Category Archives: General

Who do we say he is?

Part of the glory and gravity of the local church is that each community, each body, each expression has something to say about Jesus.

“You will be my witnesses,” the risen Christ told his disciples. And that’s who they were. That’s what they did.

Each local church, in both its internal and external workings, bears witness to its understanding of who Jesus is. In worship, in discipleship, in mission, in staff meetings and visitor greetings, we bear witness. For better or worse, for deeper or shallower, with more compassion or less.

The vital question then becomes, Who do we say he is?

‘Jesus is Better Than You Imagined’ by Jonathan Merritt

I could probably characterize the last several weeks of my Twitter feed with the following messages:

Jesus is more restrictive than you imagined.
No, Jesus is more permissive than you imagined.
Jesus is more masculine than you imagined.
No, Jesus is more feminine than you imagined.
Jesus is more authoritarian than you imagined.
No, Jesus is more democratic than you imagined.
Jesus is more glamorous than you imagined.
No, Jesus is more ascetic than you imagined.

And on and on and on. And on. And then more.

Thus, on the day Jesus is Better Than You Imagined by Jonathan Merritt was released, I posted this:

Now, having received a review copy for myself, I can tell you that this book is what I was hoping for and is not just another brick in the Christian Living wall at Barnes & Noble.

I’m not a proper book reviewer and so this this isn’t a proper book review, but suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and happily recommend it to you. In an effort to make my case, here are my thoughts on what Jonathan Merritt has brought us:

This is not a formula-driven roadmap to your best life now. This is not a guidebook to becoming a slightly better version of yourself. This is not a daisy chain made of platitudes and pronouncements.

This is the story of how one man was found and lost and found again. This is the story of meeting Jesus in silence, in mystery, in tragedy, and more.

This is not a book about what to think about Jesus, it’s a book about encountering him.

I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of book I need in this season of my life and in this morass of belligerence we call the American Evangelical conversation.

At one point in the book Merritt reflects, “Jesus is better than I imagined because He transforms my desires into opportunities to experience what truly satisfies.” That’s not religious drivel to be stitched onto a decorative pillow — it’s a hard-won bit of wisdom. And ultimately, I think that’s what I like most about Jesus is Better Than You Imagined — everything Jonathan Merritt shares in these pages has come at a cost to him. As such, the book is an invitation to travel a hard but worthy road. And like all good books, it’s also a reminder that you’re not alone on the journey.

Find Jesus is Better Than You Imagined on Amazon here »

Playing God by Andy Crouch

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“Power is a gift.”

So begins Andy Crouch’s latest book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. What follows is certainly the most comprehensive , thoughtful, and imaginative meditation on power I’ve ever read. Crouch’s first book, Culture Making, remains one of my favorite books of the last 10 years, so it comes as no surprise that I enjoyed Playing God as much as I did.

What, then, is power? May I begin with a deceptively simple definition: power is the ability to make something of the world. — Playing God, Andy Crouch

My original temptation was to summarize the book as a theology of power, but to do so would be to misread Crouch entirely. Playing God is theological, but it’s also social, cultural, historical, economical, political, practical, relational, and so on. In other words, the book considers what the Bible has to say about power, but it does not stop there.

Crouch wants to share with us a robust vision of who God is, who God made us to be, and how we might better pursue the flourishing of God’s creatures and creation.

Why is power a gift? Because power is for flourishing. When power is used well, people and the whole cosmos come more alive to what they were meant to be. And flourishing is the test of power. — Playing God, Andy Crouch

And what does that pursuit look like? Playing God invites us to forsake our god-making and god-playing in favor of true image-bearing. To be image bearers, as Crouch so masterfully articulates, is to be empowered by the Spirit of God toward lives of grace, justice, creativity, community, humility, wisdom, and worship.

And doing justice is likewise the means to an end— shalom, that rich Hebrew word for peace, describing the conditions where every creature can be fully, truly, gloriously itself, most of all where God’s own image bearers bear that image in all its fullness, variety and capacity. The work of justice is to restore the conditions that make image bearing possible. — Playing God, Andy Crouch

This book will open your eyes to the power that both surrounds and indwells us. Watch the news and you’ll see power used and abused. Review your checking account activity or your calendar and you’ll see traces of god-making, god-playing, and image-bearing. Step inside what Crouch calls an “arena” — maybe a mall, a stadium, a church, or a school — and you’ll hear the hum of power above the din of the crowd.

Read this book, not because you’re hungry for power, but because you’re hungry for redemption of the power you already possess.

Jeff Goins On The In-Between

My friend Jeff Goins is a prolific and popular writer who just released his second book, The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing. You should absolutely grab the book between now and August 10 so that you can also get all of these great bonuses Jeff has put together.

Jeff was nice enough to spend a few minutes with me yesterday talking about the book, his writing process, and what he has been reading lately. Take a look:

The In-Between is available now on Amazon and wherever else good books are sold.

What Should You Read Next? There’s No Question.

What should you read next? There’s no question. You should read a book on questioning well.

My friend Matthew Anderson has written just such a book — it’s titled The End of Our Exploring: A Book About Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Matthew is both smart and thoughtful (yes, there’s a difference), and I enjoyed this book very much. In fact, here’s the endorsement I penned for The End of Our Exploring:

The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson is smart, challenging, and personal. This book will change the way you question, which is to say it will change the way you think about life, faith, and everything in between.

A couple months later, I stand by that assessment, and I hope you’ll dig into the book for yourself. Perhaps the book trailer will persuade you:

You can also get two excerpts for free (details here), in case you’re the sort who likes to try before you buy. Okay, now off to Amazon you go.

Happy reading and happy questioning.

Are You Willing?

This weekend I had a great trip to Killer Tribes Conference (founded and led by my friend Bryan Allain). One of the speakers was Ben Arment, a man I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with several times over the last few years. Ben is one of those people who not only knows what’s going on in popular culture — trends, voices, technology, etc. — but also what’s going on beneath the surface — systems, psychology, and strategy.

When Ben spoke this weekend, he spoke about the way our frustrations and life experiences can point us toward our unique opportunities to make a difference in the world. He was talking about the way our past stories — the joy and the pain — prepare us for what lies ahead. Our wounds in particular shape who we become and what we’re driven to accomplish with our lives.

In the midst of the talk Ben delivered a line that I’m still chewing on, a question I’m still trying to answer:

“Are you willing to be wounded deeply in order to be used greatly?”

Whoa. Wow. Thanks, Ben.

Grateful

Well, I’m a published author. Tell Me a Story is out. In light of that strange and unlikely reality, I’d be foolish not to stop and say how grateful I am to a number of people. Will you indulge me?

First, my wife Annie. She’s the best. I couldn’t have done this without her, and she loves telling people about this book. Amazing. Everyone else falls in line after her …

Moody Publishers — the team at Moody has been so encouraging from the very beginning, and as a first-time author I’ll be forever grateful to them for that.

Jeff Goins — Jeff is a great writer and he was generous enough to contribute a compelling foreword to Tell Me a Story. If you don’t know his work, or if you haven’t read Wrecked, please remedy that situation immediately.

The Endorsers — I’ve made wonderful friends in this church leadership world over the years, and several of them were kind enough to put their names on my book. Thanks to Jon, Charles, Phil, Amena, Kem, Rhett, Jonathan, Brad, and Blaine for being willing to take a bit of a risk. (Check out the Endorsers link for their words and links.)

The Informal Marketing Department — several people have helped me spread the word about the launch of the book, and I’d love to mention a few:

  • Church Marketing Sucks and editor Kevin Hendricks — they reviewed my book, let me write a guest post, and Kevin even mentioned my book in a post on his personal blog
  • Jonathan Merritt — I was so fortunate to participate in this engaging Q&A about the significance of story and storytellers in our day and age. Read it if you get a chance.
  • Sunday| Magazine — Thanks to editor Jonathan Malm for the opportunity to write this article on short stories.
  • There are more, of course. People who’ve tweeted kind and wonderful words about buying the book and enjoying its contents. Thank you all.

The People of Irving Bible Church — I’ve been a part of IBC for about nine years now, but I’ve only been on staff for about a month. I’m still the new guy. And yet, that didn’t stop the staff from throwing me a book launch party today complete with books for everyone, more than enough pizza, and a gigantic poster of me. Yes, a gigantic poster of me. I haven’t done anything yet to deserve that kind of love and support, but I guess that’s what grace is all about.

All of these people (and more) have made the release of my first book an experience I’ll never forget. And for that, I’m grateful.

Keller On Marketing In The Church

I’m doing some reading along with my fellow pastors here at IBC, and in that process I came across a helpful thought I felt I should share. Here’s a slice from Tim Keller’s conversation with Christianity Today about his ministry and the ideas he puts forth in Center Church:

CT: What role should marketing play in the church?

KELLER: The critique is that the church has overused, maybe unconsciously, business marketing techniques. And I think that critique is probably half right. Whenever people talk to me about marketing, I say, “Tell me what marketing is.” Some of what they usually describe seems like common-sense, wise communication. Some of it seems like manipulation. I commend wise communication, not the other parts that make me cringe.

I appreciate that clarification. As I’ve opined several times in the last few years, the ends never justify the means. We, church leaders, of all people should know that. In other words, the manipulation side — anything less than honest and authentic communication — ought to make us cringe too. We ought to crusade against any hints of manipulative communication in our churches, regardless of the medium or the cause.

If you have time, read the entire CT piece. It features really interesting thoughts from both Tim Keller and Andy Stanley, two brilliant communicators with very different styles and church communities.

Tell Me a Story Is Available for Pre-Order!

I’ve mentioned this in passing a couple of times, but not in the form of an official announcement:

Tell Me a Story is now available for pre-order! As you can imagine, I’m pretty excited about this fact.

Yes, the book will be officially released in 10 days, but I know you. You’re an early adopter, always on the cutting edge, pre-ordering books well before anyone else has even heard of them. That’s why I’m bring this information to you.

Assuming you’ve got 9 or 10 bucks to your name, here’s where to find Tell Me a Story online:

Amazon.com

Barnes & Noble

 

 

 

You can also find it at Christianbook.com and Books-A-Million.

Friday Likes

I thought I’d try something new, and we’ll see how it goes …

Here’s a quick list of things I enjoyed this week, and I bet you’ll enjoy them too.

1. Everyone’s kindness and support this week. 

I made a big announcement about my new job, and I was blown away by how generous people were with there responses. On Facebook, Twitter, email, and here on this blog, people were just so encouraging. That meant so much to me as I get ready for this new role.

2. Sidebar design links

Sidebar‘s value proposition is simple: “the best design links, every day.” Either stop by the site as often as you like or sign up for an email, and Sidebar takes care of the rest — quality design reading and resources.

3. The Lone Bellow

A month ago, NPR made a declaration: “You’ll know this band in 2013.” They were right. I grabbed The Lone Bellow’s debut album from AmazonMP3, and it’s fantastic. No surprise that the great Charlie Peacock lent his considerable producing talents to the record. Check out “Two Sides of Lonely”:

4. Tim Keller’s Center Church

I’m about to start working for a church, so I figured I should start in on this one. I assumed it’d be practical and all that, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be the most convicting book I’ve read in quite some time. More on that another day.

5. Joshua Blankenship’s self-reflection

Joshua is a gifted designer and writer — that much we know — but I was impressed by this post (and the others it links to) in particular. He demonstrates an unusual level of perspective about where he is and how he got there. That much perspective doesn’t just happen, so it’s obvious Joshua has done the work. Sorry, I just appreciate that. It challenges me, and that’s one of the best gifts a writer can give a reader.

That’s my list for the week. Here’s hoping you enjoy at least three out of the five. Otherwise, I don’t see us being friends.

Kidding.

Kind of.

Have a great weekend.