Month: October 2018

This is Brave. This is Bruised.

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Jesus ain’t got no taste.* Jesus had low standards for who he invited to follow him. His disciples were a mess. The apostles in-fought. Prostitutes and tax collectors were comfortable bringing their friends to Jesus.

I am sick and tired of churches that have higher standards than Jesus.

I am not saying that I don’t expect Christians to grow. One of our problems is how little we seem to mature in the Gospel, to grow in its implications and live under the cross.

Nearly everyone I associate with agrees that the church should be a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. But then… then you mention that someone who was indeed guilty of one of “those sins” is coming to church, suddenly they stress out. When I talk about inviting “those” people in, it means disrupted meetings and messes and…

…why are we holding this gathering of saints-and-sinners to a higher standard than Jesus held?

The tension is growing. (more…)

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Review: Esther

Esther: Born for Her Time
by James A. Aderman

Esther knows that the moment she enters the king’s throne room, his guards will slay her. They are trained to kill any who approach the king, no matter who it is. And yet Esther moves forward, lump in her throat, determined to speak to her husband the king or die trying. And so begins the story of Esther in this volume of God’s People.

I have loved the story of Esther since I first encountered it as a radio drama on Adventures in Odyssey (a two-parter!). Ever since then, I’ve enjoyed retellings. There’s this fun Purim song (sung by the Maccabeats!). There’s a neat retelling set in modern day.

And now there’s this.

Aderman aims for a faithful retelling of the biblical narrative, and he does a fantastic job. There’s a bit more telling than showing than I prefer, but what he tells fills in gaps that I was unaware of – for instance, we find out where in Persia’s history Esther lies and how it compares to Persia’s conflicts with Greece. I’d never known that! (And now I imagine 300 going on in the background of Esther and it fits right in!)

Aderman makes a conscious choice (and makes it explicit) to leave mentions of God out of the story. After all, the biblical book Esther doesn’t mention God once! Yet he’s around in the background, and Aderman does a great job giving “hints” in how he writes.

Basically, this is one of my favorite stories, and this retelling is faithful to the original. I recommend it.

It’s more than a locker room speech.

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s. It was a time of amazing sports movies. Mighty Ducks was probably my favorite of them, but you probably know at least some of these great sports movies that have graced the silver screen: Hoosiers. Rudy. Miracle.

I read an illustration in Move Toward the Mess by John Hambrick, and I used it today at a congregational meeting. Shamelessly. (Pastors are the best thieves.)

On Facebook, I asked for the best locker room speech in a sports movie. I got a lot of amazing suggestions. Remember the Titans. The Replacements. Any Given Sunday. Friday Night Lights. A lot of them I couldn’t use because of language or simple time requirements, but then today at the beginning of the congregational meeting, I played this clip:


(more…)

Review: Jonah

Jonah: Reluctant Prophet
by John A. Miller

The next volume in the God’s People series takes us to the man swallowed by a great sea creature as he tried to escape God’s command. It’s a story fairly well known, so what could this book add?

Honestly… quite a bit. Like other books in this series, Jonah reminds us how much of the Gospel God’s Old Testament people knew. They knew the promises. They knew the sacrifices were pictures of what was yet coming. They knew that God kept his promises and forgave sinners. And here, we get to see Moses not as a man motivated by the Law, but as someone who knew and valued the Gospel.

I appreciate that Miller shows us Jonah’s other ministry and puts the incidents he’s most famous for in context of a larger prophetic ministry. (Jonah is mentioned in 2 Chronicles a handful of times.)

Miller also excels in bringing the tactile dimension to this narrative. We feel the water slap Jonah as he’s thrown into the sea. We feel the inside of the sea creature. We feel the pain as Jonah is vomited onto land. These little additions to the story make it pop so much more.

The focus here is on what the Bible tells us. Unlike other books that might try to scientifically explain what’s going on or to defend what the Bible portrays, Miller simply gives us the story that the Bible presents. There are a few sidebars on what the identity of the sea creature was or Assyria’s place in history, but these aren’t the center of attention. We get to know the prophet and how he struggles with God’s grace.

This series just keeps getting better and better and I’m glad I picked up the box set last year. Though I’ve read the source material and know so many of these stories well, I don’t regret any of the time I’ve spent reading these books. Pick them up!

Your pastor might have depression.

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So yesterday I presented a paper on depression in the ministry. I shared my story as part of the paper. All of it: My struggles with worth, with shame, with cutting, with laziness, all of it. I talked about the need for Gospel, the need to admit needing help, the need to have someone to talk to. I talked about needing Jesus, not “just” for salvation but for our infirmities and our sorrows, too.

And afterward, pastor after pastor approached me with thanks and asked for more.

What did your counselor do with you?”

How do you find someone to confide in?”

What kind of music helps you?”

More approached with their own stories. I won’t share them here for respect for their privacy, except to say that depression in the ministry is not unique to me. These stories shattered me. So many of my brothers thought they were alone and broken and had to hide.

This is a call to you. If you are not a minister or you serve on a ministry team, help your ministers. There are two huge ways you can do that: (more…)

Review: I Trust When Dark My Road

I Trust When Dark My Road: A Lutheran View of Depression
by Todd A. Peperkorn

Pastor Peperkorn was a pastor. That meant he should have everything together. That meant he shouldn’t struggle with things like depression. And then his life fell apart. On Good Friday, he considered suicide even as he considered Jesus’s death for him. How could something like this happen to a pastor? In I Trust When Dark My Road Pastor Peperkorn writes his true story of struggling with depression while in the ministry while addressing the topic from a confessional Lutheran standpoint. Each chapter ends with a prayer and discussion questions.

This week I’ve read four books dealing with depression from different angles (see the last reviews I’ve posted this past month). This book by far shows me Jesus best. While it didn’t touch my emotions as much as Courage, Dear Heart, it encouraged me the most. While a large chunk of that is the determined focus on Jesus, a large part of it is that my journey mirrored Peperkorn’s, at least in part. I understood exactly where he was coming from, though my depression was not nearly as debilitating. My depression could have been that bad so, so easily, though. (more…)

Review: When God Becomes My Enemy

When God Becomes My Enemy: The Theology of the Complaint Psalms
by Ingvar Floysvik

And then there are the times that God attacks. There are the times when God has disappeared when he’s needed. There are the times when he is silent. And there are the times when he leads the onslaught on your life. What then? In When God Becomes My Enemy, Ingvar Floysvik (The o’s supposed to have a line through it but I can’t figure out how to do that) walks through psalms that wrestle with this seeming discrepancy between how God speaks about himself and how he acts. How did the ancient Hebrews deal with it? What can we learn?

First off, this is a professional book. Large chunks of the book are text studies of the original Hebrew. It includes quotes in Greek, German, and French, as well as English. The Hebrew and the Greek I could follow, but I had to skip the German and French quotations and I do feel like I missed out because of that.

Floysvik does a fantastic job analyzing the psalms in question. He doesn’t go in depth with every psalm that wrestles with God’s enmity, but he picks Psalms 6, 44, 74, 88, and 90. (I was a little disappointed he didn’t tackle Psalm 13, a personal favorite of mine, but he does address it as one of the complaint psalms.) He shows a dangerous truth: God will at least seemingly turn even on those who listen to him and obey him. This seems complete at odds with who God is. Isn’t he supposed to protect those who trust him? (more…)

This is the Time for Justice

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Esther puts her hand against the wood paneling of the door to the throne room. She whispers to herself, “If I perish… I perish.” She pushes the door open.

The king’s guards turn and draw their blades. The king has summoned no one. The only reason anyone would have to come in here without being summoned is to assassinate the king. The law is clear: Kill any uninvited guest.

Esther holds her hands out, showing she is unarmed. Her only chance is the mercy of the king. The guards tense to strike.

And Xerxes extends the golden scepter. The only thing that would keep any uninvited guest safe. “What do you want, my queen? Ask it, and it’s yours.” Xerxes smiles. His queen. The one he chose. His queen.

Esther tries not to faint. She heaves a deep breath before answering, “Come to a banquet I have prepared for you today. You. And Haman.” She gestures to the man sitting at her husband’s right hand. She gestures to the man who wants her murdered. “Come to my banquet. That’s all I want.”

Haman. The man who had masterminded a new law: On a certain day in the twelfth month, it will be legal to kill any Jew and take their possessions. He doesn’t know the queen is Jewish.

But neither does the king. (more…)

Review: Courage, Dear Heart

Courage, Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World
by Rebecca K. Reynolds

The world is broken. I am broken. In so many ways, I recognize what is wrong with me, in me, and around me. Into this setting Rebecca Reynolds pens nine letters of encouragement, of understanding, of heaving deep sighs with you and for you. She brings comfort that is not surface as she points to true Comfort.

This little book sighs with comfort. The first letter had me in tears.

Before M [the author’s adopted son], I didn’t understand what fierce love God holds for those he has adopted into his family. I didn’t realize that when he pursues us,he knows all our damage and our defects – and he knows exactly where we rank on every system humans use to determine our value. He stars straight into all of the world’s opinions of us and yet proclaims that we are the wanted ones. No matter how anybody has let us down, hurt us, forgotten us, we are still longed for and beloved children. (39, emphasis in original)

Reynolds excels at using story to illuminate and make new truths that I have known for many years. The opening letter about rejection begins with a retelling of Jacob and his wives from Leah’s perspective. I hurt for her as I never had before. We hear about the history of Reynold’s adopted son. We hear about friends struggling with cancer. And throughout, Reynolds brings comfort. (more…)