christianity

Review: Out of a Far Country

Out of a Far Country
by Christopher Yuan & Angela Yuan

On May 15, 1993, Christopher Yuan came out of the closet to his parents. His mother gave him an ultimatum: Take that back or get out. He chose to leave. Finally free of his parents, Chris flung himself into his new family who supported his homosexuality. His mother, though, turned suicidal. Through the following years, both hit rock bottom, and God brings them to himself. This is their autobiographical story.

First off, this book is about 95% solid. It is a true story, and neither Chris nor Angela hold anything back about their struggles.

In one telling part, Angela, who had been an atheist, makes a startling realization: “A person’s attempt to prove his righteousness was the very thing that kept him from understanding God’s love for him” (31). Angela realizes that she’s a sinner, and she doesn’t have to hide that. She ends up walking around in a joyful daze muttering, “I’m a sinner! I’m a sinner!” Later on, she makes a great connection: “We’re all sinners, and knowing that helped me stop worrying about what other people thought” (72). If you want a book that shows the implications of Law and Gospel in a modern-day context, this book is great. (more…)

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When Ministry and Geekery Collide

Glasses

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

And so my goddaughter sent me an email a few weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking on it ever since. My goddaughter is one of the neatest young women around. Last year for her birthday she requested that I write some devotions for pastor’s kids. So that’s what I did. This year, she has a similar request:

She wants a book of devotions for fangirls.

See, she loves all things Doctor Who and Harry Potter and Star Wars and many other things geeky. And she loves Jesus even more. And she wants to know what connects the two, if anything.

So… she’s asked me to write. (more…)

Review: Move Toward the Mess

Move Toward the Mess: The Ultimate Fix for a Boring Christian Life
by John Hambrick

Jesus wasn’t boring. If he was, he wouldn’t have had the following he had. If Jesus was boring, the religious leaders would not have sought to kill him. So why is it that so many Christians are bored in their faith lives? John Hambrick tackles this challenge, pointing to grace from God and grace to our fellow humans as a stunning answer.

Overall, this book is pretty solid. I appreciate Hambrick’s repeated stress that we are forgiven in Christ, and that motivates us. He includes a chapter on guilt, showing that it should not be our motivator. We don’t do anything to gain forgiveness, after all! “God is bigger than the mess. And that confidence enables us to invest in things like self-control. It’s not so we can earn God’s favor. It’s because we already have it” (64). (more…)

This is Brave. This is Bruised.

adult alone black and white dark

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

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…)

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…)

…But I Want to Die

abandoned abandoned building broken decay

Photo by Francesco Paggiaro on Pexels.com

Today is not a dark day. I’ve experienced plenty of those.

This showed up in my newsfeed today: “I really love Jesus, but I want to die.” I do not agree with everything this writer believes theologically based how she phrases some things, but her description of depression, how it affects her, the lies it whispers, and what helps are all spot-on.

Please, read this. It is well, well worth your time.

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: Authentic Christianity

Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to a Postmodern World
by Gene Edward Veith Jr. and A. Trevor Sutton

People are burned out on churches. They’re taught that things are a matter of opinion, and what churches teach are spiritual, divorced from “hard reality.” Is the answer for churches to update what they do to try and reach the current culture? Authentic Christianity proposes something different: Teaching what Lutherans have taught for hundreds of years. It tackles big modernist and postmodernist beliefs, and shows how Lutheran theology perfectly answers both.

I’m not sure that the subtitle fits. While it does talk a lot about postmodernism and how it shows up in our world, as well as the vestiges of modernism that still attack, the focus seems to be in… a slightly different angle. Much of this book shows how Lutheranism is a physical religion that takes real things and deals with them in real ways. It shows how Jesus became flesh. It shows that the body is not a bad thing. That God chooses to become physical. The book then explores how that effects life in many, many ways.

Now, to be clear, I am not saying the book is bad. It was very good and gave me a lot of things to think about! I’m just saying I’m not sure the subtitle was the best choice to reveal what the book was about. (To be fair, a book talking about how Lutheranism combats neo-gnosticism probably wouldn’t sell well.) (more…)

Stand firm.

You may have noticed if you’re reading here regularly: I’ve had… a hard time of it lately. To the point where last week at this time I was ready to call it quits on this congregation. I wasn’t convinced I shouldn’t be a pastor; I was simply convinced that this was not the place for me any longer. Everything was broken. I was done.

And in that dried-up, vacant state, I visited my pastor.

(As a side note – yes, I have a pastor. Our church body arranges for one local pastor to not only pastor his congregation, but also take care of spiritual needs of the other pastors under his care. This is not hierarchical at all, at least where I’m at. My pastor feels more like a wise big brother.)

My pastor listened to me as I outlined my problems. He probed with questions. He considered. And what he said helped a good deal.

He affirmed my feeling: What I am experiencing burdens the soul and makes cheerful service difficult. Current events weigh on the congregation heavier than many other congregations, simply because of our small size.

And then he told me what I needed to hear: Stand firm. (more…)

Laughter fails.

Sorrow is heavier than laughter.

I laughed a good amount today. We had a fun Bible study (yes, that’s not only possible, but fairly regular at my congregation). I got to spend an hour playing Wiiu for the first time with some of the teens. I cuddled my kids and hugged my Bride. And worship… to speak those words, those true words, “I forgive you all your sins!” To deliver Jesus’s own body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine, and with it forgiveness? Yes. So many good things today, both for ministry and with family.

But even in laughter, the heart may ache.

“I can’t support a pastor who chases members away.” And so my day began, as a man accused me of trying to murder the congregation. He refuses to understand that God’s Word is very plain regarding sinners who refuse to repent: warn patiently and gently, but should there be no change, harsher methods start – for the good of the soul of that person. And so it is my fault that we are losing some members, when one person refuses to let go of a sin. At least, that’s what I’m told by a few.

Two members arguing to the point of destroying furniture. And I know why Paul begs. “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2)

A man dear to my heart sits in the hospital, and he weeps. I sit with him and comfort, but his heart is so weighed down.

A woman dear to my heart sobs; she has been so hurt by another.

And there is so much pain. There is so much hurt. And no, I do not bear it – that is not my job. It is not my task to carry all of these hardships. I bring them before Jesus. And yet, I mourn with those who mourn.

It has been a hard month, and where I thought laughter would buoy me up again soon, sorrow continues to drag down. I don’t know what to do.

I talked to brothers in the ministry today. I don’t know if I’m being a whiny brat or if this is a Jeremiah ministry. I need someone to either tell me to shut up and be the shepherd of this flock, or if I am in that hard a ministry that my sorrow is justified. Tomorrow I’ll be meeting with another pastor who knows this congregation and knows it well; he’ll be able to either whack me upside the head or help me to carry on. Probably both.

I don’t know if what I have is “grass is greener syndrome” or sitcomitis (the belief that everything should be wrapped up in time for the next episode) or, as my Bride called it, “first-year-itis” – simply put, the honeymoon is over and now I’m starting to notice the warts. I don’t know. But I know that tonight, I’m tired and down. My sorrow is heavier than my laughter.