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Review: Without This Ring

Without This Ring: Surviving Divorce
by Donna Pyle

Divorce rips apart what God had made one. How do you survive that? What happens next? This is not a book of devotions. It is not a how-to showing you how to justify your divorce. It is not a guidebook to make sure you’re always in the right. Instead, it walks through the emotional and practical journey of what to happen when divorce comes. Throughout, Donna Pyle shows scenes from her own story of heartbreak. She also sprinkles in many other stories that show other aspects of divorce. Most chapters end with a few ages each written by a pastor and a professional counselor reacting to what Pyle wrote. Each chapter is followed with a guide for further prayer and journaling.

This book isn’t aimed at me. I’m not divorced, and Lord willing, I’m not planning on a divorce! Hopefully, though, no one going into marriage plans on divorce. I figured that I should get some more training and knowledge in dealing with people in those circumstances, though, and so I picked up this book.

I’m glad I did. (more…)

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Anniversary

Ordination

It’s been eight years.

Eight years ago today I was ordained. I was made a minister of God to serve his people, called by his church. Pastors that I didn’t yet know (but would soon learn to love as brothers) laid their hands on me and gave blessings. It was a hot, hot day.

And now I’ve been a pastor for eight years.

Eight-year-olds generally don’t know a whole lot. They think they do, and it’s true, they’ve learned a lot, but they’ve got a long way to go, don’t they? They can read, but not terribly well. They can sports pretty hard, but not with a lot of skill, generally. They can music with zeal, but not always in tune.

I feel that’s me. I’ve come a long way since I was ordained, since I started this blog, since my first trembling steps as a minister. But man, I still know next to nothing.

And it’s weird… because I’m starting to be the person to go to for other ministers. (more…)

Review: Religion on Trial

Religion on Trial: Cross-Examining Religious Truth Claims
by Craig A. Parton

So, there’s a lot of religions out there. How do you know which one is true? Are any of them true? How do you test them? Does it even matter? In Religion on Trial, Craig Parton posits a way to test religious claims. Parton is a trial lawyer, and holds religion to the same standards that he would any witness on the stand. As he states in the introduction,

So, whether you are utterly convinced that you are one with God or the divine or that you are an insignificant piece of matter in a gigantic but ultimately purposeless cosmic game, or you are positive that God may be there but is deathly silent, or you are sure that your “religion” is true because it makes you feel good about your balanced spirituality and integrated personality, you should not fear a relentless search for the truth.” (8)

Parton’s presentation is pretty solid. He walks through a bunch of valid questions: Aren’t all religions the same anyway? How do you evaluate them? Do any of them make verifiable truth claims? Does it even matter? By examining evidence and laying out what can’t be controverted, and by presenting everything as if it were a trial, Parton shows an adept hand at talking through what truth is. This book could be very handy for anyone looking for some guidance in apologetics. (more…)

Review: Internalizing the Faith

Internalizing the Faith: A Pilgrim’s Catechism
by J. Brandon Burks

A catechism summarizes the confession of a church in a simple form that can be memorized and passed down easily. In Internalizing the Faith, J. Brandon Burks presents a Reformed catechism to teach the youth of his church body and reinforce the beliefs of those who already know their faith.

Burks has written a pretty good encapsulation of Reformed theology here. The book is slim, to the point, and generally clear. I appreciated the format. Burks presents one hundred seven questions, most with one-sentence answers. Each answer has one Biblical reference with an endnote. The endnotes present a paragraph for each question in the main body of the book. Each paragraph has a number of biblical references and books for further reading. (more…)

Review: How to Talk Confidently with Your Child About Sex

How to Talk Confidently with Your Child about Sex
by Lenore Buth

Trying to figure out how to have “The Talk” with your kids? What do you tell them when? How do you know what they already know? When do you let go? When is it too much for them to handle? In How to Talk Confidently with Your Child about Sex, Lenore Buth walks parents through many tips. Throughout she points to Jesus as the source of our confidence, and encourages parents to point to him constantly.

This is the last of the Learning About Sex series from Concordia Publishing House. I’ve reviewed several books in the series (which you can read about here, here, here, here, or here). In short, the series has been good but a little uneven.

This book falls into the “strong” category. Buth does a fantastic job pointing to Christ as the source of both the parent’s and the child’s identity. She offers several sample conversations, how to initiate them, and how to graciously answer questions that might make a parent uncomfortable. I greatly appreciated her grace-filled responses to questions a child might have about sin. (more…)

Review: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
by Phillip Keller

When David wrote Psalm 23, best known as “The Good Shepherd Psalm,” nearly everyone in that culture knew exactly what he was talking about. They understood the analogies and how shepherds worked. They knew sheep. Well, most of us today don’t know much about sheep, except one followed Mary wherever she would go. In A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller speaks about his experience as a shepherd for many years and what Psalm 23 is really talking about.

First off, this book is generally regarded as a classic, and rightly so. Keller’s descriptions of the shepherding life and the phrases of Psalm 23 really work. He comes across not only as competent, but able to actually talk about it in language that a city slicker like me can understand. He also has a thorough knowledge of Scripture, not just quoting Psalm 23, but pulling in passages from all over the Bible as prove useful. (more…)

I don’t belong here.

Public Speaking

Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph on Unsplash

I don’t belong here.”

I allowed myself to tremble as I stood before all of them. Hundreds of leaders in my church body gathered in convention, and I was tasked to point them to Jesus. The worship that began the convention the day before had a sermon that guided us through Law and Gospel. We had been fed rich food. That morning, a confident man had guided us through the meaning of a particular word, feeding both intellect and faith as he revealed the mysteries of Scripture.

And then here was me.

And as I looked out at that vast sea of leaders, I spoke the truth again: “I don’t belong here.” I couldn’t even pace; the sound system in this rented space didn’t include wireless mics. “Maybe some of you are far more self-assured than I am, but I constantly feel like I don’t belong. I feel like a fake. Like someday someone is going to figure it out, and the district president will show up and pull the plug. ‘We figured you out, Jon. Get out. You don’t belong here.’”

There’s a slight chuckle through the crowd. They think I’m exaggerating.

Of course I’m not. (more…)

Review: The Executioner’s Redemption

The Executioner’s Redemption
by Rev. Timothy R. Carter

Tim Carter participated in more than 150 executions. Not a lie, not a fiction, not a story. He worked for the Texas State Penitentiary death squad.

And then he became a pastor.

The Executioner’s Redemption is his story. How did he end up on the death squad? What did that do to his emotions? To his soul? How did Jesus reach him there, and what did it mean once he was a Christian? Tim Carter takes us through his life, and how good the grace of God is. (more…)

Choosing Depression

Depression 5

Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

It’s a bargain. It’s always a bargain.” The man sighs. “I offer you a choice. Either way I get the better end of the deal, but you think you’ve won. And that’s the way it works.”

I won’t think I’ve won,” I answer.

You will. Briefly, at least.” The man raises an eyebrow. “Here is what I offer: I can take your depression. I’ll deliver it to someone who wants it. He’ll wear it around his heart like a necklace of bone and sorrow. But when I take it, I will take all your memory of your depression. You will never know what you have been strong enough to face. You will never know how much of your own demons you have conquered. You will not recall the darkness of your struggle. And,” he raises a finger, “You will never know that someone loved you enough to carry your burden.”

You love me?”

Someone must, to offer to take your depression from you.” He tilts his head. “Because depression cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be passed on from one person to another, until the end of time and the Dawn comes.” He wrinkles his nose at that word, but smooths it away quickly. “So yes. Someone is offering to take your depression. And all you’ve gotten from it.” (more…)

Sometimes I See Stories

Ponder

Sometimes I wonder.

We don’t know how old Joshua was when he entered the Promised Land. His fellow spy, Caleb, was forty when they explored the land flowing with milk and honey before the forty years of wandering, so it’s realistic to say Joshua was about the same age. And if he was forty then – well, how long did slaves wait before they got married? It’s reasonable to guess Joshua was already married at that point. And since no one who was an adult at the beginning of the forty years of wandering made it into the Promised Land except Joshua and Caleb, well, that means that if Joshua was married, he was a widower when he entered the Promised Land.

It’s all guesses. Somewhat educated guesses, but guesses. The Bible does tell us Joshua was married at some point. He had children. We don’t know when that was, though. After the conquest? Before?

But sometimes I take a look at those snippets… and I see a story. (more…)