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." 
Don’s goal in life is to find a wife, up to now however he has been unsuccessful:
"I am thirty-nine 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." 
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!