Monthly Archives: August 2013

A “top-button” Truth

In gods at war Idleman offers a jewel of a metaphor for idolatry. In describing “the god of family” he observes that we are called to honor our parents, but are called to worship God. We are to love our children but only God is worth of worship. He describes this as a “top-button” truth:

“Sometimes I’m in a hurry in the morning and I button my shirt all wrong… Like everyone else, I take it from the top. I push that top button through the slot on the other side, except that, in my haste, I choose the wrong slot. I don’t recognize my mistake until I get to the bottom and realize everything is out of line.” (gods at war, p209)

This is what idolatry often looks like. We don’t get the top-button right (worshipping God) and so the rest of our loves, which might be legitimate in and of themselves, are out of place. Get that first button right – reserve worship for God alone – and all of our other loves line up.

7 Questions that Diagnose the Idols in Your Life (via gods at war)

While on our recent trip to South Carolina we stopped in Kentucky to visit some friends. At a restaurant on the river we met up with Corky, the pastor who performed our wedding. Corky is on the pastoral staff of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville and was gracious enough to give me a copy of Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart by Kyle Idleman, who is the teaching pastor of Southeast.

I’m about a third of the way through the book (it’s taking a bit of a backseat to Ladd’s The Presence of the Future) and wanted to pass along some of the wisdom therein.

The book is all about idolatry and its modern manifestations. I’ve listened to several messages on idolatry, all good, but it’s always been a bit unclear to me what makes something in your life an idol, that is, something that misdirects my worship away from the Creator onto the created thing. gods at war provides some nice perspective and clarity on this and other points.

Idleman also offers a “spiritual arteriogram,” a list of questions which are designed to help the reader diagnose where his heart is, and what false gods (idols) might be receiving undo worship. Here’s his list:

1) What disappoints you?

“When we feel overwhelmed by disappointment, it’s a good sign that something has become far more important to us than it should be. Disproportionate disappointment reveals…” displaced longing.

2) What do you complain about?

Similar to above but this one is more about expression. That means this might be a good question to ask someone else for input on.

3) Where do you make financial sacrifices?

“Where your money goes shows which god is winning in your heart.”

4) What worries you?

“Whatever it is that wakes you – or for that matter keeps you up – has the potential to be an idol”

5) Where is your sanctuary?

That is, where do you go when you’re hurting?

6) What infuriates you?

7) What are your dreams?

What do you think of his list? What other “diagnostic questions” might you add?

 

Book Review: Homeless at Harvard by John Christopher Frame

Homeless at Harvard

Homeless at Harvard by John Christopher Frame

is a story about John Frame and the friends he made while living one summer with the homeless community in Harvard Square. The author himself was not homeless and so did not really experience what it was like to be homeless. He could leave at any time – his new friends could not. Frame, a Harvard student, chose to live within the community in order to gain a better understanding, to build relational bridges, and to share his experience with others (yes, he did it to write a book).

Frame follows a handful of homeless people closely. It’s a story but it is not really chronological. Frame jumps back and forth, giving snapshots of life on the street. His stories are touching, poignant, and personal. You really get to “know” his friends, particularly Neal. Like a story, the book has some conflict and some suspense, but what it doesn’t have is a tidy ending. While some people seem to end with success – finding a home – others end with a lot of open questions. It’s what actually happened, of course, but it also feels like a broader metaphor for homelessness.

Solidness: Plus+ One of the more interesting parts of this book is its “in their own words” chapters where Frame’s friends share their own stories. Each has a unique perspective on life and theology. Many of the homeless people Frame meets are Christian and some are militant atheist. The book presents a whole range of religious experience. Frame himself is a Christian and shares his faith with the homeless he interacts with. He doesn’t really develop theological insights in the book but he (and his homeless friends) do regularly point back to the cross, both as a symbol for salvation and for friendship across boundaries.

Freshness: Plus+ The book provides a unique perspective on homelessness, though it is certainly not exhaustive. Frame certainly learned a lot in those ten weeks but the sample size is still small. I would be interested to hear the story of someone who lived for a much longer time on the streets. Of course, the reader does get that through Frame’s conversations and the friendships he built in his time in Harvard Square.

Recommendation: If you’re interested in the problem of homelessness I recommend this book. It’s not a how-to manual for solving the problem but does give a more nuanced look at the face of homelessness. You get to know a diverse group of people who have a diverse set of struggles. I confess: it can be easy to lump all homeless people together or to make broad generalizations. This book is a good antidote to that kind of thinking.

I wanted more answers out of this book – what to give, how to help without hurting – but I didn’t really get that. I think that was by design. Frame understands that the problems are complex and so are the needs. Homelessness doesn’t have a one-size-fits solution. The answer isn’t simple because people aren’t simple. Frame wants us to understand that giving a handout is really just a first step in getting to know the homeless on a personal level.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Another “slash”

A quick update is in order:

True to my “slasher” name I have spun off yet another side project. I have started a satirical Lion’s Fan Blog called “Angry Steve: Disgruntled Lions Fan.” The purpose for this blog, is, well, there isn’t much of a purpose, which is one of the best things about sports fandom – you’re allowed to be irrational and senselessly passionate! Anyway, if you’re a Detroit Lions fan, you might enjoy it.

As for this blog, the content may slow a bit to maybe 1 blog post per week. I am currently reading through a few books, and may share some pearls of wisdom I come across. My next BookSneeze review will be of the book Homeless at Harvard. I’m also reading Elders and Leaders by Gene Getz and The Presence of the Future by Ladd. Ladd’s book is the first really scholarly book I’ve read in a while which is very refreshing.

I have a few other blog series ideas on the back burner, which will either age well or just get spoiled through neglect. I’m hoping for the former.

Blessings, Steve

10 Truths About Pastors / Why I love my Church / Yay Bivocational Ministry

A pastor friend of mine shared a great article by Thom Ranier titled “10 Powerful Truths About Pastors.” After the first couple on the list, it’s a sobering article on the state of pastoral ministry. I sympathize with pastors who deal with burnout, conflict, and depression. But, I must admit, most of these do not apply to me. I think there are three reasons why. (1) I’m bi-vocational. (2) Our church practices a model of distributed leadership. (3) Our church has a spirit of cooperation and unity. None of these are really my doing. I’m extremely thankful to be working in a church with a congregation and leadership team that protects me from the common pitfalls pastors face.

Here is my response, as a bi-vocational pastor, to the items on the list. Ranier’s list, with commentary, is provided in the link above.

1) Pastors truly sense God’s call. Being a pastor is not “just another job.”

I agree, but neither do I view my other job as “just another job.”

2) They love their churches and their members.

Amen.

3) They work hard. Pastors work an average of 60 hours.

I consider myself pretty busy but I don’t work 60 hours a week. Between my two jobs I work about 50 hours, 30 hours as an engineer and 20 as a pastor. By the end of the week I’m tired but not burned out.

4) Many are hurting from conflict.

In my time at the church we have had a few instances of conflict but all were dealt with openly, honestly, and with an eye towards reconciliation. I attribute this to the fact that our congregation shares some core values and beliefs which allows us to find common ground. Not every situation has ended in an ideal manner but neither are there unresolved hurts.

5) Most would like more practical training.

Generally, I feel good about the training I have received. Thanks GRTS!

6) Many are struggling financially.

Unlike many bi-vocational pastors I have a job in a field (software engineering) that pays pretty well. Most of my income comes from this second job. On top of that, we try to live simply, avoid debt, and spend within my means. It helps that my wife likes Dave Ramsey. This is another feather-in-the-cap of bi-vocational ministry.

7) They are challenged greatly by the rapid rate of change in the culture.

As a relatively young pastor (30 still feels young to me) this doesn’t really relate to me.

8) They are stressed for time.

Yes and no. You could always do more with more time but I generally feel like I’m not dropping the ball too many times. Although, the lack of “pastoral time” is one of the bigger disadvantages of bi-vocational ministry.

9) Many have struggling families.

Ranier shared a story of someone whose family was treated like “hired hands.” I’m thankful our church does not treat my family this way.

10) Some pastors are experiencing depression.

My prayer is with these pastors.

As I stated above, I think the model of ministry at our church, together with the model of bi-vocational ministry, has helped keep me from the symptoms of burnout described above. At our church we are intentional about shared leadership. We are a board led church and we have an extremely high rate of member involvement and ownership of ministry. On top of that, both I and the other pastor like to consider ourselves a “Pastoral Team,” sharing most pastoral duties without a strong hierarchical structure in place. We are on the same page in theology and values and, I think, our differences in personality are complimentary.

Our model isn’t perfect. Some people have left our church, at least in part, because both of us pastors are bi-vocational. I’m sure we don’t do as much visiting as we ought (at least I don’t). We have several elders who are extremely gifted in this area but, nevertheless, it’s possible that as a pastor I’m failing in this area. I have written before of the challenges of bi-vocational ministry, both for me as a pastor and for our church. I readily admit that’s what is good for us as pastors isn’t necessarily good for the congregation, though I think other excellent leaders make up for where we are lacking.

I can’t take credit for any of this. I just walked into an environment already in place. I’m so thankful for our church for taking such good care of its pastors!