Trunk 'r Treat

What a great time at Cobblestone's third annual Trunk 'r Treat celebration in Oxford's Tollgate Mall! I had the privilege of manning the bouncy house, and realized halfway through the night that I got to see about 99% of the kids up to, oh, age eleven or twelve or so! And they all came to me! Pretty good gig.

I also got to meet a lot of parents and truly enjoyed watching a bajillion kids bounce around the bouncy house. And I consider it a great success and answered prayer that there were no tears, except when

Thanks to all those who participated, and especially to Director of Outreach Gary Antonius and his team! That last pic is of my daughter, Aubrey, whose costume was that of an eight-months pregnant woman.

One of My Favorite Preachers on His Favorite Preachers

The Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock is known throughout the church as a master preacher and mentor of preachers. An ordained minister in the Church of Christ (Disciples of Christ), he is the Bandy Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

What the Monks Taught Me (Part Two)

I started writing yesterday about the things I've learned over the years from the Trappist monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani, where I've gone for an annual prayer retreat at least once a year since 2000. I mentioned that I learned to pray without ceasing, to rest, and to be. But those things only scratch the surface of what the monks taught me.

I learned to pray. Of course, I've been praying since I was a kid. But for most of my life and ministry, I felt a woeful deficiency in my prayer life. On coming home from my first prayer retreat, though, I had learned that finding the right rhythm in prayer is key to faithfulness--at least, for me (and I suspect for most of us). St. Benedict prescribed a rhythm that would foster a life of prayer. The point of those seven "hours" of prayer wasn't just the prayer times themselves, but the fact that they infected the rest of the day and night with prayerfulness. And, while I don't observe seven fixed times of prayer a day, I have found that morning and evening prayer, a weekly Sabbath, and at least an annual prayer retreat are crucial to keeping me in a prayerful rhythm.

I learned to listen to God. I talk too much. Not just in meetings, but in my conversations with God. And for decades, I didn't quite grasp what other people meant when they talked about "listening to God." But the monks helped me with that. I have learned in my dozen or more visits to Gethsemani, that silence really does foster an internal, two-way conversation with God. I have learned what it means to hear from God. I have learned that, always a gentleman, he seldom interrupts me. He will wait for me to stop talking, and listen. So I have to shut up. For a while. And then he speaks. Not audibly (not yet, anyway). But unmistakeably.

I learned how to read my Bible. Again, I've read my Bible my whole life. I've read through it many times. But on my second or third prayer retreat, I began to pray through the Bible as I read, and that opened up to me a whole new world of prayer and intimacy with God. I also learned the ancient practice of lectio divina (divine reading), which is a way of meditating on and internalizing the Word of God. After all my years of relationship with God and ministry in the church, you would think I would have realized somewhere along the way that the Bible's purpose is not information....but to foster and deepen relationship with a relational God. Duh!

These things are not all I learned from the monks. For example, I learned that fried potatoes can become potato soup or potato pancakes or any number of things! I learned that 2:45 a.m. is really, really early. I learned that nuns can talk really, really loud! I learned that monks are likable people, and that non-Catholics can learn a lot from Catholics. And more.

And I know, too, that some of the things I've mentioned have been learned by others much sooner, much easier, and in non-monastic settings. I get that. Maybe it's just God's way of dealing with me. In any case, I will always be grateful to the monks of Gethsemani for their ministry of hospitality and prayer.

What the Monks Taught Me (Part One)

I’m a Protestant. An evangelical. A pastor, no less.

But about nine years ago, in a time of great spiritual need, I journeyed to the Abbey of Gethsemani, near Louisville, Kentucky, and spent four days and three nights at that famous monastery. It changed my life. I learned things from the Trappist monks there that I had not learned in my own tradition.

I learned to pray without ceasing. Paul's admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 had always seemed a practical impossibility. But just twenty-four hours into my first prayer retreat at Gethsemani, unceasing prayer became my experience. I arrived on a Friday, checked into the simple guest room, and decided to join the monks—at least for the first twenty-four hours I was there—in their observance of the Opus Dei (or work of God) that constitutes the rhythm of the monks’ lives. They meet for prayer seven times a day:
vigils (2:45 a.m.),
lauds (4:45 a.m.),
terce (8:45),
sext (11:30),
none (2:45),
vespers (6:45) and
compline (8:45).
Seven times a day. Every day. So on day two—I had arrived the day before just in time for lunch, which meant that my first prayer time was none—so, after none, vespers, compline, vigils, lauds, terce, and sext, I went immediately, like all the others, monks and non-monks alike, to lunch. I went silently down the staircase from the sanctuary to the dining room, silently filed through the cafeteria line, silently filled my tray with food, silently walked to an empty chair, and silently sat down. That’s when it happened. I bowed my head over my tray to say grace . . . and realized I was already praying. There was no need to start praying, because just one full day into the rhythm of that community, I found myself no longer “starting” and “finishing” my times of prayer; I did not “enter” and “exit” God’s presence. . . I had been praying since I began my day.

I learned to rest. I've never been a nap-taker. In fact, I've always had trouble sleeping, even at night. I have trouble shutting down the things running through my brain. But early on in my annual (sometimes twice a year) sojourns at the monastery, I forced myself to a state I called "constructive boredom." Other people, less obsessive-compulsive than me, might call it "rest." It usually takes a day, sometimes a day-and-a-half or two, but I've discovered that it's possible for me to get to a point where I can actually lie down in the afternoon....and sleep! Sometimes I've actually taken a morning AND afternoon nap in the same day! I think it's because when I am there, I achieve a state of rest that I never experience the other fifty-one weeks in the year.

I learned to be. I have always been a "doer." Even, at times, a workaholic. My temperament and my upbringing combined to make me a hard worker....and long laborer. And day after day, month after month, year after year, that had become my life: doing, not being. But on one of my early retreats at Gethsemani, I was intrigued to see the lives of several dozen monks ordered, not by frantic efforts to “do” and to “accomplish” things—though they do accomplish much—but by the priority of “being,” putting themselves in God’s path, so to speak, and waiting on him, in patient prayer, devotion, silence, and solitude. Being, not doing. It wasn't an easy discipline to learn. The first time or two, I arrived at the monastery with a stack of books to read, an agenda of items to pray through, and more. But little by little, I learned to be still. To stop my incessant "doing." To surrender my need to accomplish things. To spend time in God’s presence, not “accomplishing” stuff, not chattering or checking off items on a list, but being with him. Being still. Being present. Being.

(To be continued tomorrow)

The Complete Jewish Bible

Each year I read through the Bible. Five or six years ago, I started intentionally using a different translation or version each year. I've read through the New Living Translation, New International Version, The Narrated Bible (chronological, from the NIV), the English Standard Version, and one or two others. I like 'em all.

But I absolutely, positively LOVE this one. It's the work of Dr. David Stern, and it's delightful. Among other things, The Complete Jewish Bible:
- follows the Hebrew Bible order of the Tanakh's books, the order with which Yeshua (Jesus) was familiar
- makes no separation between "Old" and "New" Testaments
- corrects misinterpretations in the New Testament resulting from anti-Jewish theological bias
- offers the original Hebrew names for people, places, and concepts, using easy-to-read English transliterations
- focuses on Messianic prophecy
- gives the traditional weekly and holiday synagogue readings, plus relevant readings from the "B'rit Hadashah" (New Testament).
It was especially helpful to read the Hebrew terms in such passages as the following:
Elohim stands in the divine assembly;
there with the elohim, he judges (Psalm 82:1).

On the first day for matzah, when they slaughtered the lamb for Pesach, Yeshua's talmidim asked him, "Where do you want us to go and prepare your Seder?" (Mark 14:12).

In the countryside nearby were some shepherds spending the night in the fields, guarding their flocks, when an angel of ADONAI appeared to them, and the Sh'khinah of ADONAI shone around them (Luke 2:8).
These are just a few examples, of course, but it was such a delight to read, and it will give any reader not only a fresh perspective but a deeper and broader appreciation for the Jewishness of Jesus and the Biblical authors--something that is too easily missed in every other English translation.

I couldn't more highly recommend it.

Church of the Week: First UM Gatlinburg

I caught sight of this church's stone tower from the main street of Gatlinburg on a May 2009 vacation there. It towers over all the shops and attractions of that congested area.

My first thought was, "it must be a tiny church tucked up there on that little knob." But when I investigated, I discovered a surprisingly large structure that makes the most of the hemmed-in space available to it.

Enjoy NOW

Thanks, Mark Batterson, for this valuable word from your blog:
Is it possible that one of your greatest spiritual responsibilities is to enjoy this moment in your life as much as you possibly can? Right here. Right now. Are you enjoying life as much as you can?

As a young church planter, I always felt driven by what was next. I thought I'd find fulfillment in our next service or next sermon or next stage. It's a lie. It's the when/then syndrome. When we have a certain number of people...make a certain amount of money...have a certain number of things...get a certain promotion...then I'll be happy. No you won't. You need to enjoy the journey.

I love the very first statement of the Shorter Westminster Catechism. It hits the nail on the head: the chief end of man is the glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

I don't think we're good at enjoying God.

Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow. Why? Lots of reasons. But one of them is this: so you don't waste emotional energy on things you cannot control. Don't waste guilt on yesterday or anxiety on tomorrow. Spend today's emotional energy on today!

Live like today is the first day and last day of your life.

The more you enjoy God the more you glorify God.

Wisdom, He Wrote

From Out of Ur comes these five snippets of wisdom...from Chuck Swindoll:
1) Whatever you do, do more with others and less alone

2) Whenever you do it, emphasize quality not quantity.

3) Wherever you go, do it the same as if you were among those who know you best.

4) Whoever may respond, keep a level head.

5) However long you lead, keep on dripping with gratitude and grace.

House of Prayer

One of our stated values since we started Cobble-stone Community Church nine years ago has been prayer (Colossians 4:2). We have said since day one, "we want to 'devote [ourselves] to prayer,' not because we believe in the quantity or quality of our prayers but because we believe in the power and grace of our God."

Over the years, that value hasn't been reflected as much as I've wanted. But it's being reflected now!

What a blessing it is for this pastor to be part of a church that hosts Oxford House of Prayer in our auditorium, a weekly prayer meeting that is supported musically by our worship ministry and has seen participation from ten different churches. Week after week, prayer warriors from my church and others gather and ask, seek, and knock until God answers. And he does! It's exciting, refreshing, and wonderful. It happens every Friday night at The Loft from 7-9 (sometimes later, as the Spirit leads).

Let me just say, having been a Christ-follower from childhood and a pastor since 1980, I have been in many prayer meetings. But I'm blessed to believe that THESE prayer meetings are what EVERY pastor wants and EVERY church needs. And I get to be a part of it.

To read more about OHOP, read this from the blog of one of our church's leaders.

The New Revised Updated Modernized Apostles Creed

From Not the Nine O’Clock News (November 24, 1980), featuring Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean!), Mel Smith, Pamela Stephenson, and Griff Rhys Jones:

Making Messes

I spent the first twenty-four years of my ministry with a crazy idea in my head, a ludicrous expectation: that my life—and, more precisely, my ministry and the life of my church—was supposed to go smoothly.

And, corollary to that expectation was another: when everything didn’t go smoothly, something was wrong. And, usually, a third and a fourth corollary: it was my fault, and it was my job to fix it.

Now, I know better (most of the time). A verse I read recently in Proverbs made me laugh out loud:
Where there are no oxen,
the stalls are clean;
but much is produced
by the strength of an ox (Proverbs 14:4, CJB).
Of course, we all know, stalls are made to house livestock, and therefore they will get dirty. And churches are spiritual houses made of people, who often make bigger messes than dumb animals.

Eugene Peterson writes,
Every time I move to a community, I find a church close by and join it—committing myself to worship and work with that company of God’s people. I’ve never been anything other than disappointed: every one turns out to be biblical, through and through: murmurers, complainers, the faithless, the inconstant, those plagued with doubt and riddled with sin, boring moralizers, glamorous secularizers.
Of course. Why should we expect this process (whereby a bunch of sinners are transformed into a community of the redeemed) to be free of such disappointment? Not even Jesus enjoyed smooth-sailing with his band of twelve; they were sometimes as clueless, crotchety, and bumbling as I am!

But every once in a while, Peterson says, “a shaft of blazing beauty seems to break out of nowhere and illuminate those companies, and then I see what my sin-dulled eyes had missed: word-of-God-shaped, Holy Spirit-created lives of sacrificial humility, incredible courage, heroic virtue, holy praise, joyful suffering, constant prayer, persevering obedience.”

Oh, I’ve seen those things in my church. I’ve also seen us make plenty of mistakes (somewhere around a bajillion). And we want to get better. And we ARE! But we should also remember that, like cattle stalls and sheep pens, only empty churches can go very long without making a mess.

The Bone Box on Audio

Actor T. Ryder Smith (Equus, Waiting for Godot) provides the narration skills in the audio version of The Bone Box (available on CD, cassette, and audiobook download).

Still not convinced? Are you serious? How can you not run right out and buy copies for you and all your friends and family? OK, OK, then, you can read a review of the audio version here. That ought to do it.

What They Really Mean

Perry Noble must be a kindred spirit (of mine), because he almost always hits me where I live. This post from his blog is just another example:
One of the lessons I’ve learned while being in the ministry for the past 17 years is sometimes what people say isn’t exactly true…things such as…

(WARNING…you will probably only like this post if you are a pastor or a staff member of a church!)

What They Say: “I’m looking for a church that preaches the Word!”

What They Mean: “I’m looking for a church that preaches MY view of the Word. I think the BLANK translation should be used…I think BLANK should be talked about a lot while BLANK should be ignored. And if you ever stop preaching my view of the Word I will leave and tell others that you don’t preach the Word!”

What They Say: “Lot’s of people have been coming to me and saying they don’t like is…”

What They Mean: “I basically only have three friends…and all of them think exactly like me. The other night we were enjoying a time of self righteousness because, after all, we are right about everything…and were also slandering you (in the form of prayer requests) and thought it would be wise to approach you with our pet peeve. We’ve actually talked to no one else about this but said “lots” because we wanted to validate our dysfunction.”

What They Say: “I’m leaving the church.”

What They Mean: “Beg me to stay. If you will just ask me I will share with you several ways you can compromise God’s vision that He’s given you, thus becoming nothing more than a people pleasing pastor who is more interested in popularity than obedience. If you don’t bow to my demands I will remind you that I tithe and that the church needs my money, reducing you to a mere preaching whore…one who is paid for a service for the pleasure of another person.”

What They Say: “I want a church that is more focused on discipleship.”

What They Mean: “I want a church where everyone knows me and how important I am! I don’t want to reach people who are different from me, be it economic class or race or even musical preference. I already know WAY more than I do…but I somehow equate spirituality with knowledge rather than application and I rather enjoy feeling intellectually superior to those who don’t know as much as me.”

What They Say: “Don’t take this personally…but…”

What They Mean: “I am about to lower the BOOM on you…but you can’t get angry because I told you not to take it personally. Even though you have dedicated your life to this and pretty much invest every ounce of energy you have to this cause…and I think about it once or twice a week…you need to receive my attacks, even when they are personal…and you cannot retaliate because, remember, it’s not personal.”

OKAY, that was fun! I typed it all with a smile. Trust me…I’m not mad or frustrated with anyone…I just thought a pastor or two MIGHT get a smile out of this. :-)

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Peter Scazzero, pastor of New Life Church in New York City, convincingly makes the case: you can't be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally unhealthy. In his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, he tells how as a long-time Christian and a pastor of a growing church, he nonetheless used God to run from God, handled conflict in unbiblical ways, suppressed his feelings of anger, sadness, and fear, and managed to alienate his wife from himself and his church in the bargain!

Scazzero's book details seven steps to transformation, and brought great encouragement to me, personally and as a pastor. His discussion, in chapter 5 ("Going Back In Order to Go Forward"), of the patterns of sin and brokenness depicted in the Genesis stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was an eye-opener. The same chapter's portrayal of a typical family's behavioral patterns set forth as ten unspoken commandments was similarly effective. And chapter 9 ("Grow Into an Emotionally Mature Adult") showed me, among other things, a couple ways in which I operate as an emotional adolescent (often tending to be defensive, and being threatened and alarmed by criticism).

The book wasn't always gripping reading, but it was thorough and helpful at every turn. The only disappointment I can lodge is that it didn't meet my hope and expectation that after reading it I would be transformed overnight into an emotionally healthy and spiritually mature person. But I suppose that was an unhealthy, immature expectation. So maybe I'm learning.

Church of the Week: Tabgha

This week's church of the week is actually TWO churches, which are right next door to each other at the site called Tabgha, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.

One is the gray stone Church of the Primacy of Peter, occupying the traditional spot where Jesus, noting the large rocks along the shoreline here, told Simon he would be called Peter, or "rock."

The other church is the Church of the Heptapegon (the multiplication of the loaves and fishes). While this site is almost certainly NOT where the 5,000 were fed, the church above does enclose the ancient mosaic, below, commemorating that event.

The lovely Robin and I visited these sites in 1987, 2001, and 2005.

Your Pastor Wants to Quit

Jonathan McIntosh recently blogged the following on his great blog at
Mark Driscoll calls them “bread truck Mondays.” A Sunday that was so difficult or draining that the day after makes a pastor wish he was anything but a pastor – even the driver of a bread truck.

Not every pastor wants to quit all the time, but from time to time discouragement sets in and often it’s hard for pastors to find a safe, anonymous place to talk about it.

I took an informal poll of my friends in pastoral ministry. “What recently has made you want to quit?”

These are their top responses:

“To Protect My Family”
Sometimes, the pastor’s family will sacrifice in ways that make the pastor want to give it up for an easier or, frankly, more lucrative job. One pastor, discouraged by his young church’s inability to pay him a decent salary, responded that he feels like he is being a “sucky provider.”

Another friend who has moved into a difficult neighborhood to be an incarnational presence there, cited drug dealers in his neighborhood as a reason that he’s wanted to quit. Difficult days can make you question your call to take the gospel to the hard places.

Often pastors feel attacked on all sides. One friend of mine replied to my question with simply the words “sinful criticism,” which he later described as “criticism that is nit-picky and comes from a consumeristic church culture.”

“The Hard Work of Shepherding”
For one church planter, it was the difficult realization that after you “launch” the church, you have to actually pastor people.

His response:
“Coming to the reality that we can’t just make cool websites, network in the community, and launch a church. We actually have to do the hard work of shepherding.”
Some of the time, the issue is simply that entrepreneurial church-planting pastors have a hard time staying in one place for very long. “Restlessness and feeling a desire for another city,” was one pastor’s response to my question.

“Coveting Others’ Gifts”
Even though only a small percentage of the churches in the world see rapid numeric growth, it is these stories of fast-growing churches that get promoted the most in the church world. Add to this, because of the connectivity of the internet, that everyone has access to the most gifted preachers & teachers around.

One pastor named his struggle for what it is: “coveting others’ gifts, leadership, fruitfulness.”

If you are “normal” pastor of a “normal” church, this can lead to great discouragement. It can cause you to question if you alone are struggling with difficult people or a difficult context.

One pastor responded (ironically via Twitter) to my question on what’s made him want to quit recently:
“Twitter. Following people who always seem to have the momentum & success & few struggles. Seriously – it has gotten to me.”
“Lack of Change”
“Stagnation in the church that won’t change gets me down a lot,” was one pastor’s response to my question.

The single most discouraging issue for pastors is a sense that things in the church are not changing or progressing.

One pastor cited a “lack of change….doing the same things the same ways without vision for the why behind it all.”

Pastors are pouring out their lives in order to see transformation – change in people, a neighborhood, or an entire city. When things seem stuck, it can feel like it’s time to throw in the towel.

One pastor described it as a “lack of mission: Feeling as if we’re just spinning our wheels. Spiritual apathy among leaders who were ‘with’ us.”
Most of those hit the mark with me. I frequently want to quit as a result of the unremitting drumbeat of criticism from people IN and OUTSIDE the church; it never stops. And the crushing time demands of ministry (and unrealistic expectations of many). Also, the unremitting pastoral burden, which is often like trying to rescue a drowning person who is struggling against you and may just pull you under the waves at any moment. Also, insecurity; frequently I am inclined to believe that there have GOT to be many, many pastors who could do and would do a much better job for this flock than I can do or am doing. And, to be candid, from time to time I would have to answer "yes" to the devastating question in Anne Jackson's excellent book, Mad Church Disease: "Does working at this church interfere with your communion with Christ?"

I could go on. But I won't. I'll just find me a broom tree...and wait for an angel to come along.

Me and My Prayer Journal

Mark Batterson writes on his blog:
It's so impor-tant to keep a prayer journal to keep track of what the Spirit is speaking to you. I think many of us pray, forget what we prayed for, and then fail to give God the credit He deserves because we forgot what we asked for in the first place. We've got to write down the revelation.
How many "amens" can I say to that? I've been prayer journaling for years now. I started by promising myself to journal at least one prayer a day, even if it was only a line or two, and since then I've learned many times over the value of a prayer journal.

First, journaling my prayers focuses my mind. It helps me listen to God. Sometimes I discover what God wants me to pray AS I'm writing.

It provides a record of my prayers--and of God's answers. As Mark Batterson says, it is valuable "to keep track of what the Spirit is speaking," and it regularly leads me to give him the credit he deserves as I look back on what he has said and done in the past.

Journaling my prayers also functions as a light into my own heart. At times, I have looked over my praying and realized that I've been complaining instead of praising, or trying to get God signed up for my agenda instead of waiting on his agenda--among other things.

It keeps me accountable. Sometimes my prayer journal is a barometer of my faithfulness in prayer. It is easier to see my neglect of prayer when I notice my journal has gone silent.

It increases my faith. Earlier this year, I reviewed the prayers of the previous year, and was quickly and forcefully aware of how palpably God had lifted me up and kept me going through prayer. It was an insight--and a faith growth spurt--I would have missed otherwise.

There are many other benefits to keeping a prayer journal, but these top the list for me, I think.

(The journal pictured above was purchased at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, on one of my most recent prayer retreats. The cover was crafted by monks from some other monastery)

Love Was Here First

I'm not a big fan of Christian music. Most of it, anyway. And I don't do music reviews here on the Desperate Pastor Blog. But I'm making an exception.

Carolyn Arends's new recording (and her tenth release), Love Was Here First, is unique, original, refreshing, and insightful. The first several times I listened to the uniformly quality tracks, I found myself wondering who she sounds like, who she reminds me of. I finally realized: no one. She has a sound and songwriting style that could be favorably compared to a number of others, but unlike some Christian artists, she seems to be truly making her own music, not imitating someone else's.

There's something here for everyone. For me, each track seemed stronger than the last. I liked her surprising, bluesy arrangement of Standing in the Need of Prayer. And I liked the lyric, Something Out of Us. But I loved everything about Willing, According to Plan, and the title track, The Last Word (Love Was Here First). And I know it's a personal bias of mine, but the fact that almost half the songs are prayers greatly increased my appreciation. As did such fine lyrics as:

But I am willing--to be willing
And I am ready to be moved
And I am longing--for the longing
That pulls me close to you (Willing).


I'm not sure that God moves everything
Like pawns in a chess game, or puppets on a string,
And I can't determine just whether or not
He causes our troubles or He makes them stop.
But I am convinced we get one guarantee:
There's no situation that He can't redeem.
When He moves in our hearts, that's when we understand
It's going according to plan (According to Plan).

That's good stuff. And Love Was Here First is full of such stuff.

For more info, check out
. To buy the CD, go to

Where Are the Women?

I follow roughly 80 blogs, most of which are pastor or church leadership blogs (thank you, Lord, for Google Reader!). I just realized today, however, that of all those blogs, a mere half dozen are written by women! And two of those six are written by women leaders in my wonderful church, Cobblestone (you'll find them at and

I don't think that's a reflection of any bias on my part. I just run across ten or twenty times more male-authored blogs (particularly in the area of church leadership, predictably enough) than female-authored blogs. I bet that has more to do with the church than the internet, as I've read that a majority or more of social network users are female:

Flickr is 55 percent female.
Twitter is 57 percent female.
Facebook is 57 percent female.
Ning is 59 percent female.
MySpace is 64 percent female.

YouTube and LinkedIn have an equal ratio of males to female. Digg is the only major social network that is heavily skewed towards males, with 64 percent of users being male. (Source:
It makes me sad that women are so underrepresented in church leadership/pastor blogging (though, like I said, it's predictable enough). So if you know of any women writing great blogs along those lines, let me know.

What's On God's iPod?

Sooooo excited about our new teaching series at Cobble-stone, starting this Sunday. It's called "God's iPod," and will seek to answer the question, "What's on God's iPod?" It will combine current radio hits by artists like The Fray and Sugarland with a lyric from the ancient hitlist of Israel, the Psalms.

I get to speak this Sunday on "When You're Losing Your Grip" and the next on "When You Feel Lonely." The other topics are "When You Need a New Start," "When You're Tired of Trying," and "When You Need a Friend." The last topic was going to be "When You're Looking for a Happy Ending," but I think we're going to change it up. I'm looking for a song on the radio right now (could be country, rock, alternative, pretty much anything) that might be on God's iPod because it encourages people to look outside themselves and think of others and reach out to each other. Knowwhatimean? Any suggestions? Help me out here, people. You can either comment below or email your ideas to

Our worship team, Under Cover, and the band Con Brio, will be providing the musical support for the series, injecting one of those current hit songs into each of the messages. It's gonna be great fun!

Mosaic Bible

The Mosaic Bible is an edition of the New Living Translation with minimal study tools. In the front of this Bible is a clearly separate section with images, quotes, reading suggestions, reflections, and space for notes linked to the church year. The edition includes contemporary and historical writings from Christians past and even more past: St. Augustine, Charles Wesley, and Henri Nouwen, among others. Icons in the margins of the Scriptural text indicate links to related writings. Full-colour art from contemporary and historical artists, quotes, hymns, prayers, and poems enhance the devotional value to the reader. Let editor Keith Williams take you on a brief tour:

Webby Encouragement

I got a phone call yesterday from a gracious woman whose daughter attends Cobblestone. She expressed not only gratitude for a church that her daughter loves while away at college, but also an interest in who designed our church website ( Her church is interested in launching or redesigning their website, and was hoping for a referral. I refused. Not because I'm stingy, but because our website was designed by our multi-talented youth pastor, Andrew Holzworth. Andrew also designs many of our in-house graphics.

So here's a shout out to Andrew, who in addition to leading a thriving, impactful youth ministry and designing our website also puts up (with mostly good nature) with the abuse I give him. I hope he reads this. When he gets out of bed, that is.

Fresh-Baked Attitude Adjustment

I was on vacation last week, but our women's group planned and executed a homemade cookie giveaway to Miami University students last Saturday. They've done this a time or two in the past (the photo is from a year or two ago). Anyway, in my email this morning came this, from someone who received cookies:
I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for the wonderful cookies you were distributing uptown Oxford today. This morning had been pretty stressful and I was feeling a little on the low side. I had asked God to help me with my attitude while I was out at lunch. Then this wonderful lady stopped me on the street and handed me some cookies. They made a difference and I needed that today – I just wanted to say thank you and let you know that you made a difference in at least one person’s day today.
What a blessing it is to pastor such a lovely church with such lovely women who are reaching out in lovely ways to those around them!

Pastoral Point System

From the Pooped Pastors blog, Tom Wood writes:
I was sitting in a pub with a bunch of pastors in London. One of the guys told us that in commercial flying, the airlines have come up with a point system for pilots, so they don’t get burned out. He said, for instance, that flying into Heathrow, since it’s so complex, is 500 points. Flying in and out of Atlanta, since it’s the busiest, is 750 points. But flying in and out of smaller places, like Birmingham, AL or Birmingham, UK is only 200 points. After a pilot has logged so many points in a month or week, he has to take a break.

Because we are all pastors, we could apply that to ministry life. Instead of putting in a 50 hour week, as if ministry is logged in as hours done, maybe we should come up with a point system for pastors. So if you do a funeral for a friend, its 500 points. If its for a child, its, 1000 points. If you deal with a couple and one’s infidelity, it’s another 500 points. If you have a deacons meeting or elders meeting that week, that’s 2,000 points. Every week is a sermon. For some its only 100 points, for others its 500-1000 points. And then there’s the administrative junk and the phone calls…and emails and…

Makes sense doesn’t it? Pastoral life is more than sermon prep and making polite conversation with little old ladies. It’s tough. And maybe we need a point system that says, when you get to this amount of stuff, stop. No more pastoral work for the week.

Anyway, here’s the kicker. I checked with a commercial pilot friend of mine who flies all over the country (USA). I asked him about the point system. He said, “Not true.” They fly by hours. Oh well, it still makes sense doesn’t it?

But if we decide to put something in place for pastors—to keep us from getting pooped—we should also think of the good stuff as well. So when you see someone really get the gospel of grace—maybe a new convert or where they get graced again, maybe that’s minus 2,000 in the point system. Or when a healing occurs or a sermon really worked and a few people ‘got it’—minus 500 points. Or when the teens return from a mission’s trip and a few want to serve locally as well… Or a half day of prayer, alone with the Father, restores one’s soul. Subtract 1,000. There are some things that put the energy back aren’t there? Makes me want to be a pastor again just thinking about it…
I think it's a great idea. Every job has its stresses and blessings, of course, and the pastoral role is probably not exceptional. But the depleting effect of some ministry tasks--counseling, correction, criticism, conflict, etc.--and the frequency with which a pastor must handle those tasks does argue for such a system. But then...I'm thinking it would be too stressful to keep track of it all.

A Praying Life

As soon as I saw it online, I knew I had to read Paul E. Miller's book, A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World.

I've read a lot of books on prayer; it's a passion of mine, and I found his approach unique, particularly his linking of childlikeness with prayer. His personal illustrations, particularly those relating to his and his wife's journey with an autistic daughter, really connected with this father's heart. And, unlike many books that can tend to produce more guilt than prayer, Miller's approach aptly identifies an attitude of helplessness as key to effective praying.

Some of the portions I highlighted:
Our trust in ourselves and in our talents makes us structurally independent of God. As a result, exhortations to pray don't stick. (p. 16).

Imagine asking Jesus how he's doing. He'd say, "My Father and I are doing great. He has given me everything I need today." You respond, "I'm glad your Father is doing well, but let's just focus on you for a minute. Jesus, how are you doing? Jesus would look at you strangely, as if you were speaking a foreign language. The question doesn't make sense. He simply can't answer the question "How are you doing?" without including his heavenly Father. That's why contemplating the terror of the cross at Gethsemane was such an agony for Jesus. He had never experienced a moment when he wasn't in communion with his Father. Jesus' anguish is our normal (p. 45

I did my best parenting by prayer (p. 59).

One of the unique things about continuous praying is that it is its own answer to prayer (p. 71).

Learned desperation is at the heart of a praying life (p. 117).

"Asking in Jesus' name" isn't another thing I have to get right so my prayers are perfect. It is one more gift of God because my prayers are so imperfect (p. 135).

Even my frugality was a form of the love of money (p. 168).

The praying life is inseparable from obeying, loving, waiting, and suffering (p. 197).

Whenever you love, you reenact Jesus' death (p. 214).
Not many books are as appropriate for someone who's not praying regularly as for someone who's praying constantly. A Praying Life is that book.

Church of the Week: Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

This week's featured church is Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, which the lovely Robin and I visited in 1995, with Aubrey and Aaron (then middle-schoolers) in tow.

A Church on the banks of the Avon in Stratford is first mentioned in the charter of 845, signed by Beorhtwulf (Bertulf), King of Mercia. This would have been a wooden construction. The Normans probably replaced this with a stone building, but no trace of either remains. The limestone building we see today was begun in 1210 and was built in the shape of a cross.

In addition to being a strikingly beautiful church outside and in, it is also possibly the most visited parish church in England, because it is the church where William Shakespeare was baptized and is buried.

10 Leadership Lessons in 30 years (Monday version)

Once more, following up Chuck Swindoll's inspired summary of ten leadership lessons he's learned in fifty years of incredibly effective ministry (here), I thought I'd make my own paltry pass at the concept. Wanna know the ten leadership lessons I have learned in thirty years of fairly pedestrian ministry? Here they are (WARNING: this is the Monday's quite different from the Sunday version!):

1. To lead is to make decisions. To make decisions is to satisfy some and disappoint others. Therefore, you can be sure that if you make a decision, you will disappoint some people.

2. If you don't make a decision, you'll disappoint some people.

3. If you change something, you'll be criticized.

4. If you don't change something, you'll be criticized.

5. If you say the wrong thing, people will leave the church.

6. If you say the right thing, people will leave the church.

7. In most people's eyes, one dumb decision will always outweigh the thousand good decisions that preceded it.

8. If you try to please everyone, you won't please God. And you won't please everyone, either.

9. If you try to please God, you won't please everyone. But at least you'll please God. So might as well just try to please God.

10. Mondays suck.

Okay, so I know they're not as good as Swindoll's lessons. But who didn't see THAT coming?

(illustration is from the blog of Maioush Qwaider)

10 Leadership Lessons in 30 years (Sunday version)

In honor of Chuck Swindoll's inspired summary of ten leadership lessons he's learned in fifty years of incredibly effective ministry (here), I thought I'd make my own paltry pass at the concept. Wanna know the ten leadership lessons I have learned in thirty years of fairly pedestrian ministry? It's tough to come up with ten. Ask anyone who knows me. I haven't learned much. But, here they are, nonetheless (this is the Sunday version, remember; the Monday version is coming...well, tomorrow):

1. God is good...all the time.

2. If a preacher meets God in the study, the people may just meet Him in the sermon.

3. There is no substitute for passionate, God-honoring worship music.

4. The Church is a beautiful thing.

5. True worship is caught more than taught.

6. If you haven't prayed, you're not ready to preach...or counsel...or anything else.

7. Ministry hurts. It also stoops. It also blesses.

8. It is such a great honor to pray with people.

9. Joy comes in the morning. Sunday morning, usually.

10. God is good...all the time.

Stay tuned tomorrow for 10 Leadership Lessons in 30 years (Monday version). It'll be a little different.

10 Lessons From a Lifetime of Leadership

Chuck Swindoll, pastor, teacher, author, and chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at Catalyst 09, and spoke on "10 Things I Have Learned During Nearly 50 Years in Leadership":
1) It’s lonely to lead. Leadership involves tough decisions. The tougher the decision, the lonelier it is.
2) It’s dangerous to succeed. I’m most concerned for those who aren’t even 30 and are very gifted and successful. Sometimes God uses someone right out of youth, but usually he uses leaders who have been crushed
3) It’s hardest at home. No one ever told me this in Seminary.
4) It’s essential to be real. If there’s one realm where phoniness is common, it’s among leaders. Stay real.
5) It’s painful to obey. The Lord will direct you to do some things that won’t be your choice. Invariably you will give up what you want to do for the cross.
6) Brokenness and failure are necessary.
7) Attititude is more important than actions. Your family may not have told you: some of you are hard to be around. A bad attitude overshadows good actions.
8) Integrity eclipses image. Today we highlight image. But it’s what you’re doing behind the scenes.
9) God's way is better than my way.
10) Christlikeness begins and ends with humility.
A lengthier summary of his comments can be found at Tim Schraeder's fine blog.

Can You Say, "Hit the Nail on the Head?"

By way of pastor J. D. Greear's blog, the following is a quote from Kevin DeYoung's new book, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion.
"...But then again, consistency is not a postmodern virtue. And nowhere is this more aptly displayed than in the barrage of criticisms leveled against the church.

The church-is-lame crowd hates Constantine and notions of Christendom, but they want the church to be a patron of the arts, and run after-school programs, and bring the world together in peace and love. They bemoan the over-programmed church, but then think of a hundred complex, resource-hungry things the church should be doing. They don't like the church because it is too hierarchical, but then hate it when it has poor leadership. They wish the church could be more diverse, but then leave to meet in a coffee shop with other well-educated thirtysomethings who are into film festivals, NPR, and carbon offsets. They want more of a family spirit, but too much family and they'll complain that the church is "inbred." They want the church to know that its reputation with outsiders is terrible, but then are critical when the church is too concerned with appearances. They chide the church for not doing more to address social problems, but then complain when the church gets too political. They want church unity and decry all our denominations, but fail to see the irony in the fact that they have left to do their own thing because they can't find a single church that can satisfy them. They are critical of the lack of community in the church, but then want services that allow for individualized worship experiences. They want leaders with vision, but don't want anyone to tell them what to do or how to think. They want a church where the people really know each other and care for each other, but then they complain the church today is an isolated country club, only interested in catering to its own members. They want to be connected with history, but are sick of the same prayers and same style every week. They call for not judging "the spiritual path of other believers who are dedicated to pleasing God and blessing people," and then they blast the traditional church in the harshest, most unflattering terms."
Hits the nail on the head, I think.

Vacation Reading

I'm taking some overdue (and much needed) vacation time this week. Some people mountain climb on vacation. Others scuba dive. Some shoot the rapids. I may do one or more of those my sleep. Mostly, though, I'll be tackling this mountain:

Here, Boy

"Being in ministry is like being a stray dog at a whistlers convention" (Sid Draper).

6 Things a Leader Should ALWAYS Apologize For

It's only fitting that Perry Noble should follow up his post (from his blog) about things a leader should never apologize for with the following post about six things a leader should ALWAYS apologize for:
#1 – Always Apologize When You Screw Up!

I have actually had “leaders” tell me that they cannot admit to their staff when they make a mistake because it indicates weakness to them…when in actuality what it indicates is stupidity, arrogance and fear.

When we make a mistake as leaders…OTHERS KNOW!!! AND…they most likely aren’t wanting to rub it in our faces…but simply for us to acknowledge our humanity.

One of the most dangerous places to be as a leader is to refuse to admit to people you are wrong when you’re wrong!

#2 – Always Apologize For Not Listening To Others!

Jesus didn’t call ANY of us to do life and/or ministry alone. AND…when we begin to take the “Lone Ranger” approach to ministry it will not be long before we shipwreck the whole thing.

God has placed people around me for accountability, protection and wisdom. The Bible says in Proverbs 11:14 that many advisers make victory sure! When we do not leverage the wisdom and experience around us we are SO limiting the church!

#3 – Always Apologize For Listening To The Wrong People!

We’ve GOT to listen to somebody…we can’t listen to everybody…and when we make please “everybody” our goal then we will live in a constant state of fear and frustration.

Who are the wrong people? It’s really simple…there are people that do not love you, do not know you, have never tried to understand you and spend the majority of their time attacking you and others. They are not motivated by the love of God…but rather their own pride and arrogance (which they accuse you of because you will not listen to them…which is ironic!) You cannot let those who don’t love you and are not willing to stand beside you be the dominating voice in your life!

#4 – Always Apologize For Not Trusting Your Team!

Every leader deals with this…we will give an assignment, the person who runs will the ball then makes a mistake or gets something wrong…and automatically we go to the “they don’t care” card and begin to look at them with suspicious eyes and withold our trust from them.

This is dysfunctional!

If God has surrounded you with great leaders…then you’ve GOT to trust them. And when they drop the ball…you’ve got to believe they are bothered by it and will do all they can to correct the problem.

(BTW…if you can’t believe this about the people you have around you…then do you have the right people around you?”

#5 – Always Apologize For Laziness!

As leaders we can NEVER fall into cruise control mode and believe that yesterday’s victories will be celebrated by tomorrow’s generation!

We MUST press ahead…we MUST keep trying…and when we begin to get lazy (refuse to take risks…stop begging God for His direction) then we are NOT being good stewards of the vision He has called us to.

This ISN’T about our personal comfort…it’s about HIS GLORY!

#6 – Always Apologize For Not Being Clear With Your Communication!

One of the BIGGEST frustrations I’ve faced as a leader is that I will (in my mind) communicate something very clearly…when in actuality I am being about as clear as mud to the other person. And then when they do not do what I requested…I get angry. BUT…they made the mistake NOT because they wanted to make sure I was mad…but because I didn’t do a good job with clear communication.

As leaders we have got to understand that we cannot hold people accountable for unspoken and unrealistic expectations–period. The clearer we are with our communication the bigger the potential for the win!
I would add:

#7 – Always Apologize For Not Seeking Direction from God
#8 – Always Apologize For Rude, Petty, or Thoughtless Behavior
#9 – Always Apologize For Letting Someone Down

And, perhaps most importantly:

#10 – Always Apologize For Cussing Out the Umpteenth Person You Have to Apologize to Today Because Everyone Seems to Have a Beef with You, Doggone It!

Find Your Strongest Life

Marcus Buckingham, author of the hugely successful (and helpful) books, First, Break All The Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths (among others) brings his passion to women in Find Your Strongest Life.

Like his other books, this one is thoroughly entertaining and extremely practical. It includes his signature diagnostic tool in the form of the Strong Life Test. And it seems to hit every chord a female reader is going to want to hear, from "Ten Myths About the Lives of Women" to the latter chapters, which prescribe tactics for a stronger career, stronger relationships, stronger kids, and a stronger future. In this reader's view, chapter 9 ("Strive for Imbalance"), in which he says, "Balance is almost impossible to attain, and unfulfilling when you do. Ignore it," may well be the most impactful and life-changing in the whole book. But they're all good.

Here's the author talking about the book:

Visit the publisher's page to read more or to order your copy.


John Bevere's new book, Extraordinary (The Life You're Meant to Live), encourages readers to step into the unknown, embrace the divine empowerment, and live an extraordinary life. Thoroughly Scriptural (though some might be unnerved by the way he occasionally speaks of hearing God's voice...with great clarity and in great detail), Extraordinary guides readers toward the truly extraordinary life Christ-followers are meant to live.

For example, in the first chapter, just five pages into the book, he makes the startling observation: "In contrast to the present reputation of Christians, one of the great struggles the early church encountered was convincing people that believers were not superheroes or gods." He's right. All of us fall far short of the kind of life that was apparently the course de rigeur for the apostles, at least.

Having read Bevere's earlier books with great appreciation, I found this book (strangely enough) a little less than extraordinary, to be honest. It didn't grip me or inspire me. And many of the ideas the author presented as thrilling fresh discoveries were far from new (such as, "Grace is getting what we don't deserve, whereas mercy involves not getting what we deserve," and "The fabulous news is that God has given us the resources we need to live a holy life that pleases Him!").

But it could be just me. After all, far better, smarter men and women than me (like Joyce Meyer, T. D. Jakes, Ed Young, and Jack Hayford, among others) endorse Extraordinary. And it may just be that Bevere's story, in chapter 14, of the day he and his fellow ministry staff turned back a raging, destructive wildfire with the prayer of faith is worth the price of the whole book. It's a story he concludes with the question, "How much are we not receiving for our own lives or, more importantly, to assist others in our arena of influence because we are not living by faith?"

That is definitely extraordinary.

(Click here to view options for finding, ordering, and/or downloading Extraordinary)

Church of the Week: Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona

So, the lovely Robin and I are driving through the Sedona on our 2004 vacation when we see this amazing modern chapel rising out of the red rocks just south of the city of Sedona.

It is the creation of Marguerite Brunswig Staude (1899 - 1988), a religious artist and sculpture, who wanted to design and build a modern cathedral. The outbreak of World War II forced her to give up the idea of designing a cathedral to be built in Europe and other obstacles thwarted her plans for building it in various large cities in the US. Following her marriage to Anthony Staude in 1938, she and her husband purchased a ranch in Sedona, Arizona, in 1941 to use for a vacation home. Living amongst the scenic splendor of the Sedona countryside, her dreams of a majestic cathedral morphed into a plan for a chapel that would celebrate the beauty of God's creation with art. Working with architect Frank Lloyd Wright's son, Lloyd, she conceived a design for the Chapel and plans and a model were created. However, it wasn't until 1955 that work was started on the Chapel. Upon completion of her artistic creation, Marguerite Brunswig Staude presented it to the St. John Vianney parish in Sedona and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix as a gift.

Inside, the Chapel is simple and modern, but striking (I'm not a big fan of modern architecture). A floor-to-ceiling window, divided into four sections by the huge cross, dominates the interior of the chapel and provides breathtaking backdrop for the altar. The chapel is not used for regular Sunday or daily Mass but is open daily to visitors.

Great Day at The Loft

LOVED our worship celebrations today at Cobblestone Community Church!

Dawn and Chris Owens dedicated Sawyer (their firstborn) in our first celebration, Con Brio led worship (including a beautiful rendition of Needtobreathe's Something Beautiful), and I had the privilege of speaking on "The Slippery Slope" of conflict from Romans 12. I was blessed to pray with folks after both celebrations, renew fellowship with some old friends who've moved away, meet some new friends, spend a few moments with my grandkids, be led in worship by my son AND my daughter-in-law....

I am one blessed pastor.

7 Things Leaders Should Never Apologize For

Perry Noble offers some helpful wisdom (as usual) in the following post from his blog:
#1 – Never Apologize For Dreaming Big!

We have a HUGE GOD who can do things that are absolutely MIND BLOWING…and if we focus on HIS POWER rather than our limitations we will always be willing to hear what He says and then do it…even though we don’t have all of our questions answered.

He’s God…He wants more for the church than we want for it…ask big!

#2 – Never Apologize For Your Passion!

I once had a guy tell me, “Dude, I think you would be more effective as a leader/communicator if you would just calm down a little.”

Here’s the problem…I can’t! Jeremiah 20:9 is my verse…Jesus began a fire inside of me on May 27, 1990…and it’s only gotten hotter.

You can be consumed with passion…or be content with being passive. One Jesus will use to change the world…the other the enemy will use to dull your soul.

#3 – Never Apologize For Wanting To Lead!

If you are called by God & gifted by God to lead…THEN LEAD! Here’s the deal…someone is going to make the decisions. Someone is going to call the shots…and if that is the call that God has put on your life then DO IT!

BTW…when you do this it IS going to make people mad. AND…if you can’t handle the fact that people ARE going to hate you simply because you try your best to listen to Jesus and then do what He says…you may not be called to lead!

#4 – Never Apologize For Not Embracing Someone Else’s Agenda!

You have got to understand that, as a leader, if you experience any level of success then other people will always want to attach themselves and their agenda to you. I often tell people, “your burden is not my passion!”

As a leader we are responsible for embracing God’s vision for our lives…not everyone else’s!

I am not saying everyone else’s idea is bad…or even wrong…it’s just that you can’t embrace something that God didn’t truly birth inside of you…and doing so will only lead to personal frustration and your organization trying to manufacture energy for something that they hate!

#5 – Never Apologize For Expecting The Best From Others!

Leaders cannot be afraid to set high standards…EVER! I believe it is WRONG to expect perfection from others…we’re all humans, we screw up! BUT…it isn’t wrong to expect others to give their best. (BTW…MOST of the time if people see the leader giving their best it will inspire them to do the same!)

#6 – Never Apologize For Wanting To Reach More People!

From time to time people will take a shot at me for wanting to see more people come to church…and…


I can’t help it…the change in life that Jesus has brought about in me…I want as many people as possible to hear about it! I want as many people as possible to have their lives changed. I want as many people as possible to KNOW that they KNOW JESUS! I just don’t see anywhere in Scripture where that is a bad thing.

Don’t EVER apologize for embracing the fact that God has called us to RECONCILE (not REVILE) the world! (II Corinthians 5:16-21!)

#7 – Never Apologize For Saying “No” To What You KNOW You Need To Say “No” to!

One of the biggest frustrations I’ve ever had as a leader is when I commit “sins of obligation,” you know, when I do something because I feel like I have to rather than doing it because I truly feel led to do it because of the Holy Spirit’s leadership in my life.

Just because we have opportunities doesn’t mean we need to embrace them…because saying “yes” to everything often means we have to say “no” to the things that are REALLY important.

The Awe Factor of God

Here is a video of Francis Chan speaking, giving a brief presentation that shows our place in the universe:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Psalm 19:1).

Top 10 Confessions of a Pastor

(The following is excerpted from a message I gave at Cobblestone Community Church in 2008, inspired by Craig Groeschel's book, Confessions of a Pastor)


#10. It took me five years to finish high school.

Mainly because I skipped school for two-and-a-half-years. Honest.

#9. I skipped my high school graduation…to get married.

Best decision I ever made.

#8. I once dressed up as a Native American and sang “Indian Love Call” to a room full of women.

I’m still in counseling for that one.

#7. I buy too many books.

It’s an addiction. Pray for me.

#6. I’m too much of a people-pleaser.

Please don’t hate me for that.

#5. I eat too much.

This is one of those confessions that’s already obvious to everybody, right?

#4. I’m an introvert.

People laugh when I tell them that…but it’s true. I can function as an extrovert, but I’m happiest when it’s just me, a book, and a bottle of Diet Mountain Dew.

#3. I get depressed pretty easily.

It’s partly an occupational hazard. Research says about 40 percent of pastors are experiencing depression at any given point. I think it’s because most of us are introverts trying to function as extroverts!

#2. I didn’t learn to pray regularly until I’d been in ministry for twenty years.

I was preaching about it, I just wasn’t doing it. That’s a story all in itself, too.

AND, the number one confession of this poor, pathetic pastor is…

#1. I don’t really believe God

Talk about deep, dark secrets.
Can a pastor get any deeper, darker than that?

Now, notice that I’m not saying I don’t believe there is a God…
I do believe that,
99.9% of the time.

And please don’t get bent outta shape about that…
I think most people,
even the giants of the faith,
have those moments when the thought crosses your mind,
Am I kidding myself?

Even if it’s just a fraction of one percent of the time,
I think those kinda thoughts come to all of us from time to time…
that’s why it’s still called faith.

That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.
100% certainty will come on that day, when,
as Paul wrote, “we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

BUT, I’m not talking about believing IN God,
I’m talking about believing God.

My sister-in-law believes IN airplanes…
but she doesn’t fly.

I believe IN beachfront property along the Florida coast,
but I’m not gonna buy a house there,
where hurricanes hit with such frequency.

That’s what I mean when I say I don’t really believe God.
At least not like I want to.
Not like I’m called to.

I believe that when I was a child,
God reached down from heaven and, young as I was, forgave my sins and made me new.
I believe that at the age of fourteen,
when my mom was dying of cancer, God put his arms around me
and held me and stuck with me and took me to a new level of surrender and commitment to him.
I believe that God has been unspeakably patient
and kind
and good
to me over the years, a refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1, KJV).

while my faith is immeasurably bigger and stronger than it was years ago,
even just a couple years ago,
I still struggle to believe him…

Shoot, if I really believed God,
I mean, really,
do you think I’d worry as much as I do?
You think I’d stress like I do?
You think I’d get offended?
You think I’d have trouble forgiving?
You think I’d hold on so tight to my money?
You think I’d turn to food for comfort?
You think I’d get depressed so often?

And the same is true for all of us.

If you don't believe me,
take a look at Hebrews,
chapter 12.

By the time he gets to chapter 12, the author of Hebrews
a long letter to Jewish Christ-followers
in the first-century world,
has been talking about faith,
and has listed a whole catalog
of people from the past who exemplified faith in God,
people who truly believed God,
who didn’t just believe IN him,
but believed him, with their lives,
people who...
…through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated….They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground (Hebrews 11:33-38, NIV).
THESE, the author says,
are people who believed God ….

THAT, the author says,
is what believing God looks like….

And then he goes on to say,
to begin Hebrews chapter 12…
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV).
He says, “all those people of faith,
who believed God at the point of a sword,
who believed him when their life depended on it,
who believed him enough to endure jeers and floggings,
and chains and prison,
all those people surround us like a crowd in a stadium,
and they’re rooting for us
as we run the race of life,”
shoot they’re praying for us,
according to our Orthodox and Catholic brothers and sisters,
and so the author of Hebrews says,
Therefore…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV).
And you know what hinders?
You know what sin so easily trips us up?

I believe it’s unbelief.

Scholars and students debate this point back and forth,
but I think it’s fairly obvious,
for several reasons.

You see, of all the confessions I could make,
of all the sins you could confess,
we’re really guilty of only one:

not believing God.

That’s the sin that trips us up.
That’s the sin—
the one sin—
that constantly wraps itself around my feet
and drags me down
and steals my victor’s crown.

God says,
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD (Psalm 27:14, NIV).
But I don’t wait.
I push.
I press.
I demand.
I stamp my feet.
I hold my breath and clench my fists.
Because I don’t believe God when he says, “Wait.”

God says,
Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4, NIV).
But I don’t do that.
I delight myself in the desires of my heart.
I tell God all the things that delight me,
all the things I want him to give me,
all the things he oughta do for me.
Because I don’t believe God when he says,
Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4, NIV).
God says,
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink (Matthew 6:25, NIV).
And I say, “But…but…but…”
Because I don’t believe God will supply my needs when I trust in him.

God says,
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Luke 6:38, NIV).
But I measure my giving real carefully,
thinking I can only afford to give so much,
when if I really believed God,
I would give according to what measure I wanted to receive back from God!

I don’t believe God.
And I’m guessing neither do you…
Not like those people we read about earlier,
who conquered kingdoms,
who shut the mouths of lions,
who quenched the fury of the flames,
whose weakness was turned to strength,
who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies,
who received back their dead, raised to life again!

But we are surrounded by those people—
believe it or not, the author of Hebrews says they’re watching us,
they’re cheering us,
they’re rooting for us,
they’re urging us to take the risk
and believe God…

Joshua is there…
who, though it had to sound crazy,
declined to use typical siege technology and instead
marched his people around Jericho and blew the trumpets…
and watched the walls come down.

Daniel is there…
who, when he was thrown into a den of lions,
didn’t whine, didn’t beg, didn’t throw up his hands,
but prayed for deliverance.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are there,
who faced a fiery furnace
believing that God would deliver them FROM
or deliver them THROUGH the flames…

And Peter is there, too,
who I wonder if he could be the author of Hebrews,
or at least the one the author had in mind when he said,
“Let’s throw off the sin of unbelief,
the sin that so easily trips us up, and…
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV).
Do you remember the story
of Jesus’ closest followers and friends
in a boat on the Sea of Galilee,
and how the men in that boat
looked out over that rough sea in the middle of the night
and saw Jesus walking toward them ON THE WATER?

And they were all freaked out,
but Peter called out to Jesus,
“Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28, NIV).
And Jesus said, “Come,”
and Peter stepped out of the boat
and onto the surface of the waves
But then the Bible says of Peter,
“When he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:30, NIV).
When he took his eyes off Jesus, he began to sink.
When he took his eyes off Jesus, he lost faith.
When he took his eyes off Jesus, he stopped walking on water.

It’s when we take our eyes OFF Jesus…
when we see the wind,
when we see the clouds,
when we see the pile of bills,
when we see the mean people in our path,
the difficulties,
the problems,
the opposition….
we get afraid and we start to sink…

SO the author of Hebrews says,
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV).
If your eyes are on Jesus,
you can conquer kingdoms,
shut the mouths of lions,
quench the fury of flames,
turn weakness into strength,
face jeers and flogging,
endure chains and prison,
emerge victorious from deprivation, persecution, and mistreatment.

But even so,
I don’t think that kinda faith comes all at once.
I do believe there’s a supernatural gift of faith, that some in this room know.
But I think most of the time,
for most of us,
our faith, our ability to believe God, our willingness to trust him,
GROWS in proportion to how many
and how big
I’ve trusted him in the past.

It’s that way with other relationships, isn’t it?
You’re not gonna hand me your house key the first time we meet.
But after you’ve known me a little while,
and I fed your dog while you were on vacation,
and put the trash cans out for you,
and as far as you could tell I didn’t steal anything…
you might trust me enough to give me a housekey, for emergencies, right?

It’s that way with faith.
Peter didn’t step outta the boat the first time he met Jesus.
By the time he stepped outta that boat,
he’d seen Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist,
he’d seen Jesus turn water into wine,
he’d seen him heal a man with leprosy,
he’d been there when Jesus commanded a storm to “settle down!”

Peter had a history with Jesus
before he walked on water.

So if you and I want to really find out what it’s like
to believe God,
to overcome fear,
to experience healing,
to shut the mouths of lions,
to quench the fury of flames,
then let’s develop a history with Jesus.

Let’s start looking to him,
letting him “author” and “perfect” our faith,
letting him get it started,
and make it stronger.

You can let him get it started,
even if you’ve never before placed any faith in God,
you can start developing a history with Jesus by praying,

Jesus, I confess that I am a sinner,
just like everyone else here today.
I ask you to forgive my sin,
and come into my heart
and sweep it clean,
and take up residence there.
Help me day by day to follow you,
and believe you,
in all I do, amen.

Once we make Jesus the “author” of our faith,
we can cooperate with him in “perfecting” our faith,
to use the words of Hebrews 12:2…

And how do we do that?
Like Peter did…
by following him day by day,
by consciously and consistently
stepping out of the boat,
whatever that looks like today….

That is,
risking a little more than I did yesterday…
sticking my neck out a little further than the day before…
believing a little more day by day,
until sooner or later, lo and behold,
I’m moving mountains…
I’m being healed,
I’m dancing in the furnace,
I’m walking on water…

So let me ask you…
what are you willing to risk on the possibility that God
might just keep his promise?
What are you willing to risk on the possibility that God
might just be worthy of your trust?
What is the biggest step of faith you’ve ever taken?
What is the next step of faith you’re willing to take?

I don’t always believe God like I should,
or even like I want to.

But, when I do,
it’s amazing what happens.
When I choose to believe God,
when I put my weight on his promises,
when I decide to chuck all my misgivings and just take a flyer on God,
when I give him half a chance,
he shows up.
I mean, he really shows up.

He leaves me wondering why I wasted so much time
and so much energy
doubting him.

He leaves me shaking my head—
and sometimes shaking in my boots—
at how amazing
and loving
and compassionate
and powerful
and attentive he is.

He leaves me vowing
that the NEXT TIME,
I will believe him …
I will be less pig-headed and more humble,
and let him save me a lot of pain and trouble on the way to believing him more.

And I bet it will be the same for you.