Higher Thoughts

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Does it strike you as a command or a promise?
This is the difference between law and gospel.

It applies to so many things in life…

If I drive by a Gold’s Gym, I can see it as an accusation for the fact that I don’t work out anymore.

Or…

I can see it as a promise. It can beckon me in and give me hope for a more ripped and shredded future.

I was reading a blurp the other day from a book about Abraham Joshua Heschel’s concept of “radical amazement”. Here’s what he says…

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” …


When motivation is actually damnation

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Photo by Jake Hills

If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.

— Abraham Maslow

I saw the quote above memed on Instagram by a really great alternative school that I follow online. I’m familiar with the school and respect what they’re doing. So what I’m about to say is no direct smear on them.

As a cultural theologian, I’m being trained to notice signals like this, pluck them out, and toss them down on the examination table for all to gather around and look at. …


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Photo by Alfred Schrock

“You ought to live your life with such freedom and joy that uptight Christians will doubt your salvation.”
— Steve Brown

So many Christians — both progressive and conservative (and everywhere in between) — carry such a downtrodden vibe about them. The Curse of the Greyface, as it’s been written.

The fruit of the gospel is not found in uptight puritanism. The fruit of the gospel results in freedom and joy.

But it’s a certain kind of joy. It’s not a self-indulgent joy (which is actually not joy), but a joy that’s turned outward towards one’s neighbor.

May the gospel set you free into a life of utter joy and freedom. And may you smile as all of the uptight Christians give you the stink-eye. …


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Photo by Evan Wise

To continue on the theme from yesterday, it strikes me that we typically think we’re abandoning our faith when we’re actually losing hope in our self-help.

It’s not our faith that’s failed, it’s our self-help that’s failed. Self-help and faith are not synonymous, but it’s easy to see them as such.

We typically think we’re abandoning our faith when we’re actually losing hope in our self-help.

It’s a bummer that we think we’re abandoning our faith when we’re really abandoning something else. We abandon a false image of faith, not the real thing.

Faith has nothing to do with the help we provide ourselves. It’s a completely alien thing that exists outside of ourselves and our volition. …


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Photo by Ingmar

I used to write a lot of self-help stuff. The subject matter kept me busy for a few years. There’s a lot you can do to help yourself.

Faith, however, starts where self-help ends…

There’s only so much you can do to help yourself after a really bad diagnosis. Same thing when you find out about your child’s drug addiction.

There is a realm of human experiences that bring us to the end of ourselves. This is where God’s work begins. It’s where all we can do is turn to God and neighbor and utter…

Help.

Jonas Ellison is a top Medium writer, theologian, and Lutheran priest-in-training studying at Wartburg Theological Seminary. His publication, Higher Thoughts, is the most followed single-author spirituality publication on Medium. Learn more about him and his journey here.

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Life really starts when we become derailed

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Photo by Abigail Faith

We seem to be born on a track of sorts. Maybe we aren’t so aware of it when we’re really young. But when we reach a certain point in human development, we become aware of a “track” that we’re on.

This track is like a juicy steak for the human ego. It can take many forms. Maybe you’re hell-bent on destruction (hey, I’ve been there). In that case, well, destruction is your track. Maybe you want to graduate law school or seminary (ahem). That’s your track.

Our track becomes the preoccupation of our lives. …


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Photo by Phinehas Adams

It’s really not about rule-following…

A useful question isn’t,
“Am I allowed to do this?”

It’s,
“What is good to do
with the gift of God’s grace
that I’ve been given?”

This is the New Covenant.
Amen.

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Jonas Ellison is a top Medium writer, theologian, and Lutheran priest-in-training studying at Wartburg Theological Seminary. His publication, Higher Thoughts, is the most followed single-author spirituality publication on Medium.

Get on his free email list here to have his posts delivered straight to your inbox and never miss a thing.


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Photo by Tracy Jentzsch on Unsplash

When we think of a clergyperson in our culture today, we typically see them as someone who is good at being good.

It makes perfect sense. In general society, the professional is the expert. She is BETTER than those she serves. This is — thank God — true for most brain surgeons, taxidermists, dental workers, and teachers.

But I don’t see this as the role of a clergyperson…

Rather than being BETTER (at being good) than those they serve, the role of the clergyperson should be to be more publicly IN NEED (of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness) than they are. …


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Photo by Blake Carpenter

My family and I just got back from a super quick getaway on the coast of Northern California.

The skies were clear and the coastline was dramatic with giant rock outcroppings jutting over and then tumbling down into the ocean.

It was beautiful.
But I have to say…

I can’t tell you how many times I caught myself — in one of the most beautiful places on Earth with the two girls I love the most — caught up in my head. I wasn’t stressed, particularly. But still…

We’d be driving down long, windy roads making our way through these thick forests. And there, I’d catch myself with the following internal…


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Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann

Yes, you can read the Bible alone under a shade tree. And you can get a lot out of it. I highly recommend it. It’s meditative. A nice experience, indeed.

But you… Me… We can’t apply the gospel promise to ourselves. Just doesn’t work that way.

We can’t forgive and free ourselves under the promise of God’s unconditional love. That requires the spoken words of another sinner.

This is what some (me included) say that the role of a priest (/preacher, pastor, minister, reverend, etc.) is, to be the fellow sinner distributing the gospel promise.

The priest…
A fellow sinner,
freeing other sinners
through the gospel promise
in the name of Christ.

Funny how much this role, in our culture, has changed.

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Jonas Ellison is a midlife seminarian and Lutheran priest-in-training studying at Wartburg Theological Seminary. Get on his free email list here to never miss a thing.

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Higher Thoughts

Daily(ish) whimsical meditations about faith, life, and work by Jonas Ellison

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