My Favorite Blog Posts of August

It's been a full month for this desperate pastor, on and off this blog! I thought I'd take just a few minutes and list my ten favorite blog posts of the past month:

1. For Those Who are Frustrated with a Leader

2. Trust in the Slow Work of God

3. How Technology Helps Me

4. The Atheist's Hymnal

5. Joy in Adversity

6. A Resilient Life

7. Ten Characteristics of Growing Churches

8. Say What God Says

9. The Top Ten Signs the Apocalypse is Near

10. Church of the Week: St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Church, Aurora, IL

Church of the Week: Scottish Rite Cathedral, Chicago

This week's "church of the week" here on Desperate Pastor is not a church, but it is a cathedral. When you figure that one out, let me know. It's the Masonic Temple and Scottish Rite Cathedral on Dearborn St. in Chicago, Illinois.

The lovely Robin and I were here together in 1974, if I remember right (before we even began dating), when The Salvation Army Swoneky Division's production of the stage musical Jesus Folk performed on the historic stage of this elaborate Gothic structure.

Built in 1867, the original cathedral in Chicago demonstrated the Gothic Revival style of architecture. During the 1871 Great Fire, everything was destroyed except the limestone walls. It was sold not long ago.

Sunday Night Rejoicings

So thankful this evening for a glorious day spent in the worship of God and the fellowship of his saints!

Our worship bands at Cobblestone, Under Cover and Con Brio, never cease to amaze me. This morning, Under Cover debuted their rendition of the following Mercy Me song, and oh, what a marvelous prayer and perfect segue to the message of the morning:

We completed our "How to Survive the End of the World" series, through the entire book of Revelation in eleven weeks....and it is one of my (perhaps THE) favorite series we've ever taught at Cobblestone. I'ma hate to see it go!

So much going on these days. So much good stuff. We received a week or two ago a report from our "Advent Conspiracy" effort, that the eight fresh-water wells we sponsored in Burma are complete! A display in the atrium at The Loft shows photos of each well and maps of its location, and information about the villages we helped to bless! What a huge blessing, to know more than 2,000 people in Burma now have fresh, clean water because of God's people in Oxford, Ohio!

Our mission team to Peru leaves on Thursday. Praying that Sam's passport comes in time (please, Lord!).

Cobblestone's website now features an online giving function! That's something I've prayed and hoped for for a long time now, and it's now a reality. I pray that easier giving will translate into more faithful, more God-honoring giving to the church.

I was so honored (as always) to participate briefly this morning in the outreach committee's meeting this morning as they made plans for our next series, starting next Sunday, "1Thing Matters." It's gonna be awesome. Just two weeks, but hang on tight, it's gonna be something special.

Answered prayer report: Many of us in the church have been praying for Treena, who had cancer surgery not long ago and then had the medication after the surgery threaten the health of a cornea....and she reports today that her vision is fully restored! Praise God for faithful prayer and for answered prayer for this precious servant.

Tonight's "The Third" at The Loft was beautiful. The crowd is growing, bus service (from Shriver) starts next week, and the "hard launch" will be September 19. Great job tonight Con Brio. Keep it up, Andrew! So proud of the whole "Third" team.

Trust in the Slow Work of God

A good word for pastors, among others:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
 We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
 We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
 We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
 And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
 Your ideas mature gradually–let them grow, 
Let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
 Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time 
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
 will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
 Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you,
 and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).

More Questions Than Answers

I love the approach of Eleanor Shepherd in More Questions Than Answers. I loved it long before the book was published, when the author described it to me at a conference we were both attending.

Her concepts of "spiritual accompaniment" and "transformational listening" strike me as a far more Christlike (not to mention effective) way of sharing our faith than most of us have learned, tried, and taught (a point Shepherd makes in her Chapter 13, "The Perfect Example of Spiritual Accompaniment"). I would love to see this book gain a wide readership (actually, it already seems to have done so, judging from the endorsements in the front matter from university presidents, television producers, denominational leaders, authors, and other clearly important people).

Though at times the writing is a bit heady for a lunkhead like me (with words like "synchronicity" and "modality"), the author's vision and passion shine through--compellingly. If the church in the twenty-first century could possibly make More Questions Than Answers required reading, I honestly believe we might see a Great Awakening like none before.

Church of the Week: St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Church, Aurora, IL

Today's "church of the week" here on the Desperate Pastor blog is St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Church in Aurora, Illinois. It was officially established as an independent parish in 1965.

The lovely Robin and I visited this church for the first time just yesterday. It is a beautiful church, inside and out--including the flock that worships here. We were warmly greeted by several folks on our arrival around 9 a.m.

We were here for the occasion of our nephew David's ordination to the diaconate by His Grace Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos in the church where David was catechized and baptized into the orthodox faith, and from which he and his family moved to Massachusetts several years ago, where he enrolled in Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline.

After being ceremonially presented to the bishop, David prayed at the icon of Jesus for about an hour (!) while the divine liturgy proceeded (in the photo above, his recommendation for ordination from the parish in Massachusetts is being read aloud in Greek, then English).

David and Nora's two oldest sons, Joel and Isaac (on the left in the photo above) served as altar boys in the service.

At another point in the three-and-a-half hour worship service, David followed a procession down the center aisle, his head still draped with the servant's towel, carrying the servant's bowl and pitcher.

He was then ordained by the laying on of hands in the apostolic tradition....

And warmly presented to the congregation and furnished with the vestments of his new office by the bishop, to cries of "Axios!" ("he is worthy").

When the time came for communion to be served, David and the bishop served together, with the first celebrants served by David being his wife, Nora, and four sons, Matthew, Justin, Joel, and Isaac.

After the service, the church hosted a sumptuous buffet in the adjacent and well-furnished fellowship hall. Stuffed grape leaves, olives, cheeses, pastries, and so on, all good.

It was such a joy and blessing to be there for this important and auspicious moment in the life of one of God's servants, David. And to enjoy fellowship (all-too-brief) with him and Nora and the boys, and David's parents, my brother Don and sister-in-law Arvilla, too.

Prayer: There's an App for That

I'm not sure why, but I've thought for a long time that my Catholic brothers and sisters seem to have some of the best blogs in the blogosphere. But that's not all. They are also creating some of the best iPhone and iPad applications, especially when it comes to prayer.

The Ministry of Divine Office, a nonprofit group that offers the “Liturgy of the Hours” collection of Roman Catholic prayers online and via the iPhone and iPod Touch, in partnership with Surgeworks, Inc., has released the latest version of its “Prayer” app with two new features and iPad compatibility.

The “Prayer” app is the most complete prayer database available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. It works without an Internet connection, providing users with access to more than a thousand prayers in English (plus more than a hundred prayers in Italian, Latin, Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese.

The “Prayer” app includes all the official Common Prayers, Daily Prayers (including morning offering and prayer before meals), Blessings, and more. While the Rosary and Marian prayers would not necessarily fit an evangelical's practice of prayer, some would. And, at $1.99, it is worth checking out.

The Ministry of Divine Office also offers other applications to encourage and facilitate prayer:

• Morning Prayer (Lauds) – audio Liturgy of the Hours
• Evening Prayer (Vespers) – audio Liturgy of the Hours
• Night Prayer (Compline) – audio Liturgy of the Hours
• Liturgy of the Hours – audio and text Liturgy of the Hours

To find out more, search the iTunes store for the "Prayer" app, and look for the graphic that accompanies this review.

Confidence Amid Chaos

Dr. David Jeremiah, senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California, scored a New York Times bestseller with his book, What in the World Is Going On? In that book he identified ten prophetic clues that he says are being fulfilled in these tumultuous times.

In his newest book, Living with Confidence in a Chaotic World, he follows up that message with answers to the question, "What in the world do we do now?" His answers, thorough, biblical, and encouraging, form the outline of the book:
Stay Calm
Stay Compassionate
Stay Constructive
Stay Challenged
Stay Connected
Stay Centered
Stay Confident
Stay Consistent
Stay Committed
Stay Convinced
Most inspiring and helpful for this reader was the fourth chapter, on staying challenged, in which he tells the stories of professor Liviu Librescu, missionary Geoffrey Bull, and Sabrina Wurmbrand, who with her husband Richard and son Mihai survived prison and torture for her faith in Jesus Christ.

Though at times sermonic (which is understandable, given the author's decades of pastoral ministry), Living with Confidence in a Chaotic World is never shallow or boring. It is a hopeful and helpful book, and one which deserves a wide readership.

Joy in Adversity

The Anchoress is one of the blogs I check daily. It was there, a couple weeks ago, that I found this gem, Father James Martin speaking on Joy in Adversity. It's long, but it's worth it:

James Martin, SJ from The Leadership Roundtable on Vimeo.

A Resilient Life

I first discovered Gordon MacDonald when I read his excellent book, Ordering Your Private World (which I highly recommend) and have since had the pleasure of meeting him professionally.

A Resilient Life (You Can Move Ahead No Matter What) is a wise and orderly treatment of resilience, which MacDonald describes as "getting stronger as I get older."

MacDonald returns often throughout the book to a central metaphor--the strategies for stamina bequeathed to him by his high school track coach--to show readers how to "finish what you start, persevere in adversity, push yourself to your potential." The book is divided into five sections:
Resilient People Are Committed to Finishing Strong
Resilient People Run Inspired by a Big-Picture View of Life
Resilient People Run Free of the Weight of the Past
Resilient PeopleTrain to Go the Distance
Resilient People Run in the Company of a "Happy Few"
Each section is divided further into short chapters.

A Resilient Life would be beneficial for pastors and others in ministry, for the need for resilience and perseverance is particularly pronounced in ministry. And, as a pastor, MacDonald tends to write with great insight and empathy for pastors. One of my favorite parts of the book was this, from the chapter entitled, "Resilient People Open Their Hearts to the Presence of God":
A haunting memory sticks from years and years ago, when news came of a young husband in our congregation who was dead by an errant shot during a hunting trip. It was my lot as the family's pastor to rush to the home and sit with the family. As I drove away from my home, I found myself asking, "And what shall I give this family? My spiritual resources are dry. All I have is words, but my spirit seems empty." It was a most miserable moment, a scary one for a youthful pastor. And one of those times when I determined I would never again be caught with an empty soul when others needed spiritual resource.

I came to see that I owed my congregation a filled-up soul. They needed this far more from me than all the church programs and visions I could put before them. Whether they encountered me in the pulpit or on the streets of our community during the week, they needed to know that if (perish the thought) there was only one human being in their world who had some experience in the presence of God, I would be that man.
A Resilient Life is more than the sum of its parts. It is a training program for men and women who want to get stronger as they get older.

Church of the Week: Circular Congregational Church, Charleston, SC

Charleston, South Carolina, is filled with historic, distinctive, and vibrant churches, and this week's church of the week is one of them. This congregation was co-founded with the city of Charleston (or Charles Towne, as it was called then) in 1680-1685, by the English Congregationalists, Scots Presbyterians. and French Huguenots of the original settlement. In a spirit of diversity and liberality, these "dissenters" erected a Meeting House in the northwest comer of the walled city. The present church structure occupies that exact site. The street leading to it was called "Meeting House Street," later shortened to Meeting Street, which it remains to this day.

In 1804, the time had come to replace the Meeting Street house with a more commodious building. Martha Laurens Ramsay proposed a circular form and Robert Mills, Charleston's leading architect who also designed the Washington Monument in D.C., completed the plans. The church he designed was a Pantheon-type building 88 feet in diameter with seven great doors and 26 windows. On its main floor and in the gallery it was said to accommodate 2,000 worshippers! The first major domed building in North America, it was described by one observer in 1818 as "the most extraordinary building in the United States."

I had the opportunity to worship here on a July trip to Charleston. "Circular Church," as its members call it, was just across the street and a block away from my hotel, so I dropped in on their 10:15 a.m. service, which happened to be the installation service for an interim minister (their previous pastor had recently retired).

It seemed to be a friendly and thriving congregation (they are affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (USA), one of very few churches in the South with a dual affiliation. By the time the service began (to the accompaniment of a pipe organ), the sanctuary was about 70% full.

I loved the woodwork in the place, and the semi-circular arrangement of the pews. I would have liked to have stayed for the "Jazz Vespers" they offer on Sunday evenings, but had to get on the road for our return trip home.

Sunday Night Rejoicings

I am always uplifted by the worship of God and the fellowship of his saints and service to others. I will never understand people who let their Enemy distract them and derail them from such things, because they deny themselves the very best things God has for them.

This weekend started with a glorious House of Prayer on Friday evening. God was definitely in the house, and the time of worship and prayer was wonderful.

Then, early Saturday morning I was one of many volunteers to show up at The Loft for the setup and preparation for the Back to School Bash. Cobblestone, working with other area organizations, provided a pancake breakfast, games, prizes, and 305 school backpacks and supplies to area children and families! It was such a huge blessing, such great fun!

Part of the day's celebration was a "Ride for the Children" that left from The Loft at 10:30, and returned at 2:30. Above is a photo of some of the bikers praying over and blessing the bikes.

This morning, there was SO much going on at The Loft. A large trailer was there to receive donations for next Saturday's Peru Missions Yard Sale; people were able just to bring their sale items when they came to worship and drop them off.

I also got to see pictures for the first time of the nine fresh-water wells in Burma that our Advent Conspiracy donations provided...they've all been dug, and Operation Blessing sent photos of each well and the people in the community using the well, each with a plaque on the well indicating that it was a gift from Cobblestone Community Church. Wow, what a blessing! I can't wait to show those around and share that joy with the people of God who did it!

This morning in worship, we studied Revelation 19-20, and I spoke on "The Last Word on Salvation." It is the first message I've ever given that required a costume change! For the first part of the message, I came onstage in a tuxedo (thanks, Mike Rudolph!), and issued the invitation, "Come to the Wedding" (from Revelation 19:1-10) after which we celebrated communion together from a beautifully appointed banquet table (thanks, Jackie Roy!), to emphasize the wedding supper of the Lamb:

After communion, I returned to the stage, this time in Army camo fatigues (thanks, Butch Sterwerf!) and issued the call, "Go out to War," from Rev. 19:11-21. Some of my favorite moments from that message:
  • The lovely Robin saying, "Hubba, hubba," when I came out in the tux;
  • “The moment we walk away from the Lord’s table, having received the life of our Lord, we walk into Armageddon, where we exercise the strength of our Lord.” (that's a quote from Eugene Peterson's Reversed Thunder)
  • "Salvation doesn't make us 'nice.' Salvation makes us warriors,"
  • "Salvation is not simply something that God does: it is something that God is doing, and not only for us but with us, enlisting us in the saving action….Eating a meal….fighting a battle…"
  • And the parallelism between the Bride receiving the fine linen, bright and clean, in Rev. 19:8, and the later depiction of the armies of heaven riding into battle wearing "fine linen, bright and clean," in Rev. 19:14! Wow.
But there were some things, many things in fact, that I couldn't mention or include in the message: like the fact (I would have loved to have had time to emphasize this) that the Bride of Christ riding out to battle as the armies of heaven is fighting the enemies of God, not each other--which ought to make us wonder, if we're fighting amongst ourselves, if we are on the right side!

And I LOVED Gary Smith's comment after worship. He said, "Did you notice that in that chapter, it's 'Eat...or BE EATEN?'" He's dead on! Either we sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb, or we are among those whom Scripture says "were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh" (Rev. 19:21)! Yikes! What an insight: Eat or BE EATEN! I love it!

Oh, how I look forward to the day of the Lord, when all wrong will be vanquished, all injustice will cease, and all living things will rejoice and give God glory! Maranatha!

And now, very soon, The Third begins (at 7 p.m.) all-worship night led by Con Brio! Hope to see you there!

Ten Characteristics of Growing Churches

I quote and excerpt Perry Noble a lot on this blog, because through his blog he encourages me and pastors me. Here's another example; his post entitled "10 Characteristics of Growing Churches":

#1 – They have leaders that lead!

“For God so loved the world that He did not send a committee!” Not sure where I heard that…but its true!

#2 – A desperation for God’s power!

Prayer isn’t a good luck charm that is attached at the beginning or at the end of something…people are legitimately desperate for the power of God. They pray Habakkuk 3:2 prayers every day and…

#3 – They believe that greater things are in store.

They don’t just pray big prayers…but they have a sense of anticipation that is contagious! They don’t read Acts 2 and think “those were the good ‘ole days” but rather they think, “that’s where God STARTED this thing…we should be WAY ahead of this!!!”

#4 – They are full of ordinary people.

God always uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. Jesus didn’t choose one scribe or Pharisee when He launched the church…and Acts 4:13 talks about how He used ordinary people to absolutely turn the world upside down. The staff LOVE the church…so much so that they would actually attend there even if they were not on staff!

Passion filled leaders
Belief that greater things are in store.
Ownership of the church – staff would actually attend if they were not on staff.

#5 – They leverage technology.

They don’t view technology as of the devil but rather as a tool given by God to reach as many people as possible for Jesus. (Btw…isn’t it funny that some churches are against the use of technology yet all of them rode to their church in a car and their church building has air conditioner?)

#6 – The church is full of passion.

People in the church actually LOVE the church and do not attend because they feel like they have to! (The only reason people get angry with the fact that you love your church is probably because they have no idea what it is like to actually love their church!)

#7 – They take ownership of the great commission.

They REFUSE to be “keepers of the aquarium” and instead embrace the COMMAND of Jesus to reach the world for HIM!

#8 – There is a willingness to change and adapt, even when it means they have to go against the very “innovative” ideas that they themselves once established!

#9 – Generosity is embraced.

#10 – The people in the church are OWNERS, not merely “members.”

Members have rights, owners have responsibilities. The people in these churches understand that it is not the pastors job to minister to the people but rather the bodies job to minister to the body! And as a result people serve Jesus by serving others instead of sitting on their “blessed assurance” and expecting to be waited on hand and foot.

Say What God Says

Dr. Bryan Chapell is president and professor of practical theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. In this video, he addresses the importance of expository preaching:

The Upside of Tension

Tim Schraeder, one of the bloggers I read regularly, blogs his notes when he attends conferences and seminars...which he does frequently. He recently attended the Global Leadership Summit and although all his notes were worth reading, I was most struck by his notes on Andy Stanley's talk on "The Upside of Tension."

Under the leadership of Andy Stanley, North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, has become one of the largest and most innovative churches in the United States. Founded in 1995, the church has grown to three campuses and a weekly attendance of more than 22,000 people. They have also helped plant more than 20 strategic partner churches across North America. Stanley is a dynamic speaker and author whose books include Visioneering, Next Generation Leader, and Communicating for a Change. His latest volume, The Principle of the Path, explores a basic truth that can eliminate regret, as it helps to successfully move people from where they are to where they want to go.

  • I’m not going to try and inspire you.
  • I want to take you back where you began.
  • We began with specific leadership principles.
  • It’s always tempting to look at mature and successful leaders and think they know it all.
  • It’s tempting to look at successful churches and think they have it all together.
  • All of their challenges/problems are just great stories because they are great leaders who know how to solve them.
  • The myth we tend to believe is that if you are a great leader with a well-lead organization that you will solve all of your problems and get rid of all of your tension.
  • The general notion is that problems and tension are a result of poor leadership.
  • Great organization have tensions and problems that are never solved.
  • Leaders learn to leverage the problems that never go away in a way to create progress for the organization.
  • The right amount of tension and pressure at the right moment can lead to extraordinary results.
  • Tension and pressure can lead to progress and can allow us to go farther and faster.
  • We can create a third-category for all of our problems.

Every organization has problems that shouldn’t be solved and tensions that shouldn’t be resolved.

  • Example: The tension between work and family life.
  • It’s not a problem we can solve, it’s a tension we can manage.
  • In business there are many different problems and tensions… but they are VERY specific to individual industries/companies.
    • Marketing/sales
    • Systems/flexibility
    • Led by the Spirit/Led by the Clock
    • Attracting/Nurturing
    • Local/Global
    • Numeric Growth/Maturity
  • If you “resolve” any of those tensions, you create will new tension.
    • What if you opt to commit to excellence without regard to finances?
    • What if you are all theology and no application?
    • What if you let the Spirit lead and neglect your volunteers?
    • If you were to cut off your thumb the results would be immediately recognizable.
    • In organizational life, we cut off our thumbs by solving the wrong problems.
  • If you resolve any of those tensions, you create barriers to progress.
  • Progress depends not on the resolution of those tensions but on the successful management of those tensions.
    • How do you know the difference between problems and tensions?

To distinguish between problems to solve and tensions to manage, ask the following:

  • Does this problem or tension keep resurfacing?
    • If it keeps coming up you have a tension to manage, not a problem to solve.
    • If it resurfaces seasonally, it’s more than likely a tension.
  • Are there mature advocates for both sides?
    • If yes, you’ve stumbled on a problem you can’t solve but a tension you have to manage away.
    • Every single healthy church should have the tension of calling seekers and teaching believers. We must be comfortable living with this tension.
    • We must get comfortable living in the tension.
  • Are the two sides really interdependent?

The role of leadership is to leverage the tension to the benefit of the organization.

  • Identify the tensions to be manage in your organization.
    • What are the problems we need to quit trying to solve and need to learn to manage?
  • Create terminology.
    • When you create terminology you create a third category for your teams.
    • When you get two strong personalities on opposing sides of an issue, if there is no third category it’s only win/lose.
    • Some people shouldn’t win.
    • It gives you an option to say, “this is a tension we are going to have to learn to manage.”
  • Inform your core.
    • Make sure your key players understand this principle.
    • Help create new terminology around the idea.
    • It allows conversations to go better.
    • Don’t try to solve, leverage.
    • Certain tensions are key to progress.
    • If you decide them out of the conversation you miss an opportunity to grow your organization.
  • Continually give value to both sides.
  • Don’t weigh in too heavily based on your personal biases.
    • We have an opinion.
    • We all have personal values.
    • As a leader, if we aren’t careful, we are by personality and the weight of our words, will accidentally take things off the table because we don’t want to talk about them anymore.
    • We can’t afford to weigh in too heavily as leaders.
    • Understand the upside of the opposite side; understand the downside of your side.
    • “Our churches are characterized by something that is a weaknesses for me.”
  • Don’t allow strong personalities to win the day.
    • We need passionate people who will champion their side, but we need mature people who will understand its reality.
    • We need people who are passionate but mature enough to understand there’s a tension we have to learn to live with.
  • Don’t think in terms of balance. Think rhythm.
    • When you think about two opposing sides of an argument, we have a tendency to look at both sides and we try to figure out a way to be fair.
    • Fairness ended in the Garden of Eden.
    • Don’t think in terms of “fair” or “balance.”
    • In the rhythm of your organization there is a time to weigh in heavily and times when you need to lean away.
    • There’s a time in the rhythm of church life where you need do more of something and less of something else.
    • It’s not about balance or fair, it’s about paying attention to the rhythm.
    • Make the call in the light of what’s going on around us.

As a leader, one of the most valuable things you can do for your organization is differentiate between tensions your organization will always need to manage vs. problems that need to be solved.

  • If you’ll identify and leverage them, these problems and tensions will actually become part of your story and part of the progress of your organization.
  • Taking your organization to the next level and keeping it relevant will mean you living with these tensions and problems and managing your team through them.
  • There’s a tension that benefits you and a tension that benefits your organization.
This is the first time in several years that I have not been able to catch any of the Summit, so it was all the more helpful to read Schraeder's synopses. If like me you missed this excellent conference last week, pop over to Tim's blog and "Read all about it!"