The 30 People Who Have Most Profoundly Impacted my Life.

This should be the last entry of the “30” series, at least for now.  Though I am pondering doing a forward looking set, i.e., “30 places I’d like to visit”, “30 goals I’d like to achieve.”  But it may be getting a little too much.

Once again, I hesitated to post this one.  It is impossible to really quantify all the people who have had a formative impact on our lives.  And though this list is in some ways hierarchical, it is not meant to be a ranking system of significant people in my life, all of whom are invaluable and irreplaceable.

Furthermore, I have left any of my former students off this list, despite their inestimable influence on my life, for obvious reasons.

But I have written and posted this list as a practice in reflection and thanksgiving.  Whose influence has shaped me most significantly?

God

1-3 The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit – might be cheesy to put all three, but there it is.  What can I say about my God?  The source of everything good in my life.

Family

4 Melissa – my wife has impacted my life more than any human being, period.

5-6 Ben and Sophie – kids are a game-changer in so many ways.  I didn’t know that it was possible to feel the kind of deep pleasure that I feel towards each of my kids.

7-8  My parents, Warren and Tanya Bailey – the older I get, the more I realize how indebted I am to them.  The longer I am a parent, the more I understand their hearts.

9-10 My sisters, Jennifer and Jacquelyn – I grew up with two sisters, one older, one younger.  They are both moms now and great ones at that.

Mentors

11 Cam South – my youth pastor.  Cam has taught me more about loving people and the heart of ministry than anyone I know.

12 Jim Capaldo – missionary to Siberia who hosted me for two summers in 2000 and 2002.  He taught me volumes about commitment, vision and discipline.  Jim’s life motto is “He is worthy!” and Jim lives it.

13-14 Mark and Steve Tremaine – two brothers who were counselors during my youth group days and friends beyond it.  They gave me the gift of believing in me more than I believed in myself. (They are pictured above)

15 David Rim – a professor from Moody who has shaped my theology more than anyone else, especially when it comes to the the doctrine of the Trinity and personhood. But what I admire most about him is his humility and honesty.  In an amazing turnabout, his daughters actually attend my youth group.

16 Cathy Smith – my high school forensics (speech and acting) coach.  I was super shy and introverted when I got into high school, yet she saw something in me that she helped me discover and develop.  After a horrible tournament my freshman year, I was ready to quit when I overheard her say, “Justin’s not doing well, but he’s going to be one of my stars next year.”  I stuck with it, grew in confidence and ability and won the state championship in Oratory my senior year, then placed 4th in the nation, and spoke at my high school graduation.  Now that I am a pastor one of my regular responsibilities is to speak publicly.  Every time I do, I am thankful to Ms. Smith.

17-19 Kevin Vanhoozer, Bill Dyrness and Richard Mouw – my ThM and PhD mentors. I first admired all of these men at a distance but have since had the privilege to get to know them up close. Dr. Mouw isn’t technically my mentor, but he has adopted me into his neo-Calvinist study group.

Friends

20 James Lee – My best friend.  We hiked the Incan Trail together.  He probably knows me better than anyone other than Mel.

21-23 Ben Thullen, Ben Stapley and Ben Rowe – three roommates during and after college, who stood up at my wedding, and after whom my son is named.  They taught me so much about what it means to be genuine. I don’t get to see them often, but I continue to be marked by their influence on my life.

24 Justin Hoskins – like a brother to Melissa and I, we have maintained a strong friendship despite large geographical distances.  One of the coolest and most passionate people I know.

25 Jim Houck – almost falls into the “former student” category, but I was never his youth pastor.  I have known him for many years, but we grew tight when he lived and interned with us one summer.  He’s now a youth pastor in the Czech Republic.

Authors/Thinkers/Theologians/Speakers

26 C.S. Lewis – my favorite author and thinker

27 J.R.R. Tolkien – his work fuels so much of my imagination

28 Tim Keller – a pastor in NYC who has taught me what it means to be gospel-centered. It would be difficult to overstate how much Keller’s writing has shaped the way I think about ministry.

29 Peter Kreeft – Catholic philosopher who is almost like a living C.S. Lewis to me for the way that he fuses reason and imagination.

30 John Piper – another pastor and author.  Again, I’m not as excited about him now as years ago, but he definitely left his mark on me (and I suspect many young people my age).

And one more each year:

31 Doug Kennard – a professor who was the first to really model what it was like to challenge my traditionally accepted views on the basis of Scripture rather than simply to use Scripture to support what I already believed.

32 Dennis Magary – a seminary professor who taught me Hebrew.  His Hebrew Exegesis class is the best class I’ve ever taken.

33 Frank Pardue – was a youth camp speaker I heard when I was 15 and 16.  His messages were the words that I needed to hear at that time in my life, and it was in that setting that I most clearly understood who Jesus was, what he had done for me, and what that meant for my life.  It’s amazing how someone you only know for a short time can have such an impact.

For these and all the people who have touched my life, I am so thankful.  I hope I can take the investments that others have made in my life and keep pouring into others.

If you made it to the end, thanks for reading!

The 30 Most Important Books I’ve Ever Read (2): Fiction

The 30 Most Important Books I’ve Ever Read (2): Fiction

By “most important” I simply mean the books that I have enjoyed the most.  These are the books that reward endless re-reading.  Here we go:

16. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – voted the book of the 20th century by 4 separate polls, the most epic example of modern myth-making.  Filled with holiness. Can’t say enough about it.  The movies don’t do it justice.

17. Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Dostoevsky paints the most beautiful and haunting characters I’ve ever encountered.

18. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky – see above.

19. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis – my current favorite book by Lewis, his story of a field trip from hell to heaven.

20. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis – by far my favorite books growing up.  I have read each of the seven books at least 20-30 times.  Somehow Lewis makes you feel towards Aslan what you feel towards Christ.

21. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – just read this series last summer.  Could not put it down. Wonderful storytelling. (I know it’s cheating to put the whole Narnia and HP series here, but it’s my list.)

22. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis – Classic retelling of the Cupid/Psyche myth, Lewis’ best answer to the problem of God’s apparent absence in the world.

23. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Best inter-character dialogue in print.  Don’t you wish every conversation was this witty?

24. Hard Times by Charles Dickens – my favorite book by Dickens, an expose of what happens when we begin to worship efficiency.

25. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas – Story of revenge and redemption, of learning to wait and hope.

26. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – I love the book, the musical, and the movie because all of them absolutely drip with grace.

27. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan – I first read this as a child and didn’t catch the allegorical significance, even though the main character was named Christian.

28. Paradise Lost by John Milton – Brilliant re-telling of the Genesis story.  Could talk about this one for awhile too.

29. The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton – the kind of mystery that only Chesterton could have written.  The last 30 pages are astounding.

30. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor – shocking, Christ-haunted stories with endings that hit you like a train.

The 30 Most Important Books I’ve Ever Read (1): Non-Fiction

When I say most important, I don’t mean the most well written, most popular or most intellectually deep.  I simply mean the 30 books that had the greatest impact on me at whatever stage of life I was in when I read them, as well as the ones that continue to shape the way I see the world.

I will post 15 non-fiction books today and 15 fiction books tomorrow. Here’s the first half of the list, in no particular order:

1. The Holy Bible – 66 books, God-breathed.

2. The Institutes by John Calvin – Huge in scope, deep in beauty.

3. Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer – One of the foundational theological texts in the way I put the world together, always inviting me to faithfully improvise my very minor (but significant!) scenes in God’s great theodrama.

4. Poetic Theology by William Dyrness – The book that ultimately led me to my PhD mentor and doctoral program.

5. Faith, Hope and Poetry by Malcolm Guite – One of the most beautiful books about the poetic imagination that I have ever read.

6-7. Desiring the Kingdom  and Imagining the Kingdom by Jamie Smith – While I don’t agree with everything in these two books, the parts that I do agree with are absolutely central to the way that I think about imagination, education and theological anthropology.

 

8. The Calvinistic Concept of Culture by Henry Van Til – My first exposure to dutch Calvinism, the theological system that undergirds my understanding of culture and God’s work in the world.

9. When the Kings Come Marching In by Richard Mouw – When I was looking for a way out of Calvinism, Mouw invited me into a different kind of Calvinism. I could list any of Mouw’s books here (Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, He Shines in All That’s Fair, Uncommon Decency), but this one is my favorite.

10. God Crucified by Richard Bauckham – revolutionized my view of God in my early 20s, especially in reference how God defines himself by self-giving.

11. Desiring God by John Piper – gave me a huge vision of God while I was in college.  I’m not as excited about Piper these days, but he definitely left his mark on me during that time in my life.

12. Notes From a Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson – this book filled me with more wonder than any non-fiction book I’ve ever read.

13. Searching for God Knows What by Don Miller – foundational to my relational understanding of the world.

14. Emotionally Healthy Church/Spirituality by Peter Scazzero – required reading in a world full of “grown-up” emotional infants.

15. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – unbelievable book fusing imagination and reason to explain the basics of Christian faith.

Honorable Mentions:

Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning – helped me understand what it looks like to define myself by God’s love instead of my performance.

Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason – the only book on marriage that I’ve read or need to read.

Reason for God by Tim Keller – Keller at his best, the product of years of compassionate reasoning and thinking.

The 30 Coolest Places I’ve Been (3): Other

The places on this section of the list are not exotic.  They are rather ordinary places where I have experienced extraordinary things.  Here’s the final ten spots of my top 30 list:

21. Olathe, KS, 1987-1999 – This is the town I spent most of my youth, where I grew up, made friends, went to school.  Close to my heart for sure.

22. Overland Park Baptist, KS, 1987-1999 – The church where Jesus became real to me.

23. Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, 1999-2002 – The college where my theology began to take shape, as well as where I began dating the woman who is now my wife.  I sometimes wonder if I still would have gone here if I had it to do over again, but can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn’t.

24. Christ Our Savior Church, Chicago, 2000-2005 – The church where I cut my teeth on ministry.  I learned so much there.

25. Antioch Bible Church, 2006-2011 – My church and ministry for the last 5.5. years.  So many memories and testaments to God’s goodness.


26. Canaan Church, Dominican Republic, 2008 & 2009 – the most passionate church I have ever experienced.  I’d go just to sit in one of their worship services.

27. International House of Prayer in KC, 2008-2011 – a church where prayer services have been going on 24-7 since 1999.  I don’t agree with everything they do and teach, but admire the heart of prayer so much that I take personal retreats there several times a year.

28. Northwestern Hospital Labor and Delivery, 2009 & 2010 – the place where I welcomed my kids into the world with tears of joy.

29. CrossFit Arlington Heights, 2010-2011 – the place where I began drinking and enjoying the CrossFit Kool-Aid.

30. My house in Wheeling, IL, 2007-2011 – Our first actual house, with more room than we need and plenty of friends to fill the space. So blessed that we get to live here.

The 30 Coolest Places I’ve Been (2): Domestic

In my thirty years, I’ve been to something like 33 of the 50 states.  I need to hit the Northeast, Alaska and Hawaii to make 50 states by age 50.  But these are my favorite places so far.


11. Chicago, 1999-2005 – This is the magical city where I was able to live for six years before having to move to the suburbs.  My wife and I fell in love here.  How can you not love Chicago?

12. San Francisco, 2010 – San Francisco gets my vote for the coolest city in America not named Chicago.

13. The Pacific Northwest  1998 & 1999 – Seattle was my favorite city before I went to San Fran last year.  But forget the city, the Pacific Northwest rules. Probably the most beautiful place in America I’ve seen.

14. Coronado Beach, San Diego, 1993 – Best beach I’ve been to in the States, in the place with the best weather anywhere in the world.

15. Sequoia National Park, 1990 – I went here as a kid and was absolutely astounded at what I saw.  That’s what happens when you grow up in Kansas.  But I think these trees will astound anyone. My favorite national park.

16. Zion National Park, 2007 – Melissa and I went here for an anniversary vacation before we had kids.  If you go, you must hike “The Narrows”.

17. Yellowstone National Park, 2002 – I was only able to visit Yellowstone for a few hours, but it was long enough to see Old Faithful erupt.

18. The Grand Canyon, 1999 & 2007 – The south rim has the best views, but too many people.  The western rim is where it’s at.  We even got to take a helicopter ride into the canyon.

19. Blue Ridge Mountains, 2003 – This is where Melissa and I honeymooned back in 2003.

20. Hoover Dam & Lake Mead, 2007 – It would have been even more impressive if I had known that the government had secretly hidden the leader of the Decepticons there.

The 30 Coolest Places I’ve Been (1): Foreign

I almost hesitated to do this one, because it felt like showing off: “look where I’ve been”.  But I decided to post it anyway, because exploring and serving the world that God has made is a priority  for me.  I post these places reflectively: thankful for what I’ve been able to experience, and hopeful that the next 30 years have even greater adventures in store.

The first 10 are foreign, the second 10 are domestic, the third 10 are “other”.


1. Machu Picchu, Peru, 2010 – one of the seven wonders of the world.  The four day hike made the destination all the more amazing.


2. Karen Villages, Northern Thailand, 2008 – I led a group of 8 guys on a trip to Thailand.  We spent a whole day winding through mountain passes in the back of a truck to finally arrive these villages just under the border of Myanmar.

3. Mae Lah Refugee Camp, Northern Thailand, 2008 – I remember this for the beauty of the people who lived in the camp, as well as the thought, “I can’t believe I am here!”  But it was the worst night of sleep I’ve ever had.  Dreams of snakes and bugs crawling into my mosquito net haunted me all night.

4. Lake Teletskaya, Altai Republic, Siberia, 2000 – To this day the single most memorable outdoorsy trip I’ve ever taken was one to this lake in 2000.  We rowed these massive rowboats the length of the lake, unsure of where exactly we were going.  I could tell stories about this trip for hours. It was epic.

5. Lake Baykal, Siberia, 2000 – The deepest lake in the world.  Also the most beautiful place in Russia that I’ve seen.

6. Republic of  Tuva, Siberia, 2000 & 2002  – once ranked by Outdoor Magazine as one of the most remote places on the planet. Got to go whitewater on the Little Yenisey River back in 2000.  In 2002, Melissa and I had an adventure here that included Tuvan throat-singing, live animal remains, a rickety bridge and a black lake.

7. Akademgorodok, Siberia 2000 & 2002 – I spent a month studying Russian at Novosibirsk State University in this little town in 2000 and again in 2002.  The university was built in the middle of a forest.  Every morning I would wake up and take a 30 minute walk through the woods to class.

8. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, 2002 – Easily the coolest museum I’ve ever visited.  Seeing the actual Rembrandt painting of the prodigal son was worth the price of admission (which was steep for foreigners!)

9. The Peterhof Palace, 2002 – I’m not usually impressed with people’s houses.  But this house, built by Peter the Great, gave meaning to the word palatial.

10. Trinidad, 2007 – was an eclectic mix of cultures with some of the most giving people I’ve ever met.  I will always remember eating a shark sandwich on the beach and body surfing on the waves.

The 30 Most Important Truths I’ve Learned/Experienced (3): Life

20. Life is about relationships, and loving well is the goal.

21. Love in action is very different than love in dreams. Love is commitment, self-giving and sacrifice, not “warm fuzzes”.

22. Real life is found not in taking but in giving it away.  The more willing you are to give yourself, the more you will find real life.  There is a real cost, a real sacrifice, but the joy far surpasses the suffering.

23. Everyone is fighting a battle.  Everyone is insecure; everyone is trying to justify themselves some way or another.  It won’t work, and that’s why everyone needs the gospel.  Knowing this makes people less intimidating, no matter how put together they might seem.  It also leads to a response of compassion.

24. Character formation and transformation is the point of almost everything that happens to me.  This is true in every story worth telling, including the story of my life. If the character doesn’t change, what is the point of the story? It also means that if I want to change my character, I have to change the story.

25. The small choices in life matter because they shape my character. Thoughts become words become actions become habits become character becomes destiny.  This means that intentionality is key in every area of life.

26. You can’t live a life that is safe and a life that is brave at the same time.

27. Prayer is one of the hardest things for me to do, but the most satisfying thing when I do it.

28. The best gift I can give to my kids is a great marriage. This means I focus on loving my wife well first and taking care of my kids second.

29. Taking care of my body is essential.  Being healthy increases my capacity to enjoy life and to serve others.

30. It’s not how much you know but what you do with what you know that matters.