23 Jan 2015

Working Hard without Being a Workaholic

Working HardAs I was working obsessively to finish some work I was doing in the Book of Ecclesiastes, I was struck by its words of warning about being a workaholic (Ecclesiastes 2.18-23). Ironic, I know.

I think it is admirable and important to be a hard worker, so I work hard:

  • I work hard because the Bible teaches that God created people to be workers. From the beginning, God created Adam with a task, to tend and keep the Garden of Eden. We are not made for continued leisure; we are created for work.
  • I work hard because I think my work is important. Our church’s mission is to glorify God by making and maturing disciples to be like Christ. I try to help do that in a lot of ways, but as a youth minister, I specifically work to try and convert young people to Christ, and to help them grow as disciples.
  • I work hard because the work of ministry never ends. I never have nothing to do. I never come to the end of my tasks. There is always more that could be done…I could be better organized, I could be better prepared to teach or preach, I could study biblical languages more, I could spend more targeted time with a youth group member, etc.
  • I work hard to provide for my family. Like everyone, my wife and daughter have physical needs, and I work in order to keep them fed, clothed, and housed. I am thankful for the opportunity to provide for them.
  • I work hard because my salary is paid by other people who work hard. There is something very humbling about having your income provided by the generosity of others. Church members work hard at their jobs, freely offer contributions to the church, and I am paid from those funds. If I don’t work hard and do my best, I am robbing them and robbing God.

So hard work is good and there are a lot of good reasons to be a hard worker.

But, if I am honest, I am more than a hard worker—I am a workaholic. This does not make me particularly unusual, as it is becoming increasingly clear that in the United States, we are a nation of workaholics. Americans work more than any other industrialized nation, taking less vacation, working longer days, and retiring later as well.

Consider some of these American over-working statistics (available here):

  • 85.8% of men and 66.5% of women work over 40 hours per week.
  • From 1970 to 2006, the average numbers of work per year have increased by 200.
  • 70% of American children live in households where all adults are employed.
  • One in three American adults does not take his/her vacation days.
  • One in two workaholics’ marriages ends with a divorce.
  • 60% of workaholics spend less than 20 minutes eating during lunch.

Some of those bullets apply to me, as I frequently work well over 40 hours in a week, never take all of my vacation days, and rush or work through lunch some days. Additionally, here are some ways in which I sometimes act like a workaholic:

  • Already busy, it is easy for me to accumulate more and more tasks if I am not careful either because I am interested in a new task, or out of a desire to please people.
  • At times my work becomes a major part of my self-worth. It can be where I derive my sense of value.
  • I seek escape from life problems by plunging myself into my work.
  • Work can cause me to neglect relationships. This can happen when my busy schedule keeps me away from my family, but I noticed in strikingly one Sunday when I left a fellowship meal to go to my office to do more work.

Workaholism is unhealthy in any field. It can bring about unnecessary stress and fatigue which negatively impact our health. It can remove us from our families to the point that we neglect them. And as a minister, my excessive amount of work can fool me into thinking that somehow God loves me more for my many deeds, or that my obsessive desire to always do more in some way merits His favor. Definitely unhealthy.

This year, I am making a concerted effort to work hard without being a workaholic. Realizing that my work never ends but that I can come back and pick it up again the next day, I’m going to try to go home and see my family at a reasonable time rather than always working late. Knowing that my elders graciously give me a day off and vacation time for a reason, I will seek to use it. And knowing that ministry is primarily about being in the people business, I am determined to prioritize people over tasks.

Work is a good thing, but it is not the only thing. My study of Ecclesiastes has helped me to realize that, and I intend to live it out.

12 Jan 2015

Freed from Sin to Fight Against It

Freed from SinInspired by a close friend, my personal Bible reading and study for this year is taking the form of focusing intently on a short passage of Scripture each week. The plan is that each day, I’ll do something different with the passage: select it, read through it (many, many times), read it aloud, pray about it, write it out, read it in the original Greek or Hebrew, read the interpretations of various commentaries, and, importantly (and through all of the other steps), memorize it.

I am interested to see how it goes.

The first passage I selected was Romans 6.1-5, which is, in some ways, controversial and misunderstood. That’s too bad, because I think it is one of the most beautiful and theologically profound passages penned by Paul in the New Testament. Basically, it focuses on the new life we have in Christ, how baptism functions as the line of departure between the old life and the new, and how, in the act of baptism, we re-enact the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

One key idea in the passage is the idea of being “dead to sin.”

I love the words written below by my former professor, Jimmy Allen, in his Survey of Romans (p.66):

“Death to sin does not mean sinlessness. It means that sin no longer rules in the life of a Christian. However, sin’s dominion can re-establish itself and that is why Paul warned the brethren…God’s people have been freed from sin to fight against it. If they fail to fight, they will be conquered again.”

This brings a lot of clarity to the idea of being “dead to sin.” It’s not that we have no sin in our lives; it’s not that sin has no pull over us. Sin no longer dominates us; it no longer has dominion. As slaves are powerless to fight oppression, so are we powerless to fight against sin as long as we are enslaved by it. Once we are set free from sin through Christ at baptism, our efforts to fight against sin are empowered and thus, much more effective.

9 Jan 2015

Reading and Walking in 2014

Reading and Walking Map

Back in April 2013, I began walking laps around the auditorium in the church building while doing reading for grad school, or in sermon or lesson preparation. I also tend to walk laps when studying Greek or Hebrew vocabulary words, and also while talking on the phone. People like to joke with me about this, but I enjoy doing it because I know the exercise is good for me and also because it helps me read better—if I read in my chair or while lying on the couch in my office I start to nod off.

Each lap around the auditorium is approximately 74 yards. In 2013 I walked a total of 5,608 laps, which amounts to a total distance of 235.8 miles. As I mentioned in my report at the start of 2014, that is basically the equivalent of traveling from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Kansas City, Missouri on foot.

I was excited to see how many laps I could amass in a full year in 2014 (remember, I just started the practice in April 2013 so I missed about 1/4 of the year), and without further ado, here are my results:

Total Laps in 2014: 10,497

Distance per Lap: approximately 74 yards

Total Distance: 441.4 miles

So, if in 2013 I walked from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Kansas City, Missouri, in 2014, I headed toward Chicago, Illinois and almost got there, stopping just short of Joliet (you should be able to click through on the map pictured above for a better look).

Over 10,000 laps! That is a lot! It will be interesting to see if I can accumulate another 10,000 in 2015.

7 Jan 2015

Reading in 2014

brbs-cThose who have followed this blog for a while know that I keep track of the reading I do and then at the beginning of each new year, post the list of the previous year’s reading. For some reason, this is something I enjoy doing, and others seem to enjoy it as well.

Here is my reading list for 2014:

  1. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes Book Two, by Bill Watterson
  2. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, by Henri Nouwen
  3. The Gospel for Teenagers: An Old Message for Young Hearts, by Scott Bond
  4. Fit For The Pulpit: The Preacher & His Challenges, edited by Chris McCurley
  5. Social Media Quick Design: Instagram, by Lauren Hunter
  6. Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in your Kids, by Kara E. Powell and Chap Clark
  7. How Great Is Our God: What God Wants Us To Know About Him, by Justin Morton
  8. The Knight of the Lion, by Constance Hieatt
  9. Yolo: You Only Live Once, by Scott Bond
  10. Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar, by Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt
  11. Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N.T. Wright
  12. George MacDonald, by C.S. Lewis
  13. Red Square, by Martin Cruz Smith
  14. Esau’s Doom, by Michael Whitworth
  15. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation, by David A. deSilva
  16. Headed to the Office: How Teens Become Real Men and Elders in the Church, by Glenn Colley
  17. Backgrounds of Early Christianity, by Everett Ferguson
  18. An Outline of New Testament Introduction, by Allen Black
  19. A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis
  20. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
  21. Star Wars: In the Shadow of Yavin, by Brian Wood and Carlos D’anda
  22. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
  23. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
  24. The Treasure Chest of Grace, by Wes McAdams
  25. Bethlehem Road, by Michael Whitworth
  26. Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy, by Susan Neiman
  27. Heaven on Earth: Realizing the Good Life Now, by Chris Seidman and Joshua Graves
  28. Growing True Disciples, by George Barna
  29. Seven Congregations in a Roman Crucible: A Commentary on Revelation 1-3, by Richard E. Oster Jr.
  30. Jasper Jones, by Craig Silvey
  31. Scribbles and Sketches, No. 1, by Ruby Jobey
  32. Tyranny of the Urgent!, by Charles E. Hummel
  33. Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views, by Paul Helm, Bruce A. Ware, Roger E. Olson, and John Sanders
  34. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
  35. Not Off Limits: Questions You Wish You Could Ask at Church, by Ross Cochran
  36. Hodge Podge: Powerful Proverbs, by Charles Hodge
  37. Who Is My Brother? Facing A Crisis Of Identity & Fellowship, by F. LaGard Smith
  38. Hurting With God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms, by Glenn Pemberton
  39. As I Remember It: An Autobiography, by Jack P. Lewis
  40. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling
  41. If I Be Lifted Up, by Batsell Barrett Baxter
  42. The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity, by William P. Young
  43. Meeting God at the Shack: A Journey into Spiritual Recovery,by John Mark Hicks
  44. Prophet and Priest: The Redefining of Alexander Campbell’s Identity, by Todd M. Brenneman
  45. What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith, by Thomas G. Long
  46. I Now Pronounce You _________: How Our Identity in Christ Informs Our Role As Husbands, by Jeff Grisham
  47. One Tree Hill: A Resurrection Message,  by Michael Whitworth
  48. Yet Will I Trust Him: Understanding God In a Suffering World, by John Mark Hicks
  49. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
  50. Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters, by Terence E. Fretheim
  51. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes Book Three, by Bill Watterson
  52. Four Views on Divine Providence, by Paul Kjoss Helseth, William Lane Craig, Ron Highfield, and Gregory A. Boyd
  53. The Copper Scroll, by Joel C. Rosenberg
  54. An (Extra)ordinary Christmas: 25 Days of Devotions for Christmas/Advent, by Stephen Ingram
  55. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
  56. ESV Single Column Journaling Bible

In 2014, I continued reading eBooks on occasion (something I hadn’t done much before 2013), and I also increased the frequency with which I listened to audiobooks. Also, a lot of my list (38 of 54 I think), centered on theology, Christian living, ministry, Bible study, and church history. Given my vocation and studies, this is not surprising.

First, I read through the ESV Single Column Journaling Bible this year. I wrote about this bible earlier in the year, and I really couldn’t be more pleased with my decision to do my personal Bible reading out of it in 2014. It is a great product: the ESV is a good translation, the strap is handy for keeping it closed and tucking a pen in for taking notes, there is ample space for writing, and there is a good reading plan in the back. I have a ton of notes I made and insights I recorded in the margins, and even though I fell behind in blogging some of this, I know my journal notes will be helpful to me for years to come.

Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson is a classic in its field, and I can see why. Ferguson writes clearly and with great scholarship, and provides invaluable background information on the context and culture of the early church. I wrote a review of Seven Congregations in a Roman Crucible: A Commentary on Revelation 1-3, by Richard Oster. I thought it was an outstanding book, and mention it in conjunction with Ferguson’s book because Seven Congregations also excels at providing background information which helps the reader to better understand the context of the Book of Revelation.

N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church is well-known, and I was glad that I finally got around to reading it. Wright is brilliant, but is able to write in an easy-to-understand way. I shared a couple of quotations from the book which I enjoyed. Overall, I thought Wright had a lot of good things to say, but I wish we would have done a little more work grounding his view of a renewed and transformed earth as the location of “heaven” (I know he does that elsewhere, but I wish he would have spent more time on it in Surprised By Hope as well).

A couple of books related to doctrinal issues and Christian fellowship which I really appreciated were Ross Cochran’s Not Off Limits: Questions You Wish You Could Ask at Churchand F. LaGard Smith’s Who Is My Brother? Facing A Crisis Of Identity & FellowshipI thought the greatest strength of Cochran’s book was his tone: as we address controversial issues in our churches, it is vital that we recognize that sometimes there are multiple possible interpretations on a given issue, and that even people with whom we disagree can be sincere people who are doing their best to understand and follow the Bible. The big takeaway from Smith’s book is his proposal for different levels of fellowship: I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but on the whole I thought his approach was very insightful.

I took a class this fall on Providence and Suffering, and read a lot of books related to that topic. Yet Will I Trust Him: Understanding God In a Suffering World by John Mark Hicks (who, incidentally, was also my professor) was a really good look at the issue of suffering in the world. I think I would have enjoyed the book even more if I had read it straight through; instead, I ended up reading it in chunks as they were assigned in class. Hurting With God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms by Glenn Pemberton was perhaps the best book I read this year. It focuses on lament in Scripture, specifically in the Book of Psalms, and makes the argument that in our modern churches we have largely lost the ability to lament and, as a result, superficialized our relationships with one another and with God and, therefore, weakened our faith. I loved the book, have preached from it, and hope to share some quotations from it later. Also, for that same class, I re-read William Young’s The ShackI had originally read it back in 2009, and posted some thoughts after doing so. Interestingly, I don’t really disagree with those thoughts, but on the whole, I appreciated The Shack much more this time than I did back in 2009. Perhaps my life experience since that time and the contact with suffering I have had has something to do with that.

For books in no way related to ministry or theology, the highlight of my reading year was definitely the Harry Potter series. For years I have had people (specifically my wife) tell me that I should read these books, but I knew that there were seven of them, that the last ones were very long, and I simply did not have the time (I am very busy and don’t have a lot of spare time for pleasure reading). However, one segment of my day that I always felt was wasted was the time I spend driving in my car. Caroline suggested that I try listening to the Harry Potter books in audio format, and I did that this year. The books are entertaining and well-written, and it made driving much more enjoyable for me. I’m actually sad that the series is over and am looking for something else to listen to in the car.

My overall book total increased from 50 in 2013 to 56 in 2014. I really did not expect to exceed my total from last year. Last year I had pushed to get 50 and since it stressed me out a little, I decided this year I would just read and let the total be what it may. Interestingly, with this approach I still ended up with more.

I got some great books for Christmas, and I have a long to-read shelf filled with books I am excited about. What were your favorite books from 2014?

For comparison’s sake, you can see the books I read in 20132012201120102009, and 2008.

19 Dec 2014

Where I’ve Been

It has been almost two months since I have written anything on The Doc File, and that is, admittedly, a long time. Not surprisingly, that absence has corresponded with a significant busyness in my life—some increased ministry responsibilities, a tough grad school class, and additional writing projects (to be announced at a later date) have taken any free time I would have had to write here.

So, sorry to those who have been looking for new posts and finding…nothing.

Hopefully, that will change in the coming days and weeks. This past semester I studied the providence of God and the problem of evil and suffering in the world, which has generated a lot of thoughts in my head that I’d like to get out in this, my online journal. And of course, also a lot of other random stuff which I enjoy writing about.

All of that to say: don’t give up on me. New stuff is coming.