Month: May 2018

MOAR WRITING!

A few months ago I wrote about how I was trying to figure out how to handle the writing side of who I am. If it’s of interest to you, I’ve started a new blog Wanted: One New Earth. It will focus on writing about writing, talking to other authors, and exploring worlds other authors have set up. I’m specifically setting it up so I can post sporadically, so hopefully I can keep up with it.

If you feel interested, wonder on over. If not, well, Ordained for Growth will just keep on keepin’ on.

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Review: Little People, Big God

Little People Big God: Stories of Little People in the Bible Used by a Big God to Impact Their World
by Woodrow Kroll

There are some big names in the Bible: Moses. David. Peter. Paul. These are massive heroes! But what about the little people? In this book, Woodrow Kroll takes a look at thirteen “little people” from both the Old and New Testaments and shows how God used little-known people to accomplish big things.

In short: Don’t read this book. It is VeggieTales: it tells the history competently, but it’s all moralism and no Christ. It’s all “do this” and no “it is finished.” In fact, over and over again it states that all God wants is for us to do our best: “God keeps good records. His rewards are commensurate with our faithfulness in service. He is perfectly just and eager to advance us; He is looking for loyalty and obedience” (76). “[Micaiah] did what God asked, and that’s all God expects of any of us” (107). “What does Jesus expect from you? Just do what you can. That’s all Jesus asks” (141).

What’s the big deal? Instead of pointing me to Jesus, it points me to me. It drives me on. It is works righteousness disguised with a veneer of Christianity. It doesn’t show that these “little people” were sinners forgiven and loved by God. It doesn’t show them motivated by God’s mercy and grace. It lifts them up as examples that we should be like. All that will do is drive me to either pride at my accomplishments or despair that I’m not good enough.

On top of that, the book does seem to lead to a theology that says, “If you obey, God will give you an abundant life:” “To enjoy the abundant life that Christ intends for us, however, we have to live life God’s way” (20) Again, that’s junk. Jesus himself promised we would have trouble in this world. Our comfort is not an abundant life; it is Jesus, who knew suffering for us, to give us peace with God and a home in heaven.

The book does give a few positive messages. For instance, it does insist that even if the world never recognizes us, God sees our service. Using these little-known people as an example, it shows that we are valued by God. “Outside God’s Word, their names may appear only in Bible trivia games, but more important, they are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27). While they may not be known among men, they are known by God (John 10:3). And they have left a heritage that is of value today” (10). This is a good message… but it’s not worth the poison of the other messages here.

Do you look to find value? Read again how far Jesus went for you, and remember he did it for the joy set before him. You are valued by God, but not because of your service. You are valued because of Jesus’s service. And that means your value doesn’t depend on your actions – and that’s a comforting thought.

52 Books in 52 Weeks

I have an addiction to ink. I take it in until it overflows and pours out of me. Maybe you’ve noticed.

The beasts line my shelves, breathing at me, tempting me with their covers and their words strung together with such artistry. The beckon with their pages and urge me to take them in.

And for this last year… I have. Oh, have I!

Starting May 24th, 2017, and continuing every week since then, I’ve been able to read at least one book a week with the eye of improving my ministry, either through digging deeper into God’s Word or improving an ability or becoming more knowledgeable in some related subject. Apparently it started with Chivalry and has continued and will continue weekly at least until August, since I’ve already written enough reviews to last until then.

It has been a trip. I’ve read some real dreck. I’ve also read some books that are amazing. Then again, I’ve read some real frustrating volumes. Some have been quick reads; others took me much, much longer.

And I’ve enjoyed it. By forcing myself to post reviews here, I’ve kept up my reading. I’ve learned. The percentage of books I own that I’ve actually read has grown! Basically, by being public with what I read, I’ve forced myself to keep going and think a little more critically about what I’m reading. What am I getting out of this? What would someone else get out of this?

Another benefit of this last year has been an increase in my reading speed. Some things still take me longer; I’m currently reading a Michael Horton book that I can’t breeze through so much. However, other books I can finish within a day pretty easily. I did it with The Ragamuffin Gospel and each of the God’s People series has taken me about a half hour. I appreciate being able to wrap things up so quickly!

Reading so much has also let me read much more widely than I might otherwise. I was able to read a book on the craft of preaching (review forthcoming!). I tackled the Lutheran Confessions. I read about the Jewish Trinity and technology and justification and so much more! I tried to take in a myriad of subjects from myriad sources, and I think I did pretty well there.

But… all things must come to an end.

I’m still going to be reading this next year, of course. No addiction can let me off that easily! But instead of trying to keep up a weekly posting schedule for reviews, I want to tackle some deeper books that will simply take me longer to read. Maybe because I’m so far ahead, it’ll still end up being a weekly review. Maybe not. But I’m not going to force myself to read that quickly, at least for the next year. After that? Who knows. Maybe I’ll try reading 52 books in 52 weeks again!

In the meantime: What do you do to continue growing in your abilities? Do you try to keep to a schedule, or do you have a goal? If you read, do you try to mix it up with different topics, or do you keep to one sub-genre?

With whatever you read, I hope you’re blessed by it!

Review: Every Moment Holy

Every Moment Holy
by Douglas Kaine McKelvey

Jesus is the Lord not just of the Sabbath, but every day of the week. In this collection of liturgies for everyday life, Douglas McKelvey uses his strong talents for poetry to help the reader connect their daily activities with the grace of God. While many of the liturgies are designed to be spoken in small groups, most can easily be read as a single person praising their Maker. Liturgies are provided for various hours of the day, mealtimes, being in awkward situations, drinking coffee, doing laundry, finishing a good book, going camping, and welcoming a pet into the family, as well as many, many more.

This. Book. Frustrates. Me. So. Much.

The book is one of the most attractive books I’ve ever held. It feels like leather binding. It has delicate scrollwork. The book invites you to simply hold it and feel it in your hands. This book, more than many others I’ve read, is an artifact worth its existence simply in how it was formed.

I’ve looked forward to reading this collection for months; I ordered it a good three months before it finally arrived. It’s from Rabbit Room Press, who also published The Lay of the Lord. They’ve earned my willingness to try what they put out.

And… oh. I am torn. (more…)

Seven Years Today

Have Bible Will Travel

Seven years ago I received the call. I’d been training to be a pastor for a long time, and I finally got a call. This is what I wrote: “For those who haven’t heard: Yes! I have received a call to serve at St. Smithin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Notthecityyou’rethinkingof, That State [I may have edited the location to protect anonymity. Maybe]. It is a one year call; that means that the church is unsure if it can support a pastor for longer than that. It will be my prayer that God uses this year to grow the church so that it may remain!”

I did in fact remain there over a year. I stayed there about six years. And it just about destroyed me.

No, I take that back. It did destroy me. Dealing with my own sin, my own depression, the stubborn sin of many of those in leadership, the brokenness of the city… it destroyed me. And at least in part that was a good thing. It meant I couldn’t depend on me. It meant I had to rely on Jesus. It meant I had to learn the hard way that I am not my own; I was bought at a price, and my God is good. I had to learn the very hard way that my worth is not in my accomplishments, but in what Christ accomplished for me. I had to apply the Gospel to myself.

But seven years ago I received the call. And my life changed. I wasn’t a student anymore. I wasn’t someone trying to “get there.” I wasn’t someone waiting around for life to happen. Not anymore. (more…)

Not Good Enough

And all the festering puss that had built up in her wounded soul spilled out. Her fear at her weakness. How close she was to death. She missed her dead husband so much. Why did her brother die so young? Her daughter hadn’t called in two years. And all her misery, all her tears, her wailing for comfort, all of it flooded from her and over me.

Her hospital room is dark. Her nose keeps running in her grief. There’s no decorations here like in other patients’ rooms; no smiling pictures from family, no get-well cards, no vases of flowers.

I’ve come because she requested me. I serve as a chaplain in this little hospital; I listen and then share the Gospel. It’s pretty straightforward. I’ve gotten to speak Jesus to so, so many people who have needed to know what Jesus did for them, and what that has to do with their pain today.

And this woman today. Her fear and her sorrow enveloped me. And then she asked, “I want to be with my husband in heaven. But why would God ever take me?” (more…)

Man, am I preaching wrong!

I’m doing it all wrong.

I’m currently reading The Foolishness of Preaching by Robert Farrar Capon. This professional book about putting together a sermon has some good advice: Let the Word speak. Read the context. Forget PC or what you’re “supposed” to say; just speak the Word. Let the Word dwell in you all week long. These aren’t bad things.

But then Capon starts talking about the timeline of the sermon:

Monday morning, read the text, in the original language if possible. Print it out with lots of room in the margins. Write your notes all over it. Scriptural allusions. Illustrations. What it means. Applications. Everything. And do that every day of the week until Saturday. Then Saturday take all your notes, look them over, and streamline them. Then put them away. Memorize them Sunday morning. Preach.

According to this, I am a terrible preacher. (more…)

Review: The Answer to Our Cry

The Answer to Our Cry
by Rick McKinley; Forward by Shane Claiborne

All of humanity cries out for freedom. What’s the answer? Letting us do what we want, to follow our desires? Or is there a greater freedom? In The Answer to Our Cry, Rick McKinley says that our desire for freedom is found in Jesus. Not in following Jesus more closely, not in obeying, but simply… in Jesus.

This book frustrates me. McKinley speaks the Gospel well… until he doesn’t. I can’t figure out if he’s unclear himself, speaking from different traditions that simply use terms in different ways, or actually doesn’t have the Gospel. I don’t think it’s the latter, but maybe…? (more…)

Review: Why Should I Trust the Bible?

Why Should I Trust the Bible?
By A. Trevor Sutton

Not every question about the Bible has a Sunday school answer. Isn’t the Bible racist? Isn’t it out of date? Didn’t people change it over time? And if you give a simple answer… it often doesn’t reflect reality. In Why Should I Trust the Bible A. Trevor Sutton tackles the questions head on with whimsy and panache, addressing a number of questions with a touch of sarcasm and a lot of Jesus.

I love the basis of this book. “Why can I trust the Bible? Answer: Jesus” (19). Sutton hits it out of the park by starting there. He explains: “His life, death, and resurrection provide the trustworthy foundation for every page in the Bible. The Bible would be simply a book like every other book in human history if it were not for Jesus. He is the foundation for our trust in the Bible” (16).

But the thing I love is also a liability. This book is meant to be read by Christians; this isn’t a book you’re likely to hand to someone who’s already doubting the Bible. Instead, it’s meant for Christians to read to be able to answer objections directly. The book assumes that the Bible is God’s Word from the beginning, and that it’s about Jesus. In fact, Sutton ends the book with an objection that says, “Grace is too easy.” I love that he concludes with the gospel. He also addresses it very honestly: “Fully comprehending God’s work of salvation is easily the most mind-bending, heart-wrenching, soul-stretching endeavor imaginable” (184).

In fact, throughout the book he’s not afraid to call some objections to the Bible lazy or incomprehensible if you actually read the Bible, but he takes each objection seriously. He compares the Bible to other ancient literature like the Epic of Gilgamesh. Or more modern works, like Faulkner’s stories. But every time he takes each objection seriously. For instance, one objection is, “There’s so many interpretations, it can’t be true!” He responds, “The disagreements about how best to interpret the Bible are not evidence that it should not be trusted; rather, they are proof that Christians take the Word of God seriously” (149).

Through it all, he encourages readers to investigate on their own. “Trust in the Bible is not built on sweeping statements without analysis. Rather, trust in the Bible is built on bold statements that can be dissected and discussed, explored and examined” (61). So explore and examine!

Sutton tackles a number of objections. The downside is that each objection gets about five to ten pages. What that means is that he addresses a wide range of concerns. The downside is that none of them go too deep. On the other hand, at least in my experience, most people who use these kind of objections are speaking from ignorance. Answering an objection honestly and humbly, even on the level of this book, can open up discussion and hopefully help someone realize that it’s not as open and shut against the Bible as they might think.

But as Sutton keeps driving each section back to Jesus, the reader also has an example of how to take the discussion back to what matters most: Law and Gospel.

And again, Sutton encourages further study:

Keep going. Press on. Lean in. Pray that the Holy Spirit would engage your whole heart and your whole mind in answering these questions. Read more books about the Bible, study Scripture with others, and ask difficult questions. And above all, keep following Jesus. He is at the center of Scripture. He is the Word made flesh. Jesus is the real and living person around whom the Bible coheres. And He is the one and only source of eternal life. (197-8)

This book should be on your shelf. It’s a great step into apologetics, knowing more about the Bible, and answer serious questions honestly.

Ordained for Growth… No More!

I suspect he’ll be back… 

I have a problem.

OK, besides that one.

See, I’m not just a pastor. I also happen to enjoy writing fiction. I’ve been published a handful of times. I even have a blog that contains a bunch of my stories!

…take a look at the date of the last post.

December 22.

So it’s been about six months since I updated that blog.

I’ve found that I can’t keep writing about writing, writing about ministry, and write things that may actually be good enough for publication. I haven’t posted to Seeking New Earth simply because I’ve been writing a novel.

So, what’s the big deal? Well, if I’m actually going to aim at publication, I need a platform for me as an author. Which means I should really have a “writing blog” that I update regularly. Granted, that doesn’t have to be weekly, but it should be regularly.

But if I’m writing my novel and keeping up that writing blog, it means dropping Ordained for Growth. That’s not acceptable to me. This blog is necessary for my health. Seriously – typing all this out helps me stay sane. If I lost this outlet, I think I’d be worse off for it, particularly when depression hits.

Which… kinda leaves me in a strange place. (more…)