My Five Best Reads of 2016

books

With the encouragement of a friend and in response to a fantastic workshop on reading for preaching (thanks to the Center for Excellence in Preaching), I accomplished my goal to read 60 books last year. Before you think I accomplished some super-human feat, the 60-book total consisted of everything from children’s books to multi-volume trilogy novels. Some books were about leadership and some books were just straight up fiction. Variety of genre and length gave me the motivation and space to read 66 books instead of 60!

About five of the books I only read halfway (I know, that sounds like cheating). The books just didn’t capture me, and I won’t be returning to them. In that sense, I consider the book “read” just not finished. Tony Reinke says you should give every book up until [100 pages minus your age]. Once you’ve read to that page number, you can drop the book if it doesn’t grab you. Thankfully, only a handful of books were cast aside.

As part of celebrating my goal, I thought I’d share my top 5 reads of last year. This isn’t a list of the top books of 2016 because many of the books I read have been around for a while. I just got to them last year. I ranked the books on sheer enjoyment of the story + impact (how many times I talked about/referred to the books in conversation, sermons, etc.) + recommendations (how often I recommended the book to someone).

So without further delay, here’s my unofficial list of 2016.  Continue reading

The Weeklong Sermon…Face to Face

As a church, we have been experiencing the Christmas story in our Face to Face series. We’ve looked at a variety of ways God meets us through the Incarnation. That Jesus came as a baby reminds us that God came to meet our brokenness, our shame, and even our fear.
I’d like to highlight two thoughts that have stayed with me during Advent:
“Shame is the belief that my brokenness makes me unworthy of connection or love.”
That’s Brene Brown’s definition of shame. She goes on to describe the ways many people deal with shame.
We can blame and manipulate people, making them feel small so we feel less unworthy (this actually makes us more unworthy in other’s eyes).
We can hide and pretend, building a wall so that no one would ever be able to know about our brokenness (this doesn’t work very well).
The only real way out of shame is to recognize that I am worthy of love EVEN in my brokenness. But how do I get there? It won’t happen by just thinking positively or getting a self-esteem boost. It won’t even come from a spouse or close friends and family. It has to come from a love that doesn’t waver, an acceptance that won’t shift in its standards. We have to experience a love that recognizes our brokenness and shortcomings, but remains strong and steadfast.
The Gospel gives us this kind of love. When Jesus died for your and my sins, he demonstrated his love for us. He demonstrated that not even the most vile and corrupt motivations, thoughts, and attitudes can keep us from him. He didn’t just sweep that stuff under the rug. He named it, displayed it, punished, and as a consequence forgave us in the death of Jesus on the cross.
Imagine that kind of love. Sacrificial. Powerful. Unfailing. It’s the declaration to the universe that we are loved even in our brokenness. It’s the ultimate shame-seizing act.
There’s so much more to say about this. If you want to dialogue more, join us for our speaker series in January.
“The Incarnation is the answer to our fears – it is God proving that he is with us. He does not promise to change our circumstances, but he promises his presence with us in them.”
The word Emmanuel means “God with us.” The Christmas story is about our God who breaks in. He breaks into our world and our existence. He doesn’t stay in the heavens waiting for us to get our act together. He comes. He gets his hands dirty. He moves into the neighborhood.
And He saves the day. No matter how hard and uncertain the circumstances, God will not abandon us. He will not forsake us.
It’s changed the way I’m praying this Advent. Instead of just praying for a change in situation, I’m praying that God would make his presence known. I don’t even need to pray that God would “be with” someone. He’s already promised and demonstrated that He is. In light of that truth, I pray that I (and those I am praying for) would recognize God’s presence in real and comforting ways. Emmanuel all over again.
As we push on towards Christmas, let me encourage you that God is with us to conquer our shame and our fear. A little baby in a manger tells us that this God isn’t far off, but close by. I pray that you would meet him in unexpected ways…face to face.

The Weeklong Sermon: Don’t Forget to Forget

dont-forget

We are continuing our Side By Side series through the book of Philippians. Paul gives us a way forward as we press on to know Christ: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead. As I preached on Phil 3 this past weekend, I didn’t have the time and space to talk about the different kinds of forgetting involved. I mentioned that we must forget both the bad things we think keep us from the love of God and the good things we think make us deserving of the love of God.

No, God’s kindness and mercy to us is completely unmerited. No one’s life is so bad that God cannot forgive and save, and no one’s life is so good that God’s forgiveness and saving is unnecessary. So don’t forget to forget what is behind.

But my title is a double entendre – we don’t forget just to forget. Such a life would be incredibly escapist and in many ways immature. Reflection on the past is an important part of maturity and self-awareness. How many of us know people who refuse to deal with the past and so repeat its mistakes? Generationally? Brene Brown says that the phrase, “Live with no regrets,” is actually a sign of great unhealth because it demonstrates the unwillingness to face our own brokenness. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all done things we are not proud of. We forget those things in pursuing Christ, but we don’t forget those things just to forget them.

How do we make sense of this? Let me offer a simple way forward. We must forget the past when we are tempted to define our identity by it, but we must reflect on the past in order to understand who we are. Another way to say it is this: the past may explain me, but it does not define me. My relationships, my childhood, my heritage explains the way I think and respond to life, but it does not DEFINE who I am. This is the hope for the believer who comes from a dysfunctional home. This is the hope for the addict who has been transformed by Christ.

I look back on my past and understand how God has used the people and situations in my life to shape me, but I forget the past when it claims to define me today. Christ’s death on the cross for my past, present, and future defines me. I am the beloved, and his tender, pursuing, passionate mercy on my life is something I will never forget. I hope you won’t either.

Pray for Grace Community Church as we gather the church Thurs 11/10 to process what is going on in our nation together. I’m sure there will be hard conversations and discomfort, but I feel that it’s an important way to move forward and “forget what is behind” while straining towards what is ahead corporately. I am asking God to begin lots of conversations and open hearts as a result.