Books

Prison Break: Finding Personal Freedom

PB CoverThe BLOG posts from the last few days about worry are a summary of a chapter entitled "Freedom from Worry" in the best-selling book Prison Break: Finding Personal Freedom.
 
The rest of the book contains similar practical teaching about:
  • Freedom from Fear
  • Freedom from Anger
  • Freedom from Depression
  • Freedom from Rejection
  • Freedom from Addictions 
  • Freedom from Spiritual Bondages
You can purchase a paperback version of this book from WORD Australia OR a digital eBook version from Amazon. The eBook version can be read on the Kindle APP which is available for FREE for all devices (phones, tablets, etc) and operation systems (Windows, OS, etc).
 
I hope you find this teaching helpful and beneficial to your life. 
 
Please feel free to pass it on to others. 
 
Thanks. 

De-Cluttering my Library

BookwormConfession time - I love books! There is a certain joy in buying a new book and putting it on your shelf ... even if you haven't yet read the last 10 books you have bought. Book addicts understand this. Other people just don't get it.

As a kid, if my parents visited friends and there were no kids to play with, after dinner, I'd sit by their bookshelf and browse through their books. If they had an encylopedia set, I was elated. I loved reading and learning new things. I guess, at heart I I'm a bit of a a maven.

So I have a lot of books. Books given to me from family and friends. Books handed down from my father, Kevin Conner, or my brother-in-law, Frank Damazio - both fellow book addicts. Then there are books I have bought - new or in second hand shops all over the place. Did I mention that I have a lot of books?

The painting to the right is called "The Bookworm" and I have a beautiful version of it mounted on my library wall. One book in each hand, another one under the arm and another one between the knees. Every booklover gets it.

Well, we have recently sold our home and we are down-sizing. Yes, there are times to enlarge, to add, to expand and to make more room. We've been through plenty of those seasons. But now we are in a very different season - a time of simplifing, of letting go of a lot of stuff, and of de-cluttering. With two of our sons all grown up and married, we are moving to a house almost half the size of the one we currently live in. [See my wife, Nicole's, recent BLOG post "Honey, I Shrunk the House" for more details]

Sadly, this means there won't be room for all of my books. So I am currently working through my books, shelf by shelf and book by book ... forcing myself to ask 3 questions:

  1. "If I haven't looked at this in the last 5 years, will I look at it in the next 5 years?" [Confession: I have looked and read a heap of my books, so this question alone isn't enough]
  2. "If I didnt have this book today, would I buy it?"
  3. "If I could only have 1 bookshelf of books, would this book be on it?"

These questions are helping me make some tough decisions ... in addition to asking, "Can I get this book on Kindle and thereby take up less space by having an electronic version of it?" Sure, it's not the same as the read thing, but eBooks do save space.

It's time to give away, to bless someone else ... with a book or two that they need more than I do. 

Painful but freeing. 

See also:


2016 Australian Christian Book of the Year: Child Arise! The Courage to Stand

B

I am priviledged to be one of the judges for the annual Australian Christian Book of the Year. We are pleased to announce that this year's award goes to Child Arise! The Courage to Stand: A Spiritual Handbook for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Jane N Dowling.

Here is the summary:

Knowing that God speaks to us when we read the Bible, Jane Dowling prayerfully applies God’s Word to the experience of living with the long-term effects of sexual abuse, including abuse by clergy. Her reflections are gentle, almost tremulous. Jesus shows her the way from ruin and despair to healing and hope. This is a handbook for survivors of sexual abuse and those who seek to understand and support them.  But because Dowling engages with the Scriptures in their original context, her book has application for all Christians who are living with painful experiences. This is a courageous and historic book. For a church yearning for healing and wholeness, Jane Dowling has performed a great service.

Visit sparklit.org to see the entire final short list of titles.


The 2016 Australian Christian Book of the Year

BOY

The following titles have been shortlisted for the 2016 Australian Christian Book of the Year Award.

  • Post-God Nation: How Religion Fell Off the Radar in Australia and What Might be Done to Get It Back On, Roy Williams, ABC Books.
  • Understanding Jesus and Muhammad: What the Ancient Texts Say About Them’, Bernie Power, Acorn Press. 
  • Zechariah: The Lord ReturnsMichael R Stead, Aquila Press. 
  • Leon MorrisNeil Bach, Authentic Media ltd. 
  • Child Arise! The Courage to Stand’, Jane N. Dowling, David Lovell Publishing. 
  • The Anonymous Leader’, Ralph Mayhew. 
  • Maralinga's Long ShadowChristobel Mattingley, Allen & Unwin.
  • Trumped By Grace’, Peter Stiles, Poetica Christi Press. 
  • They Conspire Against Your People: The European Churches and the Holocaust’, Colin Barnes, Kings Divinity Press and the Centre for Jewish-Christian Studies. 
  • Resilient’, Sheridan Voysey, Discovery House. 

[More details about the books here]

Join this year’s Sparklit Awards Night ($20 per guest. $60 per family). Buy tickets online or grab your credit card and call 1300 13 7725 or write to: admin@SparkLit.org

Visit www.sparklit.org today. 
You can follow SparkLit on Facebook

For more information contact:

Michael Collie
National Director
SparkLit
(Formerly SPCKA)

1300 137 725 
admin@sparklit.org


Transforming Your Church

Cover Pic (small)When I became the Senior Minister of CityLife Church back  in 1995, I invested extensive time in prayer, study, research and reflection about principles for building a healthy and effective church. As a result, I was prompted to lead our church through seven "strategic shifts" over the next few years. This has resulted in much positive change and impact. 

Over the years, I have taught this material to many pastors and church leaders. Eventually, these principles were put into a book called Help Your Church Change and eventually an international version titled Transforming Your Church: Seven Strategic Shifts to Help Your Church Navigate the 21st Century. This was released in the year 2000 and then a completely updated and revised edition was published in 2010, with much additional matieral, including five new appendices covering topics such as church governance, the role of the senior minister, women in leadership, and self care for church leaders. This book has also been translated into Swedish, Indonesian and Russian.

You can purchase a paperback copy of this book from WORD Australia or City Christian Publishing in the USA (under the title Seven Strategic Changes Every Church Must Make). An eBook format version is also now available for Kindle at Amazion.

I pray that this book will continue to be a blessing to many churches and Christian leaders.


Prison Break: Finding Personal Freedom

Prison Break by Mark Conner (Book Cover)Quite a few years ago now, we conducted a survey in our church. One of the open-ended questions was: "I wish someone would preach about ..." We collated the answers and I have enough to preach on until Jesus comes back!

Actually, what surprised me the most at the time was the fact that people wanted to hear messages about dealing with common challenges such as worry, fear, anger, depression and rejection. These weren't subjects we were speaking on very often and as a result we were not "scratching where people were itching!"

After this survey, we crafted a series of messages around the theme of "Prison Break". In Jesus' first sermon, he declared that he had come to set the prisoners free - to lead a prison break! We shared messages on freedom from worry, freedom from fear, freedom from anger, etc, etc. It was one of the most impacting teaching series we have ever done. Eventually, these messages were compiled into a book and it's been a best-seller ever since.

You can purchase Prison Break: Finding Personal Freedom from WORD Books in paperback format or from Amazon in downloadable format for Kindle. If you enjoy it, thanks for leaving a recommendation. 

Here's the full description and a recommendation from Dr. Arch Hart.

Living in our broken world creates the possibility of becoming trapped by various negative emotions and habits that can easily become like a prison around us. In this helpful book, Mark Conner shares practical principles for finding freedom from common problems such as anger, fear, worry, rejection, depression, addictions, and spiritual bondages. With God's help you can make a prison break- beginning today.

"To some extent we all have our personal prisons, in these hectic and stress-filled days. This is why Mark Conner's book Prison Break is so timely and helpful. Whether your personal prison is one of anger or fear, worry or some destructive habit, addictions or whatever, Mark offers help that can free you from your prison. The book is practical yet sound, both psychologically and biblically and easy to read. I am sure no reader will be disappointed." 

Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., FPPR. 
Senior Professor of Psychology and Dean Emeritus 
Graduate School of Psychology 
Fuller Theological Seminary 
Pasasena, California


Blinkist - a Great Personal Growth App

Blinkist-offerHave you ever noticed that there is so much to learn and so little time! We live in an age of informaiton overload. We don't lack knowledge, just the ability to process it sufficiently and make meaning out of it all.

Learning how to read more effectively can be a help as can book summaries.  

Recently, I came across an App called Blinkist. Blinkist takes great works of non-fiction and distills them into powerful, made-for-mobile units. The blinks, 2-minute-reads built around memorable key messages, give you the main concepts of an entire book in 15 minutes. Choose audio or text.

Why not try their 3 day trial and see how you like it. Just sign up for 3 days of unlimited access to our library, no strings attached. Download Blinkist from the iTunes store, the GooglePlay store or the website.

Blinkist is a great tool to help you never stop learning. I highly recommend it. 

See also:


Global Megatrends: Seven Patterns of Change Shaping Our Future

GlobalWe live in a time of rapid change. Yesterday is gone. Today is momentary. Tomorrow is never far away, though never guaranteed. We are called to live in the present, while learning from history and yet looking toward a better tomorrow. Our God is the one who was, who is, and who is to come. The Great I AM - past, present and future are all one to Him.

Futurists study the future, yet no one can fully predict what it will be like.

Stefan Hajkowicz has been thinking for the last twenty years about how people plan for an uncertain future. With training in economics, geography and decision theory, Stefan is one of CSIRO’s leading thinkers about trends, shocks and scenarios in the coming decades. His work led to the creation of the newly established CSIRO Futures research unit – a team of dedicated scientists working to unveil the future and inform people’s choices. Stefan now works as a principal scientist at CSIRO in Brisbane and is in demand worldwide as a speaker, strategist and consultant.

His latest book Global Megatrends reveals his most recent research as he unpacks seven patterns of change that are shaping the future. They include:

  • A scarcity of natural resources.
  • The challenge to protect biodiversity and the global climate.
  • Rapid economic growth and urbanisation in Asia and the developing world.
  • Changing demographics and an ageing population.
  • The impact of new digital technologies.
  • Consumer expectations for services, experiences and social interaction.
  • An imperative to innovate. 

Megatrends are gradual yet powerful trajectories of change that have the potential to throw companies, individuals and societies into freefall. In this book, Hajkowicz identifies these seven patterns of global change and tells a story about how the world will change over the next 20 years. The book captures the thinking of many dedicated scientists and researchers who have devoted their careers to exploring and understanding change. The change heralded by megatrends lies beyond our direct control but not beyond our influence. By getting a picture of how the world is changing and what these megatrends are, we can alter our destiny.

"My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there." Charles F. Kettering

"The leaders of Issacher had understanding of the times, to know what Israel should do." 1Chronicles 12:32.

Tomorrow's coming. What do you see?


Wish You Could Read Faster?

ReadWe live in a time of information explosion. There is so much to learn and so little time to read and digest everything we'd like to know. 

There is no best way to read but there are a great many strategies you can use. Think of them more as options rather than rules. Try them out and then decide which ones work best for you.

Faster reading skills will enable you to read more in less time, have better concentration, understand material with greater depth and accuracy, retain information better and enjoy reading more.

My Top Tips for Reading Non-Fiction:

1. Don't believe the lie that you have to read every word. Deciding what is worth reading is as important as reading fast. 

2. With a newspaper article, read the first 2-3 paragraphs, skim through the rest and then read the final 2 paragraphs. That will give you the gist of the article, then you can decide if you want to read it more in depth. 

3. With a book, read the front and back cover, then glance over the table of contents, read the introduction or foreword, then the conclusion. You might want to glance quickly through the contents inbetween, noting headings, diagrams or chapter summaries. This approach is like hovering over a large city central business district with a helicopter, catching the lie of the land, the shape of the city streets, before deciding you want to walk every alley way (which you dont have to do if you dont want to)! This approach enables you do clarity the 'big idea' of the book even before having read it in detail. 

4. For a book you have chosen to read indepth, underline when you read. Highlight headings, key words or memorable sentences. 

5. As you finish each chapter, make a bullet point list of the main points, insights or takeaways in the blank area at the end of the chapter. When you have finished the entire book doing this, you can then look back and you have a summary of the book ready for instant recollection.

6. Try not to read horizontally from left to right with your eye stopping on every word. Instead, try to take snap shots of an entire line or paragraph at once, using your eye's amazing periphial vision. You'll be amazed at how much you can take in this way. 

For more, check out the following helpful resources:


2015 Australian Christian Book of the Year

The Australian Christian Book of the Year Award is given annually to an original book written by an Australian citizen. The award recognises and encourages excellence in Australian Christian writing. The ACBOTY Award carries a prize of $3,000 for the author, and a framed certificate for the author and publisher. Entries are judged with an eye to the: 

  • Original nature of the work.
  • Literary style, including suitability for the target audience.
  • Design, layout, cover, text and illustrations.
  • Contribution that the book makes in meeting a need for Christian writing in the Australian situation and in the Australian market.

Entries are read and judged by a panel selected by the SparkLit Council.

2015 Winner SP

Captains of the Soul: A History of Australian Army Chaplains by Michael Gladwin

The letters and journals of both chaplains and soldiers animate this account of the work of chaplains in every theatre of war involving Australian troops. While the role of the chaplain has changed over time, the common task remains the ministry of God’s Word and the sacraments to soldiers, burying the dead and representing an alternative reality to the conflict, chaos and suffering. Increasingly unfashionable in some spheres of society, chaplains continue to be valued in proportion to the proximity of battle. Gladwin does not flinch from portraying chaplains who behaved disgracefully nor from facing up to the problem of fatalism amongst some Australian troops. However, acts of heroism by ‘the soldier without a gun’ abound and provide Christian communicators with a treasury of inspiring, home-grown stories. This is a history of national importance and an insight into the Australian character.

To read about the other eight books short-listed, visit sparklit.org


A Personal MBA

MbaJesus once said that the children of this world are sometimes wiser than the children of light. That wasn't a compliment! We can learn a lot from those who achieve and accomplish things in fields such as business, arts, sport or leadership. There is wisdom to be gained from the experience of others.

In the business world, the most desired education is an MBA - a Masters in Business Administration. People will often pay a lot of money to earn such a degree, and especially from some of the most reputable universities around the world. 

Josh Kaufman begs to differ. He strongly believes that self-education can be just as effective and acquired for a fraction of the cost. Check out his web site at www.personalmba.com and have a read of his manifesto. You might then want to read his highly educational book by the same title - Personal MBA. Then have a look at the excellent reading list he has compiled on a wide variety of business and life-related topics. 

Worth checking out!

 


Book Review: The Essentialist - The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

EssentialistOne of the best books I have read over the last few months is The Essentialist - The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. It is a very challenging book that forces you to think through what is most important in life (the essentials) and focus on that, often requiring the elimination of the less important (the trivial). 

Here are a few excerpts:

The Problem

We stretched too thin, overworked, busy but not productive, constantly in motion, never getting anywhere and trying to please everyone. The way out is becoming an Essentialist. It’s not a time-management strategy, but rather a systematic discipline to apply every time you are faced with a decision. By applying a more selective criteria for what is essential, the pursuit of less allows you to regain control of our choices so you can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter. 

The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials - Lin Yutang

The Way of the Essentialist

The difference between the way of the Essentialist and the way of the non-Essentialist can be seen through the image above on the left - a circle with short arrows going out from it in multiple directions compared with the same circle to teh right - with a single long arrow focused in one direction. In both images the same amount of effort is exerted.

In the first image, the energy is divided into many different activities. The result is we have the unfulfilling experience of making a millimetre of progress in a million directions. In the second image, the energy is given to fewer activities. The result is that by investing in fewer things we have the satisfying experience of making significant progress in the things that matter most. The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions. In many cases we can learn to make one-time decisions that make a thousand future decisions so we don’t exhaust ourselves asking the same questions again and again.

The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. The Essentialist distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the non-essentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.

If you don’t prioritise your life, someone else will. There are too many forces conspiring to keep us from applying the discipline pursuit of less but better. No wonder so many bright, smart, capable individuals remain snared in the death grip of the non-essential.

- - - - - 

This is a book about priorities - what is truly important. But more than that, it does an insightful job at helping unpack the mentality of those who truly do what is important and those who don't. This can lead to some powerful mind renewal and eventual life transformation. This is vital for us who are Christ followers, as Jesus himself told us, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33)." When Jesus hung on the cross he cried out, "It is finished!" No, he didn't do everything that could be done but he did do excatly what the Father has sent him to do. That was enough. Jesus was the ultimate Essentialist!


God is with you NOW

Busy-city-people

Here is a quote from Gregory Boyd's helpful book Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now.

When many Christians first hear about the practice of the presence of God, it strikes them as an impossible discipline. Perhaps supersaints locked up in monasteries can attain this level of awareness, but not us average folk who work nine-to-five jobs and raise families! It’s hard enough to pray ten minutes a day and make it to church once a week! For us ordinary Christians, trying to remain aware of God’s presence moment-by-moment seems like a hyperspiritual pipe dream. Are you awake? If you’re inclined to feel this way, it might be because, like everyone else in modern Western culture, you’ve been brainwashed by what is called “the secular worldview.” In this view of the world, what’s real, or at least what’s important, is the physical here-and-now. When we’re brainwashed by this worldview, we experience the world as though God did not exist, for we habitually exclude him from our awareness. We may still believe in God, of course, but he’s not real to us most of the time. Because of this we go about our day-to-day lives as functional atheists. We may pray and worship God on occasion, but these are “special times,” isolated from our “normal,” secular day-to-day life. So thoroughly are we brainwashed by the secular mind-set that the very suggestion that we could routinely experience the world in a way that includes God strikes us as impossible.

May you live with a greater awareness of God truly being "with you" today and all through the coming week!


Eat Move Sleep by Tom Wrath

Eat
Physical health gives us the energy to enjoy life and carry out our God-given purpose with enthusiasm. God is interested in every part of our being - spirit, soul and body. Health doesn't just happen. It is the result of habits. Habits such as what we eat, the activity we engage in, and the rest we take.

I highly recommend Tom Wrath's practical book Eat Move Sleep which is about the big impact of small daily choices. It's an easy read but highly motivational and full of good advice for improving your health and well-being. Well worth the investment.


The Great Bible Swindle (Australian Chrisitan Book of the Year)

A book that is not aimed at Christians has won the Australian Christian Book of the Year for 2014. The Great Bible Swindle is a book designed for Christians to give to “Uncle Fred”, a relative or friend who expresses curiosity about the Bible.

Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 9.27.29 AM 

It leads the reader gently into an understanding of the wonder of the Bible. It was written by Greg Clarke, CEO of Bible Society Australia, who in the wake of a long love affair with the Bible, has a passion to share his love of the book, and the big story within it.

The “Swindle” in the title is the loss caused to a rising generation whose ignorance of the Bible cuts them off from a full understanding of our culture.

“I am delighted and extremely honoured to receive this award,” Clarke told Eternity. “I do so on behalf of those who are labouring to ensure that the Bible has its proper place in our society. For believers, this means the front-and-centre of our faith, guiding our knowledge of God and his world. But for absolutely everyone living in a culture touched by Judaism and Christianity, it means being properly educated about the numerous ways in which the Bible has shape our world. As songwriter Paul Kelly once said, “the Bible has it all—Fellini and Tarantino don’t come close”.

See more including full news story and details about the runner ups.


Next: Pastoral Succession that Works (by Warren Bird)

NextWarren Bird and William Vanderbloemen have written an excellent and much-needed book about leadership succession within the local church: Next - Pastoral Succession that Works.

The book is based on over 200 case studies and 50 in-depth interviews with pastors and churches who have navigated the succession territory - either effectively or badly. There is much to learn here on this essential topic.

Here are a few key insights and facts from the book:

  1. Every pastor is an interim pastor. The day when a successor takes over will come for everyone in ministry.
  2. Planning for that day of succession may be the biggest leadership task a leader and church will ever face.
  3. Everyone wants to talk about succession ... until it's their own.
  4. Dave Travis, CEO of Leadership Network, defines pastoral succession as "the intentional process of the transfer of leadership, power and authority from one directional leader to another."
  5. Equating 'succession planning' with 'retirement planning' is a major error in perception.
  6. The best time to think about pastoral succession is now.
  7. Most churches age with their pastor, the average age in a congregation being about five years younger than their senior pastor's age ... unless certain exceptions are in place, including intentionally giving younger leaders ministry opportunity and leadership influence within the church.
  8. 'Founding pastors' (in comparison to 'successors') lead 45% of the largest 100 churches in the USA. Will they stay too long, like many pastors? Unfortunately, the average pastor steps aside only after 8-10 years of attendance decline.
  9. Newer churches tend to draw younger people. Long-established churches are often dominated by an older age group. 
  10. The average age difference between an outgoing pastor and successor is 22 years (taken from a sample of 100 well-known pastor successions). 

To check out my own take on this important subject, based on our two leadership transitions at CityLife over our 47 year history, see my book Pass the Baton: Successful Leadership Transition.

Is it time for you to pass the baton?


Les Miserables

Les

Two weeks ago, my family and I attended the Les Miserables stage production at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. It is one of our favourite productions. We have watched the 25th annviersary edition DVD recorded at the London O2 arena a dozen or so times and it never fails to move us (the finale, which is a 30 minute standing ovation and encore that brought the 1985 cast on-stage, is worth the price of the DVD). The Australian cast did an outstanding job too.

The story, based on the book by Victor Hugo, is so redemptive and it captures and portrays so vividly the full range of human emotion: betrayal, anger, grief, disappointment, as well as forgiveness, love and transformation. A great quote: "to love another person is to see the face of God."


Soul Keeping

John-ortberg-pastor-of-menlo-park-presbyterian-church-published-april-2014-his-new-book-soul-keeping-caring-for-the-most-important-part-of-youJohn Ortberg's latest book is called Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You. John is a well-known pastor, speaker and best-selling author from the USA. In this excellent book, he delves into the inner world of our soul, exposing what the soul needs and showing how it can be restored. 

John, who has a doctorate in both theology and psychology, is an engaging writer, drawing insights from Scripture, human experience, his own personal life, as well as his unique mentoring relationship with the late Dallas Willard.

If you're looking for a challenging and insightful devotional book, then look no further.

The life of a village depends on the health of the stream flowing through it. That stream is your soul. And you are the keeper.


Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence

Word-focus-300x300
Daniel Goleman's latest book is Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. For more than two decades, psychologist and journalist Goleman has been scouting the leading edge of the human sciences for what's new, important and surprising. In this book, he delves into the science of attention in all its varieties, presenting a comprehensive discussion on this mental asset that matters enormously as to how we navigate life. 

Attention works much like a muscle: use it poorly and it can wither; work it well and it grows. In an era of unstoppable distractions, Goleman argues that now more than ever we must learn to sharpen focus if we are to contend with, let alone thrive, in a complex world. 

Here are a few of his insights:

1. Attention is like a muscle. It gets stronger with practice.

2. There are three areas of needed focus: inner focus, focus on others, and outer focus on our world.

3. Your focus is your reality.

4. Distractions are both sensory and emotional (the most draining kind).

5. The brain's default is a wandering mind. Yet even here, creative juices can flow.

6. The most powerful distractor is the chatter of our own mind.

7. Mindfulness quiets our inner voices by presenting us with a focus. It trains us in attention and helps focus the drifting mind.

8. The antidote to mental fatigue is rest. Time out in nature can be particularly helpful as can activities where our enjoyment is immersive.

9. The more you care about someone, the more you pay attention to them and the more attention you give them the more you care about them.

10. Limit strenuous practice of anything to 4 hours maximum per day.

11. Move from a firefight of the day mentality to thoughtful reflection.

12. Organisation attention is vital. Effective leaders focus it when and where it matters. Leaders need to capture and direct collective attention.

13. The ripple effect: what matters to leaders guides other people's attention, not just their own.

 Some related Scriptures for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ:

Proverbs 4:25-27. Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil. NLT

Romans 12:1-2. And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice — the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. NLT

Revelation 3:6. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. NLT

1 Samuel 3:10. The Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening. NLT


2014 Christianity Today Book Awards

2014Confession time. I love books! Yes, there is a certain joy in buying a new book and just putting it on your shelf ... even if you haven't yet read the last ten books you bought. Fellow addicts would understand. Others don't. 

So, if you are looking for a book to read, check out Christianity Today magazine's list of their book awards for 2014. There's bound to be something in there to capture your interest and its good to keep in touch with what is shaping the thinking and culture of Christianity today.  

A few other books I have on my reading pile right now include:

Paul and the Faithfulness of God by N.T. Wright. An epic work (2 volumes) on the apostle Paul by today's leading New Testament scholar.

The Benefit of the Doubt by Gregory Boyd. A thought-provoking book about breaking the idol of certainty. 

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. Classic Keller, dealing with the age-old question of suffering.

Center Church by Tim Keller. An outstanding book on God's purpose for the church, expounding the meaning of the Gospel and how it can be properly contextualised in today's cities. 

The Advantage: Why Organisational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni. A very helpful book on building healthy organisations.

Eat, Move and Sleep by Tom Rath. A practical book looking at how our daily choices affect our long-term health and well-being. 

Happy reading!


The Advantage: Organisational Health - by Patrick Lencioni

DownloadPatrick Lencioni's most recent book is The Advantage: Why Organisational Health Trumps Eveyrhting Else. He believes that all the competitive advantages that businesses have been pursuing over the years are gone - strategy, technology, finance, and marketing. No, those disciplines have not disappeared. They are all alive and well in most organisations. But as meaningful competitive advantages, as real differentiators that can set one company apart from another, they are no longer anything close to what they once were. That's because virtually every organisation, of any size, has access to the best thinking and practices around strategy, technology and those other topics. In this age of the internet, as information has become ubiquitous, it's almost impossible to sustain an advantage based on intellectual ideas. However, there is one remaining, untapped competitive advantage out there, and it's more important than all the others ever were. It is simple, reliable and virtually free. What he is talking about is organisational health.

Here is his Organisational Health Model:

Discipline 1: Build a Cohesive Leadership Team

Cohesive teams build trust, eliminate politics, and increase efficiency by…

  • Knowing one another’s unique strengths and weaknesses
  • Openly engaging in constructive ideological conflict
  • Holding one another accountable for behaviours and actions
  • Committing to group decisions

Discipline 2: Create Clarity

Healthy organisations minimise the potential for confusion by clarifying…

  • Why do we exist?
  • How do we behave? 
  • What do we do?
  • How will we succeed?
  • What is most important, right now?
  • Who must do what? 

Discipline 3: Over-Communicate Clarity

Healthy organisations align their employees around organisational clarity by communicating key messages through…

  • Repetition: Don’t be afraid to repeat the same message, again and again
  • Simplicity: The more complicated the message, the more potential for confusion and inconsistency
  • Multiple mediums: People react to information in many ways; use a variety of mediums
  • Cascading messages: Leaders communicate key messages to direct reports; the cycle repeats itself until the message is heard by all

Discipline 4: Reinforce Clarity 

Organisations sustain their health by ensuring consistency in…

  • Hiring
  • Managing performance
  • Rewards and recognition
  • Employee dismissal

Patrick has an excellent web site with videos, tools and processes for implementing this organisational health model. Any business, small or large, can benefit by gleaning from Patrick's insights. 

Check out the One in Jesus blog for an excellent example of applying this matieral in the unique environment of a church. 


Rob Bell's Book: "What We Talk About When We Talk about God."

BellRob Bell's latest book is called What We Talk About When we Talk About God

Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today, has recently reviewed the book and offers these insightful thoughts ...

As far as I can tell, any classic, middle-of-the-road Christian can offer a hearty "Amen" to a great deal of Rob Bell's theology.

The former pastor of Mars Hill Church believes God exists and can be experienced and yet cannot be contained by rational explanations. He affirms the divinity and humanity of Christ, as well as the Resurrection. He believes the Spirit is active in our lives and in the world. He believes the Bible is authoritative at some level—that is, he always tries to understand his life in light of his reading of the Bible. He is indignant about self-righteousness and injustice, and contrary to popular opinion, he actually believes in a judgment: He says people who abuse and exploit others and creation will not participate in the glorious restoration of heaven on earth. Yes, he holds out hope that perhaps everyone will someday be saved, but in one sense, so do many evangelicals. Even God is said to wish that no one should perish.

So unlike some of my other fellow believers, I cannot say, "Farewell, Rob Bell." Instead, I think of him as my brother in Christ.

This may surprise readers who believe I wrote God Wins to refute Bell's controversial theology. Only in part, though that part is not insignificant. I mostly stumble over his epistemology—his understanding of how we come to know what is true, and by what method we determine how to live authentic lives. As I argued in the book, this is precisely my concern about evangelical faith as a whole. The thesis in my book and in this essay is that in this respect, Rob Bell is not only an evangelical, but an evangelical's evangelical, the evangelical par excellence.

The thesis in my book and in this essay is that in this respect, Rob Bell is not only an evangelical, but an evangelical's evangelical.

This is admittedly a sweeping and dramatic assertion, which cannot be worked out in the course of an essay. But let me sketch in broad terms what I mean. I'll use Bell's latest book as the primary example—not because it is unusual, but precisely because it so perfectly represents what's going on in large segments of Christianity today.

Read the rest of the article here, in which he offers a challenge to followers of Christ to focus on living a life of love, not just a life of experience. 


A Letter to the Church at Laodecia

RevHere is a challenging message from Jesus to the church at Laodecia:

Revelation 3:15-19. I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, I am rich. I have everything I want. I dont need a thing! And you dont realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and e discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. NLT

This church had become lukewarm - complacent, indifferent, lethargic, apathetic and lacking in passion. Apathy means “without emotion” or “a lack of feeling or concern. 

Satan knows that once we lose our passion we become ineffective. Once we lose our passion, we lose vision and perspective. We become critical and apathetic and instead of doing good we start becoming destructive. There is nothing he likes better than an apathetic Christian. One definition of lukewarmness is “serving God in such a way as to not offend the devil.”

That’s why we need to guard the flame within us. This passion of God is a consuming fire within you. Protect it ferociously, realising it is the enemy's target.

How is your passion for God? Burning brightly, just burning or burnt out? What may have caused this? Was it complacency, familiarity, difficult circumstances or maybe an unbalanced lifestyle (sometimes the pace we live at damages God's work in us)?

What steps can you take today to ignite your passion? Some ideas: associate with passionate people (fire-lighters not fire-fighters), stir up your spiritual gifts (they are Spirit-energising), return to your first love (do the things you did in the beginning), and pray for passion. After all, God is a fire-lighting God!


Christmas Resources

XmasBelieve it or not, Christmas is only four weeks away! For followers of Christ, and especially for those of us who pastor a church or speak from time to time, Christmas presents another excellent opportunity to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. But how do we share this timeless message in new and fresh ways that capture people’s attention and interest?

J John from the UK has put together a variety of resources specially related to the Christmas season. Check out his web site for further details. Of note, is the recent release of the book Proclaiming Christmas, a compilation of Christmas sermons from communicators all around the world. I was privileged to contribute my message from a few years ago called “What would Jesus say to Santa Claus?”

Enjoy your Christmas preparations!


C.S. Lewis Deserves His Place in Poet's Corner

Leiws

By Alistair McGrath for The Telegraph

With simplicity and elegance, he captured the imagination of a war-weary generation.

Today it will be announced that a memorial to the poet, literary scholar and novelist C S Lewis (1898-1963) is to be placed in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey next November, 50 years after his death. He joins a select group of poets, playwrights and writers to have been buried or commemorated there, including Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare. I would argue that Lewis certainly merits inclusion among these greats of English literature.

Has he secured his place because he was a poet? He certainly had early aspirations in that direction. Born in Belfast, he hoped to become an “Irish voice” in poetry, with W B Yeats as his model. Yet little came of this aspiration. His first slender volume of verse, Spirits in Bondage (1919), was published under the pseudonym “Clive Hamilton” (Hamilton was his mother’s maiden name). Many of these poems were written while he served as a junior officer in the trenches of northern France during the First World War.

The early poems remain a powerful witness to Lewis’s early atheism, railing against an absent and uncaring God who failed to halt the slaughter the author saw around him. But he never achieved recognition as a “war poet”, like Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon, who are also commemorated in Poets’ Corner. Indeed, not only did he fail to secure recognition for his war poetry, he was not acclaimed as a poet of any kind, as the lack of interest in his second volume of verse – Dymer (1926) – made painfully clear.

He went on to secure his reputation, rather, as a literary critic at Oxford and Cambridge, offering important assessments of the poetry of others, especially Edmund Spenser and John Milton. He excelled at this task. His work on Milton drew attention to an aspect of his poetry that had been neglected – how it sounded to its readers. Lewis became acutely sensitive to the rhythm of the English language, whether poetry or prose. He never used a typewriter, explaining that the clattering of its keys destroyed his “sense of rhythm”. For Lewis, a fountain pen enabled its user to be attuned to the melody of language.

In the end, the poetic vision that Lewis never quite managed to actualise in his verse was found instead in his prose. Here we find one of the keys to his success as a writer – his ability to express complex ideas in simple language, connecting with his audience without losing elegance of expression. Lewis learnt this skill the hard way, partly through lecturing to aircrews during the Second World War. If you could not express something in simple language, Lewis later declared, it was because you had failed to understand it yourself.

Lewis is one of the best examples of a writer who took pleasure in the art of communication, melding simplicity and elegance in a way few could manage. His popular religious writings – such as The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity – combine these qualities, even though they cannot be counted as great literature.

Yet this alone does not explain his inclusion in Poets’ Corner. The real reason he deserves his place is on account of his works of fiction, which captured the imagination of his public, especially in the dark days after the Second World War. Supreme among these are his Chronicles of Narnia, especially The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950).

Although he had no children of his own, Lewis produced a work that captured the imagination of a generation of younger readers. The noble lion Aslan, lord of the mysterious world of Narnia, has become one of the most familiar Christ-figures in English literature. Some, understandably, find the Narnia books problematic on account of the “golly-gosh” language of the Pevensie children, or a suspicion that female characters are allocated subsidiary roles in the narrative. Yet they remain a classic in their field, serving as a model for both Lewis’s literary imitators and critics.

It was not simply that Lewis had written children’s stories that captivated their readers. Lewis developed these stories as vehicles of theological exploration, allowing him to explore sophisticated ideas without compromising the pace of his narrative or losing the patience of his readers. Narnia, Lewis later explained, was about “supposals”. Suppose God did become incarnate in a world like Narnia. What would this look like? More importantly, what would it feel like to be part of this world?

Lewis revealed the imaginative capacity of children’s literature to engage and explore the deepest questions of life, to bring a new quality of engagement to the genre. The writer himself was convinced that he would be forgotten within five years of his death; he would have been taken aback by the renewal of interest in his writings since the Eighties. Surveys now regularly identify him as one of the most significant literary voices of the 20th century. Lewis has made what is probably the most difficult transition an author can hope to make – being read by more people a generation after his death than before it.

Lewis died on the day President John F Kennedy was assassinated. In a speech given at Amherst College four weeks before his death, honouring the great American poet Robert Frost, Kennedy paid a typically handsome tribute to the work of poets and writers. “We must never forget,” he declared, “that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.” Lewis would agree. He rightly takes his place among those honoured for their enrichment and expansion of our vision of reality.

Alister McGrath is Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education at King’s College London. His 'C S Lewis: A Life’ will be published by Hodder in April 2013.


"Who is this Man?" by John Ortberg

ManWith over 1,500 new books about Jesus being published every year, why read another book about Jesus? John Ortberg's latest book Who is this Man? The Unpredictable Impact of this Inescapable Man is well worth reading as it gives us a fresh and inspiring look at Jesus and his impact on history. 

New Testament scholar and historian N.T. Wright says this about it: “One of the big lies of our time is that Christianity has been part of the problem rather than the source of the solution. Most people today don’t realise that things we now take for granted, like education and health care, were reserved for the rich elite in the ancient world until the Christians insisted on providing them for everyone within reach. Many imagine that Christianity was bad for women, whereas early Christianity provided the biggest transformation of attitudes to women the world had ever seen … The impact of Jesus on the whole world, even when his followers have been muddled or misguided, towers breathtakingly over all human achievement. This book provides enormous encouragement both to celebrate what Jesus’ followers have done in the past, and to stimulate a fresh vision of our mission in the future. And, above all, to be amazed and awed once more at Jesus himself, who lived, died, and rose to launch such a transformative vision.” 

A few excerpts:

On the day after Jesus’ death, it looked as if whatever small mark he left on the world would rapidly disappear. Instead, his impact on human history has been unparalleled. Consider the impact of Jesus on history. Most people – including most Christians – simply have no idea of the extent to which we live in a Jesus-impacted world. From the existence of hospitals to the notion of universal human dignity and rights to the prizing of virtues like humility and forgiveness, our lives are simply unimaginable apart from his life.

In the ancient world, children were commonly left to die of exposure if they were the wrong sex (guess which one), or sold into slavery and often used sexually. O.M. Bakke, a Norwegian church historian, has written that Jesus’ blessing of children – and his using them as an example to be spiritually emulated – was essentially unprecedented, and led to the eventual end of practices like expose and infanticide, as well as to such innovations as orphanages and godparents.

Through Jesus, the truth prized in Israel that every human being is made in the image of the one true God became accessible to the entire world. It’s not simply Jesus’ teaching that fuelled people’s moral imagination. It was his ceaselessly courageous embrace of lepers and prostitutes, of Samaritans and soldiers and sinners, of tax collectors and zealots that fuelled the world first’s movement that sought to include every individual regardless of ethnicity and status. The philosopher Nickolas Wolterstorff argues that the modern embrace of human dignity, rights, and justice, is built upon this Judeo-Christian foundation.

Jesus’ impact extends into such diverse areas as architecture and the calendar system … From a purely human perspective, the biggest surprise is that Jesus had any influence at all. Normally, if someone’s legacy will outlast their life, its apparent when they die. On the day when Alexander the Great, or Caesar Augustus, or Napoleon, or Socrates, or Muhammad died, their reputations were immense. When Jesus died, his tiny, failed movement appeared clearly at an end. No one would have pronounced Jesus “Most Likely to Posthumously Succeed” on the day of his death.

I highly recommend this book! It unpacks the truth of One Solitary Life for a new generation.

See also How Christianity Changed the World.


A Book Lover's Delight

ReadEveryone has a weakness. Mine is books. There is a certain joy in buying a book and putting it on your shelf ... even if you haven't read hte last 10 books you bought. Fellow addicts will identify with me right away. If you don't love books ... well, you just don't understand.

Fellow book-lovers, I have a host of articles for you on the topics of 'Books.' Just click here to get started ... and I promise you'll have an enjoyable time.

And when you're done reading, it won't have cost you a penny ... unless you choose to buy a book I've recommended, of course.

Enjoy your reading!


2011 Leadership Book Awards

BooksThey say that "leaders are readers" and "readers are leaders." Without doubt, each of us can only give out what we have inside. We fill our inner world through prayer and reflection on God's Word, through meditation and grappling with our own thoughts, but we are especially aided by engaging with others. Books are a terrific way to stimulate your thinking and help you engage with a wide variety of relevant issues.

Leadership Journal is an excellent Christian magazine for leaders in every sphere of society. They recently released their list of book awards for 2011. If you're looking for some new books to read, their list is definitely worth a look.

Click here to access it.


Tom Wright for Everyone

Tom WrightTom Wright (also known as N.T. Wright) has achieved global recognition as a biblical theologian through his academic and popular publications. He is a leading New testament scholar and former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. His most academic work is his Christian Origins and the Questions of God series, of which three editions have been released so far. These include The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God and The Resurrection and the Son of God. Tom also has also written a commentary series on the entire New Testament called For Everyone, as well as a contemporary translation. His more popular books include Simply Christian (likened to C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity), Evil and The Justice of God and Surprised by Hope.

Because of the number and size of Tom's books, few people have engaged fully with his thought and grappled with the implications. Stephen Kuhrt has done us all a favor through the release of his new book Tom Wright for Everyone. He provides and excellent summary and overview of Wright's theology in a broad range of areas, then describes in detail the way in which he has sought to put this theology into practice through the ministry and mission of his own local church, Christ Church in New Malden, England. This is a terrific book, well worth reading.

On a personal note, while on holidays in the UK recently, I was priviledged to have a coffee with Tom at St. Andrew University in Scotland, where he now resides (see pic). I found him warm, friendly, insightful and a joy to converse with. 

P.S. Visit the unofficial N.T. Wright page here, where there is a wealth of articles, lectures and links.

 


Which book would you want if you were shipwrecked on an island?

Unknown If you were stranded on a remote desert island somewhere and could only have ONE book with you, what would it be?

G. K. Chesterton, the famous British writer, was once invited to a meeting of the leading intellectuals in England. They were asked if they were shipwrecked on an island, what would be the one book they would want to have with them. Everyone expected Chesterton, a prominent Christian, to say “the Bible.” When it came his turn to speak, however, Chesterton said that if he were shipwrecked on a desert island, he’d like to have “Thomas’s Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.”

Now there is an intelligent Christian!

Chuck Colson wrote about this recently and highlights the fact that we need to look at and engage with life holistically, not just spiritually. Food for thought. 

The Bible is of utmost important but we don't want to be like the Pharisees who knew the Scriptures so well but missed Jesus (John 5:39-40) ... and God's will for us is revealed in many ways, including through people, creation, wisdom and life experience.