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One Year

I totally missed it. That’s probably a good thing, right?

Just over a year ago I said goodbye. I left a home that had infuriated me. That abused me. That scarred me. That loved me.

Just over a year ago, I left the first congregation I served as a pastor.

And… I don’t really have an emotional reaction to it. I don’t feel the need to go lay a rose on the headstone of my ministry there. I don’t feel the need to eulogize and look back with nostalgia. I don’t even desire to sit and count the scars and see which ones still aren’t healed.

Part of it is that I’m earnestly serving God’s people in this location. I’m hardly sulking! I’m busy! Part of it is… I think I’m healing. I won’t say there are no scars. I won’t say I’ve “gotten over it.” But the healing has gotten to the point that I’m even able to interact with at least some people from o’er yonder without breaking emotionally.

And the fact that I can even say that is a miracle. (more…)

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Bring Her Home

God. Help.

Holy is the Lord. You are holy. You are good.

Be good now.

Bring her home.

You know your daughter. You delight in her. You knew her sin so long ago, and you died for her. For the joy set before you, you endured the cross, scorning its shame. You claimed her as your own when she was baptized – so long ago in my eyes, but for you it was still today. You have woven yourself into her life. You have adopted her as your daughter. You went and prepared a place for her in your Father’s mansion.

Bring her home. (more…)

Review: Odd Girl Out

I have a different edition, so some of the quotes may be different from the edition linked here. 

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls
by Rachel Simmons

Female bullying looks different from male bullying. Boys will fight. Their aggression can be incredibly loud. In comparison, female bullying is often “under the table.” Girls are taught to be nice, and so their aggression is often covert, but just as devastating. In Odd Girl Out Rachel Simmons traces the pattern of female bullying in middle and high school, showing how it appears, as well as giving advice on how to overcome this terrible problem.

Female bullying is real and it is devastating. I helped out at a teen center for many years. You could always tell when the young men didn’t like you or each other. You could also tell when whatever the problem was cleared up. The young women, though? Things would come up months or even years later. I saw how devastated a young woman could be with just a look or a comment. When I saw this book, I was eager to read it.

I had a range of reactions. This book is not aimed at Christian readers, and does not make Christian assumptions. As such, it never mentions Jesus nor forgiveness. That doesn’t surprise me. We’ll come back to that thought in a bit.

But one of the things that kept hitting me as I read the book was: Is it really as bad as Simmons claims? She paints a picture of a society that destroys young women. I’m not talking about the “lone bully.” She makes it sound like every single young woman is bullied and bullies back using numerous methods that fly under the radar of nearly every teacher. She makes it seem as if bullying is the feature of growing up female in the States. Is it that widespread? I know bullying is bad. I was the victim of it in middle school. I know how scarring it can be; that bullying still shapes many of my habits. But Simmons made it seem so much worse. But that is one of her first and main points: Bullying is not uncommon. “I was sure I was the only girl to ever know [what it was to be bullied]” (2). (more…)

Write what you…

No.

I’m… not sure I want to do this. It’s like standing naked before your colleagues. It’s like putting everything you hide on display. It’s taking out your shames and saying, “LOOK AT IT!” And part of me wants to cover up. It doesn’t want to display what I am. Who I am.

I’ve been asked to present a paper on depression in the ministry. And the prospect of speaking about myself so bluntly, of speaking of my struggles, it’s scary.

This might sound weird. After all I’ve written relatively often here about my struggles with depression. I’ve tried to be transparent. (more…)

Review: Other Sheep

Other Sheep
by Arnold H. Schroeder

Pastor Arnold Schroeder served as an institutional pastor for forty-two years, starting in 1938. In Other Sheep, he talks about the many different people he brought the Gospel to, from asylums, to hospitals, to rest homes, to orphanages. Throughout, he continues to praise God for loving sinners and calling lost sheep back to their Shepherd.

I was honestly surprised about the content of this book; I had expected it to be sharing how to share the Gospel in some very challenging situations, with some real-world examples. Instead what I got was story after story of how the Gospel worked. Schroeder tells most of his stories within one or two pages, but don’t think you’re getting Chicken Soup for the Soul here. This is not only heart-wrenching, but drenched with the Gospel. Schroeder isn’t afraid to let us see what sin has done, but he also shows how wonderful Jesus’s forgiveness really is. More than once tears came to my eyes as I read his vivid descriptions. He talks about veteran’s homes, asylums, hospitals, and the people that lived there.

The book isn’t just amazing stories. It shows pastoral care in action. It talks about how a pastor talked about Jesus, how the Holy Spirit used that Word, and how that Word grew into action in many people’s lives. I’m actually sad that I hadn’t had this book recommended to me at the Seminary; it provides so many good case studies!

I also enjoyed seeing history come alive in this book. This man started his ministry before the States entered World War Two! There’s been a lot of change in how we as a nation treat those who are unable to care for themselves. Our culture has changed so much, too. This is no nostalgic look back, nor is it condemning, but a simple, “This is how things were.”

And over and over again, Schroeder shared not only the stories of the people he ministered to, but how he shared Jesus with them. This is the Gospel in action, connecting Jesus’s death on the cross with living people and changing them.

If you’re looking for a straight-up practical theology book giving direct pointers, this isn’t for you. But if you want to see theology in action, to see how Jesus touched people throughout the 20th century, this book is well, well worth your time.

Shouldn’t I be exhausted all the time?

The kids had spring break this week, so I took some time off to spend with them. We wandered around a state park. Played some new-to-them board games. It was a great, laid-back week. I felt a little guilty that I wasn’t putting my time into the ministry.

And then out of curiosity I totaled my ministry time for the week.

HOLY CRAP I STILL PUT IN 56 HOURS?

And I feel rested after this week. After 56 hours of ministry time and spending a lot more time with the family than normal.

…um… (more…)

As Serpents

We had a visitor at church tonight! He showed up with ten minutes left of worship. Came in huffing and puffing. Joined the conversation and the singing and the praying. He joined us for our confession of sins and our absolution, hearing directly what Jesus did for us.

After worship, my evangelism chairman introduced himself and a couple other people. I let them take point; it’s good for others in the congregation to get involved. After taking care of some other business with members, I approached and this visitor told me his sad, sad story: He rode the bus all the way to our town from the other side of the state and walked from about two miles away to get to our church (which is why he was so late), but he left the envelope with his money on the bus and now had no way to get home. (more…)

Review: The Leader in Me

The Leader in Me
by Stephen R. Covey, Sean Covey, Muriel Summers, and David K. Hatch

Schools are failing to teach kids what they need to know. Most schools concentrate on academics, but so often kids get out of school and they don’t know how to discipline themselves, find jobs, or even how to shake hands. Kids don’t know how to handle interpersonal communication. Kids can’t manage conflict. If schools are going to equip kids for today, they need to do more than teach academics. In The Leader in Me, the authors argue for a system that teaches Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as a cross-curriculum point, so that every child is valued and learns all seven habits.

My children attend a public school. This school has decided to implement The Leader in Me and the principal invited me to be part of the “Lighthouse Team” that kicks off the process. Well, that meant I had to read the book! I want to be involved in my kids’ school so that not only can I keep an eye on what’s going on and encourage teachers, but so that also I can reach out in pre-evangelism so when something comes up I’m positioned to share the Gospel effectively.

When I first heard about the program, I was excited. The Seven Habits are actually a pretty good framework for life; they teach things like, “Be proactive,” which basically means being responsible for your own actions and emotions. It teaches, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” Basically it teaches a bunch of good worldly wisdom.

But… I have to say, I’m really torn on the program. (more…)

Review: Where Do Babies Come From?

Where Do Babies Come From? (Boys ages 6-8)
By no one. Absolutely no one!

Simon’s mom is going to have a baby! What does that mean for the family? Where did the baby come from, and how will it get out of mom’s stomach? How are boys and girls different? This book shows Simon growing in knowledge as his mom and dad teach him about where babies come from.

So I’ve already reviewed the books in this series aimed at my older son and daughter. Now here’s one aimed at my younger son’s age! The other two were perfect. What about this one?

First, there’s a total and appropriate format change. Rather than being a book of information, this is all formatted as a story in a near picture-book setting. I think giving the information as a story is a great way to do it. That said, this is no picture book. There’s a lot of text on every page – much more dense than most books I’ve read to my youngest. Maybe this would work fine for an eight-year-old, but for my boy it’s just too much on a page.

I’m also honestly disappointed on how this is so gospel-light. Yes, it talks about God designing people in special ways, and how he designed boys and girls different. Good! But unlike the other books that focused on how God loves us and proved it by dying on the cross., this one focuses on just giving information. Now, all that information is good and is presented in an appropriate way; it’s just not Gospel-centered the way the other books were.

So overall, after how good the other two were… I’m disappointed here. I’ll likely still use this with my son, but I’ll be waiting a couple of years before going through it with him, and probably adding more Gospel in.

Alas.

An Easter Eve Nervous Breakdown

 

He is risen.

How can I? How can I stand in front of anyone and preach on a day like this? How can I explain what the big deal is? How can I possibly take glory and put it into words? How can I shape awe into syllables or craft wonder into sentences?

This day is too big. I can’t wrap my arms around it for myself. His heart beats. His pulse races. He smiles. The God that I was not good enough to bow to, who came and died for me, he looks at me and reaches out with a scarred hand. He grins. “Jon, come on. Come walk with me. Tell others.”

And I can’t. (more…)