Month: January 2019

Review: Words Kids Need to Hear

Words Kids Need to Hear
by David Staal

Parents are vital in the lives of their children, and what they say can transform a young life forever. What are the words kids need to hear from their parents? How can parents effectively convey those messages? How do you keep from going too far, because there’s always that pesky need for balance? In Words Kids Need to Hear, David Staal lists seven phrases every child needs to hear.

This book is filled with good, practical advice. It shows parents the need to ask their children for forgiveness. It points out that children need to know they’re treasured. It reminds that parents need to actually say, “I love you.” I agree with each of the seven phrases Staal picked out, and the reminder to do so is well-taken.

Staal also takes time to show how each phrase can be practically integrated into family life. I appreciated those parts of the book, offering many ideas on how to say “no” or “I believe in you.”

I found his balancing “Words of Caution” to often be a bit too short, though. Parents do need to actually say “I love you,” of course. But if the parent loves the child so much that the child becomes an idol, that love has become a sin that will damage both parent and child. More words of warning to show the proper balance would have been appreciated.

So, yes, there are definitely positive aspects of this book.

But. (more…)

Raging or Yawning…?


Photo by Julien-Pier Belanger on Unsplash

No one burned down the church. Torches and pitchforks were in short supply.

But so was excitement of any kind.

I presented my findings. There was definitely surprise for many, especially when I presented how many people wanted to change the location of the church.

But for most, it was interesting but “doesn’t affect me.” One church leader in particular afterwards remarked, “Well, you know, they’re just opinions.” He did this after noting that some of the comments he didn’t like had a sizable minority within the church.

(Hm. I wonder why some people feel marginalized in the congregation if that’s the attitude of the leadership, huh?) (more…)

Bracing for the Fire


Sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth.

Sometimes the hard truth is God’s truth. You don’t want to be the one delivering the Law. I’ve had that struggle. That’s not the truth that’s going to be difficult this time around, though.

I’m about to make some members of the congregation pretty angry with this truth.

See, the congregation I serve is awesome in many ways. I love the love many of the people have for each other. We have some members that really push for excellence in worship. These are great.

But… it’s sedate.

And a sedate congregation isn’t far from apathy. And once you get there… bad things happen. (more…)

Review: Hope When Your Heart Breaks

Hope When Your Heart Breaks: Navigating Grief and Loss
by Michael W. Newman

When pain shatters the heart, we need to find Hope again. In fifty-two four-page devotions, Michael W. Newman guides the reader through many aspects of their loss, pointing to Jesus as the Hope we have in this broken world.

Holy cow.

This book is good.

In the section entitled “How to Use This Book,” Newman tells the reader to not read through the book from beginning to end, but to browse the table of contents and read the devotions that seem to match what they’re feeling at that time. The book is helpfully broken down into sections: The Beginning, Thoughts, Life, Self, Faith, People, Future, Fears, Love, and Hope for a New Season. Each devotion is titled in a helpful manner, such as, “When Your Friends Say They Understand,” “When You’re Angry at God,” “When You Need a Hug,” or “When You Fell like You Want to Disappear.” (more…)

An Ending

alone in church

Photo by Stefan Kunze on Unsplash

Sunday we canceled worship. The roads were hazardous enough that we decided it was better if everyone stayed home. I recorded a miniservice and uploaded it to Youtube so the congregation could still worship as they saw fit. (Judging by the number of views, quite a few of the congregation took advantage of this way of worshiping!) I linked two songs and led a short devotion.

I spent the day with my family after that, leading them in worship, too. It was so good to hear my two older kids singing along to, “Chief of Sinners Though I Be” and “In Christ Alone.” I can see them growing in their faith and walk with Jesus.

Monday hit. I didn’t have to deal with anyone face-to-face. I had scheduled one possible appointment with a person I could just drop in and see, but chose not to pursue it.

Tuesday. And for some reason… I couldn’t handle being with people. I had a few appointments; nothing incredibly stressful. But when I thought about going out… I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I felt nauseous as I thought about meeting with them.

I canceled everything. (more…)

Review: Ruth

Ruth: A Love Story
by Own A. Dorn

Ruth had nothing. She had left her people to follow her mother-in-law back to a foreign land to serve a foreign God. And yet that God had a huge plan for Ruth. He guided her life, bringing her to a certain field, where a man would change her life forever, and through these two people, God would bless all nations.

Look, the story of Ruth has been done to death in Christian fiction. I have seen so many novels on the shelves of Christian bookstores that tell and retell this story. (A rather good one is Ruth A.D. By my friend Lydia Eberhardt; if you’re looking for a creative retelling, I recommend that as a great place to go.) After all those retellings, does this one hold up?

Well… kind of.

This is another in the “God’s People” series that I’ve reviewed a number of previously. Most have been outstanding. And this one is good. Not spectacular, but still well worth the time. While the writing as far as storytelling has a lot more explanation than I personally prefer, it tells the story well and introduces us to the many characters. We get to know Naomi as the bitter woman. We get to see Ruth as the one trying to serve. We get to know Boaz as a man of standing. And through it all, we get to know God and his grace better.

Unlike some other volumes in this set, the sidebars here are incredibly useful. Agricultural and marital customs are crucial to understand if you’re going to “get” Ruth, and the sidebars here lay out all that’s necessary to “get.” I walked away grasping many of the agricultural concepts much better.

This particular book is also shorter than most of the other books in this set. The others have been a little over forty pages; this one is only thirty-six. If you’re looking for a hefty retelling of Ruth, this is not the book to get. However, the biblical book of Ruth is only four chapters long; this book being shorter just makes a lot of sense to me. If you’re looking to get the historical account without a lot of fluff, this really is the best I’ve seen.

So count this as another win in the “God’s People” series. Let’s hope the rest of the set keeps up the good quality!

My Strength is Not Enough


Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I can’t do it.

So after the Christmas and related fires ended, I took a few days to rest. And then this week I’ve started trying to reach out to all the people I asked, “Can this wait until after Christmas?”

Except there are too many people. There’s so many people to reach out to. There’s that family living in a car that I got food to, but ended up not even being able to see. There’s that member that I’ve met only once before. There’s that family that had a recent death. All people I served over Christmas, but much less than I wanted to.

But now Christmas is done. I’ve been refreshed by some time off.

And I’m making phone calls and texts and emails and such, trying to get back into contact with everyone.

And it’s too much. (more…)

Review: Joy in the Parish

Joy in the Parish
by Charles T. Knippel, Ph. D.

Churches so often seen like joyless places. Ministers go about their ministry without joy. Is that what God intended? Are we meant to worship in places of joy? If so, what happened, and how can we reclaim joy? In this slim volume, Dr. Charles Knippel uses his years as a pastor and seminary professor to show what was meant to be and how to achieve it.

Knippel wrote a book that’s a useful handbook, but entirely too short. It feels a bit like a good abstract of a longer work; there’s no examples of what he’s talking about and no illustrations to show what he means.

However, despite its brief nature, there is a lot packed into these very short chapters. (more…)

Review: Bible Handbook

Concordia’s Complete Bible Handbook, Second Edition
Introductions by Jane L. Fryar
Edward A. Engelbrecht, General Editor

That Bible is a pretty thick book. It can be bard to understand. What do the different money denominations mean? What was in Abraham’s tent? What does a shepherd do? What kind of foods did they eat back then? Can you show me a bunch of maps? Concordia’s Complete Bible Handbook gives two to three-page introductions to each book of the Bible along with articles covering some broad biblical topics. Lavishly illustrated with many maps, there are few pages without something to attract the eye. It also includes a lengthy dictionary that explains many biblical concepts.

The bulk of this book is a great resource to have on any Lutheran’s shelf. The introductions to the Bible books are both concise and focused on Law and Gospel. Each intro includes sections including, “Who wrote ______? When? Why?” “What’s the best way to read ______?” “How is _________ organized?” “How does ___________ point to Jesus?” “What are the key chapters and verses in _________?” If you’ve ever had the Concordia Self-Study Bible and you’ve looked at those introductions, these will feel a lot like those, but more detailed. (more…)