Running Towards Yourself

Here in the South we are getting towards the end of the family reunion season and are well into the college football and fall festival time of year. At my congregation there are plenty of family reunions that center themselves in the church building itself rather than at a local relative’s home. While it can be a bit awkward for me since I am not related in any way to these families and I am required to attend, it has caused me to reflect on the nature of reunions themselves.

On Andrew Luck and Philemon

A couple weeks ago Andrew Luck, the oft injured star quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts and successor to Peyton Manning, abruptly announced his retirement. Andrew was worn out from rehabbing injuries and saw a future for himself beyond football. The announcement caught the sports world off guard: some fans of the Colts in their grief booed Luck off the field at the end of a preseason game, longtime New York sports radio personality Mike Francesa sounded like he was tearing his clothes in bereavement, and another sports personality sent a tweet calling Luck’s refusal to persevere through injury “the most millennial thing ever.” As far as most things go the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck is not a big deal. But this is America and if there is one thing we love to sensationalize it’s sports. And if there is one sport we love to sensationalize above all others it is what we call football. 

I Post Therefore I Am

I remember visiting Oxford a couple of years back and taking a tour of C.S. Lewis’s church. It was said that many people who attended with him were surprised by his more wildly popular writings, because in person he never seemed especially pious. A visit to his home (aka “the Kilns”) certainly confirmed this. It’s almost like reading the words of a person who otherwise never existed. Several hundred years prior, Martin Luther became an overnight sensation, because he actually gave the printers something to print—a publisher’s dream in the early days of a very irrelevant printing press. Like Lewis, Luther was largely known by people who never met him, as is the case today for many writers as well as various other kinds of artists. We know them through their content.

A House Divided

As I spent time with members of the congregation where I serve, I was struck by our conversation. They spoke about struggles they had finding comfort in our community. They mentioned how it sometimes seemed as if smaller groups existed in the church and they had not yet found their niche. They also described how gossip and related conversation was prevalent in every church, even our own. I listened intently, partially shocked by the truth, yet even more shocked by the reality that I was not the only one who noticed.

Don't Worship Work - Make Work Worship

"When I walk out on stage, that's God to me." 

I understood what my friend was saying. The lights and the sets, the larger-than-life stories, the fear and the thrill of flinging your heart out of your chest in public—I get it. I'm an actor, too. 

This same kind of passion that my friend described has taken me to New York City, to grad school, and deep into the minds and hearts of the characters I've portrayed. But, though I share my friend's passion, I worship a different God.

Except when I don't.

David v. Goliath: Sometimes You *Are* David

“In the story of David and Goliath you are not David.” I was in college the first time I heard a statement like that. And I must admit that it was a bit refreshing at first. I had grown up, like so many others, hearing the David and Goliath story in a very particular way. “You are like David,” every lesson began, and if you just trusted God enough then He would use you to defeat the giant-sized problems standing in your way. And so, hearing this story in that new way was refreshing. 

Memory Verses: Good or Bad?

Growing up in the Lutheran Church required the memorization and recitation of bible verses. I can’t really put a number on how many verses I memorized, but it was a lot. As I grew older, I began to reflect on this practice. What was the point? Was this helpful? Furthermore, is it a good idea to artificially break up the writings of biblical authors only to take in bits and pieces leaving the rest by the wayside? After all, modern chapter divisions didn’t even really appear until the thirteenth century followed by versification in the sixteenth century. Before that manuscripts often contained capitula, or “section headings,” denoting larger sections of text (but even those were not written by the authors). It’s true that these things are invaluable for referencing very specific portions of text, but my concern is that with each of these developments, every book of the Bible has become increasingly fragmented. 

Lessons From a Rural Parish

I visited Wyoming in September 2015 with a group of pastors from New York. This visit was the second of a series of meetings between pastors from the Wyoming and Atlantic districts. The week consisted mostly of nitty gritty meetings in small groups with the Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, and in some cases even the Synod handbook (I recognize the irony of this grouping). We were earnestly trying to listen to each other and come to an understanding regarding our differences. Ministry in Wyoming and New York can be very different and beyond the day-to-day differences there were serious enough theological differences that warranted us getting together to pilot a new program the synod was spearheading. The visit to Wyoming was eye opening in a lot of ways—just as I’m sure the visit the spring 2014 visit to New York for the Wyoming group was eye opening. 

Jesus + Power = Disaster: A Review of The Family on Netflix

Before his fall from grace Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of the late Billy Graham, wrote the book Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything. The sort of “Jesus only” approach that became quite popular in the Evangelical circles and flirted with Lutheranism for a bit with its emphasis on rightly understanding law and gospel seems to be the theological foundation described in the new documentary on Netflix The Family. However, quite opposed to Tullian’s struggle with sin and grace in his book Jesus + Nothing=Everything the foundation of “family” as described in the series has more to do with the late twentieth century evangelicalism that I was immersed in for years. Jesus plus nothing to the American Evangelical movement was far more about the moving past denominationalism into an individualistic encounter with Jesus who became a moral figure and told you how to live and make a better world. This confusion of the person of Christ led brilliantly into the foundation of a society that the documentary exposes as one of the most influential powers in Washington D.C. and even throughout the world. 

Wrestling with the 8th Commandment in the LCMS

Over the last several years, the Eighth Commandment has received a lot of attention in conversations throughout the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. It has become common in the midst of a controversy for one side or the other to cry foul by suggesting that the other party is not arguing fairly because they’ve broken this particular commandment. 

Complain to God

The last thing most adults want to hear are complaints; especially if those same adults also have young children living in their home. Maybe you’ve seen the images like the one above. I think that pretty well sums up how most of us feel about complaints. “Got a problem? Just take your number.” Often we don’t want to hear about the complaints and problems of others because we’ve got complaints and problems of our own to deal with. If we can “man up” and go to work with fake smiles on our faces then everyone else should be able to as well. 

The Bible - Make It a Part of You

“The only Bible you’ve got is the Bible you know.” It was a comment that I had heard repeatedly from one of my mentors and now I was hearing it again. I didn’t mind the repetition, because: 1) I knew that it was true, and 2) I knew that I needed to be constantly reminded of it. “The only Bible you’ve got is the Bible you know.” Quite honestly when I first heard it I fought hard against the assertion. I responded by pointing out the Bible in my hand and said that this was my Bible. At the time I admit that I didn’t know it the way I should, and I certainly didn’t have the whole thing memorized. But, as time went on, and as I began to read my Bible more, the statement rang true: the only Bible you’ve got is the Bible you know. Rather, I should say that, the only Bible you’ve always got with you in a truly intimate sense is the Bible that is a part of you—the Bible that is internalized. That’s not the same as just owning a print Bible. 

Music

My Uncle Lennie died six months ago. He had a profound influence over my life and that was mostly due to music. He introduced me to a world of music that is still with me today. I started listening to the improvisational jam-prog-band Phish when I was ten years old. I saw my first show at sixteen and I saw my latest shows this summer. I’ve only seen them about thirty times (if you know anything about Phish culture that puts me on the low end of the obsessive totals). Among a few lessons, Lennie’s death has shown me that so many of us are indebted to musical legacies, that is, music which is passed down to us from others—often family members. 

Why You Should Share Your Creative Gifts With the World

One afternoon I sat across from a young artist whose backpack was heavy with notebooks filled with writings and drawings. His face lit up as he talked about creating, how he dreamed of one day releasing a book, and maybe even a storefront gallery. There is something beautiful about the dreams of a young artist. But when I asked him how he planned to share his art with the world, the light seemed to leave as fear entered. He explained that while he desperately wanted to share his art, each eager sentence returned to a fear of his art only bringing glory to himself, rather than God. 

The Persecuted Church in America

Since today is the Fourth of July I wanted to write something that acknowledged the American experience. I’m thankful that these tweets came across my radar. And here’s why: we hear a lot of talk about “persecution” with respect to the church in America these days. The more self-aware will recognize that what Christians are facing in America is not on the same level as what Christians face in other parts of the world today. At the same time many of these folks will warn about the coming persecution for Christians in America. They will cite media ignorance or even hostility towards traditional tenets of the faith (marriage and life in particular) as the writing on the wall. Demographic studies confirming these views are commissioned and books are written about how to weather the coming storm. They talk about how unprecedented all of this is in America, that Christians would be persecuted for their faith. And they do so without irony.

Paul

The following is adapted from a funeral homily. The original names have been changed for the sake of privacy.

Baptized in 1989. Died in 2019, far too young, from a disease far too terrible. 

A great kid, raised with love and compassion by the best family one could ask for. He was raised by a loving family, went to a Lutheran school, raised in the church, but none of that guaranteed a life free from addiction. None of them are to blame. None of them failed.

But starting his freshman year, maybe even the summer before, his road took a turn that eventually brought us to today. Paul made choices that would lead to an early grave and a lifetime of grief for those he loved and who loved him. 

The Crisis of Confession

Cardinal Lamberto in The Godfather Part 3 had a moment any pastor who has watched the film might fantasize about. Michael Corleone is aged and reflecting on his past nefarious life as he seeks to make the family business entirely “legitimate.” When he encounters the cardinal for advice he is confronted with the lines from the cleric, “The desire to confess can be overwhelming, and we must seize the moment…would you like to make your confession?” Reluctantly Michael does and breaks down in tears when he confesses to ordering the murder of his own brother Fredo. The absolution is given and the Angelus bell rings three times. It is a powerful scene, but one that rarely ever happens in real life.

A Call to Balanced, Biblical Christianity In the LCMS

We’re all given to extremes these days, wouldn’t you agree? We know this to the point of nausea when it comes to politics. It seems that our tendency toward polarization also extends to our conversations within the church. On that note, perhaps “echo chambers” better describes our reality than conversations—the latter functioning as a narcissistic form of complacency, whereas the former is more apt to foster critical self-reflection.

Nevertheless, it would seem that in the church—or at least in that corner of the church with which I’m most familiar—the LCMS—we’ve lost the ability to have level-headed conversations. As I heard it put recently, “Trust is in short supply these days within our culture and at times even within the church.” This is very true. But we can—and must—do better.

Rest For the Restless

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).

Burnout is a serious issue. It is a serious issue in the workers of the church and it is a serious issue throughout the world. Now, this is not going to be a column of advice about how we need to “let go and let God” or something of that nature. In all honesty, everyone experiences burnout differently, everyone responds to burnout differently, and everyone believes to have a perfect solution that does not actually exist apart from salvation in Christ because sin is real and lurking. As St. Paul reminds us, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21). Instead, this is written as a reminder that we are called to bear the burdens of our sisters and brothers, yet we are not taking seriously the daunting nature of this task.