Random bits of randomness (a post-conference meditation)

Sleeping on a table

This weekend was a busy one, with ERLC, my in-laws being in town, and more. I’m still in hardcore conference recovery mode, which generally means I’m crazy tired, a bit grumpy (but trying to hide it), and, also, really tired. (So, if any of my coworkers are reading this, sorry, eh.)

On writing

This probably means it’s not a great weekend for doing some writing, but it’s what I’ve been doing. I like writing. it’s fun for me. And the good news is I really like what I’ve written, which deals with the incommunicable attributes of God.[1. There may or may not be something to announce in the near future. I’ll keep y’all posted.] Here’s a little snippet:

God’s infinite power, knowledge, and presence, are awe-inspiring, and made even moreso by His unchanging nature. God He doesn’t change who He is, ever. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We can count on God being God, no matter what. He is so much better than the gods of mythology and the religions of the world. He is unlike any of them—all these “gods” who are a little too much like us. He isn’t fickle like Zeus. He isn’t petty like Thor. He isn’t a trickster like Loki. He isn’t a liar, a lothario, a thief, or a fraud. God is God, and there is no one and nothing like Him.

Houston

And then there’s Houston and the unprecedented flooding that’s happening throughout the area. My friend Jeff wrote something really helpful on this that I’d encourage reading. Just as importantly, let’s all be praying for affected residents (which seems to be just about everyone), the rescue and recovery teams, and that this would be an opportunity for Jesus to be glorified in the actions of his people. And if you’re so inclined, consider giving to NAMB’s Hurricane Harvey relief fund to help the relief and recovery efforts.

Family

Finally, my in-laws were visiting this weekend, which allowed Emily to attend the ERLC conference (which was amazing of them!). We had some great conversations throughout the day, despite me being fairly out of it. They also came to church with us, which is a huge deal for us (they’re not Christians). We heard a strong message about the new-not-new command in 1 John, the command to love one another. Lots that I’m processing, but it led to an interesting conversation with my mother-in-law about harboring hatred against a brother. Praying we’ll get to see what God’s up to!

Five quick personal/professional updates

keyboard

The last few weeks have been kind of hectic. I’ve been traveling a lot, working on big plans at work (big plans, I say!), and attempt to take a day off here and there this summer. There are a lot of irons so today, I wanted to give just a few personal and professional updates:

Seminary: Yesterday, I applied to a seminary affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Lord willing, I’ll be starting again in the Fall or Winter, which would be pretty great. I would love to get back to continuing my education.

Podcast: Reading Writers is on a brief hiatus while I record some new episodes. I have one already completed and a few more on the way. Look for that to start up again next week, if all goes well.

Family: The past year has been both amazing and extremely difficult for us for a variety of reasons. We all love being here and definitely feel like this was the right move, but I’d be lying if I said it’s been an easy transition. The hardest part? Developing friendships and dealing with feelings of loneliness for us grown-ups.

Church: This past Sunday, was my first time serving in Kids Ministry since we left Harvest. My teammate and I taught through the aftermath of Elijah’s battle against the prophets of Baal. I loved being able to do this again. Young dudes out there, if you’re looking for opportunities to make disciples, contact your children’s ministry directors today.

Work: We’ve got a big year coming up with The Gospel Project, as you’re going to see in the coming months (nothing more can I say now). We’re entering the final year of the current study plan, which is exploring the formation of the early church, the spread of the gospel throughout the mediterranean, and the promise of the kingdom to come. And then, we head back to Genesis with an all-new study plan in Fall 2018. All the planning for that is what’s eating up a significant amount of my brain power. I love it, but it’s hard.

There’s a lot there and lots more going on besides, but that’s a quick glimpse into what’s been going on lately. If y’all are inclined, I know Emily and I would certainly appreciate your prayers as we continue to make this place feel like home.

 

One year ago today, we stepped into a whirlwind

It was just before 11 am. The call to head to our staff meeting had been given. And then I got a text. “Got time for a call?” It said. Suddenly, my heart started racing. We’d been waiting for word on my work visa. And waiting. And waiting.

Would I get it? Would we starting an exciting new adventure? Was America actually in our future, or was it not going to happen at all?

“Yep.” I responded.

A moment later, the phone rang.

“You’re in. Pick your start date and let’s get you down here.”

And at that moment, I stepped into a whirlwind. We sat the kids down that night to let them know. One was elated. One burst into tears. One didn’t really care so long as his Avengers poster came along. I wrote my official resignation letter. I wrapped up all my outstanding work to the best of my ability. We made sure everyone had up-to-date passports. We hopped on a plane, looked at several apartments, and applied at one.We didn’t find out we’d been approved until moments before our flight back to Toronto had to take off. We experienced the spectacle of the 4th of July for the first time. On July 5th we were able to officially announce the news in a very “us” way.

About six weeks after receiving that text, we were here in Tennessee.

To some degree, I still feel like I’m in the whirlwind. Although the process started much sooner (a year prior, in fact), there are some things you can never truly prepare for until you’ve experienced them. There are decisions you can look back on only in hindsight. On top of that, I’ve been hard at work learning the responsibilities and demands of my job (which I love, for the record). I’ve never been more anxious in my entire life learning an entire new culture and way of living, while simultaneously being the most satisfied professionally I’ve ever been.

This kind of stuff is not for the faint of heart, y’all.

The day I got the call was also the day before our tenth wedding anniversary. Tomorrow is our eleventh. This last year of our marriage has been among the hardest since our first. It’s also been, I think, the best. From the moment I told her the news, she was ready to go. She listened to me freak out over paperwork, and calmed me down when my anxiety left me a mess in our room. We prayed together and cried together and laughed together. Whatever was happening, good or bad, she was right there with me.

When I stepped into the whirlwind, she did, too. And I can’t imagine doing this without her.

 

Our spectacularly un-Christmasy Christmas traditions

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Christmas traditions are strange animals. I know some people who do things like spend Halloween night getting their Christmas on, decorating up a storm, baking cookies, and putting trees up in almost every room.[1. True story: I know one couple who have multiple trees—and it’s just the two of them in the house!] Some go to special church services on Christmas Eve. Some like to watch specific Christmas specials or movies every year, like Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, or Die Hard.

Bruce Willis taking back Nakatomi Plaza aside, there aren’t a lot of Christmas traditions in the Armstrong house. Up until recently, our church hasn’t had a permanent facility, so we’ve not had Christmas Eve services (at least, not that I can recall). In order to best meet the needs of our extended family, we allow the kids to open gifts on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas day. But there isn’t really a ton beyond that. Except a couple of things:

Christmas dates with the kids. For the last few years, I’ve made a habit of taking my girls out for a Christmas date (usually the two together). Sometimes they choose, other times I surprise them with what we’re doing, but we always try to do something special and fun together. One year, when Abigail was small, we went to a Sesame Street Live production. Another time we went for a special lunch. Most recently, the three of us went out to see The Good Dinosaur and the girls were thrilled to have their own kids’ combos (because it’s the little things that matter). Hudson’s been a bit too young to do a lot of this kind of stuff with, but this year he and I will be doing something fun as well (I just don’t know what exactly yet).

Celebrating Emily’s birthday. Because Emily’s birthday is so close to Christmas (December 23rd), I try to focus more on that feeling special for her as opposed to Christmas. Although, admittedly, it’s hard to compete with Jesus, but we try (wait…). So we go out to the restaurant of Emily’s choosing, one that serves a nice prime rib or steak typically. We just hang out. We talk and tell bad jokes and try to enjoy one another’s company without the kids around. And a grand time is had by all.

Reading silly books together. Just as we don’t really focus on Christmas as a couple in terms of gifts or celebration, Emily and I don’t do a lot of the things that the Christian marriage books tell us we should be doing. Date nights outside the house haven’t been a longstanding tradition (though our couch dates[2. In which we either order takeout or make dinner after the kids go to bed and watch something on Netflix.] are pretty rad). We don’t have the same sort of study habits, so we don’t do the husband leading his wife through a Bible study thing (though we tried), or read Christian books together.

Instead, we like to read silly books together. Things that make us laugh, because this is how we actually grow closer together. So something new we’re trying this year is reading a book called Coal Dust Kisses, a heartwarming and humorous memoir about Christmas by Will Ferguson. This has been a lot of fun for us because it’s something we can just enjoy together with no expectations. Next year, in our spectacularly Canadian fashion, we might read Dave Cooks the Turkey, a silly story about the characters from Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe books and radio show, which you can also listen to below:

That’s pretty much what we try to do as a family and as a couple. It’s not mind-blowing. It’s not epic. But it’s us.

A Few Lessons I’m Learning

Several months back, I mentioned that I’m writing a book and haven’t said too much about it since publicly. There are reasons for that, obviously, most of which amount to I haven’t had much to say.

However, I thought I’d give you a quick update on where things are at with it and what I’m learning through the process.

1. Having good friends and contacts is essential. The deeper I get, the more I realize that if you don’t have a good network to help, you’re going to have a hard time getting your foot in the door. On top of that, good friends and contacts who are willing to give you constructive feedback on what you’re doing will make the process that much easier. The feedback (and encouragement) I’ve received from Trevin,Tim, Dan, Andrew and Amber in particular has made even the process of submitting proposals that much easier.

Which brings me to my next point…

2. Submitting to publishers is not for the faint of heart. It can really hurt to get rejected, particularly if what you’re working on is something you’re sure God has put on your heart to write.

3. Rejection can be really encouraging. I’ve sent a proposal to six publishers at this point and have already received my first rejection. Believe it or not, I was really encouraged by it as the editor (a friend of a friend, incidentally), let me down really easily and reminded me that I can write real good when I’m trying.

4. Get an established author to show you how they write book proposals. I had no idea how to write a book proposal when I started this thing. At all. Fortunately, my friend Dan Darling gave me the down-low. I am unbelievably grateful for this. So grateful, in fact, that I will hyperlink to him. Twice. Read More about A Few Lessons I’m Learning

Are You In The Business of Busyness

I’m in the middle of a season of extreme busyness at the moment.

I don’t know if you have this problem, but when I get busy—I mean, really busy—things start to slip.

Sleeping properly is usually the first to go. Then my eating goes wonky. Then my exercise patterns get erratic. 

Even prayer and Bible study start getting a bit fuzzy if I’m not careful and my reading will turn into a quick skim. Like wolfing down a McDonald’s cheeseburger in the car because you’re in a hurry, instead of savoring it like a really good steak from the Keg.

Because there’s a great demand on my time at work, I find myself having to sacrifice quality for efficiency. Choosing function over form just makes my skin crawl, to be honest.

Whatever I’m doing, I want it to be the best it can possibly be; and because my work is all about communicating ideas, choosing the right words and narrative structure is essential. Sometimes, though, I have to template things. Sometimes I just have to do a slight polish on something that’s really not very good and just let it go. To make do.

It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it?

Race through reading the Bible, a quick prayer and away we go.

Race through work (often with a quick prayer), taking as little time as possible to complete as many tasks as I’m able.

It’s a bit of an assembly line approach to life.

It gets the job done, but it doesn’t bring joy.

Where can we, even in our seasons of busyness, find opportunities to savor life? To enjoy God, the Bible, friends, family… and even work?

In my case, sometimes it means just saying no. Turning down a meeting request, turning off my email, ignoring my cell phone and disconnecting from the internet for a while. Sometimes it means having to blow a deadline because the work is too important to not do with excellence.

Sometimes it means putting aside whatever else I’m reading in favor of spending some extra time in the Bible and hearing what God has to say.

Occasionally, it means a meandering post like this one. 🙂

But what about you?

Do you feel like you’re settling for the cheeseburger instead of the steak? Are you looking opportunities to savor?

 Life is too valuable to be wasted with the business of busyness.

I hope you’ll find an opportunity to enjoy it this week.

Aaron likes his bookie-books

Yesterday, Michael Krahn posted a fun top-ten list about one of our favorite subjects: Books! I liked it so much that I copied the idea.

The Bible fits well as the answer to most of these questions, but I wanted to make sure I had some variety.

With that said, away we go!

1. One book that changed your life:

Knowing God by J.I. Packer, which showed me the importance and beauty of good theology

Runner up: Pornified: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families by Pamela Paul

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:

Humility by C.J. Mahaney. I’ve read this 3 times already and am on my fourth.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: Read More about Aaron likes his bookie-books

Considering The Year That Was

Yesterday, I mentioned that Michael Hyatt challenged readers to consider several questions about 2009. I figured I’d give the exercise a shot. I found the exercise to be really helpful and I’m glad to have done it.

So, for what it’s worth, here are my answers:

1. If the last year were a movie of your life, what would the genre be? Drama, romance, adventure, comedy, tragedy, or a combination?

This year’s been a combination of things. Some tragedy, lots of drama, a bit of comedy… but a lot of joy at the end of it all.  We shared with our families this year that while it’s been a crazy one, we wouldn’t trade it for anything because of how much more aware we’ve become of God through our difficulties.

2. What were the two or three major themes that kept recurring? These can be single words or phrases. For me, they were:

  • Humility (my need for and lack of)
  • Patience (my need to grow in)
  • Repentance (continuing to build a lifestyle of)

3. What did you accomplish this past year that you are the most proud of? These can be in any area of your life—spiritual, relational, vocational physical, etc. Be as specific as possible.

  • Being a part of developing The Difference is Jesus.com and having the opportunity to craft gospel-centered communication for an organization I love.
  • Starting this blog has allowed me to improve as a writer and find a channel for much of what’s rattling around my head
  • Read through the entirety of the Bible
  • Preached my first sermon

4. What do you feel you should have been acknowledged for but weren’t?

There’s a few things that come to mind, but the majority relate to my being prideful. A few are legitimate, but not appropriate to be shared publicly.

5. What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year? As leaders, we naturally have high expectations of ourselves and others. Where did you let yourself down? Where did you let others down?

  • Being too quick to speak and lacking grace in my language
  • Inconsistency in prayer

6. What was missing from last year as you look back? Again, look at each major area of your life. Don’t focus now on having to do anything about it. For now, just list each item.

  • Gentleness in speech when I would have been better served to speak gently
  • Patience
  • More time in prayer individually and within groups about life and work

7. What were the major life-lessons you learned this past year? Boil this down to a few short, pithy statements.

  • God is sometimes most obviously present in the midst of suffering
  • God may have good things in store for us, but we might have to go through hell to get them

2009 is done. That chapter is closed.

On to the next one.

Glorifying God in the Body

glorifying-god-body

First Corinthians 6:19-20 reads:

[D]o you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.


Contextually, these verses are related to sexual purity within the church; because God has purchased us with His blood, we are not our own. Therefore, we should honor Him with our bodies by abstaining from sexual immorality.

This isn’t, however, a post about sexual immorality.

It’s about how I’m learning to apply the principle of stewardship that exists within this passage.

Because our bodies, like everything else, are not our own, we have a responsibility to steward them well.

Growing up, this is a principle that I never understood. Partly because of genetics, but mostly because of poor eating decisions, I was a very, very heavy kid. You know how with babies and toddlers, they get really chubby then grow into it?

I was kind of like that, except 18. When I was 12, I was about 5-ish feet tall and 185 pounds. When I was 18, I was 6 feet tall and… 185 pounds. Except then I stopped growing. So I stayed 6 feet tall, then just grew out.

I touched on this topic back in March in relation to reading the Pursuit of Holiness, so I’m going to try to not rehash too much. Sufficed to say, I’ve always struggled with living a healthy lifestyle in terms of physical fitness.

This week, I was reminded of the necessity of even my physical health as a stewardship issue after our pastor preached through John 3:16-21.

God has chosen to love me, despite my hatred of Him. And because He has shown me pure, unmerited favor, I want to worship Him!

And that includes how I treat my body.

I’m now a week into my new gym membership, and I’ve got to say, I’m very pleased. My physical memory is good. My strength and endurance are already improving. My eating habits are getting better. My weight has even dropped a teeny bit.

But most importantly, it’s an opportunity to glorify God in my body.

God is its owner; I want to steward it well.