Monday, June 09, 2008


Junior does it...and not a single homerun propelled by steroids. This is a legitimate and laudable achievement!

Griffey's six-hundredth home run puts him fourth on the real all-time home run list, behind Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays, whose homers, like Junior's, were propelled by that combination of bat speed, braun, and smarts shared by all the best hitters. Even when Griffey strikes out, his swing is a thing of real beauty. He may have the most perfect swing I have ever seen. Were it not for an array of injuries in recent years, one of which should have ended his career, Griffey would have surpassed 600 long ago.

But Griffey doesn't rue that fact; for him, the main thing has always been having the chance to play the game. When at the top of his form, nobody has played better. And even now, in the advanced stages of his playing days, he remains a great player.

Resist Satan! by Pastor Glen Vander

[My friend and colleague Pastor Glen VanderKloot of Faith Lutheran Church in Springfield, Illinois, presented this fantastic sermon during worship yesterday. Glen has given me permission to present the sermon here. And yes, I believe that there is a Satan. A look at the daily newspaper and our own "internal conversations" will prove that to be true, I think.]

1 Peter 5:8-9
Jana used to run a small temporary staffing service. The agency did background checks on all job candidates, even though the application asked them if they had ever been convicted of a crime. One day after a round of interviews, a co-worker was entering information from a young man's application into the computer. Suddenly, he broke out into uncontrollable laughter. He called Jana over to show her that the applicant had noted a previous conviction for second-degree manslaughter. Below that, on the line listing his skills, he had written, "Good with people."

Satan is real. Satan is alive and well on planet earth. Satan is charming, intelligent and astute. Every day he tempts us to sin. Martin Luther wrote in The Large Catechism:
Therefore we Christians must be armed and daily expect to be incessantly attacked. For Satan is an enemy that never desists nor becomes tired, so that when one temptation ceases, there always arise others and fresh ones.
Satan is constantly attacking us with temptation. Satan brings us right to the edge. He convinces us every way possible how good it will be to jump, but we jump all on our own.

It is a cop out to claim, “The devil made me do it.” No he didn’t. He made it attractive and luring. But we chose to sin. It is important that we recognize our sin and confess it. That is why we include confession and forgiveness in each worship service. We join with the Psalmist and pray:
I confess my iniquity;
I am sorry for my sin. (Psalm 38:18 NRSV)
We are by nature sinful. We have a natural inclination to think, say, and do what is wrong. However, through the cleansing waters of Baptism, we are forgiven and empowered to do battle with our sinful nature.

How many think that you could get to the point of being sinless here on earth? Of course not. You can’t. None of us can. We were born sinners and we will die sinners. Jesus went to the cross so that we could be forgiven of all our sins. Yet we still cannot stop sinning.

However, we can sin less than we currently do. To sin less requires that we resist the temptations of Satan. Peter tells us:
Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
Resist him. You may be thinking: “Ok, I would like to resist the temptations of Satan. But how? How do I say, “No!” in the face of temptation?

To resist temptation it is important to decide that we will not give in to temptation and sin. No matter how desirable, alluring, appealing, tantalizing, or inviting the sin may be, we can resist. We do not have to get suckered into Satan’s web of deceit. We can say "no" to the tempter. We can say "no" to the temptation.

After Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, he was taken to Egypt and there Potiphar bought him to be his servant. Under Joseph’s management, Potiphar’s household prospered. So Potiphar gave Joseph more and more responsibility. In the mean time, Potiphar’s wife noticed that “Joseph was handsome and good-looking.” (Genesis 39:6 NRSV)

Day after day, Potiphar’s wife propositioned Joseph. She wanted Joseph to sleep with her. But day after day, Joseph resisted this temptation. Joseph said, “How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9 NRSV)

Joseph predetermined that he would not commit such a sin against God. That predetermination enabled him to resist. To resist temptation, it is important to decide that we will not give in to temptation and sin.

That does not mean that we will always succeed. In fact, we won’t. Sometimes we will give in. But unless we decide ahead of time, we will quickly and often fall for Satan’s traps.

To resist temptation requires power and strength far beyond what we have. Therefore, to resist temptation it is important to rely upon the strength of God. In the Scriptures, we are told time and time again to rely upon God’s strength to fight off temptation. A friend’s favorite Bible passage is Ephesians 6:10-11:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his great power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can fight against the devil's evil tricks. (NCV)
The Denver Post reported that like many sheep ranchers in the West, Lexy Lowler has tried just about everything to stop coyotes from killing her sheep. She has used odor sprays, electric fences, and scare-coyotes. She has slept with her lambs during the summer and has placed battery-operated radios near them. She has corralled them at night and herded them during the day. Even with all these precautions, this Montana rancher has lost scores of lambs…fifty last year alone.

Then she discovered the llama, the aggressive, funny-looking, afraid-of-nothing llama. She said, “Llamas don’t appear to be afraid of anything. When they see something, they put their head up and walk straight toward it. That is aggressive behavior as far as the coyote is
concerned, and they won’t have anything to do with that.”

When Satan attacks us with his devilish schemes, we do not have to fight him alone. Instead of a llama, we can send in the Lamb of God, Jesus, to help. Satan backs down in the presence of Jesus. For on the cross Jesus defeated sin, death and the power of the devil.

What else can we do? Pray and study God’s Word. To resist temptation and sin pray for strength from God, help from God, persistence from God. When we are tempted, we can go immediately to God in prayer and ask God to help us resist the temptations to sin.

To resist temptation and sin, study God’s Word. Jesus had read God’s Word, studied the Word, and memorized the Word. Do we? Through the Word of God, Jesus was able to resist Satan.

We are constantly bombarded with desires to commit sin.
  • We are tempted to lie on our income taxes.
  • We are tempted to get angry and seek revenge on our enemies.
  • We are tempted to lust after other human beings.
  • We are tempted to be concerned primarily about me, me, me.
All of us are flooded with temptations to commit sin.

And many times we fall for those temptations.

And then after we commit the sin, we are so filled with guilt that we run from God. Remember what Adam and Eve did after they ate the forbidden fruit?
The man and his wife hid from the Lord God among the trees in the garden. (Genesis 3:8 NCV)
That doesn’t make much sense. It did not make any sense in the Garden of Eden and it still doesn’t make any sense today. God knows where we are whether we hide or stay in the open. Instead of running away or hiding when we fall to temptation, we can run to the cross, confess our sin and by the power of the Spirit pick ourselves up and try again.

Everyday we battle temptation, and at times we lose the battle. But we can keep fighting. The Bible tells us that we can resist temptation.

How? To resist temptation requires that…
  • We recognize and confess our past sins.
  • We decide that we will not give into temptation and sin.
  • We rely on the strength of God to help us overcome temptation.
  • We pray and study God’s Word.
Even though there are people who say it is impossible to resist temptation, they are mistaken. Although no one can be perfect, it is possible to resist sin and temptation and do all we can to live honest and decent lives. It is a matter of morals and ethics and actually knowing what is right and wrong. It is also true that it is easier to stay-out of trouble and temptation than it is to actually get-out of temptation and trouble.

Avoid the people and places that Satan uses to tempt you.

But when Satan does tempt you call on the strength of God to help you overcome that temptation.


Reflection questions:
  1. Do I try to rely on my own strength when facing temptation?
  2. What temptation do I face that I can decide not to give in to?
  3. Am I familiar enough with Scripture to let it help me face temptation?
Action steps:
  1. Decide not to give in to one specific temptation.
  2. Pray for strength to over come temptation.
[If you'd like to receive Pastor VanderKloot's fantastic daily emailed inspirations, send an email to Put SUBSCRIBE on the subject line. You will love receiving Glen's daily mailing!]

To Prepare for Worship on June 15

This week, I won't be presenting my usual look at the appointed lessons for the upcoming Sunday. Instead, here are links to a few commentaries that will provide that help. God bless!
The Bible Lessons:
Exodus 19:2-8a
Psalm 100
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8

The Prayer of the Day:
God of compassion, you have opened the way for us and brought us to yourself. Pour your love into our hearts, that, overflowing with joy, we may freely share the blessings of your realm and faithfully proclaim the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Ralph W. Klein, Lutheran Biblical scholar, on the Exodus passage here.

A Roman Catholic commentary on the Exodus passage is here.

Comments of Canadian Anglican Chris Haslam commentator on all the lessons, here. [NOTE: Haslam tends to be skeptical regarding traditional authorship of Biblical material. He usually has helpful things to say, however.]

Australian William Loader on the Romans passage, here.

Lutheran pastor Ed Markquart on the Gospel lesson, here.

Pastor Brian Stoffregen's comments on the Gospel lesson, here.

Beverly Gaventa presents an interesting take on the Gospel lesson here.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

"If for this life only we have hoped..."

[This funeral sermon was given today. The deceased, widely known by his nickname of Peck, was a veteran of World War 2.]

1 Corinthians 15:12-28
I didn’t know Peck. But as I spoke with his son the other day, I realized what a large hole his passing leaves in the life of his family and friends.

That’s not surprising when you consider it. He was, in many ways, a bigger-than-life character. In his younger days, he was know throughout this area as an athlete. As a young man, he served as an Army Medic during World War 2, part of the initial invasion force at Omaha Beach on D-Day. (And we salute him for his service, for being part of that generation of Americans that made it possible for all of us to live in freedom.) Back home after the war, he became an active participant in life in this community, including his involvement with the Democratic Party. I’m told that he made a point of attending his sons’ ballgames and those of his grandsons as well. He cared for his wife while he was physically able to do so. And I’m also told that his sons regarded him as their best friend.

No words spoken here today can fill the void left in the lives of Peck’s family and friends. You who mourn today have sustained a loss and grief never fully subsides.

But this is a critical moment to latch onto an important truth: This life, with its joys and griefs, laughter and tears, is not our ultimate destination.

The Bible teaches that when we die, we will stand before God. Those who have trustingly surrendered to the love and grace of God given through Jesus Christ will be with God forever, while those who have spurned Christ will be separated from God. Jesus puts it this way in a famous conversation He had with a man named Nicodemus:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. [As a matter of fact] God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” [John 3:16-18]
Some people latch onto God because they think God is a good luck charm who can help them get through times like these. God does want to help you through your grief, of course.

But the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ wants to be more than a good luck charm and more than a crutch to help us through tough times. He wants to be our God and Helper, our Lord and Friend for all eternity.

In the New Testament, a preacher named Paul says, “If for this life only we have hoped in [the God we know in Jesus] Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Today then, to sustain you through your grief and to give you a hope that never dies, I want to invite you to put your full trust in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God in the flesh, Who came into our world first, to live with us, then to die for us, killing the power of sin to take life away from those who believe in Him, and finally, to rise for us, demonstrating that life doesn’t end for those who believe in Him.

Jesus also established His Church as a fellowship in which ordinary believers can share their joys and sorrows, worship and get to know God better, serve others in Jesus’ Name, and hear God’s Word of hope and encouragement, among other things.

I know that your grief is great. But, I can assure you that God’s love for you and God’s willingness to comfort and help you and to love you for all eternity is even greater.

Place yourselves in God’s strong hands. That’s where an endless supply of help and hope can be found. Amen

Mercy, Not Religion

[This sermon was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Some of you have heard me tell the true story of what happened at the end of a Lutheran worship service in Cincinnati a few years ago. This was at a church not far from the one I previously served.

A family that had just moved into the area was checking out this congregation when the husband and father was approached by one of its members. “Did you have a good experience here today?” the member asked in a friendly tone. The visitor responded that he had. “I’m glad,” said the member. “But,” he continued, “you know, there are several other Lutheran churches in our area and we already have about as many members as we need. Why not look elsewhere?”

Whatever that church member’s motives, it seems that he would have fit right in with the Pharisees in today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew. They too, were less interested in letting people enjoy fellowship with Christ and His people than they were in keeping their little religious club afloat.

Our Gospel lesson says that after calling the tax collector Matthew to follow Him, Jesus settled down for dinner with other tax collectors and a number of notorious sinners. The Pharisees, those good religious folk, were horrified. But like many good religious folks, they decided not to speak directly with the person whose behavior offended them, Jesus. Instead, like centuries of religious gossips, they decided to talk behind Jesus’ back. They slithered up to some of Jesus’ disciples, apparently not wanting their words to be directly attributable to them. “Why,” they ask, “does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

But Jesus heard them, we’re told, confirming a truth I have learned through the years: No matter how confidential we think the gossip we pass on is, it always gets back to the person we gossip about.

Now, Jesus could have just ignored the Pharisees’ question. Instead, He decided to confront it. Quoting passages from the Old Testament books of Hosea and Malachi, Jesus tells the gossiping Pharisees: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I [the speaker is God] desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Jesus doesn’t deny that He’s focused on spending time with sinners, a category of people that includes tax collectors, prostitutes, swindlers, good Pharisees and even good Lutherans. It’s sinners, people who were born alienated from God Who need Jesus to bring them God’s mercy, forgiveness, hope, and new life. “That’s why I’m here,” Jesus is saying. “That’s why I mix with the riff-raff and do things in the Name of God that good religious folks think is outrageously wrong.” The incidents that follow in our lesson underscore Jesus’ words.

It was while speaking at this dinner that, we’re told, Jesus was interrupted by a synagogue leader. “My daughter is dead,” he says. “Touch her and she will live.” On the way to the dead girl, you’ll remember, Jesus encounters a woman, afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She says to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I have faith that He will make me well.” The woman touches Jesus and Jesus tells her that her faith has in fact, made her well.

Then, Jesus goes to the corpse of the dead girl, touches her, and brings her back to life. Three times in the space of the these verses in our Gospel lesson, Jesus violates the rules of good religious folks—dining with sinners, allowing himself to be touched by a hemorrhaging woman, and touching a corpse and not undergoing ritual cleansing—all to drive home the point that He desires mercy more than religion and wants everybody—everybody—to experience the love of God.

A pastor named E. Carver McGriff once identified three major lessons that Jesus gives us in these incidents. First: Jesus loves us just as we are. I used to think that to be a Christian, you had to be good enough to merit Christ’s love and attention. Sometimes, in my pride, maybe a bit like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel lesson, I alternately thought that I was good enough. But Jesus didn’t ask the tax collectors and sinners to repent before He had dinner with them. He spent time with them just as they were. He didn’t ask the synagogue ruler or the hemorrhaging woman to confess their sins. He saw their faith in Him and He moved to help them immediately.

I once got a telephone call from a psychologist at Lutheran Social Services. “Mark,” he said, “I’ve been counseling with a man for some weeks. But we’ve hit a clearly spiritual snag. I don’t know what to do. Would you see him?” I wasn’t sure if I was competent to help a therapist with the treatment of one of his clients. But I said that I’d be glad to talk with the man.

The man's “snag” was that he had committed what he considered an unpardonable sin years before. He refused to believe that through Jesus Christ, his sins could be forgiven by God. I tried to show him that the only sin that is unpardonable, according to Jesus, is “sin against the Holy Spirit,” by which Jesus meant any sin which we refuse to allow the Holy Spirit to either convict us for committing or convince us that God is willing to forgive us.

The sin against the Holy Spirit is willfully blocking God’s mercy from our lives. But, I told this man, if we were willing to be forgiven, God wanted to forgive. God loves us just as we are. I don’t know whether that man believed me or not. But his reluctance to believe in God’s mercy was an object lesson for me on how important it is for we who bear Jesus’ Name in the world to share His merciful love with everyone.

Second: We see from our Gospel lesson that Jesus’ love has a strange and wonderful effect on us. When Jesus called Matthew to follow, He didn’t give Matthew a fifteen-step program for acceptance into Jesus’ fellowship. Jesus just called Matthew. And here’s the strange result: Matthew followed!

You’ve heard me speak of my mentor in the faith, Martha Schneider. Martha was in her sixties, a mature believer in Jesus, who took me, this snot-nosed, often flippant and sometimes irresponsible, twenty-two year old, under her wing, to help me get rooted in my relationship with Jesus Christ. Years later, Martha told me how crazy I drove her when I first came to faith and got involved in the church.

Once, at a meeting for a committee she was chairing and I’d volunteered to be a part of, for example, I stood off to the side with another young member of the group, pitching pennies and yucking it up. During the meeting. I think that if I’d been in Martha’s place, I would have blown up. She would have been within her rights to do so.

But she showed patience with me. Over time, the love of Christ that Martha patiently showed to me, had its effect. God used her patience to work faith and genuine repentance in me.

Who, among our acquaintances and friends might be turned toward Christ if we allowed ourselves, like my mentor Martha, to be instruments of Christ’s love? Who knows what strange and wonderful effects would result?

Third: We see from our Gospel lesson that when people encounter the love and mercy of Jesus, something good happens. Matthew, the synagogue leader, and the hemorrhaging woman all found that once the love of Jesus and the possibilities of His power touched them, their perspective on life changed. They saw things differently.
  • Matthew thought that it would be okay to invite the Savior of the world to his house, no matter what the neighbors might think.
  • The synagogue leader dared to believe that his dead daughter might rise again.
  • The hemorrhaging woman, who would have been an outcast in her society, dared to think that Jesus would let her touch Him and that He could heal her.
Once the amazing grace of Jesus Christ soaks into our psyches and our wills, everything changes. Lives gone stale are enlivened with new possibilities.

True story. This young doctor had been hurt when his wife suddenly left him. He’d become a cynic with no place for God or others in his life. One day, he assisted in surgery and the chief surgeon began to sing a complicated piece the young doctor once sang as a Music major. He joined in with his bass voice.

The chief surgeon introduced him to the choir director from his church. The choir director, seeing the young doctor's apprehension and bitterness toward God, the world, and other people, invited him to go out for a beer. Intrigued by a church choir director that met people for beer, the younger man went.

Over time, he got involved with the church choir and eventually, the church. In the warm Christian fellowship of this congregation, a Lutheran church in the Chicago suburbs, his cynicism melted away. Christ came to be the center of his life.

It gets better. On Sunday mornings, he couldn’t keep from eying a particular young woman who always sat in the same pew. Eventually, they met and they married. Jesus Christ, the Lord of fresh starts and second chances, enlivens those touched by His love to the new possibilities of life. And that’s true whatever our ages.

Today, we can be thankful that...
  • Jesus’ love accepts us we are,
  • that Jesus’ love has a strange and wonderful effect on us, and
  • that when we encounter Christ’s mercy, we see life with new eyes.
That’s as true today as it was on the day that Jesus called Matthew to follow. He’s making the same call to you and me and our neighbors today.

May we be quick to follow!

Real Hope

[This was a presentation I gave to cancer survivors and cancer care givers during the Hocking County American Cancer Society Relay for Life on June 7, 2008.]

I’ve been asked to focus my thoughts today on hope. I’m happy to do that. Napoleon once said that a leader is “a dealer in hope.” That’s especially true for we leaders called pastors. If I’m not dealing in hope, I fail to do my job.

The need for hope for cancer patients, cancer survivors, and their families and friends is obvious. Both the need and the impact of hopefulness is well-documented. People with hope, countless studies have shown, live longer and better, stave off illness more readily, and weather life’s storms with greater facility than do those without hope.

But as a “dealer in hope,” I must tell you that I don’t believe that all hope is equal. In the commercial world, there are things that dealers sell that are useful and helpful, everything from toothbrushes to cars, from groceries to electric fans, a really useful commodity today. But there are other dealers whose products are hurtful, things like illegal drugs, loans with extortionist interest rates, or inferior products they know will break down almost as soon as customers get them home. Similarly, there are people who deal in and believe in false hope. False hope is more destructive than illegal drugs, high interest loans, or inferior products.

Admiral James Stockdale was the highest-ranking prisoner of war during the Vietnamese conflict. He was held, often in solitary confinement, for years. I read the report of an interview with him once. “How did he survive?” the interviewer wondered. “I decided to allow it to be the most important experience of my life, the lessons from which I wouldn’t trade for anything,” he said. The interviewer let that remarkable statement sink in for a second and then asked, “Who was it that didn’t survive their POW ordeal so readily?” “That’s easy,” Stockdale said, “the optimists.” That didn’t make sense to the interviewer. So, he asked Stockdale to explain. The optimists, the admiral said, were those who would say, “We’ll be out by the end of summer” and summer would come and go. Then they might say, “We’ll be out by Christmas” and Christmas wouldn’t bring their release. You see, the people Stockdale identified as “optimists” were those who bought into “false hopes,” hopes with no basis in fact, hopes they just talked themselves into.*

You all know that’s not the kind of hope you need to sustain you through the gravest challenges of life. I’m sure that most of the cancer survivors you and I know have been sustained by authentic hope, real hope.

In my former congregation in Cincinnati is a woman I’ll call Dottie. Dottie is the most fun-loving person you’ll ever meet. She also loves to do things for others. When a teenager from our congregation there suffered third degree burns and severed his thumb while using a microwave torch and had to be hospitalized for months, it was Dottie who organized the families of the congregation to take prepared food to the young man’s household so that his family could have good meals in spite of the hours spent away from the house and in waiting rooms. Only after people got to know her well would Dottie reveal that she was a cancer survivor, twice over, from two unrelated cancers. Whenever a member of our church or a member of their extended family was diagnosed with cancer, I immediately sent Dottie to be with them. Why? Because Dottie, this fun, tough, loving ball of fire, was the best “dealer in hope” I ever met. She helped people face the reality of their diagnoses and also helped them to see that those diagnoses were not death sentences, that their fights with cancer could, as was true for her, become tremendous growth experiences, even in the midst of the pain. Dottie showed them that there is hope, real hope for all of us, irrespective of the circumstances of our lives.

It won’t surprise you to know what the source of Dottie’s hope was. It was the God Who conquered death in Jesus Christ. You see, I believe that only a hope that holds out the authentic promise of life beyond this one can sustain us, encourage us, and embolden us in this life. That is real hope! Dottie had it.

In the New Testament, Paul, a man well-acquainted with sufferings of all kinds said that through Jesus Christ, he and his fellow believers could boast of the peace they had with God and of the resurrection they one day would experience. But they could boast of something else, he said. “And not only that, but we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through [God’s] Holy Spirit…” given to all believers. (See here.)

I am humbled and honored to be with you. You know better than I about this hope I’m dealing today. I ask you, like Dottie, to be dealers and believers in authentic hope, hope that is ours here and for all eternity, hope that comes from a tough and tender God Who gave His life on a cross so that we might live with Him forever and Who loves and sustains us always. Let the God ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ give you a hope that never dies. Thank you for allowing me to be here today.

*Here I paraphrase Jim Collins' discussion of his interview with Stockdale as reported in his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't.

Book Review: The Grace of It All

[From time to time through the years, I've reviewed books for the journal of my seminary alma mater, Trinity Lutheran Seminary. Here's a review I submitted yesterday.]

The Grace of It All: Reflections on the Art of Ministry. By F. Dean Lueking. Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute (, 2006. 152 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1-56699-332-6; ISBN-10: 1-56699-332-6 $17.00 (paperback)

It may be that all pastors have at least one book in them.

In their books would be presented the experiences and lessons derived from years of pastoral ministry.

From them, seminary students would gain valuable “heads up” insights and those already engaged in pastoral work would find encouragement and counsel.

Although he’s written other books, The Grace of It All is F. Dean Lueking’s attempt at such a book of a lifetime. Part memoir, part shirtsleeve pastoral theology, The Grace of It All often has the feel of a conversation with a seasoned and generous mentor. This, as Lueking explains in the Preface, is his intention, believing as he does that such conversations in print are needed. “The need is for pastoral writing that joins sound theology, biblically grounded in the mighty acts of God’s judgment and mercy, with the realities of congregation and community in our world.”

For this, Lueking is as qualified as anyone. A brilliant preacher with an extraordinary ability to make accessible sometimes difficult Biblical truths, as many will already know, he spent forty-four years in one parish, Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, Illinois, before beginning an international ministry of teaching and mentoring pastors.

The Grace of It All is filled with tales of triumphs and failures, of lessons learned, and, maybe most helpfully, of the everyday experiences that, in the end, bring pastors their greatest sense of satisfaction. We get to see and personally experience the many ways in which the Triune God can grace pastors’ everyday lives and the everyday lives of the people and communities they serve

Lueking veers between memoir and pastoral theology here. Mostly, he manages to maintain a balance between the two, helping us to see the ways in which God sustains pastoral ministry. But at times, like a politician stumping, intent on mentioning as many locals as possible, Lueking strains the reader’s goodwill by going on for pages citing specific members of the Grace Lutheran Church family he so long served. When he does so, it reads not so much as a chronicle of the Biblical “cloud of witnesses” as it does as a series of entries in a seed catalog.

That, coupled with the fact that the last chapter seemed to slog along unnecessarily, made me feel, after reading it, that The Grace of It All would be an even stronger and more helpful book if it were reduced in length by about fifty pages.

In the end, though, I was happy to have read this book. I enjoyed spending time with Lueking if, for no other reason, than that it has encouraged me to listen to the experiences and stories of my fellow clergy, treasure troves of insight, wisdom, and testimonies to the rich grace of God. As Lueking writes, “We need each other’s stories…The disappointments, like the poor, we have always with us. But the good news of Christ’s grace abounds over sin and brings the great gain of godliness with contentment.”

In this book, Lueking manages to show us what contentment and gain come to those who, year in and year out, stick to their calls as ministers of Word and Sacrament in service to the gracious God made known in Christ.