Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book review: Tom Nelson- Work matters

Work Matters: Connecting Sunday worship to Monday work
Tom Nelson
Buy this book

There is an unfortunately common misconception around in the Christian community that Christians who want to be God pleasing in their employment should become missionaries (preferably overseas) or be in some other type of “professional” ministry employment. This view also suggests that jobs outside these categories are second rate and only valuable so far as they allow people to fund ministry or mission and provide evangelism opportunities. I recently found myself at an event where such a view came up several times. Having come to the conclusion that ministry and mission roles are important but probably not what I have been called to at the moment, I left feeling frustrated and a little unsure about my direction.

Tom Nelson’s book Work Matters provides a good corrective to such views, arguing for the legitimacy and spiritual value of “normal” jobs for Christians. He explains how working is linked to being made in the image of God and how the biblical story of creation, fall and redemption shapes how we think about work. I think shaping an exploration of work around these themes is helpful because it affirms the importance of work within God’s plan for us and also gives a realistic but hopeful picture of the challenges and possibilities of work in a fallen world. He goes on to talk about how work is not just something we do to fund worthwhile activities outside it, but can be a means for us to grow spiritually and make a positive contribution to the world.

One thing that struck me in this book that I had never really thought about is how Jesus worked. When we think about God creating things we tend to think of galaxies but while on earth it wasn’t below Jesus to create tables. No was it below him to face the challenges of what was probably a pretty normal workplace. I think that is really encouraging.

As I am currently job-hunting, I particularly appreciated the section on facing unemployment. I found his advice on remaining as spiritually, emotionally and financially healthy while unemployed to be compassionate and wise.

I strongly recommend this book. I think most Christians will find it helpful but I think it will have particular value for college students or recent graduates considering what career direction to take and for those who struggle to see the significance of their work.

Review copy courtesy of NetGalley and Crossway

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book review: David Platt- Radical Together

Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God
David Platt
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In Radical Together, David Platt teaches on how entire churches can live radically for God’s glory.

I had been a bit frustrated by his previous book Radical which covers many of the same themes. I felt that it risked getting people excited on their own about being radical and as a result rushing out to do things for God without necessarily receiving wise council about whether their plans were suitable for them and likely to be helpful. In Radical Together, there was a strong emphasis on the importance of sacrificial living as an endeavor for the whole Christian community and our need for each other which I think should help check any tendency towards rash individual action without watering down the call to radical living.

Another area where this book improves on radical is having a stronger emphasis on being saved by grace. I felt at times Radical (almost certainly unintentionally) communicated that the Christian life was primarily about what we do rather than what Jesus has done. In Radical Together, Platt is a lot more clear about the idea that good works don’t make us Christian, but that being saved should motivate us to do good.

Also valuable in this book is Platt’s attempts to get people to question the necessity of fancy buildings or programs for Christian outreach and discipleship. I think this is a helpful question to raise as we often seem to assume such things are required rather than considering whether a change of emphasis or direction would be appropriate.

Overall, I think this is a helpful, challenging book that is bound to make you think about how you are living out your faith.

Review copy courtesy of Multnomah Books

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

13 things I learned on a mission trip

I recently went on a missions trip where we ran a summer holiday outreach program for children and teens in a seaside town. Having never been involved in a mission like this one before, I assumed that working with teenagers wouldn’t be that challenging because there isn’t as much age difference as when working with children and because teens programs don’t involve as much singing and dancing as children's programs. I now know better! I really enjoyed myself but it was also at times a challenging and humbling experience. Here is an assortment of things I learned:

  • No-one is too old for playdough. What was meant to be a short activity involving some playdough turned into a whole session of the teens excitedly coming up with creative things to make.
  • Sometimes the full impact of what we do can take a while to be obvious. On multiple occasions we met parents who had attended the program as children, remembered it fondly and were now sending their own children along. People involved in the mission during the 80’s probably weren’t thinking that their willingness to serve would mean that children who wouldn’t be born for another 20 years would one day get the chance to hear about Jesus.
  • Given a chance, teenage boys will mix and consume almost any food or drink combination possible.
  • Duct tape solves a lot of problems.
  • Prayer makes a difference. I was maybe a bit lazier about praying while on mission than I should have been. Times when I did make an effort to pray, I tended to notice an improvement in how well things worked and how receptive the teens were.
  • Pancakes are better when made with excessive amounts of neon food colouring. Neon pancake mix also makes an impressive looking mess when spilt. See the picture at the bottom of the post.
  • That throwing things indoors can be a bad idea is not nearly as obvious as it seems.
  • Good things can come out of failed plans. I am by nature a bit of an over-planner so found having things not work to plan a bit challenging sometimes. While derailed plans were sometimes frustrating and humbling, God is bigger than them. Some of the best activities and spiritual discussions happened when our original plans weren’t working and we had to make stuff up on the spot.
  • Strange things start to become funny when you have a bunch of somewhat sleep deprived people working closely together for 10 days.
  • Teenagers are often more willing to accept a copy of the bible you offer them than you might expect.
  • Children's program music is often absurdly catchy and unusually difficult to dislodge from your brain.
  • You can’t force meaningful conversations. Sometimes when we had planned what seemed liked good discussion starters, talk stayed very shallow. Sometimes meaningful conversations came seemingly out of nowhere while doing other things.
  • A little encouragement from those you are serving with can make a big difference. I’m thankful for team members who took the time to be encouraging even though they had a lot to think about and be doing.

The neon pancakes

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Most popular posts of 2011

I realise best of 2011 are so last week but since I was on a mission trip until Thursday and have been recovering since then, I'll just have to be a bit late on this one. The following lists are based on number of page views.
Thanks for your support over the past year! I look forward to bringing you more posts in 2012.