Updated: my Book of Church Order commentary links page. Alan Strange is cruising! He finished the Form of Government and is working on the Book of Discipline now.

Here is my book review of The Unfolding Word: The Story of the Bible from Creation to New Creation by Zach Keele.

Goodnight, 2022.

Sunset in Tucson on New Years Eve 2022.

The Normalizing of the Nones

Despite what some assume, the percent of those who say they have no religion in America is not fated to increase. In fact, the percent of Nones, as they are called, hasn’t climbed at all in the last six years but has remained at about 20%.

This explains a shift I’ve noticed: being unaffiliated with a religion is no longer cool. I’m not saying it’s uncool to be a None, but like drinking Starbucks or wearing Crocs, it’s not an edgy alternative anymore. It can’t be when the Nones now comprise two out of ten slices of the American pie.

Figuring out what you owe God based on what other humans think is cool is a bad idea. So as the Nones are normalized and lose their cool, it’s a good time for all of us to re-examine how we relate toward God and why.

What is prayer?

Prayer ≠ mediation.
Prayer ≠ spiritual desire

How so, George?

“Prayer is not meditation, because meditation is communing with our own souls, prayer is communing with God. Nor yet can it be said that prayer is nothing else but a spiritual desire; for prayer is the sending up of our desires to God, being put in order."

What often is true is that mediation leads to spiritual desire which leads to prayer.

🎧 Listening to The Drive Home by Austin Britton. His newest single.

Finished reading Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne by Andrew Bonar a few days ago. I was very blessed by it. To get a taste for yourself, read this mini bio about his short life and the lessons we can learn from it. 📚

You are a theologian

Gerhard O. Forde:

Suffice it to say for now, though, that all of us are theologians in one way or another. Being a theologian just means thinking and speaking about God. True, we may not do much of that. We might go for days or weeks without a thought of God entering our heads, but that is usually impossible. Things happen. Accidents. Tragedies. Deaths and funerals. Natural disasters. Illness. Loss. Suffering. Disappointment. Wrongdoing. And so on and on. There is also good fortune. Perhaps unexpected success or escape from danger or certain disaster. Experience of great beauty or pleasure. Sheer grace. Chance encounters that determine our lives. Love. We begin to wonder. God pops into our thinking and conversation. We may cry out in agony, “Why God?” or in relief, “Thank God!” Or we may just use God’s name in cursing. Sooner or later we are likely to get thinking about God and wondering if there is some logic to it all in our lives, or some injustice. We become theologians.

The question is: What kind of theologian are you? And what kind of theologian are you encouraged to be?

Did you take your greace supplement today?

Gerhard O. Forde:

Of course our theologian of glory may well grant that we need the help of grace. The only dispute, usually, will be about the degree of grace needed. If we are a “liberal,” we will opt for less grace and tend to define it as some kind of moral persuasion or spiritual encouragement. If we are more “conservative” and speak even of the depth of human sin, we will tend to escalate the degree of grace needed to the utmost. But the hallmark of a theology of glory is that it will always consider grace as something of a supplement to whatever is left of human will and power. It will always, in the end, hold out for some free will. Theology then becomes the business of making theological explanations attractive to the will.

That last line is a kicker.

You can’t quit sin

Gerhard O. Forde writes:

The theologian of glory is like one who considers, curing addiction by optimistic exhortation. The theologian of the cross knows the cure is much more drastic. [Luther] likens the theology of glory to the thirst, for money, or wisdom, or power, and so forth, and declares that the souls insatiable “thirst, for glory does not end by satisfying it, but rather buy extinguishing it.

And breezily telling someone they can quit sin and giving them more things to do doesn’t help. In fact, it makes things worse.

The supposed optimism of the theology of glory turns against itself. When the addict discovers the impossibility of quitting, self-esteem plummets. The addict to tries to hide the addiction and puts on a false front. Superficial optimism breeds ultimate despair.

Heidelberg Disputation > 95 Theses

Heinrich Bornkamm argues that, as far as the theology of th Reformation is concerned, the Heidelberg Disputation is the most influential of all Luther’s disputations. It is theologically much more important and influential, for instance, than the Ninety-five Theses even though the Ninety-five Theses caused more of an ecclesiastical and political stir. It is safe to say that the theological theses of the Disputation remain determinative and a center of attention even down to the present day… The theological influence of the Heidelberg Disputation is indicated by the fact that Luther’s audience at Heidelberg included no less than six future reformers, among them leaders such as Martin Bucey and Johannes Brenz…

Gerhard O. Forde

Currently reading: On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard O. Forde 📚

I’m preaching again

Yesterday I started a new preaching series through Titus, which I’m really excited about. The first sermon was an overview of the letter. I share the five things that I think Paul wanted Titus to focus on and suggest some ways book applies to people not named Titus.

In the evening, picked up where I left off in Ezekiel. I addressed some important things about anger. Give it a listen.

3 great podcast episodes on faith and science

White Horse Inn - the historical relationship between faith and science might surprise you

Clear+Vivid - Alan Alda interviews one of the greatest American scientists, Francis Collins, about communicating science and pursuing it in light of his Christian faith

Stand to Reason - the epistemological relationship between science and faith for Christians

Bonus! Belgic Confession:

Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God We know him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse. Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.

What I'm Doing on My Study Leave

This week I began a three-month sabbatical. In another sphere of life, you’d call it a Professional Development Leave. I’m calling it a Study Leave.

Whatever you call it, it’s happening because of the generous love, faithful service, and forward-thinking of the members of Covenant. This is a church-wide investment in my growth as a minister for the benefit of the whole church.1 And we’re excited to see what God is going to do during this time.

So what am I up to? While the lion’s share of my regular duties are being met by our elders and a guest minister, Pastor Kim Kuhfuss—all of whom I couldn’t be more happy about—I am spending focused time on growing in a three key areas: capability, character, and compassion.


One broad goal I have is to improve my ability to think and serve theologically in local church ministry. To do that, I am reading throught he works of Gregory the Theologian. I like to think of this as another pastoral internship. I chose Gregory because he is an interesting and important example of what I’m seeking to grow in. It helps that Gregory wasn’t afraid to share. “Arguably more than any other Father of the Church, Gregory draws attention to the way he thinks, the prayers he makes, the sufferings he endures, the illnesses he bears, the enemies he fights, and the causes he champions.” (Andrew Hofer, “The Stoning of Christ” in Re-Reading Gregory of Nazianzus: Essays on History, Theology, and Culture, 144-145.)

I am also working on learning more Greek with the help of my friend, David Noe, and his amazing Moss Method. Knowing Greek better will help me with my Gregory reading. It will also help me to be more like Gregory and other church fathers (and mothers), who are role models for their deep knowledge of the scriptures and intimacy with God.


As I grow in my abilities as a minister, I want to do so in a way that reinforces my core commitments and values. Pastoral skills, like apps on a computer, are useless without a solid internal operating system. This means that in addition to studying, I’m working on strengthening healthy habits and routines in my personal and family life. I’m talking about spending time with God in scripture-rich prayer and mediation, connecting with family and friends, staying on top of household tasks, and giving sleep, diet, and exercise their due.

Improving my workflow is a big part of this as well. I’m good at generating and drafting ideas, but want to improve my ability to store, retrieve, and share them.

By making some good things more automatic in my life, I can reduce stress, increase integrity, and expand my capacity to serve others.


Building my capabilities and character ultimately serve and flow from the most important area for growth: compassion, or more generally, love. If anything is developed in me during my sabbatical, my prayer is that it would be devotion to the Lord out of a growing faith in and hunger for his devotion to me. I want to grow closer with God and from the overflow, love others more.

Side benefits

Documentation: The temporary transfer of my work to the elders and Pastor Kuhfuss meant I had to document some things so that others could work while I was gone. This will benefit us in several ways even after I return.

Perspective: The study leave helps all of us at Covenant get outside of what’s normal. It gives us opportunities to see things in new ways, of which there can be many benefits.

Encouragement: One member described my study leave as a big hug from the church. It sure feels like that. And it’s very motivating.

  1. David VanDrunen’s article, Sabbaticals for Pastors, helped our church to think about why and how to make this kind of investment from a church perspective. ↩︎

Let’s not separate “going to church” from “being the church”. John Beeson explains why.

Do you know how can I search multiple audio book collections (Librivox, Audible, Kobo, Open Culture, Libby, Gutenberg, etc.) with a single search?

The rhinoceros is an amazing creature. We visited this one at the Tucson Zoo on Tuesday.

A rhinoceros

Alfons Schmid released a major update this week for Notebooks App. It just keeps getting better.

Finished reading: George Washington On Leadership by Richard Brookhiser 📚 Fantastic book. Washington continues to lead and inspire.

Huntington Beach on Independence Day.

the pleasant conditions of creative work

I finished reading: If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. 📚

Ueland says you can’t create anything good out of fear, griding away and trying to satsify the criticis. Instead, you must be childlike: “happy, truthful and free.”

Share things as you really see them. And you can learn to see them by taking a long, carefree walk alone everyday—a good tip, among others.

Interestingly, she talks about stifling imagination and creativity as a sin. “Menial work at the expense of all true, ardent, creative work is a sin against the Holy Ghost.” She admits that she may not be a reliable theologian, but assuming she means imagination guided by virtue, I think she has a point.

The book is about writing, but Ueland addresses all kinds of creative work. Mozart, Van Gogh and others make appearances.

So Della and I have been having fun talking about our work as artists in light of the book: painting, writing, music, etc. This way of working comes more naturally to her, but I’m learning.