Books, Songs, Podcasts and Practices That Helped Me Grow Up in 2017

I am indebted to the mentors, the muses, and the motivations I gained this past year from a wide range of areas. Each item is something that I was exposed to in 2017 that had a high impact on me changing and maybe even growing up.

Music

Band of Horses – Last January was so full of stress and tension that my only moment of respite would be the last 10 minutes of my work day when I would turn on two songs by Band of Horses. “In a Drawer” and “Casual Party” had the right mixture of triumphant rock and moodiness to break some of the tension and bring a little catharsis to my overwhelmed state.

Andrew Bird – My go-to reflective, relaxing, holding the tension between pain and praise music. Every drive back from Abilene, where my Dad suffered his last days, included a six song playlist from Bird.

Podcasts

Pray As You Go – A common companion on my runs, this app provides the listener with 10-12 minute meditations on scripture along with music and time of reflection. If you want to recharge your approach to scripture, this podcast will do the trick.

The Invitation – Josh Banner has the typical interview format but regularly will have 20 minute spiritual retreats that have been very meaningful to me. A recent one covered lament, which was very appropriate to my situation. Also, his 5-minute prayer episodes are great for making spiritual things more accessible.

Building a Storybrand Podcast – I re-listened to the first 6-7 episodes twice and was inspired each time. These Podcasts are helping shape me into the kind of manager I want to be as a director of a library.

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Photo by Ryan Searle on Unsplash

Books

Water to Wine by Brian Zahnd – I was inspired by the heart, intellect, and the spirit of God working in Zahnd’s book, Beauty Will Save the World. I heard him speak at the Apprentice Gathering and heard him mention his book, Water to Wine. This book chronicles his movement from a typical American pastor at a typical American large church to a more contemplative and spiritually rich pastor. His story is remarkable and his courage to transform his ministry after decades of doing it a certain way is inspiring.

Healing the Heartbreak of Grief by James Flamming – The author was a pastor at the church I grew up. Even as a kid, I remember his ability to mix the heady, the spiritual, and the practical in wonderfully concise and accessible ways. He is a great communicator. In this book, he does the same thing with the concept of grief. I have stepped away from this book with a better understanding of what grief is and how it works and also have been healed in the process.

Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen – I have given this book out to many people who are experiencing pain or struggle. In light of my own struggles, I began reading this again for myself. The entries from this book are taken from Nouwen’s personal journal when he was in a deep point of struggle. Not every entry applies to every person’s situation but the one’s that do are like they were written just for you.

Experiences

Running – The practice of running is so time consuming that in the past I have had to choose blogging or running because I couldn’t do both. But this year, I realized how much I love running and how helpful it is to me physically and spiritually. Running is such a good stress reliever and if I wasn’t running, I wouldn’t spend much time outdoors, which is not good for my mental state. When I think about the many gifts my Dad gave to me during his life, running might be one of the most meaningful.

Fasting – About a month after my Dad’s death, I took a day and a half and fasted. I wanted to give time and intention to my grief and all that I needed to do to move forward. This was one of the best decisions I could have made. This time was so rich with memories, nudges from God, insights from scripture, and healing. I have now committed to practice these fasts quarterly.

Examen – Our days just move along to their usual conclusion and then we reboot and do it all over again. There is often no time for reflection, for gratitude, for confession, for a challenge. Peter Scazzero, in his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, lays out a simple method of what church history has called Examen. At the end of each day, you practice the following:

  • Be grateful for God’s blessings.
  • Review the day with openness and gratitude, looking for times when God has been present and times you may have ignored him.
  • Pay attention to your emotions in order to listen to God.
  • Express sorrow for sin and ask for God’s forgiving love.
  • Pray for the grace to be more available to God who loves you.

This practice has allowed me to not end my day with stress, anxiousness, disappointment, and guilt; which I am so prone to do. Instead, I place myself back into God’s hands and know that I can trust him with the outcomes and with the promise of the next day.

 

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Best of the Blog in 2017

This year has been the hardest and most meaningful year of my life. So many things, good and bad happened this year. I couldn’t sum up the year in a few sentences, but my posts provide a diary of sorts to the ups and downs and the goodness of God.

Spiritual Discovery

If you are young and exploring your spiritual identity, join the crowd.

God might be speaking to us all the time. We just arent’ paying attention.

2018 might be a time when we embrace the ordinary.

We can all say that we have Grown Up but where do we actually stand on the Maturity Scale?

We all have a spiritual life. What are you making of yours?

Struggle

There would be no blog and my life would be a shadow of what it is now if this hadn’t happened.

Last summer, I took this well-known passage, Jeremiah 29:11, and explained why it is meant for those who are in places they do not want to be.

As my Dad lay dying, I had to come to grips with my own selfishness. It wasn’t pretty but it was needed.

I have learned that God is working and showing up even when he doesn’t seem to be attentive to our prayers and even our needs.

It took me two posts to discuss the problems with having a sour face.

Do you think you are on the verge of Growing Up? Be ready for a major challenge from Satan.

@krisroller

Grief

One good thing about being so aware of spiritual disciplines is that I knew there were tools out there that could help me with my grief. I just needed to use them.

I tried to eulogize my dad after his death. My goal was to talk about why I admired him so much and why his kind of life is so needed in our time.

Culture

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, I explain while our society is ill-equipped to solve these problems.

That time I picked up a hitchhiker on Mother’s Day.

 

Spiritual Disciplines

I think we could all use help reading the Bible.

Life Change

Beyond my Dad’s death, the most significant thing to happen to me this past year was this.

Parenting

Parenting is probably the area where I need to Grow Up the most.

Why I am not a Dad blogger.

Sin

Being overly critical is a poison and it has done damage to me in the past. But I am working on it.

Service to Others

I might have found the secret to making serving others easier.

 

 

 

A Part of My Story: The Breakdown

My stomach hurt, my neck was constantly stiff, I was exhausted all the time. The weight of the world, at least my world, was on my shoulders. I was trying to finish Grad School, my job kept me occupied nights, weekends, and holidays, and my wife and I had a small child that was just a year old. I was trying to make a career, a life, a future for my family, but it was so hard and so strained and full of pressure. I was drowning under all of the responsibility. I kind of bottomed out emotionally.

For some reason, several months before, I had signed up to be a part of a training as a Challenge Course facilitator. Since this training was being done on the campus where I worked I got to spend a week being paid to be outside, to use my body, to work as a team with people, to challenge myself in ways that were different for me.  In a way that only God could orchestrate, even though I had signed up months before, the training occurred when I was at my lowest point.

Throughout that week, through God’s grace and all of the finer qualities of the training, my load began to lighten and I was given space to breathe, to think, to pray, and to listen. Christ was there waiting for me. What he wanted to tell me was this, “You have tried to manage your life on your own, why don’t you consider putting me on the throne of your life. Why don’t you let me run things for a change? Do you understand what is possible if you truly trusted me for everything?

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I can’t remember one moment or one spiritual experience that revealed this to me. It was more like walking through a darkened corridor, like at a theater or stadium, that opens up to a bright, awe inspiring, and dynamic setting and experience. Everything was different because Christ was illuminating everything around me. All things were dripping with his presence, warmth, and love. All I knew was I had found what I was looking for and it was like I was putting on glasses for the first time and could see clearly. Christ had broken through my darkness and depression and had even used that darkness to make me reach out to Him in my desperation.

I had replaced myself from the throne of my life and placed Christ there. I had never felt so free. Everything changed from that moment. It all happened so easy yet seemed like a long, winding journey.

A Part of My Story: Taking The Disabled To Church

When I was in college, I used to work at a facility for the mentally handicapped. I often worked on the weekends and one of my favorite duties was taking a group of the residents to church. It was a small Baptist church where our little gaggle of adults almost made up a third of the congregation.

I loved these times because it taught me quite a bit about what Christ intended his church to be about. Let me explain:

  • Acceptance – This little church embraced these 10-15 mentally handicapped adults as part of their family. Our group wasn’t stuck in some corner somewhere so that most of the congregation could steer clear of us. No, we were front and center. The church members knew our people and considered them friends, not charity cases.

Survey: Church Congregations More Racially Diverse, Open to Homosexual Members | TGC | The ...

  • Praise and worship – I don’t usually connect much with worship music and singing but I always had such a good time singing with my challenged friends. They knew how to worship. Nothing held them back. They swayed, they belted the songs out, and legitimately were enjoying themselves. It was authentic, in the truest sense. It was joyful, unlike any kind of joyful you have ever experienced in church.
  • An image of heaven – One Sunday morning, I looked around me and just took in the scene of my friends singing and worshiping and thought, “this is probably what heaven will look like. People of all states, colors, sizes, and ability praising our God.” I came to the realization that heaven won’t have the homogenized, cookie cutter feel of most our churches. Heaven will be more like a feast where the invitations were sent far and wide and in every neighborhood. Every race, color, mental capacity, social class, and ability will be represented and we will gladly join with each other in worship and praise.

The images and remembrances of these times have stuck with me, even 20 years later. Since then, I have had a soft spot for those in church who don’t fit our expectations, or cause a disruptions or two, or lack proper decorum. If the church isn’t for these people, then who is it for?

A Part of My Story: Discovery On Fisk Avenue

I went to a small Baptist college in a small town in central Texas.

Down the street from my college was a Presbyterian church. I had recently been reading a lot of Frederick Buechner and Thomas Merton and was fascinated by their spiritual journeys. Both of them came to conversion in their early to mid-twenties and something about their story resonated with me. I desired a deeper spiritual journey and like Buechner and Merton, thought I needed a change of scenery, a new religious path, something different to align myself with.

My evangelical, Baptist exposure from the early 1990s wasn’t doing it for me. I began to visit this Presbyterian church on a regular basis. The minister of the church was named Norbert and he preached with an intelligent but not cold style that reminded me of Buechner. I appreciated his understated spirituality that seemed to shape who he was not just what he did in his position. He was a minister, not just a CEO in a robe.

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But what truly reached me from these services was the recitation of scripture, prayers and the Apostle’s Creed. Joining the whole congregation in words of confession, statements of belief, and prayers that have been recited for hundreds of years connected me to something that was bigger than myself. I liked the feeling of standing my ground and announcing my faith and joining others in a prayer that didn’t have to go through a human filter but was the very words of Christ that he told us to pray.

There was a real plan to this church service that didn’t require a grandiose vision or human charisma. Human charisma is usually not sustained from week to week.

Was it stale and stuffy? Yeah, but I felt a part of the service, a part of the worship. I wasn’t just a consumer. I was joining the saints around the world who were saying the same prayers and making the same stand. That felt right to me and shook me out of my college-aged tendency to make everything about how I felt about it.

What did this affection for a more liturgical approach mean for me? Where would this take my spiritual journey?

 

The Problem With Celebrity Pastors

The problem with celebrity pastors is that whether they chased celebrity to begin with or it found them, maintaining celebrity requires feeding a public that no matter what they say, probably aren’t supremely interested in the integrity of the Gospel. If you are a celebrity pastor and your next steps are pushing away from Christ, then you need to ask yourself if you are feeding the needs of the public or the needs of the Kingdom of God. There is nothing wrong with a platform that is relevant but that platform should never come at the cost of your calling to the church and the power of the Gospel. Yes, I am talking to you Carl Lentz, Robert Jeffress, Brian Mclaren, and Ed Young.

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I have a lot of admiration for Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life. Finding another best seller to match the success of Purpose Driven Life never seemed to be of great interest to him. Since his best seller was released, he has developed movements for community ministry and international relief. He has published books on healthier living and on life’s tough questions. But I never get the sense that he feels the need to top himself, to feed his celebrity. It still seems like Warren is a pastor at heart and the steps he has taken since he became famous have been to carry on his pastor role and to honor what God wants from his life.

How To Pray When Someone Else Is Praying

You are in a group or at a public event and someone besides yourself is praying. What do you do? Do you just sit there and hope it doesn’t go too long? Do you nod your head and make sounds of agreement? Do you try to hang onto every word and pretend that the words are your own?

My mind has a tendency to wander during these times of prayer. But, lately, I have used a different tactic that has brought life and power back to these times of prayer. While the other person is praying, I will use their words to guide my own conversation with God. I let there be a real interplay between the other person’s words and my own. In normal life, you can’t have two people speaking to another at the same time but God certainly can handle it. If this doesn’t make sense let me give you an example.

Person Praying: Lord, will you provide your power to help Joe with his job situation…

Me (silently): Father, Joe has been through so much, give him better days and show me how I can help him.

You simply let the person praying give you an outline or a prompt and you join in the prayer with your own silent prayers and petitions.

This process sounds hard and difficult, especially if you think you need intense focus for your own prayers. I am not good at multiple things at once but this has been very natural and easy for me. It is something that I look forward to and keeps me engaged and connected to God during public prayer.

Try it the next time you are in church or even at the dinner table.

 

How to Read the Bible

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  1. Read it everyday. I don’t want you to find a reading plan, I just want you to read it everyday. This could mean you read the same chapter five days in a row. This could mean that you meditate, memorize, and mark up one verse for a week. The point is to interact and to be exposed to scripture everyday. We often treat Bible reading like an exercise program, and there is some value to that, but for most of us, we would rather not exercise but do it because it is good for us or we are trying to reach some goal. I may not want to run but I should want to hear from God in scripture. So, we should expose ourselves to it as much as we can and make it a part of us rather than a compartmentalized aspect of our day.
  2. Accept the mystery. If you are struggling to understand scripture then join the club. Don’t let your pastor or your super religious friends on Facebook present an approach to scripture that always ends in certainty. Mystery is built into scripture by God. Why? So when things are revealed to us, that revelation is so sweet and so profound it brings out praise and glory to God. Also, for some reason, God wants us to wrestle with our faith. That means we have to wrestle with the words we find on the page at times. If everything was crystal clear to us then we would have moved on from reading and embracing scripture long ago and have no need for it.
  3. Read it aloud and with others. I have a tendency to romanticize monastic life but one aspect that I know I would enjoy would be the practice of reading scripture during meals. In some monasteries, during a meal, the monks will eat in silence except for one monk reading from scripture. Because of Evangelical’s obsession with our “quiet time,” we think that scripture reading is an individual, solitary activity. For most of church history, the only way you were able to hear scripture is when someone else read it to you. I think there could be great benefit to this.
  4. Act it out. I am serious. Think about those times you have been in a Bible Study, maybe as a youth, and a group had to act out whatever scripture was being covered that day. You remember that story don’t you. The scripture became embodied for you. I have acted out the Psalms in the past and the practice is very powerful. This doesn’t have to be a group thing, it just needs to put you in a different posture concerning scripture so that the words and messages are enlivened for you. Try it with the Psalms and you will know what I am talking about.

Why I Am Married To My Wife

There are many reasons why I am married to my wife, Leah. Here is an example of one.

Leah is one of the most compassionate people I know. She channels that compassion into wonderful acts of service and love. She genuinely seeks ways to make life better for people. She once led the food service at a community ministry that served free lunch to homeless, poor families, and the like. She turned that place into a home kitchen with so much love and care and free hugs that what could have been a very condescending and transactional ministry was turned into a real family atmosphere.

What is so great about my relationship with her is that the things that make her great – compassion, gentleness, service – are exactly the things that I often lack. And the good qualities that I possess – being well read, having wisdom, and being thoughtful – are the areas where she could use some help.

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How this plays out most effectively is when I am too much in my head and making my faith a spiritual exercise, Leah comes along and reminds me that there are people in need and we need to be willing to do something for them and find ways to serve. And when she needs to press pause on life and breakneck times of service, I remind her that God is waiting to just spend some time with her and to speak to her just one on one without all of the activity.

God knew what he was doing when he put us together. With the help of each other we become better people. What a wonderful gift this is.

What Is It Like To Be A Christian In 2017?

For me, being a true follower of Christ in 2017 means…

  • Lots of prayer. The tragedies in our back yard and close at hand call for countless prayers to be offered and questions to be answered.
  • Soul searching. With so much divisiveness and loss and heartbreak that I have faced personally and many people are facing collectively. I have to ask myself what is my role to play? How am I complicit to many of the wrongs around us and how can I make an impact to spread the Kingdom of God?
  • Confronting fear. What are Christians so afraid of? We should be the least fearful people on the planet. The strong and unshakeable Kingdom of God is a perfectly safe place to be. Christ has defeated death and we can start to experience the eternal life now.
  • Being true to the Gospels. Every time I see Christianity wrapped up in politics I long to return to the Gospels and read what Jesus found to be most important and what he asked us to do. I want that to shape me, not an Americanized version that vaguely uses Jesus as a way to push personal agendas.
  • Being counter-cultural. The times in history when Christianity has been the most potent and effective are the times when it was on the margins and not front and center and obligatory. All of the tools that seduce the culture – power, media, institutions and bombast are not the tools that Jesus used. I need to study and embrace prayer, peace, silence, Sabbath, and worship and let these things work through the power of Christ, even if the world sees no value in them.

Photo by Elijah Henderson on Unsplash