Happy New Year! Welcome to 2020. It’s time for my annual top ten reads of the previous year. Last year I read 43 books. Some of them were re-reads. I revisited Quiet and Presence because they contain powerful content and I needed that reminder. Out of 43 books I’ve done my best to whittle it down to ten. I hope you add some of these to your 2020 reading list.
Kendall writes her story with such elegance. She is a baker, but then so much more. She captures the powerful role food plays in our lives and especially the Church. Kendall tells the story of several Dinner Churches and how they are using meals to connect the unreachable people to the Body of Christ. Do yourself a favor and read this book.
This book is part memoir and part devotional. Stephanie is a Nazarene pastor who candidly shares her struggles and the way God has brought resurrection out of pain and loss. Her book is worth the read for the quality writing alone. She is an artist. But you will also be moved to see how God can take your challenges and use them for the Kingdom.
I had a hard time with the first chapter of this book. However, it pulled me in quickly afterward. I appreciate that the author doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat bow at the end. She leaves us to wrestle with God on our own terms. She reminds us that God is faithful even when we are not.
I absolutely love Gladwell! He could read the weather report and make it interesting. I highly recommend the audiobook because it is read by the author. He also shares interviews and audio clips that you don’t get from the hard copy. I’m sure the written copy is just as fabulous. The title is misleading though. It is not about the art of conversation. Rather, it’s about how we misunderstand one another because of culture, idiosyncrasies, and prejudices. Powerful! You won’t forget this one.
Lisa is one of the vocalists of the band, Gungor. She shares her story of faith, loss of faith, and finding her way back again. The audiobook is read by the author and she will capture your heart and soul. You don’t have to agree with everything someone believes to appreciate their story. It is powerful, heartbreaking, and hopeful. Listen to this book!
The Next Right Thing is one of my favorite new podcasts. Emily has one of the most calming voices. I had recently finished a season of grief and loss and decisions were exhausting. There are practical steps at the end of each chapter that gave me the resources to begin again. If you find yourself in the midst of decision fatigue, then read this book.
Oh, my word! I laughed out loud and cried. This was another audiobook and I binged listened. I’ve never done that before other than on a long car trip. I sat in my recliner one Saturday and just listened to her tell me a story. Lori is a therapist who found herself in a season of life needing her own therapist. As a pastor, there are times when I just want to sit in the pew and let someone else minister to me. That’s what this book did for me.
This is an old book! Like last century 1998 old. It’s a memoir also. It is sort of like The Glass Castle meets Hillbilly Elegy. Bragg is a journalist who tells his story of growing up in Alabama. It’s a story of overcoming while remembering who you are. He is an excellent writer and a great storyteller.
Okay, I guess I was really into memoirs last year. Whatever! I appreciated this author’s story of faith. He has an incredible heart that comes through in this story. The author conveys his deconstruction of faith with eloquence. And he helps the reader to discover presumptions we might unknowingly carry.
I have admired Bell’s writing from the days of Velvet Elvis. He wants the reader to think about why we believe what we believe. As a pastor, I wish more people thought about why they believe what they believe. Bell tells a story about a medical crisis that leaves him in a season where he is forced to be present. It is a reminder that we only do this life once. We should learn to experience it one moment at a time.
My bonus read this year is for my preacher friends. Here is a practical guide to preparing your sermon. Estep is a Nazarene pastor who presents a Wesleyan approach to the art of preaching. It was a pleasant surprise to read quotes and sermon examples included by women preachers. Thank you, Estep!
Okay, send me your favorite reads from last year. I’m making my list. Happy reading!
New podcast episode!
I’ve been thinking about things I wish I knew as I was walking through the ordination journey. So this episode is a shout out to my tribe. However, there are worthy insights for those non-Nazarenes who listen to the podcast. Most of this episode focuses on the first and last interviews with your board of ministry.
Happy New Year!
I have been taking an annual prayer retreat for several years now. Since then, several people have inquired about the format I use. When I first considered taking a prayer retreat, I did some research and did not find much out there. Most of what I did discover was designed for group retreats. So I decided to create my own DIY prayer retreat.
Each year I have varied the elements, but it has always included simplicity and solitude. Big surprise. I am an introvert.
Here are the common elements I use each year. I have also included a link at the bottom of this post for those who desire a more extroverted approach.
Each year I ask 5-10 people to partner with me in prayer for the week I’m away. They receive a list of things to pray over including my family and congregation. During the most recent retreat, I sent a group text each morning with a scripture verse or photo. I wanted them to have a sense that God was moving in response to their prayers as well. You might find it necessary to disconnect completely. Therefore, I would not suggest daily contact with your prayer partners. However, a thank you note afterward would probably be appreciated.
My scripture reading during my retreats varies each year. This year I chose to read through the book of Romans once every day for five days. My intention was to read slowly and allow God to highlight verses. He spoke to my heart in a different way each time I read through Romans. Other years, I have focused on a theme reading several scriptures throughout the week on fear, hope, forgiveness, etc. Trust the Spirit to direct you for your own needs during your retreat.
Meditation and Silence
Meditation and silence have become essential to me. Someone introduced me to the HeadSpace App. The app does an effective job of focusing on the science of meditation. They provide basic introduction sessions as well as guided meditations on specific topics. Calm is a similar app that you might want to consider. I know there are lots of Christians who get pretty wigged out thinking about meditation. They relate it to Eastern religions. However, meditation was practiced throughout scripture including in the Old Testament. It’s also what Peter was doing when he had his vision of the sheet being lowered from heaven. That vision lead to the Gospel being preached to the Gentiles.
I’ve found that meditation and silence help me to stop the barrage of thoughts that keep me from hearing God clearly. After 10-15 minutes of meditation, the scriptures seem to come alive when I read them. I’ve also experienced some of my greatest spiritual breakthroughs after meditating. Once my mind has settled down, it is then I find new solutions to problems and answers to questions I have been asking. It also allows me to then contemplate what God is doing in my life.
During my retreats, I incorporate some form of physical exercise every day. We are not only spiritual beings. We are mind, body, and spirit. Our physical bodies are important enough to God that He has planned to resurrect them one day. And we do ministry here on earth in our bodies. The better we care for our bodies, the longer we have to do Kingdom work here. There is no award given for neglecting our physical bodies.
I have also discovered that daily fitness during my retreat functions as a form of meditation. It clears my mind and allows me to focus on God. And it reduces tension and stress that I brought with me into the retreat. My preference for fitness is walking or running. There is something about being outside in God’s creation that stimulates my connection to the Creator. But you might be a biker, hiker, swimmer, or yoga person. Do whatever helps you release stress and connect with God.
Journaling and Mind Dump
My retreat mornings usually begin with running. Then I spend time meditating before I journal. Journaling helps me to get ideas, thoughts, prayers, and concerns out of my head on to paper. On the first day of my retreat, I use a mind dump approach. I use a bullet point style to capture every thought that is keeping me from focusing. Usually, they are things that I keep reminding myself to do after the retreat. It could be anything from going to the bank, sending a thank you note, reply to that email, or clean out the garage. It’s all those little things that my mind is trying to remember and they get in the way of me hearing from God. Once I get them on paper, I put a reminder in my phone to check the list the first day after retreat. Then my mind is free to focus on experiencing God in the present moment.
I incorporate daily worship into my retreat. The place I go to each year has a chapel on the grounds. I will take about an hour in the chapel each day. I like to sing or read through the psalms during that time. There is also a labyrinth on the grounds. It can be a powerful discipline to connect and worship God. Find a way to worship that helps you pour out adoration to God during your retreat.
We have been created in the image of God, our Creator. This means we are also creative beings. Creativity is a way we worship God. It is also a way to allow His Spirit to move through us. Therefore, I practice creativity during my retreats. My preference is for writing or drawing. You might build something, carve something, paint, or play an instrument. Anything creative will allow the Spirit to move through you and renew your soul.
Prayer & Petition
Prayer seems rather obvious for a prayer retreat. It can be tempting to bring all of your questions, concerns, and wants/needs to God during your retreat. I find it cumbersome though and try to limit my prayer list to 3-5 specific items. I make those the focus of the retreat and keep my conversations with God specific, but deep.
I’m sure there are more elements you could include in your retreat. I know there are other components that I have not shared here. You might find some of these clunky or trivial for your needs. But I encourage you to make time to get away and spend time with God. Design a time that helps you decompress and connect with Him.
For my extrovert friends, you might design a group retreat. The participants could be staff, other pastors in your area, or a Bible study group. There are some group retreats offered by other ministries. If you’re a hardcore extrovert, then you might enjoy meeting new people at a group retreat planned by other ministries.
Here is a resource for a women’s group retreat.
Here is a resource for men’s group retreats.
Here is another resource for extroverts.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you after your DIY retreat. Message me and let me know how it goes. I’m praying for you!