Practical Theology

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3-4

Our firstborn Felix has recently begun to take more interest in reading children’s Bibles with us. I am very grateful that my wife Neva has been the one diligently trying again and again to introduce the stories from these Bibles to him. As Felix hears these stories for the first time, his joy and wonder has grown my own faith, showing me more of what it looks like to humble myself like a child.

A few nights ago, Felix and I were reading some simple stories from the gospels. This particular children’s Bible is mostly pictures, with only a few short paragraphs to summarize the story. We soon found ourselves in the parables of Jesus, and as I read stories about birds, flowers, and seeds, I could see his eyes lighting up with both delight and confusion. I imagine he must have been thinking in his own little toddler way, “What do birdies and flowers have to do with this Jesus Dad keeps talking about?”

We soon found ourselves reading about when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-20). In our recent studies of the New City Catechism, we have been singing about how Jesus is both human and divine. I wanted to try and use this moment with him to impress upon him how amazing it is that Jesus, being God, would stoop down and wash the dirty, stinky feet of his friends. Continue Reading

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-14, Luke 11:2-4) is one of the most significant texts in the Bible for understanding the Christian life. It has been understood as the foundational text on prayer for God’s people for over 2000 years. We know from the Didache, an early first-century Christian document, that Christians were instructed to pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly. Nearly every major Christian tradition has emphasized the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, alongside the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the sacraments.

My Reformed and Presbyterian tradition has so emphasized the Lord’s Prayer that the final sections of both our Shorter and Larger catechisms consist of very meaningful expositions of this text. This prayer is similarly emphasized in Luther’s catechisms, the Book of Common Prayer, and so on.

Given how significant this prayer has been for God’s people for nearly two millennia, we would do well to examine our own lives to determine how much we have been shaped (if at all) by this prayer that our Lord taught us to pray.

Can you earnestly say that you have taken the teaching of this prayer seriously? Has it shaped you? Does it regularly inform the substance and content of your prayers?

Can you earnestly say that you have taken the teaching of this prayer seriously? Has it shaped you? Does it regularly inform the substance and content of your prayers? Continue Reading

One of my favorite parts of the weekly worship service is what is commonly known as the passing of the peace. This is the part of the service where many of us regress inwardly to the spiritual state of a 3-year-old, groaning inside with an attitude of, “Awww, do I have to?” But second to the coming to the Lord’s Table together, this portion of the worship service serves as a deep comfort to my soul. Why? Because it is a physical act which is based on a deeply spiritual reality: Christians have been definitively reconciled to each other through Christ.

Whenever I have the privilege of leading this portion of the worship service, I will often say something along the lines of, “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and he has also reconciled us to one another. So, let’s take a moment to greet one another with the peace of Christ…” Some weeks those words feel hollow, and I’m sure they can feel fake to those who hear them. After all, while we might know intellectually that we are supposed to be reconciled to one another, our lived experience is often entirely different. Marriages and friendships within the church are strained; the challenges of the week cause us to distance ourselves from other church members; despite attending a church with others for years, we’ve hardly put forth the effort to get to know them.

Reconciled? Yeah right. How is this bitter, distant, conflicted group of people reconciled? Continue Reading

I sat in his office as a young 24-year-old man, eager to have an opportunity to start full-time ministry. Having worked part-time as a children’s director in this mega church (while still working full-time as a software developer), I was now being offered the chance to interview for a full-time position leading men’s ministry. I was excited that this opportunity had been set before me in the same church where I had come to faith and was now serving on staff. I had also recently been accepted into seminary, so I was sure that this was going to be my path toward ordained pastoral ministry.

The pastor looked me up and down, and then began to silently read over my resume. He stopped almost right away. “You’re going to Reformed Theological Seminary? So you’re telling me you’re a Calvinist?” I had tried to prepare myself in case the conversation went this way. But I’d only been a Christian at this point for 2 years, a Calvinist for not even a full year. I hardly knew what Reformed really meant. I also knew that this church did not view Calvinism and the doctrines of grace positively.

“Yes,” I nervously answered, “I do believe in the doctrines of grace.” What followed after my statement was a nightmare which took me several months to recover from. We never actually got to the interview – for two hours this pastor berated me and tried to engage me in debate over Calvinism. He made accusations against me simply because of his associations with Calvinism.

I had no clue how to respond. He outclassed me in every sense of the word. He had been a pastor for years; I had hardly been a Christian for very long. He was a sharp communicator; I had barely begun to hone my communication skills. He was older; I was younger. He had position; my part-time position was now at stake. He had formal theological training; I’d read maybe a dozen theology books on my own.

When the conversation ended this pastor looked at me and said, “You have no future at this church.” I was crushed. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to look at this experience and call it for what it was: spiritual and theological abuse. Continue Reading