What I’ve Been Reading and Listening To

  1. Surrender to Love, by David Benner: Some books you want to buzz through and get to the point. Other books you want to sift and savor. Then there’s that rarest of books that you want to read again and again. Benner does a great job of reminding us that at its core, Christianity is about a love relationship.
  2. Wishcraft, by Barbara Sher: I found this one in a box while moving and have used it this summer as I’ve made some plans for the future. I’ve owned Wishcraft for many years but have never read it all the way through until now. If you’ve got anything you’ve wanted to do but haven’t gotten around to, this book could be a big help. Barbara Sher acts as a trusted old friend, guiding you through the process of brainstorming planning, so you can turn your ideas into reality.
  3. James Altucher’s interview with Rich Cohen, author of “The Sun and the Moon and the Rolling Stones”: I’m a big fan of James Altucher. He thinks way outside the box, and his interviews often pave the way for my reading list. Definitely the case with this fascinating interview with writer Rich Cohen.
  4. The Sun and the Moon and the Rolling Stones, by Rich Cohen: See what I mean? After listening to the podcast, I tracked down the book. The Rolling Stones are the topic of the book, and they’re fascinating. But the real star here is Cohen’s writing. Great stuff.
  5. Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy, by : Another one I found in a moving box. This behind the scenes look at Lennon’s last recording sessions made for a great read.
  6. John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy: I listened to this while reading the book about it. 35 years later and this album sounds as fresh as ever. This album feels like the beginning of something new. As we all now know, it would mark the end. It is a shame that John Lennon was taken from us. What a talent.
  7. NEEDTOBREATHE – HARDLOVE: We toured with these guys back in 2008, but I was a fan long before. NEEDTOBREATHE is one of those bands that feel like they’ve always been around. I guess that’s what timeless music is supposed to feel like. I’ve listened to this one a couple of times, and it breaks some new ground for the band, while standing tall with anything they’ve ever done.
  8. Leeland – Invisible: Another tour mate of ours from a few years back. These guys are easily one of my favorite worship artists, and this album is a great reminder why.
  9. Reliant K – Air for Free: Get in your car, roll down the windows, and crank the volume on this one. Isn’t life awesome?
  10. Wilco – “If I Ever Was a Child” and “Locator”: Looking forward to a new full Wilco album. In the meantime, we’ve got these two tracks they released a little early. If they’re any indication, this is going to be a great one.

Wired for Community

I was hanging out on the bus the other day with my buddy Warren Barfield. We were having a good old time, talking about everything from movies to music to how in the world do you maintain a Facebook page. A lot of times when musicians hang out, we talk about career stuff. Maybe it’s a musician thing – we have this innate uncertainty about the future. What if people decide to quit buying our records or coming to our shows? Or maybe it’s a human thing – maybe we’re all a little worried about the future.

As the conversation got more specific, one thing absolutely blew my mind. There was this total clarity that Warren and I had when talking about the other person. “Dude you should totally do this! It’s so obvious. Can’t you see it?” But each of us, when looking at our own situation, couldn’t really see it.

That’s the funniest thing about it. When you’re talking about somebody else, it’s so easy to see what they should do. When you’re talking about yourself? Not so much.

It seems that we humans have a built in blind spot, and I think God intended it to be that way. We can’t really see our lives with the objectivity that we need to make good decisions. We have to rely on other people to help up out. Maybe, just maybe, we need each other.

It seems that we’re wired for community. Might as well embrace it.

The easy, obvious way to go about this would be the bull in a china shop approach. Since other people have this built in blind spot, let me help them. I’ll just tell them what they ought to do. This is called meddling, and I don’t think I would recommend it.

But there’s another way to approach it that involves a lot of humility and a lot of what Brene Brown calls “leaning in.” It requires opening up to other people and letting them know that you don’t have it all figured out.

I’ve started asking this simple question lately: “What would you do?” I just come out and ask people what they would do if they were in my situation. It’s a little bit unsettling because it’s so out of the ordinary. Try it sometime. At the very least, it makes for interesting conversation.

What would you do?

Review: Risen

With Easter around the corner, the movie theaters are starting to fill up with faith based films. I have a love hate relationship with this genre. Being a Christian, I love seeing Bible stories on the big screen. But many of them come across as heavy handed, and the quality level is hit or miss. I went into Risen carrying this baggage with me.

I left the film feeling like I’d seen one of my favorite movies in a long time.

The premise of Risen is different than most films about Jesus. It does not tell the story of his life, and only briefly portrays his death. Instead, Risen involves an investigation into what happened immediately after. Pontius Pilate, feeling pressure from the Sandhedrin and fearing a Jewish uprising, hires Clavius, a battle hardened tribune in the Roman army. Clavius is given the task of unearthing whether Jesus’ body was stolen, or if something miraculous had occurred.

For the film’s first 30 minutes or so, it feels like you’re watching CSI: Jesusalem. Clavius looks at recently executed bodies, then begins interviewing anyone connected with Jesus. He is unsettled when he meets a woman who claimed to have heard Jesus’ voice after he had died. He is further perplexed upon questioning Mary Magdalene, a mysterious woman of the street who maintained her faith despite his questioning.

The movie reveals a lighthearted tone when he meets Bartholomew, one of the twelve disciples. In one of my favorite scenes of the film, Bartholomew demonstrates a whimsical, childlike belief in Jesus, even when threatened with his own crucifixion. Stephen Hagan is great in this role, giving it a lighthearted feel, a la The Hobbit. My only complaint is that he didn’t get more screen time.

In perhaps the film’s most powerful scene, Clavius receives a tip as to where the disciples might be gathered. He then goes to a home and sees Jesus himself seated with the his disciples gathered around him. Shaken to the core, he waves off the soldiers under his command and stays to witness Jesus in the flesh.

The rest of the film shows Clavius following the disciples as they go to meet Jesus one more time in Galilee. After helping them narrowly escape their pursuers (the soldiers who had previously been under Claudius’ command), they meet Jesus again, and see him perform miracles before ascending into the sky in a blinding flash of light.

Several things set this film apart from others about Jesus. One was the sense of humor woven throughout. Most Christian films take on a seriousness so heavy that the film can barely support it. Not here – it was very refreshing to break up the serious subject matter with a little laughter. Also, the perspective of the story. Told from the point of view of an outsider, the viewer is able to glimpse into the world of the disciples and understand where they were coming from.

That last point is probably what endeared me the most. The film portrayed the disciples as very real and very human, complete with doubts and fear. Those elements also heightened the joy at seeing Jesus again, and seeing his miracles.

I went into Risen not knowing what to expect. I left the film with a deepened faith and a new understanding of Jesus and his disciples. I want to see it again and take everybody I know with me. Isn’t that the goal of all films? I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Give it up

“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” ~ Luke 25:33

That right there might be one of the most challenging sentences Jesus ever said. Especially to us modern readers. We sure do love our stuff, don’t we?

This fact hit home for me last year when we were on vacation in Colorado. It was kind of a cool day, even for early June, so when my daughters wanted me to get in the hot tub with them at the hotel pool, I was all about it. For about 5 seconds.

Then I remembered my iPhone was in my pocket.

For the next several days, I felt completely lost. Literally. Since I was on vacation when it happened, I couldn’t get anywhere without the trusty map on my phone. I couldn’t call anybody. Not only did I not have a phone to make the call, but I didn’t have any phone numbers – they were all stored in my contacts. On my phone.

It’s not just my phone. I could do that to an extent with everything I own. Every little thing in my possession has some kind of baggage attached to it. With each item, I could go through a list of why I can’t live without it. Or at least why I can’t get rid of it.

Then there are things that I don’t use that come with a serving of guilt on the side. I can’t get rid of that shirt because it was a gift. I need to wear it. I haven’t read this book. But I need to. I will. I should. At some point.

All of these things, all of this stuff in my life, come with a price. I don’t mean what I paid for it. I mean that little bit of attention in my brain that I subconsciously give to it, just because I own it. And all of this attention adds up. This is attention that I could be giving to things that matter: to my family, to helping and loving others. You know, the eternal things. The things of God.

This is why Jesus tells us to consider the cost of following him. It costs nothing in that it is the simplest decision we’ll ever make. But at the same time, it costs everything. Every thing, every habit, every goal, every relationship, every possession. All of these things get in the way of following Jesus. And that’s why he wants us to give them up.

To be clear, I don’t necessarily think he wants us to literally get rid of these things. For some of us he might. If you feel called to give some things away please don’t let me stand in the way of that. But for most of us, the giving up happens in the spiritual realm. It involves holding everything we have with a loose grip. We realize that God has given us everything, and we are to use it to his glory.

Ask yourself some tough questions. Do I own my things, or do they own me? Are there some things in my life that I “can’t live without”? I would start there. Put them before God and see what you need to do about it. Perhaps you need to hold them with a looser grip. Or maybe, just maybe, you need to give them away.

Fasting could help in this area. Give up your phone for a day. Park your car for a weekend and ride your bike. Or bum a ride – maybe you could use the company. Little breaks like this give us a chance to recalibrate our priorities so we can always keep God first.

Life’s too short to be worried about things that don’t last. Instead, focus on eternal things. You won’t regret it.

Take a leap with me, version 2.0

Do you remember what you were doing four years ago today?

Four years ago, on Leap Day, I wrote a blog post and issued a little challenge. Make some plans and set some goals that are so big, they might take four years to complete them.

If you did it, I’d love to hear how it went for you.

As for me, I set the goal of completing big literary project. I didn’t use the word “book”, because I wanted to leave myself open to other things that might materialize. If I’d done a blog or ebook, I didn’t want it to be considered a failure because it wasn’t a traditional book.

But it ended up being a book. And ironically, or not, I finished the latest version exactly four years to the day of setting that goal. Now granted, it’s not done – I’m sure there will be another round or two of edits. But it’s pretty crazy how that worked out.

OK, for this Leap Year, I’m going to throw out two ideas. Do one or the other. Or do both if you choose.

1) Set a big goal that might take you four years to accomplish. Get to it. And check back in with me in four years. This is what I did last time.
2) Write a letter to yourself in four years. It could be one where you speculate where you are and what you are up to in your 2020 existence. Or you could choose to write a time capsule of everything going on in your life right now so that your 2020 self can go back and reminisce.
3) Be sure to check back in with me. I’d love to hear how things went for you. (Of course we might all be communicating via telepathy by then, so you might not have to go to my blog. But I’m sure we’ll find each other!)

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10 Books Every Christian Should Read

Besides prayer and Bible study, few things help in spiritual growth like a good book. Now there are good books, and there are the classics. This list has been carefully selected. Each should help in a certain area of the Christian life. It contains the books I find myself recommending over and over again. If you haven’t read all of them, I encourage you to check them out. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What books would you recommend?

  1. The One Year Bible – “All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16. It almost goes without saying. The most important book that a Christian could ever read is that one overseen by God himself. Broken into manageable daily portions, The One Year Bible is a great way to read through all the Scriptures in a calendar year.
  2. Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods – “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” ~ James 1:22. Even more important than reading the Bible is learning how to apply it to your life. There are many good resources to read about Bible study techniques. Warren’s is probably the most readable and practical.
  3. Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis – This book winds up on many a “best of” list, and for good reason. Based on a series of radio talks, Lewis is able to unpack the inner workings of the Christian faith in a down to earth.
  4. Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster – While we can’t earn God’s love by our own works, we can place ourselves in a position where he can do his work in us. Foster presents several basic tools for living out the faith in both personal and corporate settings.
  5. The God You Can Know, by Dan DeHaan – Many books have been written about the attributes of God. Dan DeHaan had a heart for God like few others, and this book will make you want to love God like that.
  6. Roaring Lambs, by Bob Briner. One of the greatest commandments of the Christian faith is to share it with others. Briner makes a great case for shining a light of faith into the culture at large.
  7. Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning – At its heart, Christianity is all about grace. We say all the time that God loves us just the way we are. But do we really mean it? One can’t read this book and not come away with a sense of the incredible depth of God’s grace, mercy, and love for His people.
  8. My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers – Many great devotional books have been written through the years. Simple yet layered, this one has stood the test of time. You will discover a new gem every time you read it.
  9. Practicing His Presence, by Frank Laubach and Brother Lawrence – We are commanded to pray without ceasing, but what does that look like in everyday life? 15th century monk Brother Lawrence offered some radical ideas. Frank Laubach updated them for a modern audience while offering a few ideas of his own.
  10. Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle – One of the most beautiful things about being a Christian is realizing that not only are we created by God, but that he has invited us to create with him. Through her lyrical storytelling style, L’Engle offers a glimpse into what that kind of life might look like.

Who’s your favorite Star Wars character? The answer could reveal something about you.

“Mommy, who’s your favorite Star Wars character?”

“Chewbacca.”

Kitty and I had just finished seeing The Force Awakens in the theaters. Now we were meeting up with Mommy for dinner. This was Kitty’s second screening of the film. To say it’s her favorite movie would be a massive understatement. She’s pretty well obsessed with all things Star Wars.

“OK, who’s your second favorite Star Wars character?”

“Han Solo,” Stephanie answered with a smile. “I know you’re just trying to get me to say ‘Luke Skywalker’ so you can talk about him.”

Determined as ever, Kitty turned her attention to me. “Daddy, who’s your favorite Star Wars character?”

She doesn’t realize it, but Kitty is on to something. One of my favorite authors, John Eldredge, has an interesting exercise that’s based on this kind of conversation. Eldredge has talked at length about why we gravitate to certain characters over others:

“Quite often you’ll find that you identify with a certain character in a movie you love. The reason why is that their life is speaking to you about something written deep on your heart about your life!” ~ John and Stasi Eldredge, Captivating: A guided journal: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul

It’s a great exercise, and a great conversation starter, to talk about our favorite characters in a film. It’s easier when a new film comes out, especially one that most of us has seen like The Force Awakens. There’s a natural starting point.

Beyond the film’s ubiquitous nature, The Force Awakens is brimming with interesting characters and intriguing story lines. Poe is an amazing fighter pilot with a sarcastic wit to boot. Rey is is conflicted between the adventurous path she’s on and the need to stay home and wait on her family to return. Even old favorites like Han and Leia are given new character arcs.

Even with all these new characters to choose from, Kitty is still drawn to Luke Skywalker. And for good reason. Luke represents the unproven hero of a story thrust onto a big stage; our desire for the underdog to win; and the struggle for good to win over evil, even when those two forces are fighting within one’s own heart.

As for me, while Rey is my favorite character, I can relate to Finn the most. Finn starts out the movie as a stomtrooper, then suffers an identity crisis as he flees the dark side but isn’t ready to stand up and fight against it. I think for me it points out both worthy traits and potential weaknesses. Like Finn, I desire to fight injustice in the world. On the other hand, I have a strong desire to please others and not rock the boat, which sometimes shows up as wanting to avoid conflict.

Examine the characters in the film and search your own heart, and you can learn some things about yourself. Hey, if nothing else, it could give you an excuse to see the movie again.

Now you. What character in The Force Awakens do you relate to the most? Why?

What to do on the day after you didn’t win the lottery

To the three of you who won the lottery last night, congratulations! (If you happen to be a faithful reader of this blog, drop me a line. Maybe you can become a patron of the arts by a generous contribution.)

I’m being facetious, of course. For the rest of us, which is pretty much anybody reading this, you didn’t win the lottery. But it was exciting to dream for a little bit, wasn’t it? It’s fun to sit and think about what you’d do with $1.5 billion dollars.

My family had an interesting conversation about it, and I bet we weren’t the only ones. It seems that any talk of spending lottery winnings comes down to a few common themes:

  • Generosity – When most people talk about windfall income, the first thing they talk about is how to share it with others. They want to provide for family members. They want to support their favorite causes. And they want to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves. I think this shows that most people are generous at heart.
  • Adventure – We all want to live lives that are exceptional. And it seems that a cool billion will go a long way in that direction. Trips, vacation homes, and crazy experiences seem to be high on the list.
  • Luxury – We all want nice things. Fancy clothes, nice houses, exotic cars, maybe even a boat.
  • Relaxation – We want a break from the cares of the world. Let other people take care of the hard things so we can just chill by the pool.
  • Simplicity – We assume that life would be so much easier with a boatload of money. No more debt, no more bills to pay. Life sure would be simpler without the hassle of a job.

One of my all-time favorite movie scenes is in Office Space*, where the main characters discuss what they’d do if they won a million dollars. After some hilarious banter, they realize that what they’d do with a million dollars is an indicator of what you want to do with your life. If you remove money from the equation, your true desires are likely to come to the surface.

By thinking about your imaginary lottery winnings, perhaps you could figure out ways to incorporate those themes above into your life. If you’re creative about it, you could make it happen with little or no income.

  • You could be more generous. You may not have a lot of money, but you could donate your time or your talents. Help your friends and family in other ways. Volunteer. Teach others some of the skills you have.
  • You could be more adventurous. You may not be able to go to some faraway island, but you could go to the beach. Or a museum. Or try a restaurant in another part of town.
  • Yes, you really could be more luxurious. And yes, this can be done without any money. Julia Cameron has talked about how eating raspberries feels like a luxury.
  • Be more relaxed. It’s more of an attitude than anything else. Don’t let the little things drag you down. Take a few deep breaths. Make walking a part of your daily routine.
  • Finally, to quote Thoreau, you can simplify, simplify, simplify your life. This is an area that you can easily do without any lottery winnings. And besides, I’m pretty sure $1.5 billion would have complicated things more than we’d all care to admit.
  • Bottom line: spend a little time pondering on why you were fascinated by a big lottery jackpot, and I bet you can come up with some ways to live an extraordinary life without it.

*While it’s truly funny, this movie is rated ‘R’. Consider yourself warned :)

New Year, Same You (and that’s OK!)

I was at an office supply store the other day with my daughter looking for mechanical pencils*. We headed back through rows and rows of desks and office chairs. Right in the middle of this huge store, just before the pencil aisle, we rounded a corner and Abbie let out a squeal of delight.
In front of us was a huge, colorful display of 2016 calendars.

“Daddy – look at all the new calendars! Can I get one?”

I responded with a timeless gem of fatherly wisdom handed down through the generations. “Ask your mother.”

Abbie’s not the only one excited about the new year. There is something about this time that gets everybody all giddy. It’s a new year, so now we’re going to do all this new stuff. We’re going to set all these resolutions and run after them with this newfound resolve. We’re going to be nothing short of amazing.

We tear into the new year like people on a mission. But by the end of January, we revert back to how it was before. What went wrong?

I blame it on a little assumption we all make around this time. This assumption rears its head when people say little catch phrases like “New year, new you.”

All of a sudden, because a number on a calendar has changed by a single digit, that means we are we are somehow going to be completely different people. We really try to be different, and it works for a while, as we get up earlier and work harder. We may even eat a couple of salads.

But at some point we’re going to go back to being the same old us, the ones who like to hit the snooze button, like to watch TV, and definitely do not like salad. Meanwhile, our goals are unmet, and we are left right back where we started, only now we’re frustrated and nursing our egos.

Why do we assume that one day we are going to wake up and be different people? You know what you get for assuming, right?

I’ve got an idea. What if, instead of assuming you’re already a different person just because it’s a new year, you start with exactly where – and who – you are right now.

You have to start somewhere, right? Why not right here? Spend a little time pondering what “right here” means for you. Take an honest inventory of what’s gotten you to this starting point. Remember – you are where you are because of everything you’ve done up to now. And where you are is a reflection of who you are.

Instead of just assuming you’re going to be some kind of superhero this year, maybe try to figure out the kind of person who would accomplish all the goals you’re wanting to set. Maybe you need to be a morning person to be able to get up and exercise. Or maybe you need to be a little more assertive to make those sales calls. Add these traits to your list of goals. Work on making those traits a habit. Or maybe, just maybe, you are setting unrealistic goals. Make goals that line up with who you are, and you just might succeed.

You don’t have to be a different person to accomplish what you set out to do this year. You just have to be a better version of you. And that starts with looking at where you are now so you can figure out where you need to go.

Happy 2016. Here’s to actually achieving those goals this year.

* That might be one of the least rock and roll sentences I’ve ever written.

What do you want?

It was a miracle – we were actually running early for church. We got the kids to their respective Sunday School rooms, then made our way to the sanctuary. For once I had a little pep in my step. It’s nice to be early as opposed to my usual frantic frenzy of rolling in on two wheels at the last possible second.

After a couple of worship songs, the assistant pastor got up in front of the church. “It’s the first Sunday of the month. You guys know what that means?” As he began to explain to the audience, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I knew exactly where he was going with this.

You see, my church does this thing the first Sunday of every month. If you have a birthday that month, you get up in front of the congregation and tell everybody what you want for your birthday. Sometimes people say something silly like a car or a housecleaning service. But it’s often something deeper. People struggling with infertility want a baby. People out of work desperately want a job.

The idea is that we often don’t share with God our obvious wants and desires. Which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it, because God knows everything. Yet we have this innate tendency to say “No, I’m fine,” whenever it comes time to talk about ourselves. But just like the parent who loves talking about the little things going on at school because they just want to spend time with the child, God wants us to share what’s going on with us so that we’ll spend time with him.

When Jesus met the two followers of John who would become his first two disciples, he cut straight to the chase. “What do you want?”

In a sense, he is constantly holding out that question to us. And since he knows the depths of our being, we might as well tell him. And because he’s the King of Kings and all, it’s probably a good idea because he can probably do something about it. He can provide hope. He can provide answers. And in situations where those first two aren’t possible, he can provide comfort.

So tell him what you want.

Oh, you’re probably wondering what my answer was. It’s hard to articulate that deep seated musician’s fear that I carry around with me. The whole “this could end in a moment and I’m not qualified to do anything else” thing. I pretty much pray that one every day.

Since that one is so hard to explain, I said that I wanted my kids to figure out their giftings and their place in life. Which is true – if I can help my kids figure out their callings, I will have fulfilled a big part of mine. And hey, I will take any chance I can get to have people pray for my kids.

What about you? What do you want? Bring it before God – you just might be amazed at his answer!