Archive for June, 2018

Your Family Altar – June 17, 2018

June 17, 2018

A Weekly Devotional Resource

  • Sunday – Reflect on this morning’s service & sermon
  • Monday – Old Testament – Job 38:1-11
    • Why do you suppose God shows up in the power of a whirlwind?
    • Why does God question Job instead of answering Job’s questions?
  • Tuesday – Epistle – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
    • Why is now the favorable time and today the day of salvation?
    • In  what circumstances have you been called on to serve God?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – Mark 4:35-41
    • When is the first time the disciples are said to be afraid?
    • What becomes the disciples greatest fear?
  • Thursday Psalm 124
    • How has the Lord delivered you from dire straits?
    • How does repeating verse 8 help in a difficult time?
  • Friday – Luther’s Small Catechism – Daily Prayers
    • Which prayer do you find most meaningful and why?
    • When do you find yourself most commonly praying?
  • Saturday – Hymn – O God, Our Help in Ages Past
    • How have God’s saints dwelt secure (v.2)?
    • How is God’s eternal nature a source of comfort (vs.3-4)?


Book Review: Just Open the Door

June 11, 2018

Just Open the Door: How One Invitation Can Change a Generation

by Jen Schmidt

This is another entry in my unofficial doctorate program.  Amazon suggested it to me when I bought three other books on the topic of Christian hospitality.  I should have looked a bit closer and perhaps I might not have purchased it.  It isn’t that the book isn’t helpful to some degree, but it’s very much written for women (the author says so!).  So I had to deal with a writing style that, while very good, was not always easy for me to listen to.

That being said, the book is helpful in and of itself.  She provides a lot of encouragement along the lines of you can do this sort of stuff.  And she provides lots of personal stories and experiences to highlight what she means.  At times, this can make it sound like bragging, though I am pretty sure that isn’t her intent.  The difficulty is that hospitality is going to look slightly different based on who is practicing it.  Sometimes stories are relevant and help me envision what I could be doing.  Other times they are not, and then have the capacity to take on a lecturing tone.  As with many things, you have to figure out how to discern what is practical given your personal gifts and situation, and let the other stuff go, at least for now.  She has some practical tips in the chapter Who Are My Neighbors on how to be intentional in getting to know your immediate neighbors.

At times her suggestions seem a bit naive or unhelpful, most noticeably in dealing with the cost that hospitality can rack up.  This chapter (The Elephant in the Room) could have been an excellent place to talk about the role of Christian church community in facilitating and extending hospitality through those in its midst who are so gifted.  But that wasn’t really talked about at all.  What resulted was basically a trust-God-to-get-you-through combined with a isn’t-this-more-important-than-money mantra.  Both these things are true, but in a book dealing with community and hospitality, it seems reasonable  to point out that you don’t have to do it on your own all the time, and that creating a network of others who help out – either with hands or donations – not only makes being hospitable easier, it involves the larger Christian community in the effort.

If you’re a fan of chick-oriented writing, this is probably a pleasant, light read for you to help stimulate some thinking in terms of how to be more intentionally hospitable to others.  Schmidt is a successful (or at least persistent?) blogger and undoubtedly has a notable following there as well.  She does a good job of introducing the topic, offering encouragement along with some practical tips, and shares a lot of personal stories along the way.

Reading Ramblings – June 17, 2018

June 10, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost ~ June 17, 2018

Texts: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 1; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Mark 4:26-34

Context: What the Lord purposes, He can bring to fruition. No matter if it seems unlikely or impossible. Regardless of the odds set against it. And, most tellingly, in spite of our limited and feeble efforts. We tend to focus much of our attention on ourselves and what we are doing. We feel good when we feel we are being obedient and we are disappointed or furtive when we know we have failed to be obedient. But our real focus and emphasis should be on God rather than on ourselves; on his promises to us rather than on our efforts towards him.

Ezekiel 17:22-24 – Human power and achievement (or what we think is human power and achievement) is nothing compared to the power and purpose of God. It is our continual insistence in relying on the former that brings frustration and actually risks running contrary to the latter, and in such instances, we should not be surprised that the latter prevails over the former! God here foreshadows the (temporary) end of the Davidic line of kings who sought by diplomacy and various other arts to accomplish the security that was God’s alone to provide. Instead of the illusions of strength and power that they sought to convey to those around them, God foreshadows the way He will work deliverance – through someone small and insignificant (in comparison). God’s Messiah will lack the accoutrements of earthly glory but will reach a stature that can give shade and shelter to all who seek it. He will do this despite the seemingly small odds of such a plan succeeding, and history has shown his foresight to be surpassed only by his willingness and ability to bring his plans to pass.

Psalm 1 – The beginning of the psalms introduces the entire arc of the collection. Wisdom and blessedness comes not in human designs but rather in the study and application of God’s Word. This should form the central study and practice of our lives, to the best of our ability. Such a focus will ensure that God’s wisdom and therefore God’s power is always ours, lending a permanence to who we are that cannot be equaled or surpassed. Even the mighty will one day fade and be forgotten, but the one who dwells in and on God is never forgotten. The psalm presumes that judgment will come, a separation must occur between good and evil and it will be on that day that the fruits of God’s Word in us will finally be made fully evident. All other alleged alternatives will disappear.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 – Paul’s letter to the Corinthians echoes some of the sentiments in the other readings. He speaks metaphorically of our lives here (earthly tents) as opposed to our eternal lives in Christ (building from God, house). Note the difference – temporary versus permanent. Barely adequate versus fully sufficient. We long in our bones for who we are intended to be in Christ – immortal, perfected, returned to the state of innocence and perfection lost in Eden. Though we cling to this life fiercely, our real lives will far surpass and swallow up this one. This is our hope and encouragement. Life is not a gradual fading away into death, but rather a growing day by day into the true life we will receive in full in Christ’s return. We long for that day but we wait for it obediently, living our lives out here and now in imperfect imitation of the authentic life we will one day receive. Our obedience now is marred and flawed where one day it will be effortless and perfect. There is no disjunct between this life and eternity, despite death interposing itself between the two. We seek in our obedience now to be consistent with the people we already have been created to be in Christ.

Mark 4:26-34 – God chooses to work through small and insignificant beginnings, humble and deceptive in their potential and their reality. Like a small seed that grows into an immense bush, or a clipping of a mighty tree that grows into a mightier tree, or like you and I in our weakness here and now, who will one day be revealed in the strength and perfection of Christ within us. We obsess over size and power, and so we continually speak in terms of strengthening and growing our faith. Jesus speaks in terms of receiving an almost imperceptible faith, and trusting that it will work in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is how Jesus talks about the kingdom of God. It infiltrates in small ways and grows to overtake reality, displacing the weak and imperfect and broken with the perfection of God’s presence and reign.

We are to take hope in this. While we seek to grow and mature in our faith and practice, we shouldn’t do so in terms of comparison to others. If their faith and practice is more consistent, then we pray that ours will one day be as well. The life of faith exists in trusting God to do what He has promised to do rather than evaluating one another in judgment. Our attention should be turned instead to doing the things daily we are led and called to do – study and meditation on God’s Word and putting that wisdom into practice in love towards God and our neighbor. These are the efforts that will be shown to last, and will bring with them blessings we are unable to even fully comprehend here and now!

Your Family Altar – June 10, 2018

June 10, 2018

A Weekly Devotional Resource

  • Sunday – Reflect on this Morning’s Service & Sermon
  • Monday – Old Testament – Ezekiel 17:22-24
    • What do you interpret the sprig in these verses to be?
    • Who are the blessings of the transplant for?
  • Tuesday – Epistle – 2 Corinthians 5:1-10
    • What is the tent which Paul talks about?  What is the house?
    • How do these verses guide you in how you live your life today?
  • Wednesday – Gospel  – Mark 4:26-34
    • Google a mustard seed.  How impressive is it?
    • Who is ultimately responsible for the seed’s growth?
  • Thursday – Psalm – Psalm 1
    • What is the source of blessing to the person described in this psalm?
    • What are the alternatives to this source?
  • Friday Luther’s Small Catechism – Sacraments – Holy Communion
    • What are the four things we receive in Holy Communion?
    • Similar to baptism, where is the power in Holy Communion?
  • Saturday – Hymn – Lord Jesus Christ, We Humbly Pray
    • What is the source of peace in Holy Communion (v.2)?
    • What is the source of Christian unity (v.3)?


Book Review: The Simplest Way to Change the World

June 4, 2018

The Simplest Way to Change the World: Biblical Hospitality as a Way of Life

By Dustin Willis & Brandon Clements

I have to admit I’m rather surprised.  I had expected the last book I read to be the gem and figured this would be a pretty light and fluffy follow-up.  The previous book was much more theoretical and academic, but not nearly enough so – if that makes any sense.  It wasn’t a practical hands-on guide, but neither was it a very meaty academic or theological treatment of the issue of hospitality.  This book is very much a hands-on book.  Light on theory and theology and heavy on practicality, and for that reason it’s a very helpful book.

The light language style is not my favorite, and I find it confusing how they switch back and forth between themselves, both writing in the first person and identifying changes in voice with their names in parentheses.  But since I don’t know either of them, it was easy enough to just morph them into essentially a single voice.  While I’m sure  this is a disappointment to them, it really doesn’t alter the effectiveness of the book much.

Whereas the last book was practically devoid of personal accounts of hospitality, this one utilized them far more often which made it both more real to read and more helpful.  Clearly the intent of the authors is to not just encourage but actually help equip people (Christians) to be more hospitable.  Towards  this end they provide a plethora of practical tips from the mundane to the more creative.  Clearly the key is making connections with people intentionally and then allowing the Holy Spirit  to guide and lead those connections into relationships where the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be shared.

I only have two real criticisms.  The first is that they utilize early on the metaphor of a weapon.  The hospitable Christian household is a weapon for the Gospel.  This really seems like a counter-intuitive metaphor.  If we want people to feel safe and valued in their relationships with us and their time in our homes, the metaphor of a weapon seems out of place.  I know, I know – it’s likely picking up on themes of spiritual warfare and things like that.  All well and good (though fleshing out the theology of choosing such a metaphor would have at least been more helpful!).  The Holy Spirit is undoubtedly waging spiritual warfare as I host someone for dinner or invite them to live in our home with us for a few weeks.  But it isn’t helpful to me to have that metaphor in the back of my mind.  My job is to love this person to the best of my ability and trust the Holy Spirit will utilize my home and family, both in terms of our words and interactions, to lead that person to Christ.  (Update:  OK, so maybe I’m changing my mind about this and warming more to the idea of Christian hospitality and the Christian household as a weapon.  We just need to be careful that we understand this properly.  It is the Word of God that is the weapon, and as Christians  our homes ought to be places where the Word of God is alive and active and present – read, spoken and acted on and through.  If we think of the power of God’s Word as mainly to make people nicer or more agreeable to our ways of thinking and being, we are dangerously short-sighted.  The Word of God aims at killing and making alive again.  It settles for nothing less than the entire person, whether we gel with that person or not.  Don’t get this confused!)

My second criticism is that their chapter How Do You Get to the Gospel? takes a fairly typical evangelical approach towards sharing the Gospel.  And while there’s nothing wrong with that, and we pray that it will be something we have the chance to do, it’s good to remind hospitality beginners that the act of opening your home and lives is a powerful witness to the Holy Spirit within you.  In other words, in being counter-cultural in this respect, people are automatically going to be wondering and looking for why you are the way you are and why you do what you do.  This will provide inroads for sharing the Gospel later on more naturally.  Don’t be afraid to just be with people.  It may not be that you’re supposed to share the Gospel with them the first few weeks or months you know them, or the first few times they are in your home.  But the fact that they keep coming back is a reminder that in loving them you are laying groundwork for more specific and explicit sharing of the Gospel later on.  Or, you may be making that person more receptive to someone else the Holy Spirit intends to use to share the Gospel with them.  You are  not to take upon yourself the burden of assuming you are the only person God can and will use in this person’s life!  Don’t, on the flip side, assume that you aren’t going to be used that way!  Remain open to it and responsive when opportunities arise.  But don’t take on more of a burden than you were intended to.  Remember who is in charge (Hint: It isn’t you.).

This would make for a great small group study resource, and I may use it that way in the future.  Figuring out how to talk more about Christian hospitality is a good thing, and this is a good resource if you’re interested in that or already doing it and wanting to give others some ideas about how they could get involved also.

Reading Ramblings – June 10, 2018

June 3, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 10, 2018

Texts: Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

Context: With the exception of the Epistle lesson which follows the lectio continua progression through 2 Corinthians, the readings this morning have to do with the promised defeat of Satan. God foreshadows this in Genesis 3:15, and the rest of Scripture tells how God accomplishes this. As sin is thrust into creation, it will be thrust out from creation by one of Eve’s descendants.

Genesis 3:8-15 – The story of the Fall. How simple things were when there was only rule to obey, only one possible way to transgress against the will of God! The blame moves from man to woman to serpent, and God deals with the repercussions of sin in reverse order, starting with the serpent. The repercussions are in part physical (v.14), but those repercussions will one day have an end – on the day when Eve’s descendant bruises the serpent’s head even as the serpent bruises his heel. This is widely understood to be the first prophecy of the work of the Messiah, with Jesus crushing the power of sin and death even as He is wounded in the process. However the wound isn’t fatal, as Jesus rises from the dead in evidence of his victory and foreshadowing the life all those who put their trust in him will share even if death wounds them as well.

Psalm 130 – We wait for the culmination of all things. The serpent has been wounded and the Messiah has been wounded and raised from the dead. But we live in the in-between time between God’s victory over Satan and the full effects of that victory coming into play. We pray for God’s mercy – and receive it. We receive God’s promised forgiveness even as we continue to experience sin and the effects of sin in creation. Therefore we wait, scanning the horizon for the promised return of our Lord with his steadfast love and plentiful redemption. In that day and time God will rescue us finally from our sin and the effects of it, restoring us and all creation to the perfection we possessed originally in the Garden of Eden.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – Paul has just described (in a general way) the challenges he has faced in verses 7-12. But he doesn’t want to dwell on these, but rather on the faith that he shares with the Corinthians, a faith that will see them all raised from the dead together in Christ, a promise no doubt very dear to Paul as he faces uncertainty about his own life. It is this future in Christ that Paul wants to focus on (v.16). Certainly things are difficult, but these trials serve a purpose in preparing believers for future glory, a glory that will eclipse our transient sufferings in this life. Even should his life be taken from him via execution or assassination, Paul is confident that the Lord will have an immortal body and life waiting for him. So should all believers focus not on the challenges of the moment, obsessing over them and fixating on them. Rather, we should fixate on where we are headed, and the promises that will sustain us through the trials we undergo here and now. We should know that our enemy Satan is already defeated, and all his allies – sin and sickness and death – are likewise defeated and incapable of harming us for long.

Mark 3:20-35 – Jesus quickly builds a name for himself as a healer and worker of wonders. What is to be made of this? Two groups converge on Capernaum with pre-conceived notions of what is going on. Jesus’ family thinks that perhaps He’s suffering from delusions and needs to come home and rest and regain his sanity. The religious officials from Jerusalem however are convinced that He must be in league with Satan as the source of his powers. Note that neither group doubts the reports circulating about Jesus, but they come to separate – and both incorrect – conclusions about what must be going on.

Jesus has strong words for the religious leaders. First He critiques their conclusion, pointing out the flawed logic of Satan dividing his power or forces. Certainly a king who pitted one part of his military against another part of his military would not be king for very long, and neither would such a strategy benefit Satan. Rather, the fact that Satan is unable to stop Jesus is evidence that someone stronger than Satan is at work. Jesus is hinting that He is more than meets the eye; more than an itinerant wonder-worker or deluded wonder-worker.

He then goes on to speak a strong word of warning. To call the good works of God evil is blaspheming God and the power of his Spirit at work in the world. In so doing, one denies the nature and work of God as good – healing the sick, casting out evil spirits. To do so is to fatally mistake the nature and work of God as evil. In so doing, one cannot and does not seek out God in his mercy and grace and forgiveness – it is impossible to do so! And so long as one remains in this state of rejection or denial, there can be no forgiveness of this or any other sin. One has placed themselves outside of the possibility of forgiveness by calling the goodness of God evil and therefore despising his forgiveness. To die in such a state of rejection has eternal ramifications.

Jesus’ words regarding his family are not nearly as harsh, as their mistake is not nearly as dangerous. He ignores their summons to him, likening those receiving his words to his family. This is not to denigrate his human family, but rather emphasizes that his work is about creating an eternal family. To do this, He has left home and family in order to serve his heavenly Father’s will, and He calls others to be ready to do likewise if similarly summoned (Matthew 10:37). Jesus is not despising his family, as his attention to his mother as He hangs dying demonstrates (John 19). But just as Jesus could not be bound by the desires and expectations of the people He ministered to (Mark 1:35-39), He also cannot be bound any longer by familial expectations.

Your Family Altar – June 3, 2018

June 3, 2018

A Weekly Devotional Resource

  • Sunday – Reflect on Today’s Service & Sermon
  • Monday – Old Testament Reading – Genesis 3:8-15
    • Why do you think God addresses Satan first for punishment?
    • How is Jesus the fulfillment of 3:15?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Reading – 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
    • Is Paul trying to ignore or hide his suffering?
    • How can Paul continue going despite the hardships he faces?
  • Wednesday – Gospel Reading – Mark 3:20-35
    • Why might the religious leaders assume demonic power in Jesus?
    • How do Jesus’ words in vs. 33-35 apply to you?
  • Thursday Psalm 130
    • What is the speaker asking mercy for?
    • Does the speaker receive what they ask for?
  • Friday Luther’s Small CatechismConfession
    • What are the two parts of confession?
    • Should we attempt  to uncover every little and last sin in confession?
  • Saturday –  Hymn – The Tree of Life
    • What did Satan use to tempt Adam and Eve (v.2)?
    • Note that two trees frame all creation history!


Book Review: Making Room

June 1, 2018

Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine D. Pohl.

I chose to start my unofficial doctoral research on Christian hospitality with this book thinking that it would provide a good theological base for further reading.  After all, it has a cool mosaic on the front cover.  How much more legit can a book get, right?  Doesn’t it just ooze geeky wonder?



Unfortunately, the cover was one of the better parts of this book.  There are several issues that I found pervasively problematic.

First of all, the author writes in a very general way.  She doesn’t provide many specific examples for the things she’s talking about.  This leads to both repetition as well as vagueness.  For instance, she mentions in several places through the book (repetitive) that because hospitality is draining both in terms of material resources as well as emotional and physical energy, it is crucial to establish healthy and fixed patterns of personal renewal – opportunities to recharge the batteries, so to speak.

All well and good and true and duly noted.  What would have been helpful would have been some specific examples of how specific hospitality-oriented groups accomplish this.  What does it look like?  She was in contact with a variety of hospitality groups (another, future part of my unofficial doctorate program) but doesn’t cite any tangible examples of how they replenish themselves.

Secondly, while she wants to extol hospitality and encourage others to engage in it, the only two personal situations  she briefly mentions both demonstrate her unwillingness to do so herself.  In particular, she wants to extol the virtue of providing hospitality to marginalized individuals – the poor, the ill, the homeless, etc.  But she is quick to say this isn’t something that she’s personally comfortable with.  I can understand this, for certain, but it undermines her credibility even while it does offer a very brief breath of personality and authenticity into an otherwise flat book.

Thirdly, she treats hospitality in the academic terms of our day.  Hospitality for her seems mostly about dealing with marginalized groups and not just being kind to the people in our lives.  There is certainly a place for hospitality to marginalized people and there needs be more groups to do so.  But at  least from a Biblical standing, this is much different than simply being available to the people who happen to cross your path, a la Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18.  The author turns hospitality into an act with a political or social agenda which, while definitely part of the historic Christian practice of hospitality, is certainly not the exclusive focus of such hospitality.  If the author wants to encourage individuals to consider opening their homes to people, burdening them with a social and political agenda seems onerous and unnecessary.  Certain institutions that deal with these issues on a larger scale might consider the larger political and social implications, but the individual host may not need to.

Finally, the author thwarts her own purposes in encouraging hospitality by constantly stating the dangers and problems with it.  Certainly, they exist and need to be treated, but it seemed that on almost every page was a caveat every bit as powerful as the exhortation to hospitality preceding it.  Frankly, the caveats eclipsed the exhortations for me.  I can’t handle being hospitable if I’m constantly worried about whether I’m disempowering or otherwise marginalizing further the person that I’m hosting.  Hospitality is an openness of self to others.  There undoubtedly can be offense given in such an openness, but barring a devious or otherwise manipulative host, this is more an issue with the recipient than the host, and frankly a larger commentary on how our fractious insistence on personal rights turns even acts of kindness into opportunities for suspicion and inferring ill-intentions.

The book has a good bibliography that I  will use as a launch point for  further reading.  The author also includes a short list of hospitality oriented organizations or groups at the end of the book that will also be helpful for further research.

Perhaps this book is better suited to people considering a somewhat institutionalized for of hospitality.  I would have very much enjoyed hearing more of the author’s personal experiences in providing hospitality even in such a setting.  However most of the time the politicized language in this book was more off-putting than helpful.