Top Ten Christian Halloween Costumes

This week's top ten list is the Top Ten Christian Halloween Costumes:

10. Wear a giant fish costume, and carry a loaf of bread and a calculator. Go as the multiplying loaves and fishes.
9. Go as the back end of Balaam's donkey
8. Dress up as a pair of gnashing teeth, and play a continuous tape of nails scratching on a chalkboard. Call it "Hell."
7. Wear a wedding dress and zombie make-up. When they open the door say, "Church, it's not just for weddings and funerals anymore."
6. Ring the doorbell and run away, leaving a pair of sneakers and a treat bag with the sign "sorry, got raptured."
5. Go as a python with a squashed head.
4. Go as the front end of Balaam's donkey
3. Dress as a yellow and black striped leaf. Ask people if they Beeleaf in Jesus.
2. Hide in a big basket with a miner's light on your head. When they open the door, be the light that will not be hid under the bushel.

And the number one Christian Halloween Costume:

1. Wear a name-tag with the name "Walter" and tie a wok to your head as a hat. "If you keep your eyes on Jesus you can Wok on Walter."

One Week From Today at The Loft!

I am so excited that Sons of Korah, an Australian group that has led me in worship countless times with their modern musical settings of the Psalms, are coming to The Loft ONE WEEK FROM TODAY on November 6 at 7 pm!

They will be presenting a FREE concert that night. Here's a sample.

If you live in the Cincinnati, Dayton, or Indianapolis area, COME ON DOWN and enjoy some of the best music (and lyrics by God himself!) this side of heaven.

Jesus Im Fokus Conference

I begin today a three-day speaking engagement in Dillenburg, Germany (northwest of Frankfurt):

It will be such a privilege to speak to more than 500 children's, youth, and other pastors from Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. I'll be speaking on the theme, "EDGES: Smoothing the Sharp Corners of Ministry" from October 29-31.

I wouldn't mind a bit if you prayed for me!

Pope Bob I

I think evangelical churches need a pope. And it needs to be me.

Wait, before you check out on me, hear me out. I wouldn't wear expensive jewels or anything like that. But I would take some long-overdue steps. For example:

No movable letter church signs. These things do more harm than good. At best, they make Christians look corny, and at worst, stupid and clueless. I might be persuaded to compromise and allow existing signs to stay, as long as they only list worship service and Bible study times. But no more "God answers knee mail."

A moratorium on church-hopping. Seriously, I think it's time every church tells it's members: stay put. If you get honked off at somebody in your church, learn how to work through it, biblically. If another church opens across town, pray for them to extend the kingdom of God, not just rearrange it.

Redeem old church buildings. Let's plant new churches in empty churches. I know they have baggage, and probably need a lot of work. But someone--many someones--once scraped and sacrificed to build it, so wouldn't it be cool to redeem their efforts whenever possible?

Scrap Christian television and start over. I have to wonder how many more souls would be in heaven today if a generation or two ago, churches had gotten together to produce quality arts on television--not just preaching, but drama, dance, comedy, etc. So when I am pope, that's where we'll start.

Quit producing new Bible translations...for a while at least. Bibles sell. I know that. So every Christian publisher wants their own translation. But it's getting ridiculous, folks. We don't read the ones we've got. Let's space 'em out a little bit, and get behind the Wycliffe translators. Once the Bible exists in every language, THEN we can circle around and commission a new Midwest Dialect Bible Version.

Whaddya think? It's just a start. There would be more than that, of course. But it's not just a bunch of papal bull. I think it's long overdue. Don't you?

Weird

Francis Chan is one of my favorite speakers these days. He challenges me in all the right (that is, wrong) places. Here he is with a message at the recent Catalyst East 2010 about the contrast between what seems “weird” to us...and what may seem weird about us to future generations:

Always Use the Blue Tape

One of the blogs I read regularly is Time Management Ninja. They've got a LOT of great stuff on there, including this post on Red Tape vs. Blue Tape in an organization. This is great advice for any church or Christian ministry:

We all know red tape. Unnecessary rules and complicated procedures that get in people’s way of getting their work done.

Some companies are masters of laying out the red tape.

On the other hand, what about blue tape?

You know blue tape. The kind that you use when you are preparing to paint a room.

Blue tape is the start of something new.

A construction project. Building something new. Remodeling something existing. Producing something better than was there previously.

Blue tape represents constructive, productive activity.

So, which does your company deal in? Red or blue tape?

Red Vs. Blue Strategies

Many companies deal in red tape. They create barriers to getting work done.

Does your company erect obstacles? Rules? Restrictions that frustrate and create more work for employees.

Other companies choose to pull out the blue tape and do something new. When problems need to be solved or a new idea is needed, they empower their employees to construct new ideas and operate outside the system where needed.

I worked with a company that doubled the amount of paperwork that employees were required to complete for their expense reports. The reason given was to reduce the workload on the back office. Instead, they shifted the burden to the company’s entire field team. This is a good example of a red tape strategy.

Or these two companies: Company A has just instituted an Internet Usage policy that is 30 pages long. Company B has a one-page policy. Which company do you think is more successful in getting their workers to be productive?

These represent Red Tape vs. Blue Tape strategies. One is about rules and restrictions. The other is about creative thinking and trust. Which does your company deal in?

Red Tape Strategies:

  • Creating unnecessary paperwork for your employees
  • Placing obstacles in the way of your team doing creative work
  • Trusting rules and policies, instead of your employees
  • Reacting to problems by tightening control, instead of allowing the team to address
  • No exception policies that restrict employees from getting work done

Blue Tape Strategies:

  • Allowing your teams to build new things
  • Removing barriers to creativity
  • Providing flexibility instead of restrictions
  • Minimizing the rules and paperwork that people must adhere to
  • Reducing the obstacles to productivity
  • Getting out of the way of your employees

Always Use the Blue Tape

Too many companies only have red tape in their office supply closet. They operate by rules, regulations, and restrictions on their employees. They believe that they only way to get their people to work is via rules and strict control.

This only serves to get in the way of their employees work.

Other companies use the blue tape.

They let their employees build. Construct. Be creative. And get work done.

They believe that getting out of the way of their employees leads to the highest levels of productivity.

Which one represents your company?

Does your company deal in red or blue tape? What are your best examples?

Church of the Week: Precious Moments Chapel, Carthage, MO

Okay, so this week's "church of the week" here on the Desperate Pastor blog is not a church, it's a chapel. And not only that, it may be one of the worst examples of Christian merchandising on the planet. But it does have a certain (if excessively saccharine) charm to it.

It's the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Missouri. Back in 1994, the lovely Robin and I took the kids (and their Grandma Wright) to Branson, Missouri, and on the way there or on the way back (I can't remember which), we stopped at the Mecca for all things Precious Moments. And this chapel is a part of the complex.

Precious Moments artist and creator, Samuel J. Butcher, designed and constructed the Precious Moments Chapel in 1989, and if you can get past the cute factor, it really is impressive, beginning with the door to the chapel, above.

The chapel is lined with dozens of murals-–all hand-painted by Sam himself--from the story of creation to the promise of the resurrection. The art on the east side depicts Old Testament stories; New Testament stories are shown on the west side. All of the murals combine to cover nearly 5,000 square feet.

On the east wall is a portrayal of heaven (that's me in the right hand corner). And flanking the chapel is a long corridor of meticulously colored stained-glass windows--all in Precious Moments motif, of course.

The Precious Moments Chapel is open year round with the exception of Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

10 Things Brady Boyd Wishes Someone Had Told Him

Brady Boyd pastors New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO. He recently blogged about things he wishes someone would have told him about ministry years ago. I found this on Monday Morning Insight:

1. Sheep bites can’t kill me, but the gnawing will make life miserable a few days each year.

2. No matter how hard I try, I will always be tempted to measure my success by attendance numbers.

3. The best thing I can do to build and grow God’s kingdom is to be myself and not compare myself to others.

4. It takes a long time to become old friends so nurture and cherish the old friendships God has given me.

5. I will only have as much spiritual authority as I am willing to submit to myself. Independence will destroy me but there is power in submission.

6. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Challenge people to go deeper even when the message is unpopular.

7. My brain will always feel like scrambled eggs on Sunday afternoon so don’t make any major decisions until Tuesday morning.

8. Some people will only trust you after a really long time of proving yourself and another group will never trust you no matter what you do.

9. Don’t feel guilty about taking a Sabbath. It was not a suggestion.

10. I will never regret spending time with my family instead of saying yes to a church meeting that someone else could lead.

BSUR

From the naked pastor blog (yeah, you heard that right):
One of the greatest challenges for me as a pastor is to not succumb to the constant pressure of expectation. Members have fantasies of what their pastor should be. Church organizations, denominations or movements have fantasies of what its pastors should be. But worst of all, pastors themselves have fantasies of what they should be or would like to be.

I make it my personal challenge to be exactly who I am: myself. I also encourage others to be exactly who they are.

I often took great comfort from something Karl Barth wrote in his fine little book, Homiletics:
It is as the persons they are that preachers are called to this task, as these specific people with their own characteristics and histories. It is as the persons they are that they have been selected and called. This is what is meant by originality. Pastors are not to adopt a role. They are not to slip into the clothing of biblical characters. That would be the worst kind of comedy. They are not to be Luthers, churchmen, prophets, visionaries, or the like. They are simply to be themselves, and to expound the text as such. Preaching is the responsible word of a person of our own time. Having heard myself, I am called upon to pass on what I have heard. Even as ministers, it matters that these persons be what they are. They must not put on a character or a robe. They do not have to play a role. It is you who have been commissioned, you, just as you are, not as minister, as pastor or theologian, not under any concealment or cover, but you yourself have simply to discharge this commission.
I would encourage pastors everywhere to find the courage to live up to this arduous but simple task. I realize and personally know the cost of taking such a risk. You might risk losing support, popularity, your church and even your job. But would you rather lose that or yourself?
Wise words. After thirty-plus years in ministry, it's still a challenge at times not to play the expectations game (or, as he puts it, the "fantasy" game) and try to satisfy people's expectations, assumptions, demands, etc. People don't even realize they're doing it, and they've never stopped to define, let alone evaluate, their expectations. But as Barth so keenly put it, "It is you who have been commissioned, you, just as you are, not as minister, as pastor or theologian, not under any concealment or cover, but you yourself have simply to discharge this commission."

In But Not Of

Christine Caine, one of the pastors and directors of Equip & Empower Ministries, speaking at Catalyst recently (by way of Tim Schraeder's excellent blog):

Feed My Sheep

One of the books I'm reading these days is While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks (Forty Daily Reflections on Biblical Leadership), by Dr. Timothy S. Laniak. Here's some good stuff from Day 7:
It was twenty years ago that my wife Maureen and I spent a memorable winter in China meeting with members of the underground church. We carried in our backpacks Christian books and tapes that would be useful as a portable seminary. Chinese Bibles took up the most space. When we met our first contact, she informed us that we would need to speak in coded language: "Just refer to what you brought as 'bread.'" That night we served "bread" to a hungry pastor who had traveled for days from a remote province where his whole church had just been jailed. He was hoping for "bread" to take back to his discouraged flock. The unforgettable look of gratitude on his face reminds me that this world's only source of life and hope is God's word.

Will you join me for some honest self-assessment? What do we as leaders eat? To what sources do we return for our soul's primary sustenance? Is our "diet" rich in God's word? Are we as leaders good readers? Do we really study scripture and meditate on it daily, relishing its insights as spiritual delicacies? Do we supplement this feeling with devotional classics, theological treasures, and inspiring biographies? Or do we fill our hungry void with the empty calories provided on television and by endless "browsing" on the internet?

Look Who's Retiring!

This photo, posted on Jesus Needs New PR, made me laugh out loud:

Church of the Week: The Gathering, Sevierville, TN

The lovely Robin and I visited The Gathering, at that time a ten-year-old church in Sevierville, TN, on a Sunday morning in 2008, if I remember right. We knew of the church because the founding pastor was a seminary friend of a dear friend of mine (as it turned out, that pastor was on vacation the weekend we attended; we never met him). The church was then squeezed into a former strip mall garden center (I think), and was making the most of things, holding five or six services a weekend.

Since then, the church completed a 42,000-square-foot, $11.3-million, state-of-the-art facility on fifty acres on Veteran's Boulevard, a broad bypass of much of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville.

The church is passionately pursuing their vision of providing a gathering-place for the community, and reaching out effectively to those in need all around. If you're ever in the area, take a chance to worship with these fine folks (their website is here).

Margin

One of the pastors I meet with weekly is suffering from a critical lack of margin. We've all been there. Most of us LIVE there. So this post, by Tim Stevens on the Leading Smart Blog, was particularly timely:
I’ve been thinking a lot about margin.

A margin is the portion of the page that you intentionally leave blank. You don’t write all the way from the left side of the page to the right side—no, you typically leave space all the way around, and we call those margins.

Yet in life, everything in our culture is telling us to ignore margins. Spend more money than you make and you will have no financial margin. Fill your schedule from early morning until late night—and you will have no time margin. Surround yourself with needy people and be constantly reactive to their expectations—and you will have no emotional margin.

Mark Batterson wrote, “You need margin to think. You need margin to play. You need margin to laugh. You need margin to dream. You need margin to have impromptu conversations. You need margin to seize unanticipated opportunities.”

I want to live a life with margins.

When I live on less than I make, I have the financial margin so an unexpected expense won’t capsize me, and so I can respond in the moment to someone else’s real need.

When every moment of my life is scheduled, I don’t have the margin to stop and listen to someone who needs an ear; I don’t have the time to jump in and help a neighbor fix their sprinkler; or don’t have the flexibility to go to my kids sporting event that was scheduled at the last minute.

Margin makes you pleasant; no margin makes you grumpy.

Margin allows you to be generous; no margin makes you Scrooge-like.

Margin helps you listen; without margin, you come across like someone who doesn’t care.

Margin gives you the space to learn, grow and dream; without margin and you become stale and empty.

Margin increases the chance you will hear the still small voice of God when He speaks; without margin and you might continue through life without the blessing of God.

Where are you feeling the lack of margin in your life? What should change?

IF

I'm so excited about the series we launch tomorrow morning at Cobblestone. I hope it will be thought-provoking...and faith-enhancing.

This five-parter is entitled, "IF," and it's going to run for the next five Sundays. Between now and Thanksgiving Sunday, we'll be discussing the uncertainty of faith in the messages:

October 17.......PERHAPS GOD (1 Samuel 14:2-14)
October 24.......IT MAY BE (2 Samuel 16:5-14)
October 31.......BUT IF NOT (Daniel 3)
November 7......WHO KNOWS (Esther 4)
November 14....LORD, IF IT'S YOU (Matthew 14:22-36)

Five Levels of Delegation

Here is another gem (which is the norm) from Michael Hyatt's blog:

Delegation is critical to leadership. You can’t take on more responsibility unless you are willing to delegate to others. But that doesn’t mean it is always easy.

Recently, one of my mentees was planning a special event. Last week, he was surprised to discover that someone on his planning team had completed a project that he didn’t really authorize. He was clearly frustrated, because he felt the other person had taken more initiative that he was given.

After listening to him describe the situation, I finally said, “The fault is not with your team member’s action. The problem is that you didn’t make your expectations clear when you delegated this task.” I then asked him if he had ever heard of the five levels of delegation. He said, “no,” and then I shared them with him.

I have always taken these for granted, but realized this was a brand new thought for my young friend. Perhaps it is for you as well.

As a leader, whenever you delegate a task, you need to make it clear what level of authority you are conferring to others:
Level 1: Do exactly what I have asked you to do. Don’t deviate from my instructions. I have already researched the options and determined what I want you to do.

Level 2: Research the topic and report back. We will discuss it, and then I will make the decision and tell you what I want you to do.

Level 3: Research the topic, outline the options, and make a recommendation. Give me the pros and cons of each option, but tell me what you think we should do. I agree with your decision, I will authorize you to move forward.

Level 4: Make a decision and then tell me what you did. I trust you to do the research, make the best decision you can, and then keep me in the loop. I don’t want to be surprised by someone else.

Level 5: Make whatever decision you think is best. No need to report back. I trust you completely. I know you will follow through. You have my full support.
The problem is that my mentee thought he was delegating at Level 2. The person on his team assumed he had given him Level 4. The whole problem could have been avoided by clarifying the expectations on the front end.

Question: As a leader, are you making it clear what level of authority you are conferring when you delegate a task?
If the delegator isn't clear in his or her own mind what is being delegated, the delegatee doesn't stand a chance. Misunderstanding is sure to result. And some leaders ONLY delegate at Level One, leading to much frustration, particularly when their delegatees have proven themselves capable time and again. As in all leadership areas, it is utterly crucial to be clear in one's own mind, and clear in one's communication, in order to delegate effectively.

Should the Church Pay Attention?

This video is startling. The information presented in this video ought to challenge, excite, and energize the church.



The fields are white unto harvest.

How I Pray Without Ceasing

Paul's admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 had always seemed a practical impossibility to me. But ten or so years ago, I went on a four-day prayer retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a monastery in Kentucky, and a mere twenty-four hours into it, I found myself praying as I walked, as I read, as I ate. For the first time in my life, I had experienced unceasing prayer.

It was a surprise. And I came home from that prayer retreat determined to "practice the presence" of God as long and as consistently as possible.

Since then, while I can't say it's a daily experience with me, it IS a regular experience, and (for me, at least) I've learned that there are several ingredients that foster constant prayer:

1. I spend time in prayer every morning and evening. The Trappist monks at Gethsemani practice the Divine Office, seven "hours" of prayer throughout the day, as a way of keeping them in an unceasing rhythm of prayer and work. When I am on retreat at the abbey, I will practice those offices with them. But at home, while there are times when I might pray the midday and Vespers offices, I typically practice morning and evening prayers. I find that this is the bare minimum: waking and retiring, a habit that goes a long way toward maintaining an ongoing conversation with God.

2. I celebrate the Sabbath. For me, the rhythm of prayer in my life absolutely requires a weekly Sabbath, a day when I focus on God and re-connect with him at a deeper level than I do the other six days of the week. Most weeks, I thirst for my Sabbath (and my God) as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I reserve my Sabbath for four main activities: I pray, walk, read, and nap (and, in recent months, play with my granddaughter).

3. I take an annual prayer retreat. Once, sometimes twice, a year, I spend four-to-five days at a monastery, re-focusing my heart, mind, and life around God, and re-capturing my passion for prayer. It never fails to revive me and restore me. And, on those occasions when it's been more than twelve months between retreats, I feel my strength in prayer waning, as if it is "leaking" out of my spirit.

4. I prayer journal. Writing some of my prayers helps me tremendously. It focuses my mind. It helps me listen to God. Sometimes I discover what God wants me to pray AS I'm writing. And a quick look at my prayer journal shows me many things about myself, my prayers, and more.

5. I listen frequently to a daily morning prayer podcast. I never have to miss morning prayer, because I can pop in my iPhone's earbuds and pray in the car, on the exercise machine, on a walk, etc.

6. I pray on the spur of the moment, on the phone, on Facebook, and on email. People often ask me to pray for them, and sometimes I'm able to stop what I'm doing and pray immediately, with or without their knowledge. I might offer to pray with them, even in a public place. Or I'll pray as we're parting. Or I'll type my prayer, on Facebook or via email.

7. I'll pray while I wait. I have always hated to wait in line--especially at the grocery store. I would tap my fingers, count the items of the person ahead of me in the express checkout lane, browse any magazine or tabloid that happened to be at hand. But not anymore. Now I use time spent waiting--in bank lines, traffic jams, airport terminals, or doctor’s offices--to pray.

8. I'll pray on hold. "On hold" commercials and Muzak make it harder, but I try to make a habit of praying anytime I'm on hold, even when it's for just a few moments. Sometimes I'll pray for the person I'm waiting for, sometimes for whatever need is on my heart, and sometimes just to praise God or thank him for those few precious moments.

9. I pray with the help of “triggers.” For a period of time, I carried a large disc in my pocket; every time I reached into my pocket for change, the disc reminded me to pray for several seeking friends. I have used a candle, a screensaver, even the automated "alarm" reminders on my computer to interrupt my routine and spark a few moments of prayer.

10. I regularly read classics on prayer and biographies of prayer warriors and pioneers in contemplative prayer. Reading some of Thomas Merton's writings on prayer, or Teresa of Avila's The Way of Perfection, or John Baillie's A Diary of Private Prayer inspires me to pray like few other things.

11. I pray "The Jesus Prayer" and "Isaiah's Prayer" throughout the day. As I said, several times a year, I make it a habit to read classics on prayer; not long ago I read The Way of the Pilgrim, about a Russian ascetic who cultivated a life of prayer by learning to pray the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner") as often as possible throughout the day. Since then, I will often pray that prayer (sometimes in abbreviated form: "Lord, have mercy") and my own version of Isaiah's prayer ("Here I am, Lord") repeatedly throughout the day.

12. I pray what I see and hear. I’ve also tried to cultivate the habit of infusing prayer into as many waking moments as possible by praying short prayers in response to the world around me. When I hear an ambulance siren, I may utter a brief prayer for the victim; when I see a funeral procession, I pray for the bereaved. When I open a card from a friend, I sometimes pray for the sender. There are times, of course, when I don’t know what to pray, but I’ll still say something like “Lord, please,” or “Lord, have mercy,” and let the Holy Spirit fill in the blanks (Romans 8:26).

I'm sure there are many things I'm forgetting that cultivate a spirit of unceasing prayer in my life and routine. Foremost among them, for sure, would be an awareness of my own sinfulness and need for prayer. The more I pray, the more I need to pray, and the more I KNOW I need to pray. But, thankfully, too, the more I pray...the more I pray.

Funny how that works.

One Thing Most People Don't Know About Bob Hostetler

I spoke last Sunday at Cobblestone on "God's Calculus." Revealed a little of my impressive knowledge of higher mathematics.

One thing most people don't know about Bob Hostetler: He coauthors math books.

That's right.

Here is Calculus Early Transcendentals, 4th Edition by Ron Larson, BOB HOSTETLER, and Bruce Edwards.

THAT'S RIGHT. I said BOB HOSTETLER.

Who's your math professor NOW, huh?

Of course, it won't do any good to ask me questions about calculus. Even if I answered, you wouldn't understand.

Church of the Week: St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, Centerville, OH

This Roman Catholic church, south of Dayton, is a fairly new parish church, organized in 1969. The church occupies the site of the worst plane crash disaster in the history of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. On Monday, February 27, 1958, a B-50 bomber crashed and took the lives of the eleven men (nine military and two civilians) aboard. Eight minutes after takeoff and having reached an altitude of 5500 feet, the plane turned northeast, apparently trying to return to base. While attempting an emergency landing, the plane struck the ground in the corn field, continued several hundred yards and struck a house, destroying both the plane and the home. The house was vacant because the owner was vacationing in Florida. The house sat where the picture above was taken, I believe.

The church's modern baptismal (above) is actually in the vestibule of the church; I like it. It must be quite a celebration to gather around this font for a baptism.

The sanctuary, like the rest of the church, is decidedly modern in decor; on the day I visited (a Saturday back in July), the chancel choir was rehearsing, at about 10 in the morning, and I think preparations were starting for a wedding.

Just outside the expansive vestibule and a nice, open library area is a garden and a statue of St. Francis, the church's patron.

The current church building was dedicated in March 2004 by Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, who was born not far from here.

Sunday Night Rejoicings

It was a beeeeautiful morning to walk from the far corner of the parking lot to The Loft....but I honestly had NO idea of the amazing blessing God had in store for us at Cobblestone Community Church today.

I always approach worship with anticipation, and will often pray the words of an old hymn that lives in my memory:
Give us a day of wonders,
Jehovah, bare thine arm;
Pour out thy Holy Spirit,
Make known thy healing balm;
Give blessings without number,
Supply us from thy store;
Dear Saviour, richly bless us,
Baptize us more and more.
And man, oh man, did God do that today!

Sharla and Under Cover led SUCH an anointed time of worship in both celebrations as to nearly blow the hinges off the doors of the auditorium!

Sharla, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the use of Scripture before Blessed and I Exalt Thee!

Sharla and Aaron, THANK YOU for following the Spirit's leading and not cutting anything short, and drawing the highest praises out of God's people today! Thank you for your tears, your quivering voices, the evidence that no one felt the Spirit's presence more strongly than you!

Rich, thank you for a yeoman's job as floor coordinator, and thank you to all you Cobbleheads who prayerfully pledged your 2011 giving this morning....God is with us, and he is on the move!

I preached the last message in the three-part "The Blessed Life" series this morning, and I'm really sad to see it go. I thought I'd take a minute to look back on the series, and share some of my favorite quotes from the series (yeah, yeah, I know I'm kinda quoting myself and that's really bad form, but oh well...):

From #1, "God's Arithmetic"....
I will never achieve the blessed life by pursuing blessing. I will only achieve it by pursuing GOD.

Money is not just a physical thing, it is a spiritual thing, too. Money does supernatural things to us and in us—and for us.

God’s response [to Cain's and Abel's offerings] makes it clear that “something” is not okay. God wants the offering he asks for….and he asks for firstfruits.

Even GOD himself gave his firstborn as an offering.

It always requires faith to put God first…..But first he must be. That’s why so few of us experience the blessed life. Because we will give to God only after we know our needs will be met.

"God doesn’t need you to give—you need to be blessed" (Robert Morris, The Blessed Life).
From #2, "God's Mathematics"....
ESPECIALLY these days, ESPECIALLY in this culture, ESPECIALLY for Americans, the most reliable barometer of whether I am pursuing God or not is what I do with my money.

God is not bound by our unbiblical assumptions about money…but he IS bound by our choices to do what he says, or not…and we limit his blessing when we ignore his Word.

When it comes to money, we operate instinctively, unthinkingly, habitually, from several unbiblical assumptions. The first is, the assumption that money comes from a job....The second wrong assumption is that money is a limited resource....The third assumption we make is that what I give is gone.

When an ancient Israelite sacrificed the firstborn lamb to come forth from a ewe, every lamb born thereafter was redeemed! The same is true of the tithe. When I give my firstfruits to God, that action redeems the other ninety percent. The first portion has the power to redeem the rest.
From #3, "God's Calculus"....
Money is a ticklish subject….it makes us really, really nervous….which ought to be an indicator of how attached we get to it.

WE think the key to HAVING lots of money is HOARDING….But God’s Word says the key is GIVING.

A lot of us think like, “I would give a lot more to God’s work if I had it to give.” But the Bible doesn’t teach that. The Bible says God supplies seed to SOWERS, not to hoarders.

God is not interested in your money. He is after your heart.

Giving will not make you righteous; righteousness will make you a giver.

While we are begging God to make us rich, he is begging us to become like him….who gives and gives and gives, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and STILL overflowing.

Sowing comes before reaping, and the heart comes before the harvest.

If you’re struggling in some area of life, it’s not because you don’t have enough money; it’s because God doesn’t have enough YOU.
And today's benediction, which I pray again for all my beloved family at Cobblestone: May God make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work, to the glory of God. Amen.

And one last thing. In today's Scripture reading, Paul told the Corinthians how their generosity would result in thanksgiving to God (2 Corinthians 9:11). As of about 12:45 today, I have a perfect example. I told the story in my message today, from Morris's book, The Blessed Life, how he and his wife gave away 9 cars in 18 months. Gave 'em away! In the midst of that story, I pointed to a young woman on the front row who had mentioned to me between first and second celebration how she really needed a car. So I pointed at her and said, only half-serious, "Oh, by the way, there's a young woman here who could really use a car if you have one to give away." Right after celebration ended, my wife and I prayed with her and her mom for God to meet her needs, and less than three minutes after we said amen, a young couple who'd been sitting just a couple rows behind her in worship had given her a car!

Can I get a witness! Can I hear an amen? Can you see how that young couple's generosity is resulting in thanksgiving to God, not only from that young woman who had a need, but from this pastor, who is saying "HALLELUUUUUUUUUJAH!"

God is so good, and I honestly believe he is right now opening the windows of heaven on me and on our church, and pouring out a blessing we won't even be able to contain! I think this morning's worship was like the early rains that set the stage for latter rains and abundant harvest!

A Leader's Heart

John Maxwell is, of course, the unbelievably prolific author of more than fifty books, most on the subject of leadership. I consider his Developing The Leader Within You and The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership to be required reading for anyone who is (or expects to be) in a leadership role.

So when Thomas Nelson Publishers released A Leader's Heart 365-Day Devotional Journal I quickly downloaded the ebook and started including it in my daily reading. I'm sorry I did. Not because it's not filled with Maxwell's signature insights, gleaned from works such as the above-mentioned books, along with others like The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork and The Maxwell Leadership Bible, but solely because I wished I had bought it in hard copy instead (both for its elegant design and for the space following each entry that allows for the reader to jot notes and interact with the day's reading, aspects that cannot be fully used or appreciated in the ebook version).

A Leader's Heart is a helpful addition to the Maxwell canon. While it's not the best way to discover John Maxwell's writings on leadership (without his trademark stories, some entries will seem lacking in depth or emotion), it is a fine tool for anyone who has read and appreciated any of his previous works. It will recall, refresh, and reinforce some of the strong points of those works, and help any reader keep key, critical leadership principles in the forefront of his or her mind. And, its attractive design makes it a perfect gift purchase for anyone in leadership.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Outlive Your Life

I think Outlive Your Life (You Were Made to Make a Difference) is one of Max Lucado's best books. And that is saying a lot.

Outlive Your Life takes the reader on a tour of the first twelve chapters of the Acts of the Apostles in a way that perhaps only Max Lucado could pull off. It takes Dr. Luke's history of the first-century church and turns it into Dr. Lucado's prescription for the twenty-first-century church. He draws rich lessons from each stage of the church's first days--applying them to our day--in chapters with titles such as, "Let God Unshell You," "See the Need; Touch the Hurt," and "Pray First; Pray Most." He tells a parable of Father Benjamin, along with real-life accounts of Jose Ferreira and Bzuneh Talema. He brings Acts 2 into modern-day Guatemala and Acts 4 into present-day Turkey. He ends every chapter with an artful prayer that helps the reader turn the reading experience into a spiritual experience. And through it all runs his theme, re-worded in a memorable phrase in his next-to-last chapter: "God has wired his world for power, but he calls on us to flip the switch."

Like all of Max's books, Outlive Your Life is an entertaining read. But it is much more than that. As the author makes clear from the very first chapter, it is a clarion call for individuals and churches:
Acts announces, "God is afoot!"
Is he still? we wonder. Would God do with us what he did with his first followers?
And it is a prayer:
Do it again, Jesus. Do it again.


This book was provided for review by the publisher, Thomas Nelson.

God Is Their Lyricist

I was so personally (and pastorally) excited to receive word last week that Sons of Korah, a Christian group from Australia with nine CDs of their songs based on Biblical psalms, will be performing a free concert at The Loft on Saturday, November 6! Their engagement in Oxford will follow concerts in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, and will be their only appearance in Ohio for their 2010 Midwest tour.

I love this group's music. They lead me in worship almost on a daily basis! God uses their music to heal me, encourage me, deepen me, broaden me, uplift me, and strengthen me (which makes sense, since he himself is their lyricist!):

video

Plan now to attend and begin spreading the word to your friends and family. There is no admission fee; a freewill offering will be collected during the concert. The Loft auditorium will accommodate only the first 350 guests (doors will open at 6:30), so invite your friends and family, arrive as a group, and plan to get to your seats early.

Visit www.sonsofkorah.com to find out more about the band and listen to their music.

Church of the Week: McCullough-Hyde Hospital Chapel, Oxford, OH

This week's church of the week is the small, out-of-the-way, but serene chapel at McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital in Oxford, Ohio.

It can seat about a dozen people comfortably, and can be found on the second floor, near the conference room. I have used this place on several occasions to intercede for my loved ones receiving care at Mc-Hyde, as the locals call the hospital.

The Definitive Rant on Worship Music

Blogger Jeremy Pierce posted this definitive rant on worship songs. I love that he hates the same things I hate in worship songs....apparently:

Here are some of the things I really hate in a worship song.

1. Too simplistic, banal, lacking in depth, shallow, doctrineless: Consider that one that just talks about unity among brothers that only mentions God in passing at the very end.

2. It's so repetitive. I mean, come on, how many times can you repeat "His steadfast love endures forever" before you start thinking the song is going to go on forever? Examples: here and here

3. For some songs, the focus is too much on instruments, and the sheer volume leads to its seeming more like a performance than worship and prevents quiet contemplation.

4. There might be too much emphasis on too intimate a relationship with God, using first-person singular pronouns like "me" and "I" or second-person pronouns like "you" instead of words like "we" and "God". This fosters a spirit of individualism, and it generates an atmosphere of religious euphoria rather than actual worship of God. Worship should be about God, not about us. Or what about the ones that use physical language to describe God and our relationship with him? Can you really stomach the idea of tasting God?

5. Some songs have way too many words for anyone to learn.

6. It patterns its worship on experiences that not everyone in the congregation will be able to identify with. If you're not in the frame of mind or don't have the emotional state in question (e.g. a desperate longing for God. Then what are you doing lying and singing it? Worship leaders who encourage that sort of thing are making their congregations sing falsehoods.

7. Then there's that song with the line asking God not to take the Holy Spirit away, as if God would ever do that to a genuine believer.

8. Then there's that song that basically says nothing except expressing negative emotions.

At this point I'm so outraged that people would pass this sort of thing off as worship that I'm almost inclined to give in to the people who think we shouldn't sing anything but the psalms. Oh, wait...

Did you click on the links? If not, you might have missed his point.

My All-Time Top Ten Favorite Desperate Pastor Blog Posts

The Desperate Pastor Blog came into existence in April 2009. Since then, hundreds of posts--top ten lists, "laughs of the week," book reviews, "videos of the week," and more--have appeared. It's a daunting task to try to narrow those down to ten favorites. But here they are, from the most recent (#1) to the oldest (#10):

1. How I Got My Groove Back

2. For Those Who Are Frustrated with a Leader

3. How Technology Helps Me

4. Top Ten Things I've Learned as a Pastor

5. A Desperate Pastor's Key Relationships

6. Why Every Pastor Should Go to Israel

7. Me and My Prayer Journal

8. People Will Talk

9. The Blessings of Compline

10. Why I See a Shrink

Help for Churches in Small Towns

Here's a post that interested me from Ron Edmondson's excellent blog. It's a conference designed specifically for churches that minister in small towns:

Recently I had the awesome opportunity to hang out with Artie Davis. I knew Artie from online, but had never met him personally. Artie is one of those people who invests in everyone he meets. I instantly felt love and warmth from Artie and I believe we have started a long-term friendship as pastors.

I was especially interested in a couple projects Artie has going. One in particular is The Sticks Conference. I had seen Tweets of this conference, but really didn’t completely understand it until we talked. Knowing the vision of this conference, I want to make sure my readers know about it. If you are doing church in a small town…pay attention!

Here’s a conversation I had with Artie Davis about The Sticks Conference:

What is The Sticks Conference?

It is a gathering “movement” committed to bringing leaders and pastors together that do ministry in smaller towns. The Sticks Conference is the national gathering where these incredible, unsung hero’s have open access to other leaders and the opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of the other small community leaders.

Are there special considerations for churches in smaller communities to consider?

Absolutely! Unlike larger metropolitan areas, every smaller community has it’s own “culture.” There are truly as unique as DNA. No two are the same. Some principles can be transferred, but methodology must be relevant to that communities uniqueness.

Who should attend this conference?

Every leader, pastor, minister, lay leader, church planters & wanna be leaders who have a heart to reach their town for Jesus!

When and where is it and how does someone register?

It’s November 9-10 at Cornerstone Community Church. You can get more details at thesticks.tv