Author Snapshot: Tony Merida

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Today we have the privilege to dive a little deeper into Tony Merida’s new ebook, Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down. Tony is one of our top 15 authors to watch in 2015 and the author of Faithful Preaching and Orphanology. He is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina and happily married to Kimberly with their five adopted children. Enjoy this excerpt:

There is nothing more ordinary than a meal. In preparation for a message on hospitality (Luke 14:12–24), I asked my kids at the dinner table, “What are your all-time favorite meals?” The answers included meals at birthday parties (especially those with piñatas!), Thanksgiving dinners, and Christmas dinners. My wife included a Passover meal that we had with some friends. My top pick was our wedding dinner. I’ll never forget the music, the friends, the amazing food, and of course, eating with my new beautiful bride, my dear companion, Kimberly.

What are your all-time favorite meals?

My guess is that the majority of people wouldn’t select meals based solely on taste; they would pick meals that involved special company. Friends, family, fun, and good food are ingredients for unforgettable meals. You want these nights to last forever.

Few people would select the burrito they grabbed one night at a Taco Bell drive-thru as their all-time favorite meal, or eating Ramen Noodles alone as a broke college student, or grabbing a chicken wrap as they scurry to their gate at the Atlanta airport. We long for more. So much more.

How does something as ordinary as a meal become extraordinarily meaningful? Why is it that when a loved one dies in your family, one of the most precious memories you have of them is around the dinner table? Their absence is felt particularly strong when you sit down without them. What is this saying to us?

All of these experiences are pointing us toward the kingdom of God. The apostle John tells us of a marriage supper in Revelation 19, in which we enjoy a meal with our King. Christ is the Groom and we are His bride. It’s a picture of total satisfaction. Isaiah prophesied about this messianic feast, saying:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. . . . He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces. [Isaiah 25:6,8]

Think about this vision. The Lord Himself will prepare a meal with the finest of meats and the finest of wines for His people. He will serve the best, and we won’t have an ounce of disappointment.

The reason we long for companionship and good food with great friends and family is that we’re made for this experience. This life is pointing us to the next life. Unfortunately, too many of us have underdeveloped notions about heaven. Some think it’s an endless sing-along. Others have a cartoon concept of heaven, like sitting on a cloud in a diaper playing a harp. Still more have an Eastern idea of heaven. When they think of heaven, they think of an ethereal realm of disembodied spirits.

Let’s think again. Think new heaven and new earth, with our real, glorified bodies, with Jesus, and all His people, feasting and rejoicing in the grace of God.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not only going to feast in heaven, but one of the pictures that we should see is this idea of a messianic banquet. Jesus told a parable saying that all are invited to His banquet, yet sadly many decline the invitation because other things are more important.[Luke 14:12-24] How kind of the King to invite us to His party!

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You can download Ordinary for just $4.99 through January 27! Explore how doing ordinary things, such as humble acts of service and hospitality, can create a huge impact on the world.

Excerpted from Ordinary: How to Turn The World Upside Down by Tony Merida. Copyright 2015 B&H Publishing Group

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Author Snapshot: Emily P. Freeman

Emily P. Freeman's A Million Little Ways

In today’s author snapshot, we learn what it looks like to live like an artist in an excerpt from Emily P. Freeman’s new ebook, A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live. Emily is one of our top 15 authors to watch in 2015 and the author of Graceful (For Young Women): Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life and Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast Moving World. She is a writer and speaker from North Carolina, where she lives with her husband John and their three children. The following excerpt from A Million Little Ways  is used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Copyright © 2013.

In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton makes a pretty good argument that the poets of the world understand the beauty of life more freely than do those who are always trying to figure things out.

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion . . . To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.[1]

It is enough to think about for a long time. I can’t say I fully understand all the implications of what he says here, but it stirs something in me that I can’t easily let go. I consider what living life like a poet might mean.

The girls asked me to come read to their class today.

I pull into the school parking lot, Ivy and Bean tucked into my purse, anxiety pulsing in my chest. I sign in at the computer in the office, think about living art and what it means for a mom frazzled in the lobby. I walk slowly through the hallway, savor the quiet before the third grade eyes find me.

What does it mean to live life like an artist in the midst of this everyday hustle?

The question brings a shift. The word poet comes to mind.

I realize I am clenching my jaw, moving to the next thing like a chess player. I’ll make this move and then this will happen. I am in control of everything.

In this small moment standing outside their classroom, I am compelled to approach these next few moments like they are lines in a poem rather than items on my agenda.

I don’t feel overwhelmed with the responsibility to do this in everything.

Just in this one thing, right now.

I don’t know exactly what it means, but the mystery of the concept draws me in. I stand in this one moment and for the next twenty of them, I have agreed to read to the class. This, right here, is all my life is right now.

Emily, don’t just show up with your body. Show up in your soul. Be fully alive. Let me be fully alive in you.

I do not change the world today. But I decide to show up where I already am. The God of the Universe lives in me on a Friday in their third grade classroom. There is much left undone at home, in the sink, on my laptop, in my heart. I don’t feel ready to live like a poet.

In this, there is no ready. There is only belief.

Show up as a poet once, and chances are, you’ll do it again.

Uncovering the art alive within me and releasing it into my world is what it means to worship God. Showing up in their classroom is worship when I do it as the person I fully am. Living as an artist profoundly affects how I relate in community with others.

This is what it looks like to take small steps toward the mystery. You aren’t moving to figure things out or to catch up to an expectation, but you are moving because you are alive. You have a glimpse of what it might feel like to live life as an artist in the middle of your ordinary day.

You are aware of your desire for a map, but all you sense is a mystery. Instead of a plan, you are simply asked to show up in this day the same way you did the day you were born, with empty hands and an instinct to depend on someone bigger than you.

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Chicago: Moody, 2009), 31-32

***

You can download A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live for just $9.09! Uncover the creative, personal imprint of God in your life and move into the world with courage with the help of A Million Little Ways.

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Author Snapshot: Preston Yancey

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In today’s author snapshot we have an exclusive look at an excerpt from Preston Yancey’s new ebook, Tables in the Wilderness. Preston is one of our Top 15 Authors to Watch in 2015, husband to Hillary, and a priest in training. He’s an active contributor to Grace Table and The High Calling, and is currently employed by the Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast as Canon Theologian. 

During Christmas Vigil and Easter Vigil in liturgical churches, a significant portion of the service is given to a collection of several Bible readings. The stories weave together to tell a broad perspective of the plan of God’s redemption from garden to resurrection.

I think of this as a gesture toward preserving the collective memory. We pass the stories on for the days when we forget, for the days when we are uncertain, for the middle-of-the-night moments when we think it impossible that God should be made man or that God should die and then rise again.

For the times of silence.

Do I steward it well? In the pause before the babe-cry that rings out of Bethlehem or the glory of the Lord that overtakes the soldiers at the empty tomb? In the breath-moment of terra uncertain? Do I hold on to the stories I have been given? Do I remember to pass them down?

Maybe that’s what this is.

One of my best friends emailed me a few days ago about the Bible. He told me he thought that the reason why it was so cyclical, the same stories over and over again with different characters each time, was because the point was in remembering the feel of it. We retell the same stories so that we don’t forget what it feels like to be a people wandering in the desert, searching for a promised land. We retell the same stories so that we don’t forget what it feels like to be a people who were once called “Not a People” and have now been called by God.

I think of this as I try to write the past. I think of how I must have leached the emotion out of some fragments of the stories for the sake of being able to put them down. I am trying to remember how it felt to live them for the first time. Somehow I catch myself thinking of it like I think of Scripture—the cyclical retelling, and I marvel at how little we must change between the centuries, how in the end we’re all still searching for a Kingdom that is not of this world, how we are so desperate to be known, to be called.

***

In Tables in the Wilderness, Preston Yancey shares his story of coming to terms with a God who is bigger than the one he thought he was worshiping: get his new ebook, Tables in the Wilderness, on Vyrso today!

 

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Top 15 Authors to Watch in 2015

Vyrso's Authors to Watch in 2015

With so many upcoming releases from talented Christian authors, 2015 is shaping up to be an exciting year for readers. We reached out to the most popular Christian publishers and asked them about their top picks for authors to watch in 2015.

Packed with seasoned authors and up-and-coming writers alike, we’ve compiled a list of our top 15 authors (in no particular order) who have new books coming out this year and are working on some incredible projects in 2015.

 

1. Jessica Turner

Turner is a wife, mother of two, and writer of The Mom Creative, a blog dedicated to creating “a life well-crafted”—sharing her own life and encouraging other women. In her first book, The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You, Turner looks to empower women to practice self-care and do the things they love with pockets of time they already have. The Fringe Hours releases in February 2015.

2. Tony Merida

On top of being the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, Tony Merida has written many books, including Faithful Preachingand Orphanology. Look out for Merida’s latest book, Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down, releasing early this year. Ordinary explores how by doing ordinary things, such as humble acts of service and hospitality, Christians can create a huge impact on the world.

3. Lara Casey

Lara Casey is a woman with a mission. Not only is she the publisher and editor-in-chief of Southern Weddings Magazine, but Casey founded the Making Things Happen movement in 2009, a conference dedicated to helping others find their gifts and passions to discover how to make what matters happen. Her passion for mentoring and faith is apparent in her new book, Make It Happen, releasing in early January of 2015. Make It Happen encourages women to let go of the chase for perfection and cultivate the rich life God desires for them.

4. Matt Chandler

Marriage and dating are tough and complex topics to address. This year, author and pastor Matt Chandler weighs in on marriage and dating in his book, The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Sex, Marriage, and Redemptionoffering a perspective on love from the biblical book Song of Solomon. Chandler helps singles and couples navigate dating, marriage, romance, and sex in a culture inundated with songs, movies, and advice about love that often contradict God’s design for love and intimacy.

5. Shauna Niequist

You won’t want to miss Shauna Niequist‘s, Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are. Savor is Niequist’s first devotional, which focuses on food, faith, friendship, and delighting in the heart of God. Niequist also penned Bread and Wine: Finding Community and life around the Table, a collection of recipes—like blueberry crisp, goat cheese biscuits, mango chicken curry, and more—paired with short essays on family, relationships, and how each meal in the book brings people together.

6. Emily P. Freeman

Emily P. Freeman is a passionate writer and speaker on grace, art and creativity, faith, and writing. Author of A Million Little Ways and Graceful (For Young Women), Freeman has been writing for over nine years on her blog, Chatting the Sky. She’s a monthly contributor for (in)courage and has traveled as a blogger with Compassion International. Her fourth book, Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World is due in 2015.

7. Josh McDowell

Josh McDowell has been in ministry for over 50 years, founded Josh McDowell Ministry, a division of Cru, and has authored and coauthored over 115 books. You won’t want to miss McDowell’s latest book, God-Breathed: The Undeniable Power of Reliability of Scripture, which unpacks how Scripture—the living Word of God—speaks directly into our lives.

8. Dawn Camp

On top of being a photographer, blogger, and mother of eight, Dawn Camp has collaborated with some of the top, bestselling authors in her first book, The Beauty of Grace, set to release by Revell this January. In this book, Camp combines her photography with a collection of stories on purpose, perspective, and encouragement from talented writers like Margaret Feinberg, Holley Gerth, Leeana Tankersley, and more.

9. David Platt

David Platt has a deep passion for global disciple-making. Platt has served at The Church at Brook Hills since 2006 and has written several books on discipleship, missions, and the Gospel. This February, Platt releases the highly-anticipated book, Counter Culture, a look at social justice from a biblical standpoint. Counter Culture makes a compelling case for why Christians are called to fully and actively surrender themselves to every cause—regardless of personal cost or consequence.

10. Katie Farrell

Founder of Dashing Dish, a health and food blog, Katie Farrell is a registered nurse in Michigan with a passion for teaching people how to lead healthier lives. Farrell has two books coming out this year, both focused on healthy eating, cooking, and leading a healthy spiritual life. Dashing Dish: 100 Simple and Delicious Recipes for Clean Eating (out in January 2015) is packed full of recipes and tips for eating healthier. Mix together delicious recipes and daily devotionals and you’ll get Devotions for a Healthier You (out in January 2015).

11. Preston Yancey

You won’t want to miss Preston Yancey’s first book, Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again, in which he shares his story of coming to terms with a God who is bigger than he could ever imagine, and how God speaks in many different ways. With a foreward by Jefferson Bethke, Tables in the Wilderness, has received praise from Christian authors like Rachel Held Evans, Shauna Niequist, Jonathan Martin, and more. Yancey is a blogger and Canon Theologian at the Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast.

12. Jessica Thompson

Relationships and parenting are two tough arenas, and Jessica Thompson offers grace-filled and Christ-centered advice for both. In 2010, Jessica Thompson teamed up with her mom, Elyse Fitzpatrick, to bring us the parenting resource, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus. This year, they’ll do it again with Answering Your Kids’ Toughest Questions, due in early 2015. Thomspon’s solo release Everyday Grace: Infusing All Your Relationships With the Love of Jesus teaches that it’s not our job to “fix” the people we’re in a relationship with, but to reveal and receive the grace of Jesus.

13. David Smith

Over the last 15 years, David R. Smith has focused on youth and college ministry, pastoring hundreds of students and equipping ministry leaders through training events, seminars, books, and more. Smith attended seminary and received a Master of Divinity in church ministry. His upcoming book, Christianity. . . It’s Like This, takes an uncomplicated look at the Christian faith, unpacking important doctrine, what it means to be a Christ-follower, and discussing the Bible, God, and salvation. Christianity. . . It’s like This releases in February.

14. Annie Lobert

Annie Lobert’s first book, Fallen: Out of the Sex Industry and into the Arms of the Savior, comes out this February. In Fallen, Lobert writes about her 16-year harrowing journey in the clutches of the sex trafficking industry, being owned by a violent pimp, and finding redemption in Jesus. She’s the founder of the nonprofit ministry Hookers for Jesus, which reaches out to prostitutes and sex trafficking victims to share the gospel and help them escape the lifestyle they’re trapped in. Part of her ministry includes Destiny House, a safe haven for women to live in while healing from the serious trauma of being sex trafficked.

15. John Croyle

John Croyle rose to recognition as an All-American defensive end at the University of Alabama during head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s legendary tenure. Instead of pursuing professional football, Croyle made the decision to start a home for abused and neglected children, establishing Big Oak Boy’s Ranch in 1974. Today, the outreach has three branches, and Croyle has written books on raising children, including his new book Who You Are: A Story of Second Chances, which tells the story of how his ministry began.

Subscribe to Vyrso Voice to stay tuned for guest posts, interviews, and new books from these authors in 2015!

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Ministry Would Be Great If it Weren’t for the People

Josh_kelly

Today’s guest post is by Vyrso’s author of the month, Josh Kelley. Josh has been a pastor for 15 years and is the author of Radically Normal: You Don’t Have to Live Crazy to Follow JesusJosh has graciously offered to give away Radically Normal for free when you sign up to receive Vyrso’s daily deal email alerts! With Vyrso’s daily deals, you can get a new 24-hour deal through November 27. There are only a few days left to get this freebie—enter your email address on the Radically Normal product page to receive your free ebook in an email!

I cringed as I saw Mabel walking by my house. At church she told me she lived in my neighborhood, and now she’d found my house. As she walked up to my door, I put on my best pastor face.

“Hi Mabel, so good to see you!” I lied.

“Hi neighbor, I mean Pastor! God bless you!” she said, the words interrupted by nervous laughter. As she spoke, she bobbed back and forth, like a Hasidic Jew praying at the Wailing Wall.

I allowed her to chatter and bob away, nodding and smiling at appropriate intervals. After giving her enough of my Saturday, I politely drew the one-way conversation to an end.

“Can you pray for my corns first?” asked Mabel. “They’re hurting from the walk.”

She plopped herself down in a chair, took off her shoe, pull off her sock, and propped her foot up on another chair. She believed prayer required direct contact. I gingerly put my hand on the top of the offending foot, but she said, “They’re under here,” and wrapped my fingers around her toes.

A couple of minutes later, as Mabel was walking down my driveway and I was washing my hands a second time, my wife asked me, “What was that about?!?”

“That’s nothing,” I said. “She once had Pastor Bruce pray for her hemorrhoids.”

The Real Problem

Looking back, the part of that story that makes me cringe is not the memory of Mabel’s sweaty foot, but the stench of my own attitude. Back in Bible college, we used to joke, “Ministry would be great . . . if it weren’t for the people.” I saw Mabel as one of those people—I ministered to her because I had to. Given a choice, I would’ve spent my time with the movers and shakers who matched my idea of spiritual greatness.

Because I’m writing this to Logos and Vyrso users, I suspect that many of you are pastors, students, and lay leaders and that you’ve heard that joke before. Even if you aren’t in formal ministry, God probably brings hurting people across your path on a regular basis, people that are a drain on your time and patience. In either case, think about what “if it weren’t for the people” communicates—“They are lucky to have me ministering to them.” Somehow that doesn’t feel very Christ-like, does it?

In truth, you and I are lucky to minister to them. Here’s how I now see it. I’m crazy about my two young daughters. They are the apple of my eye and I’m very protective of them. Were I ever to ever allow you to care for them, it would be very high praise indeed.

I finally realized that Mabel is one of God’s precious daughters. He had given me the high privilege of carrying for her and I treated it as a burden. I say that to my shame. My attitude reeked worse than any sweaty foot. I’m learning that until I see it as a privilege to lay hands on Mabel’s feet, I am not worthy to do so.

This hasn’t been an overnight change for me. I’m learning to come off my high horse and be less impressed with myself and my Biblical knowledge. I’m learning that God cares a lot more about his broken children than I did. He has also allowed me to be deeply hurt by the sort of people that used to impress me.

Becoming less impressed with myself (especially when I had to get a second job at Starbucks) is a key part of my story, which you can find in my book, Radically Normal. It’s free on Vyrso until November 27, so you may want to download it and read chapter 2, “It’s Okay to Be Normal.” In the meantime, I pray that God blesses you with many stinky feet to pray for and the perspective to know that it’s a privilege.

Get Radically Normal for free when you sign up for daily deal email alerts! Through November 27, you can get a new 24-hour deal each day. Once you enter your email address, you’ll receive your freebie in an email. Be the first to know what’s on sale—sign up for the daily deal!

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America’s Black Children are Hurting: A Call to Action

bloodline-you-spend-enough-time-in-hell-you-get-the-feeling-you-belong

Today’s guest post is by John Turnipseed, the vice president of the Center for Fathering, Urban Ventures, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is also the author of Bloodline, his autobiography of going from a lost and frightened little boy to a gang leader, drug dealer and pimp, and finally to one of the nation’s most respected pioneers of community restoration. You can get Bloodline for just $2.99—today only—as a part of our daily deals promotion. 

Earlier this year, President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color. I was invited by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges to be part of this initiative for our city.

The current alarm in the African American community—which again centers on school failure, black male achievement and economic survival—has raised its eerie, ugly tragic sound again.

This will last for about two years and then disappear again after the money is disbursed. The children and conditions will be blamed for the failure because the cavalry came and did all it could, until another time when someone again rings the alarm of injustice and doom.

The best of the cavalry, the most connected ones with the most credentials, and the most charming presenters will be the commissioned army assigned to fight the good fight to yield the sword of salvation, to rescue the young men of lost hope and promise. To once again free the slaves of a failed system, and to rescue the poor, unfortunate children of a failed race.

The current situation needs an old approach to solve this old problem. The problem is the breakdown of the core family in the African American community. This breakdown was at the root of my problems, as I share in my book Bloodline.

If you send a broken child to school, a broken child will return home. If you ask a broken community to raise a child, a broken child will be conceived out of this broken unholy alliance. If you ask a broken culture to solve the problem, a stronger broken community and culture will be produced.

But there is hope. God would not be so cruel as to desert his children. There was a blueprint left for us to find our way home and to mend the shattered lives of the children and community that are seemingly lost.

I say let’s do something different, but not foreign to us—something that has been stored in the creases of our hearts and the folds of our minds.

I am talking about getting back to the values that brought us to our greatest heights. I am talking about getting back to family for real. I am talking about going to get our children and teach them character, reading, and writing skills. I am talking about black businesses in our communities again and supporting them by buying from them. I am talking about directing the drug dealer to leave now, as his services are no longer needed. Yes, I am talking about upholding the beliefs and values of the God that has sustained us.

I am in my own city putting the call out for black men to come home and to stop waiting for the world to push us to the solutions that we already have. All we are missing is the will and the unity to move in one direction and to have restoration and revitalization of our family the common goal.

It is time to draw upon our spiritual roots and sit at our rightful place as parents, leaders, and decision makers in America. The schools can continue to be schools, but we will send unbroken children to them. The school system was not set up to be a parent—that is our commission. When black men recognize the sheer velocity of our voice and power used in a moral and cultural standard, the world will be begging for our inclusion and not begging for a solution to us.

This is a problem for all people with a moral compass to help with, but the ultimate responsibility lies on the shoulders of the capable African American men that must lead the charge.

We must reclaim our faith, family, and pride in being the great lineage that we are and get back on track so that our legacy will not fail our children. God makes us capable. He is just waiting for us to answer the call

Let’s get it done.

You can get Bloodline for just $2.99, today only. Hurry, the price will only last until 11:59 p.m. (PST).

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Being Faithful with a Multitude of Small Things: An Interview with Josh Kelley

Josh_kelly

Today we have the pleasure of interviewing our author of the month, Josh Kelley. Josh is the author of Radically Normal: You Don’t Have to Live Crazy to Follow Jesus and has been a pastor for 15 years. Originally from northwest Washington, he is currently on a year-long, cross country speaking tour, joined by his wife, Marilyn, and their two daughters.

Josh has graciously offered to give away Radically Normal for free when you sign up to receive Vyrso’s daily deal email alerts! With Vyrso’s daily deals, you can get a new 24-hour deal through November 27. Enter your email address on the Radically Normal product page and you’ll receive your free ebook in an email and daily deal alerts through November 27.

 

Could you provide a little background for us on your story?

The backdrop for Radically Normal was the year and a half I spent as a bi-vocational pastor/Starbucks barista. As challenging as that time was, it really helped me see things through the eyes of my congregation. Pastors can easily forget what it’s like to be a Christian in the midst of everyday life, when you are not being paid to study the Bible and pray!

 

Tell us about the inspiration behind Radically Normal.

Radically Normal is basically the book I wish I had when I was younger. I worked very hard to be a good Christian (which is a good thing) but I never felt like I was going far enough. If giving 10% was good, was 20% better? Was 100% the gold standard? I also struggled to understand why the people who looked and sounded the most radical were the ones I couldn’t stand being with, and why the Christians I really enjoyed were pretty normal. Radically Normal is about 50% my stories and 50% guidebook to loving Jesus without being a religious nut.

 

What’s one of your favorite Scriptures that encourages people to live ordinary lives as they follow Jesus?

“Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him” (1 Corinthians 7:20 NIV).  C. S. Lewis put it this way:

“Before I became a Christian I do not think I fully realized that one’s life, after conversion, would inevitably consist in doing most of the same things one had been doing before, one hopes, in a new spirit, but still the same things.” (On Learning in Wartime)

While God does call some to go out and do spectacular things (Billy Graham and Mother Teresa come to mind), most of us are called to be faithful in a multitude of small ways. I think that the church needs to do a better job of honoring daily faithfulness instead of just focusing on the “great” Christians.

 

In the book you say, “Wholehearted devotion to God consists of radical obedience lived out in surprisingly normal, joy-filled ways. This is what I mean by being radically normal. It’s the biblical art of fully engaging this life while focusing on the next.” Can you give us an example of what that looks like in practice?

Imagine three Christians who all work as programmers at Microsoft. The first programmer does his job, but not much else. He isn’t interested in advancement. All he cares about is getting through his day so he can get to church. In his mind, that’s where he does stuff that really matters.

The second programmer works hard and is very ambitious. In fact, nothing will get in his way as he climbs the ladder. Taking credit for another person’s ideas or sabotaging their work, it’s all part of the game. At church, he sings just as loud as the next person and doesn’t even think about his questionable ethics. Work is work, church is church. Besides, he reasons, it just means more money to tithe on. Maybe.

The third programmer also works hard and is ambitious. He loves his job and feels God’s pleasure when he does well. He works hard to advance, but isn’t crushed if he gets passed over. He believes that his day job and his weekend at church are inextricable connected. He sees work as part of his worship and it’s obvious to his coworkers.

I want readers to think about which one of those three they are more like. Are they so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly good? Or is it the other way around? Instead, the Bible calls us to be fully present in this life, while never forgetting that we are citizens of heaven. [Click to tweet!]

 

For someone that is conflicted with their Christian faith, what advice would you give them to live a satisfied life following Jesus?

I think Chapter 11, “Happy Holiness” might be very helpful to them. I can’t cover it all here, but the key point is that obeying God brings joy. The church frequently praises “obedience for obedience’s sake,” but the Bible consistently calls us to obedience for joy’s sake. (Speaking of joy, did you know that the Bible talks about joy more often than peace, grace, or even love? I share my research on joy in Chapter 8, “In Defense of Earthly Joys.”)

Just as my daughters have an easier time obeying me when they know it is for their benefit, it becomes easier to avoid sin and follow Jesus when we know “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

 

What is one takeaway you hope people embrace after reading Radically Normal?

I hope they walk away understanding that they can, by God’s grace, live fully pleasing to God right where they are—without becoming a missionary or going to Bible college. And furthermore, I want them to learn that they’ll have more (not less) joy in by doing so.

 

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Quick Fixes to Deep Problems: an Excerpt from Radically Normal

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Today’s excerpt is from Radically Normal: You Don’t Have to Live Crazy to Follow Jesus by Josh Kelley. Josh has been a pastor for 15 years and holds a BA in biblical studies from Pacific Life College. Originally from northwest Washington, he is currently on a year-long, cross country speaking tour, joined by his wife Marilyn and their two daughters.

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One fine summer afternoon, I was working in the drive-through at Starbucks and had a customer order a Venti sugar-free, heavy-cream, no-whip Caramel Frappuccino Light. Allow me to translate. That’s a 20-ounce Frappuccino made with sugar-free caramel syrup, but instead of milk, she wanted unwhipped whipping cream. But (and she was very clear about this) she didn’t want any whipped cream on it.

As she pulled up to the window, I was curious to see what sort of person would order a Venti heavy-cream Frappuccino. I don’t want to be insensitive, so I’ll just say she looked the part. I chatted with her as her drink was being made and asked (as casually as I could) why she didn’t want any whipped cream on her drink.

“It’s because of the sugar in the whipped cream. I’m on a diet that lets me have as much fat as I want but no sugar.”

As I handed it to her, I said, “Just so you know, the base syrup we use has a little bit of sugar in it. Not much, but a little.”

“Oh,” she said. “That must be why I haven’t lost any weight.”

I’m rarely left speechless, but words failed me. I just grunted some sort of goodbye as she drove off. Let me get this straight—that drink had almost 70 grams of fat, and she thought a couple of grams of sugar was the reason she wasn’t losing any weight?

Even now I have to wonder. Did she really believe the sugar was the reason for her weight problem? Somewhere deep down, she must have known that losing all that weight might require a little more work than skipping the whipped cream on a 750-calorie drink. It’s easy to point fingers because her problem was so visible, but all of us crave quick fixes to deep problems. And quick fixes usually make problems worse. [Click to tweet!]

When I was young (but old enough to know better), I hated to stop playing when I had to go to the bathroom, so I’d just pee my pants. Cold days were the worst. I vividly remember that feeling of having to pee so bad but not wanting to go inside. There were a few glorious moments when I enjoyed the relief and the newly acquired warmth. But the relief was short-lived. Soon the warm turned to cold, and then came the chafing of my skin against the cold, wet denim, followed by that distinctive smell. I continued doing that until the third grade, my only year in public school. The shame of peeing my pants on a field trip motivated me to start using the bathroom.

Sin is the moral equivalent of peeing our pants. It begins as a shortsighted solution to a genuine problem or a short-lived pleasure at the expense of long-term happiness. I basically see God’s rules like him telling us to use the bathroom.

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What Are You Supposed To Do With Your Life?

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Today we have the pleasure of sharing an exclusive look at Johnnie Moore’s new ebook, What Am I Supposed To Do With My Life? This ebook aims to provide spiritual direction and clear guidance on the most frequently asked question Moore hears as the campus pastor at a Christian university. Take a look:

Young evangelicals are constantly told that our teen, college, and young adult years are a “waiting period.” We’re waiting for jobs, for spouses, for God’s calling. This isn’t the season to get to work, but the season to wait until God shows us what we’re supposed to do with our lives. So we’re supposed to pray and to wait for an answer, and when the answers don’t come, that’s when we start asking God to “send a yellow pigeon into our bedroom window at five p.m. on Thursday” if he wants us to be a missionary to a tribe of pigmy people. Since the end to the waiting period is vague, we start getting increasingly desperate to know what’s next, and then the prayers get crazier and crazier.

This kind of “spiritual waiting” isn’t helpful; it’s actually harmful. We may think it is grounded in faith, but it often comes out of fear. We are so afraid that we’ll do something God doesn’t want us to do that we demand proof after proof of his will so that we can make faithless, risk-free decisions. We are so afraid of taking a chance on what we might think is God’s will that we try to shift responsibility entirely to him, asking for him to give us a miracle and then while we’re waiting for the miracle we tell our friends that we are “waiting on God.” We want him to remove from the decision all of the ambiguity and uncertainty. That way, if things go wrong, we can shake our heads and tell ourselves that “everything happens for a reason,” and comfort ourselves with the thought that at least we did what God told us to do.

But did we? Is this how God speaks to us? This idea of “waiting for God to move” lulls us into the belief that these years—some of the most important years of our lives—when our habits and personalities are being formed, when we learn how to function in relationships and in the workplace, are not really that important after all. It shifts responsibility from us to God, leaving us free to waste our time with video games, fool around with relationships without serious intentions, and distract ourselves from our future plans with the technology and its drama we invite upon ourselves. This is one of the reasons why “thirty is the new twenty,” why our generation struggles to focus on serious things, and why we so egregiously delay adulthood. We agonize over decisions and often put them off, saying that we are waiting for confirmation from God that we are doing the right thing. In the meantime, we fill the space between “asking” and “hearing” by wasting valuable time on meaningless pursuits. Rather than swimming ahead, we’re just treading water, looking for a blinking sign to drop from the sky and tell us where to go and what to do.

We want God to answer all the “W” questions for us first—the who, what, when, and where. But is this really necessary? I don’t think it is. I don’t think we should embrace this type of attitude; instead we ought to embrace an attitude that believes that now is as important as the future, and that so much of the will of God is realized in the everyday decisions and moments that we can let roll by unrecognized while we’re waiting for God to answer bigger questions and to provide us with supernatural signs. Meanwhile, every season of life is equally important and every daily encounter matters just as much as future goals, and somehow these passing moments, which you’re tempted to discount, are actually the building blocks for your future.

Nearly every twenty something I know is playing this waiting game; rather than jumping in with both feet, they are twiddling their thumbs, waiting for a dove to descend from the sky or a dog to walk around the corner of a building. Meanwhile God has them—us—in lives that keep on ticking, day after day, and he’s given us a book filled with words of advice that we’re to apply to our lives every single day. There is always a logical direction to follow, a next nearest step to take, and often the will of God is more about following that next nearest step than it is about waiting for God to send a sign. It’s about being the person God would have you be in whatever situation he has you at the moment.

Sometimes we say that we’re “waiting on God” when God is actually waiting on us [Click to tweet!] He is expecting us to start taking life seriously and start taking advantage of the opportunities he has already given us, as opposed to waiting for the next new thing. He’s expecting us to live our current season to its fullest.

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Want to read more? Pre-order What Am I Supposed To Do With My Life? on Vyrso today!

Reprinted with permission from W Publishing Group, an imprint of Thomas Nelson.

 

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Knowing God: An Interview with J.D. Greear (Part 2)

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Today we are continuing our exclusive two-part interview with J.D. Greear, author of the new ebook Jesus, Continued. You can pre-order Jesus, Continued on Vyrso today! 

In some of your writing about the book you say, “Through depth in the gospel and fellowship with the Holy Spirit, we can go from guilt-driven to grace-driven and gift-driven.” Can you give us an example of what that looks like in practice?

When we feel like we are responsible to save the world, we will feel like we are never doing enough—never being radical enough, never sacrificing enough. We’ll always feel guilty that we could be doing more. But when we focus on the fact that God doesn’t need us, that he multiplies loaves and fishes to feed multitudes and pulls $100,000 tax payments out of fish’s mouths if he wants, that burden is gone. When that burden is removed, we can be radically generous in response to God’s grace (that’s grace-driven), and fully surrendered to what God is telling us to do (gift-driven).

Recently I read that Pentecostals are the most effective mobilizers for mission on the planet. That is because they focus less on the enormity of the task and more on what God is directing you to do in his Spirit. The size of the task is crushing. Sensing that God has an assignment for you is empowering. The Baptist and Reformed communities are good at emphasizing the size of the task, which we need to hear, and feel. But we need to take our eyes off the field and look to the God who brings life back from the dead and multiplies our meager resources to feed thousands. Compared to the size of the task, we are nothing. Compared to the size of our God, the task is nothing.

God does not need us to accomplish the Great Commission for him, but wants to accomplish it through us.

For those that are currently mission-driven but burned out, weary, and longing for joy, what is one way they can start living a satisfied life in relationship with God through the Holy Spirit?

I sympathize with those who feel burned out from their mission-driven convictions. As I mentioned above, I would often pursue the mission with zeal, only to end up feeling paralyzed by the weight of it all. I toggled between summers of feverish activity and winters of guilt and fatigue.

The burden of that conviction nearly crushed me. My despair drove me to the Scriptures, and that despair eventually gave way to one of the most surprising insights I’ve ever had, one that has radically redefined how I see my service to Christ.

That discovery? God doesn’t need you! He never has. He never will. For anything. Ever. In Psalm 50:12 God says that if he were hungry, he wouldn’t come to me. God never approaches me as a needy God.

So it turns out I had vastly overestimated what I had to contribute. I didn’t have “more” I needed to give; I actually had nothing God needed to begin with. Nothing.

God is not now, nor has he ever, looked for “helpers” to assist him in saving the world. That doesn’t mean he isn’t calling us to give ourselves generously to that mission or to be sacrificially generous with our neighbors; it’s just that he’s not looking for people to supply his needs. He’s not short on money, talent, or time. He has never commanded us to go save the world for him; he calls us to follow him as he saves the through us.

So instead of asking the question, “What needs to be done in the world?” I should ask, “What is the Spirit of God leading me to do?” Just like Jesus told his apostles to wait on the coming of the Holy Spirit before they went out to the world, we are to look to the Holy Spirit for his direction in what God would have us do. We don’t “wait on” the Holy Spirit like they did, since we have him in our souls already, but we adopt the same posture of humble dependence on him that they had, looking for where he directs us to go.

Do you have any other examples of people that have moved from being weighted by the Great Commission to living empowered and focused based upon God’s gifting and speaking?

I am honored to be a part of a church where I hear stories about God empowering specific people for specific callings all the time. Their stories actually helped me to see how central the leading of the Spirit is in the pages of the New Testament. I could tell a dozen stories, but I’ll choose just one that makes the point beautifully.

I have a friend, Tony, who has adopted five kids, four from Ukraine and one from Kenya (and he says you have no trouble telling which ones are which!). The four from Ukraine he adopted at once. When I asked how he came to that, he replied that one summer he and his wife set out to study the book of Romans together. They felt struck by Paul’s admonition that those who know the gospel should become like the gospel. The more he learned about his own salvation, he said, the more he longed for a way to respond to Jesus for his great grace.

But how should they do this? As Tony and his wife prayed through that question, he came to Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 1:5 that God has adopted all believers into his family; then he read Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:1 for believers to imitate their God. “What better way to put the gospel on display,” Tony thought, “than to adopt an unwanted child?”

Tony asked God for the opportunity to do just that, and did God ever open that door! Tony went on a mission trip to Ukraine. While there, the orphanage director told Tony that someone had just brought in a set of four siblings. The kids, ages two through eight, were about to be split up and placed in orphanages around the country . . . unless someone came forward to take all four. When a worker brought the kids out to Tony, he saw four scared little children, all holding hands. They thought they were being called in for discipline. In that moment, Tony knew the Spirit of God had answered his prayer. “Those are your kids,” the Spirit said.

“I know I can’t take care of all the orphans in the world,” Tony said. “But God told me to take care of these four. I know adoption is not God’s will for every family. But it was clear it was the Spirit’s direction for us. We wanted to respond to the gospel, and this is the way the Holy Spirit directed us to do that.”

What is one takeaway you hope people embrace after reading Jesus, Continued?

I want readers to see that personal, interactive relationship has always been God’s plan for his people. This book exists to lead people to that experience if they’ve never had it, and help clarify it for them if they have. God has always been a God who is close and present with his people—but only since Jesus returned to heaven has he taken up residence inside of us.

But how do we know when God is speaking to us, leading us? More havoc has been wreaked in the church following the phrase, “God just said to me…” than any other. How do we balance what God has clearly and definitely said in Scripture and how he moves, dynamically, in our world today?

I also want to help readers understand how closely the Spirit connects to the gospel. Many Christians today talk about the gospel and the Word; others talk all about the Spirit. But these connect at the deepest levels. The deeper you go in the gospel, the more alive you become in the Spirit. By believing the gospel message, Paul says, you are filled with the Spirit (Gal 3:1–3), and if you want to grow more full with the Spirit, you must keep plunging deeper into the gospel message.

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You can pre-order J.D. Greear’s new ebook Jesus, Continued and download his other titles today on Vyrso.com! 

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