Month: September 2019

Review: Echo

By Jonathan Fisk

Christianity isn’t something you do. It’s not something you try to become. It is something that has been done, and that truth echoes through eternity. In Echo, Jonathan Fisk takes the reader through the core truths of Christianity, these truths that echo through all of history. He lays out the Ten Important Things About Being Creation, the Three Elements of the Gospel, the Five Results of the Gospel, and the Seven Edges of Christian Holification. Through it all, he shows how this is unbroken truth worth repeating – again.

First off, if you read through those numbers – 10 things, 3 things, 5 things, 7 things, and you happen to have grown up in a household that used Luther’s Small Catechism, you might realize what this book really is.

First, Fisk walks through the Ten Commandments. Then he walks through the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed. Then he walks through the five elements of the last article of the Creed. Then he walks through the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

However, don’t think this is a boring book. This is not your average catechism class. (First off, while he does address the Sacraments, that’s not the focus of the book.) (more…)


One of the reasons my professional reading has slowed down is that I’m purposely taking in more video content. As I grow in my professional life, I want to learn in as many ways as possible. I will often take in videos of others pastors’ sermons. I want to grow in my preaching ability, and this is one way to do it. And this morning, I watched this video:


This one hurt me. A lot.

In case you aren’t able to watch the video, here’s how it begins: The pastor asks, “Have you ever seen Matthew 18 happen? Have you ever belonged to a church where they actually followed this part of the Bible?”


He related a story where a pastor said they would start keeping Matthew 18, and his church asked him to leave. Because it’s scary.

So, what’s Matthew 18?

When your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. Just between the two of you. Not judging him, but because you love him. Because you don’t want him going to hell, because he has chosen to love his sin and deny what God says about his sin. If he listens… show him Jesus.

And if he still says his sin is more valuable, go with one or two others. Show him that you’re not the weirdo here. Show him that what he’s doing is that serious. And if he listens… show him Jesus.

And if he still says no, I want this sin more than I want forgiveness, I want what I get with this sin more than I want Jesus’s promises of heaven, I value this sin more than I value God himself, then go and tell the church. Mourn over this person. Ask if anyone has more information, or has a connection that they can talk to this person. And if that person listens… show him Jesus.

But if he still doesn’t listen, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. And how did Jesus treat them? He loved them. He spent time with them. But he never, ever let them think that they were good with God when they weren’t. The goal was always, always to put them in touch with forgiveness.

And as this sermon went on, I thought of… this man. That woman. These people.

I have failed. This shepherd has failed over and over again. I have run away from being a good shepherd. I’ve said I was too busy. Or I knew how it would end. I have let people slip away from God’s Word. I have allowed people to think that their sin and their Savior can be held in the same hands and loved in the same heart.

And in this sermon, I was the one called to repentance. I have not loved the people our God has given me to love. I have loved approval and business and praise more than I’ve loved the souls that Jesus died for.

I have sinned.

And as I sit here typing, my first impulse is to say, “And I’m going to do better.”

But… that’s putting the fruit before the vine.

Doing better isn’t wrong. Wanting to serve God well is certainly good. But before I am enabled to do that… I need God’s forgiveness. Confession isn’t just admitting that what I have done is wrong.

It is seeing that Jesus did better for me. He obeyed for me. And he died for me.

I need to go spend some time with my Savior and see this miracle.

And then… then, when I know how loved I am, when I see that I am forgiven that much, when I am empowered to see how loved these others are…

…then, and only then, can fruit come. Only then can I share Jesus.

Review: Never Forsaken

Never Forsaken: God’s Mercy in the Midst of Miscarriage
by Kathryn Ziegler Weber

I wept over this book.

Nine women tell the stories of their miscarriages. Each chapter features a different woman’s story with a different focus. One chapter talks about dealing with the question, “Why?” Another talks about shame. Another talks about dealing with your own sins in lashing out while grieving. Another talks about how to talk about miscarriage with others. Every chapter ends with an excellent three-paragraph summation and an in-depth Bible study that takes the reader deeper. The book holds several appendices as well, including a worship service memorial for use by grieving families, Martin Luther’s words to parents of stillborn children, and suggestions for further Bible readings and prayers.

If you are a pastor or in charge of a church library, you need to get this book for the use of your members who face this trial. If you are a parent who struggles with grief from a miscarriage, I highly recommend you read this book. (more…)

“It brings tears to my eyes.”


photo of men having conversation

Apparently there are no pictures of two people just talking in a restaurant; every pic is either a business meeting or a date! 

He came in to church yesterday wearing a fedora. He actually looked pretty good in it, like he was about to go out swing dancing or something. I’d never seen him before, but he looked young – I’d guess older teens. I learned later he was 21.

I converted from Roman Catholicism, but my Lutheran church is too liberal,” he told me as he entered. “I did some research and saw that you were more conservative. So I thought I’d give you a try.”

Today we sat together over supper at a restaurant and chatted.

I was Roman. Traditional Roman,” he told me over chili-glazed brussel sprouts. “We rejected Vatican II. And I was really into it. I was at seminary to become a priest. But as I read more and more, I realized I couldn’t do it all. There was always this uncertainty. But I had some friends who had left the Roman church to become Eastern Orthodox. So I left seminary and tried that for a while. It was basically the same thing. And then I was Baptist, but they just kept pushing rules, too. And then I discovered Lutheranism.” (more…)

Review: Master Criminals

Not-So-Nice Bible Stories: Master Criminals
by Jonathan Schkade, illustrated by Gleisson Cipriano

The Bible isn’t all sugar, spice, and everything nice. There’s a lot of stories in God’s Word that shows how dark this world can be. In Master Criminals, Jonathan Schkade takes some of the biggest stories of crimes in the Bible and takes an honest look at them. He retells each story in modern language, asks thought-provoking questions, and shows ties to other sections of Scripture. Every chapter ends with a section asking, “Why is this in the Bible?” and some “Extra Features” that usually connect the events of the chapter with works of fiction or events in history that may be of interest to the reader.

This is a companion book to Gory Deaths. While I don’t know which one comes first, I can tell you I think I liked Gory Deaths better. Master Criminals is still excellent, please don’t get me wrong! But I think if I were giving gifts or lending books out, I’d start with the other one.

That said, Schkade’s choice of criminals is, well, choice. He starts with Adam and Eve as the murderers of every human who ever lived, and then moves on to Cain and Abel. But he also includes a number of people that many readers might not be familiar with, such as Athaliah or two women who committed cannibalism in Israel. He also includes some people who were accused of wrong who weren’t doing wrong, such as the three men thrown into the fiery furnace, and Jesus himself. (more…)

Savoring a Return to Ministry

man in red crew neck sweatshirt photography

Photo by bruce mars on

I’m not sick anymore!

Mostly, anyway. I still have a slight cough, but it’s very contained. And I’ve been on antibiotics for a week, so I really shouldn’t be able to give anyone anything, even if I cough on them.

In theory.

Anyway, after about two weeks of being cooped up at home and pretty much only doing office work, yesterday was a dream: We held outdoor worship and the church picnic.

The weather could not have been better. The shelter our members rented sat in a back corner of a park with a perfect mix of shade and sun. A basketball court, playground, and bathroom facilities were nearby. Picnic tables provided seating for everyone for worship. A delightful mix of visitors and members came.

I got to savor worship. We dug into the entire arc of the Bible under the theme, “Created. Broken. Restored.” We walked from Genesis to Revelation. We sang several favorite songs, like “In Christ Alone” and “Jerusalem the Golden.” And as I led worship, I got to point to Jesus as the one who restores all things. We can’t restore ourselves; only Jesus has done that.

And yes. I savored that. To be with my people again, to point to Jesus, to see them again. (more…)

Review: Connecting

by Larry Crabb

The scars on our hearts will not heal without help. We know Jesus, yes, but sometimes we need someone to tell us truths, or to listen to us, or to simply weep with us. In Connecting, Larry Crabb proposes that the best way to help heal diseases of the soul is to simply connect with one another – not attempting to give advice or pass the other person on to experts, but simply to connect. Crabb talks about what connecting is and what it isn’t, common impediments to connecting and how God deals with them, and what professionals can do to help. In the end, he advises that we belong to a community centered around Christ that is not afraid to be known.

I’ve been working on this book for a while, but it has already caused me to reconsider how I’ve connected with members of my own congregation. Was I working through to-do lists or actually caring about the people I shepherd? So, if for no other reason than that, this book has been good for my ministry.

Crabb’s list of impediments to connecting hit me hard. I saw myself in his three big impediments: my attitudes, my habits. And this has nothing to do with me being an introvert; a lot of what he said about connecting on a deep level made me ache to achieve that with some of the members I serve. (more…)