Sin Always Leads Down

Billy Graham is ninety-one, and is indisputably one of the greatest evangelists in history. Certainly he has preached to more people than anyone else, since the 1949 launch of his evangelistic crusades. His preaching is a study in simple, effective proclamation. Here he is in 1971:

And So It Goes...

Church of the Week: Northwest Vineyard

This week's church of the week here on the Desperate Pastor is Northwest Vineyard Church of Cincinnati, Ohio.

After worshipping for several years in the basement of a local YMCA, Northwest partnered with the same development company we did to build their facility just off Colerain Avenue in Colerain.

Our friends there have been very helpful to us, giving generously of their time to talk through design and implementation issues with us at different times. Above, you see their beautiful atrium, and below, their spacious youth ministry area.

It's a wonderful church, under the leadership of head pastor Van Cochrane, and a staff of twelve or so others.

Sunday Night Reflections

Today at Cobblestone could only have been better if God had suspended the caloric content of Krispy Kreme donuts for the day! Our 10 a.m. celebration was the VBS Kids' Worship Celebration, and what a beautiful hour it was!

Under Cover led another dynamic worship set, helped in part by the VBS students singing on "How Great is Our God" and "Mighty to Save."

The kids returned to the stage for two more songs they learned at VBS, "I Know the Plans I Have for You" and "You Are the One True God." They charmed and blessed everyone in the place.

Our Director of Children's Ministry, Shena Ashcraft, shared a brief recap of the week, announcing that more than 115 kids had been served and taught during Cobblestone's first ever vacation Bible school! She added that 58 volunteers played a part in the success and blessing of the week.

Following an exciting video of the week's fun, Pastor John Johnson, otherwise known as Joseph (or his Egyptian name, Zaphenath-Paneah) recapped the lessons from the Bible (below):

I can't begin to describe how proud and grateful I am of the job Shena (and her husband Shawn) and all the volunteers did in our VBS. It's such a blessing that the first Cobblestone VBS turns out to have been far and away the best one I've ever been a part of--and I've been a part of many good ones.

In our 11:30 celebration, we offered a service dedicated to the celebration of communion, and I talked about the parallels between the place called Gethsemane (Gat Shemanim in Hebrew) and the Passion of the Lord. It provided (even for me) a fresh perspective on the Passion.

Tonight we will return to The Loft for "The Third," our new Sunday evening worship experience, with singing led by Con Brio and teaching by our youth pastor, Andrew Holzworth.

Next week we return to the series, "How to Survive the End of the World," and I'm so excited to teach on Revelation 4 and 5, "The Last Word on Worship." It's gonna be a blast!

A Song for Sunday Morning

18 Ways to Work Smarter

A great post here from the Dumb Little Man blog. Seems perfectly applicable to pastors and church leaders....

All of us work hard in life - there is no doubt about it. We work hard in our jobs so we can excel at work. We work hard to maintain our relationships. We work hard so we can achieve the best results in our life.

After working hard for an extended period of time, there comes a point when we realize that there's only so much we can do by working hard. Don't get me wrong - working hard is important. I'm a firm advocate of hard work - I can be quite the workaholic. I can go on working non-stop to get something done. Hard work is definitely the brick of success.

However, when you have 24 hours a day, just like everyone else, you have to start working smart too (on top of working hard) to get the maximum value for your time and effort. Working hard gives you results, and working hard AND smart at the same time gives you the top results. In this article, I will share 18 of my best, personal tips on working smart. Apply them to your life and you will experience better self-management, higher productivity and more results. Here they are:
  1. Get clear on the objective.
    Everything has an objective. It's just a matter of whether you know it or not. What is the end objective you are looking for? The people who don't know the objective of what they are doing are the ones who waste the most time. If you know your objective, you can be laser-focused and cut right to the chase. The clearer you are, the better.

  2. Create a vision.
    Now that you know your objective, what is your vision? See the objective as your direction, and your vision as your destination. Knowing your objective lets you know where to travel in, while knowing your vision helps you charge forward.

  3. Take the 80/20 route.
    There are always many different ways to achieve the same outcome. 80/20 route refers to the route that takes the least effort but gives you the maximum results. What's the most effective route that will get you from where you are to where you want to be? Take that path.

  4. Go for high impact items.
    There are endless number of things you can do to achieve a goal. Go for the most important tasks - the ones that cause the highest impact. For example in school, I would not attend lectures if I felt they would not make a difference to my learning. As I develop my blog, I concentrate on the key tasks that make the most difference such as writing high quality content for my readers and spreading the word about my articles.

  5. Create structures to maintain your flow.
    If you know how motivation works, you will know it comes in bursts and waves. It's not possible to maintain a 100% full motivated state every single second. Hence, you need to create/leverage on your environment to maintain your flow. Examples are your physical environment, people you hang out with, your routine and communities you are a part of.

  6. Stop being a perfectionist.
    Being a perfectionist isn't all that perfect if it prevents you from achieving more. Release the perfectionist mindset. Stop obsessing about the details and specifics; they often take care of themselves.

  7. Learn from others.
    There are great resources, smart people, direct opportunities and top books around you all the time. Learn to make use of them. When I started out in my personal development industry and with my blog, I read materials from the experts and consulted the top bloggers, which helped me gain important insights immediately. Even today, I continue to do so as I expand my work. There is never a stop to how much you can learn from others.

  8. If it works, stick to it.
    If there is already a success formula that's working, then reapply that formula. There's no need to innovate or reinvent the wheel for the sake of it. Innovate only if there's value in doing so.

  9. Ask for help.
    Most of us prefer to do things by ourselves and not disturb others. That's a great work ethic, but sometimes asking for help gets us further than just doing it alone. People love to help. Many readers often email me at The Personal Excellence Blog for advice/help and I make an effort to answer their questions, because I want to see them do well too. Ask and you might get an answer. If you don't ask, you'll never get.

  10. Cut out the fluff.
    Going for high impact items (#4) means you have to cut out the fluff. There are the things that need to be done, and then there are the nice-to-do things that don't exactly contribute to anything in the long-run. Don't do things unless they are absolutely needed.

  11. Automate.
    Is there anyway to automate your tasks, especially labor intensive ones? It can be the simplest things such as setting up filters in your emails and using more functional applications that get the job done better. With The Personal Excellence Blog, I've automated several processes such as filtering specific emails to respective labels, having my new articles automatically feed to Twitter/Facebook, and having automatic thumbnails for my articles. That saves a lot of time so I can get right to creating quality content for readers.

  12. Delegate.
    For the lower impact items that need to get done (such as administrative activities), delegate them to someone else. If you are running a business, hire someone to take care of them.

  13. Outsource.
    If something is not your area of expertise or it can be better done by someone else, then outsource it. You only have 24 hours a day; your limited time should be spent only in places where you can add the most value. If you are running a business, examine if there are any aspects of your work (such as accounting, designing, programming) that can be outsourced to others. There's no need for you to learn and get hands-on on every single thing, especially if it's not the core of your work.

  14. Wait.
    Sometimes, waiting may be the best solution. Things resolve themselves when you wait for a little while longer. I have experienced fixes that rectify themselves when I waited a while longer. If you are stuck in a dilemma, new solutions may pop in if you pause your steps.

  15. Pick your battles.
    We often face roadblocks in things we do. Go up against the roadblocks only if they are worth the time and effort. That means you need to consciously weigh out the pros and cons first. Don't try to ram up against every barrier you face, especially if there's nothing much on the other side.

  16. Always look out for a better way.
    Don't restrict yourself to a certain set rule of doing things just for the sake of status quo. Study others and learn from them (#7). Review your situation regularly (#18) and look for ways to improve what you are doing. Be flexible to usher in changes that can help you get more results.

  17. Stop when you are tired.
    I've realized from experience that trying to press on when you are tired only leads to slumps and ruts. Resting is paramount to accomplishing more. A tired person can't do meaningful work. When you are well-rested, you work faster and better.

  18. Review regularly.
    Do a regular review of what you have done in the past week and the corresponding results. Then analyze the things that are working and the things that aren't working. With the former, keep them; with the latter, remove them. Very soon you will have a very streamlined list of things that work.

Written on 6/24/2010 by Celestine Chua. Celestine writes atThe Personal Excellence Blog, where she shares her best advice on how to achieve personal excellence and live your best life. Get her RSS feed hereand add her on Twitter @celestinechua.

Learning to Be

It was not so much the title of Fil Anderson's book, Running on Empty, that persuaded me to buy and read it, but the subtitle: "Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers."

I'm becoming more and more picky about books I buy, read, and keep, as my bookshelves are so full that I either have to buy (and find space for) new shelves or choose a book to get rid of to make room for any new ones. Well, Running on Empty is one for which I had to make room.

Anderson tells a compelling story of his own workaholism, stemming from a lifelong sense that his personal worth relied on what he did...and how well. After four chapters that chart his (and our) "Path of Destruction," he then charts a six-part "Path of Recovery." He prescribes solitude, prayer, Scripture, spiritual direction, joy, and sorrow for those of us who are, like him, bound to a lifestyle of "doing" rather than "being."

His experience resonated with me on many points, not the least of which was the life-changing discovery of unceasing prayer as a result of solitude. And his frequent citations of friends and fellow writers like Brennan Manning, Frederick Buechner, John Ortberg, Dan Allender, Thomas Merton, and more added much to the depth and impact of the book.

Some of the parts I underlined and plan to remember and revisit:
"The press of busyness is like a charm," said Soren Kierkegaard. "Its power reaches out seeking always to lay hold of ever younger victims so that childhood or youth are scarcely allowed the quiet and the retirement in which the Eternal may unfold a divine growth."

When did we stop calling it quits at the end of the day. And a better question: Why?

Author Frederick Buechner advises, "Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next."

I had become an out-of-control work addict, what author and educator Parker Palmer calls a "functional atheist."

A. W. Tozer was right. "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."

As Evelyn Underhill put it, I spent most of my time and energy conjugating three verbs: "to want, to have, and to do."

One of my most grave concerns is that the church has joined forces with the world in a conspiracy of noise, busyness, and hurry....Most churches are frighteningly busy places.
Running on Emptyis a worthy addition to my library, and should be a helpful challenge and inspiration to anyone who is spending most of their time and energy conjugating the verbs "to want, to have, and to do."

The Solution to Every Problem

"I honestly believe that the solution to every problem is spending more time with Jesus" (MarkBatterson).

I must agree. It's certainly how my life operates. It's probably even biblical or something (John 15:5).

Top Ten Things You Really Shouldn’t Say in Church

I had written the following for the intro to my message this past Sunday, "The Last Word on the Church," from Revelation 2-3. However, I dropped it to make room for a prayer and musical tribute to fathers. But I can still share it here. So here it is: the “Top Ten Things You Really Shouldn’t Say in Church.”

10. “Is this a good place to pick up chicks?”

9. “Can we please sing Hymn #666?”

8. “Pardon me, is this seat SAVED?”

7. “Teach the middle school boys’ Bible study? Sounds like fun!”

6. “Hey, those crackers and juice were good. Can I get seconds?”

5. “If you happen to see a five-foot-long snake somewhere in here, it’s mine.”

4. “Dude, your comb-over really needs to go.”

3. “If you can’t say something nice about a person, come sit next to me.”

2. “Wow, your baby’s really ugly.’

And, the number one thing you really shouldn’t say in church…

1. All the stuff we had to edit out of this list.

Church of the Week: Cincinnati Airport Chapel

This week's church of the week isn't a church, strictly speaking. But it is a chapel.

It's the interfaith chapel at the Greater Cincinnati Airport, in Florence, Kentucky. It is located in Terminal 3, baggage claim area (lower level; I think it's been relocated in recent years, but not sure about that).

I have stopped in here to pray on a couple occasions. It's way better than stressfully waiting for your luggage. Its location is indicated by the number 11 on the diagram below:

And, by the way, a list of airports with chapels is available at

Sunday Night Rejoicings

One of these days I'm sure I'm going to go to my Sunday Night Rejoicings with reservations, or disappointment, or something less than ebullience...but today is not one of those days! It was a glorious Sunday at The Loft!
  • This morning's worship celebrations featured the celebration of three bands: Under Cover, Con Brio, and the OHOP Band! And each one added so much to the worship!
  • It was so great to have Tim join the band on harmonica today. WHAT a difference his stylings make! (that's him on the far right under the corner of the screen...)
  • Aaron and Con Brio did such a great job on "Lead Me":

  • And Johnny and the OHOP band: I was sooooo blessed by your rendition of "Speak to Me." What a special song, and so sensitively sung. Thanks.
  • I noticed that the number of "sponsor tags" on the Back to School Bash display board is increasing! Praise God!
  • Between the celebrations, folks started streaming in from a fabulous experience at Ichthus Music Festival, with many reports of blessing....including Lane and David, who each won autographed guitars from the Barlow Girls, Casting Crowns, Skillet, Toby Mac, etc.!
And this evening, at 7: the soft launch of "The Third," which was featured earlier today on this blog. And TOMORROW is the launch of our Vacation Bible School! Whew! Glorious day!

The Third

TONIGHT is the debut of "The Third," Cobblestone's "culturally different, age specific, but not age restrictive" worship experience, at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of The Loft.

Our young volunteers for this effort have been working very hard in recent weeks to get ready for this third service in our Sunday schedule, designed for a younger demographic (college students, in particular) than our morning worship celebrations. The music will be younger, the speaker will be cooler, and the coffee will be fancier.

The team that's been planning this effort has planned this Sunday as a "soft launch," meaning it will give the teams a chance to meet, worship, work out any kinks, and improve the experience week-by-week until a September 12 "hard launch" that we hope will vastly improve our outreach to the college and twenty-something segments of our community in the Fall.

Check out the website here.

T. D. Jakes on Father's Day

This short video of T. D. Jakes is part of The Blacklist Project, the brainchild of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders with Elvis Mitchell, which was produced by the media collective Freemind Ventures. The idea was to interview, film and photograph prominent African Americans of various professions, disciplines and backgrounds about the experience of being black in America. What a moving story Bishop Jakes tells....

Deep...or Active?

Steven Furtick, on his blog, pretty much hits the nail on the head. He says,
A common complaint I hear from pastors is that the problem with Christians today is they lack depth in God’s word. From my own experience, this is certainly true of some people. But when I look at the landscape of American Christianity, I don’t think depth is really our problem. From blogs, to podcasts, to seemingly endless Bible study resources, we have more access to the Bible and excellent teaching than any other generation in history.

The greatest problem of American Christians when it comes to the Bible is not that we are not deep in God’s Word. The problem is that we are not active in God’s Word. We have a lot more revelation than our current level of active application. And revelation without application leads to stagnation.

Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the Word of God is “living and active.” The Bible was never meant to simply be a source of passive theological epiphanies that we gain as we delve deeper into it. It was meant to be a force that penetrates and delves deep into us and activates action.

I wonder if what we need is to gain a true understanding of what “depth” actually means. Deep teaching and preaching is not when I give my people insights they have never heard of before that will never be seen again when they disappear into the vacuum of their minds or a drawer that holds all of their sermon notes. Deep teaching is teaching that enables, equips, and empowers people to live in light of the deep truths they are encountering.

The point of the study of the Bible is not to learn things you’ve never heard of before but to begin living in a way nobody has seen before. And this can only be the result of active engagement with God’s Word, not merely increased depth in God’s Word.
I think a kind of corollary to his point is the refrain, "I'm just not being fed." Christians sing this chorus frequently, and it's a fairly useful excuse to be discontent or leave a church. And, while there are undoubtedly churches and preachers (including myself) that can improve their content and beef up their teaching ministry, 99 percent of the time that's really beside the point.

In my experience, "I'm just not being fed" exposes a few unbiblical assumptions:

Assumption: "It's the church or pastor's job to feed me." This is true for infants. But I've never known a new Christian to make this complaint. Long story short, even if your pastor's preaching stinks, there are so many available aids to growth (and depth) that if you're not being fed, you should learn to pick up a spoon. Maybe even learn to cook.

Assumption: "It's all about me." Sometimes I despair of ever getting to the point in our American culture where the church realizes that church isn't all about me, about my wants and needs and preferences. We are such consumers that we take our consumer approach to church with us. But it's not about me. I need to bring to worship an attitude that it is all about God. I need to be a GIVER in worship, not a TAKER. I need to GIVE God my worship and GIVE others "the right hand of fellowship" (Gal. 2:9) instead of focusing on GETTING.

Assumption: "It's not my responsibility to help the church fulfill its mission." Again, this goes to our consumer mindset. Please God, let there come a time when a man or woman who sincerely believes the ministry of a church is inadequate will see his or her oppportunity--and responsibility--to play a part in making things better. Not by agitating, but by volunteering, helping, supporting, encouraging, and even sometimes becoming the answer to his or her own prayers! The church is not here to serve me, but to help me serve!

Assumption: "I am primarily a student." Jesus is our rabbi, and we are his talmudim. But our relationship goes far beyond that of teacher and student. Jesus didn't say, "If you love me, you will be fed." He said, "If you love me, you will do what I say" (John 14:15). We do not learn in order to have knowledge, we learn in order to obey more, do better, and take action.

That last point, of course, indicts me and many other preachers. Because if people are saying "I'm not being fed," it is certainly and at least partly because we have not taught in a way "that enables, equips, and empowers people to live in light of the deep truths they are encountering," to come back to Furtick's words. We have not discipled people to the point where they are DEEP enough to understand that they are not ACTIVE enough. We have not taught the things I've just written...or if we have, we have not done it in a way that people will hear.

Reading Thematically

I guess it started fifteen or so years ago, when I added to my annual reading plan a "New Field of Interest" category, for which I selected several books on a particular subject I wanted to explore (for example, Islam, ethics, archaeology, gardening, personal finance, etc.).

Then, about four years ago, I added another category to my plan: "Related Books," that bore some resemblance or relationship that would add enjoyment to the reading process. For example, I read the two novels Jane Eyre (Bronte) and Rebecca (du Maurier) back-to-back, which was fascinating, given two similar stories with contrasting periods and heroines.

Some of the other "Related Books" I have enjoyed:
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Shirer) and Fatherland (Harris), a nonfiction chronicle of Nazi Germany, and a novel set in a post-World-War-II Europe in which Hitler had WON.
  • Robinson Crusoe (Defoe), Foe (Coetzee), In Search of Robinson Crusoe (Severin)
  • The Sense of the Call (Dawn), Sabbath Time (Edwards), and The Rhythm of Life (Kelly)
  • The Dante Club (Pearl) and The Mosaic Crimes (Leoni), two books revolving around the poet Dante Alighieri.
  • Tom Brown’s School Days (Hughes) and Flashman (Fraser). The protagonist in Flashman (and succeeding books) was borrowed from a character in Tom Brown's School Days.
  • Corporate Canaries (Sutton) followed by The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Lencioni) and Derailed (Irvin).
  • This year I will follow up a new Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf with Grendel, a novel by John Gardner.
Sometimes a theme has developed by accident. A couple years ago, I read (as planned) three biographies of Teddy Roosevelt, each book focusing on a different period of his life (pre-White-House days, his presidency, and his post-presidential years). His home for most of his adult life was Sagamore Hill, on Long Island. The next book I read (again, planned) was The Gold Coast, a novel by Nelson DeMille, which takes place in that very area of Long Island, roughly sixty years later.

A similar case occurred when I learned (through one of those biographies) of Roosevelt's friendship with a Harvard classmate, Owen Wister, the author of The Viriginian, which was on my reading list at that time.

And, of course, because I focus a chunk of my reading on books about prayer and the contemplative life, those parts of my reading tend to be thematic.

Since stumbling on this practice, it has become one of the most pleasurable parts of my reading and study, and one that seems to grow each year. And one which certainly grows ME.

A Great Preacher on Great Preaching

Haddon Robinson is one of the best preachers I've ever heard. I've read his books and got to hear him in person several years back. Here he talks about the key elements of a good Biblical sermon:

Prodigal Pastor

It was thirty years ago today that I was ordained to the ministry, and today I feel infinitely more in need of grace than I did then--grace from God and grace from others.

Not long ago, I talked to three different pastors in a single week--all three conscientious, absolutely devoted, extremely capable, and loving--who each felt battered and bruised by the criticisms and opposition they’ve been experiencing from members of their own flocks. I can identify.

Much of that is to be expected, I know--I read not long ago a new (for me) definition of leadership: “To lead is to make decisions, and to make decisions is to alienate some.” While that may be a little too cynical, it is true that leadership of necessity requires tough decisions to be made, and tough decisions by nature tend to be displeasing to a certain proportion of the people being led. Still, though, as a pastor I’m constantly reminded not only of my own failings (of which there are many) but also of others’ perceptions of my failings (of which there are even more).

All of which is to say, not “Woe is me” (though I lapse into self-pity more than many, I’m guessing), but to say instead, “Man, I am unspeakably grateful for my God who gives me grace...and for the many, many of his children and my colaborers in the Gospel who do likewise. I need it. More and more, I think.”

Church of the Week: Crossroads Community Church, Cincinnati, Ohio

Crossroads Community Church, in Cincinnati, started in 1996 with a bang. Starting in rented space at Peoples Middle School (now Clark Montessori) in Hyde Park with about 450 people in attendance, Crossroads has since grown to thousands.

It's a wonderful church, now housed in a former warehouse that has been renovated to striking effect.

They do some very cool things there. As you might see from the photo of the auditorium, below, this is not a traditional church. But they make the faith very accessible to non-churc h-folk, which is a great thing. Their ministries are top-notch, their worship music LOUD and original, their teaching is practical, their media and communication tools enviable, and their atrium, which they leave open much of the week to encourage people to meet others there for coffee and just to generally hang out, is inviting. And perhaps most importantly, they have a great vision and heart for reaching people in Cincinnati and partnering with other churches to do so.

I have attended several worship experiences there, and had the blessing of meeting with the teaching pastor Brian Tome, a few years back. He was very gracious and helpful.


I mentioned the Mayan Calendar in this morning's message at Cobblestone, and its supposed prediction of the end of the world on December 21, 2012. Then this evening, I happened across this cartoon in my playing around--er, studies:

Sunday Night Rejoicings

Wow. God is just amazing. What a great day this was at Cobblestone, and a great start to our "How to Survive the End of the World" series.
  • Con Brio, you guys did another awesome job leading worship today. Just beautiful.
  • I am especially excited about this new series, from The Revelation, the last book in the Bible. Today's message, "The Last Word," was an absolute blast to study for and deliver, and I know God used it.
  • In the message, I mentioned four common hermeneutical approaches to the interpretation of this book, and said, "I wish we had a few years to spend studying through the book from EACH of these four perspectives. But, we’re not gonna do that." At which I'm told there was an audible response of disappointment, and even some who said, "Go for it," or something like that! I love it!
  • As I said in the message, the third verse of Revelation 1 says, "Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near" (Revelation 1:3, NIV). But that's not usually the attitude we take in approaching this book. We usually are looking for insight, for secrets, to learn who the antichrist is, what "666" means, and so on. But the stated purpose of this book is to bless us! And if this morning was any indication, God is definitely going to fulfill that promise in the course of this study!
  • I LOVED sharing the context of the words, "I am the Alpha and the Omega" (Revelation 1:8). That kind of study floats my boat!
  • Another favorite part of the preparation and message for me was the realization that, "if we come to the study of The Revelation WITHOUT focusing on Jesus, that just shows us how badly we NEED the message of this book."
  • One of those unplanned Spirit things: I had planned a different conclusion to today's message...but 2/3 of the way through the message in the first celebration, I knew why Johnny Cole's singing of the Tommy Walker song, "Speak to Me," had so moved me and why I had immersed myself in that song over the last 48 from the stage I asked Suzan to get ready to play this song and (yea Suzan!) she had it ready. It was the accompaniment to our response time at the end of each celebration. It worked perfectly with the last point of the message, about the moment in Revelation 1 when Jesus touched John and spoke to him. It's a beautiful song:
  • Thanks again, Cobblestone, for your lovely responsiveness to the Word and the Spirit this morning.
  • I'm REALLY excited about the changes to the auditorium and atrium. While not everyone approved, I'm extremely grateful for the great job our staff and volunteers did in getting all that done in just 5 days. And I hope we can get the atrium screens cabled before next Sunday. That will be awesome.
  • I'm also REALLY excited at the debut, next Sunday evening at 7, of "The Third," our new Sunday evening service, with Con Brio playing every week, and Andrew Holzworth the usual featured speaker!
  • I'm also REALLY excited by the volunteers and student registration for our upcoming VBS, June 21-25. We had a volunteer meeting after second celebration today:
It's gonna be an awesome week of exciting, active learning for kids. AND ministry for adults.
I guess that's it. I'm feeling the winds of refreshing blowing through my life and the life of my church, after about two years of negative stuff. But God is blessing now, and we are seeing fruit, and I am feeling blessed! Thank you, Lord!

God Wants Me to Have an iPad

The EXCELLENT website Christian PF is giving away an iPad. I hope they've already engraved it with my name. God wants me to have it. There are six ways to enter...but you probably shouldn't worry about it. As I said, God wants ME to have it. So never mind.

But the website is a really good one, with such articles as "7 Tips To Improve Your Financial Competence" and "3 Keys To Finding A Job You Love." I recommend it. But forget the iPad giveaway. It would just be a waste of your time. Because God wants ME to have it.

Pathways Into the Throne Room of God

Tony Jones’s book, The Sacred Way, has been out for a few years now (it was published in 2005). But it's topic and treatment is timeless. It is an eminently readable treatment of “spiritual practices for everyday life” (the subtitle). Jones describes and prescribes seventeen spiritual disciplines (in two sections, Via Contemplativa (contemplative approaches to spirituality) and Via Activa (bodily approaches to spirituality). It was, for me, a thoroughly enjoyable book, and one with which I identified strongly.

I settled into it like a reader sinking into an overstuffed chair, especially because my spiritual journey in recent years has been much like Jones’s, delving deeper and deeper into prayer and contemplation (though I struggled with jealousy as the author described pilgrimages to Taize, the Reading Boiler Room, and Assisi). The Sacred Way renewed my yearning to discover more pathways into the throne room of God.

But therein, I think, is the book’s only weakness. I frequently wondered how the book would speak to a person who has not walked a similar path into contemplative practices. I wondered if it adequately emphasized—for the “uninitiated,” for lack of a better term—why such (some on-the-surface strange) practices would be attempted, and what they would add to a prayerful life. To put it another way, would someone whose heart doesn’t (yet) beat with a contemplative rhythm yearn for these practices? I’m not sure. But, then, I tell myself, that person might not pick up Jones’s book in the first place, so maybe it’s no weakness at all.

In any case, I recommend The Sacred Way to anyone who is interested in discovering the kind of prayer life that animated such men and women after God’s heart as Thomas Merton, Thomas a Kempis, Henri Nouwen, Julian of Norwich, and John of Damascus (all of whom are quoted in the book).

It’s a book I can wish I had written.

How to Survive the End of the World

Soooooo excited to be starting our new teaching series this Sunday, "How to Survive the End of the World," a ten-part exposition of The Revelation, the last book in the Bible.

We've surely bit off more than we can chew in planning this series. In fact, the just-finished series on Galatians ("Livin' Venti") was a stretch for some of our family, and we plan a series on the Song of Solomon ("Romance, Love, and Sex: The Authorized Guide") in the Fall, which will also be a challenge. But this series--trying to exposit one of the most challenging books of the Bible, twenty-two chapters, in just ten messages--five hours of teaching, total--over the summer months, is cuh-RAZY! So, God help us!

The series will shake down like this (the outline and general gist of the series is drawn from Eugene Peterson's excellent book, Reversed Thunder):

6/13 “The Last Word” (introduction to Revelation; Revelation 1)

6/20 “The Last Word on the Church” (Revelation 2-3)

7/4 “The Last Word on Worship” (Revelation 4-5)

7/11 “The Last Word on Evil” (Revelation 6-7)

7/18 “The Last Word on Prayer” (Revelation 8-9)

7/25 “The Last Word on Witness” (Revelation 10-11)

8/1 “The Last Word on Politics” (Revelation 12-14)

8/8 “The Last Word on Judgment” (Revelation 15-18)

8/15 “The Last Word on Salvation” (Revelation 19-20)

8/22 “The Last Word on Heaven” (Revelation 21-22)

It promises to be a wild ride through perhaps the wildest book of the Bible. And somebody (he knows who he is) has tried every trick in the book to derail my study and preparation for the first two messages in the series. I'm hoping that means God plans to accomplish GREAT things over the course of the series. Of course he does!

Top Ten Things You DON'T Want to Hear When Your Pastor Visits You in the Hospital

This week's top ten list features ten things you DO NOT want to hear when your pastor visits you in the hospital:

10. Evil spirit, COME OUT!!
9. Am I too late?
8. Honestly, you make that oxygen mask look great!
7. I'd stay longer, but I have a funeral sermon to write.
6. What happens if I unplug THIS?
5. The board was praying for you last night. They voted 5 to 3 for your recovery.
4. Is this a good time to take your picture for the church directory?
3. You ARE gonna be at church on Sunday, right?
2. Good news! The board just ordered your memorial plaque!

And the number one thing you DO NOT want to hear when your pastor visits you in the hospital:

1. Rats. Why does everyone get to see Jesus before me?

The Divine Hours

When I met Phyllis Tickle, author of The Divine Hours, several years ago at a conference, I asked her to sign my copy of Prayers for Springtime, which I had brought with me to the conference as part of my stack of prayer aids (Bible, etc.). I handed it to her with the words, "Thank you for your books. You have been more influential in my prayer life than anyone else, I think, with the possible exception of the brothers at the Abbey of Gethsemani" (she answered, "I am in good company, then").

It's true. The three volumes of Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours--Prayers for Springtime, Prayers for Summertime, and Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime--have guided my prayer life for almost ten years now. Each book is a manual for fixed-hour prayer, which has been practiced by followers of Jesus for centuries. The pattern and many of the prayers themselves are drawn from The Book of Common Prayer, but presented in a much more user-friendly format (and enlivened anew with new material from a wide range of contemplative works, poems, and hymns, such as "Pied Beauty," by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and "Take My Heart," by François Fénelon). It provides daily Morning Prayers, Midday Prayers, Vespers, and in a separate section, Compline, or evening prayers.

I cannot more highly recommend a book, nor a practice than the fixed-hour prayer The Divine Hours aids. Whether you use it four times a day or twice (my practice) or once, it will guide and deepen and inspire your prayer life. It will enable you, as Tickle says, to "pray with the church," the whole church, throughout history and around the world, as you unite with the people of God in praying the prayers of God's people through the centuries. It will plant in you the seeds of a prayer language, a way to express yourself at all times, even when you are praying in the car or in a line at the supermarket. The words, rhythms, cadences, and sentiments of these prayers will sink into your heart and soul and become to you a comfort and a strength. And they will enable you to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), as you find the words (and perhaps even the tunes, if you learn to chant the prayers) returning to your mind over and over again.

Companion volumes (such as The Night Offices, The Divine Hours Pocket Edition, and a Christmastide volume) are also available, as well as ebook editions (which I use now when traveling).

7 Reasons I LOVE Our Worship Team Leaders and Members

Perry Noble, one of the pastors whose blog I read regularly, recently posted a tribute to his worship leaders. I thought, "What a great idea." Like Perry, I absolutely LOVE our worship team leaders and members at Cobblestone Community Church.

(This post is dedicated to Sharla, Jamie, Matt, Julie, Julie, Deb, Justin, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Tony, Sean, Aaron, Chaz, Jeremy, and Kyle).

#1 – They don't "perform," they WORSHIP. They are musicians extraordinaire, but they are also true worshipers. Not everyone in the room on Sundays sees this, but I do: their worship comes out through their fingers, drumsticks, harmonies, and dedication to their ministry. I'm usually too focused on God myself to notice what they're doing, but occasionally it blesses me, for example, when I see Kyle close his eyes and sing the words, or when Johnny lifts his hands (and drumsticks) in praise in the drum booth.

#2 - They love the church. Cobblestone is not their "gig," it's their CHURCH! They are unfailingly supportive and involved in the church's mission. And as a pastor, I know some of my strongest prayer support comes from the people on that platform each week.

#3 – They have servants' hearts. They do WAY more than play and sing on Sundays. They put in untold hours of practice, preparation, and playing (sometimes two nights a week practicing and another night leading worship at FUEL or House of Prayer, in addition to Sundays!). Then they ALSO show up to paint walls, hang screens, adjust sound and video, AND MORE! They are among the most dedicated servants I have EVER known in thirty years of ministry!

#4 – They are missional. They know--and model--that leading worship isn't only about the music. It's about the mission. They know it's about prayer. About unity. About loving each other. About setting an example. About God. About those who don't yet know the love of God in Christ.

#5 – They are creative. I have asked these guys to attempt a song they'd never done before, or WRITE one, or put together some kooky video or create some prop or obtain 400 objects of some kind, and they go to it, and put in extra time researching or practicing to make it happen. They've never said no. They bust their butts (and sometimes their budgets) to accomplish the worship goals of every single worship celebration.

#6 – They love each other. I absolutely LOVE it that our musicians are not just doing worship together, but doing life together. They will get in each other's faces (OFF the stage). They will party together. They cry together. They support one another. And I won't tell you how the younger guys express themselves to each other. But the point is, if the whole church could take their cues from these folks.... wow!

#7 – They lead ME to God. It's impossible to say what a blessing it is for me, as a man, as a pastor, and as a worshiper, to be led into the presence of God--and often knocked down and even knocked around--by what God does in and through Under Cover and Con Brio. Many pastors (and I've been one) worship irregularly themselves because they are the givers week after week to God's people. But EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY (and many Fridays) I am the taker. I am closer to God than ever before in my life because of these people. And for that, I'm not only grateful...I'm eternally grateful.

Church of the Week: Eaton Church of the Brethren

I had the privilege of speaking and presenting at this church in July 2000. It is located just twenty miles or so up the road in Eaton, Ohio, where the lovely Robin worked from 1993-2003. It's a thriving traditional church with some contemporary qualities.

The church's ministry is enhanced these days by a spectacular 33,000-square-foot facility built on an eighty-acre site. Worshipers enter into a warm and welcoming foyer and gathering spot, cleverly titled the Sacred Grounds Café.

The church's master plan was developed by The McKnight Group, based in Grove City, Ohio.

Sunday Night Rejoicings

Today was another great day of worship, fellowship, and teaching at Cobblestone Community Church. The lovely Robin and I had been away for the last two weekends, and I was so happy to be back among this precious faith family God has given us.
  • I concluded the "Livin' Venti" series from Galatians with the message, "Free to Bear Fruit," from Galatians 5:13-6:18. Here's a few quotes:
"It's not called 'the fruit of my efforts;' it's called 'the fruit of the Spirit.'"
"You and I don't have 613 commands to obey, as the Jews did. We don't even have Ten Commandments to keep. We have ONE THING NEEDFUL....'Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature' (Galatians 5:16, NIV)."
"If you and I would take one-tenth of the effort we put forth trying to justify ourselves, trying to produce fruit, trying to do this and NOT do that, and focus on the ONE THING NEEDFUL, the ONE THING Mary of Bethany focused on, the ONE THING that will bear fruit in our lives, it would transform our lives, our homes, our church, our community."
  • Aaron and Kevin (and cameraman Andrew) did a great job on the video that introduced today's message. Hope Kevin didn't hurt himself.
  • Kevin also did the editing on the video. Supremo Jobo, Kevin.
  • Con Brio--what is there to say? You guys rock!
  • Got to welcome a bunch of new folks today, and was thrilled to spend extended time in prayer with people after worship. Hallelujah!
  • Days like today prove the Biblical adage, "How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in harmony!" It is a real joy to worship and fellowship as one body.
  • Every seat this morning had a half-sheet "Show Some Loft Love" flyer on it, encouraging people to help us keep down expenses while keeping The Loft clean week to week by volunteering to join the cleaning crew rotation. I pray we get a good response from the people of God.
  • Our Vacation Bible School is coming up fast--June 21 it starts! Wow, hard to believe. People can sign up as volunteers or register kids (pre-school through fifth grade) here.
  • Also announced today was the "soft launch" of our third Sunday celebration, called--appropriately enough--"The Third" (a "hard launch" is planned for September 12; the summer months will be spent honing and refining the experience and the volunteer forces). It will be a much younger, energetic worship experience, designed specifically for college age adults. Many of our twenty-somethings have been praying and planning and working hard to make this thing happen. It starts next Sunday evening at 7 p.m., and you can learn more by going here.
  • This week The Loft will be undergoing some changes. Can't wait for people to see them next Sunday!
  • I'm already looking forward to next Saturday's outreach, a grocery cart return outreach in Brookville, Indiana. Ohio peeps will meet at The Loft at 9:30 a.m. and then proceed to Brookville where we'll all meet at the Aroma Cafe on Main Street before starting the outreach at IGA. It'll be a blast. Hope to see you there.
(Painting by Karen Yee)

May's Top Ten

And now it's time for a quick look back at last month's most popular posts here on the Desperate Pastor blog:

1. Top Ten Signs Your Sermon Isn't Going Well
2. Exactly!
3. Sunday Night Rejoicings (May 2)
4. The Peacemaker
5. Top Ten Reasons People Don't Go to Church
6. Sunday Night Rejoicings (May 9)
7. The Top Ten Worst Ways to Start a Spiritual Conversation
8. Conflict Coaching and Mediation Training
9. I Am Hutterite
10. Strike the Shepherd

Three top ten lists. Two Sunday Night Rejoicing posts. Two book reviews. Oh, and though the vast majority of visitors to this blog in May were from the U.S. and Canada, other visitors hail from (most to least) the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, Peru, Estonia, Israel, France, Pakistan, Singapore, Philippines, Germany, Kenya, Hong Kong, Austria, Argentina, Iran, Serbia, Italy, Belgium, and Nigeria.

Thank you for reading the blog!

The Collar for Everyone

This perspective from Ministry Strategies is nothing new, but it is always timely:
Often I hear deep lamenting from pastors and staff teams about the lack of volunteer engagement in their churches. And often I have discovered that the problem is not with the people but a faulty ministry culture that fosters low levels of volunteerism and perpetuates an unhealthy dependence on clergy. The typical approach to ministry in most churches stands in stark contrast to the biblical approach given to us clearly by God.

The typical approach to ministry in many churches looks like this:

(Pastors) >> minister >> (people)

Typically pastors or staff persons are hired to minister to people. The number of children increases, so the solution is another staff person. The number of sick people is on the rise; therefore, someone is hired to visit people in the hospitals. The typical approach is both illogical and unbiblical. The view is illogical because a church will never be able to afford to hire the entire ministry away. The view is unbiblical because it violates the essential doctrines of the priesthood of believers and spiritual gifting.

The biblical approach is found in Ephesians 4:11-12. “It was he who gave some to be … pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” The biblical approach looks like this:

(Pastors) >> prepare >> (people) >> to minister

In other words, we’ve created a big discrepancy between “Ministers” and “ministers.” Pastors and staff (Ministers) are really leaders who don’t do ministry. Rather they equip and prepare people (ministers) for ministry. Churches that have effectively created a volunteer culture possess a deep seeded biblical conviction that all believers are gifted for ministry, not just the “professionals.” The pastors view themselves as equippers and trainers of the ministers within their church, and the people view themselves as active and essential servants.


Discovered this clever video on Tony Morgan's blog. It's by a guy named Dan Pink, whose findings say that the three factors that lead to better performance are autonomy, mastery and purpose. Contrary to what you might have thought, we are not motivated by money (he elaborates more in his recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us).

I must say that's definitely true of me, and it's definitely true of the other pastors I work with. But in the church, and in my church, the tendency is NOT toward autonomy, mastery and purpose, and I think we generally assume our leaders will be motivated, and give virtually no thought to the factors that will tend to motivate them. And, moreover, I think we find it easier to punish than to motivate.

What do you think?