Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bookshelf Treasures: 5 Must Reads, Should Reads, & Planned Reads For This Year

I’m often asked what I like to read.  Hands down, I prefer Christian non-fiction books that build into my life and help advance my walk with Jesus.  Once or twice a year, when it’s time to power down for some R&R, I’ll throw in a fiction book as well - frequently young adult or Christian fiction. 

I tend to read deliberately and at a slow pace so that I can absorb what I’m reading and, when possible, apply it as I move through the author’s message. Since that’s become my practice, I choose fiction works carefully. What I read stays in my heart and mind even longer than what I watch on a screen, so I veer toward G to PG-rated, pure-in-heart material. 

My favorite works are those that are immediately applicable - those that make an impact on my thought life and daily decisions as soon as possible. 

I don’t like to borrow books because it takes me a while to finish a good read, and by the time I’m finished it’s marked up with notes, highlights, and page folds. I’ll generally carry a book with me wherever I go and the covers of my favorites get pretty beat up and ugly. If you offer to loan me a book and I decline, please understand why. I’m trying hard to respect your property. :)   

Below are several books that I recommend and a few I look forward to reading (descriptions in blue italics are from for each title as of 1/17/16): 

“Must Reads” for This Year:

1) The Bible

This is the baseline of truth and life change for those who follow Christ. The HCSB has become my favorite translation, but I also enjoy NASB and ESV.  It’s possible to read the entire Bible in one year by devoting just 15-20 minutes per day. 

2) Believing God - Beth Moore

This is available as a trade book and a Bible study with DVD or audio teaching.  I highly recommend every option you can get your hands on. 

"Is it working? Your belief system, that is. Is it really working? God's intention all along has been for the believer's life to work. From divine perspective toward terrestrial turf, God meant for his children to succeed. . . Are our Christian lives successful? Are they achieving and experiencing what Scripture said they would? In a recent sermon my son-in-law preached, Curt told us the only way we were going to impact the world and the next generation is to prove that our faith in Christ is real and that it works. For countless Christians I'm convinced it's real. My concern is whether or not we have the fruit to suggest it works.” - Beth Moore

3) Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life - Donald S. Whitney

If you are looking to draw near to God and develop practices that will help you grow to recognize His presence, this book is for you!

Drawn from a rich heritage, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life will guide you through a carefully selected array of disciplines. By illustrating why the disciplines are important, showing how each one will help you grow in godliness, and offering practical suggestions for cultivating them, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life will provide you with a refreshing opportunity to become more like Christ and grow in character and maturity. Now updated and revised to equip a new generation of readers, this anniversary edition features in-depth discussions on each of the key disciplines.

4) Enemies of the Heart - Andy Stanley

Recognizing how 4 emotions wreak havoc in our lives inspires the pursuit of freedom to overcome.  Andy provides practical helps to finding victory. 

The difficult circumstances you are dealing with today are likely being fed by one of four emotional forces that compels you to act in undesirable ways, sometimes even against your will. 

Andy Stanley explores each of these destructive forces—guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy—and how they infiltrate your life and damage your relationships. He says that, left unchallenged they have the power to destroy your home, your career, and your friendships.

In Enemies of the Heart, Andy offers practical, biblical direction to help you fight back, to take charge of those feelings that mysteriously control you, and to restore your broken relationships. 

5) Finding Joy in the Journey: Savoring the Fruit of the Spirit - Cathy McIntosh

Okay - this is slightly self serving, but it wouldn’t be right to leave my own book off of the list. There’s never been a more life changing experience for me than learning the truths that God showed during life challenges.  I pray this book will profoundly touch your life and help you learn to recognize and embrace God’s best.

Do you have those days ... or even seasons of life ... when joy seems elusive or impossible to grasp? God's Word makes it clear that He provides the gift of joy to each of His children. Cathy McIntosh (Author, Speaker, and Ministry Leader) shares Biblical truths and practical tips to embrace God's very best in life. She reveals why struggles common to many women, such as fear, worry, shame, trials, and confusion, cannot steal our foundational, divinely-given joy. This book and included Bible study are perfectly suited for individual or group use. Come embark on the journey to experience joy on a daily basis, regardless of circumstances.

“Should Reads” to Enjoy Soon

1) The Noticer - Andy Andrews 

I’ve read several books by Andy Andrews and enjoy each one.  Technically I suppose this one is fiction, but the life lessons are real and relevant.  

Like The Traveler’s Gift, The Noticer is a unique narrative is a blend of fiction, allegory, and inspiration.  Gifted storyteller Andy Andrews helps us see how becoming a “noticer” just might change a person’s life forever.

2) The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts - Gary Chapman

This is a simple and phenomenal help for relationships that you can put into practice and see results today. 

In the #1 New York Times bestseller The 5 Love Languages, you’ll discover the secret that has transformed millions of relationships worldwide. Whether your relationship is flourishing or failing, Dr. Gary Chapman’s proven approach to showing and receiving love will help you experience deeper and richer levels of intimacy with your partner—starting today.

The 5 Love Languages is as practical as it is insightful. Updated to reflect the complexities of relationships today, this new edition reveals intrinsic truths and applies relevant, actionable wisdom in ways that work.

3) Soul’s Gate - James L. Rupert (fiction)

This is one of my favorite fiction works. It verges on spiritual sci-fi (without a lot of sci-) and keeps my heart racing.  

“Every now and then we get a break from reality. A glimpse into the other world that is more real than the reality we live in 99 percent of our days. The Bible is about a world of demons and angels and great evil and even greater glory.”

“Readers with high blood pressure or heart conditions be warned: this is a seriously heart-thumping and satisfying read that goes to the edge, jumps off, and 'builds wings on the way down.'” —Publishers Weekly

4) When Godly People Do Ungodly Things - Beth Moore

Spiritual warfare is a perpetual reality and this book helps me see things from a heavenly perspective. 

It is reported in the headlines, confessed in the pulpits, and hidden in the pews in churches around  the world. The seduction of God’s people by the deceiver is a tale as old as the garden, but we are always surprised when it happens. We must realize that Satan is a lion on the prowl and we are his prey.

Beth writes with a passion fueled by the Biblical warnings of the schemes of Satan’s seductive activity and the broken-hearted concern of a teacher who receives countless letters from repentant Christians limping on the road to finding restoration. Delivering dire warnings to Christians to safeguard themselves against Satan’s attacks, Beth also reveals how you can know if someone is vulnerable. Beth writes, “We, Christ’s church, are in desperate need of developing His heart and mind in issues like these.” She fears that often God is far more merciful than the Body of Christ is with the deeply repentant and those desperate to find their way home. When Godly People Do Ungodly Things will be a guide to authentic repentance and restoration.

5)  Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire - Jim Cymbala

This book poured new fuel on my passion for prayer. 

The Times Are Urgent
God Is on the Move
Now Is the Moment to …

ask God to ignite his fire in your soul! 

Pastor Jim Cymbala believes that Jesus wants to renew his people—to call us back from spiritual dead ends, apathy, and lukewarm religion.

Cymbala knows the difference firsthand. Thirty-five years ago his own church, the Brooklyn Tabernacle, was a struggling congregation of twenty. Then they began to pray … God began to move … street-hardened lives by the hundreds were changed by the love of Christ … and today they are more than ten thousand strong.

The story of what happened to this broken-down church in one of America’s toughest neighborhoods points the way to new spiritual vitality in the church and in your own life. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire shows what the Holy Spirit can do when believers get serious about prayer and the gospel. As this compelling book reveals, God moves in life-changing ways when we set aside our own agendas, take him at his word, and listen for his voice.

Books I plan to read this year:

1) Mission Drift - Peter Greer and Chris Horst

This is recommended reading for a non-profit board I’m part of.  It gives a big picture view of how decisions we make today can impact generations of ministry. 

Without careful attention, faith-based organizations drift from their founding mission. 

It's that simple. It will happen. 

Slowly, silently, and with little fanfare, organizations routinely drift from their purpose, and many never return to their original intent. Harvard and the YMCA are among those that no longer embrace the Christian principles on which they were founded. But they didn't drift off course overnight. Drift often happens in small and subtle ways. Left unchecked, it eventually becomes significant. 

Yet Mission Drift is not inevitable. Organizations such as Compassion International and InterVarsity have exhibited intentional, long-term commitment to Christ.

Why do so many organizations--including churches--wander from their mission, while others remain Mission True? Can drift be prevented? In Mission Drift, HOPE International executives Peter Greer and Chris Horst tackle these questions. They show how to determine whether your organization is in danger of drift, and they share the results of their research into Mission True and Mission Untrue organizations. Even if your organization is Mission True now, it's wise to look for ways to inoculate yourself against drift. You'll discover what you can do to prevent drift or get back on track and how to protect what matters most.

2) Kitchen Table Counseling: A Practical and Biblical Guide for Women Helping Others - Muriel Cook and Shelly Cook Volkhardt

A fellow Women’s Ministry Leader recommended this and I’ve read about 1/3 of it so far. It’s been a great help in ministering to hurting hearts. 

This lay-ministry counseling guide is a good leader resource for women’s ministries or personal use. Learn how to address your own needs so you can effectively help others, take people to Jesus without taking on responsibility for their burdens, and balance a counseling ministry with your other priorities. With Kitchen Table Counseling, you can offer true biblical hope to other women in the face of heartaches.

3) Fervent - Priscilla Shirer

You have an enemy . . . and he’s dead set on destroying all you hold dear and keeping you from experiencing abundant life in Christ. What’s more, his approach to disrupting your life and discrediting your faith isn’t general or generic, not a one-size-fits-all. It’s specific. Personalized. Targeted. 

So this book is your chance to strike back. With prayer. With a weapon that really works. Each chapter will guide you in crafting prayer strategies that hit the enemy where it hurts, letting him know you’re on to him and that you won’t back down. Because with every new strategy you build, you’re turning the fiercest battles of life into precise strikes against him and his handiwork, each one infused with the power of God’s Spirit. 

New York Times bestselling author Priscilla Shirer, widely known for her international speaking, teaching, and writing ministries, brings her new role from the 2015 film War Room into the real lives of today’s women, addressing the topics that affect them most: renewing their passion, refocusing their identity, negotiating family strife, dealing with relentless regrets, navigating impossible schedules, succeeding against temptation, weathering their worst fears, uprooting bitterness, and more. Each chapter exposes the enemy’s cruel, crafty intentions in all kinds of these areas, then equips and encourages you to write out your own personalized prayer strategies on tear-out sheets you can post and pray over yourself and your loved ones on a regular basis. 

Fervent is a hands-on, knees-down, don’t-give-up action guide to practical, purposeful praying.

4) The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands - Lysa TerKeurst

Are you living with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule and aching with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul? 

Lysa TerKeurst is learning that there is a big difference between saying yes to everyone and saying yes to God. In The Best Yes she will help you:

Cure the disease to please with a biblical understanding of the command to love.
Escape the guilt of disappointing others by learning the secret of the small no. 
Overcome the agony of hard choices by embracing a wisdom based decision-making process. 

Rise above the rush of endless demands and discover your best yes today.

5) Untangled - Carey Scott

All women want to feel is valued. But problems arise when we seek confirmation that we are enough using the world's standards. Almost from birth, we are trained to find the approval and acceptance we crave in the eyes of family, friends, and even strangers. The result is that we cannot believe we are who God says we are--accepted, loved, beautiful, and treasured. We get tangled up in the world's assessment and our own self-judgment.

With hope-filled writing and plenty of hard-won personal advice, Carey Scott shows women how to untangle their self-esteem from the world and anchor it in Jesus. She lovingly shows readers that God was intentional in how he made them and that he is well pleased with his work. Women will learn practical strategies to escape unattainable standards and the performance-based measuring stick of the world, and find comfort in the fact that they are not alone on the journey.

There you go!  A  glimpse at my reading list: past, present and future!   I’d love to hear which books you consider favorites - and why they’re at the top of your list!

Please comment below or leave some of your favorites on Facebook or Twitter.

Be Strengthened Today, By the Word,

Psalm 119:28


Sunday, January 17, 2016

7 Power Tips to Plan This Week with Purpose

What's the greatest source of stress in your life today? Stress often stems from feeling overloaded with responsibility at home, work, school, church, or all of the above.  With a bit of planning, we can relieve some of that stress - really!

January is one of the familiar points in our year when we think, “Things will settle down soon! I can get back on track when ______ (the holidays are over, when the kids go back to school, when the kids get out of school, when this budget project ends).  

We believe control is just around the corner and we’ll soon feel more together.    

It’s comfortable to set new goals when we can imagine a solid, achievable routine. We have high hopes, but when we look back at transitional seasons like these, it’s rare that we see genuine improvement... even after  _____ (fill in the blank) happens.

It’s a disappointing but repetitive truth.  Because we can’t seem to get a handle on our schedules or task lists, we live with a sense of constant overload which makes us default to thoughts like,  

“I’ll do that when I get around to it.”

“As soon as I find the time, I’ll ___.” 

“I’m sure it will happen someday.” 

Before we know it, we’ve allowed passivity to take over. We settle for mediocrity in our routines rather than pursuing God’s best with purpose and passion.   

If you’re struggling to incorporate the changes you hoped to see this year, don’t give up yet! Before settling for mediocre, consider this with me:

The Lord gives us work to do.

We see this truth repeated in Scripture:  Ephesians 2:10, John 17:4, 1 Chronicles 28:10 and many others passages.  

God created us with His purpose and His plan in mind. We’re on this earth to accomplish what He directs.  Each of us has a calling.  Yes, you.  And me too. We’re chosen for specific work.  

Sometimes we lack an understanding of clear direction and calling.  More often, however, we know our calling.  In our heart of hearts we know what the Lord created us to do. It burns within us, yet we wonder HOW we can accomplish so much when there are so many distractions and urgent needs surrounding us. 

Doing is not always easy, but it is possible. It requires planning, sacrifice, and other methods of intentional effort that are uncomfortable but necessary. Often, the only thing that prevents us from fulfilling our calling is our daily routine.  When we attack our daily schedule - our practices, our disciplines, our habits - on purpose and with deliberate intent, we’re capable of accomplishing far more than we imagined. 

A while back I wrote a post about the freedom I found through planning.  If you'd like to read it, click here.  As a follow up to that post, today I’ll share 7 of my best tips on how to become better stewards of the precious resource of time.  

Let’s look at how to schedule our time on purpose - with the caveat that we allow the Lord to interrupt our plans any time He wishes.  Remember, a man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9).  A plan is a great tool and is Biblical (see Proverbs 21:5, Isaiah 32:8 and 1 Corinthians 14:40), but we can't allow a plan to supersede the Spirit's leading each day. 

OK, here we go:

7 Power Tips to Plan with Purpose

1) Commit to Self Examination.  

Give one week to complete honesty to track how you spend your time. This may seem counter-productive as we remain in our old schedules to find the pitfalls.  But this will provide valuable information.  Until we identify our struggles and temptations, we can’t work toward overcoming them.

If you identify that television (or some other unnecessary distraction) consumes hours of your schedule each week, are you willing to give it up to accomplish the work that the Lord has given you? If something drains your time, fix it. If you can’t fix it, limit it.

2) Set Goals and Write Them Down. 

You’ve heard this before:  written goals are achieved 40% more often.  When we write them down AND enlist the accountability of a friend, our success increases to nearly 80%.  I consider that significant - and quite worth the effort! 

Divide your goals into tasks that you’ll accomplish daily, weekly and this month, then create your to do list.  

3) Stop Multitasking.

I can almost hear you groan…  We take pride in our ability to multitask, don’t we?  But when we try to focus on more than one thing at a time, the quality of our work diminishes and takes longer. Multitasking it’s a bad habit that grows beyond our to do list.  Soon we begin to multitask with people. We believe we can check our phone while still giving someone our full attention, then we miss important details. Break the habit. Whenever possible, do one thing at a time, do it well, and then move on.

4) Schedule Ways to Stay Sharp.  

As you consider your schedule, plan time to rest, play, observe sabbath, and take care of YOU.  It’s important to have our own cups filled as we strive to serve and bless others. We can’t give of ourselves if we’re always running on empty.

5) Discover Your Peak Time of Day

Are you a morning person or do you like to work into the wee hours?  When do you do your best thinking? When are you most productive? When do you have the most energy?  Schedule your high priority projects during that time and take advantage of your best mental clarity.  

6) Do the Hard Things First. 

Brian Tracy wrote a book called Eat That Frog which recommends doing your hardest, most difficult activity first thing in your day. When we stick to it and do the worst first, everything throughout the rest of the day will seem easy!

7) Know your Priorities. 

To you, what constitutes time well spent?  List your top 5 activities then consider how often you’ve actually done these things in the past several weeks. Knowing what’s important help us focus on high priority activities without letting the urgent overtake the important. 

My best advice to serving the Lord as a good steward of our time is:  make a plan then execute.  I hope these 7 power tips will help and encourage you as they have me.

God has a purpose for our lives and He has chosen each of us to do good work.  We can accomplish much for Him during 2016, especially when we use our time with purpose and intentionality.  

Realize the Lord has chosen you to do this work. Be strong and do it!  (From 1 Chronicles 28:10).

Your Turn:

What are your time traps?  What activities distract you most?  

What can you give up in order to accomplish your calling?

Continue the conversation by leaving a comment below or chiming in on Facebook or Twitter!  I can’t wait to hear from you. 

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word,

Psalm 119:28

Friday, January 1, 2016

Be Strong! (And Just Do It)

We all have a past. Every one of us. As we reflect, some moments make us proud, while others cause us to cringe in embarrassment.  A few may bring the sting of heartache.  But one thing is sure: every moment of our past is part of our testimony and makes us who we are in Christ. 

Our Past Prepares Us for the Future

There’s not a minute of our lives that the Lord would change because He’s used every millisecond to conform us - more and more - into his likeness.  Each smile, every tear, and all of the things we may wish would have never happened gave us cause to lean on the Lord, whether we recognized we were doing so or not. 

We doubted and learned to trust. 

We laughed and enjoyed the celebration. 

We suffered and learned to let go. 

We hurt and then recovered. 

We sinned and found redemption. 

We faced challenges and embraced victories - even small ones. 

If the process isn’t complete today, we find peace knowing it’s underway.  He who started a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). 

All of our moments, right up to this one, have made us ready for what we’re about to face. They’ve prepared us for the road ahead and strengthened our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

We’re Ready for What’s Next

Whatever has happened over the past months, whether happy or sad, traumatic or joy-filled, let’s find a way to be grateful. We know they’ve served a purpose and made us ready for what’s next in the journey we call life.

In 1 Chronicles 28:10, King David said to his son, Solomon in preparation for what was next:  “Realize now that the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary. Be strong and do it.

I believe the Lord has the same word for us today.  Fill in the blanks of this sentence:  “_______ (your name), The Lord has chosen you to _________ (your assignment). Be strong and do it.” 

Has the Lord chosen you to do something? Is it exciting and adventurous or challenging and unglamorous?  Perhaps it’s as simple as caring for your family, ensuring the house is kept and the meals are prepared.  Maybe he has chosen you to care for a special needs child and your hands-on parenting roles last decades longer than you ever imagined. Maybe He’s given you a challenging assignment of shining for Him in an office full of people who reject His love. Or loving a husband with more emotional needs than you “signed up” to supply.  Maybe He’s called you to step into ministry and serve children, lead women, or participate on a worship team. 

Our current calling - the work that the Lord has chosen us to do - may be something easy or extremely challenging. We may find it exhilarating or consider it drudgery.  Either way, the Word tells us that we’re chosen for this task and instructs us to serve the Lord with a whole heart and a willing mind.

Solomon had a mighty task before him. David said “The task is great because the temple will not be for man but for the Lord God.” (1 Chron. 29:1) Solomon was chosen to do something that was not his idea. It may not have been his passion or the first priority that he’d envisioned for his time on the king’s throne.  Yet, God chose him to complete the work.

God Equips the Called

Be encouraged in this as I am:  As King David commissioned Solomon to build the temple, by the Lord’s grace and great generosity, he was provided with all that he needed to finish the work:  Plans, materials, labor, resources.  God fully equipped him for the work at hand.

You’re equipped, too.  We forget sometimes that the Lord gives us all we need to walk in step with His Spirit. All of our needed resources are available to us, but they often look far different from what we imagined. When we don’t see what we expected or hoped for, it’s not an excuse to forsake our calling. 

Upon realizing that the Lord has chosen us to do this work, we have three choices:

1) Reject the work.  We can walk away and refuse to do this thing that He’s called us to do. We can quit and look for something better.  Sadly, this happens among us every day. In learning to recognize and embrace God’s best, I would encourage you to stay.  Instead of running away, pray that the Lord confirm your calling and ask Him to give you a love and passion for it.  

2) Do the work while grumbling and complaining.  This leads to a life of misery. Please don’t do it.  Serve the Lord with a whole heart and a willing mind (1 Chronicles 28:9) by showing a heart of gratitude, a willingness to grow through the journey, and a heart that praises Him through every trial. He is faithful. Trust Him. Embrace what God provides, what He instructs and walk in joyful obedience. Blessing will follow and we sure don’t want to miss it!

3) Be strong and do it for the Lord’s glory.  This requires serving in the Lord’s strength rather than our own flesh.  We do this by walking closely in relationship with Him so that our needs are met while we serve others. By the Lord’s power and His work in us, we can live according to Colossians 3:12-13, “Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another.”

As we embark on a new year, may we walk in strength and do as the Lord directs.  I pray that “the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus - the great Shepherd of the sheep - with the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ. Glory belongs to Him forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21 HCSB)

Your Turn:

What challenge are you facing that the Lord has chosen you to do?  

How will you be strong and do it?

Join the conversation by leaving a comment below or chiming in on Facebook or Twitter.

Be strengthened today, by His Word,

Psalm 119:28