Ministering the Word in Nursing Homes

One of the ministry privileges I have while in seminary is in serving in two nursing homes in the Louisville area. I’ve been doing this now for three years and I’ve learned several lessons, which I’ve written about for The Gospel Coalition. In this context, my hope is to become a better and more effective minister of the gospel. In Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illnessnull.jpg_3991Brian Croft recommends a few categories and biblical passages to study and meditate—even memorize—as we minister to those in need. For those in nursing home ministries, these are applicable and useful.

  • Passages of comfort: Psalms 23; 28; 34; 46; 62; 145; Hebrews 4:14–16
  • Succinct gospel passages: John 11:25–26; Romans 5:6–11; 2 Corinthians 5:17–21; Ephesians 2:1–10
  • Passages dealing with the purpose of suffering for the believer: 2 Corinthians 12:7–9; James 1:2–4; 1 Peter 1:6–7; 4:12–19
  • Passages related to the reality and hope of eternity with Christ: John 10:27–30; 14:1–3; Philippians 1:21–23; 1 Peter 1:3–5

There are many other takeaways from reading this book, but I appreciate having a quick arsenal of verses that offer true gospel hope and encouragement to those in greatest need.

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Book Notes: How to Write a Lot by Paul Silvia

Paul J. Silvia, How to Write a Lot (American Psychological Association, 2007).

write a lotThe basic premise behind Paul Silvia’s How to Write a Lot is that the only way to getting writing done is by writing. Silvia demystifies the craft of writing and reminds us that there is no magic solution: writers simply sit their behinds down (or stand, for the conscientious who prefer standing desks) and put words to paper—or screen. “Instead of finding time to write, allot time to write,” Silvia says. “Prolific writers make a schedule and stick to it. It’s that simple” (12). The key is regularity, he adds, not the amount of time spent. Whether one devotes 4 hours per week or daily blocks of time, it is important to set aside that time which slowly accrues and yields dividends of writing output. Additionally, be specific with goals for the day. Rather than “write today,” set yourself the goal of “write at least 200 words today.” Then reward yourself (e.g., a snack, a coffee, etc.).

Some writers believe that every second of the allotted “writing time” must be devoted to writing. However, Silvia encourages writers to use the time for anything that would ultimately contribute to writing. So, for example, if you must do more research, then spend that time digging through articles. If you want to read a book on writing, then read it. In the end, Silvia frees the writer from guilt that besets many a writer. (Thanks to Ryan Vasut for bringing up this point with me in conversation.)

One suggestion Silvia offers is of forming a writing support group for people who want to write “faster and better.” A colleague of Silvia suggested “agraphia,” the term for the pathologic loss of the ability to write (51). While some writers like to work collaboratively, others prefer to be secluded from the world. Regardless, to greater or lesser degree all writers should have some network to bounce ideas and receive constructive feedback and input. This year I’ve joined an online writers’ consortium hosted by Jonathan Rogers, author of a recent biography on Flannery O’Connor and a trilogy of children’s books (which I highly commend). The desire is to “offer each other encouragement, accountability, advice, and –hopefully—a growing conviction that the long journey of the writer is worth the effort.” If interested, consider joining yourself!

Silvia also has a brief section on style. He bemoans the poor writing that infects much of academic writing—academese that is stuffy, impenetrable, and unenjoyable. Silvia encourages writers to choose good words. (I would add choose the right, or precise word.) He writes, “The English language has a lot of words, and many of them are short, expressive, and familiar—write with these words” (61). And Silvia says the writer is to write first and then revise. Many writers are needlessly squander time and mental energy in analyzing each sentence as they write. This often derails the thought progression. “Revising while you generate text is like drinking decaffeinated coffee in the early morning: noble idea, wrong time” (76). Instead of a desire to turn each sentence into a masterpiece, unleash your fingers on the keyboard and freely write.  “Your first drafts should sound like they were hastily translated from Icelandic by a nonnative speaker” (76).

There are many more takeaways from this book. It is a quick read and I commend to all who want to write a lot.

Writing and Pastoring: “an entrance into chaos”

Eugene Peterson:

“Being a writer and being a pastor are virtually the same thing for me: an entrance into chaos, the mess of things, and then this little mysterious work making something out of it, something good, something blessed—poem, prayer, conversation, sermon, a sighting of grace, a recognition of love, a shaping of virtue.”

Golgotha vs. Calvary?

I’m enjoying working my way through Donald Macleod’s new book, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (IVP, 2014). It’s highly readable and a theological feast. Here’s a taste:

9780830840618Christian devotion almost invariably refers to the place of crucifixion as ‘Calvary’. The word, however, does not occur in the New Testament. It was introduced into Christian tradition by the Vulgate …, which used the Latin calvariae to translate Luke’s reference to ‘the place called the Skull’ (Luke 23:33). It has the advantage of being much more euphonious than the harsh gutturals of ‘Golgotha’ (Mark 15:22; Matt. 27:33), and well adapted to the purposes of poetry and hymnody. But in that very euphony lies a danger. It is easy to sanitize the cross, rob it of its horror and imagine Calvary as a place of serene, evocative spirituality….

God had chosen the site, and the atmosphere. The act was barbaric; the site, with the detritus of previous executions still lying around, horrific; the procedure a shambles. But precisely because it was all these things it dramatized the ugliness of sin while at the same time proclaiming the Son of God a despised, accursed nobody for whom there lay beyond the cross only the horrors of hell. We cannot, dare not, reduce the cross to a crucifix or Golgotha to a rose garden. The aesthetics of the crucifixion are in keeping with its criminality. (p. 13)

My Wife Has Tattoos: Marriage, New Birth, and the Gospel

Unspoken

Image Photo credit: Todd Balsley

by Spencer Harmon

Today is the day of my wedding.  And I am not marrying the girl of my dreams.

If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoo’s, a history in drugs, alcohol, and attending heavy metal concerts I would have laughed at you, given you one of my courtship books, and told you to take a hike.  My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.

You see, it wasn’t my dream to marry a girl that was complicated.  I never dreamed that I would sit on a couch with my future wife in pre-marital counseling listening to her cry and tell stories of drunken nights, listing the drugs she used, confessing mistakes made in past relationships.

This isn’t my dream – it’s better.

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Is God Anti-Gay?

ImageFaithfulness to God in our generation will be tested and made clear on the issue of sexual ethics. If you’re looking for a pastorally clear and wise word on same-sex attraction, this little book is well worth the $7.

Sam Allberry: “Ever since I have been open about my own experiences with homosexuality, a number of Christians have said something like this: ‘the gospel must be harder for you than it is for me’, as though I have more to give up than they do. But the fact is that the gospel demands everything out of all of us. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all.”

Penelope Lively on the Need for Narrative

la-la-ca-0130-penelope-lively-308-jpg-20140205“We have this need for narrative, it seems. A life is indeed a ‘tick-tock’: birth and death with nothing but time in between. We go to fiction because we like a story, and we want our lives to have the largesse of story, the capacity, the onward thrust—we not only want, but need, which is why memory is so crucial, and without it we are lost, adrift in a hideous eternal present.”

— Penelope Lively, Dancing Fish and Ammonites, p. 24.

Productivity and the “Intangibles”

One key concept I’m learning in Matt Perman’s new book on productivity is that of the importance of intangibles, which he argues are “the main source of value in our knowledge economy.”

Tim Sanders rightly notes that “success in the future [which is now!] will be based on the fuzzy intangibles: the culture you nurture, the processes for managing information you set up for your people, the partnerships you form around technology’s opportunities and challenges.” Technology, hardware, and capital can be copied easily. What can’t be copied easily is the culture and human capacity that create those in the first place — and does so in a way that engages not just functionally with people but also emotionally, so that people want what your organization offers. Effectiveness, in work and life, is thus more and more about the intangibles because effectiveness comes from people first, not things. Things are replicable; people aren’t.

So many organizations miss this, and that’s why they are miserable places to work. People become clock watchers, just putting in the time, because the organization doesn’t care about them but cares only about what they can do. In my opinion that’s not just unfortunate; it’s unethical. It’s not right to treat people that way because people are made in the image of God and are more than economic beings. They work for meaning as well as for a paycheck. Therefore, we ought to manage to the whole person, treating people as people, not as machines who are merely here to get a job done. And ironically, when you treat people this way, even though it is harder at first, you get higher productivity in the long run….

This is the great irony: defining productivity mainly in terms of immediate measurable results undermines the measurable results in the long run.

— Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 47, 48.

John Piper’s Marriage: A Parable of Permanence

“I waited forty years to write this book. There have been so many stresses in our marriage that I felt unfit to write about marriage at ten, twenty, or thirty years into it. Now at forty years, I realize we will never have it all together, so it seemed a good time to speak. With the words of Paul ringing in my ears, ‘Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall’ (1 Cor. 10:12), I say with some confidence now that I believe this marriage will last till one of us is dead. Judging by the paucity of widowers in our church, that will probably be me. So let me say it while I still have breath: Thank you, Noël, for hanging in there for forty years. Thank you for making this book possible. I could not have written it without you. What I have seen in the Bible, we have forged in the furnace of life—forty years of marriage and thirty-six years of parenting. I love you….

“Noël, if we live another twenty years (till I am eighty-two and you are eighty), the marriage will be sixty years old. And judging from what I see in the Bible and my memory, it will have been a momentary marriage. But it has been so much more than momentary. It is a parable of permanence written from eternity about the greatest story that ever was. The parable is about Christ and his church. It has been a great honor to take this stage with you. What exalted roles we have been given to play! Someday I will take your hand, and stand on this stage, and make one last bow. The parable will be over, and the everlasting Reality will begin.

— John Piper, This Momentary Marriage (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009), pp. 179-180.

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