Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review - Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

Have you ever noticed that when we ask a friend about how they are doing, the response we receive is in the context of how busy they are?  I have been especially guilt of this in the past.  At times, when I get, “how’s it going, Jeff?” the response I have often given is simply “Busy.”

That kind of answer seems pretty frequent these days.  We are more connected than we ever have been.  There are more things to do and more things to distract us than ever before.  And we are busy.  The fact is, Americans lead the world in hours worked annually.  I remember a conversation a few years back with some of my family members in Canada.  They asked me how many hours a week I worked.  After hearing my answer, they remarked that their denomination had done a study which found that the average pastor in the denomination worked about 35 hours a week.  I remember sitting there thinking, “That sounds like bliss.”

Yes, I have a problem with busyness and saying no and taking on too much.  Maybe you do too.  That is why, when I heard one of my favorite authors, Kevin DeYoung had written a book on busyness, I made sure I picked up a copy.  Ironically, I was too busy to read the book until recently and actually read most of it on vacation.  I suspect I might be the only person in the world to read a book on busyness when I should be relaxing.

DeYoung’s book, Crazy Busy is subtitled A Mercifully Short Book about a Big Problem.  Like many of us, Kevin DeYoung struggles with busyness.  And so as he writes this book, it is not a book written by an expert, proclaiming truths from his ivory tower to us lowly people who have not yet grasped the wisdom and knowledge he has attained.  Rather he writes as a fellow struggler.

DeYoung begins by exposing 3 dangers of being too busy.  Busyness can ruin our joy.  Joy should be a characteristic of one who is being transformed by the gospel, a fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  But being too busy can mean a lack of joy.  Busyness can rob our hearts.  The cares of the world, the worries of life can quickly swallow up our desire for better things.  Busyness can also cover up the rot in our souls.  Busyness can make us physically and spiritually sick – it can bring discouragement, discontent, strained relationships and physical exhaustion.

Crazy Busy contains 7 diagnoses against busyness.  Again, these are not lectures, but 7 areas where we need to do some difficult and painful soul searching.  I won’t summarize all of them, but rather the 3 that hit me personally.

First, busyness is often about pride.  There is a certain pride involved when we tell people we are busy.  There is a ‘look at me’ type spirit that wants people to see all that we are accomplishing.  Pleasing people, receiving affirmation, having our performance noted and praised and proving ourselves capable all play into this.  Sometimes being busy is all about making trying to make myself look good.

Second, sometimes we are busy doing what God does not expect us to do.  Sometimes our busyness is a guilt response to a feeling that we are not doing enough.  But the fact is, we are not Jesus, and even if we were, we can clearly see in the Bible that even Jesus did not do everything.  He did not heal everyone, for example.  (John 5:1-17 – Jesus healed one man out of many)  The fact is, the gospel is meant to be good news that frees us, rather than something that adds extra burdens to our lives.

Third, sometimes we are busy because we are letting the screen strangle our souls.  While DeYoung could have addressed TV here, he focuses on social media.  Sometimes we are busy because we have to be connected, and that connection – on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, through blogs, even just surfing for new things to read – drags us away from what we should be doing.  The fact is, if a person is not careful, our connected world can fill our lives to such an extent that we not longer have time for God and are unable to hear his still, small voice speak to our souls.

While the reader can take or leave any of DeYoung’s diagnoses, he ends the book with one thing every busy person must do.  We must, even in the midst of all the demands and distractions, take the time to sit at Jesus’ feet.  Like Mary in the gospels, we must daily put aside everything else to spend time with the lover of our souls, the one who can bring order out of the disorder that is all too often our busy life.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Books Review – The Pastor’s Justification

Anyone who knows me knows that I love books.  I buy a lot of books.  My “to-read” pile is large.  And sometimes I am not always keenly aware of what is in that pile.  So a few months ago, when a friend of mine linked a video clip from Jared Wilson to my Facebook page, I watched it and wondered where I had heard that name before.  I did a little searching and lo and behold, I had one of Jared’s books in my “to-read” pile.  At the first opportunity, I pulled it out and began to read.  I am so glad I did.

Jared Wilson’s story is what drew my attention first.  The video clip posted on my Facebook wall was a short summary of Jared’s ministry commitment.  To put it briefly, he left big city church planting and ministry in Nashville to lead a small town, rural church in Vermont.  I was intrigued for two reasons.  First, his “career path” seemed opposite to what a typical pastor would be looking for.  And second, having been in rural or semi-rural ministry all my ministry life, I resonated with his heart for the people in the smaller towns in our country.

Jared Wilson’s book, The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in your Life and Ministry, is a wonderfully honest read.  I found myself again and again nodding in agreement.  His words were sometimes comforting, assuring me that I was not the only one going through this.  At other times, his words cut to the heart, causing me to look hard at how I am living out the truths of the gospel in my life and my ministry.

The book breaks down into two sections.  The first main section of the book follows 1 Peter 5:1-11.  Here Wilson moves thoroughly through 6 areas that affect the pastor’s heart.  The second section is built on the 5 “Solas” of the Christian faith (Sola Scripture – Scripture alone, Sola Gratia – grace alone, Sola Fide – faith alone, Solus Christus – Christ alone, Soli Deo Gloria – To God alone be the glory). In this section, Wilson is concerned with the pastor’s glory, which is not found in himself, but in Christ.  In each chapter, Wilson takes care to challenge the reader, but also to build the reader up in the truths of the gospel.

I don’t know anyone more honest – and often hard on themselves – than pastors.  For a pastor, there is always something that could have been done better.  Someone else to call.  A section of the sermon that could have been clearer.  A person we should have spent more time praying for.  You get the picture.  If we are not careful, a pastor’s life can be one large session of morbid introspection where the pastor spends his time beating himself up for his failures. 

Jared Wilson’s book does not excuse pastoral laziness or incompetence, but it does most importantly remind us to ground our identity and our focus not in what we have done or have not yet or will yet get done, but rather in what Christ has already done and what it means for us.  There is a freedom that comes from knowing the power of the grace of God has been applied to our lives.  There is a confidence that comes from being reminded of God’s call and empowerment.  There is a sure and certain rest for our souls when we are reminded my hope of glory is not in my own achievement, but Christ’s achievement for my sake.

This book was a wonderful blessing to me.  It is easily the most encouraging book for pastors I have read this year.  2 or 3 years in the future, I hope to pull it out again.  My soul needs both the challenge it provides and the soothing encouragement it offers.