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.

Review: Being Lutheran

Being Lutheran
by A. Trevor Sutton

So… why are you Lutheran? Why aren’t you Lutheran? What’s the big deal with Lutherans? In Being Lutheran, A. Trevor Sutton walks through what being Lutheran isn’t… and what it is. He confronts the stereotypes, notes when Lutherans have failed to be what they say they are, and lays out what it’s all about.

I was nervous when I got this book; I’ve seen a lot of Lutheran chest-thumping about how great our church is. At the same time, Sutton wrote the excellent Why Should I Trust the Bible so I thought I’d give it a try. And… this book is worth it. Right in the introduction he writes, “Being Lutheran is about following Jesus. A Lutheran’s primary identity is in Jesus, who has claimed you as his own, given you new life through the waters of Baptism, and invited you to come follow him” (xix).

This is no catechism. If you want to know what Lutherans believe in a systematic way, go read Luther’s Small Catechism. But this book tackles some great perspectives on what Lutherans are. The first part of the book looks at what we aren’t, and the first chapter is all about how we aren’t closed. Sutton talks about how Lutherans share the Gospel with anyone. As I read, I feared that he was painting too pretty a picture. Then he has a lengthy section talking about imperfections: “I would be a liar if I told you that Lutherans have perfectly maintained open access to the Gospel. We have not. Although we hate to hear it, Lutherans are sinful folks prone to closing the Gospel. At times, we have defied our own heritage. On occasion, we have willingly closed the Gospel to groups of people” (18). He maintains this pattern throughout the book: This is what Lutheranism is, and here is where we have failed to in fact be Lutheran. I can think of a number of people that should read this – both those disillusioned with their own Lutheran congregations to be reminded of what Lutherans are meant to be, as well as those who have forgotten what Lutherans are meant to be. (more…)


Someone I love is dead.

She died in her sleep over a year ago, and I wasn’t there.

A dear, dear daughter of God. “Oh come in, Pastor! Come in! Tell me, how are your wife and the kids? Oh, sit down, sit down! Don’t mind the mess. I’m trying to make sure Frisky doesn’t cause any more messes. She got so angry last time I was at the hospital!” She died. Over a year ago. And I wasn’t there.

Pastor, take this money. Get some ice cream for the kids. If there’s any left, you have some too!” she’d say with that smile. That wonderful, wonderful smile. And now she’s dead. Over a year ago. And I wasn’t there.

Pastor, I’m not superwoman! I can’t keep up the house the way I want. But I’ve got help now! They come in twice a week and clean anything I can’t. They do the laundry, too! Oh, I could never leave. My husband built this home.” It’s the home she died in a year ago.

I was her shepherd. I visited her every month. She encouraged me so often. She was eager for Communion. She longed for God’s Word. She called in to listen to the church service every week. I got to hear her sing and hold her hand when she went to the hospital.

And now she sings in glory. Now there are no more hospitals for her. Now she sees her Jesus face to face.

But I failed her. (more…)

The Fearful Ring

I’m calling tomorrow about how worship went.”

That’s not an encouraging text. Not when the congregation is experimenting with a new order of service. Most of the time, people who approve of a change will remain silent and content. Pastors hear a lot from folks that are unhappy, though.

I braced. I didn’t want the phone call. I’m not a fan of phone calls in general, much less unhappy ones. I’ve received so many people telling me about how dangerous something is we were doing, or how they were going to leave, or how “someone” they know was really upset (and that “Someone” 95% of the time is them, but they’re not brave enough to own up to their own reactions).

I understand that change is difficult, and I understand that we can’t please everyone. As I led worship this past Sunday, I started worship by announcing that we were trying something different. “You might not like it. Frankly, I don’t care. Because the point of worship is not giving you something you like. It’s about a conversation. It’s about listening to what God says and then responding. So as you evaluate these changes, don’t think about whether or not you like them. Think about whether or not you hear what God says more clearly through his Word, and whether you’re equipped to respond better not just for this hour, but for the next 167 hours until we come together in worship again.”

And those, frankly, are fightin’ words. So I expected a fight. And with that text I received, I felt the stress threading through my shoulders and pulling tight. (more…)

Review: Joseph

Joseph: Forgiving Brother
by Lyle L. Luchterhand

Joseph’s story is one of the most arresting in Scripture. He’s been the focus of movies and musicals and not a few kids’ specials. Who was Joseph? What did he do? This book tells the story of his life, from his earliest days all the way until his bones were buried in the Promised Land hundreds of years after his death.

This is another book in the God’s People series that I’ve generally enjoyed. And this volume in the set has some great choices. For instance, it starts when Joseph is a boy and his father is preparing to leave his grandfather. I enjoyed setting up Joseph’s life from that beginning point instead of picking up when they were settled back in Canaan. I also greatly enjoyed the presentation of the promises that Joseph had been taught; what God had promised his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. That has been a strength of this entire set, pointing out how the people of the Old Testament trusted God’s promises and looked forward.

There were some… interesting choices made as well. For instance, the book rightly presents Joseph as seventeen years old when he is betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave. He wasn’t a little boy, as often presented in story books. However, the book revers to this seventeen-year-old as a “little boy.” I… don’t get it.

While all the information is correct, the book stumbles a bit narratively. Certain passages feel more like a history report than a story or a dynamic retelling of actual events. Much of that could have been avoided by making things “present tense” rather than occurring in flashback. For instance, a chapter begins with Joseph thrown in jail, and them the cause for his jailing is told in flashback, “He had done X” instead of just telling the story.

Which means thus far, this is the weakest book of the series. Despite that, it’s still well worth the time for grounding Joseph within the story of salvation, tightly connecting him to his father Jacob as well as trusting in the promises of the Savior yet to come. If you’ve enjoyed the others in the set, don’t skip this one.

Wedding Whine

Wedding Day

I’m at a wedding. I just married two people. Pretty awesome. The bride’s shone, though she didn’t walk down the aisle with the dress she had last night. Something happened with the fitting, and she had to find a replacement today. Still, her smile was enough to outshine the sun.

Speaking of the sun, it was an outdoor wedding. Those are chancy; the weather can do so many things. But it was mid-seventies, bright sun, and the breeze was a touch strong but otherwise perfect.

I could tell the bride was a little stressed. She’s like me; an introvert. My wedding day was amazing because it started my marriage, but man, was I done by the end of it! She looked about the same. Happy. Stressed. Done. Happy.

Most everyone is happy now, though. Kids are running around screaming and giggling. Adults are chuckling and chatting. Food is being eaten. Music blares. Everyone is happy.

Except my son. (more…)

Review: For Young Men Only

For Young Men Only : A Guy’s Guide to the Alien Gender
by Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice with Shaunti Feldhahn

Girls are weird. Maybe you’ve noticed. And they’re even weirder when you and they are teenagers. Just strange. Maybe if someone talked to a whole bunch of them and explained what they said in normal words – you know, like the words guys use – there’d be hope. Well, good thing that Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice wrote this book! They interviewed 1,000 teen women and wrote their findings here, lining up several ah-ha! moments.

First off, I’ve loved every book in this series and I highly recommend them. For Men Only and For Women Only helped me, personally, in both my marriage and in my professional life. I didn’t even know this particular book existed, and when I saw it I snatched it up. Did it stand up to the good ratings of the others?

Mostly! (more…)

Movies > Books?


I read. Maybe just a little.

If you pay attention to what I post, you know that I’ve been averaging a book a week for over a year now. And these are the books I read in pursuing being a better pastor! I also read plenty of books for fun, and over on my other blog I’ll be writing about the year’s worth of books in a few weeks. Most of my continuing education comes from my personal reading and various conferences.

But this week I haven’t been doing much professional reading. Instead, I’ve been watching movies. (more…)

Review: The 10 Minute Bible Journey

The 10 Minute Bible Journey
by Dale Mason; foreword by Ken Ham

The Bible is a big book and it can be hard to wrap your arms around it. In The 10 Minute Bible Journey, Dale Mason takes the reader through 52 bite-size chunks that gives the “big picture” of Scripture. Each lesson is two pages of text and one page-size picture, and each lesson shows how these events connect directly or indirectly to Jesus. By the time the reader finishes the book, they should have a good idea of how the Bible fits together, to equip them to read the entire Bible on their own.

With a few caveats (one of them pretty major), I am going to highly recommend this book. It does a good job compressing the narrative of Scripture and showing how everything fits together. It keeps pointing to Jesus as the central person of the Bible, constantly directing the reader to him. While some of the lessons are little rocky in just how they present the information, many of them are compelling. The lessons on Jesus’s birth in particular are very well written, even grabbing me (who, you know, kinda know that story pretty well!). I appreciated the highlighting of Jesus throughout. (more…)

Longing for His Home


When I think of that word, there’s a longing. The “O” is long, almost tremulous. And for the last two weeks, I have longed for home.

We went on vacation. And it was a good vacation. We visited friends we haven’t seen in years. We visited family we haven’t seen in years. We visited my parents. I got to play violin with my dad for worship. And the time spent with each person was far, far too short. I did not want to part with any of them.

But home beckoned.

I longed to be back home. Back where I belong. Back with my family in my house, in my town, with my congregation, and sleeping again in my own bed. I was ready to get back to directly serving rather than “just” recharging. And as we began the return voyage on Monday, my heart tore. I wanted to see my parents more. But oh, the call of home was so great. And I longed to return.

When we finally entered the front door of our house last night, it was indeed a homecoming. No one waited to throw us a party. No one had prettied it up while we were gone (though the woman we arranged to take care of our lawn did indeed do a fantastic job). It was nothing special… beyond being the place where we belong.

Where we belong. (more…)

Review: Ready to Return?

Ready to Return? The Need for a Fundamental Shift in Church Culture to Save a Generation
by Ken Ham with Jeff Kinley; Research by Britt Beemer

Why have so many 20-somethings left the church, and what will it take to reclaim them? How can we make sure that 20-somethings that remain don’t disappear? This book uses research to show what went wrong and what the church can do about it.

…or so the back of the book claims. (more…)