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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Why I Am Starting Something New?

I relaunched this blog back in May. There was a lot of prep to get it started again but I have never felt burdened by it. I started the Apprentice Experience in August and have been doing weekly readings and assignments. This has taken a little bit of time away from the blog but I have never felt overwhelmed by the time commitments.

This is the pattern that I am noticing on this journey. God directs me toward something and I go do it. There hasn’t been a lot of fuss, or hand wringing, or feelings of desperation. I simply move forward in obedience and things progress forward. There has been a flow forward that has been rewarding, refreshing, and uplifting.

I never thought that anything more than some words in a blog or some additional advice to friends and mentees would spring from these ways forward but I was wrong. God has made it apparent, just as he did with the blog and the entry into the Apprentice Experience, to take up a new task; one that is bigger and more out there than anything I have done previously. But, now that I know the pattern, I can just start to move forward in obedience and see where this takes me.

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Here is the new task: Grow Up Ministries. To take the content of the blog and the lessons and skills I am learning from the Apprentice Experience to create retreats, workshops, or individual session so that Christians can learn to Grow Up and live the life that Christ intends for them to live. I would make myself available to churches, parachurch organizations, and other ministries, and show their people that maturing in the Christian life is not only for spiritual superheroes or preacher types but for everyone who has a desire to grow.

Wise, mature, transformed Christians are desperately needed in our world and I want to do my part to help people make the spiritual changes they desire and that God has planned for them.

Friday night’s event is a kind of kick-off event for this new ministry venture. In the midst of all of the great music, I will briefly explain the plans and goals of this ministry.

What does that mean for you, faithful reader of the blog? Not much except for maybe a new web design and additional opportunities to see/hear me speak in person.

This is all kind of scary for me. I am not always the most optimistic person in the world but now that I know the pattern I can be confident that I just have to move forward and God will provide a way and a result.

A Month of Growing Up

Grow Up

Thank you for riding along with me this past month as the Grow Up Blog was launched and I try to be your guide to a more mature Christian life. I know the writing has been beneficial to me and I pray that some of my words have challenged and inspired you.

Don’t forget that you can donate to support my opportunity to attend the Apprentice Experience. I would much appreciate it and know that it will greatly influence the quality of the content of this blog.

This past month, you learned the two purposes of Scripture and discovered that the difficulty of the Christian life is one of the reasons it is worth committing to…I told you about my next big thing and how long time Church attendance may be holding you back…We also realized that you should be listening to God more and that God does the growing but you must plant, water, and care for our spiritual life.

I am looking forward to what else we will discover in June. Thanks again for being a part of this.

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Running The Race: When I Became A Runner

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

Wednesday morning I became a runner. Sure, I have been training for a marathon for almost two months but it wasn’t until Wednesday that I became a runner. All signs pointed to me skipping a run that morning. I had stayed up too late watching a recorded playoff baseball game and my early morning workout schedule meant that sleep was going to be short. Then, as my alarm went off, the first thing I hear is the steady stream of rain drops on my roof. I am tired, it is raining. I tell myself that I don’t have to get out there today. But I remember something I had read the day before from Martin Dugard:

 Runners run. If you’re having one of those days where you want to rationalize not taking that first step out the door, remind yourself that this commitment renews itself each and every day. Then lace up your shoes and get out there.

So I took Dugard’s advice and laced up my shoes and put on a hat, to keep the rain out of my face, and ran around three miles. First, the rain was barely noticeable but then it began to pour but it didn’t bother me much because I knew that I had crossed a threshold and had become more than a guy in training but someone much more interesting, a runner.

To me, the spiritual application to the above discovery is pretty obvious. Through my daily commitment to God, even when life brings storms, I become a Christian in the truest sense of the word. But it takes a renewing commitment and realization that seeking first the kingdom is not a drudgery or a hassle but the absolute best thing that I could do for my life. Just as skipping out on a run would have been short changing myself, avoiding my responsibilities and dedication to God and his kingdom can keep me from fulfilling God’s abundant purposes for my life.

Running The Race: Christian Life Tracker

56/365 morning run

Image by kharied via Flickr

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

I have a sensor in my running shoe that can track how many miles I have run, at what pace I am running, and how many minutes I have been running. I then can upload that information to a website so I can chart my progress. Another site that I have found, called Daily Mile, allows me to enter my results for each workout in a Twitter like fashion. In Daily Mile, others in my social network can see my results and comment on my progress while I can do the same for them.

The ability to track your status and broadcast it to others keeps you accountable and makes it easier to set goals and see how much you have improved. Why isn’t there something like this for spiritual activities? Why can’t I track my daily Bible reading and let others know how I am doing? Why can’t I list prayers and then check them off when they have been answered? There are many spiritual disciplines that could be tracked and monitored and shared.

The reason we don’t have Christian Life Trackers is because we are afraid that we will become legalistic. Legalism occurs when you attach righteousness to spiritual activities.  When I think that I have to complete certain spiritual tasks in order to receive favor from God or, in most cases, the church then I am being legalistic. How exactly is tracking my daily Bible reading being legalistic? I am simply finding a tool that will motivate me to continue reading and help me encourage others who are trying to do the same thing. Sure, there may be a level of competition and one up-manship involved but the rewards to making our spiritual lives more quantified far outweigh the temptation for pride and power.

I enjoy watching my progress through my marathon training and keeping up with how others are doing as well. I feel a kinship to friends, and some strangers, who are putting in good work towards their goals and I enjoy celebrating when they achieve something extraordinary. Doesn’t this sound like something we should be doing as fellow believers? Let’s find a good way to track and connect our spiritual journey.

The Parenting Test

Tests are provided in school to determine how much a student has learned. But does life provide consistent means of assessment when it comes to our Christian life? Sure, we can think of life’s big tests such as disease, death, and tragedy, but what about the every day? Are there moments in our day in which our discipleship to Jesus is put to the test? If you are a parent, it certainly is.

Let’s just take the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ teachings against anger in Matthew 5. As a parent of three kids under the age of 13, there are many instances where fighting occurs. You try not being angry when every time you walk out of the room, two of the kids begin to fight and you have to stop what you are doing and go back to the room and tell them to stop fighting.

What about his teaching on oath taking in v. 33? I know that I have made promises to my kids that I haven’t been able to keep and some that I never really intended to keep, I just wanted them to move on to something else. What about the Golden Rule? Do I demonstrate the same respect for my kids as I expect out of them? Sometimes I don’t.

Parenting is a great test of where we are spiritually. If I am impatient, quick to anger, and rarely gentle or kind then I am reminded that I have some work to do and that I need to rely more on Christ to provide the heart change that I need. The tests results are not always pretty but if we are honest with how we parent then we will find the areas where we have the most room to grow.

Apprenticeship With Jesus: Day 1

For Lent, I am walking us through a book called Apprenticeship With Jesus. You can follow along by reading my highlights and reflections. Extensive previews of the book can be found through Google Books and Amazon, as well as eBook purchasing options.

Day 1: A Case of Theological Malpractice (Salvation is Also A Life)

– American Christianity seems to create a narrative of God in which he is nothing more than a ledger keeper of sins. This creates churches full of “miserable but forgiven sinners”

–  Did Jesus come to die for us to live as tortured souls?

– Other streams of the Christian faith, namely the Eastern church, express a real possibility of spiritual oneness with God

– Does God want to live with us in each moment in our lives?

– Galatians 2:20: Can I really say that I am “Crucified with Christ and that I no longer live but Christ lives in me” and that the “life I live I live by faith in the Son of God?”

The verse that has always haunted me, even when I wasn’t interested in spiritual formation, is John 10:10. I took Jesus at his word that he came to bring an abundant life and I just couldn’t believe that this abundant life was only for after we die. The amazing promises of the New Testament about a new life and a new Spirit and a new existence are just so evident but we seem to have reduced God to a forgiveness distributer and nothing more. If we cannot live our lives in connection with God than we are missing 80 percent of the gospel message.

Apprentice Activity: Get To Your Calendar Before Anyone Else Does

– C.S. Lewis – “Only lazy people work hard.”

– Eugene Peterson – “I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself.”

Make an appointment on your calendar for 8 hours of sleep a night and 2 hours a day for time loving God and loving others

As a writer of a blog that tries to show people how doable spiritual activity can be and being a person who refuses to cater to the idea that the solution to every problem is adding more (more reading, more prayer, more worship, more time), I have a problem with this activity. I think “bootcamp” mentality can be effective in the right setting but having the first activity be a complete overhaul of our daily routine is a little too much too soon. Who can keep the intensity of 8 hours of sleep and 2 hours of God time? Shouldn’t we try to work up to this goal? I certainly would like to but right now I have to do something different.

Before I commit to this activity I plan to spend a few days tracking my total sleep and my spiritual activity. I want to see what is normal for me and see how close or far away I am from the goal of 8 and 2. I think I then can make some efforts towards improving in these areas.

What is Jesus teaching me? Faith in Jesus is a great way to simplify your life. Last night, as I was surfing around the web, getting my sports fix, I had a sense of all that I was missing in the sports world. I didn’t know the scores to the Big 12 championship games and I didn’t know who is on the NCAA tournament bubble and I didn’t know if the Mavericks were winning their game against the Knicks. But then I remembered the 8 hours of sleep activity and thought, God doesn’t need me to be a walking Sports Center but he could use me more effectively if I were more rested. Plus, resting is a sign of trust that God is in control and I do not have to chase every thought that comes into my head.

How is God simplifying your life?