The Outlook asked some of our younger readers three questions. They responded with books that are well worth checking out this spring. What is a book that was transformational for you and why? A book that was transformative in my understanding of spirituality was the classic “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster. I’ve used it for a sermon series, for elder training, for devotions, for counseling and for personal spiritual development. It doesn’t completely encapsulate spirituality, but it has helped me to get a better grasp on spiritual growth. Alex Becker It isn’t a book exactly, but “The Unbusy Pastor” by Eugene Peterson has been huge for me. I first found it through one of those weird internet wormholes you go through, arriving at it completely out of context. It struck me as so timely, relevant and simple in a profound way. Peterson highlights three things he wants to do to be an unbusy pastor: pray, preach, listen. He talks about blocking out all the noise … [Read more...]
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When I first began preaching, I was terrified of leading the children’s moment. I couldn’t stop thinking of Jesus’ words: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). It just so happens that drowning is very near the top of my list of “worst ways to die,” so I didn’t want to find out what might be worse than that. I remember one Sunday in particular when only one little girl showed up to church. The lesson that week was about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness and receiving manna from God. They got the same amount of manna for five days, but on the sixth day they received twice as much so that they could observe the Sabbath (Exodus 16). I had planned to retell the story during the children’s moment before the sermon and let the kids participate in the retelling. There were tables up in the … [Read more...]
The other day a friend mentioned to me that her family, including a newborn granddaughter, might be looking for a church. That’s not how it came up, though — first she mentioned that the family was thinking about getting the granddaughter baptized. I’m always glad to hear about people wanting to raise their children in the church because I think it’s a great environment: The church teaches kids how to interact with other kids and adults, how to sit still for long periods of time, how to sing and read music and, of course, it teaches them about God. The comment about getting the granddaughter baptized wasn’t idle, though. The question that followed was, “Would you baptize her?” Weddings, baptisms and funerals are major conduits for interaction for many pastors, and I count myself among them. (Unfortunately, I get to know more people through funerals than weddings or baptisms, but that’s the way things go these days.) But, for a variety of reasons, many other pastors won’t perform … [Read more...]
Sermon-writing day is rough. It’s painful, boring, heart-wrenching, soul-draining, and it makes me whine a lot. Most weeks, I’ll come home one day and be moody, agitated and despondent, because that’s what sermon-writing day does to me. I try to look forward to it. I’ll get a big glass of iced tea (or a mug of hot tea, depending on the season), turn on my favorite music, and get comfortable for what I know will be long hours of sitting at the desk. I try to pick a day relatively free of distractions, when I’ve gotten the week’s biggest tasks out of the way, so that I can have a clear mind and a clear schedule. And sometimes, if things go just right, the sermon will essentially write itself. I’ll sit down, start typing and 15 minutes later a complete outline has appeared. Most weeks it doesn’t go like that. Most weeks I sit down at that computer staring at the blank screen and the void starts staring back. I’ll go back and forth between the Bible and a commentary and journal … [Read more...]
I learned about a new website recently. The site willrobotstakemyjob.com determined, well, how likely it is that a robot will take your job. It picked up a lot of attention, and lots of people typed their career into the search engine to see if they were about to be replaced. Cashiers have a 97 percent chance of being replaced; pastors, on the other hand, have a 0 percent chance. Despite the fact that Christianity won’t be replaced by Robotology any time soon, I’m still concerned about the changes technology is causing in the employment landscape of the U.S. Where will this spread of automation take us? It’s an old question, I know. The printing press perhaps most closely mirrored the dawn of the information age, and I’m sure it put countless scribes and copyists out of work. It did, however, bring incredible increases in wealth and prosperity (as measured by increases in city size). And though there are calligraphers and others who make their living by writing things out by hand, … [Read more...]
It may disgust my parents to hear this, but some of the greatest presents I ever received were cardboard boxes. They weren’t boxes. They were spaceships, racecars, robots, trucks, or construction equipment — anything we could imagine them to be. Some of the greatest days were the days when my brother and I got out the card table and the blankets from the hall closet. We’d put those blankets over the card table set up in front of the couch, and we’d take the big yellowish-brown blanket and stretch it from the card table over the entire couch so that we’d enter the blanket fort from the floor, but could go up a level to the “loft” on the couch. We started with some blankets, a card table and a couch, but we ended up with a multilevel mansion! As the years went by, we stopped making blanket forts and cardboard box spaceships. I thought I held on to my imagination well, but by college I had essentially lost it. I remember exactly when I realized this: It was in the middle of watching … [Read more...]