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.

Ecclesiastes Nights

This is stupid.

There’s no reason for it. I want to cry. I want to just sit down and sob. Seriously. There’s this urge to give up and cry.

I. Hate. Depression.

It’s an Ecclesiastes night. I’m looking around and just shaking my head and saying, “It’s useless. It’s meaningless. I give up.”

Why? I don’t know. Because (more…)

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Review: Letters to Malcolm

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
by C. S. Lewis

In a series of letters to a fictitious friend, C. S. Lewis writes about prayer. He talks about how he envisions God, what he prays about, how he prays, and in the process tackles such topics as worship, heaven, and repentance.

I enjoyed the format of this book. Lewis could have written all of this as essays, but instead formatted them all as warm letters. I didn’t find out “Malcolm” was fictional until after I’d finished reading this slim volume, so convincing was Lewis’s reactions to letters he apparently had never received, since there is no Malcolm! Each letter runs five to six pages in my volume, which is a perfect bite-sized length for me. (more…)

Sometimes putting the inmates in charge of the asylum is fun.

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By the time I left, he had something like fifty ideas, and excited for all of them.

I had come to ask questions and listen. This congregation has become content to a point bordering on apathy. I’m asking what they’re passionate about. I am not questioning their faith; I have seen it in action. But as a congregation, we’re certainly not moving together. We’re happy to show up for Sunday worship and nothing else as a family of believers. Time to tap into the passions they already have and use them.

I asked the family what we did that they were already passionate about.

Their young teen son said, “Helping at the hazardous waste cleanup! Can we do more of that?”

A couple times a year our congregation volunteers to help with various clean-up efforts in the community. It’s some of the few things we do outside our building, really. This was the first year this particular teen was old enough to participate, and he was excited to serve more.

He wants to make a difference. (more…)

Review: Ethics of Sex

Ethics of Sex: From Taboo to Delight
Ed. By Gifford A. Grobien

What does God have to say about sex? Our world screams so many messages about what to do with our lust and our bodies, but God’s Word often says something very different from the world. Ten essays make up this book, pointing the reader back to what God says.

And as with any collection of essays, there’s good ones and bad ones.

One essay quoted The Catechism of the Catholic Church over and over again and very little Scripture. Another quoted a lot of the Lutheran fathers and very little Scripture. I have issues with this. It doesn’t matter if you’re quoting Roman Catholic sources or Lutheran ones; I’m suspicious if you don’t go back to the Bible. (more…)

This is Brave. This is Bruised.

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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…)

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…)