Month: July 2018

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…)

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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

abandoned abandoned building broken decay

Photo by Francesco Paggiaro on Pexels.com

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…)

The Fearful Ring

I’m calling tomorrow about how worship went.”

That’s not an encouraging text. Not when the congregation is experimenting with a new order of service. Most of the time, people who approve of a change will remain silent and content. Pastors hear a lot from folks that are unhappy, though.

I braced. I didn’t want the phone call. I’m not a fan of phone calls in general, much less unhappy ones. I’ve received so many people telling me about how dangerous something is we were doing, or how they were going to leave, or how “someone” they know was really upset (and that “Someone” 95% of the time is them, but they’re not brave enough to own up to their own reactions).

I understand that change is difficult, and I understand that we can’t please everyone. As I led worship this past Sunday, I started worship by announcing that we were trying something different. “You might not like it. Frankly, I don’t care. Because the point of worship is not giving you something you like. It’s about a conversation. It’s about listening to what God says and then responding. So as you evaluate these changes, don’t think about whether or not you like them. Think about whether or not you hear what God says more clearly through his Word, and whether you’re equipped to respond better not just for this hour, but for the next 167 hours until we come together in worship again.”

And those, frankly, are fightin’ words. So I expected a fight. And with that text I received, I felt the stress threading through my shoulders and pulling tight. (more…)

Review: Joseph

Joseph: Forgiving Brother
by Lyle L. Luchterhand

Joseph’s story is one of the most arresting in Scripture. He’s been the focus of movies and musicals and not a few kids’ specials. Who was Joseph? What did he do? This book tells the story of his life, from his earliest days all the way until his bones were buried in the Promised Land hundreds of years after his death.

This is another book in the God’s People series that I’ve generally enjoyed. And this volume in the set has some great choices. For instance, it starts when Joseph is a boy and his father is preparing to leave his grandfather. I enjoyed setting up Joseph’s life from that beginning point instead of picking up when they were settled back in Canaan. I also greatly enjoyed the presentation of the promises that Joseph had been taught; what God had promised his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. That has been a strength of this entire set, pointing out how the people of the Old Testament trusted God’s promises and looked forward.

There were some… interesting choices made as well. For instance, the book rightly presents Joseph as seventeen years old when he is betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave. He wasn’t a little boy, as often presented in story books. However, the book revers to this seventeen-year-old as a “little boy.” I… don’t get it.

While all the information is correct, the book stumbles a bit narratively. Certain passages feel more like a history report than a story or a dynamic retelling of actual events. Much of that could have been avoided by making things “present tense” rather than occurring in flashback. For instance, a chapter begins with Joseph thrown in jail, and them the cause for his jailing is told in flashback, “He had done X” instead of just telling the story.

Which means thus far, this is the weakest book of the series. Despite that, it’s still well worth the time for grounding Joseph within the story of salvation, tightly connecting him to his father Jacob as well as trusting in the promises of the Savior yet to come. If you’ve enjoyed the others in the set, don’t skip this one.

Wedding Whine

Wedding Day

I’m at a wedding. I just married two people. Pretty awesome. The bride’s shone, though she didn’t walk down the aisle with the dress she had last night. Something happened with the fitting, and she had to find a replacement today. Still, her smile was enough to outshine the sun.

Speaking of the sun, it was an outdoor wedding. Those are chancy; the weather can do so many things. But it was mid-seventies, bright sun, and the breeze was a touch strong but otherwise perfect.

I could tell the bride was a little stressed. She’s like me; an introvert. My wedding day was amazing because it started my marriage, but man, was I done by the end of it! She looked about the same. Happy. Stressed. Done. Happy.

Most everyone is happy now, though. Kids are running around screaming and giggling. Adults are chuckling and chatting. Food is being eaten. Music blares. Everyone is happy.

Except my son. (more…)

Review: For Young Men Only

For Young Men Only : A Guy’s Guide to the Alien Gender
by Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice with Shaunti Feldhahn

Girls are weird. Maybe you’ve noticed. And they’re even weirder when you and they are teenagers. Just strange. Maybe if someone talked to a whole bunch of them and explained what they said in normal words – you know, like the words guys use – there’d be hope. Well, good thing that Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice wrote this book! They interviewed 1,000 teen women and wrote their findings here, lining up several ah-ha! moments.

First off, I’ve loved every book in this series and I highly recommend them. For Men Only and For Women Only helped me, personally, in both my marriage and in my professional life. I didn’t even know this particular book existed, and when I saw it I snatched it up. Did it stand up to the good ratings of the others?

Mostly! (more…)