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Review: Never Forsaken

Never Forsaken: God’s Mercy in the Midst of Miscarriage
by Kathryn Ziegler Weber

I wept over this book.

Nine women tell the stories of their miscarriages. Each chapter features a different woman’s story with a different focus. One chapter talks about dealing with the question, “Why?” Another talks about shame. Another talks about dealing with your own sins in lashing out while grieving. Another talks about how to talk about miscarriage with others. Every chapter ends with an excellent three-paragraph summation and an in-depth Bible study that takes the reader deeper. The book holds several appendices as well, including a worship service memorial for use by grieving families, Martin Luther’s words to parents of stillborn children, and suggestions for further Bible readings and prayers.

If you are a pastor or in charge of a church library, you need to get this book for the use of your members who face this trial. If you are a parent who struggles with grief from a miscarriage, I highly recommend you read this book. (more…)

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“It brings tears to my eyes.”

 

photo of men having conversation

Apparently there are no pictures of two people just talking in a restaurant; every pic is either a business meeting or a date! 

He came in to church yesterday wearing a fedora. He actually looked pretty good in it, like he was about to go out swing dancing or something. I’d never seen him before, but he looked young – I’d guess older teens. I learned later he was 21.

I converted from Roman Catholicism, but my Lutheran church is too liberal,” he told me as he entered. “I did some research and saw that you were more conservative. So I thought I’d give you a try.”

Today we sat together over supper at a restaurant and chatted.

I was Roman. Traditional Roman,” he told me over chili-glazed brussel sprouts. “We rejected Vatican II. And I was really into it. I was at seminary to become a priest. But as I read more and more, I realized I couldn’t do it all. There was always this uncertainty. But I had some friends who had left the Roman church to become Eastern Orthodox. So I left seminary and tried that for a while. It was basically the same thing. And then I was Baptist, but they just kept pushing rules, too. And then I discovered Lutheranism.” (more…)

Review: Master Criminals

Not-So-Nice Bible Stories: Master Criminals
by Jonathan Schkade, illustrated by Gleisson Cipriano

The Bible isn’t all sugar, spice, and everything nice. There’s a lot of stories in God’s Word that shows how dark this world can be. In Master Criminals, Jonathan Schkade takes some of the biggest stories of crimes in the Bible and takes an honest look at them. He retells each story in modern language, asks thought-provoking questions, and shows ties to other sections of Scripture. Every chapter ends with a section asking, “Why is this in the Bible?” and some “Extra Features” that usually connect the events of the chapter with works of fiction or events in history that may be of interest to the reader.

This is a companion book to Gory Deaths. While I don’t know which one comes first, I can tell you I think I liked Gory Deaths better. Master Criminals is still excellent, please don’t get me wrong! But I think if I were giving gifts or lending books out, I’d start with the other one.

That said, Schkade’s choice of criminals is, well, choice. He starts with Adam and Eve as the murderers of every human who ever lived, and then moves on to Cain and Abel. But he also includes a number of people that many readers might not be familiar with, such as Athaliah or two women who committed cannibalism in Israel. He also includes some people who were accused of wrong who weren’t doing wrong, such as the three men thrown into the fiery furnace, and Jesus himself. (more…)

Savoring a Return to Ministry

man in red crew neck sweatshirt photography

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I’m not sick anymore!

Mostly, anyway. I still have a slight cough, but it’s very contained. And I’ve been on antibiotics for a week, so I really shouldn’t be able to give anyone anything, even if I cough on them.

In theory.

Anyway, after about two weeks of being cooped up at home and pretty much only doing office work, yesterday was a dream: We held outdoor worship and the church picnic.

The weather could not have been better. The shelter our members rented sat in a back corner of a park with a perfect mix of shade and sun. A basketball court, playground, and bathroom facilities were nearby. Picnic tables provided seating for everyone for worship. A delightful mix of visitors and members came.

I got to savor worship. We dug into the entire arc of the Bible under the theme, “Created. Broken. Restored.” We walked from Genesis to Revelation. We sang several favorite songs, like “In Christ Alone” and “Jerusalem the Golden.” And as I led worship, I got to point to Jesus as the one who restores all things. We can’t restore ourselves; only Jesus has done that.

And yes. I savored that. To be with my people again, to point to Jesus, to see them again. (more…)

Review: Connecting

Connecting
by Larry Crabb

The scars on our hearts will not heal without help. We know Jesus, yes, but sometimes we need someone to tell us truths, or to listen to us, or to simply weep with us. In Connecting, Larry Crabb proposes that the best way to help heal diseases of the soul is to simply connect with one another – not attempting to give advice or pass the other person on to experts, but simply to connect. Crabb talks about what connecting is and what it isn’t, common impediments to connecting and how God deals with them, and what professionals can do to help. In the end, he advises that we belong to a community centered around Christ that is not afraid to be known.

I’ve been working on this book for a while, but it has already caused me to reconsider how I’ve connected with members of my own congregation. Was I working through to-do lists or actually caring about the people I shepherd? So, if for no other reason than that, this book has been good for my ministry.

Crabb’s list of impediments to connecting hit me hard. I saw myself in his three big impediments: my attitudes, my habits. And this has nothing to do with me being an introvert; a lot of what he said about connecting on a deep level made me ache to achieve that with some of the members I serve. (more…)

NO MOAR VISITING

man old depressed headache

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I didn’t visit the woman who wanted me to pray with her before her surgery.

She’s a dear woman, loved by the congregation, deeply valued by many others. She went in for a very painful surgery last week.

I didn’t go visit her.

She’s home now. In pain. Her family is taking care of her. The congregation has set up a rotation to bring her meals.

I still haven’t visited her.

And it’s not that I’m too busy. Honestly, the last couple weeks have been relatively laid-back. Yeah, I’m still putting plenty of hours into ministry, but I have the time to go see a woman in the hospital.

It’s not that I don’t love her.

I love her, so I’m not going to go see her. And it’s driving me nuts. (more…)

Well, it was a good run.

book shelves book stack bookcase books

Nearly two and a half years, and now… it’s done.

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you might have noticed something missing this past Tuesday: There was no review.

Since arriving at my new congregation, I’ve been able to read and review a book every single week. And last week, it came to an end. I failed to read a book this last week.

Honestly, it’s been a lot longer than that. I go through spurts of reading; sometimes I’d have reviews lined up three months in advance. Sometimes I’d be reading and posting a review that same day. But now, my lead has ended. (more…)

A Dubious Birthday Gift

lighted happy birthday candles

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Sunday I turned a certain number of years old. My birthday is not a big deal to me; I prefer to use it as an excuse to take a nap, really.

Sunday morning we wrapped up worship. I made the after-service announcements and was ready to exit the sanctuary when a member raised her hand. “Pastor, you forgot an announcement!”

Oh?” I ask. This is not an uncommon thing; the congregation is used to filling in the gaps for me.

It’s your birthday!”

I didn’t forget that,” I deadpan.

And like that, the congregation is singing “Happy Birthday” to me. (more…)

Review: Just Keep Going

Just Keep Going
by Sarah H. Nielsen

For about a decade, Sarah H. Nielsen’s son Ted walked in dangerous ways. Years later, she found out he fell into drugs at the age of twelve and didn’t emerge from that shadow for nine years. Just Keep Going is a series of devotions Nielsen wrote based on her journals written during those dark days, addressed to mothers of troubled teens. Each devotion is two or three pages and concludes with a prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer of entreaty. Through the book, Nielsen reminds the reader that it is not her job to save her child; it’s Jesus’s job.

Though much of this book came about because of Nielsen’s struggles with her own child, we get far less biographical information than I would have expected. Nielsen keeps the focus on the reader and their relationships with their children and with Jesus. I came to appreciate that aspect of the book, though I had expected the process to be far more story-based.

Much of what Nielsen writes points to Jesus in beautiful ways. One of the main themes of the book reminds readers that it is not up to them to save their children. Jesus paid for them. It is up to him to soften their hearts. I greatly appreciated that emphasis.

On the other hand, there’s an equal emphasis on the free will of humans to choose God. I’m sure that flows from Nielsen’s background, but so often it means that she tortures herself over trying to get her son to choose Jesus rather than focusing on the means of grace that God uses to create faith.

There’s also a strong current of mysticism, where Nielsen talks about listening for God’s voice. To be sure, she is in the Bible a lot and displays a pretty good knowledge of Scripture, but she also mentions hearing God speak to her. This is a dangerous heresy that can lead a lot of people astray. I’m glad she’s got her Bible knowledge; she needs to depend on that.

Which means that this book has some beautiful gospel moments, but it also has some blatant false theology. I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep the book yet. For those who are struggling, there really could be some fantastic help and encouragement. On the other hand, because the false doctrine is so strong that I would be reticent to actually hand the book over.

Either way, you can make your own decisions here!

The Dangers of Peopling

people sitting in front of wooden table

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So maybe I’m a little isolationist. So maybe I like it if I have a week where all I have to do is work my butt off in the office. So maybe I don’t like answering the phone. So maybe I’d rather bury my head and just have to deal with other people on Sunday morning.

So maybe I’m an introvert.

And maybe I’ve taken advantage of this whole pastor thing for too long.

See, when you’re a pastor in a small congregation,you’re largely in charge of your own schedule. Frankly, as long as Sunday morning goes off without a hitch and you visit people when they’re in the hospital, you could probably get away with doing nothing else.

Now, I’m not lazy. I’ve been working hard.

But… I’ve been spending a lot of time in the office and not nearly enough time out visiting members, making evangelism calls, anything like that. Basically, if it involved peopling, I’ve become really good at avoiding it.

That needs to end. (more…)