My Top Most Inspirational Books – Part I

31 10 2011

“Read to refill the wells of inspiration.” – Harold Ockenga.

I never read a book until I was 10 years old. Honestly, I hated reading up to that time. Then entered Mrs. Milton, my fourth grade teacher. She didn’t care that I was the biggest cut-up, talker and comedian in the class. She was the first teacher that didn’t send me to the vice-principal’s office for deviant behavior. Her look (might I better call it a stare) was good enough, and I began to change my behavior. She was also the first teacher in my four year pedagogic history that actually seemed to like me.

Mrs. Milton believed that the love of learning and reading was more important than just knowing how to do it. She called my mom and told her that she needed to “force” me to read at least one hour a day. I could read any book I wanted to read. The only exception to the “any book” category was comic books. As I began to read, I discovered the adventure of books! I discovered biographies, sport stories and real life drama.

After that year, I was hooked on reading, and I have been ever since. Thank you, Mrs. Milton.

The leader who hopes to continually grow spiritually and intellectually must be constantly reading books. A leader is a reader. Leaders should intend to spend at least an hour a day reading for spiritual, intellectual, and personal stimulation if they are going to continually feed their soul and mind. Without books, a leader will eventually wither up and die.

I’ve been asked on many an occasion to share books that have most impacted my life. Following are the ten most influential and inspirational books of my life. Of the hundreds of books I’ve read and the thousands that I have perused throughout the years, the following books are the most dog eared, torn up and reread of any of the others.

1. Bible  

I was given a Bible when I was just a little tike. As far back as I can remember, the Bible was talked about reverently in my home. My father was a pastor and he read from three Bible texts every weekend in the Lutheran church. He believed in and built his life around the Bible. With these influences, I grew up with the Bible in my possession. But it was not until my freshman year in college that I got turned on to Jesus and the book He wrote. When I discovered Jesus, I discovered His book. His book possessed me. It came alive in my mind and heart and rocked my worldview, perspective, and paradigms for living. No book has so altered every aspect of my life like the Bible, the only book that is “living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” So, after all the years, I still read and reread the greatest book ever written. This book like no other continues to invade my life, my passions, my tears, my heart, my mind and my spiritual blood stream.

2. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

I know of no other book that is more dog-eared and underlined (the best indication of an influential book) than my friend, Wayne Grudem’s book on theology. As a pastor, fresh out of seminary when Mountain Springs Church was just being planted, I was constantly faced with theological and biblical questions I could not answer. After the Bible itself, my first go-to book was Systematic Theology. I still consult it whenever I find myself stumped on a doctrinal issue.

3. A Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems

The book is almost falling apart at the seams. Given this book in high school, I have devoured every poem from the great masters of “the music of the soul” (Voltaire). T.S. Eliot has said that poetry is “not the assertion of truth, but the making of that truth more fully real to us.” And that is precisely how God has used these poems in my life. Whenever I go out for a day with the Lord or fly fish by a roaring river, I often take this book along and meditate on my favorite poems. Some of my favorites are: “Road Not Taken” (Robert Frost); “Character of the Happy Warrior” (William Wordsworth); “Crossing the Bar” (Rudyard Kipling); and, written in my hand, on the back of the cover, “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Great poetry continues to be music to my soul.

4. Prayer: The Key to Revival by Paul Cho

Visiting Korea in 1983 and seeing the commitment to prayer in the Korean church had a huge impact on my life. The spiritual revival in this country can be traced back to the church’s passion for prayer. Cho takes you through the history of revival and prayer and inspires us with why prayer is so powerful. This book by the pastor of the world’s largest church has influenced my wife, Liz, and I deeply. I reread this book every year, being inspired once again with the power of prayer.

5. Desiring God by John Piper

This book lost its cover years ago. It’s underlined on almost every page, with notes written in the margin throughout. In Psalm 37:4 we are commanded to “Delight yourself in the Lord!” and this book “is a serious book about being happy in God.” (preface) The thesis of Piper’s work is that God is happy and we should find happiness in Him. The subtitle for the book is “the meditations of a Christian Hedonist” and Piper is convincing in his argument that all Jesus followers should be full of the joy of a joyful God. The greatest statement in the book, in my opinion, is the author’s contention that the great statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith should be reworded, “The chief end of man is to glorify God “by” (instead of “and”) enjoying Him forever.”

These are my top five most inspirational books. In the next inkling update, I will share the next five. Let me conclude with this verse from one of my favorite poems by Alexander Pope,

A little learning is a dangerous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring;

There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,

And drinking largely sobers us again.

Sea of Galilee and the Voice of God

14 10 2011

It was the spring of 2007 and I had just finished leading a devotional time on the Mount of Beatitudes in northern Israel. As I looked out over the Sea of Galilee, the flashing light of the rising sun across the waves of the sea caught my eyes and pulled at my heart. The Lord spoke to me that morning with the word “72.” The Holy Spirit grabbed my heart and enveloped me with His love. The infusion of His grace, kindness, and power overwhelmed my mind. I was flooded with the memories of His miraculous leading in my life. I reflected that morning on the blessings, the friendships, the mountains of goodness that were mine as a result of knowing Jesus.

God spoke: “72” and it was one of those moments where you instantaneously know what the number meant (which was even greater verification that it was God, because I’m definitely not that smart). I understood that the Lord was speaking to me about the next 20 years, and my age at that time of 72. The Lord led me to reexamine my life in light of eternity. Over the next few days, Jesus continued to speak to me of His plan, purpose, and power for the next two decades.

Upon returning to Colorado I shared with the MSC staff that God was leading us to seek Him for His strategic plan for the next 20 years. And thus began a four-year journey of prayer times, retreats, fasts, consultations and planning.

The Emergence of Mission2030

As we sought God diligently He spoke to us clearly in the years that followed. He gave us a deepening heart for the city of Colorado Springs; He spoke to us of our need to better disciple our children and young people; He guided us to revamp and refresh our praise and worship, to teach from the Gospel of Luke and Acts; He led us to make changes in our organizational structure, thus Daniel becoming a Lead Pastor with me. God sovereignly brought church planters our way to befriend, coach and send out. Word & Spirit Network was birthed. The vision for Dunamis Conference was initiated by God. The vision of training leaders led to the embryonic development of Convergence Seminary.

Someone has said that without goals, no vision is ever realized. God has given us clear goals for the next 20 years. Our prayer is that God through His power, will empower us to plant 100 campuses, 1000 churches and raise up 10,000 leaders.

We know that this vision is impossible. It is a God-sized vision given to a group of man-sized people who must have Holy Spirit empowered wisdom. We can’t do what God has called us to do unless He shows up, energizes and leads us step by step.

Cloud and Fire

I must admit that I am often baffled by God’s reasoning. When Jesus called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt He didn’t say that Moses would suddenly become a great speaker. As a matter of fact, he seems to have agreed with Moses that he was a lousy communicator (Exodus 3-4). God didn’t choose a seasoned leader in Moses either; Moses had been sequestered to the desert for 40 years! God didn’t choose a very obedient people to rescue. If the adage is true that “you can take the man out of his poverty but you can’t take the poverty out of a man,” the Israelites surely proved it. They were a complaining, argumentative, easily discouraged people, yet God called them out to be a people for His own choosing and purposes. God often doesn’t make sense of our natural inclinations.

Yet God did promise that He would “lead them by day in a pillar of cloud…and by night in a pillar of fire.” (Exodus 13:21) That was basically what he said and not much more or less than that. Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s not very helpful when you consider thousands of miles of desert, no home, no fighting experience, no food or water, and Pharaoh’s army chasing you toward a watery wall called the Red Sea! Moses must have shouted to God more than once, “Are you crazy? Am I crazy?”

And it was at the edge of disaster that Jesus showed up in power. “Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it… And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord…” (Exodus 14:16~18) Moses did what God said and deliverance came. The story of the Exodus is the story of a community of people on a pilgrimage wherein God led them clearly step by step. He used a cloud by day and fire by night. He led them and supplied all their needs. There was always enough food and water. Moses came to the end of his life proclaiming the faithfulness of God,

For the Lord’s portion is his people,

Jacob his allotted inheritance.

In a desert land he found him,

in a barren and howling waste.

He shielded him and cared for him;

he guarded him as the apple of his eye,

like an eagle that stirs up its nest

and hovers over its young,

that spreads its wings to catch them

and carries them on its pinions.

The Lord alone led him;

no foreign god was with him.

He made him ride on the heights of the land

and fed him with the fruit of the fields.

He nourished him with honey from the rock,

and with oil from the flinty crag”

Deuteronomy 32:9-13

In the same way, God is going to lead Mountain Springs Church. What God guides, He provides. Where God leads, He always meets needs. This is indeed an exciting time for us. This is a time of leaving what we’ve known to press out into the unknown.

We will most certainly have to be led with a cloud by day and a fire by night. We will need Jesus to lead us and empower us as move forward. The need for His wisdom has never been greater. But He will nourish us with His Word, replenish us with His Spirit and empower us with His presence.

Let us join in with the immortal words of John F. Kennedy as he spoke of Teddy Roosevelt,

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat.”