Why I Mow The Yard on Sundays

I switched blog philosophies several weeks ago to doing a book review on Mondays. I just got to the point that I was struggling to find anything worth saying publicly on a regular basis, and the Monday book review was a good challenge for me to read a new book every week and interract with it on a regular basis. I figure I'll leave the wisdom and insight into ministry to some of the other guys out there who excel at that type of thing, and try to do something a little different.

But this is an unbelievably busy season in ministry for me, and I didn't quite finish my book last week. So, you're going to get the old kind of post today. Sorry.

We knew it was going to be a crazy season in ministry. We just launched a new singles philosophy at the church that is pretty high-maintenance at the outset, I'm preaching in a couple of weeks, leading a premarital counseling class, doing a couple of weddings, preparing for and traveling to Italy for a week in the middle of October to do some mission work there, and trying to keep-up with some of the relationships I've been building since I came back in June.

I'm no sage, but I know that times like this happen in ministry (and life in general, for that matter). Fortunately, we saw this one coming far enough in advance that we've been able to protect our November to give us a season of rest after the season of busyness. But even so, my personal bent is such that I tend to get extremely discouraged during my busiest times of ministry.

Most of the time, you don't see a lot of fast progress in ministry. So a lot of times when I'm working my tail off, it is for few noticeable results. Very rarely does God use me to be involved in changing a person's life overnight. Results are slow, people are messy, and a lot of times the ministry is a bit more like herding cats than shepherding sheep. And so in my busiest seasons of ministry, it's easy to get completely discouraged because you're exerting so much effort and see very little change.

Sundays are the worst. You prepare, pray, and preach on a Sunday morning, and by the time the Cowboys kick-off, the average church member has forgotten 95 percent of what you said. And the five percent they remember is the story about the crocodile you told to open the message. And so, some of the most discouraging times for many pastors (not just me) is Sunday afternoon.

So, I mow my yard every Sunday afternoon.

My grass is a great metaphor of ministry for me. I work hard in the yard. I prepare the soil, I fertilize regularly, I water every day, pull every weed I can see, and pulverize every critter that might threaten the health of my yard. But if I was to lay down on my stomach and lament the fact that I can't see the grass growing, you would call for the men in their nice white coats to cart me away to the funny farm.

So, I spend an hour or two every Sunday after church (sorry Sabatarians) cutting my grass. It's the only thing I do every week where I get to see an instant reward for my work, and a constant reminder that ministry (and life) is worth the hard work.

You've got questions? We've got answers.

I thought this was funny, following up to my link to teampyro's Pomotivators. HT: Faithmaps

I'm Glad You Asked

I've mentioned "I'm Glad You Asked" before in passing, but just pulled it off my shelf again and read back through it, and thought it was worth a stand-alone review.

Several years ago I took a class with "the Prof," Howard Hendricks, at Dallas Seminary. Prof pulled out this book, and declared to the class, "Men, if I ever get the honor of speaking in your churches, I'm going to walk in your office and look on your bookshelf to see if you have this book. If you don't, you can forget about me teaching in your church - I'll know you're not serious about reaching those around you."

Prof always has been one given to hyperbole now and again. But hyperbole aside, this really is a book you need to have on your shelf.

Ken Boa and Larry Moody have invested almost their entire lives with unbelievers, attempting to talk with them about some of the most difficult questions about Christianity. Throughout their decades of dialoguing with unbelievers, Boa and Moody believe there are only actually twelve questions that unbelievers say are keeping them from trusting Christ. This book is devoted to answering those twelve questions.

"Is there really a God?" "Do miracles really happen?" "Isn't Christianity just a psychological crutch?" "Why do the innocent suffer?" "Is Christ the only way to God?" are among some of the questions this book attempts to answer.

Boa and Moody rely on logic, common sense, and science for many of their arguments, and attempt to teach you how to confidently enter discussions with unbelievers without fear. For the most part, the authors do a tremendous job at simplifying complex arguments to the point that even I can understand them. The major exception, unfortunately, is the first question the authors attempt to answer: "Is there really a God." Although some of the arguments used to answer this question are simple, several of them discuss metaphysics and thermodynamics, and shoot right over the head of the average reader. Those of us who are slightly below the average reader don't have a prayer. Obviously, the arguments are important to the point the authors are making, but could cause you to be overwhelmed somewhere around page 29. Just skip to page 32 - after this chapter, the book is pretty easy sledding.

This book will be particularly helpful for those of you left-brained people who need a logical, rational, analytical look at the arguments that defend Christianity. Each chapter even contains a flow-chart that traces the path of logic through the chapter.

You may not agree with every argument the authors present. Some of them betray particular theological positions that the authors hold which you may not be comfortable with. That's okay, I've never read a book in which I couldn't find something to disagree with. The vast majority of this book is solid, logical, and will help you put a grid over the way you think about the evidence for the validity of Christianity.

If you've ever had that paralyzing feeling of anxiety about sharing your faith - afraid someone was going to ask you a question about the evidence for Christianity that you might not know the answer to, buy this book. If nothing else, buy it because you never know when Prof is going to show up in your office.

Holy Discontent

I was really excited to pick this book up. I've respected Bill Hybels for a long time. Throughout the late nineties and early part of this century, Bill Hybels and the philosophy of Willow Creek Community Church were the "hot button" issue that students of theology debated over coffee. Regardless of where you fall/fell on that debate, I think it would be impossible to not respect Hybels for his humility in dealing with his critics, and willingness to admit when he has made mistakes.

I've read several of Hybels' books, and have generally been very impressed. Courageous Leadership and Just Walk Across The Room were both good reads with some excellent material.

Although I thought Holy Discontent was "okay," I don't think it's probably Hybels' best work. And that's a shame, because in a lot of ways, it's a book about what made Bill Hybels, Bill Hybels.

Hybels talks about "Holy Discontent" in the way that most people talk about "Driving Passion." But, it's not just a passion that comes and goes, it's a passion that defines your life. The biblical illustration Hybels uses is Moses who seems to have had a "holy discontent" about the status of the nation of Israel that drove him to both murder and liberation.

For the most part, and I mean this with all due respect, Holy Discontent is something of a "rah-rah" book. Hybels challenges us all to find the one thing that drives us - the one thing that we, like Popeye "just can't stands no more," and devote our life to that thing.

Although Moses is a good example of someone who does seem to have had a "holy discontent" about something, I wasn't ever completely convinced by this book that every person is given a "personal burning bush." The anecdotes and examples in the book were "change-the-world" kind of examples. One guy drops everything to move his family to Australia and pastor a church. Another woman leaves a lucrative accounting career to move to Africa and work with AIDS orphans.

Don't misunderstand me - I'm infinitely thankful for those kinds of people, and have no doubt that their desire and decision to make those kinds of sacrifices are God-ordained. But what about the guy who lives a quiet life on his block and quietly impacts his neighborhood with the gospel? We certainly need people who are changing the world on a macro level, but I'm not sure I think everyone is called to have those kinds of dreams. You have to have Pauls and Timothys, but you also have to have Freds and Jim Bobs.

The second big challenge I had was that all of the illustrations of Holy Discontent being put to use in the book were with local church ministry. Again, we desperately need people with a heartbeat for the local church. I'm one of those people. But we also need people with a heartbeat for their neighborhoods, para church ministries, and families. As one of my mentors says constantly, "The local church is not the hope of the world, Jesus is."

The final big challenge for me in this book was that it doesn't help me identify my area of holy discontent if I have one. It tells me how to live once I've identified my burning passion. It tells me what holy discontent looks like. And it tells me a lot about other people who are changing the world. But if I have an area of holy discontent and don't know what it is, I'm not sure what steps to take in identifying it after reading the book.

Holy Discontent is an easy, quick read, with some great stories that will get you fired up about the potential for the church to do great things in the future. However, if you're looking for a book that will help you identify what you were created to do based on biblical principles, I'm not sure this one is the best fit.