Author: Jon

I'm a pastor in Wisconsin. Constantly writing, whether it be fiction or sermons or anything in between. Husband and father. Over all this, Christian, willing and joyful servant to good master Jesus.

Turn Back

Cliffside Large

Photo by Lane Smith on Unsplash

I’ve never met you. We’ve exchanged emails back and forth for months. I’m supposed to be your shepherd, the one called by God to feed you the Gospel, but you keep saying you’re “too busy.”

You have too busied yourself to hell.

Jesus claimed you for his own. In your baptism, so many years ago, you were washed and made new. Later you spent years investigating God’s promises, and you stood before a congregation. You claimed that you would face anything, even death, rather than turn from Jesus. You rejected the devil and all his lies.

And now the lies, long taken root, have borne bitter, bitter fruit. (more…)


Review: Stirring Scenes from the Life of Luther

Stirring Scenes from the Life of Luther
by Gerhard E. Lenski

Who was Martin Luther? What should a child know about him? This short book from 1935 gives a brief sketch of Luther’s life aimed at schoolchildren. It walks through his childhood, entrance into the monastery, combat against indulgences, stand at the Diet of Worms, the establishment of the Augsburg Confession, and Luther’s death.

Here, let me sum up for you: Don’t give a child this book. Don’t give it to an adult, either.

First, though the book is entitled Stirring Scenes from the Life of Luther I wasn’t stirred at all. In fact, I found the narrative to be pretty severely lacking. This isn’t simply a matter of the book being older; one of my favorite fiction series is The Wizard of Oz and its thirteen novel sequels which all predate this volume. The tone felt like a pastor who’s used to teaching seminarians trying to give a children’s sermon. He might claim he told a story, but all the kids would say all he did was talk about something, not tell a story! (more…)

This is the Time to Do Good

Esther pic - final - fade out edges

Hadassah’s parents’ voices were filled with longing. “Someone is coming to save us. The Savior will be born back home in Israel, from our people. He is coming to redeem us from our sins. And our God will not forget his promises.” They told her of God’s faithfulness to sinners like Adam and Eve and Noah and Abraham. They filled her with wonder that God wold love sinners like her no matter how bad she was. They told her, “And we have a promised land, Hadassah. So many of our people already went home. And someday we will go, too. We’ll leave Persia and go to the land our God promised us.”

And then… her parents died.

Hadassah went to live with her older cousin Mordecai. He told her those same promises over and over again.

And then the king exiled his queen. And then he got lonely. And then there was a contest. And Hadassah was taken. She was pried out of her home by the king’s guards, stolen from the man who had raised her, kidnapped by the government from Mordecai. As the guards marched toward their home, Mordecai grabbed Hadassah. “Don’t tell them who you are. Go by your Persian name!” He knew how dangerous it would be to be a minority, especially if the king’s eyes were on you. And so she was known as Esther.

And then Esther won the contest. She pleased the king so much, he threw a week-long party to celebrate. (more…)

Review: Messy Spirituality

Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People
by Michael Yaconelli

Is your life messier than it seems like a Christian’s should be? In Messy Spirituality, Michael Yaconelli shows that Christians lives are meant to be messy, because we’re messy people. Rather than pretending we have it all put together, it’s good to live in the messes and praise God for forgiveness. Through several short chapters and a number of emotional examples, Yaconelli demonstrates that Christianity really is messy.

I picked this book up because of the subtitle. I love that phrasing and may well steal it. Unfortunately, the book focuses less on God’s love and more on how we’re messy and that’s ok. The author waffles a lot when it comes to sin and any theological distinctions, leaving a marshmallowy mess that could have been so, so much more comforting. (more…)

For Those Who Have Lost One Yet Unborn

adult alone anxious black and white

Photo by Kat Jayne on

Too many of my friends have lost children. Too many of them have been ignored in their pain and grief.

A child unborn is still a child.

I was told recently that a pastor refused to do any kind of memorial service or even offer comfort because, well, it was “just” a miscarriage.

I don’t know this man personally, and that’s a good thing. There is not much I will become violent over, but this would be one of them. If that unborn child is indeed a child, if that unborn child is indeed human, knit together in his mother’s womb and known by the God who chose to die for every sinner, then should that child die, that child is “worth mourning.”

And yet so often parents who struggle with miscarriages are forced to hide their grief, to get over it quickly.

How dare we.

How dare we claim to be “pro-life” and yet ignore this pain. How dare we claim to value life and yet tell someone to get over it quickly.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. I wrote something. I don’t know if it’s worth much. I don’t know if it’ll actually help. I’d rather sit and groan with grieving parents than write something like this. I’d rather mourn with them. But in the meantime, if this can be a help to those mourning, I hope it can be used. Feel free to share this with whomever you think would benefit.


This is the Time

Esther pic - final - fade out edges

Hadassah lugs the clay jar back home. Susa’s dust swirls around her ankles. The capital city of the Persian empire is relatively quiet at this hour; the women gossip at the well, and over at the market the men grumble as they set up their stalls. The sun peaks over the roofs of the buildings around her, sending golden light everywhere. She breaths a morning prayer of thanks to Yahweh. “Creator, you make the sun to shine on us. Bless this day and bless this water. Give us life. Move us to be thankful. We look for the One you promised would come. Watch over those Jews who have gone home. Bring us home to Israel someday. And help me have a good birthday.”

She comes to the orange clay wall that hides her home. As she rounds the gate to the front garden shadowed by two date trees, she sets down the jar and wipes the sweat from her forehead. Today she is fifteen. Maybe Uncle Mordecai will finally tell her who she’s going to marry. Most of her friends are already married. Chava’s going to have her first baby soon! She hoists the jar to carry into their little home.

Somewhere in the distance, someone screams, breaking the quiet morning air. And then another person screams. There’s weeping far away, carried over the clay roofs of the city. (more…)

Review: Moses

Moses: God’s Deliverance
by Mark R. Bitter

God used him to deliver Israel from Egypt. That part of his story has been told in countless movies (not always well). What does the Bible say about him? What about the rest of his life? What was it all about? Mark Bitter writes this short book to show us that Moses was all about pointing to Jesus.

This book breathes Gospel, and I appreciated it so much. Bitter shows many ways that Moses points ahead to Jesus, who wouldn’t be born for about another 1500 years. Bitter talks about Passover, the cloud of the Glory of the Lord, the bronze serpent, and many other instances in Moses’ life that illustrated how God would ultimately save his people. He brings in New Testament verses to show how Jesus and the New Testament writers valued Moses.

But it’s not just the theology that’s strong here. The prologue made me nervous that this volume would read like a textbook. Nope! Just the prologue! The chapters make good use of storytelling to make different aspects of the story come alive. I greatly appreciated how much Bitter used this teaching tactic.

However, Moses’s story takes up four books of the Bible. This book is only about forty pages long. And that means some things are left on the cutting room floor. I’d love for Bitter to be able to write a full-length account of Moses’s life, but this little book ain’t it. All of Exodus is brought down to less than ten pages. I understand the length requirements, and in this case Bitter did very well with the space given. I suppose if I’m hungry for more, that’s an indication that he wrote well.

I wonder if the compression would leave someone with less knowledge of Moses more confused than not, though. Bitter doesn’t seem to assume knowledge; it’s just that compression means you have to leave off details, you know?

Previous volumes in this series (God’s People) have made use of sidebars; not every one made good use of them. This volume, however, makes some connections in the sidebars I never had before. For example, there’s one sidebar on the cloud of the Glory of the Lord and how it appears in Scripture. I appreciated that list, and will be making use of it in the future!

Overall, this is another successful addition to the God’s People series and well, well worth your time to read.

I love you when you’re empty.


Photo by Benjamín Castillo on Unsplash

I know you are broken. I know there’s no reason. I know that you’re hollow. I know that tears come, and there’s no cause.

I love you.

I know there’s no reason for me to do it. I know you don’t have anything to offer.

I love you.

I don’t love you because you offer me anything. If I did, it would be a transaction, not love. If I loved you because you gave me something, as soon as you had nothing left to give, there would be nothing for me to love.

No. I love you.

I don’t regret it. I don’t look at you and think that I’ve wasted my love. I don’t look at you and wish you were more worthy.

I love you. (more…)

Review: Grow a Pair

Grow a Pair
by Jim Burgen and Scott Nickell

Men in our culture have a problem. They’re not men. They’re little boys pretending to be men. They either think masculinity is wrong and they give it up, or they twist it to become monsters. Many churches seem to teach that men have to stop being men if they’re going to be Christian. In Grow a Pair, Pastors Jim Burgen and Scott Nickell take a look at four biblical examples of men and how each demonstrated mastery or lack of pairs of qualities that makes men, men.

The authors picked a good assortment of men to check out. They look through the accounts of Joseph, Samson, David, and Boaz. The retellings of each story keeps pretty tight to the biblical narrative while using modern parlance. I appreciated that, as a way to stress the depth of sin and the height of God’s grace, they didn’t shy away from how sinful each example could be. In each example, the author also notes how they would have struggled in each case. In fact, after wrapping up Boaz’s story and talking about how he’s included in Jesus’s geneology, the authors write, “ You think your family is jacked up? You’ve got nothing on Jesus’s family” (147)! I appreciated this aspect of the book. (more…)

If Jesus Is Real

brown wooden church bench near white painted wall

Photo by Nikko Tan on

I would be willing to die for my faith. At least I think I would be; if God is real, he is worth dying for. But watching adults who have lived twenty or thirty years longer than I have act as they are acting right now makes me wonder if this whole Christianity thing is real at all. If older Christians are showing me where this faith is going, I don’t want to go with them. I don’t want to be on that team.

That’s Rebecca K. Reynolds quoting a college student she worked with in her book Courage, Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World (my review shall be forthcoming!).

The young woman’s emotions strike me. I agree with her.

I look at the many apathetic Christians that line the halls of the many churches I’ve belonged to. Don’t the get it? Jesus is so much bigger and more exciting and important than weekend sports (every weekend) or work (did you ask about getting the shift off or did it not matter?) or sleeping in (I get it. Sleep is important. I’m a new dad again. I miss sleep.).

I think about how many leadership teams are stressed about what’s going on with the church-as-organization but don’t seem to get invested in Jesus-as-head-of-church.

I think about how many people seem to limp through worship. The Law doesn’t seem to cut. The Gospel doesn’t seem to revive. The music doesn’t seem to touch them, and the prayers are something to be mumbled. And Communion? Oh, it’s Communion week again. Sure. Whatever.

Do they not get it? (more…)