Review: Putting Amazing back into Grace

Putting Amazing back into Grace
by Michael Horton, Foreword by J. I. Packer

Grace is boring. The Gospel doesn’t work. We need something new! Something that actually connects with our lives!

Well… no. In Putting Amazing back into Grace, author Michael Horton shows that grace is exactly what is needed by showing how amazing it really is. He goes in depth, starting before the creation of the world and demonstrates how amazing God’s love is. He digs into the utter depravity of man and leads us to ever deeper wonders as we gasp out how amazing God’s grace is.

This book is amazing, except when it’s not. Horton’s Christless Christianity is a book I highly recommend. It diagnoses the problem that many modern American churches have: there is no Christ there. Here, Horton digs deeper into the Gospel. I was ready to love this book. Except Horton is a Calvinist, and that leaning is on full display. (more…)

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Tearing Up My Bible for the Good of the Gospel

person holding opened book

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She said she didn’t need to go to church, so I tore pages out of my Bible.

She’d been gone for a while and wanted a release of membership. I told her I had to do an exit interview. I wanted to know if we had sinned against her in some way, if she was despising the Means of Grace (which is the Gospel in Word and Sacraments), if there was some social issue that had come up, or what. And as we met, she told me that she didn’t need to go to church.

So I found Psalm 149:1-2, which talks about praising God in the assembly. And I told her that we better rip that out of the Bible, since clearly it’s not right. After all, if it was right, she’d be in worship regularly. So I tore it out of the Bible.

She was startled. Shocked.

I flipped to Luke 4. Showed that Jesus regularly attended worship. Well, can’t have that. If Jesus needs to go to worship, I need to, too. So I ripped it out.

She got up to leave. (more…)

Review: Do Hard Things

Do Hard Things
By Alex & Brett Harris; Foreword by Chuck Norris

Teens have been deceived. The teenage years aren’t the time to party and be kids. They’re the launchpad for the rest of your life. “The teen years are not a vacation from responsibility… They are the training ground of future leaders who dare to be responsible now” (13). In Do Hard Things, Alex and Brett Harris explain why so many teens have bought the lie and how they can make a difference – by doing hard things. Join the rebelution.

For what this book is, I’m pretty impressed. Two teens (nineteen when they wrote the book) talk about how low expectations have shackled their age group, and how to get past it. They talk about how the entire idea of “Teenage years” is so new, and in the past people the ages of thirteen and older were adults tasked with very adult responsibilities… and they changed the world. They share the stories of Clara Barton and George Washington. They point to how we often live up or down to the expectations put before us. (more…)

And No One Came

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I invited four families. Not one came. One responded with an enthusiastic “yes!” to the invitation, and that was the only one I really counted on showing up. But… not even them.

And it wasn’t even to church.

Sure, it was a church outing. It was to a baseball game with tailgating ahead of time. And the church was covering all the expenses. Free.

So at this event designed to just introduce guests to our church family… I brought no guests. And at this great event… there was exactly two guests. Plenty of members, but only two guests.

This whole “Go into all the world thing” ain’t working out so well. (more…)

Review: The Foolishness of Preaching

The Foolishness of Preaching: Proclaiming the Gospel against the Wisdom of the World
by Robert Farrar Capon

How can a preacher preach? What is the foundation of a good sermon? What steps can a preacher go through to make sure he has a great sermon? In The Foolishness of Preaching Robert Capon teaches his method for creating good sermons. In part one of the book, he emphasizes that for a sermon to be good, the preacher must first be passionate about Jesus. In part two, he takes a look at the mechanics of forming a good sermon. In the end, he reminds readers what preaching is all about.

Capon gives some fantastic advice in the book. For instance, he insists that a preacher must simply listen to the Word and proclaim it faithfully. “I don’t have to like it; I just have to hear it. Nobody made me the boss of the Bible – and I bridle at people who make themselves bosses because the Boss himself strikes them as too bossy” (77, emphasis in original). In that vein, he reminds that most listeners in the pews really don’t want to hear what God says. But, in response, “You were not sent to spout opinions they can dismiss. You were sent to proclaim the sharp, authentic Word to them – the Word who isn’t NutraSweet. Tell them that no preacher worth his or her salt ever turned the Gospel into a trademarked substitute for the authentic sweetness of Jesus’ death – and that you’re not about to risk it yourself” (134). (more…)

Review: The Wit of Martin Luther

The Wit of Martin Luther
by Eric W. Gritsch

Martin Luther wasn’t just used by God to restore the Gospel to Europe; he also had a cutting sense of humor he used in the pulpit, in his writing, and in person. In The Wit of Martin Luther, Eric Gritsch talks about the sources of Luther’s humor, how he used it, and shows a great many examples from throughout Luther’s life.

I want to enjoy this book. I found the writer’s presuppositions got in my way, though. Let me give some examples: “It seemed as if Satan had his way with the church – Luther’s favorite way of describing evil, or something that goes wrong” (2-3). Luther, as far as I know, meant the literal devil or one of his servants, a demon, who literally attacked him in the spiritual realm. It wasn’t just a “way of describing evil.” What this tells me is that the writer doesn’t seem to want to let Luther speak for himself.

In another example of not understanding Luther, the author writes, “Luther knew that everything depended on a consensus on ‘justification’ – it was not yet on the ecumenical card in the serious game for Christian unity. It would take almost half a millennium to produce a ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between Lutherans and Catholics’” (27). That joint declaration ignores what justification is and restates it in such a way that it’s no longer justification – at least not in any way Luther would recognize it. (more…)

…But I Want to Die

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Today is not a dark day. I’ve experienced plenty of those.

This showed up in my newsfeed today: “I really love Jesus, but I want to die.” I do not agree with everything this writer believes theologically based how she phrases some things, but her description of depression, how it affects her, the lies it whispers, and what helps are all spot-on.

Please, read this. It is well, well worth your time.

The End of Sunday School

We have a problem.

We’re a smaller church. While we certainly do have a fair amount of children (and a glut in the 3-5 grade range), we don’t have a lot of them. And many of their families don’t attend every week. Sure, they’re regular in church, but not every single week. What that means is that sometimes the Sunday school classes will have one child. Sometimes they’ll have eight or nine. It’s been a real problem for the teachers to know what to prepare for.

The knowledge ranges within the classes are also amazing. Some of the kids can tell you the Bible stories well and faithfully; others seem to have never heard of that Bible thing ever before. On top of that, some are voracious readers, while others in the same classroom can barely write their names. I realize that this range is typical in a school classroom, but in a Sunday school room where you’ve only got the kids for an hour a week, that range can make things so very, very difficult.

Our goal is to connect kids to Jesus. We want them grounded in God’s Word, knowing both Law and Gospel well, even if they never use those terms. However, our current model of “an hour a week after worship” doesn’t cut it.

Last night I met with my education chairman. And we’ve decided that we will no longer offer Sunday school. (more…)

Review: Being Lutheran

Being Lutheran
by A. Trevor Sutton

So… why are you Lutheran? Why aren’t you Lutheran? What’s the big deal with Lutherans? In Being Lutheran, A. Trevor Sutton walks through what being Lutheran isn’t… and what it is. He confronts the stereotypes, notes when Lutherans have failed to be what they say they are, and lays out what it’s all about.

I was nervous when I got this book; I’ve seen a lot of Lutheran chest-thumping about how great our church is. At the same time, Sutton wrote the excellent Why Should I Trust the Bible so I thought I’d give it a try. And… this book is worth it. Right in the introduction he writes, “Being Lutheran is about following Jesus. A Lutheran’s primary identity is in Jesus, who has claimed you as his own, given you new life through the waters of Baptism, and invited you to come follow him” (xix).

This is no catechism. If you want to know what Lutherans believe in a systematic way, go read Luther’s Small Catechism. But this book tackles some great perspectives on what Lutherans are. The first part of the book looks at what we aren’t, and the first chapter is all about how we aren’t closed. Sutton talks about how Lutherans share the Gospel with anyone. As I read, I feared that he was painting too pretty a picture. Then he has a lengthy section talking about imperfections: “I would be a liar if I told you that Lutherans have perfectly maintained open access to the Gospel. We have not. Although we hate to hear it, Lutherans are sinful folks prone to closing the Gospel. At times, we have defied our own heritage. On occasion, we have willingly closed the Gospel to groups of people” (18). He maintains this pattern throughout the book: This is what Lutheranism is, and here is where we have failed to in fact be Lutheran. I can think of a number of people that should read this – both those disillusioned with their own Lutheran congregations to be reminded of what Lutherans are meant to be, as well as those who have forgotten what Lutherans are meant to be. (more…)

Someone I love is dead.

She died in her sleep over a year ago, and I wasn’t there.

A dear, dear daughter of God. “Oh come in, Pastor! Come in! Tell me, how are your wife and the kids? Oh, sit down, sit down! Don’t mind the mess. I’m trying to make sure Frisky doesn’t cause any more messes. She got so angry last time I was at the hospital!” She died. Over a year ago. And I wasn’t there.

Pastor, take this money. Get some ice cream for the kids. If there’s any left, you have some too!” she’d say with that smile. That wonderful, wonderful smile. And now she’s dead. Over a year ago. And I wasn’t there.

Pastor, I’m not superwoman! I can’t keep up the house the way I want. But I’ve got help now! They come in twice a week and clean anything I can’t. They do the laundry, too! Oh, I could never leave. My husband built this home.” It’s the home she died in a year ago.

I was her shepherd. I visited her every month. She encouraged me so often. She was eager for Communion. She longed for God’s Word. She called in to listen to the church service every week. I got to hear her sing and hold her hand when she went to the hospital.

And now she sings in glory. Now there are no more hospitals for her. Now she sees her Jesus face to face.

But I failed her. (more…)