My 2019 Reading List

49599632_304755387050747_7659627551651790848_nThose who know me know I enjoy reading. Regardless of where I am there is usually a book nearby. Because of this, I am asked often, “What are you reading now?” I enjoy this question and am always happy to share and make recommendations. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I do not set numerical reading goals. The climate of the church often guides my reading. I do however have a framework that further guides my reading. I run from fiction. Topics such as church health, church growth, leadership, missions, and church revitalization account for much of my reading. Why these? I have devoted my life to the local New Testament church and yearn to see her and her people grow and flourish. I generally read at least one missionary biography a year. I am always reading something from the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Recommended Reading List – Once a Marine, Always a Marine. In addition to the academic reading I will do for sermon preparation and other Bible studies, listed below is my reading list for 2019 and what I hope to learn this year.

  1. Small Church Essentials; Field Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of Under 250 by Karl Vaters. It is commonly known that approximately 85% of a Southern Baptist churches average 100 or less in morning worship attendance. We are a convention of small churches. The church I pastor, First Baptist Church of Perry, Florida is just below that threshold – about 180. I want to learn more about the unique challenges that are before the small church and how to better lead through those challenges.
  1. Church Growth Flywheel; 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church by Rich Birch. I have already started this book and I’m in love with it. Birch stresses the importance of capturing the big days on the calendar, the wisdom of sermon series, and the necessity of the church being seen in the public in service. I want to learn more about building and maintaining momentum throughout the year.
  1. PR Matters; A Survival Guide for Church Communicators by Justin Dean. If you don’t accurately tell people who you are and what you stand for as a church, people will formulate their own opinions and judgments about who you are – often incorrectly. I want to learn how to better tell the story of what FBCP stands and where we’re going.
  1. How to Break Growth Barriers; Revise Your Role, Release Your People, and Capture Overlooked Opportunities for Your Church by Carl F. George and Warren Bird. As churches grow, certain numerical markers introduce a new set of challenges, needs, and adjustments: barriers of 200, 400, 800, and 1000. This book deals with nuts and bolts stuff about moving from one barrier through another. I want to learn what may be keeping us around the 200 barrier and what adjustments must be made to push through.
  1. ReClaimed Church; How Churches Grow, Decline, and Experience Revitalization by Bill Henard. There is a strong movement today across Southern Baptist life to reclaim and revitalize dying churches. To be honest, FBCP is at a plateau state in terms of growth. Henard’s books offers a look into the life stages of church, why they die, and steps to becoming healthy once again. I want to learn where we as a church may be on what Henard describes as a, “death spiral” and actions to take to turn around.
  1. Leading Major Change in Your Ministry by Jeff Iorg. I firmly believe big changes will be necessary for not only FBCP to be more effective in our mission as a church and reaching people, but for the New Testament church in America as a whole. I want to learn how to set the stage for long-term growth and how to deal with the inevitable challenges and messy situations change is certain to bring.
  1. Be Known for Something; Reconnect With Community by Revitalizing Your Church’s Reputation by Mark MacDonald. I am excited about this book. Every church has a reputation; like it or not. Reputation and sometimes earned and sometimes they are assigned incorrectly. The forces that determine how the community sees the church are many. I am certain that FBCP has a similar reputation to many larger downtown First Baptist Churches: self-absorbed, business people only, a rich church. I know this is not the case, but perception and reputation is reality. This is such a burden for me that two of our leadership teams will be reading this book together this year. I want to better understand how we are viewed by our community and how to help them see who we really are.
  1. It Is Not Death to Die; A New Biography of Hudson Taylor by Jim Cromarty. Taylor was a 19th-century missionary to China. His life of surrender, hard work, sacrifice, and service are well-known today. I want to learn more about that kind of life.
  1. ReMission; Rethinking How Church Leaders Create Movement by Gary Comer. Here we are reintroduced to the mission of the church and the responsibility that every Christian has in seeing that mission fulfilled. Comer challenges church leaders to create positive and consistent movement toward the mission we have been given. I want to learn how to reinforce the importance of God’s people being outwardly mobilized and how to communicate that truth better.
  1. Neptune’s Inferno; The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal by James D. Hornfischer. This is my selection from the CMC Reading List. The Battle for Guadalcanal in 1942 had long been thought to be a Marine victory. Hornfischer’s work details the U.S. Navy’s contribution to what turned out to be the most pivotal naval campaign of the Pacific War during World War II. Like I said earlier, Once a Marine, Always a Marine.

If any of these titles interest you, I would enjoy the opportunity to read along with you and study together.

Are You Sleeping Through Christmas?

Slide1Today is Christmas. It will be a day filled with activity. Children will open the gifts from under their trees that have taunted them for weeks. Families will gather with those they have not seen in a long time. Others will gather in houses of worship to celebrate the birth of the Savior promised by prophet of old. For the vast majority, the thoughts and focus of today will be on the cultural aspects and traditions of Christmas. They will miss the One who is Christmas. Our generation would not be the first to miss this One. In their song, “While You Were Sleeping’, Casting Crowns wrote of the prospect of missing Jesus at Christmas:

Oh little town of Bethlehem
Looks like another silent night
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
A giant star lights up the sky
And while you’re lying in the dark
There shines an everlasting light
For the King has left His throne
And is sleeping in a manger tonight
Oh Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
For God became a man
And stepped into your world today
Oh Bethlehem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

Bethlehem physically slept. It was a quiet night in Bethlehem, much like every other night. No one was expecting anything special to happen. While they slept, prophecies that would shape the course of human history were being fulfilled in their quaint little hamlet. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the Savior of the world was born in a lowly stable with no fanfare, no attention, and no honor due a King. While the residents of Bethlehem slept in peaceful dreaming, the landscape of their world was changed forever. Together the stars and the angels proclaimed the birth of the Christ-child with no applause from man. The residents of Bethlehem secured a place for themselves in history as, “a city with no room for its King.” They go on to write:

Oh little town of Jerusalem
Looks like another silent night
The Father gave His only Son
The Way, the Truth, the Life had come
But there was no room for Him in the world He came to save
Jerusalem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
The Savior of the world is dying on your cross today
Jerusalem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

Thirty-plus years after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the people were still asleep. They slept with their eyes wide open. Spiritually cold and indifferent. No concern. No care. No conviction. They slept while the Son of God hung was nailed to a cross. The residents of Jerusalem slept while Jesus died. The residents of Jerusalem slept while the Messiah, the One the religious leaders were looking for, the One they should have recognized, gave His life for the people who cried “Crucify Him.” He came as their writings and witnesses told. He had walked among them, performed miracles, taught, and loved. He testified that to have seen Him meant to have seen the Father. He yielded. He died. While they were mocking, He was forgiving. While they were callous and unconcerned, their eternity was on His mind. While they claimed He was a liar, the Father proved the truthfulness of His testimony. The residents of Jerusalem secured a place for themselves in history as, “a city with no room for its King.” Before we take the residents of Bethlehem and Jerusalem to task on their failure to recognize and worship Jesus Christ, notice again the words of Casting Crowns:

United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we’re sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children
And while we’re lying in the dark
There’s a shout heard ‘cross the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night
America, what will we miss while we are sleeping
Will Jesus come again
And leave us slumbering where we lay
America, will we go down in history
As a nation with no room for its King
Will we be sleeping
Will we be sleeping

We are a sleeping nation. In broad daylight with the sun shining brightly, we sleep. With the complete thoughts and mind God written for us revealing our sin, pointing us to the cross, and calling us to die to self, we sleep. Lullabies of tolerance, coexistence, and compromise rock our nation to sleep every night. Lullabies of “many paths to God”, “man is his own god”, and “feed what makes you feel good” enable a nation to peacefully sleep. Violence, hate, fear, and greed are the most newsworthy items of our day. We are living in a country where creation is worshiped over the Creator. We live in a country where trees, animals, and other things that do not bear the image of God are elevated above and valued more than human life that does bear the image of God. We live in a country where a person is still judged by the color of their skin. We live in a country where a person is judged by their birthplace. We live in a country where a person is judged based on their economic worth. The most troubling part is that America seems to be sleeping well. What will it take to stir this nation from its sleep? What will happen to our nation if we continue to sleep? How long before God Himself says, “that’s enough” and the Bridegroom splits the sky to receive His own? Will Americans secure for themselves a place in history as, “a city with no room for its King?” We certainly seem to be headed that way.

Today is Christmas. As we spend time with our families, exchange gifts, and share meals together, let’s be reminded of Luke’s words about today.

“Then the angel said to them, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”.

Missional Monday: Missional Voices

mmI hope this collection of thinkers and ministries will further challenge you to live an on-mission lifestyle. Enjoy.

Read:  I recommend Toxic Charity; How the Church and Charities Hurt Those They Help – and How to Reverse It.  by Robert Lupton, Founder of Focused Community Strategies. Through 40 plus years of experience in urban ministry, Lupton asserts most charitable work on behalf of churches and other organizations is ineffective, and even harmful to the one it is intended to help. He offers suggestions and practices on how to help connect the individual organization desiring to help with the individual in need, so the recipient can maintain dignity and take control of their own situation.

Follow:  Tim Rice. Tim is the Missions Mobilization Director for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. He is passionate about assisting individuals and churches to live missionally and engage their communities, state, and the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know Tim personally and you will be both encouraged and challenged by what he shares with others. You can find him at @timricesc

Follow: JR Woodward. JR is the director of V3 Movement – a grassroots church planting movement. He also publishes a very insightful and educational online paper regularly at his site. You will certainly be encouraged and informed by his work. It has been a source of encouragement for me. You can find him at @dreamawakener

Get to Know: The Sunshine Girls – a weekly outreach ministry to women who work in the Adult Entertainment Industry in Savannah, Georgia. Their goal is to shine the life-changing light of the Gospel into these dark places. The mission of the organization revolves around establishing relationships and opportunities for another way of life. You can learn more about them here. Pray for the work these women are doing in some very hard and dark places. I am thankful to know one of these Sunshine Girls personally.

Just the Facts: According to Lifeway Research:

86% of Protestant pastors believe Christians have a responsibility to care sacrificially for refugees and foreigners.

When asked to share which single factor has most influenced their beliefs and opinions about immigration, evangelicals provided the following answers:

  • Relationships with immigrants – 17%
  • Friends and family – 16%
  • Media – 16%
  • The Bible – 12%
  • Their Church – 2%



We’re All Driven By Something

Fast-Forward-coverHave you ever thought about the things that drive you? Have you ever considered what motivates you to do what you do? The need for shelter motivates and drives us to seek a place to live. The need for financial income motivates and drives us to find a job. The need for higher education motivates and drives us to spend extra years in school beyond the required. The need for a healthier body motivates and drives us to exercise and diet. The need for companionship motivates and drives us to the do hard work building and maintaining relationships.

 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (2 Cor 5:14-15)

Paul deals with motivation in his letter to the church at Corinth. He was a driven and focused man. Paul tells us the reason for his drive and what motivation, “For the love of Christ compels us”The love of Christ kept him preaching when no one seemed to be listening. The love of Christ pushed him forward after being beaten and run out of town. The love of Christ kept the churches on his mind while facing his own death. What motivated Paul motivates us today. The love of Christ compels the believer to tell others of a life-changing Savior. The love of Christ compels us to grant and extend forgiveness when the rest of the world simply says, “get even.” The love of Christ compels us to love our fellow man beyond what we can see on the outside. The love of Christ compels us to reach into the darkness of the nations and shine the light of the gospel. This love of Christ looked beyond us while we were lost, rebellious, and indifferent towards God.

Jesus demonstrated what true love looks like. Paul said, “and He died for all, that those who lives should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” Paul alludes to his previous motivation. At one time Paul was motivated by pride, hate, and religious tradition. He was living for himself. However, when the love of Christ spilled onto his life and it became personal to him, he quit living for himself. We are no different. At one time we lived for ourselves and did everything that we thought was right and good. The day Jesus stepped into our lives and made us whole, everything changed. We are now under new management. The driving force that compels, urges, prompts, and pushes us to love, witness, preach, teach, and care is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.

Missional Monday: Equal Parts Seeing and Telling

mmLiving missionally is not about doing missions; it’s about embracing a missionary lifestyle. It is an awareness of your individual circle of influence and seeking to make the Savior known within. It is an understanding of your distinct context and purposefully living out the Gospel within. It is a determination to live in such a way that others will see the difference the Gospel makes by the way we love, care for, and serve others in Jesus’ name. People are watching. They make determinations about the validity, worthiness, and purpose of our faith by the way we live out our faith and not the way we talk about our faith. Christians today are viewed much differently by the world than they were in the first and second century.

“They dwell in their countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life. They are poor yet make many rich, they are in lack of all things an yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word – what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.”

The Epistle to Diognetes, early Christian writing – AD 130

Early Christians understood missional living before missional living was a thing. Early Christians were living on-mission long before living on-mission was a thing. One can only imagine how different our world would be today if the same things were being said of the Christian community the twenty-first century.

Following Begins With Knowing Which Begins Telling

footprints-in-sandJesus Christ left the task of making disciples to His Church. A disciple is one who intentionally places themselves under the authority of one more experienced, so they may learn from their life and experiences. In context of the Great Commission, a disciple is a person who intentionally places themselves under the teaching of God’s Word with the goal of becoming more like Christ in their actions, attitudes, passions, and priorities. Before a person can place themselves under the authority of Christ for instruction, he/she must first know Him. Knowing Christ and sharing Christ are inextricably linked. Sharing Christ is the responsibility of every believer. Our sharing of Jesus with others is to be a lifestyle rather than an activity. Why should we share our faith with others? Why should we take time to tell others about the message of hope through Jesus? Why should we take time to verbalize the heart-change we have experienced? Let me suggest a few reasons.

  1. Jesus left every believer the command to testify of Him. There is something special about the last words a person speaks. At His ascension, Jesus told His disciples, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8
  2. Lostness is real. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Real people die a real death and will come face-to-face with a real God who will execute a real judgment. That a person’s lostness will place them on negative side of God’s judgment should frighten us.
  3. God’s chosen method for the lost to hear the gospel is for the believer to tell them. I don’t know why God left this tremendous task to us. We are so unfaithful. I am certain God could have found a more productive and effective method of gospel delivery than us. Perhaps His doing so has something to do with the fact that God, through Jesus Christ, redeemed us. Only the redeemed can testify of redemption. Those who have been changed by God’s grace are the most obvious ones to communicate that message to others.
  4. Someone once cared enough about us to share Christ with us. Do we care enough about the souls of lost friends and family members to tell them of the hope that Jesus Christ offers? I hope we do. Our actions will tell the tale.



Stopping Short

Two Mile Marker“Going the second mile” is a common phrase in our language whose roots extend to first-century Palestine. The Romans had conquered much of the known world. One of the many marvels of their conquest was the vast system of highways constructed to connect Rome to their conquered territories. It is believed that Rome built and maintained over 50,000 miles roads. At every mile was a stone marker, knows as guide stones. These stones declared direction and determined distance. Each one etched with the miles to Rome, hence the phrase, “all roads lead to Rome.”

The Romans placed a specific burden upon the residents of the lands they occupied. A Roman soldier could compel ant male to carry his rucksack or burden for a mile with no option for refusal. As you would imagine this practice caused terrible resentment among the Jews of Jesus’ day toward the Roman government. One of the many things I appreciate about the earthly teachings of Jesus was His use of local customs, traditions, and practices to make spiritual applications. This often shocked and His listeners, but it allowed His point to hit home. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 examines such a teaching and response.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.”

Can you imagine how the Jews felt when Jesus said, “Go the second mile?” No doubt His audience thought of the Roman practice of burden-bearing. I would imagine someone in His audience said, “Seriously?” In their minds I’m sure they wondered why they should go farther than the Law required them to go. Jesus was calling them to second-mile living. Christianity is a second-mile faith and Christians are called second-mile living. Jesus explained what this type of life looked like:

  1. To love your neighbor is the first mile – to love your enemy is the second mile.
  2. To bless those who bless you is the first mile – to bless those who curse you is the second mile.
  3. To do good to those who do good to you is the first mile – to do good to those who hate you is the second mile.
  4. Praying for those who pray for you is the first mile – praying for those who would use you is the second mile.

The first mile is that which is expected of us. It is simply discharging our Christ-given duty. It is our reasonable service. The second mile is more. It is above and beyond the expectation. It is here the difference between Christianity and other religions begins to show. It is the “extra” that causes others to say, “Wait a minute, they don’t have to do this.” If Christians would practice second-mile living at our jobs, at school, and at home our bosses, teachers, friends, and family members would take notice and ask questions about that may lead to gospel conversations. The first mile is congested, but the second mile is not well-traveled. The first mile is gridlock, but the second mile is almost deserted. How do you want to be known?