Monday, February 23, 2015

Dangerous Calling

Dangerous Calling, Paul David Tripp

This is a very powerful book that everyone in ministry should read.

Tripp has spent years talking to and counselling pastors and he is convinced there is a malaise that has taken over ministers of the gospel: that pastors are in great danger of both losing their awe of God and of thinking they have ‘arrived’ and are no longer in need of change.

Tripp is clear from the beginning this is a diagnostic book encouraging pastors to look honestly at their lives and hearts, and to hold them up against the gospel for Christ for analysis. He calls on pastors, and those around them, to try read it with an open heart and mind, to deactivate their ‘inner lawyer’ and to be willing to address things in their lives that need change.

Boy does he use a scalpel to dig deep! Tripp starts with pastoral culture and the risks it brings:

  • Letting ministry define your identity
  • Letting biblical literacy and theological knowledge define your maturity
  • Confusing success with God’s endorsement of your lifestyle
  • The regular disconnection between public and personal life
  • The fact that in the ministry of the body of Christ, often the minister does not allow himself to be ‘ministered to’
  • That there is always a battle going on between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of self (a key idea also in Tripp’s marriage book What did you expect?)

He has quite a challenge to those responsible for employing ministers that they must try to see their heart, what really matters to them, not their ‘on paper’ success. Rather, how they relate to their families, treat their wives and listen to rebuke. I imagine this would be a very hard thing to do well in an interview process.

Then he comes to the first of 2 key areas – the danger of losing your awe of God, in forgetting who God is. When this happens, various things can result:

  • A familiarity with the word of God, to the extent they are no longer moved by it
  • Living in fear of man, caring more about what others think than how to be godly
  • A contentment with mediocrity. This was a very helpful, sad chapter about the way we accept mediocre sermon preparation. If you are still preparing a sermon on Saturday, there is no way you have worked out its truths in your life, so how can you properly apply it to the lives of your hearers?
  • Losing your awe of God, results in you starting to think you are pretty good, and therefore leads to the second area – the danger of forgetting who you are.

The risks of thinking you have arrived are:

  • Self-glory – promoting ourselves, not God
  • Always preparing – personal time with God gets squeezed out and preparation time takes over. We no longer let the word of God shape us personally
  • We risk separating our public life from our personal life – we don’t let people in, we find it hard to hear rebuke, etc

As you can probably imagine, it’s a pretty devastating critique. Yet I also think it’s very accurate. I saw his truths in myself, in our lives and have seen evidence of them in others.

For those who are willing to listen and learn, there would be great benefit. Not many people are willing to stand up to their pastor and challenge their godliness (and perhaps not everyone should); but every pastor should make sure they have people around them who are willing to do so. I would say the same for ministry-wives.

Tripp’s solution is that pastors much keep coming back to the gospel, dwelling on God’s majesty, their sinfulness and the grace of God in Christ. When we raise again the glory of God and decrease again our own important, we are willing to change. There were ideas throughout the book about a way forward, although really much of it was depressingly diagnostic. The final two chapters were a proposed way forward which were helpful. However to really get into this further and analyse one’s heart and motivations, I would switch over to Lane & Tripp’s book How People Change and do some serious work from that one!

Very worthwhile reading for all in ministry, and those who are responsible for them.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

This book is great fun. Graeme Simsion hooks you in from the first page and keeps you interested and entertained right to the end. 

The story is told by Don, a university genetics professor, who is asked to cover a lecture for a friend. With very clever writing, it becomes apparent to the reader that Don is uniquely qualified to speak on the topic: 
"The sequence was initiated by Gene insisting I give a lecture on Asperger’s syndrome that he had previously agreed to deliver himself. The timing was extremely annoying. The preparation could be time-shared with lunch consumption, but on the designated evening I had scheduled ninety-four minutes to clean my bathroom." (p1)
Don’s goal in life is to find a wife, up to now however he has been unsuccessful:
"I am thirty-nice years old, tall, fit and intelligent, with a relatively high status and above average-income as an associate professor. Logically, I should be attractive to a wide range of women. In the animal kingdom, I would be successful in reproducing. However, there is something about me that women find unappealing. I have never found it easy to make friends, and it seems that the deficiencies that caused this problem have also affected my attempts at romantic relationships." (p3)
So, he designs a questionnaire to weed out unsuitable women – smokers, vegetarians and the like.

At the same time Rosie enters Don’s life, interested in genetics and searching for her true father.

What ensues is the lovely interactions between Don who analyses everything rationally and logically, who has set meals for days of the week and a schedule that he must stick to; and Rosie who is rather more free-spirited, is bewildered by him yet also finds him interesting and appealing.

It is great fun. I laughed out loud at points, the humour is so dry. You watch both Don and Rosie learn to adapt and consider things from another point of view. Don’s analysis of his own behaviour and experiences are very clever and astute. Simsion has created some excellent commentary on people in general, social situations and how those who struggle with them learn to negotiate their way through. 

Highly recommended enjoyable reading. And there is a sequel too – The Rosie Effect – already on hold at the library…

Later note:
Definitely enjoyed The Rosie Effect. I won't write a whole review, but I suspect that anyone who liked The Rosie Project will also like this one. Similar ideas again, very well written and very funny along the way.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Man on a Wire

This new CD by one of my favourite Christian artists has been on constant replay in the car.  I have reviewed Nathan’s CD Home previously and he has also had some great hymn CDs since.   

The Taskers have faced major grief in the last few years with the death of his father-in-law and then their unborn twin son & daughter all within a few months.

This album has raw emotion and honesty about those times, yet is also infused with hope.

I always get a bit choked up listening to ‘Nowhere to be Found’ – that raw feeling that God has left you alone. Other songs clearly talk about their sadness or grief, yet that God is in control and knows what He’s doing, such as ‘Sowing Tears’ and ‘Trust You in the Darkness’. This has always been a theme of Nathan’s music – that God is in control, He knows His plans and we can trust Him. In fact ‘Whole World’ (a new version of ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’) very catchily does exactly that.

In a recent concert, Nathan talked about songs that travel from grief to joy in 3.5 minutes; and how it may only take a short time to sing but the process of writing them and feeling their truth may take 18 months or more. It was a reflection that has enabled him to understand the Psalms better and one I have appreciated.

This is a great album to remind you of the promises of God, whether or not you are in times of struggle and grief.  Love it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Grandma's Attic

Grandma’s Attic, Arleta Richardson

The first four of this series of books was given to our daughter and they have been quite a treat.

Written by Arleta Richardson they tell the stories her grandmother Mabel told her of her own childhood growing up in rural Michigan in a strong Christian home with parents who taught her the faith and how to live it.

Each story (chapter) tend to have a teaching point – what can result if you lie or disobey or don’t think. So a moral truth can be drawn from it and talked about. At the same time they are just lovely stories about families and children, the silly things kids do and the mistakes we all make and learn from as we grow up. There are positive adults in them and fun friends.

My daughter still laughs about the story where Mabel wore a hoop skirt (without permission) to church for the first time and not knowing how to sit properly in it, ended up with it flicking up and her showing the minister her underwear!

I read them with Miss 7 and she loved them, and Miss 9 enjoyed listening in as well. They will probably mostly appeal to girls, but could well be enjoyed by boys. I have just discovered there are more books in the series, so we may well try get those as well!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Being involved at school

Back to school last week
We are now in our final year of all children at the same school. It’s been a great seven years of concentrating on relationships in one place and  we now know many students, parents, teachers and staff.

There are many ways to be involved in a school, but as with all things, no-one can or should do everything.  Each year we reassess how we can be involved. I talked about it a couple of years ago, but haven’t for a while. 

It’s worth mentioning that we consider it a ‘joint involvement’ and make the decision as a couple. Sometimes Husband will be more involved with a school team or on council, which means I have less time to help; sometimes it’s the other way around. As every decision you make impacts the whole family, we make sure we consider these things together.

As we start another year, these are some of the things we try to do.

1. Get to know their teachers

This has been a priority each year. Our children’s teachers have all been excellent and I have always felt we were 'on the same page' when dealing with any issues that arose. We try to get to know them personally, ask about their families, weekends, etc, so that not every conversation we had was about our child.

I have come to realise that this is not what parents generally do. Each year, teachers have thanked us for being so supportive of them and the class. We just thought we were taking an interest, but apparently it stands out.

2. Figure out how to be involved in the school community

Over the years we have been involved in various ways: sports committees, Governing Council, sports team coaching, listening to reading, testing students at times tables, going on excursions and hosting get-to-know-you events for class parents. I have found that most years I commit to more than I can manage and end up feeling guilty about pulling out of something.

In the past I have listened to reading, but I no longer sign up to do this straight away.  Quite frankly, after years of listening to reading, I am a bit over it, last year I offered to test times-tables for one of the older classes, that was much more fun!

Our school has had a change of all senior leadership in the last 12 months and I did spend time last year trying to meet them, be supportive and make connections so that we have develop those relationships. I will need to do the same this year.

I always try to get to know the staff in the front office by name, and again being a friendly cheerful face with no agenda appears to be a refreshing change!

3. Get to know the children at school

In the years that I did go into the classroom, for reading or times-tables, the main benefit was meeting all the children and that they all know whose mum I was. I was able to understand some of the class dynamics a little more, and I could encourage certain friendships.

As the kids get older and I have done less of this, I don’t get to know the kids in class as well anymore. Although really, once you meet them in Reception (Kindergarten) or Year 1, you still know who they are for the next 7 years!

Sometimes, an excursion has helped fill in this knowledge gap a little.

4. Get to know the parents and families of the children in the class

This is easier in the first few years of school, but gets much harder later. We have almost finished meeting new parents in class now, with the kids in Years 7, 4 and 2. Not many parents are in classrooms regularly anymore, including us.

The main way we now get to know parents is by being involved with sporting teams. We know all the kids who play soccer and their families, and are now getting to know a lot of netball families. That has been great and we are very thankful for that opportunity.

5. Pray for the school

Obviously we pray for the school, students, teachers and families personally.

We have had a prayer group on and off over the last 7 years. The most exciting thing to come from that was our gingerbread event last year. We are hoping to do the same this year and keep building connections across the school.

We have loved being involved in a school community. It takes time and effort, but it is certainty worth it – both for our kids, for us and hopefully, for the people we meet and support along the way.

(If you want to read more about school involvement and our potential roles in a school community, I found the book Going Public very helpful a few years ago)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Thoughts on all kids at school

The first day they all went to school (late 2012)
A friend recently asked if I thought about what I would do when our youngest child started school, rather than just let it happen and go on as normal.

It was a great question and one that got me thinking about it again, two years after the event. Sometimes other people find these thoughts helpful as they consider their own situation, so I’ll share some of it here also. This is long post though, sorry about that!

We did give thought to what would happen that year. Husband always said that when they all started school, I should have a ‘down year’ and think about the next stage. That is, not say yes to everything and do more just because either I though I could or should. Someone had suggested it to him years ago when we just had one little baby. He felt quite strongly about it and I came to realize:
1. He was right and
2. It was his way of recognising and acknowledging the work I had put it at home with little ones for the previous 10 years.
The comments on that post showed that there were a few who wished they had done the same or were interested in thinking about it more.

I realized looking back I never talked about it much on this blog again.

My goal for 2013 was to take on no new things. That was the goal (ha!). In reality I did commit to a few extra things without realising I had - an extra repeated talk series here, a seminar there, an extra catch up with someone new, and so on.

However, what really forced it was that same year, I started to get very tired: tired/fuzzy in my brain and tired physically in my body. A dear friend who has chronic fatigue looked at me critically, then spoke up saying she could see in me the same early signs she had ignored in herself. It was the clear voice I needed to hear. Husband and I spoke about it in detail right away and decided to pull me out of a whole lot of stuff. I alluded to it a little here.

Upon reflection, it was an interesting time. I was expecting to have this great clear year with all the kids at school and in the end I was quite tired and worn out. Husband’s theory (not medically backed in any way, but still with some sense in it) was that my body/brain had coped well for 10 years, but once it finally realised it could relax a little it kicked back and spoke up saying it needed to rest. Sort of like how you get through the sleepless baby nights and then once you start to sleep again, you get really, really tired!

It was also a good time for me spiritually. I have always been someone who could see their value in what they can do rather than who they are in Christ. It was a good chance to realise that whether I could ‘do ministry things’ or not, I was still a child of God and that I have value in his sight because of what Christ has done, not because of what I do. My prayer life grew too and I wrote out lots of prayers from which I am still benefiting from.

In the end, we viewed 2013 as a recovery year and then 2014 as a ‘down year’. I still committed to less last year, which was a good decision. In about October last year, I felt like I woke up. I felt like I had been at a lowered brain output for about 18 months and that both my body and brain were picking up again. It was quite an exciting feeling. I was excited about doing new things, able to run again, keen to do more marriage ministry, talks, etc.

2015 looks good at this stage, I have some things planned, but not too much I think and I am looking forward to the one more year of the same school-wise before Mr 11 starts high school in 2016.

So, that’s what happened. As for my thoughts one to two years later?

1. Husband was right - I had been home with little ones for almost a decade and my body and brain needed a break. My body apparently decided to take it into it’s own hands to force it, perhaps knowing I wouldn’t have done it properly by choice!

2. The idea of a ’down year’ was a good one. Upon reflection I think 2 years is a good option too. The next stage for me is 7 years with all kids at school, and then another 5 till all are out of school. In the midst of it, it seems like forever, but I know how quickly the last 10 years went and we still, God-willing, have at least 30 years in us for ministry and parenting and so want to do it well, long-term and sustainably. Therefore 1-2 years at a slower pace every now and then seems wise when considering the long haul.

3. There is no extra time once all kids are at school. In some ways there is less. With a pre-schooler, the cleaning, shopping etc happen with them, not only because it has to, but because it is a good way to fill in the days. With school aged children, all the shopping and cleaning happens mainly now in school hours, so that we are free to either chill out at home after school, or do extracurricular activities, which are now creeping to our lives more as the kids get older.

I bought the lie for a while that I would have more time and then couldn’t figure out where it had gone! Children at school does not make the day 26 hours long!!

I need to try keep 3-7:30pm clear for the kids every school night. So I can be taxi, cook, confidante, homework & piano practice enforcer, bible time encourager and read-aloud-er! It has taken a mindshift for me to not creep over to my email or other things in the hope of getting them done in that time frame. So all the things I do and plan for that I count as ministry outside the home have to happen in school hours. Once you account for all the other things that happen in school hours (catch ups, etc) there really just isn’t that much time. I am amazed at women who also manage to work, although I realise they are usually trying to do less other things than I am.

4. Part of this has been a realisation that since we have decided my main role is wife, mother and household manager - a decision I am happy with - it does still take up most of my time and I need to learn not to be dissatisfied with it. I have been amazed at how much more time goes in to maintaining this house which is bigger than our last one, but also - and I think this is the real difference - a house that we own. I had no idea how much home ownership changes your attitude about a house and what could be done in it. That’s one of my personal issues, but it definitely gives weight to my advice to young couples not to buy a house for a long time!

5. One final thing that I always have to take into account is my own ‘introversion’. If I overload with people in any way, I don’t have the energy for my own family. If I view my day as having 3 time-slots - morning, early-afternoon and evening; I can function fine if one has extra people in it, 2 is a stretch and 3 is way too much (I don’t have words left for Husband at the end of the day!) So, just because I have the time-slots free, it doesn’t mean I have the emotional capacity free. I make sure every day (if I can) before school pick up I sit down from 2-2:45 to have a cup of tea and clear my head. If we have a very busy hospitality weekend, I schedule a quiet day for the Monday to recover. If we have lots of nights busy, I keep the day slots free-er. That way I have time for my family when they need me. I have made it an extra priority in recent years to have energy for Husband at night, so that we continue to have fun together!

So, that’s my thoughts about transitioning into having everyone at school. They may or may not be relevant to you, but they were helpful for me to think about again.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Status Report – February

School Holidays: Were lovely. A great mix of rest, time together and some fun things to do.

Loved a quick trip to Sydney last weekend: a 24-hour fun time to celebrate a dear friend’s 40th. Lovely night of catching up with her and other old friends.

Saw some movies: Paddington – lovely, bit scary for Miss 7 (it was her very first time at the movies), but very good for older kids and very funny for adults and was visually beautiful.  Mr 11 enjoyed Big Hero 6 with his grandfather. The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing’s role in breaking the code for the German Enigma machine in WWII, was a good adult movie with interesting themes done well. Penguins of Madagascar – very funny for adults and children alike, with the good message that it doesn’t matter what you look like, but rather how you act. This was the first time all 5 of us have gone to the movies together – fun times of a new stage!

Discovered: our family was at the perfect stage to learn a new card game, which we call Emperor & Scum, but apparently people from Adelaide call Scumbags & Warlords. We played for hours. A great mix of fast hands, nobody stays top or bottom for too long and the strategy was definitely mastered by all including the 7 year old.

Continued: the now 3 year tradition of an Australia Day BBQ with a group of 5 families, which we loosely call ‘Mother’s Group’, but really are just friends spread out over Adelaide who rarely see each other otherwise. The women also go out for dinner about 2x per year. On those nights, we struggle to get restaurants in Adelaide to stay open late enough to allow for all the conversation catch-up.

Catalogued: our entire library onto the computer by scanning all the barcodes - so much fun for the family members who love order!  1235 books now catalogued, complete with the option to loan them to friends and send 'reminder to return' emails!  

Got it done: The long-service leave photobook. Now just waiting for a discounted deal before I get it printed!

In the thick of: Writing talks on Hebrews for March/April. Feeling a little under the pump.

Back to school: Gone well - more lovely teachers. I am so thankful for teachers!

Lunch: today - a very large BBQ. The AFES staff of SA/NT are over for a kick-off BBQ. Good thing I wrote this earlier to post!!

Birthday: coming up. Last one in this decade… must consider festivity options for next year!

Changing the ‘names’ of our family on this blog: From now on the kids will be ‘Mr’ and ‘Miss’ with their age-attached (eg. Mr 11) – easier to track who I am talking about, which gender liked the book and what age they were!  My husband will be referred to as Husband, lending him a debonair sort of air.