Tag Archives: family

(Review) The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

My wife and I have a beautiful 16 month old daughter. She loves to play around and she really loves to read. Given my profession, the fact that she loves books brings joy to my heart! Although she loves books, probably more than any other form of entertainment, Mothers Dayher mother and I still have the difficult task of figuring out how much technology we want to let her have access to at this early stage of her life. Should she have access to our phones? Should she be able to look at photos on them? Play games on them? Use the camera? Or what about the computer, she gravitates towards it! She hits the keys like she’s typing up something really important. And then, there is the ever important question, how much TV is too much TV? These are all questions that we as young parents are trying to figure out. Thankfully, Andy Crouch, author of some of my favorite books including Culture Making and Strong and Weak, has written a new book titled The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.

One of the most helpful features of this book are his 10 commandments:

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
  2. We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
  3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
  6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
  7. Car time is conversation time.
  8. Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
  9. We learn to sing together, rather than let recoreded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
  10. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

As a parent I found commandment #2 and the chapter about it especially interesting. He stresses that children are driven to create – if we nudge them in that direction. However too often, cheap technology squelches that drive to create. “For a child’s creative development, the inexpenseive, deep, organic thing is far better than the expensive, broad, electronic thing. And yet we are constantly tempted to give them toys that work on their own – that buzz and beep and light up without developing any skill.” (80) Chapter 6 – which treats the topic of boredom was also especially helpful. Apparently the English word for boredom does not appear until the 1850’s and its root word “bore” appears only a century earlier. Crouch argues that the technology that promises to free 41vj8hqrnkl-_sx355_bo1204203200_us from boredom actually makes it worse, it makes us more prone to seek distraction. Its even worse for kids! Crouch concludes that “the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get.” (141) That is powerful stuff! A short-term solution can actually become a long term problem. In this chapter he takes aim at the practice of sitting kids in front of videos in order to entertain them, or keep them busy while mom and dad try to get some work done around the house. Talk about convicting!  Videos he says, are designed to fill a screen with a level of vividness and velocity that does not exist in the real world – or only very rarely. Some entertainment is created to never require too much concentration or contemplation, it grabs our attention and constantly stimulates our desire and delight with novelty. It desensitizes us. In light of all of this it gets harder and harder to stay entertained. The ordinary, in turn, becomes boring. Dirt, grass, trees, fields, birds, all the things that require attention, the things that you see more of when you slow down and look closer, become boring. I certainly don’t want that for my daughter! I want her to delight in the magic that is God’s creation! I don’t want to stifle her creativity with quick solutions, and I don’t want her to lose her awe of the ordinary. This book serves as a fine warning to me, which will keep me from ignorantly falling into practices which counteract my desires for her.

As you can probably tell, this book has made a significant impact on the way I think about technology and parenting. If you are a parent, I highly recommend this book. Even if you are not, this book might help you bring some discipline into your technology filled life.

Note: I received this book in exchange for an impartial review.

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Book Review – Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

I haven’t really made it a practice of reading these types of books, much less reviewing them, however my brain has been fried from a lot of intense work these past few months and I really needed a break. I needed to read something that wouldn’t stress me out. So I acquired a copy of Jim Gaffigan’s Dad is Fat. They say laughter is the best medicine, that definitely is not true, laughter won’t cure cancer or a broken leg, or broken ribs (actually laughter is the worst kind of medicine if you have broken ribs), however when it comes to stress laughter works wonders. This book had me laughing out loud the whole time.

Jim Gaffigan, as you probably already know, is the stand up comedian famous for his “hot pocket” routine. Yes the hot pocket bit does show up in the book, but it doesn’t play a major role in the plot line. Actually, there is no plot line in this book, it’s a collection of “essays” (can I even call them essays, essays sounds so formal and academic), about family life. They are mainly humorous observations of what it looks like to be a father of 5 in New York City. He shares with you, the reader the joys and horrors of raising 5 kids, who never want to sleep, in the city that never sleeps.

Among his “essays” one of my favorites was “Oh My God, You’re Pregnant?” in which he points out the absurdity of how people get surprised when they find out a celebrity is pregnant…

As human beings we end up acting like we are the first generation on this planet to deal with pregnancy. We are most shocked when really attractive, successful someone get pregnant. It’s unbelievable. “Did you hear Beyoncé got pregnant? Its almost as if she is a human being!

Another one of my favorites is his essay, “Toddlerhood.” He makes the keen observation that the more he thinks about it, adults are actually a lot like giant toddlers…

I think we are always unconsciously seeking to return to our early childhood. This is why we go to bars…Think of the last two times you had Jell-O. When you were three and when you were in that bar in Florida for spring break. Have you ever turned off lights in a room filled with children? They immediately start screaming and acting insane. Is it merely coincidence that lights are so low in bars? It’s just a license for adults to misbehave.

All in all this book had me laughing the whole time. And I’m pretty sure that if you pick it up you will be laughing as well.

Book Review – The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family by Kara Powell

Last year our church transitioned from having a “children’s ministry” department and a “student ministry” department to having a “family ministry” model. Instead of seeing these two stages of life as two-clear-distinct-separated stages we came to the realization that we can minister more holistically to parents and their children with the understanding that the development of a child’s faith is a process that really begins at birth and continues on even into the college years. In the process of transitioning into a “family ministry” model we have sought to discover ways that we can help parents cultivate environments and experiences that can help their children’s faith flourish – because the truth is parents can often feel overwhelmed by the idea of being their child’s primary source of spiritual care, its easier to outsource that to the kids ministry pastor, small group leader, or youth pastor.

Parents can often feel overwhelmed by the idea of being their child’s primary source of spiritual care.

As we have been trying to figure out how to practically help these parents we have been scouring all sorts of resources that we can use to create resources for parents – that is when I came across The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family by Kara Powell….

The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family is an easily readable, easily accessible, and entertaining collection of “Sticky Faith” research findings partnered alongside of “Sticky Ideas.” Youth pastors know that the Sticky Faith team is at the forefront of youth culture research, so you know that the findings you are reading in this book are very well researched and are the latest-greatest thing. Youth pastors also know that the Sticky Faith team isn’t simply a group of theoreticians, the Sticky Faith team is a team run by practitioners, so you know that the practical advice offered in this book is tested and tried.

Pro’s

  • The Sticky Ideas Seep Into Every Area of Life – Its easy to think of a child’s spiritual formation as simply something that happens on Sunday’s or Wednesday nights at church or possibly around the dinner table at home, but Powell does a good job pointing out that faith develops at home, on vacation, in community, in our mistakes, in our transitions, and even in our times of service. Basically if you are looking for “sticky faith ideas” to start applying to many areas of life, you will find them here.
  • It is Super Practical – The cover of the book states that there are “over 100 practical and tested ideas to build lasting faith in kids.” 100 ideas! Trying to implement 100 new practices in your family can seem overwhelming if not impossible. However Powell is pretty clear on the fact that parents can’t implement all 100 ideas, they probably can’t even implement 10 ideas really well! She recommends that you aim for 5, 3 or just even 1 idea before you start to implement new ideas.
  • The Chapter on Transitions – Transitions between elementary to jr. high to high school to college can be some of the most difficult seasons in a child’s life and even in a parent’s life. But one thing that is often underestimated is how difficult those transitions can be for youth pastors. As somebody who had the difficult task of helping high school students transition into our college ministry I certainly appreciate any help I can get. Powell provides plenty of practical advice for making that transition. She also provides (in the appendix) an overview of the College Transition Project – within this appendix she provides research criteria for “vibrant faith.” College ministers will definitely appreciate this criteria, not as a fool proof list of things to judge one’s student’s faith but as a helpful guide to evaluating where your students might be at.

I highly recommend this book – and that isn’t just me saying that – I actually liked this book so much that I gave it to our family ministry’s pastor as a possible resource for equipping parents to instill vibrant faith into their student’s lives.

(Note: I received this book courtesy of Zondervan in exchange for an impartial review.)

Book Review – The Pastor’s Family by Brian and Cara Croft

In just three short days I will be married. It blows my mind even thinking about that. Thankfully God has blessed me with a beautiful, loving, kingdom minded, missions focused, hungry for social justice, gospel loving woman to marry. I am truly blessed. Yet one of my biggest fears is that I will let work aka ministry hurt my marriage. I can stray towards being a workaholic, school-aholic, or even a ministry-aholic. I need to guard myself. So its timely that I came across this book called The Pastor’s Family by Brian and Cara Croft…..

Here is the problem:

The pastor and his family tend to face pressures that span a number of professions.” – up at crack of dawn, serve and protect others, witness pain and suffering, work long hours. (pg. 9)

Here is what the pastor needs to do:

“The pastor needs a lot of help to think clearly about his life, priorities, and well-being.” (pg. 10)

Here is where the book comes in:

This is a book written for men who have answered the call to serve the church of God as preachers, teachers, leaders, and shepherds…. How do you faithfully serve the church while serving your family? (pg. 13)

How to balance ministry and family….

Wait I got that wrong, it shold say How to prioritize family over ministry. Prioritizing family over ministry is something they don’t teach you in seminary and the sad truth is that there aren’t a lot of good models to learn from out there. In fact there are tons of stories about the bad examples. Some of the most famous pastors/preachers/missionaries weren’t great husbands: Whitefield, Wesley, Carey, and Barth (just to name a few).

Thankfully Brian and Cara Croft have written a book to help people like me, those are struggling or might struggle to keep family their priority.

The book is broken up into three parts

  1. The Pastor’s Heart
  2. The Pastor’s Wife
  3. The Pastor’s Children

Overview

In part one Brian gets to the core of our problem: our hearts. Why do pastor’s struggle with neglecting their families? Its probably because they are seeking approval from others, trying to look good, wanting to be successful, desiring to be significant, trying to keep up with other’s expectations. In other words they struggle with a sinful heart. They (we) look to people and our accomplishments to fulfill our deepest heart desire, at the cost of neglecting our family. Neglect of family shows that we don’t get the gospel. We may be able to verbalize the gospel, but we haven’t internalized it. We haven’t really grasped that we are justified, accepted, and loved. We need to know the Gospel!

In part two Brian and Cara share their wisdom about doing ministry while married. I learned so much about how a pastor’s wife feels. She will probably deal with unrealistic expectations from the congregation, she might have to struggle with loneliness, she might feel overlooked or overshadowed by her husband, she might deal with the pain of having people talking behind her back, and she will also have to balance ministry and family. Thankfully Brian offers some practical tips for taking care of your wife. He tells us to encourage her, disciple her, and pray for her. Basically love her like Christ loved the church.

I loved this section so much that I am going to buy a paper copy and give it to my soon to be wife.

Part three is about kids. I don’t have kids so I will skip this section, but basically there is a chapter on the dad’s role in shepherding your kids, a chapter on shepherding your kids together, and a chapter on neglecting your kids.

Some Highlights

  • Great discussion questions for the husband and wife
  • An insightful chapter into the mind of a pastor’s wife
  • Candid reflections on the each of the three subjects written by other people with ministry experience
  • A very transparent reflection on dealing with depression as a pastor’s wife
  • A section giving advice to guys who will soon become pastors

Shortcomings

  • There were no real shortcomings… the only thing is that I wish it had a section for young guys who are doing ministry and are about to get married. Basically people in my own position!

Conclusion

This book is timely. I’m just starting out working full time in ministry and I am about to get married. I can definitely see myself going through this book with my wife. I highly recommend any pastor, missionary, seminary teacher, volunteer ministry leader go through this book with his wife. It can only help to strengthen your marriage and make you a more effective couple for the kingdom.

Note: I received this book free of charge through NetGalley and was under no obligation to give a positive or negative review.

Book Review – In Search of Deep Faith by Jim Belcher

Jim Belcher, In Search of Deep Faith: A Pligrimage into the Beauty, Goodnes, and Heart of Christianity, IVP, 2013, 318pp.

In Search of Deep Faith

I read Deep Church when I started doing vocational ministry and it absolutely shaped my approach to ministry so I began to read this book with very high expectations. It’s safe to say that my expectations were met, and even exceeded.

As the title implies this book is about a “Pilgrimage,” specifically a pilgrimage in search of deep faith. Belcher’s pilgrimage takes him on a journey to ensure that his “roots are deeper,” his “maps are better,” and his “destination is clearer.” (291) Roots, Journey, and Destination are what this book is about.

As you begin reading, you are immediately thrown in to a tense situation; you find Belcher and his family stuck in an RV in a shady part of Poland, looking for Bonhoeffer’s secret seminary at Finkenwalde. The rest of the book is filled with that same sort of suspense you encounter in the first few pages, except the suspense isn’t limited to his family’s adventures throughout Europe; the suspense comes from the stories of several historical figures he introduces us to.

Summary

The book is broken up into three parts: 1) Rediscovering our Roots, 2) Life as  Journey and the Need for a Map, and 3) Seeing our Destination.

  1. Rediscovering our Roots: These chapters emphasize the need for making our faith our own, and how making our faith deep bears upon our daily lives. Here we hear the stories of his family’s move to Oxford, but also the stories of the Oxford Martyrs. We also hear the story of Sheldon Vanauken’s search for beauty. Belcher also recounts the story of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, he explains that this story teaches us about our own struggle between desiring holiness and desiring our sin. He ends this section with the story of William Wilberforce.
  2. Life as Journey and the Need for a Map: These chapters expand the metaphor of the Christian life as a pilgrimage, and show us that we need a “map” so to speak if we are to walk faithfully on that pilgrimage. He uses the stories of Vincent Van Gogh, Andre Trocme, and Corrie ten Boom as examples of people who didn’t have a “map” (van Gogh) and people who had the “map” to guide them in their journeys.
  3. Seeing Our Destination: You can’t be on a pilgrimage if you don’t have a destination… Here Belcher emphasizes the need to know our “destination.” In times of trouble knowing our destination gives us strength to persevere.  Belcher uses the stories of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maria von Trapp (The Sound of Music) as examples of people who knew their destination. He concludes his journey with a trip to Heidleberg, the source of the Heidelberg Catechism. This final chapter is the clearest articulation of how the Gospel and the destination it points us to shapes our lives.

Pro’s

  1. It’s a Great Introduction to Church History – I would not have expected it, but this book is actually a great primer on European church history, spanning the time from the reformation up until the 20th century. If you know somebody who could use an exciting introduction to church history then this is the book for you.
  2. It’s a Great Book on Parenting – Throughout the book one of Belcher’s concerns is instilling a deep faith into his children. I got a taste of how difficult that actually is, to be honest it freaked me out, but at the same time it gave me hope that its possible to pass on a deep and meaningful faith in Christ to our children.
  3. It’s Very Well Written – At the end of the book Belcher credits several author’s influence upon his writing, as you read you can tell that he has really worked on his writing skills. Yes, Belcher was a good author in Deep Church, but his writing skills have really improved. He crafts suspenseful stories and makes his points in a very clear manner. His writing kept me engaged the whole time.

Con’s

  1. There are no real con’s – Some people might have some issues with his reformed leanings. Others might have some issues with him using Vincent van Gogh as a sort of “spiritual hero.” But there really isn’t anything to complain about here….

Conclusion

In a season of my spiritual life where I have been feeling spiritually dry and aimless, God used this book and Jim Belcher to encourage me to stay excited about moving forward on the journey God has put me on. The stories of Thomas Cranmer, Corrie ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, William Wilberforce, and even Maria von Trapp encouraged me. Seeing their deep faith, which was grounded in the truths of the Gospel is sure to encourage anybody who reads this book. With that, I highly recommend this book. Whether you have been a Christian for a long time or whether you are just beginning to explore Christianity there is something for everybody who has decided to take a journey into Deep Faith.

(Note: I was given a free review copy by IVP and was under no obligation to give it a positive review.)

Reformed Ragamuffins – The Promises of God: Part 2

Here is a sample of a blog post I wrote for Reformed Ragamuffins for their series “The promises of God.” Check out their blog!

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Dallas and His Dad
I have a Golden Retriever named Dallas, he’s a little over three years old now so he is kind of still a puppy. I remember the day that I got him, it was a Wednesday morning and we were getting him from a friend. My family wanted a boy dog and not a girl dog and he was the only one left, so we walked into their backyard to check the puppies out. I remember walking over to the dog run and seeing an explosion of puppies. As soon as the puppies heard me walking they exploded out of the dog house and ran over to the gate. They all seemed pretty excited, then all of a sudden another puppy runs out of the dog house and jumps on top of all the other puppies. He starts climbing all over the other one, even standing on top of them trying to climb over the fence. This was Dallas. Dallas showed his cards before we even took him, he would be trouble. So after playing with the puppies a little bit we took home the only boy puppy, Dallas. We got home set him up in the kitchen, gave him some water, some toys, and a training pad then put a puppy fence around his area. I walk out of the room and 2 minutes later I hear a loud crash. Somehow this little puppy knocked over a fence made for 75-100 pound dogs. I put the fence back up and lo and behold a few minutes later he is climbing it and has gotten stuck, now Dallas is crying. After that incident we decided fences couldn’t contain Dallas. Then we tried to teach him to go on walks… this too was a disaster. Actually it wasn’t a disaster, Dallas ended up taking us for walks instead. To tell you the truth his dad was actually like this. His dad was an outside dog, but when he got in he wrecked the house. His dad would knock over kids and old people. His dad was impossible to walk. All this to say that Dallas much like his dad is a trainwreck. Two rambunctious Golden Retrievers…. like father like son. I guess its family resemblance. I believe that understanding the concept of family resemblance can help shed light on the nature of our promises especially in light of our Father’s promises to us.

Let what you say say be simply “yes” or “no”; anything more than this comes from evil. -Matthew 5:27

Here Jesus says it quite simply. Let your “yes” be “yes” or your “no” be “no.” Don’t swear falsely. Say what you mean. Keep your promises. If you say you will do something for someone do it. Don’t say you will do it then not follow through. Don’t be flaky. Okay you get the point, keep your promises!

The Righteousness of God
There is much discussion over what the term “the righteousness of God” is, two that jump out at me are the following:

  • God’s commitment to get his glory
  • God’s covenantal faithfulness

Either way you go, you must admit that at least a part of The Righteousness of God is his covenantal faithfulness. God makes covenants and he keeps them. God makes a covenant with Abraham to fulfill three promises 1-Land, 2-Progeny, 3-Blessings to the nations. This covenant runs throughout the Bible (see Exodus 1, 2 Samuel 7, Jeremiah 29, Colossians 1); and its all about God’s attempts to rescue and redeem the world through Abraham’s descendants, specifically through the one who embodies and represents Abraham’s descendants, Jesus Christ himself. The point is God has a commitment to restore and redeem this world, and the Abrahamic covenant is a means to this end. This commitment to his purposes finds a very articulate expression in the fifth chapter of 2nd Corinthians where Paul says that “in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Within a context of the ministry of reconciliation this passage shows that God reconciled us to himself in the Messiah and that God has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation; As Wright has argued “in the Messiah, we embody God’s faithfulness, God’s covenantal faithfulness, God’s actions in reconciling the world to himself.”

All this to say:

God has made a commitment to restore and redeem this universe and he has called us to work alongside of him.

Family Resemblance
Why does this matter? Its called family resemblance. Like Father like Sons and Daughters. The God who asks us to keep our promises is the God who is faithful to keep his promises, especially his promise to restore all of restoration. Our “promise keeping” at a horizontal level is grounded on God’s “promise keeping” (God’s Righteousness) at a vertical level. It is because God has promised to rescue and restore us that we even have the power to obey his command to make our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no.” When we are adopted into the Family of God we take on a family resemblance; we start to look a lot like our Dad. Just like Dallas took on some of the characteristics of his dad we begin to take on the characteristics of our Dad. And our Dad is fundamentally one who keeps his promises (his covenant to the human race). So as you go about making promises this week, make sure you stick to them because your Father has kept his promise to rescue and redeem you.