we are writing today will determine the chapters we write tomorrow because we are becoming today who we will be tomorrow. The choices and decisions we make today determine everything about our final chapters.

Stop and take a little inventory. Think ahead to what you want in that final chapter of your life. If the decisions you’re making today or the sentences being written by your current actions will not get you to your desired conclusion, you’ve got to change your story now. You can’t wait a year or two. I encourage you to consider what changes are needed now so your story has the best conclusion years from now.

 

Shake the Salt

“You are the salt of the earth.” Jesus told His followers that we have a role in our world to season and preserve. Notice that Jesus said “You are.” Influencing our world should be as natural for the believer as breathing or sleeping. So, how do you influence the world? We all have countless opportunities, but in this blog, I am going to address one area about which I am passionate.

Technology has opened a whole new world to all of us through social media, blogging, and even writing and publishing books. This thought led me to write a series of books called “The Published Pastor.” To date, I have two books in the series (Book 1 – “Expanding Your Ministry Through Writing and Publishing” and Book 2 – “How to Write and Publish Books”), and I will soon be releasing a third book on the topic of marketing Many of you who read my blogs could become a published author, and that would be one way you could be salt in our earth.

While the title of the Published Pastor series suggests these books only apply to pastors, the information is applicable to anyone who would like to write and publish. If you are a pastor, small group leader, Sunday School teacher, or Bible study leader, the books will have easy application to some of the things you do on a regular basis. You will see that I speak directly to pastors about how to turn a sermon series into a book, but the principles are easily applicable to every circumstance. Dr. Gerald Harris recently reviewed this series in the Christian Index. He said, “The book is extremely well written, extraordinarily helpful, and as practical as a Bible is to a Gospel preacher.” You can click this link to read the entire review.

In this series, I wrote to encourage Christians to use the resources availed to them through technology today to make a difference in the world. I also wanted to remove the mystery of becoming a published author and show that if you have ever considered writing a book, you can certainly do it. I originally published these as digital books and then combined books 1 & 2 into one paperback book. If $2.99 will stretch your budget right now, feel free to contact me, and I’ll send you a copy for free.

Whether you want to write books, record CD’s, paint pictures, blog, or create another product with a Christian message, I encourage you to find your avenue to make a difference in the world. Don’t keep saying that you will make a difference one day through your gifts or talents. Do it today. If you are interested in writing, I am happy to help you any way I can. Our challenge is to shake the salt, and God’s Kingdom will shine through us.

Personal Growth Plan

sapling-154734_1280Usually, by now, I have completed my personal growth goals and plans for the upcoming year. With my preparations for my mission trip to Mexico and Christmas activities (among other things0), I’m a little behind. I started writing out an annual plan for personal growth many years ago as a teenager, though back then, it was not nearly as formal and detailed. When I was a kid, my family sat around the table sometime toward the end of the year and talked about our plans for the upcoming year. We shared our goals with one another and some of our plans for accomplishing those goals. I eventually began writing these goals down and getting a little more specific with my plans. This eventually developed into my annual plan for personal growth.

I came to the realization that while growing old is automatic, growing up is not. For example, instead of being thirty-five years old, a person could be one-year-old thirty-five times. As a matter of fact, I’ve met a number of fifty plus year old people who still needed a pacifier. I have to confess that I rarely accomplish all of my goals, but because I give it a great deal of thought and write out my annual plan, I’m a lot closer to accomplishing my goals than I would be otherwise. Writing out my goals for personal growth not only helps me to know what to do to grow in six areas of my life, but it also helps me to know what NOT to do. For example, there are so many books out there to read (over a million new books are written each year), but not all of them are worth reading. I have many people suggest books to me. Some of the suggested books are excellent, while others may have been meaningful to the person, but it wouldn’t apply to my life and ministry very well. Planning my reading, which is part of my growth plan, helps me to be more intentional with what books to read. It also helps me to be more balanced in my reading.

I plan growth for six areas in my life: spiritual, family, physical, financial, leadership, and ministry. These are broad categories, and I fit a number of unique areas of growth under the various categories. For example, I want to grow as a writer, so I put that particular area of my life under “ministry.” Remember that this is a plan for personal growth. Even though I typically include various goals under each category, the idea is to create a plan that will help me to personally grow in that area. I will typically go into greater detail on general goals for various areas in a different place. For example, I have an Evernote notebook on my computer where I create detail plans and goals for my ministry through my church, my writing goals and plans, and other details of my life. A plan for personal growth is about growth. The key is to HAVE a plan for personal growth.

Under each broad category, I usually make a general statement of what I want to accomplish in that area and then make a list of books I want to read, people I want to hang out with, conferences I want to attend, or groups I want to join so that I will have personal growth in that particular area. I add some additional goals that may not fit so neatly into one of those smaller categories.

 

How do you plan to grow in 2017? Have you given it some thought? I encourage you to spend some time before the end of 2016 working on your plan for personal growth. When you finish your plan, share it with a few people in your life. When 2017 comes to a close, you may find that you didn’t accomplish everything, but you will accomplish a lot more because you have a plan. Someone once said, “He who aims at nothing hits it every time.” What will you aim at in 2017? Do you want to share some of your 2017 growth goals below?