About Luke Kallberg

Luke has been helping with VOICE since 2005 and is now one of the conference advisors. A doctoral candidate in the philosophy department at Saint Louis University, he enjoys learning, thinking and writing about science and morality. He likes building things and reading books for the kids, driving around on road trips with the family, and talking about theology with his wife Karen.

A Special Relationship

I’m leading a team of kids at the Vacation Bible School this week at our church, and my two oldest children are on my team. The organizers said they put my kids with me on purpose, and at first I thought, “Oh, ok, that makes sense.”

But throughout the morning I was treated to my kids constantly trying to assert their privileged relationship for attention that took away from the team. Asking to be allowed to sit out of activities. Yelling at me while I was trying to teach a Bible verse: “Daddy! Daddy!!! DADDY!!!” I happen to know that if they were on a different team, they would follow along very well with their teacher and happily take part in everything.

So my initial reaction was to think that my kids would learn better on another team, and I’d have an easier time teaching, so…why not that? They expect favoritism from me, and even if I don’t give it, that expectation makes them act and talk in ways that seem to take away from the team experience. And of course they do get better treatment some of the time: even if nothing else, there’s my being much more familiar with their names and the different meaning it has when I use their names as opposed to what it means to one of the other students. But doubtless there’s plenty more than that.

But then I thought…maybe God does play favorites with us. After all, God certainly cares about everyone in the world, even affirming that it’s legitimate to say that we’re all God’s children (Jonah 4:11; Acts 17:28). But he then gives a special relationship to those of us who accept Christ, complete with special grace, favors, attention…favoritism! (I won’t list out those special privileges here, but I trust you can easily find a full page or two mentioned in the Bible. Email me if you can’t!) My relationship with God is not all that different from how my kids treat me on the VBS team – “God, don’t you think I’m special? Listen to me! Look at me! I need, I need, I need!!!” And as near as I can tell, God says “ok” quite a bit!

Not to say that I’m planning to have a double standard with some of my students this week, but it does seem a bit more like the organizers might have had a good idea after all. My relationship with my kids is different from my other students, so the way I love them should be different. I think I’m seeing that this doesn’t take away from my ability to appropriately love and care for all of my students. After all, if it’s good enough for God, who am I to judge?

Identity in Christ

My identity in Christ. This is a phrase that I’ve heard my whole life, and I know the right places in a conversation to say it, but I realized that I don’t really know what it means. Yet it makes a big difference in life who I see myself as: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

What is my identity to begin with? Who am I? What is your identity? Who are you? I’m Luke. OK, is that all? That’s my name, but is that me? I can change my name at any time, but surely that wouldn’t immediately change who I am as a person? The movie Batman Begins has the famous line in it, “It’s not who you are inside, it’s what you do that defines you.” Is that right? A lot of times, when we are “getting to know” someone, we ask what they do. Once we know that, do we know them?

Well, I’m learning that the meaning of having identity in Christ is that, in some way, it’s what he does that defines me. In fact, whatever it is that defines who Christ is, that also is what defines me if my identity is in Christ. So it’s helpful to think about who Christ is and how I get to know people in general, including Christ. Two things come to mind:

  1. I get to know others by learning facts about them.

I could spend a lot of time with someone, then later find out it was the governor, and what might I say? “I didn’t know who I was talking to.” Similarly, the Bible presents a lot of facts about me that are true because of my adoption into God’s family through Christ:

  • I have been given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16
  • I am not my own; I belong to God (1 Cor. 6:20)
  • I may approach God with boldness, freedom and confidence (Eph. 3:12)

There are lots more facts like this that are true of us because of our relationship with Christ, and understanding and taking these to heart is part of knowing my identity in Christ.

  1. I get to know others by spending time in relationship with them.

Conversely, I could learn all the facts there are about someone, and yet not know them: reading someone’s life story, however detailed and accurate, is nothing like being friends with them. So to know well who I am in Christ, I need to know Christ well. This is probably where I fall short the most – Christ is a person who is alive and can be interacted with, conversed with, related to. Like any relationship, it takes work and effort to learn the best ways and then do it, but there is intrinsic reward and benefit for making that effort.

Maybe working on these two aspects, I’ll make some progress in understanding my identity in Christ.

All Manner of Thing…Even Trump or Clinton

julianAccording to Wikipedia, Julian of Norwich was the first woman to write a book in the English language. She said that she had a vision of Jesus in which he comforted her with a phrase that has become famous:

“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.
“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.‘”

I’m not sure what to say about the legitimacy of this story. But granting for the moment that this is God’s perspective on things, I’m tempted to wonder why Jesus speaks in the future tense. If things are not well now, how could they become well? Even a future heaven will no doubt include our memories of sadness and sin, and of course the wounds upon the Divine Person – by any account a shocking reflection of our sin against God. The usual answer is that those things, while reflections of sin, are also reflections of love. When, in heaven, we remember our sadness and sin, we will remember how desperately we needed Christ’s love and how undeserving of it we were. And when Christ displays his wounds, he displays the depth of his love for us. But if that’s all true, then why not go all the way and say the same things about the bad things in the world right now? Why not say with Alexander Pope  that these wrongs are “well” because they display God’s love?

I think the genius of Julian’s quotation is just that it holds back from such a justification of the wrong in the world. The bad things that happen really are bad. Jesus’ suffering was bad. But the world will be well partly because of that – the depth of Jesus’ love will not be revealed unless bad things are done to him. That doesn’t make the bad things good, because his love isn’t revealed unless they are bad. This means that the future “well” is not merely what people have called “pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by.” It’s not just that God steps in and makes it all better, it’s that the pain now is part of the happiness then. And there is pain right now – right now, things are not well.

trumpsclintonsSometimes we can’t avoid bad things. In a few days, America will elect a president who many people fear will bring complete catastrophe. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton – both have large groups of opponents who fear the worst if they are elected. No matter which is elected, we have a very contentious and upsetting next four years to look forward to. Things are not well in American politics. One way to trust in God’s sovereignty is like this: “God is in control, so there’s nothing to be concerned about.” But that’s not what Julian of Norwich would recommend. I think her advice, and the more correct and realistic way to trust in God’s sovereignty is more like this: “Very concerning things are happening, but because of that, God will make all things well.”


blahI’ve been thinking a lot about disappointment. Our family was supposed to go on a camping trip with some friends today, but when we woke up this morning our youngest child had a fever, so together with some other factors it was the last straw to cause us to postpone the trip…again. On a completely different level, my sin through lust gives me frequent cause for disappointment with myself. Really, June is a month that seems particularly set up to disappoint me, with the structure of the school year gone and the structure of VOICE not yet upon me, yet lots of responsibilities and tasks needing to be done in an environment where I’m not sure how to prioritize or get things done. I need to do some logistical planning for VOICE, create a teaching syllabus for the Fall semester, revise philosophy papers and submit them to various places, fix our house and car, take advantage of the opportunity to spend more tiem with the family…etc. Meanwhile, since I’m home all the time now, Karen’s and the kids’ needs are much more immediate and pressing, so I feel more pressure than before to stop everything and help them with whatever the current crisis is (and there are many crises every hour, believe me). So I end up disappointed in myself for not getting more done or not reading that book to Isaac that he was begging me to read, or not getting out the door earlier in an attempt to get away and do some computer work…etc.

Disappointment, and disappointment in myself, isn’t necessarily bad. It just means that some expectation I have hasn’t been fulfilled or I haven’t achieved something I desire. There are some legitimate expectations that I should have, especially of myself, and there are some things that really are valuable and I should desire them. But disappointment is one of those emotions that can start to take over, making me feel like everything is going wrong. And that’s probably not true.

A realistic perspective can be hard to maintain – sometimes a lot of things are going wrong, sometimes a lot of things are legitimately disappointing, but for the Christian, that’s never the end of the story. There is a great good thing that we have, something that is just shocking and impossible, but true: God loves us! And no matter what else goes wrong, that’s really enough to overcome it all:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:28)

Further, there’s a very visible and pressing way that God puts that love into our lives: His people around us. I need to stay connected to the Church and God’s people, letting them see where I’m hurting so that their love (which is really God’s love) can touch me where I need it:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)

So…I’m trying!

Four Perspectives on Adultery

For the last few years, there’s been a website that helped married people have secret affairs with other married people. Earlier this summer the website was hacked, and last week the hackers released the personal information of everyone who had signed up. This is pretty big news since it’s turning out that some of the people with accounts were public figures or people in important positions in the government. Many people are commenting on the situation, and it gives us the chance to see the contradictory ideas that result from trying to live without God in the picture:

1. Adultery: Do it!

Of course, there’s first the perspective revealed by the existence of the website and its 30 million+ users in the first place. The tagline of the website is: “Life is short. Have an affair.”

2. Adultery: Bad, but not a big deal.

In this article, a journalist tries to criticize people who are over-interested in news like this. He makes some good points. But then he says he doesn’t think this is big news because he doesn’t think adultery is really all that terrible. He calls it a “moral misdemeanor” and says it can sometimes be the best option available in a difficult marriage.

3. Adultery: Rejection and condemnation!

In this post, the author rightly points out that the wives of adulterers are in a terrible situation that requires a response from us. But then she suggests that the solution is for those wives to be self-sufficient and give big doses of rejection and condemnation to the adulterer.

If we’re merely looking for moral principles that make people feel good, then there are good arguments for each one of these perspectives. None of them will be able to persuade the others: there will just be a constant shouting match. Imagine the confusion of a culture where people ignore the reality of God and try to figure out their own rules about adultery.

Oh yeah, you don’t have to imagine it – just look at the discussion going on about this news item. Contrast this with the response to adultery that is actually presented by God in the Bible:

4. Adultery: Repent and be saved.

God says the problem is worse than we imagined: the punishment for adultery isn’t just death but damnation. And more bad news: if you’ve ever had a lustful thought, you’re guilty! But His response is also more loving than we could have ever hoped: He loves you so much that He died for you while you were still His enemy. Jesus came not for good people, but for sinners.

When you recognize God’s love for you, it gives you the security to admit how sinful you are and the motivation to repent. That process is the heart of living like God is real.

To the Max

keep-calm-and-live-life-to-the-max-smallI was talking recently with a father of nine. His youngest are now about junior high age. He had an interesting perspective on the difficulty level of raising different amounts of children. “When you have your first kid, it’s all you can handle. You’re maxed out,” he said. “Then when you have your second kid, you’re maxed out. When you have your third kid, you’re maxed out. It’s all you can do just to keep up. With four kids, you’re maxed out. With five, you’re maxed out. It’s all you can handle.” And so on. Actually he might have only gone up to four and then said, “That’s how it just keeps on going.”

What’s going on with that? Clearly there’s more going on in this guy’s life with nine kids than there was with one. Clearly there’s more going on with two kids than with one. Did his capacities just keep on increasing? Did his need for sleep keep on decreasing? I doubt it. Probably there were some changes in his personal priorities, some willingness to pursue his own interests less, so that he could spend more time and energy on the kids. But surely that cannot account for all of the “more going on” that happened as his family’s size increased. It seems like there must have just been a lot going on that he wasn’t even aware of, and that group of “things going on that he wasn’t aware of” increased as more kids came along. Nevertheless, he remained engaged in as much as he possibly could all along the way: he was “maxed out.” (It would be interesting to find out whether his wife would describe it the same way he did, but if she would, I bet this analysis would apply to her as well.)

I think it makes sense that there is a certain amount of stuff that I can be engaged in at any point in my life…and that God would put the situations into my life at each point that would “max out” my engagement capacity.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Col. 3:23).

The parable of the talents also seems to say that God has given us the right amount of business to keep us busy doing His business.

What does this mean? Well, if it’s true that God has put just the right amount of stuff in my life to max out my engagement capacity, then if I’m over my capacity, there must be something I’m engaged in that isn’t for me right now. Conversely, if I don’t feel maxed out, there must be something in my life that I need to be dealing with, I need to be engaged in, that I’m not. Think about it. Are you overworked or underworked? Are you over-engaged or under-engaged?

Sola Scriptura

Recently I’ve been asking myself a question: Who has the right to teach from the Bible? James tells us that it’s not a responsibility to take lightly:

Knowing Scripture is not what gives you the right to teach.

Knowing Scripture is not what gives you the right to teach.

“Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (Jas. 3:1)

If you’re not interested in teaching, it’s easy to leave the spiritual instruction to the pastors and priests. But this can be taken to extremes – for hundreds of years in Europe, only priests were allowed to study the Bible. Leaders in the Church were the final authority on doctrinal matters, and their congregations had no way to evaluate whether the leaders were teaching truth or not. People were burned at the stake for distributing the Bible in languages that the common people could read, because the Church was afraid that if many people began to interpret the Bible for themselves, Church unity would be lost. This was part of the culture that Martin Luther fought against as part of the Reformation. Luther believed that Scripture, not Church leaders, is the final authority on doctrinal matters. One implication of this is that no one person’s interpretation of the Scripture can be supreme – the Scripture itself is supreme, not any particular interpretation of it.

Luther called this principle Sola Scriptura in Latin, meaning, “Scripture alone.” This seems to be what Paul commended the Bereans for practicing:

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character…for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)

So we should all study the Bible and carefully form beliefs about it. But there are different levels of teaching. When I share my opinion with a friend in a conversation, I am teaching in a small way. When I read the Bible to my family, I am teaching in a larger way. Leading a Bible study, teaching a class, preaching at a church…all are different levels of teaching, and have different requirements. Before leading a Bible study, I should demonstrate a certain level of responsibility in such matters. Teaching in a classroom setting may require specific training and skills. Teaching or preaching in a church has prerequisites that are detailed in the Bible, that Christians in general are responsible for holding leaders to.

“Teaching” is a word that implies the teacher occupies a certain position. Depending on what that position is specifically, there may be different requirements before I have the right to teach in that way. But if you’re not a teacher, you haven’t escaped the responsibility to know the Bible and let it shape your heart and mind. Scripture itself is the ultimate teaching authority, and we all are supposed to remind each other of that every day in little ways.

Pearl of Great Price


“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Mt. 13:45-46)

pearlsThe interpretation of this parable of Jesus that I have always heard is that God, or Jesus Christ, is the Pearl of Great Price, and we are like the Merchant. We need to follow Jesus’ call to “Sell all that you have…come and follow me.” (Mt. 19:21) Several old hymns reinforce this idea, such as a beautiful translation of J.S. Bach’s “Jesu Meine Freude.” And there is something to be said for this idea: clearly Christ is valuable, the most valuable thing in the world and out of the world – “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Lk. 14:33)

But there are problems with this interpretation – if we are the merchant, this makes it sound like we are searching for God until we find Him, then getting Him because we give something as payment. But, “no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom. 3:11) And of course, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8)

I’ve become fascinated by the possibility that this parable is actually talking about the way that God pursues us: He’s the merchant and we are the pearl. There is good Biblical support for this idea too. The old hymnwriter Charles Wesely wrote about the great price Christ paid: He “Emptied himself of all but love.” We are told, “…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8) The image of God as a merchant who values me so much as to give up all He has to gain me…that moves me, changes my heart.

Whatever the correct interpretation is of this parable, the point about God pursuing us is true. “…the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Lk. 19:10) This also changes my perspective on passages like Eph. 5: 25-27: “…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” I think that your life as a Christian is defined by God pursuing you, not by you pursuing God; by God valuing you rather than you valuing God; and by God the Son gaining us as a Bride more so than us gaining Him as a savior.

Relish this, revel in it, let it soothe, heal and transform you into the person whom God will enjoy for eternity. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn. 4:19)



Damage from a tornado in Moore, Oklahoma last month.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad things happen to anybody? If God is good, why does He allow bad things in this world – sometimes terrible things?
Last month we had several very powerful tornadoes in our area. One of them came within one mile of our house. Thousands of houses were destroyed, billions of dollars of damage, hundreds of people injured, and more than fifty people killed. I attended the funeral of one of the victims whose father I knew. Hundreds of people were there…and amazingly, it was a hopeful, encouraging time. Everyone was supporting each other, seeking God together, reminding each other that God goes with us through our pain. God suffers when we suffer. And God brings good out of our suffering and His suffering.

I don’t know why God let the tornadoes happen – probably there are many reasons. Probably there are special reasons in the lives of each person who was affected. Some of God’s reasons might be difficult to accept if we knew them. But maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult if we saw how everything fits together.

The week after one of the storms, I was listening to a sermon on Sunday morning and noticed what Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Gen. 50:20).

You know the story of Joseph, right? His brothers sold him as a slave into Egypt, where he was falsely accused of assault and imprisoned for three years. Because of that, he met the king’s wine taster. Because of that, he met the king and saved Egypt from a famine. Because of that, his own family moved to Egypt. Because of that, the family grew into a large nation: Israel. Because of that, the Egyptians hated them and they left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Because of their experiences in the wilderness and the Law that God gave them, they learned to trust God instead of themselves. Because of this, Israel was set on a path that would prepare them and even us to trust Jesus Christ. The evil done to Joseph was an integral part of the picture of God’s redemption of the world.

And this all began because Joseph’s brothers intended evil against him. Who fully understands God’s power to bring good out of evil? Certainly not me. But I think we can see glimpses of it at times, and those glimpses can help us to believe in bigger pictures like this one. This is part of living out God’s reality…in the middle of the reality around us. VOICE 2013 starts in less than a month and we’ll be talking about all kinds of stuff like this with more students and staff. See you there!

Bear Each Others’ Burdens

Karen and I have tried to be open at VOICE about my struggles with lust and temptations toward pornography. We try to talk about it in an appropriate and decent way, but also be transparent about the spiritual battle that it is. This is a difficult and embarrassing thing to talk about, but we do it for at least two reasons: we need the support of other Christians, and we want others to realize that they too can find ways to talk with others about their sins and struggles.

Many areas of sin are “taboo” to talk about in Christian circles: we avoid talking about them (and we’re expected to avoid talking about them) because talking about it makes us too uncomfortable. Lust is one of these forbidden topics, perhaps the most forbidden. There is something right about the topic making us uncomfortable: sin should not only make us uncomfortable, it should revolt us and shock us. We should turn away in horror.

But there is something wrong about our discomfort making us silent. Silence about our sins is the path to continued failure and discouragement: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Pr. 28:13). There is a culture in many Christian circles that supresses talk about the sin of lust, and this supression leaves each person to struggle on their own with a great burden. This might be one reason why the Bible tells us to confess our sins – to more people than just God (James 5:16). The burden of sin is clearly too much for any person to bear on their own: Christ came because each of us are unable to cope with the consequesnce of our sins. So it should be no surprise that Christ’s solution to the sins of his people includes supporting each other in battling the sins that we are tempted toward: we, the Church, are called ‘The Body of Christ,’ and much of what Christ does on earth is done through us (1 Cor. 12:12-27, especially v. 26).

Many Bible teachers have pointed out that the commands Christ gave were much stricter and more difficult to keep than the commands of the old testament. Moses said, “Do not commit adultery,” but Jesus said, “Do not lust” (Mt. 5:27-28). The more we try to hide our sin, the more we miss out on the grace that Christ has given to fulfill this perfect law, because that grace is given to us in relationships with other Christians who know our struggles: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:1-2).

We live in cultures in which lust is praised and encouraged in both men and women. If our response to this vicious spiritual attack is to forbid open discussion of our struggles – or even of the entire topic – then we deny our brothers and sisters the support and openness they need.

Of course we could go too far and talk about our sins as if we’re not even sorry, or talk with the wrong people at the wrong time. We need to discern when and with whom it is appropriate to share. But the extreme of sharing too much about our struggles with lust is not the failing of the Church right now: instead we share too little.

We need to be ready to share about our own sins and to carry with others the burden of their sins. We are the grace of God, the body of Christ, when we do this.