Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.
When we're under stress, when we're weighed down by responsibilities, and when we feel like nobody cares and no one can help us, we run to God. We ask God to send us a preacher to remind us of his promises. We ask God, like a child asks his father, that he focus our attention on his baptismal grace…
If I’m going to join your church, there’s some things I’ll need to know first. I need to know whether you practice a Christianity that’s primarily a to-do list. Do you emphasize the Christian and his performance? After all, if I don’t do the right thing and avoid the wrong things how will I know what God thinks of me?
God has gifted pastors with a terrible privilege. We’re invited to go inside peoples’ pain. A stranger stands emotionally naked in front of us begging, “I can’t get what he did out of my head. Please, help me!” Pastors call pastors to express feelings of guilt and judgment.
Blood is the thing. In the Scriptures, sin must be covered or "atoned for" as it's called, by blood. You see, God hates sin. But God also wants to enjoy a faithful, loving, and kind relation with his people whom he loves. The trouble is, his people prefer to turn to things that are not God rather than God.
When the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?", he's not imagining some new way of worship. He's drawing a direct line from Israel's history to the present tense.
God's Word, water, and the Spirit. Always when God creates and recreates, God's Word, water, and the Spirit are in play. Whether at the beginning of it all, or in the days of Noah, in the wilderness during the Exodus, or at Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River, and at the font today
Baptism isn't a new teaching. The past three to four hundred years have seen an increase in churchly debates about Baptism, but it isn't a new teaching. It wasn’t in Jesus' day, either. In fact, neither Jesus nor John the Baptist introduced baptism. It goes much further back.
It's hard wired into our brain. We can't help ourselves. When we imagine God's character, discuss our beliefs, and chew on the big picture questions about life, the universe, and everything else, we tend to picture God as a radiant, white-bearded Santa Claus who lives at the edge of the Milky Way.
God's grace and mercy in Jesus Christ calls all sinners to a celebration. A "those who sat in darkness have seen a great light" kind of celebration. A "come to Bethlehem and see the new-born Savior" revelry. Like two divine sheepdogs, God's grace and mercy hound every person in the world to join the festivities.
Often, when we talk about the Old Testament, we talk about God's promises and work for his chosen people, Israel. We talk about God's redeeming promise to Adam and Eve. God calls Abraham out of the Haran into Canaan. God sends Moses to Pharaoh with a message of liberation.
In the beginning, we read about the invention of religion. It begins simply enough in Genesis 3 [6-13]: The woman saw that the tree had fruit that was good to eat, nice to look at, and desirable for making someone wise. So she took some of the fruit and ate it.
Jesus is the Word of God. God’s Word—on two legs. I’d read it in the first chapter of John’s Gospel many, many times. God’s Word was born, suffered, bled, and died for the sins of the whole world. It was all there in the Gospels. It was testified to in the New Testament Epistles.
The devil isn’t a popular subject nowadays. The argument is made that we’ve progressed as a culture. We’ve evolved as a society. Primitive superstitions don’t help anybody. It’s not healthy for people to believe that God kicked one of his angels out of heaven, who now works behind the scenes to ruin and destroy us and all our plans.
She said, “Keep coming back, and you’ll know joy.” He wanted to vomit a rainbow of resentment, bitterness, and loathing all over her faux-leather boots. He already knew about joy. It was horrible stuff. Christians kept trying to rip it out of their hearts to share with him.
Love is the sum of the law. Love God with all your heart, spirit, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. That means that if love can't be done when it needs to be done then get rid of the law, because it's not lawful. Being lawful isn't the purpose and goal of the law.
Would you go to the church on the corner knowing that the pastor is an ex-con? What about the congregation three streets over, where the pastor is prone to lying? You know which one. The pastor at the store-front church who’s always questioning the truth about what the Gospels say about Jesus?
For the past twenty years that I've been a Christian, I've not found any evidence in my reading of Judges 13-16 that qualifies Samson for the "book of faith" (Hebrews 11). Selfish, manipulative, short-tempered, and homicidally violent, Samson's a borderline-psychotic personality.
Christians have long enjoyed an absurd love affair with white-washing biblical saints. Since the earliest days of the Church, saints have been held up as role models for great faith and godly behavior. From the Old Testament, for example, Abraham is often held up by Sunday School teachers and adult bible study leaders as a role-model.
The Gospel is simple to confess. That is, we are justified by faith alone, through Christ alone, without the works of the Law. And so long as we don't add any limits, measures, or conditions to this, the Gospel is easy to confess to others. The message that we are justified by faith alone through Christ Jesus is good news anyone can deliver.
Our complaints about God's grace always sound the same: "It was good to see him in church with his son this morning. But, I can’t believe pastor let them come up to communion. And did you see? I mean, pastor's just got to know he blew half the family's savings on booze and drugs. You know what else?
The author, Flannery O'Connor, said, "All I can say about my love of God is, Lord help me in my lack of it." O'Connor's characters often betray their true nature from behind a mask of good-hearted religiousity. This usually happens when the delusion they've projected onto the world is upset by personal crisis
The power and pressure of sin on us, from conception to the grave, is immense. That's why we struggle to differentiate sin from sin. "Maybe," we imagine, "if I can just stop lying to my spouse about going out for drinks after work, and dedicate myself to being a better parent, and..." We wrongly believe that we're sinners because we sin, but that's not the case.
Jonah doesn't care about Israel's great enemy. He certainly doesn't want to be the first prophet in history to leave his own country and preach to a people who regularly attack, rob, rape, and enslave Jonah's family, friends, and neighbors. So far as Jonah is concerned, he'd rather drown in a watery abyss than show his face in Ninevah.
If we get past Sunday School moralizing what do we discover in the Old Testament? We read about remarkably immoral people loved by God. The Old Testament is one long history of God's reckless love for unlovable sinners. Godless Abraham. Murderous Moses. Arrogant, womanizing Samson. Tyrannical Solomon.
A pastor who's got his antennae tuned up for a person's confession will listen for where the First Command has broken loose in a Christian's life. He will listen for where the command has laid him open and left him naked and exposed and ashamed before God and his neighbors.
I’ve always been more at home in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. When I first came to believe that there was a God, I purchased and read the Koran. I had watched the movie, Malcolm X, a couple months before and thought, “If the Koran helped him straighten out his life, maybe it can help me too.”