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CNN posted the sobering statistics of the devastation in Haiti. They are difficult to envision.

With my Angie having been there only four months ago, it has been surreal to watch the news footage. In fact, Jonas Noel, the Haitian boy we sponsor through New Missions, lives near the epicenter of the earthquake. We were notified that New Missions would call all those who sponsor a child that died in the earthquake. So far – no phone call. We pray that it never comes.

Jonas is 17 years old, one of nine children, and is attending 5th grade at a New Missions school that was destroyed in the quake. I hope to meet him in person some day.

Please go to the New Missions website and watch the videos produced about their work over the last twenty plus years. You should especially watch “Building a New Haiti.”

Today, CNN posted a summary of what has happened in the raw numbers. It is sobering, sad, and makes me want to go immediately. Please read. Please give. I plan on finding a way to help build a new Haiti. I hope you join the effort.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) — Two weeks after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, the numbers have mounted. The numbers tell stories of death and destruction, as well as a global outpouring of aid.

CNN has compiled the latest, most reliable figures available as the devastation continues to unfold:


150,000: Latest estimate of the death toll, from the Haitian Health Ministry. The European Union and the Pan American Health Organization, which is coordinating the health-sector response, have estimated the quake killed 200,000 people.
194,000: Number of injured
134: Estimated number of people rescued by international search teams since the quake


9 million: Population of Haiti
3 million: Estimated number of people affected by the quake
1.5 million: Homeless people living on streets, including the thousands who lived in slums or makeshift homes prior to the quake
235,000: People who have left Port-au-Prince using free transportation provided by the government. The number who left by private means is undetermined.
At least 50: Aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 or higher that have hit Haiti since the January 12 quake


300,000: Children younger than 2 who need nutritional support
90: Percentage of schools in Port-au-Prince that have been destroyed
497: Haitian orphans who have been evacuated


$1.12 billion: International aid pledges
$783 million: Funds received as of Tuesday
$317 million: U.S. assistance as of Monday


17,000: U.S. military personnel in and around Haiti
8 million: Meals the World Food Programme has delivered to nearly 400,000 people
300: Aid distribution sites that are up and running
130 to 150: Flights arriving every day at the single-runway Port-au-Prince airport with aid


12,000: U.N. workers in the country at the time of the quake
53: U.N. workers still missing
At least 82: U.N. workers confirmed dead
27: U.N. workers injured or hospitalized
11,500: Americans and family members who have been evacuated
4,800: Americans unaccounted for
60: Americans confirmed dead

Oooh – books. I am probably too obsessed with them. But I love books. And watching everyone’s “Best of…” lists made me think of the books I have read in recent history.

I thought of writing up my favorites of 2009 but it would only be a slightly different version of many other lists. So, instead, here are the books I’ve read but plan on reading again. Some are new. Some are old. But all have helped me in one way or another.

1. The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. To keep me reminded of who I can be and, without care, who I might become.

2. Dracula by Bram Stoker. So I will know what an enthralling tale reads like.

3. Jonathan Edwards, Evangelist by John Gerstner. Because my desire to have a great mind must always be in submission to being on a greater mission.

4. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. This masterpiece of literature helps me see how easily the perspective of a utilitarian life can drain the wonder out of living.

5. The Path to Celtic Prayer by Calvin Miller. Because Calvin Miller is a great writer, the Celts were a fascinating people, and prayer is a wondrous subject

6. Planting Missional Churches by Ed Stetzer. One: he’s my friend. Two: he’s my boss. Three: I hope to be on a church planting team again in the future.

7. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. They are my favorite stories from The Chronicles of Narnia. Love, redemption, and fulfillment all wrapped into stories for a kid like me.

8. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. The transparency of the title character is more about his soul than his body. His invisibility is an unavoidable mirror.

9. Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. So I can be challenged (again and again) about what true leadership looks like.

10. Let the Nations be Glad by John Piper. The consistency of God’s greatness is always amazing. God’s invitation for us to participate in that work is humbling.

So tell me – what are the books you go back to again and again?

Recently, my friend Ed Stetzer and I recorded a podcast for Inside LifeWay.

We were asked to take some time to talk about missional living and the role that love plays into how we live out our faith. During the holiday season filled with clothing sales, endless parties, and inflatable penguins on our front lawns – maybe taking a few moments to think about the grandness of God’s love is a needful respite in your day.

When we wrote Compelled by Love (New Hope Publishers), it seemed to be a good idea. Instead, it turned out to be a significant idea. Leadership Journal named it as one of the three most important books on making missional disciples. Take a closer look at the diagram of the “Missional Tree.” A huge honor!

It was also an opportunity to share some of latest findings from studies done by LifeWay Research. I would like to hear your take on how believers and the church is perceived by the unchurched.

Take a few moments of you day and give a listen to the Inside LifeWay podcast. Just click here.

After what seems to have been a quick year with LifeWay Christian Resources, I am beginning a new role this week. I’ve been very thankful for the team which adopted me so quickly in Leadership & Adult Publishing in 2008. They are great people who sincerely love Christ and deeply desire to see His church mature. So to them, I say THANKS!

On December 1, my job will change to a position recently created within LifeWay Research. I am excited to take on the new work of Director of Ministry Development.

New responsibilities. The title is representative of the job: developing new ministries and strengthening existing ones for our company/ministry. But, many of my friends have asked for a more detailed rundown of my new role entails so here goes:

Internally: leading (and co-leading) LifeWay matrix efforts for cross-organizational efforts toward maximizing the leverage of LifeWay ministries, manage special initiatives for LifeWay Research, and manage publishing and communications for LifeWay Research.

Externally: develop consulting relationships for and within new paradigms, develop increased relationships across the Evangelical community for LifeWay, and speak on behalf of the initiatives for LifeWay.

Working with friends. Perhaps one of the best things about this new role is the opportunity to work with my friends. Specifically, I will be working with Ed Stetzer. He and I have forged a great friendship and I’m looking forward to the days ahead as we work for the good of the church through our responsibilities at LifeWay Research.

My vision. The last few years of life and ministry have served to remove old paradigms in my life and build a new one. Specifically, it is called “missional” but if you’ve heard the term then you know it is is not always that simple. One of my greatest hopes for the position I will now fill is that I can encourage, provoke, and lead more believers, pastors, planters, and leaders to see themselves as missional in this world.

The vision for my life is to influence church leaders to engage their churches in global disciple-making for God’s glory and man’s good. If my life can be spent on leading the leaders to lead their friends in a thriving manner of missional living – then it has been worth the effort.

So, on Tuesday, a new journey begins. I hope to see you along the way.

Meet George.


George is a pirate. But not just any pirate.

He is one of the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything!

Just watch his video.

Sitting proudly upon my desk each day – he does nothing.

Ensconced between my oversized Starbucks mug and gigantic ESV Bible – he smiles happily at me each day.

He is blissfully unaware of any chaos or drudgery that occurs.

But unbeknownst to George, he helps me.

He stands as a silent reminder that doing nothing is a silly idea.

Everyday, I have a new opportunity to do something meaningful, something life-changing, something transformative.

Or, I can be a pirate of my own life – stealing away precious days in idleness or in worthless activity.

He stands as an oblivious sentry for my desire to live, minister, and give beyond the day.

Thanks, George! Today, once again, I choose to give rather than steal.

Lots of plates spinning.

Email is piling up on you.

Deadlines are looming.

And you wonder… Can I do this?

When I feel that way, I’ve decided to always say YES!

Nailing Jello

Currently, I am closing in on the conclusion of a busy season of travel. Over the last month, I’ve been in Texas twice, preached in Tennessee twice, spoken for a missional retreat (is that an oxymoron?) in Pennsylvania for a church from Baltimore, and spoke to pastors in Louisiana about Soul Shaping. My final trip of the year is to San Diego to introduce Dennis Pethers to friends during the National Outreach Convention. Traveling can be tiring but seeing life change never gets old for me.

There is rarely a chance to speak that I will ever turn down. But whenever I have time, you will find me scribbling notes, assembling outlines, and tapping out words for another book, another article, another communique to hopefully help people. My first book – Compelled by Love – was highlighted as a significant addition to the missional conversation by Leadership Network and you can take a look at the diagram here or over at Stetzer’s blog.

Along the way, I’ve had several friends (both new and old) ask what I’m currently working on in my personal writing. So here’s the list – I’d be happy to hear your reactions.

A book on missional spirituality – my hope is that this book will be the modern, evangelical, missional work on spiritual disciplines. Much is made about spiritual disciplines in classic literature and a few books stand out in our modern era. But I believe we need a new work that has the proper goal. My aim is not to drive people deeper into their prayer closets (though that is good in and of itself) but drive them to great activity with God on His mission for the world. I have written several chapters and have an annotated outline for the entire book. Feeling good about it.

A book on the glory of God – when you read/say/think about the phrase “the glory of God,” do you know what it means? I’ve tossed those words around like I understood them clearly – until someone asked me to define my term. Suddenly I realized I had no succinct or clear definition in mind. However, I’m excited about what I’ve learned from Scripture about this doctrine. A few chapters are done and the annotated outline is ready for review.

A book on missional children – working with my brother-in-law Michael Barksdale on a book that will help both parents and churches to raise children who think about the mission first. Teaching kids to enjoy church activities is good. Teaching them to love worship and Bible study is even better. But what if we designed our parenting skills and children’s ministries to engage children into God’s mission? Michael and I want to help parents lead the next generation to missional living rather than look for ways in 15 years to win them back into the church.

A book on John 17 – what many have referred to as the “High Priestly Prayer of Jesus” is often referred to in parts but rarely addressed as a whole. From His prayer, we can learn all sorts of lessons: how to pray, why to pray, intensity of relationship with the Father, a mission-focus to life, and why God’s glory matters to us. Reading Jesus’ interaction with the Father is a fascinating thought and I’m grateful He allows us to see it.

And there are various articles in the works regarding all sorts about marriage, parenting, independent musicians, literature, and spiritual subjects.

So there you have it… the stuff that is in the works.

What do you think?

I am fortunate to have published a book, Compelled by Love. First, because few become published authors and second because it opens the door for additional opportunities. After co-authoring the book with Stetzer, I was able to develop a video-based group study on the same subject and then also write the Bible study Live in the Word with LifeWay. Writing is a skill and an art I hope to one day say that I have mastered. However, like any skill or art, one never truly becomes a master.

readingWhen working on my initial book, I did something that felt a bit odd. While writing a book about the Christian life, I stopped reading Christian books. All of the books I had stacked in my “to get to” pile regarding doctrine, spiritual disciplines, and Christian living – they all went back onto the bookshelves. Odd since I was writing a book about these subjects and I would want everyone to run right out to purchase my book, read it, and recommend to friends.

But I did not stop reading altogether.

I chose instead to return to some of the “classics” of literature. And I’ll share my reasons why – along with a book recommendation for each:

Rich story-telling. The writers of centuries gone-by did not have the visual mediums of today. Every scene of a story was unfolded by the word of the writer and the imagination of the reader. They felt it a duty to cause characters and scenes to enliven the mind of the reader. Today, we wait for the movie based on the book. Or even worse, we read the book based on the movie. And even worse, we read the book based on a movie that was based on a video game. Give me the rich story-telling of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Somehow, Wells is able to convince me that the science in 1897 is able to turn a man invisible and then allow me to enter the torturous adventure he sets out upon. He is able to cause my imagination to travel farther than any movie could take me. All by vocabulary.

Brevity with power. When reading the classics, I am still shocked at times at short length. Now I realize that many titles in classic literature are lengthy, but authors of yesteryear seemed to possess a greater ability to write with a brevity that still held power over the reader. Within just a few paragraphs, a journey is taken and a depth of concept is conveyed which causes an emotive response from the reader. Last evening, I finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader contained in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. The book is just over one hundred pages but feels as if you are truly traveling to the end of the earth with Lucy and Edmund. The final meal hosted by a Lamb who speaks with the voice of Aslan the lion rushes over the reader suddenly and with a violent grace that astounds. I found myself wanting to read more but satisfied with the lack of extraneous verbage. The draw of wit within brevity far outweighs literary meandering.

Character development. Perhaps my favorite story in all of English literature is its most ancient poem – Beowulf. It is a difficult book to read, laborious at times. But, the work involved is worth the effort simply to come to grips with characters such as Beowulf, Hrothgar, and Grendel’s mother. By the tale’s end, the reader is enthralled by the life, adventure and death of Beowulf. The fascination could come from the horror of the monsters or the landscape of the country or even the cadence of the heroic poem. But, in the end, we are drawn in by the characters with their elation, woes, egos, and faults. It is the story of a man who feels no boundary insurmountable and no valorous deed is to be left undone. The heart of the man Beowulf is the heart of the story.

fail_whaleLearn to tell a long story. Though I hold a fascination with the power of many stories to be told briefly, I need to be challenged to dig in to a long tome. The convergence of Twitter, Facebook, lifestreams and the like are aiding the situation-comedy in shortening our attention spans. To counteract the need to always be brief (which is fine but not always helpful), I have picked up the practice of reading those books which are long and take effort. I suggest that you take up Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. It is long, you will likely find disagreements with her philosophy of Objectivism, but you will be better for plowing through such a lengthy work. Learning to tell a long story is not for the sake of word count but to learn how to lead readers through the slow burn of ideas. Rand’s work is methodical in its telling (taking from 1936-1943 to write) but is a wonderful study of communicating the importance of the minuscule in the midst of the larger narrative.

Communicate stern warnings. I grow weary of books with no connection to the metanarrative of our existence. Communication of every sort is a moment of intervention. Certainly much of modern writing does this very thing. However, there is a certain clarity of perspective gained when listening to the warnings given by those of a different era to the issues we face today. Take for instance The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells (late 19th century) and Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (late 20th century). The modern tale by Crichton essentially gives the same warning as does Wells: unfettered science holds an inherent danger to humanity. I am of the opinion that Wells does not advocate the abolition of scientific study (neither does Crichton). Quite the opposite, he wishes for mankind to advance in our understanding of the natural world but not at the cost of our humanity. It is a warning from a bygone era that highlights the consistency of humanity’s inhumanity. The poignant language and nearly lurid details offered by Wells would be an appropriate shock to the system for everyone of the 21st century venturing into the fields of science, medicine, and the like.

To become a better writer. Working for a publisher, I’m often asked about how to get a book published. The counsel I offer is to become a better writer by becoming a better reader. If you have only read those books counted as the lowest common denominator of literature, do not expect your work to exceed their standard. I read that which is challenging so I might write that which will challenge. In fact, for any one who wishes to become a better communicator, read the greatest literature. Studying, not just reading, the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Herman Melville, William Shakespeare, or Jane Austin will convince you that writing can be excellent. I would commit you to begin with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Stevenson. It engages you from the beginning and delivers you to a predetermined ending with a challenge to both mind and spirit.

writing-man1I’ve returned to reading modern Christian literature. But I read differently now. I actively choose an eclectic mix of history, fiction, doctrine, poetry, biography, and modern living material. I read books, blogs, Twitter feeds, magazines, and more books. I read so that I might write long and pithy and challenging and poignant works. And, I read because I love to understand God’s work among us. So the next time your cursor hovers over the “Purchase” button, make sure you have chosen well.

cupcakeOn October 1, I celebrated made it to observed my one year anniversary of working for LifeWay Christian Resources. After posting something about it on my Facebook wall, a friend voted for an “Unlike” button noting that she missed the church plant my family and I served in during our time in North Georgia. I sympathized with the sentiment. After entering the ministry 22 years ago, working at LifeWay was never on my radar. But, here I am. At times, I miss the one-on-one work of church planting, being a pastor, and serving a local congregation. But over the last year, I’ve learned some great lessons.

First, let me hasten to say that I’ve learned the people of LifeWay are unique. I say unique because most I’ve befriended in the building are there because they feel a calling. It certainly isn’t the ginormous paychecks that keep them coming back week after week. If you are looking to strike it rich, working for a publishing house during these economic times is not the place to be. Rather, both the new faces and those who’ve been around for decades, they all believe in helping churches produce well-rounded disciples is their calling. It takes a unique person to provide the tools for an unknown teacher to present biblical truth to an unknown group in the hopes that Christ will be more well-known among the nations. Trust me, the people at LifeWay are who you hope they are: good, godly, and praying for a great movement of the gospel in our day.

Secondly, denominational agencies get a bad rap, and often for not very good reasons. After serving as a church planting missionary for NAMB and now working at LifeWay, I have been the personal recipient of more than a few people’s ire at agencies. Agencies and the people who work for them ought to be accountable but not become punching bags. Agencies are filled with people just like the rest of the church – fallible but hoping to be faithful. I hope you will afford to them the same grace you hope others afford to you.

But I’ve also learned a few things about myself.

I love writing more than I thought possible. The work of crafting messages that help believers is immeasurably satisfying for me. Whether writing, editing, ghost writing, or as executive producer on a video shoot – I get a total charge out of seeing a solid biblical message go out for churches to use.

I find it hard to not exercise what my wife calls my “spiritual gift of excavation.” I seem to have the unenviable ability to dig up all of the junk in my surroundings. My apologies to everyone I’ve been in meetings with over the last year.

australia_regionsI miss serving as a pastor. Especially in the area of church planting. So much so that I have tried to befriend several planters in Nashville in order to keep myself locked into the tribe I have adopted as my own. At this point, my boys are enjoying living in Nashville but Andrew is praying for God to call us to church planting in Australia. Dream big, my son. Dream big!

I like being a person who influences, subverts the system, works as the flamethrower, or just looks for new ways of moving forward. Now I believe LifeWay is headed in a good direction – otherwise, I would not have signed on a year ago. By God’s help, I hope to keep my ego in check and help bring about the changes necessary to our system that will help churches thrive in the days to come.

And, I love traveling to help other churches. There are many who travel more than I but to the extent I do travel, I find it rewarding. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be in preaching in Texas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Louisiana. It is an awesome responsibility – along lots of fun – to participate in what God is doing so many churches today. Helping churches through Sunday preaching, conferences, and retreats is an incredible slice of life.

The work at LifeWay is often rewarding. It’s also often frustrating. But it is God’s assignment for me during this season of life so I hope to make the most of it.

Well – there are probably plenty of other things I could say, people I could thank, or reasons to go on about LifeWay. But I’ll hold off and let you know what else I’ve learned in October 2010.