My Turning 45 List of Advice, Lessons, and Observations

On June 27th, I turned 45 years old. After being inspired by this list by Kevin Kelley and this from David Perell, I decided to write my own list of advice, observations, and lessons learned. So here is my list, one for each year of my life.

  1. No effort to be a disciple of Jesus goes wasted. I have been transformed and saved by all of these efforts. God has used them to transform me in order to rescue me from grief, loss, heartbreak, self inflicted wounds, trial after trial, betrayal, mistakes, missteps, and disappointment.
  2. Tell the person you are firing the bad news first. It just makes the terrible process go smoother and allows you to be direct and clear.
  3. Having more than one kid brings you more of everything – joy, fun, irritation, hassle, love, meaning, and exhaustion.
  4. I don’t have to be Jesus, just the Jesus that he would be if he were me.*
  5. Prayer is more than worry with wings. Call on God and make your requests known.
  6. Include listening in your prayer time.
  7. It is okay to read the Bible’s greatest hits if that keeps you in the scriptures.
  8. I can’t listen to music with lyrics while doing office work.
  9. Unfriending or unfollowing people on social media that trigger my anger decreases my level of irritation and frustration.
  10. Write the first draft without editing. It lets you get into a flow without beating yourself up for your mistakes and poor execution.
  11. God is the most joyous being in the Universe.*
  12. God’s kingdom is a perfectly safe place for me to be.*
  13. Share a meal with a homeless person. The story and the connection will leave an indelible mark.
  14. Be generous to those in need. If they make poor decisions with your gift, that is between them and God. You are called to be faithful to the Lord’s prompting to give.
  15. Don’t read more than two books at a time.
  16. Name three things you are thankful for each day. Get your kids to do the same.
  17. Never question someone else’s grief.
  18. Fasting is not about your health or spiritual achievement. It is about reliance on God.
  19. I am more likely to fall asleep during an action movie than a drama. I know how the action movie will turn out and who will win, I don’t always know the outcomes of dramas or comedies.
  20. Finding new music that you like is harder when you get older.
  21. Running at least 30 minutes several times a week is therapeutic to me.
  22. The best rock band names are a two word phrase – Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Imagine Dragons. Easy to remember yet open to creativity.
  23. Never use colors or numbers in your band name. Avoid animal names unless they are fictional.
  24. What you think about God is the most important thing about you.#
  25. There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more or love you less.**
  26. Whenever I have put myself at the center of my universe it has been a disaster. That place is reserved for Christ.
  27. My goal in life is to mature in Christ.
  28. Evangelical churches have neglected introverts, singles, and women.
  29. The more Christ’s followers develop a likeness to him the more effective their church will be.
  30. Bible instruction must have an appeal to the heart or it is just an academic exercise.
  31. Classic Country music sounds better on a record player.
  32. How many people like my latest post should not dictate what my next post will be.
  33. Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, and Brennan Manning are all dead. Frederick Buechner may soon follow. Who will be the next ones to inspire a generation willing to be vulnerable, spiritual and broken before Christ?
  34. I write as much for myself as I do for others.
  35. Kick your phone out of the bedroom.
  36. Being a Christian leader is not pushing management solutions with a Christian stamp of approval. It is actually living out the Sermon on the Mount in the context of an organization.
  37. Listening to the Bible counts as reading the Bible.
  38. Embracing silence and solitude for designated moments is a clear path to Growing Up.
  39. Having a personality or a type is how God made you but it also points out areas of growth.
  40. It takes work to stay engaged with your teenagers but it is absolutely essential.
  41. Growing Up as a Christian means finding the best method to experience God and learn from Jesus. That might look different for different people.
  42. The only hope that any family relationship has is the ruthless ability to forgive.
  43. The people who succeed are the ones that can find enthusiasm in the middle not just the beginning or the end.
  44. Look at the sky at least once a day.
  45. I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights and I live in the strong and unshakable kingdom of God.^

*From Dallas Willard

#From A.W Tozer

**From Brennan Manning

^From James Bryan Smith

How To Listen To God Using The Samuel Prayer

I am fond of sentence prayers that are easy to memorize and can be said in a pinch. 

When my mind can come up with nothing to pray about, I simply go to one of my sentence prayers. Sometimes I say the Shema and sometimes I say the Jesus Prayer. Lately, I have been using another prayer, what Adam McHugh calls the Samuel Prayer.

The Samuel Prayer is simply saying the following, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” 

This prayer comes from a charming story in scripture where a young Samuel, who was learning under a haggard priest named Eli, kept hearing God speak to him but thought it was Eli calling him instead. Finally, Eli instructs Samuel to listen for the voice again and when he hears it to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

What I like about this prayer is that it helps me flex my spiritual listening muscles. Did you know that prayer is also about listening? 

For some reason, I always approach prayer like I am pulling up to a drive thru window. I want to get all of my requests out and the less I have to hear back from the voice behind the speaker the better for everyone. But that is not all there is to prayer. McHugh says, “prayer without listening is not truly prayer.” He says that listening prayer is the only way we can adhere to Paul’s directive of “praying without ceasing.”

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I also like the language used in the prayer. The use of the word “Lord” is an important reminder as is the word “servant.” My best approach to God is as a servant and that means I need to be listening and investing time into hearing what God may be saying to me.

What has been the result for me saying the Samuel Prayer? What have I heard God saying to me? 

Sometimes nothing but many times I have been directed, been spoken to, and been reminded of great truths. What I hear is not always the most important thing. The simple act of listening is a way of cultivating my relationship to God. 

Any good relationship includes a healthy amount of speaking and listening. If I am doing all of the talking in a relationship then I am guilty of selfishness, greed, and gluttony but if I seek to listen as much as I can then I have a better understanding of the heart of the person I am in relationship with.

Take the Samuel Prayer and use it throughout the day or take a few moments at a designated time and use the Samuel Prayer to help you listen for God. I can’t tell you the skies will open up or you will have a legendary life with God like Samuel experienced but I can tell you that you will possess a posture of listening and you will see the importance of not just talking to God but also listening. God will be delighted that you are listening to him and will give you rich moments with him.

Let This Moment Be Your Moment of Greatest Growth

“Never let a crisis go to waste.”

As we settle into what Tony Evans says are multiple pandemics, it is a perfect time for disciples of Jesus Christ to start assessing their spiritual life and determining areas of growth.

I would hate to come out of these pandemics and not have done some serious soul searching and asked God who I am becoming in the midst of all of this and what he needs me to do and be.

One means of assessment is to ask if I am resembling what scripture says about a Grown Up Christian? 

A Grown Up Christian will have the power of the Holy Spirit and that power will begin to produce characteristics such as love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control. If you are not cultivating these fruits of the Spirit then what are you waiting for? The next pandemic?

A Grown Up Christisan should pursue and possess wisdom. The fools despise wisdom and instruction but the wise listen and add to their learning and get guidance because they fear the Lord and seek to be obedient to him. Dallas Willard says, “In fact, if we are to use our minds rightly, we must live in an attitude of constant openness and learning.” 

Have you learned anything over the last three months? Are you listening to disparate voices? To God? And are you learning and gaining insight on how to live and behave as a Christ-like person? If not, why not?

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Another thing that marks a Grown Up Christian is the reality of not having all of the answers. Paul, who knew so much about Christ and talked confidently about our life in Christ, states that we know in part and we prophesy in part and that we see through a darkened glass. If Paul, this great shaper of Christian thought and practice, accepts that there is only so much we can understand this side of heaven then why must we, as tiny and insignificant believers, think that we can describe with perfect clarity the purpose behind a pandemic, all the right answers for racial injustice, and the will of God for our government? 

So, if a Grown Up Christian is cultivating the Fruits of the Spirit, gaining in wisdom, but understands that pure certainty is not the end goal and is unrealistic in our limited human state, then they can begin to find a humbled, relaxed existence that trusts that God knows what he is doing and that they live in the strong and unshakable Kingdom of God and that is a perfectly safe place to be. 

Then, this crisis would not have gone to waste.

The World Needs You To Be Jesus Too

Here are some of the things I have heard Christians say, especially recently:

“What we need is Jesus.” “There will be no hope until there is a spiritual awakening in this country.” “Pray that God will move on our nation.” “We all need a savior.”

Even one of my heroes, Dallas Willard, says something similar, “There are no human solutions to human problems.” I support these sentiments whole heartedly but I think they send the wrong message, particularly to Christians.

What Willard would no doubt point out and what needs to happen is not Christians in their steepled tower looking down on the wayward world who need a good spiritual slap in the face and come to Jesus moment but Christians who are willing to Grow Up to the point of actually serving as Jesus’ proxy here on earth so that people will see their good works and glorify the Father in heaven.

One of the last things that Jesus told his disciples is that they will do the same things that he has done himself and even greater things than that. What Jesus means is that individual Grown Up Christians in the community of other Grown Up Christians and with the power of the Holy Spirit and the redeeming and resurrected power of Christ inside of them can unleash miracle upon miracle on the world.

When Jesus came, he was just one man that was able to love and just serve who was in front of him. But, his followers, operating out of their new life in Christ, could impact thousands upon thousands of people and work miracles by the sheer act of taking Christ’s love wherever they go and whoever they are with.

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I don’t fully understand why Jesus would bother with us limited and tainted people but he has chosen to entrust us to do his work here on earth. What is that work? To love one another, to set the captives free, to visit the prisoners, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, and to serve with humility and sacrifice, as he demonstrated. 

The Jesus the world needs may be myself living with humility or you living without pride or your fellow church member dropping the need to judge others. The world needs you to Grow Up. 

The whole world needs to know the saving power of Christ but not just in a revivalistic, “get right with Jesus” way but you and me actually Growing Up to be more like our Savior for the benefit of our own soul and the good of our families, our community, and our country. 

There are no human solutions to human problems and that is why all of our human problems need individuals who have found the divine solution and that solution, Christ, has revolutionized their own character and life and shaped them so that they can help bring the divine solution to a world that desperately needs it.

Jesus has taught you and instructed you on how to Grow Up. Jesus is transforming you to be Grown Up not just for our own purposes but for his purposes in the world. Stop telling others that they just need Jesus if you are not willing to be Jesus to them. The Jesus they need might just be you. 

The Spiritual Side of Your Response To Racial Crisis

What should a spiritual response be to the horrific racial nature of the deaths of George Floyd and Armaud Arbrey?

Envision Heaven: I believe that many Christians will be surprised when they get to heaven. Instead of the best version of their favorite homogenized church service that they were expecting they will see every race known to humanity, languages and dialects that are foreign to them, and cultural tendencies that doesn’t fit the narrative of a white-centric heaven. Maybe, we won’t see the need to categorize and label the way we do this side of heaven but I believe that our differences will still be apparent. If we can’t support, love, and worship with our Black brothers and sisters now then heaven is going to take some getting used to. I would like to be preparing myself for heaven now. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”

Examine Your Heart: I possess bias, even prejudice in my own heart. You do too. Have you dismissed some areas of your town or region because of the color that is represented in that community? Do you always seem to make a point to list race when you are telling a story, especially a negative one? Is there a tinge of fear when you encounter a group of people from a different race from your own? Do you assume certain people you talk to on the phone or encounter at a business lack intelligence or skill to provide you what you need?

Our hearts can be radically evil and ruined and that is often our default mode until it is transformed by Christ (which is a lifelong process). Before we dismiss racism and prejudice as an affliction that someone else has, we need to examine our own hearts to see the renovation that needs to go on there. Ask God to help you see his people in the way that he sees his people. Ask for humility to acknowledge where we may be complicit in the society and institutional racism that exists. As long as we think it is someone else’s hang up and not our own, we won’t be compelled to do anything different.

Lament and Grieve: Please realize that what happened to George Floyd and the aftermath of protests that erupted after his death is not the “News Media Crisis of the Week.” The same issues that the Black community is facing today they will be facing two months from now and next year when Social Media and the internet has moved on to a new crisis. 

In order for us to avoid the crisis news cycle, we need to lament and grieve what has happened to George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland, Armaud Arbrery, and the list goes on and on. Their senseless deaths at the hands of prejudice and racially motivated violence is at the height of evil and tragedy and requires Christians to lament these lives that were lost and to cry out to God for justice and reconciliation for our country and our communities. 

Blackout your social media feed if you feel led but don’t skip over the hard and unpleasant process of heartbreak and loss that triggers healing. I plan on reading and praying the Psalms of lament to help me embrace this tragedy with a deeper perspective.

Have Dinner: The amount of ministry performed by Jesus over meals is astounding. Dinners and food metaphors are some of Jesus’ favorite devices and teaching symbols. His miracles often centered around providing food and drink for people who needed it no matter their position in life, gender, or worthiness. 

I have been struck recently by hearing about the Racial Reconciliation Dinners that have sprung up around the South. There is something so pure and basic, in the best sense of the word, about sitting across from someone that you wouldn’t normally socially interact with. Opinions, preferences, and barriers just fall away when you can look someone in the eye and have a conversation over a quality meal served with hospitality and love. Start your own reconciliation dinners.

A Letter To My Daughter On Her 17th Birthday

To Lilly on Her 17th Birthday,

According to Jesus, who was worthy of blessing and to experience the Kingdom of God?

Think about the people Jesus wanted us to reevaluate? Little children, the last and the first, Samaritans(even sinful ones), tax collectors, and the sick and dying all had their fates and worthiness already determined by a society obsessed with appearances, categories, labels, judgement, condescension, and condemnation.

Jesus rejected this notion. For Jesus, there is nothing about a person’s exterior that determines blessedness. It is a matter of the heart. For “man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart.”

You are at an age where aesthetics and vibes rule and affect choices from what people eat for breakfast to how they wear their shoelaces. As important as these things might seem to you today, they are not a recipe for true blessedness and a good life. 

The good life comes from knowing Christ and having the power of his resurrection in your life. The good life comes from letting him wash the inside of our cup so that the inside and the outside glistens and shines. The good life begins and ends with Christ and is not determined by your status, your circumstances, your phone notifications, or any of the other ways we try to score our life.

I hope that I have given you a small example of what this blessed life with Christ looks like and that the peace and joy that is available in Christ has shown through my life for you to see. When that has not been the case, I ask for forgiveness. 

My best life has been when I have let him live his life through me as if he were me. This is where I have found blessedness, this is where I have found direction and purpose, this is where I have found love and acceptance. You can find this too. I have already seen him work in you and your sweet nature, warm compassion, many talents, and resilient character. Let your heart know the Christ of love and new beginnings and trust his ways as you grow up to be a beautiful, smart, and inspiring young woman.

May you take in Jesus’ words and let them ruminate in your heart and soul so you can live a life full of goodness, beauty, and truth. Blessed is Lilly on her Seventeenth Birthday for hers “is the kingdom of heaven, for she shall receive mercy, for she shall be comforted, for she shall be filled, for she shall see God, for she shall be called a child of God.”

Your Church Could Do This Now

Many churches in my state are starting to reopen but with really strange requirements like RSVP, only sitting in certain locations, escorts in and out, and limits on attendees. I am encouraged that church families will start to gather again, offer collective praise and worship, and actively demonstrate their love for God and one another. But is that all there is to a church? My prayer is that churches have realized during lockdown and shelter in place that outside of a weekly gathering, there is so much that they can be doing. Here are just two examples:

Provide An Outlet For Prayer and Encouragement. The other day, I was getting gas and a woman who I had spotted earlier pulled up close to my gas pump and began imploring me to “call out to Jesus, to pray for my family and to ask for his protection and care. That Jesus was my only hope and answer for salvation.” She didn’t know that I already call out to Jesus and that I already trust him. It didn’t matter to her, driven by a sense of urgency for our world and the reality of a scary virus, she needed to proclaim what was most important to her.

The bottom line, people are still scared and freaked out and concerned. They may have lost their job, they may be banned from seeing their ailing parents, they may be trying to manage a broken relationship in the midst of shelter-in-place, and they have not seen close friends in months.

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Churches should create prayer lines, or private Zoom forums for people to let out their frustrations and have a caring, loving person listen. They could throw together a small prayer garden with some benches and flowers to let people just come and sit in a tranquil location. Churches can’t assume that everyone is managing this time well. They need to be creative to help those who are urgently seeking answers and are scared and uncertain.

Open Up A “Business” Center. I am the director of a college library and as we started to open the group of people who most wanted to be in the library were not just students but community people who are desperately trying to navigate job applications, resume building, unemployment benefits, and form after form. They may be lacking the toner ink or the paper or the quality wi-fi to manage all that they are needing to do to provide for their family and survive the next year.

A church could make a room available in their building with a few donated computers, a printer, good internet, a smile, and some coffee for community people who are desperate to handle the frustrating hassle of what comes next. Sure, be safe, make people set an appointment, screen people, wipe down everything. But, offer a basic service that would be quite simple to provide and manage.

COVID-19 has helped us all rethink how we work, teach, worship, and be a family. Let it also help us rethink how to be the church and serve our church family and the needy people outside the church walls.

Finding Jesus In A Podcast About Buddhism

While listening to a podcast that was highlighting the work of a Buddhist author, I heard phrases and bits that led me to deeper and more profound thoughts on Jesus and his love.

The first phrase that was mentioned was, “this kinship with the suffering of others.” This made me think about Jesus when his friend Lazurus dies and Jesus is so overcome with emotion that he weeps. I thought about the ridicule, false accusations, and attacks that Jesus suffered from people that had such influence and power on the communities where he operated. I thought about Jesus being betrayed and abandoned by his closest friends and how that must have left him so lonely and disappointed. I thought about the humiliation and pain of the cross and facing death in such a public and torturous way.

Jesus knew suffering and knows our suffering.

The next phrase that they mentioned was “a love that never dies.” There is nothing very revolutionary about this phrase because we use phrases like endless love and never-ending love in songs and on cards all the time. What I thought about was Jesus embodying the phrase “a love that never dies.” The person of Jesus, representing love, dying but three days later being resurrected. I moved from the pop song, greeting card notion of love to a person making the ultimate sacrifice and defeating death. He truly is a love that never dies. And I get to experience that person dwelling inside me, working on my behalf, and showing me how to walk in that kind of love.

The third part that more than just go my attention was a discussion about descending into human identification and suffering rather than just seeking spiritual heights and ecstasies. The thought that came to mind was Jesus experiencing the eternal presence of God, the joy and certainty of heaven but yet coming to inhabit earth. Jesus seemed to prefer to be with the lowest of the low and didn’t require his followers to meet him on some high spiritual plane but moved down and down into humanity because that is where he is most needed. “Right down into the thick of things we discover the love that never dies.”

The differences between the Buddhist thought expressed in the podcast and the way of Jesus is that Buddhism asks the individual to achieve identification with the suffering of others, the individual to develop the love that never dies, and the individual to move down into the thick of things despite the pain and turmoil that might be there.

Christianity is making a person, Jesus Christ, the Lord of your life because he already knows our suffering, our temptations, and our disappointments. He demonstrated and allows us to share in his death and resurrection because he is the love that never dies. And Jesus is not sitting on some high mountain of holiness expecting us to climb to him but descended to us and made his kingdom as present as the next room, present even to our own hearts.

Christianity begins and ends with the person of Jesus Christ. So much so that even as a I was listening to thought that was not my own, all I could think about was Jesus and his truth.

Now Is The Time For A Spiritual Check Up

Eight weeks of shutdown has made us all assess every aspect of our life. What work and school can be accomplished at home? What is this place they call a park? Do I know how to work an oven? Is our WiFi strong enough?

But as some areas begin to open up and people start to find what they have been missing, I thought it would be a good time to assess where we all are in our Grow Up plan, our spiritual formation.

So, here are some questions to ask yourself and some exercises to try to strengthen or develop what needs to Grow Up.

Questions of Assessment

God

  1. Is the God you are envisioning right now good and merciful and loving or is he angry, wrathful, and stingy?
  2. Are you connecting more to God through prayer, listening, and worship or do you find it harder to practice these soul training exercises?

Your Life

  1. Do you find it hard to consider your life good right now with so much taken away from you? Is your faith at the mercy of your circumstances?
  2. What negative points of your character have surfaced and been prominently revealed to you and others? Anger? Impatience? Fear? Selfishness? Lack of Sympathy?

Community

  1. How has your thoughts on the value of the local church and your role in the church changed during this time?
  2. Have you been motivated to serve others and help those in need?

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Exercises to try to help you Grow Up in these areas

God

  1. Take a walk and consider all that God has provided for you in his natural world? Notice something new that is worthy of your amazement and thank God for it.
  2. Instead of making requests of God, ask him what he wants from you and then listen for his reply.

Your Life

  1. Read Mark 9:1-29 everyday for a week. Notice Jesus, notice the disciples, notice the boy’s father. Let God reveal to you what is most needed in your life.
  2. Live with Jesus for the next 10 minutes. Don’t try to solve all of your spiritual problems at once. Just simply see what it looks and feels like to walk side by side with Jesus for the next 10 minutes.

Community

  1. Who can you connect with today? Who needs to hear from you? Make an effort to call, text, write a letter, or FaceTime this person.
  2. I love the stories of surprise gifts and unexpected blessings. Who can you surprise with a small gesture of service and love? Give them toilet paper, or a box of masks, or some crayons, or a gift card. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate.

It has been said many times to not let “a crisis go to waste.” Ask God what he wants your life to look like right now and go about letting him shape that life. Surrender to whatever he has for you. You won’t regret it and will look back on this strange year as a time when you Grew Up like never before.

A Stress Free Prayer Life

Sometimes I will ask one of our daughters to pray before a meal or before going to bed at night. As they pray, they will sometimes stumble over their words or forget what they were trying to say or say something that doesn’t make much sense. They will end the prayer and then start apologizing for how they messed up the prayer or they will kick themselves for a poor word choice or line that sounded dumb.

As adults, when we find ourselves inept in our prayer life we aren’t full of apologies or anger at ourselves. Instead, we just stop praying. We think that we don’t have the skill for it or no one is listening or nothing sounds very spiritual or that God is bored with our unimaginative words.

In reality, God delights in hearing from us and relishes each word that comes out of our mouths and longs to have time with us where he can communicate and have us communicate with him.

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I don’t berate our daughters when they mess up their prayers. I don’t criticize them for their prayer miscues. If their father, who is prone to grumpiness and annoyance and can be overly critical, isn’t being too hard on them as they pray, why on earth would their loving Father in heaven think they have screwed up?

Likewise, as those of us who are more mature in their life with Christ pray we can take the pressure off of ourselves.

Just now, as I was writing this, I paused to get up from my computer and said a prayer for this blog post. Here was my prayer, “Father, may your will be done with this post, may this post be well, may this post bring someone joy and peace, and may someone know the extent of your love for them through reading this.”

I obviously was forcing my prayer about my blog post into language that I use for other prayers. Why? Because I don’t usually have very articulate words to pray and I need the structure of a prayer pattern to keep me focused and praying for important things.

The format and structure doesn’t matter. The point is, God is hearing me, God is ready to answer my prayers, and God is delighted that I am wanting to talk to him again today.

We all would be better off to quit overthinking our prayers and just sit for a while and let the words come. This may be one minute or 25 minutes but just sit and start mentioning what you want to thank God for, ask him to help a few people in your life that you care about, ask him to change your heart to be more like Christ’s, and be willing to listen too.

You and God are doing this life thing together whether we recognize it or not so you might as well start talking to him about it. He has no condemnation for you, only open arms and ears to hear from his beloved child.