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.

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…)

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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

overwhelmed

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…)

Gifts for Me

Christmas Card

She is alone much of the time. As I visit her, she tells me, “I haven’t left my room in over a month.” I know this woman fairly well. She may be in a nursing home, but she’s hardly sedate. She’s active with the other residents, playing games, solving puzzles, and sharing Jesus.

Normally.

Just about every time I visit, she’ll say, “Pastor, my neighbor doesn’t believe in God. How can that be? How can I tell him about Jesus?”

Her heart yearns for her Savior and yearns to share him, too.

But now she’s sick. It’s a new medication that’s simply not cooperating well. Hopefully it’ll be solved soon. In the meantime, she hasn’t left her room.

She hasn’t been to church in years. Her family stuck her in a nursing home far away. It was cheaper. But it’s so far away she physically can’t handle the drive to church anymore. It’s so far away pretty much no one visits her. It’s about an hour away by interstate.

And she longs to be with the congregation again. She misses the family of believers. (more…)

Review: Reclaiming Glory

Reclaiming Glory: Revitalizing Dying churches
by Mark Clifton

Every year hundreds of churches close their doors for good. Right now there are thousands of churches in the States that are irrelevant; if they closed for good, maybe two dozen people would be affected, and the neighborhood wouldn’t even notice. Does it give glory to God to close a church? Does it give glory to God to merely survive? In Reclaiming Glory, Mark Clifton outlines a process to help replant churches, showing that the goal must be to give glory to God, or else it’s just an exercise in idolatry.

In general, I really wish I’d had this book a number of years ago. I’ve already learned a number of these lessons the hard way. His characteristics of a dying church are spot-on: “Dying churches love to discuss, debate, define, and describe” (22). “They value their own preferences over the needs of the unreached” (23). “They see the community as the resources from which they can grow, when in fact they need to understand that the truth is just the opposite. The community is not there for the church; the church is there for the community” (27).

Clifton’s “Six Replanting Imperatives” are also exactly what’s needed: Pray without ceasing. Love the church’s remaining members. Exegete the community. Simplify your strategy. Focus on reaching young men. Make disciples who make disciples. (more…)

Why Christmas Matters

macro shot photography of christmas stockings ornament on a christmas tree

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

He is risen!” I greeted the congregation.

They blinked at each other. They glanced nervously at the Christmas tree. They observed the chairs nicely lined up for the kids to sit in for the Christmas program. The Advent candles were lit. “…He is risen indeed?” they asked back. There was a nervous chuckle.

Some of you are a little confused!” I smile.

Cause you’re not supposed to say that now!” one of the members in the front row answers. More laughter now. (more…)

Sin’s Curse Has Lost

grayscale photography of patient and relative holding hands

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

It’s never good when the phone rings at four in the morning.

It’s John. They took him to the hospital.”

I’m awake. Wide awake. John’s on in-home hospice. If they took him to the hospital, it’s bad. And his wife can’t drive.

Do you need a ride?”

Yes, please, pastor,” she sobs.

The interstate is mercifully empty this time of day. I pray. I think about what Bible verses to read to John and Marie, his wife. What comfort can I give that I haven’t already spoken?

This man is a giant in our congregation. He’s possibly the most spiritually mature man I’ve ever met. I’ve never met anyone so blatantly motivated by the Gospel. He’s not the pushy Christian interjecting Jesus into every conversation as a wonderfully spiritual non sequitur, but a man who knows Jesus deeply, wants you to know him, and shows Jesus’s love through amazing generosity.

And it might be time for him to go home. (more…)