Top Ten || December

Here are ten things I’m loving that will help you move the needle.

1) Jabra Elite Active 65t Headphones

If your New Year’s resolutions include getting more active in 2019, let the Jabra Elite Active 65t bluetooth headphones be your accessory of choice. These bad boys carry a five-hour charge on their own, but the carrying case they come with recharges them two more times. I’ve used wireless headphones in the past for running that just didn’t cut it. Jabras stay in your ears somehow and sound incredibly good.

You’ll look like a nerd with this next one, but I can’t recommend highly enough…

2) The Sport2People Running Pouch Belt

Carry your phone on your runs safely and comfortably with this incredibly uncool but incredibly useful running pouch (*cough* fanny pack *cough*). My previous running belt became frayed over time and appeared to be constructed cheaply. Not this one, my friends. Your phone will be safe, and if you want to carry a car or house key, there’s a pouch for that, too.

3) Ancient Minerals Magnesium Bath Flakes

Going from an exercise fanny pack to a bath tub accessory puts me squarely in the “not young anymore” category, but I’m telling you—Ancient Minerals has created gold with this product. I’ve been going through some health issues over the last few months, and magnesium baths have helped calm my muscles and my soul.

4) The Bible app’s study plans with friends

If you use the Bible app on your iPhone or Android device, did you know you can go through study plans with friends? I went through an Advent study with a friend of mine, and it opened the door for discipleship opportunities in the future. You choose a plan, invite friends to join, and move through it together. Within the app, you can see who has completed the reading for the day and have the opportunity to respond in a group chat roll. It’s a great way to move through the Bible with people you love.

5) Katherine and Eugene Tsay’s story

How often do you and your spouse talk about money? Beyond that, how seriously do you strategically plan your giving together? Katherine and Eugene Tsay shared their story with Generous Giving, and the video inspired me to be more strategic with generosity and stewardship in my marriage.

6) This Abide video on dealing with anxiety

Abide is an app designed for Christian meditation. They’ve also released many YouTube videos of their content. This video in particular helped me better understand anxiety and gave me some specific tools to fend it off. If you’re struggling with anxiety and/or worry, take some time to reflect on the content of this video.

7) “Hide Your Phone When You’re Trying to Work. Seriously.” from Tim Herrera

Tim Herrera introduces his piece by saying, “Yes, it’s a little extreme to lock your phone in a drawer. But I’ve learned that it’s the only way I can truly focus and be as productive as I want to be. And unfortunately, the same is true for you, even if you don’t realize it — or want to believe it.”

Your phone is distracting you even when it’s simply sitting on your desk next to you. Maybe achieving what you want to achieve in 2019 can be helped along by locking up your phone more often.

8) Munchkin

Games are a great way to connect with the people you love and step away from digital land for a little while. Munchkin was one of my favorite Christmas gifts given to me this year. The entire game is built upon two different decks of cards and dice. Don’t let the simple set up fool you. The learning curve is a bit steep, so only pick it up and play it with people who would also enjoy something like Settlers of Catan. Be prepared to fight monsters and beg your friends for help.

While we’re at it, another great game with a bit less complexity is…

9) Codenames

Give your partner a single word you hope they can use to connect multiple words on cards in the middle of the table. Here’s the catch: you can’t use any of the words on the table as a clue. The first team to get all the words allocated to them on the board wins. If you like making obscure connections and feel as if you’re a pretty good mind reader—this game is for you. It doesn’t move fast. You have to enjoy intense, silent concentration for long periods of time. But the suspense will keep you engaged, and you’ll have something fun to do with your friends.

10) Verses

If you want to memorize more of the Bible in 2019, this app will help make that happen. The developers have gamified scripture memory in an effective way. The app is free and comes with KJV version, but you can purchase additional translations as well.

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How Advent challenges our traditional definition of productivity.

We’re in a busy stretch. 

It’s a time for Christmas parties, out-of-town guests, gift giving, and non-stop holiday music. With just over a week remaining until the 25th, we can easily see symptoms of the season everywhere we turn. 

If you’re like me, you love it all. What’s not to love about the most wonderful time of the year? But as Becky Kiser reminded us on this month’s podcast, if we’re not careful–we can find ourselves swept up into the hustle of December without experiencing a sacred holiday. Without intentionally stepping back from the craziness, we’ll blink and it will be the middle of January.

I’ve been going through an Advent study with a friend, and one of the most notable realities of the Christmas origin is just how upside-down it is. 

An angel finds an unsuspecting and everyday woman and tells her she’ll birth God’s Son. As a virgin, she’s presumably fearful when she tells her fiance about the pregnancy. Joseph, upon hearing the news, plans to quietly call the wedding off until another angel tells him to stick it out with Mary, become her husband, and parent the child. When it’s time to give birth, the couple can’t find space in a hotel as they travel–so Mary ends up giving birth to Jesus in some unknown place (historians think it was a barn or cave) and puts the King of the world in a box usually used to feed animals.

Before Mary got word of the medical miracle about to take place in her womb, the world waited hundreds of years in silence for some sign of God’s Son on earth. Instead of coming as a military leader or scepter-wielding royal ruler, Jesus entered the world as a carpenter spending the first three decades of his life as an entrepreneur who would eventually have “no place to lay his head.”

Thousands of years later, we’re still celebrating this moment in history. It’s a stretch to say “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” is commemorating the birth of our Savior, but the season is intended to draw us back to the reality of the Baby in the manger. 

The humble and magnificent entry of Jesus does more than simply shock and awe us. It also teaches us about what productivity in our lives means, especially as we try to define the word a different way–different than a common definition of scrambling around as fast as we can to get as much as we can done.

Here are a several ways Advent can shape our definition and application of productivity.

Status means nothing

If God would send His son to be born among animals, we can safely assume He has little care for the trophies and status symbols we often make top priority. 

Doing the right things the right way for the right reasons often results in greater influence and power, but not always. 

The chief goal of a productive life isn’t to climb a ladder or gain visibility. 

A productive life is defined by doing important and impactful things out of obedience to Christ and out of love for one another. 

Sometimes these things come with acclaim. Sometimes they don’t. But acclaim isn’t what matters.

Patience is a virtue

The world waited for a Messiah and many people eventually missed Him when He arrived. It can be challenging to wait.

Go-getters want to go and get right now. But contrary to a traditional understanding of productivity, the spaces intended for patience are to be valued and cherished. 

Waiting, when not done from a place of laziness or sloth, is important. It grates against our desire to always be getting things done, but it points to a different reality of the Kingdom.

God asks unsuspecting people to do seemingly crazy things

One day, Mary is an average person. After a single encounter with an angel, she’s a pregnant virgin anticipating the crazy reality that she’ll give birth to God’s Son. 

God is in the business of asking unsuspecting people to go and do things that seem wild to everyone else. Often, these things also seem impossible. 

Making progress on meaningful things will often come with people questioning whether the things you’re doing are possible or within your realm of ability.

On our own, we don’t have what it takes. With God, however, all things are possible.

Taking action can mean ostracization 

Joseph and Mary signed up for second glances and judgmental stares when they agreed to stay together through Mary’s pregnancy. 

How many people do you think actually believed God put a baby in Mary’s womb and it wasn’t a result of premarital sex? 

Choosing to do the right thing–and choosing to move forward with the right thing–can mean being misunderstood. It can mean social isolation. It can mean being left out or dismissed. But these aren’t reasons to avoid taking action. 

We must do what’s right, even when it isn’t easy or popular.

Worship isn’t a distraction

The Magi followed a star to find Jesus and brought him nice gifts. They went to visit Jesus in order to worship Him.

This journey wasn’t a misstep or detour. It was important. In fact, it was the most important thing they could do.

Doing, doing, doing can lead us to view worship, time reading the Bible, and intentional prayer as just another thing to do–a box we check in the morning before we get on with what really needs to be done.

As the Magi show us, the ultimate goal is to follow the Bethlehem Star and go to the places God is leading us. The only way we can keep our eye on the prize is to remember our admiration of Jesus is the ultimate motivation in all things. 

We have joy for the journey

Going out and doing meaningful things isn’t fueled by obligation or guilt. When it is, we’re destined for burnout and pride. 

When the Magi get to Jesus, it says they were “overwhelmed with joy.” 

A task list can be viewed many ways, but when we’re ultimately doing things out of the freedom we have in Christ–we find ourselves fueled with joy rather than strapped with the weight of what lies before us.

May you and the people you love be refreshed by the upside down nature of Christmas. And may we all be overwhelmed with joy.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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Becky Kiser on sacred holidays.

Stream and/or download the episode directly from iTunes here.

Becky Kiser is empowering people to celebrate holidays in meaningful ways. In a world often pushing us toward busyness and materialism over intentionality and gratitude, Becky helps people celebrate major events with thoughtful actions and a godly foundation. She released her newest book, Sacred Holidays, in October—and it’s a timely resource for your Christmas season as you seek to slow down and celebrate Christ’s birth with joy.

Subscribe: iTunesStitcher – Overcast

Becky Kiser’s background

Becky Kiser is intent that women would fall in love with God’s Word, then feel equipped and empowered to live it out. She believes that women can live out their own wild story, just like the ones we see of God’s chosen in His Word, as they love Jesus and love people. She is the founder and CEO of Sacred Holidays—a ministry dedicated to helping women find less chaos and more Jesus during holidays through Bible study, community, resources, and lots of fun! She is determined to help women keep all the whimsy of the holidays, but help make them sacred—holy and set apart.

Becky has a background in marketing and ministry, and is a certified Myers-Briggs life coach, bringing each of those experiences into her writing and speaking. Becky and her husband, Chris, live in Houston, TX with their three girls.

Resources

Links to things mentioned in the episode

Connect with Becky

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Top Ten || November

Here are ten things I’m loving that will help you move the needle.

1) “5 Ways To Stop Hating Your To-Do List” from Doist

The makers of Todoist have been featured on Top Tens multiple times—and for good reason. In this post, learn the common pitfalls ailing your unfinished to-do list. If you find yourself resenting the action items in front of you, there’s a good chance it’s because you’re not following one or more of these five principles of great action items.

2) “Celebration Must Be Stronger Than Cynicism” from Jon Tyson

Jon Tyson is at it again. This sermon is worth your time. In a culture flooded with anger and cynicism, how does the church cultivate a culture of celebration? This is the question Jon Tyson masterfully answers. It’s well worth your time and encourages you to keep up the holy partying.

3) My Herschel wallet

I just love this thing. It fits perfectly in my pocket and has just enough pockets for just the right amount of cards. Plus, you’re not spending all your money to hold your money. Herschel has made a wallet that’s affordable without compromising quality. It makes a great gift for you or another guy in your life.

4) “Psalm 42” from Tori Kelly

I can’t stop listening to this. Tori Kelly’s voice just draws you closer to God. She turns a beautiful Psalm into a beautiful song, and if you’re looking to be refreshed—look no further. Below, she performs the song live.

5) Amy Grant Christmas music

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and that means Amy Grant is back in heavy rotation. She made this list during Christmas last year, and I imagine she’s destined to make it again many years in a row. If you go through the Christmas season without “Tennessee Christmas,” did you even have a Christmas season at all?

6) The HOPE International gift catalog

Give the gift of hope this Christmas by supporting entrepreneurs around the world in your loved one’s honor. Browse items and learn the stories of hardworking clients in the countries where HOPE works. I’m proud of what our team has put together, but I’m even more excited about what this means for families in underserved communities.

7) The Johnson Family Light Show

I mean, this is just so over the top in so many ways. And I love it. Johnson family, I don’t know you—but I want to. I gladly surrender to your Christmas light greatness.

8) The Honey Chrome extension

Install Honey and never worry about making sure you’re getting the best deal again. Honey scans through all known discount codes for you at checkout and helps you make sure you’re not overspending. This time of the year, that’s a huge perk.

9) 1Password

1Password wins the award for greatest password manger ever. If your password is still 12345, you need to make a change in your life. 1Password not only (very) securely stores all of your passwords for all of the sites in your life, but it also automatically generates insanely long unique passwords so you can worry less about your identity getting stolen. Plus, their iPhone app makes it possible to autofill your alphabet-length passwords on your phone in a breeze.

10) Whole Foods Catering

Why stress about Christmas dinner when you can have Whole Foods stress about it for you? Our family delegated all the cooking to Amazon’s new child this Thanksgiving, and I’d strongly recommend you do the same if you’re not in the mood/don’t like to cook.

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Why you should break what you value into specific, actionable steps.

If you want to see what you claim to truly value come to fruition, you can’t leave your dreams as ambiguous ideas for long. You have to break them down into actionable steps you can immediately take. Lofty ideals are a great starting point, but if they remain lofty ideals forever—they will always be dreams and never become your reality.

It’s honorable to say my family comes before work. If I’m always checking my work email at the dinner table when everyone else is engaged in conversation, however, it’s just a perceived value. It’s not a reality. Work actually comes before family even though I keep telling myself it doesn’t.

I may believe fitness is good for me, but if it only ever exists in my brain and not in the actions I take, fitness isn’t actually something I value. Sleeping through an alarm every day instead of getting up to exercise says sleep is a greater priority. 

The first step in living a life aligned with our values is admitting what we believe to be true and what actually is true are often different. 

When we start to recognize that we think we value one thing when, in actuality, we value something else—what do we do?

When you realize you think meals as a family are a value but you haven’t had one in weeks, how should you feel?

First, here’s something unhelpful: shame. Shame drives us farther from progress rather than toward it. If you want to fuel a short-term turnaround, shame can provide some nice kerosene for your fire–but it won’t sustain long-term reformation. 

You say you care about staying away from your phone, but you’ve been scrolling through Instagram for three hours. You say you like healthy food, but you’re just going for it on a bag of Doritos. You say you care about generosity, but you’ve deleted the giving line from your budget to make room for something else.

When you wake up and feel the weight of the disconnect, you can easily allow yourself to be driven by how bad you feel about it. This is shame. It tells you you’ve messed up again and aren’t going to make it, but you might as well slap yourself on the wrist and replace the chips with carrots. You keep trying to do what you think you believe you should do, but a voice in the back of your head just keeps reminding you of your past mistake—about how you can try hard (again) but will probably fail.

If, however, you want to build a lifestyle that ultimately lines up with meaning rather than passivity, you have to be drive by something else: opportunity.

Shame constantly reminds you of the past. Opportunity gives you vision for the future. 

It means you’re able to paint a picture of what working out consistently will provide you rather than beating yourself up for punching your snooze button. It means you see things for what could be, not as a way to prove your past self wrong.

So when you’re driven by the right thing, opportunity, but just can’t seem to get moving on what you claim to care about—you might be facing a next-level problem. Opportunity hasn’t turned into grit. It hasn’t driven you to formulate an actual plan for execution. It’s simply remained in the future but hasn’t translated into what that means for today.

The best thing you can do to line up your life with the values you think you embody is to let opportunity drive you toward breaking the journey up the mountain into what step you need to take today. 

Right now, in this moment, what decision do I need to choose to make what I value become true?

I am a committed Christian. As a follower of Jesus, I claim to believe the Bible is the actual word of God and provides direction for my life. Today, this means I have an opportunity to read it, and I should take that opportunity. Reading even a few simple verses helps me live what I believe.

I believe giving generously is important, fun, and an essential ingredient for a meaningful life. Today, this means I should think critically about where my money is going and what it’s doing in the world. It’s an opportunity to see generosity come to pass.

Take a conviction you hold and break it down into the most actionable steps possible. 

I believe eating healthy is important. Choose accordingly at your next meal.

I believe friendships are worth building. Give your full attention to what your conversation partner is saying.

I believe investing in my kids is a valuable way to spend my time. Get on the floor with them. Tell them what they mean to you. Open up.

All of us are hypocrites to some degree. We all don’t do this perfectly. We all binge on Halloween candy and find ourselves drifting sometimes. What we believe is often contradicted by what we do, but we can mitigate some of this by breaking what we believe down into what we should do about it right now.

Receive God’s grace and remind yourself of the opportunity ahead. Break what you value into specific, actionable steps. It’s the only way our beliefs prove themselves true.

Photo by Maria Fernanda Gonzalez on Unsplash

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How to make Thanksgiving a season of thanksgiving.

Stream and/or download the episode directly from iTunes here.

It’s hard to believe it, but the holidays are upon us. Cultivating a heart and culture of gratitude won’t happen on accident. In this month’s episode, learn foundational principles for making this Thanksgiving a season of thanksgiving.

Subscribe: iTunesStitcher – Overcast

Resources

Links to things mentioned in the episode

  • 1:22 – Well, technically it was November 4

  • 5:14 – “Why Gratitude Is Good” by Robert Emmons

  • 8:50 – One helpful tool toward this end is StayFocusd

  • 13:38 – Check out this quote from Eckhart Tolle: “See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.”

Connect

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Top Ten || October

1) Rivers & Robots’ newest album, Discovery

I have been a fan of Jonathan Ogden, Rivers & Robots’ lead singer, for a long time. His solo projects have blown me away. This is the first time I’ve listened to his band, and it doesn’t disappoint. Worship music can often sound the same with many groups creating stadium rock with similar melodies. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but I love that Rivers & Robots is doing something different. Lyrically, the entire album is rich with metaphor and authenticity. Musically, it’s light and meaningful. I urge you—spend significant time with this album. If you don’t like it at first, let it grow on you. You’ll eventually love it. Below is one of my favorite songs, “Satisfy.”

2) Homemade pumpkin scones

I can’t say they came out exactly like the picture, but I’m proud of the fact that I made these myself. It’s that time of the year for everything pumpkin, and these scones aren’t easy to make—but are totally worth. They may be bad for the body (not exactly earning you any fitness points), but they’re good for the soul. Just remember: baking powder and baking soda aren’t the same thing.

3) The HoursTracker app

If you do any hourly work for your full-time gig or side hustle, HoursTracker provides an amazing way to keep it all organized. You can clock in and out on the app, add comments to describe how you spent the time, and easily export reports into Excel files. It’s obvious the makers of HoursTracker thought through the problems users would be looking to solve, and they’ve done a great job solving them with an intuitive and helpful user experience.

4) This story of Justin Gallegos signing with Nike

Justin Gallegos is a collegiate runner in Oregon who has Cerebral Palsy. Recently, Nike signed him as a professional athlete sponsored by the company. The video below documents some of this story, and it promises to bring out the tears. As this article reports, Justin has been an athlete all his life and has helped Nike develop a shoe for runners with disabilities. He’s looking to break a two-hour half marathon. The world needs more athletes like Justin and stories like this.

5) The Dohm Classic sound machine

My wife and I refer to the wing of our house where our kids sleep as the white noise capital of the world. Our kids have Dohm sound machines, and we keep one in our hallway, too. The Classic is fan-based and creates a low hum that helps mask the noise in the house and provides a soothing soundscape for our kids to help them (and, occasionally, us) fall asleep. These things are incredible.

6) “Why Experiences (not Things) Get Better with Time, According to Science” by Jay Harrington via Becoming Minimalist

This article presents a great, quick reminder that experiences pay greater dividends than things over the long run.

7) Peter Nyankiko’s story

Peter Nyankiko is a client of HOPE International’s microfinance institution in Rwanda, Urwego Bank. This month, we had our annual fundraising breakfast in Houston and shared Peter’s remarkable story. After measles left him blind as a child, Peter felt he had little options for his future. He and his wife (who is also blind) had a challenging time getting capital to start a business. They eventually found Urwego and received a loan to start a real estate business. Now, they have 25 rental properties and started a cycling cooperative with 150 employees to transport goods. What heroes.

8) This tea tree shampoo

If you’re looking to turn your daily shower experience into a relaxing spa experience, look no further. When the minty goodness of tea tree oil mixes with the steam of hot water—you can forget the stress of your day. I’m loving this stuff.

9) Serial: Season Three

In the third season of this wildly popular podcast, the makers of Serial explore the criminal justice system in the United States through the lens of a single courthouse in Cleveland. In each episode, you’ll find yourself tracking with stories showing some of the challenges interwoven into a foundational function required for the flourishing of society. You’ll feel confused, frustrated, optimistic, and enlightened along the journey. Beware, however. Some of the language and depictions of real events aren’t suitable for children.

10) “What to Know When Starting a Roth” from YNAB

Personal finance can sometimes feel more confusing than it actually is. YNAB breaks down exactly what a Roth IRA is in this post and spells out some of the most important things you need to know about saving for retirement using this type of investment account. If you’re just getting started with saving for retirement or know you need to, take some time to read this article and make a plan to get going today.

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