Dealing With Interruptions

This post has nothing to do with ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption. It’s a good show though.

In response to a post I wrote about time management where I mentioned having interruptions at work, one reader pointed me to a great quotation from Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders (thanks Karen!):
“One busy man told me how he mastered the problem of interruptions. ‘Up to some years ago,’ he testified, ‘I was always annoyed by them, which was really a form of selfishness on my part. People used to walk in and say, ‘Well, I just had two hours to kill here between trains, and I thought I would come and see you.’ 
That used to bother me. Then the Lord convinced me that He sends people our way. He sent Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch. He sent Barnabas to see Saul. The same applies today. God sends people our way. 
So when someone comes in, I say, ‘The Lord must have brought you here. Let us find out why He sent you. Let us have prayer.’ Well this does two things. the interview takes on new importance because God is in it. And it generally shortens the interview. If a visitor knows you are looking for reasons why God should have brought him, and there are none apparent, the visit becomes pleasant but brief. 
So now I take interruptions as from the Lord. They belong in my schedule, because the schedule is God’s to arrange at His pleasure.’”
I think it’s a great quotation, and it underscores the fact that sometimes, interruptions happen for a real reason. I say sometimes and not always because I don’t believe the popular mantra that “Everything happens for a reason.” But a lot of things do happen for a reason, and a little bit of probing and discernment can usually help you to see that.

It also underscores the fact that, if someone has interrupted by schedule with a real need, their need is more important than my schedule. If we claim to be servants of God, then we need to serve Him in all areas of life, and that means to serve Him with my schedule as well.

One last note on “ministry interruptions”: a wise and experienced minister once told me that when church members come by randomly just to shoot the breeze (and thus, interrupting his study time), he will enlist their aid in some ministry responsibility (making a visit, working on some project, etc.). In his experience, this has either led to productive visits where work is completed, or a reduction in those kinds of visits!


“Liberal” and “Conservative” as Religious Labels



They are terms that you tend to hear frequently if you are in ministry, or studying theology, or spend much time at church.* Since all three of those descriptions fit me, I have definitely heard the terms a lot. I have also used them both, and I have even seen or heard myself described with both of them before. Despite their widespread use, I dislike them, and have come to believe that, without significant contextualization, they are basically meaningless. Let me explain. 

What makes someone liberal? Well, there is a wide degree of difference between people who claim to be Christian, so it really depends which type of “Christian” you ask:
  • If you ask a Catholic, a liberal might be someone who advocates the use of birth control or believes that priests should have the right to marry.
  • If you ask an Amish person, a liberal might be someone who drives a car or fastens their clothes with zippers.
  • If you ask an evangelical Christian, a liberal might be someone who denies the divinity of Jesus Christ, or advocates that practicing homosexuals should be able to serve as priests or pastors.
  • If you ask a member of the mainline Churches of Christ, a liberal might be someone who believes that baptism is not a part of the process of salvation, or that instrumental music is acceptable in the worship of the church.
  • If you ask a member of the Non-Institutional Churches of Christ, a liberal might be someone who thinks it is permissible to eat in the church building, or that churches should provide assistance to the local poor.
  • In other sub-groups of the Churches of Christ, a liberal might be someone who advocates having a Bible class for children, or believes that the Holy Spirit personally indwells Christians, or thinks that it is okay to use more than one cup for the juice in the Lord’s Supper.
We could repeat the exercise with the term conservative, but hopefully, my point has become clear: if Person A, who denies the divinity of Christ, and Person B, who zips up his pants, and Person C, who thinks that a Bible class for children is a good idea, can all be described by the term “liberal,” then it’s not a particularly useful term.

How these terms are used depends almost entirely on our own perspective—where we are located on the conservative/liberal spectrum. In my own case, I am definitely conservative in the wide spectrum of Christianity, but would consider myself to be pretty middle-of-the-road within the context of Churches of Christ. Others (on both sides) would dispute where I placed myself though. In fact, based solely on the fact that I am a graduate of Harding University, some would label me as a “crazy liberal” while others would write me off as a “backward conservative.”

All that brings me to this—the labels only have meaning if you’re talking to someone who is in the exact same location on the conservative/liberal spectrum as you are.

Of course, there’s a reason why we like to have labels like this. They enable us to put people into categories and treat them accordingly. If we think of someone as a “crazy liberal” it is much easier to just write them off as unfaithful and never address any of the issues they bring up. And if we think of someone as a “backward conservative” we can condescendingly poke fun of their close-mindedness and never study any of their viewpoints or any of the cautions they raise.

What’s the alternative? Well, I guess we could look at people as individuals and get to know what their specific views are. We could try to learn why they think the way they do on a given issue, perhaps reexamine our own beliefs on that issue, and see to what extent both viewpoints are rooted in Scripture. And when we disagree with them, we could give the benefit of the doubt to people who claim to love God and want to do His will, rather than automatically question their motives or their intelligence.

But…that seems like a lot of work. Labels are definitely easier; maybe we should just stick with those.

*This blog post addresses the terms “conservative” and “liberal” in a religious sense, not a political one. The fact that the two terms are also used in the arena of politics and that they don’t always line up (people who are conservative religiously are not always conservative politically, and people who are liberal religiously are not always liberal politically) adds to my overall point.

“The Myth of our Cultural Superiority”

In Christianity in Culture: A Study in Biblical Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective, author Charles Kraft offer a stinging critique of western society:
“When one turns to the weaknesses of our culture, the myth of our cultural superiority falls to pieces. For example, we have poured so much of our resources into technological development that we have created social disorientation and disruption at every level of our society. Many families fall apart because they are unable to compete with our so-called educational system. The latter, for the sake of some imaginary ‘better’ future (defined in technological and materialistic terms) indoctrinates our youth against the past in general and their parents in particular (including any religious commitment they may have). Our quest for freedom and individualism, not to mention our mobility, mitigates against the development of close friendships, strong family ties, neighborliness, and stable marriages. Our extreme competitiveness, expressed interpersonally, intergenerationally, economically, vocationally, politically, and even between churches, is ripping our society apart. The naturalistic worldview at the center of our culture, the depersonalization of our people, the uncontrolled competitiveness between the various segments of our society, the choice usually to value the unknown and untried above the known but imperfect—these and so many other features to our society point not to its superiority but to its sickness.”
I am not one who holds that all creatures are inherently equal, and there are many things about western society that I greatly appreciate, but I think Kraft blows to pieces the perspective of those who hold that it is the pinnacle of everything.


Friday Summary Report, August 24

(1) After having a couple of weeks of relative calm as summer wrapped up, things have started to get busy again as my grad school classes for the fall semester have started up. My struggles studies in Greek continue, as this semester I take a course with a heavy emphasis on translating readings from the New Testament, and I’m also in a Global Evangelism class.

(2) Things have also been busy at work, as, in addition to regular duties and the start of my classes, I preached last week, am preaching again this week, and have also had various tasks to do to help with preparations for our upcoming year of Thursday Bible School.

(3) Here is an interesting report on the demographics of social network users. Did you know that the average age of Facebook users is over 40 (and getting older!)? Meanwhile, the average age of Twitter users is 37, and is getting increasingly younger. A lot of other interesting information is in the linked article.

(4) I’ve thought for some time that natural evidences for the existence of God don’t do much to convince people who aren’t already believers. Basically, if you already have your mind made up that God doesn’t exist, then you can look at countless examples from nature that scream Intelligent Design to the rest of us (believers) and find some other ways to explain it. But, if you, like me, find that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19.1), then you’ll enjoy this article on Why Giraffes Don’t Have Brain Damage. The complexity and wonder of God’s creation never ceases to amaze me!

(5) The big news from the world of sports is that Lance Armstrong has decided to quit fighting the doping allegations that have been made against him for years (while maintaining his innocence), and that he will likely have his 7 Tour de France titles stripped from him as a result. I don’t know whether Lance is guilty or not, but I do know that he has been tested constantly for years without ever failing a test, and that there are a lot of people who have been working obsessively to try and tear down his legacy. He might be as guilty as he can be, but there are a lot of elements to the saga that resemble a witch hunt.

A Milestone…Of Sorts

Yesterday, The Doc File rolled over 50,000 page views. That seems like a nice thing, but since the statistics aren’t all that reliable, it’s hard to take much meaning from it:

  • The Doc File has existed since the summer of 2006, and these statistics only go back to May 2008.
  • Google Stats are not considered to be incredibly accurate.
  • Of the 50,000 page views, roughly 30,000 of them have come this year alone.
  • Google reports no stats to me from September 2008-August 2009 or September 2010-August 2011, so in addition to the nearly two years at the beginning of The Doc File’s run where I have no stats, there are two additional years in the middle where I have no stats.
So, if all of this is largely meaningless, why even mention it? It’s a good question, and I guess the only answer is that I’m one of those guys who gets excited by milestone numbers on the odometer of my car.


Is God On Our Side?

Joshua and the Commander of the Army of the LORD
“God is on our side.”

It’s a phrase you hear often (or something like it) in Christian books, music, and teaching. It’s a popular notion, and why wouldn’t it be? Of course we like the idea of having God on our side! But is it biblical?

The Book of Joshua recounts the efforts of the Israelites (God’s chosen, set-apart people) as they work to accomplish their (divinely-appointed) mission to conquer the land of Canaan (the land which God had promised to give to them). If there was ever a time of God being on “our” side, you’d expect to find it here. 

As Joshua is about to lead the people over the first big hurdle of the Conquest, the defeat of the city of Jericho, he has an interesting encounter (Joshua 5.13-15):
“When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand.  
And Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us, or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.’ 
And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, ‘What does my lord say to his servant?’ And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, ‘Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.”
It’s interesting to me: Joshua asks the man if he is on the side of the Israelites, or on the side of Jericho, and in response, he says, “Neither; I’m on God’s side, not yours.”

Later on in Joshua 24, Joshua, advanced in age, addresses the people. He knows that he is near death, and is concerned about what the people will do after he is gone (Joshua 24.15-20):
“‘…Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.’ 
Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will served the LORD, for he is our God.’ 
But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and served foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.’”
In response to Joshua’s concern, the people basically say, “Don’t worry about it Joshua—we’ll serve the LORD. After all, He’s always been on our side.”

But Joshua isn’t convinced; he believes that the people won’t be faithful to God and that then they’ll find that He isn’t on their side at all—where He once provided for them and fought for them, He will now withhold blessings and actively fight against them.

And how well Joshua knows his people! Within a generation, they will fall away from following God and as a result, will experience a long period of turmoil and suffering as God allows their neighbors to conquer and oppress them (the Book of Judges, which recounts this time period, is one of the lowest points in all of Scripture!).

So, having said all that, back to the original question: is God on our side? I’d have to answer with a qualified “no.”

First, the qualifications:

I’m not doubting God’s love for us, His interest in our condition, or His saving work on our behalf. I’m not doubting that we can cast all our anxiety on Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5.7). I’m not doubting that God is “for us” in a Romans 8 sort of way, or that God doesn’t root for us to be successful (where success is defined in terms of faithfulness).

So what am I saying? Here’s my big point:

Jesus didn’t come to earth to live and die for us because God was on our side. He came so that we could be on God’s side. 

Maybe it sounds like I’m just arguing semantics, but really, I think there’s more to it than that. One perspective is centered on mankind, while the other is centered on God: if God is on our side, then all the focus is on us, instead of on God. But the focus should be on God, not us.

This helps to explain the Israelites in the Old Testament. When they were on God’s side and followed Him faithfully, He blessed them with prosperity and victory over their enemies. When they ceased to be on His side, the blessings ceased as well.

This also helps to put the Incarnation into proper perspective. The Incarnation wasn’t about Jesus becoming a man because humanity is the focus of everything; the Incarnation was about God becoming a man in order that men could become more like God, because God is the focus of everything!

So, with this God-centered perspective in mind, let’s ask the question one last time: is God on our side? According to Scripture, we don’t even have a side; we have to choose a side! The real question is, are we going to choose to be on God’s side, or will we side with the world?


Train Up a Child…

“Train up a child in the way [s]he should go;
even when [s]he is old [s]he will not depart from it.”
(Proverbs 22.6)
Go Braves!

C.S. Lewis on Giving

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures exclude them.
–C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity

Does this step on anyone else’s toes a bit? I am convinced that the greatest sin of American Christianity is the way we spend our money.


Christians and the Sanctity of Marriage

A Chick-fil-A in Huntsville, Alabama on August 1. Photo by Glenn Baeske/AP Photo
So a couple of weeks ago there was a pretty big political/cultural/religious firestorm concerning gay marriage and Chick-fil-A. Perhaps you heard something about it.

I didn’t write anything about it at the time because (a) I was traveling, (b) Everybody in the world seemed to be writing something about it, and (c) When it comes to emotionally-charged issues, I think it is sometimes less helpful to talk about them when we are so fired up. So I have waited until now to post a brief thought for reflection.

I have no problem with a company executive expressing his views on marriage. I happened to agree with his views, but even if I didn’t, I support his freedom to express what he believes—that’s one of the neat things about our country. And speaking of freedom, I also support the freedom of those who disagree with him to boycott his company, and the freedom of those who agree with him to Eat (even) Mor Chikin than usual to show their support.

But here is what I wonder: in a society plagued by divorce, where Christians don’t do that much better than non-Christians at staying married,1 what is the most effective way for Christians to protect the sanctity of marriage? Is it by eating at Chick-fil-A (or getting in debates on the internet, or holding up picket signs), or by actively cultivating healthy, God-glorifying marriages with our spouses?

Of course, it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision—you can affirm the value of biblical marriage by working hard to make yours conform to those standards and at the same time, you can also use your political and economic voice to support it as well. Unfortunately, I think that the tendency is for a lot of people to follow the latter options (which, admittedly require less effort and less sacrifice) instead of the former rather than in addition to it.

By all means, let’s protect the sanctity of marriage—but let’s also admit that homosexuals aren’t the only ones who are bringing damage upon it.

• • •

1This article talks about how the oft-quoted fact of Christians divorcing at the same rate as non-Christians is a myth. However, even this article puts the divorce rate among American Christians at about 42%, while that of non-religious Americans is about 50%. As Christians, are we really going to pat ourselves on the back about that level of difference?


Friday Summary Report, August 10

I’ve read several blogs where, at the end of the week, the author will post an assortment of links and/or random thoughts that didn’t really merit their own individual post. After resisting the impulse to do something similar for quite a while, I finally decided to just go ahead and do it.

During a given week, I do a lot of reading (both on the Web and in books), and come upon several things that I would like to share, but I hate to write posts that are just 8 words long. So primarily, these end-of-week summaries will consist of links and quotations that I thought were interesting, but will also include random items that didn’t fit elsewhere. I’m not promising to do this every Friday, but I bet it will happen frequently.

(1) Although this article has been out for a while, I just came across it this week. Basically, a couple of ethicists (apparently it doesn’t take much to be an ethicist these days) have proposed that after-birth abortions (i.e. infanticide) should be permitted on newborns, because a newborn is not a person in the sense of being a “subject of a moral right to life.” This is obviously repulsive, but not surprising, and is really just an extension of the arguments that are already made to justify pre-birth infanticide. At least these people are honest enough to admit that no great change happens in the state of the infant at birth.

(2) Here is a somewhat scary article about a tech guru who had his online identity mercilessly hacked and had his iPhone and laptop wiped clean as a result (losing all the pictures of his infant daughter in the process!). I recommend reading the entire article, but a couple of takeaways: (1) Be very careful about linking online accounts together (using same usernames and/or passwords); (2) Back up all of your computer data on an external hard drive; (3) hackers are jerks.

(3) This week, I successfully finished translating 1 John from Greek (the word successfully is used somewhat loosely here). I do feel some minor sense of accomplishment in doing this, but mostly, I feel a great debt to those who have gone on long ago and translated Scripture from original texts into the vernacular.

(4) As this post remains one of my most-read, most-commented on, and most-disputed from this year, I updated it at the end, to make my intentions in writing it as clear as possible.

(5) Over the last two weeks, I’ve been watching as much of the Olympics as I possibly can. Perhaps I will have a post related to that next week.


Reflecting On A Busy Summer and Managing Time

We are now a week into August, which means that soon school will start back up, and my hectic schedule will calm down to some degree. As a minister who works with teens, my summers are always very busy, but this summer has been even more crammed full of activity than most—really, dating back to about April, I haven’t hardly had time to catch my breath!

In general, I think it’s good to be busy, but there’s also such a thing as being too busy. And the problem with being too busy is that it often leads, at least in my case, to things like burnout, irritability, and neglected relationships (in addition to much less frequent blogging!). I’ve already been thinking about some specific things I can do or not do to ensure that next summer is a little less crazy than this one, but in a general sense, I’ve also been thinking about Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix. 

Covey presents his Matrix in his famous book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. As a disclaimer, I haven’t actually read the book, but I have been exposed to this part of it in a couple of different settings and have found it to be quite helpful.

Considering the different activities that occupy our time (and which, added together, constitute our busyness), Covey categorizes all activities according to how urgent and important they are. An urgent task is something that is inherently time-sensitive and must be dealt with quickly, while an important task is basically something that carries lasting value.

When these two qualities are charted, you end up with Covey’s Time Management Matrix (see below), which groups all tasks into one of four quadrants.

(My thoughts on these quadrants are based on Covey’s, but are somewhat different because my observations come from a ministry context rather than a business one.)

Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent– Items in this category are of crucial importance and must be dealt with right away. This would include things like:
  • When you get in a car wreck (even a minor one), contacting your insurance company and seeing about repairs becomes a major priority.
  • When two teenagers (or adults) are having some sort of conflict which is causing disunity or division within the youth group (or the church congregation as a whole), you deal with the problem sooner rather than later if you know what’s good for you.
  • When you have a term paper to write that is worth half of your overall grade and it is due in a week, you budget whatever time you need to get it done in time.

Quadrant 2: Important but Not Urgent– Items in this category are of great importance, but because they are not time-sensitive or attached to deadlines, a lot of times they end up getting neglected:
  • Talking to a teenager about problems he is having at home or at school.
  • Taking the time to sit down and plan a quality youth group event or church-wide fellowship activity.
  • Immersing yourself in the study of the Word of God.
  • Spending time with the most precious baby girl in the world.

Quadrant 3: Urgent but Not Important– Tasks in this category are really not important, but they are time-sensitive or somehow attached to a deadline:
  • Phone calls are inherently urgent, because the phone rings right now, and it’s hard to leave a phone call unanswered because it might be important. But so many times they are not important at all—“Would your youth group be interested in doing our fundraiser?” “Can I sign you up for a free trial ______?”
  • When you are in the middle of studying for a sermon or Bible class, and a church member comes in and interrupts just to shoot the breeze. Invariably the conversation starts with, “I know you’re busy, but…” (To be fair, sometimes church members stop by to talk about things that are actually important instead of just checking in on you out of boredom or curiosity. When church members are giving you important information or are in need of some sort of counsel, that would fall in a different category.)

Quadrant 4: Neither Important nor Urgent– Items in Quadrant 4 are not important, and don’t really have a deadline attached to them either:
  • Reading promotional mail about an activity that “maybe I should look into someday.”
  • Playing solitaire on the computer.
  • Checking Facebook or Twitter a dozen times a day.
  • Watching reruns of The King of Queens.
The reason that all of these categories matter is that where you spend the majority of your time determines, in large part, how effective and even how happy you are.

Some people live almost exclusively in Quadrants 3 and 4, spending time on things that are essentially unimportant. Covey says that people who live this way are basically irresponsible. You know people like this—they can’t hold down a job and you cannot rely on them for anything. It isn’t a good way to live.

If we have any feelings of responsibility at all, we have to spend some of our time in Quadrant 1, because there are certain things in life that pop up that you just can’t plan for. However, what happens to a lot of us is that we spend too much time in Quadrant 1, constantly shifting from one crisis or deadline to another. As I have discovered (again) this summer, that is a stressful way to live, and can easily lead to burnout.

And it’s also a vicious cycle—when we spend so much of our time dealing with matters that are urgent and important, that typically leaves us too exhausted to use our remaining time wisely. So, rather than spending that time planning for future events (and thereby preventing those events from becoming frantic, last-minute crises that we have to deal with), we tend to just sit down and watch TV, or doing something else that requires no effort (Quadrant 4).

According to Covey, the key is to spend the majority of your time in Quadrant 2. You deal with Quadrant 1 problems as they emerge, but you minimize the number of those problems by planning ahead (for example, knowing the deadline of your paper several months in advance, you budget your time so you are not working on it at the last minute). You recognize Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4 activities as being essentially unimportant, so you seek to either delegate or eliminate as many of them as possible.

By spending the majority of your time in Quadrant 2, your relationships with other people are strengthened, important tasks are still tended to, and your stress level goes down.

All that’s left now is to put all that I just wrote into practice. :)

The Doc File © 2006-2012 by Luke Dockery

  © Blogger template 'Fly Away' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP