A Salve for My Soul

I posted a while back how excited I was for a new book coming out by Barnabas Piper simply titled “The Pastor’s Kid.” You can read some of what the book is about in Ed Stetzer’s interview with Barnabas here. I read the entire thing the day I got it and have already loaned out the 2 copies I had. So my incredibly short review about it is that I needed it.

Barnabas grew up not too far away from where I grew up and I even attended the church he grew up in after I graduated from college. While I’ve never had the privilege of meeting Barnabas I have met his little sister and parents and have benefited greatly from his father’s ministry. This book did an incredible job of revealing the temptations, weaknesses and issues inherent in growing up as a pastor’s kid. It brought some of my own sin issues to light and caused me to reflect on why I have ended up the way I have.

If you are a PK I would highly encourage reading this book, and if you are a P I would even more highly encourage that you read this book. It’s helpful for working through how to grow up in the spotlight and ways that PK’s are prone to sin that many other children aren’t. It can become so easy to hide behind Bible trivia instead of actually having a heart change. I’m grateful that God has continued to pursue me despite my lack of pursuing him, and despite my choices he still lavishly pours out his love to me.

Dealing with the “Gray Matters”

I was first introduced to Brett McCracken during my time at Taylor University when he came to speak about his first book “Hipster Christianity.” My time in college was right in the middle of the emergence of the “cool Christianity” taking off where many my age were dealing with the issues raise by the Emergent Church and doing our best to reconcile these new issues with our generally conservative Evangelical upbringing. I quickly found myself spending time with those of the more reformed persuasion popularized by Collin Hansen’s “Young, Restless and Reformed.” Along with our questions of faith came the questions of the legalistic upbringing we experienced including, but not limited to: no drinking, no dancing, no smoking, no R rated movies (unless it’s about Jesus), no swearing and no cards. (Ok, the no cards rule was my grandma’s when my dad and I took them out to play some Rook). As my friends and I grew during college we were also expected to sign an agreement saying we would continue to uphold these things during our time in college (Taylor recently lifted their ban on dancing, but I was already gone). 4 years after I heard Brett speak, I finally got around to reading his newer book “Grey Matters.” In it, Brett wrestles with 4 areas that have been divisive among Christians for many years: food, movies, music and alcohol, the latter being the most divisive in recent years (see John McArthur’s letter to the Young, Restless and Reformed).

Throughout the book Brett doesn’t shy away from recognizing that these areas can be divisive for people and does a fantastic job of acknowledging problems on both sides of these issues. The most surprising one for me was the section on food. How many of spend any time thinking about what we’re eating and why? Or why some foods taste so good and others don’t (those that don’t seem to always be the healthy ones. What’s the deal with that!?). Yet through all 4 of these areas discussed, they offer opportunities for us to worship God as we’re commanded to do in 1 Corinthians 10:31.

One of the keys that emerged from the book for me was how community changes all these areas. I really enjoy cooking-thinking through the spices and different ingredients can be combined together to form something that doesn’t taste anything like the separate ingredients on their own. And even better: pairing said meal with a good wine or beer. Yet when I cook a big meal and sit down to eat by myself, it’s never as enjoyable. I generally try to invite someone or someone’s over to enjoy it with me. There’s something even better about eating within the context of a community. And this is true of the other areas discussed as well.

All of us have a favorite band that we could listen to on repeat all day (or bands). How many people have you told about your favorite bands by giving them a CD or having them listen with you? And the same thing is said about movies. They’re so much more enjoyable when you can discuss the movie with someone later. And finally, the four letter word in some Christian circles: alcohol. Being able to discuss the different flavors accented by a beer or wine is a very enjoyable community experience that allows us to learn from each other (as long as everyone is legally able to partake, if you’re in the US and under the age of 21, this shouldn’t take place).

So I’m grateful that I finally took the time to read this book, it’s very helpful in thinking through a number of the ramifications that come from dealing with these gray areas in life, and all of them can either help or hinder our worship of God. How do you think you can use gray areas as an opportunity to worship God within the context of community?

Are You Boring?

For much of my life I’ve tried very hard to be someone who is interesting and will stick out in a crowd. This is generally easy for me because of my outgoing and extroverted nature. In fact, most people I’ve met wouldn’t describe themselves as boring people. After I turned 25, I realized I’m not nearly as exciting as I try to make myself seem. In fact, I might even be considered boring. I get up around the same time every day, do the same things during the day, and then go to the same church every Sunday to meet with and encourage those around me. This week I read the book ‘Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life‘ after seeing it recommended on Tim Challies’ website a while ago, it had been on my list for a while.

Starting with Shane Claiborne, there has seemed to be a resurgence in living a “radical” or “sold-out” life to Christ. And generally this means that the way Americans live is bad and living on 10% of what we make should be the mark of a REAL Christian. Yet what about those who don’t make six-figure salaries, but are faithful in the jobs they’ve been giving? Those that lead their families faithfully, help serve in their church body and commune with God regularly? Is there room for a person like that in Christianity? I sure hope so, because that is essentially my life. In the introduction to the book, Michael says, “Chasing dreams isn’t the problem. Neither is maximizing what you have to make a difference in the world for the sake of Christ. The problem is in our definition of significance.” Throughout the rest of the book he does a wonderful job showing how the gospel affects our entire lives and purpose as we live out our boring lives to the praise and glory of God.

The first few chapters lay the groundwork for the specifics of following Christ in a boring life. First the story of Saul, who was called to be king when he was looking for donkeys. Is there anything more dull or boring than looking for donkeys? Yet God met him while he was looking for his families’ lost donkeys and used it as an opportunity to grab hold of Saul’s life and redirect his path. The problem is not many of us view or ordinary lives in view of God’s continual grace and guidance of our lives. We see ourselves as ordinary people, yet through Christ’s work in our lives we are anything but ordinary. Michael argues that the key to this is finding our contentment in Christ. He argues, “True contentment isn’t about settling for less. It’s about seeing the true value of what we already do have in Christ.”

This contentment and peace that comes from trusting that God is working in the ordinary means leads to a thankful and repentant heart trusting that God is using us for his glory. This includes regular times in God’s word, relationships with those around us, our spouse, our kids, our finances, our jobs, and our Sunday morning gatherings. All of these areas are things we see as ordinary parts of our lives, but because they have been infused by an extraordinary God, they are no longer ordinary. We are to continue to follow Christ in our daily monotonous lives. That is a truly extraordinary life. A life that is “radical” and “sold out” to Christ.

I would whole heartedly recommend this book to you. It removes the pressures of performance in our modern culture and allows you to rest in the grace and truth of what Christ has done for us. It views life through the lens of the gospel and demonstrates how to glorify God in the moments we consider boring and routine.

Finding God in the Dark

I first heard of Ted Kluck when I was in college and was trying to figure out where my theology was and how it fit within the framework of my friends, many of whom were big fans of Rob Bell. Ted was the co-author of the book ‘Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be‘ that was incredibly helpful for me as I processed what the Bible said and how I should live that out. He later came and spoke at my college and I discovered he lived on the same wing as my Hall Director. My world since that time has only gotten smaller.

This leads us to today, where earlier this week I got and read a new book which Ted Kluck co-authored with Ronnie Martin (you may know him better from his days as the band Joy Electric) titled ‘Finding God in the Dark‘ that I wish would’ve been around for me to read in college. The book deals with the personal stories of both Ronnie and Ted as they both faced difficult personal situations and began questioning God’s care for them in the midst of tragedy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve questioned the goodness of God in my life when I’ve faced difficult circumstances. Ronnie’s intro to the book says, “For many of us, doubt and unbelief can be subtle poisons that gradually inoculate us over time from seeing the evidence of God’s grace working steadily in our families, jobs, relationships, and futures.”

The book is primarily just both authors telling the difficulties they had and the process they went through to find God at the end of the journey, and the hope they have that He will continue to provide for them. It is a good reminder for us as we seek God’s will in our lives. I enjoyed hearing perspectives of those who are a little older than me and have wrestled with some of the same questions I’ve wrestled with.

The book is helpful for reading if you’ve ever had times of personal doubt or struggle. It’s a good reminder of David’s thought in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” How can we trust God when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death? This book is a good reminder that He is faithful, and always will be. This book is a very quick read and worth the time that it takes to wrestle with God’s faithfulness.

It all stems from a fundamental disbelief that God is as good as He says He is. We can affirm it in our minds and say it with our mouths, but until it penetrates our hearts it will never transform our lives.

-Ronnie Martin

 

Are You Crazy Busy?

I got and read Kevin Deyoung’s new book yesterday, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About A (Really) Big Problem which has since then dropped in price to $7.99. This is a very quick read, which is really helpful when I’m so busy!

The book is broken up into 3 main parts: the problem plaguing many in the Western world today (being too busy), followed by 7 plagues of busyness, and finally, a “what now?” conclusion chapter. The introduction set the stage for this current dilemma with some very helpful questions (like “Do you check work e-mails and phone messages at home?”) as well as some statistics that I had often pondered but never had concrete answers to (like the fact that our annual hours have increased from 1,716 in 1967 to 1,878 in 2000, which is an extra hour every day compared to the British, and 2 more hours a day than the Germans and Italians).

The meat of the book are 7 diagnoses Kevin suggests we need to use to self-evaluate. The most impactful for me were chapters 5 – ‘You Can’t Serve Others without Setting Priorities’ and 7 – ‘You Are Letting the Screen Strangle Your Soul.’ I far too often just say yes to everything that comes my way, and while this can be for very good things, is it always the best use of my time? Absolutely not! Kevin says, “Efficiency is not the goal. But if Jesus is any example, God does expect us to say no to a whole lot of good things so that we can be freed up to say yes to the most important thing he has for us.” I know for many people in my generation (early 30s even in to high school) the threat of technology invading our lives is a constant struggle. Even during youth group I see a majority of the students on their cell phones (always in their Bibles, right?). I just this week turned all the notifications off on my cell phone which has honestly been such a burden lifted off me (I’m planning to blog on that later).

The final chapter, while very good, seemed to be adding just one more mandate onto an already busy life – the need for prayer and devotions. While I agree this is something that needs to be the utmost priority in our lives, I don’t think it should be because we need to, but because we want to spend the precious time in communion with our God.

While this is a very good book about the busyness of our current lives, it felt a bit unfinished to me. As Kevin admits in the beginning of the book, “I’m writing this not because I know more than others but because I want to know more than I do.” David Murray has written a very good addendum to this book with some practical steps people can implement in their own lives in order to get rid of some of the busyness in their own lives.

“A man may preach from false motives. A man may write books, and make fine speeches, and seem diligent in good works, and yet be a Judas Iscariot. But a man seldom goes into his closet, and pours out his soul before God in secret, unless he is serious.”

-J.C. Ryle ‘A Call to Prayer

‘Unfashionable’ by Tullian Tchividjian

I just finished reading ‘Unfashionable‘ at the recommendation of my senior pastor. I still am not sure how to pronounce his name, but I can definitely see where his heart is from the book! The reason Tullian wrote this book is to remind Christians to not be so like the world that there is no difference between the world and the church. It reminded me a little bit of some of J.C. Ryle’s exhortations in ‘Thoughts for Young Men‘ where he encouraged young men to not be like most young men who aren’t living the Christian life to which God has called them. Tullian does a good job of identifying a growing disparity between the Western Church and the Church at large-namely that ‘Christians’ in the West are not living the way Christ did, and the way God has called us to live. How exactly are Christians supposed to be “in the world but not of it”? Tullian answers, “The Bible makes it clear that Christians need to be people of double listening-listening to both the questions of the world and the answers of the Word.” (page 81) Amen! How different would it be if Christians really did seek the Bible first for the answer to all questions, not just the “theological” ones? (I would argue that all questions begin with a theological question/background) In trying to “fit in” and be like the world, “All of the bells and whistles in the church have caused us to forget the God whose church it is.” (page 165) That’s very true! Would your church be any different if God was not present in it? Have you given in to the influence of the world at the expense of the God who created and sustains the world? Thank you Pastor Tchividjian for the timely reminder to be ‘Unfashionable’ and live like it!