While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

I don't remember where I obtained my copy of the book, While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks: Forty Daily Reflections on Biblical Leadership, but I'm so glad I did.

It is a lavishly designed and illustrated journey into the world of sheep and shepherd, with striking application to the task of leadership for pastors, elders, managers, executives, teachers, counselors--anyone who finds himself or herself in a leadership role. The author, Dr. Timothy S. Laniak, draws on the experience of many trips to the MidEast and his expertise as professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Cornwell Theological Seminary to craft a vivid, Biblical depiction of the shepherd leader.

The book is divided into forty readings with titles like, "The Shepherd Healer," "Gathering the Scattered," and "My Sleepless Shepherd," punctuated with full-color photographs. One of my favorite passages is found in the reading for Day 7, "Feed My Sheep":
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?
Though frequent (and unnecessary) typographical errors frustrated me at times, I have no doubt that the beauty and benefit of this book will amply reward anyone who reads it.

Church of the Week: Worms Cathedral, Worms, Germany

One of the many highlights of my recent sojourn in Germany with the lovely Robin was our visit to the Worms Cathedral in (where else?) Worms.

Worms Cathedral (known variously in German as the Dom, Kaiserdom, Wormser Dom or Dom St. Peter) is one of the finest examples of High Romanesque architecture in Germany. For nearly 1000 years, this unique church has dominated the central part of this historic city.

The origins of Worms Cathedral date to early Christian times. The first Bishop of Worms was Berthulf, in 614 AD; his cathedral was much smaller than the present one. Under Burchard (1000-25), the most notable Bishop of Worms, a new Romanesque cathedral was built on the site. It had similar measurements to today's cathedral and some of the original parts survive. A century later, Burchard's building was replaced by the present cathedral. The east section was built in 1125-44, the nave was constructed 1160-70, and the chancel was mostly completed by 1181, when the cathedral was consecrated. The west end was the last to be built, at the end of the 12th century. The Baroque high altar by Balthasar Neumann was added in the eighteenth century.

The north aisle contains five late Gothic tympana — a Tree of Jesse and four scenes from the life of Christ — which once adorned the now-demolished cloister. The piece pictured above depicts the removal of Jesus' body from the cross.

The highly decorative west choir (above) is the culmination of the building program toward the end of the twelfth century. It includes majestic rose windows.

The grounds of the cathedral include a sheltered garden. On the north side of the cathedral, a small park (Heylshofgarten) is the site of the former imperial palace where Martin Luther stood before the Diet of Worms in 1521 and refused to recant his views with the famous words, "Here I stand, I can do no other."

Among the cathedral's treasures is this nativity tryptych (above), rescued from a fire that destroyed parts of the cathedral.

Sunday Night Rejoicings

What a day! What a privilege is mine! To worship in the church I do!

Today, I worshipped in FOUR celebrations, in three fairly distinct styles. The day started with the debut of PRIME, Cobblestone's brand new 8 am ancient/modern worship service (above). Wow, what a pitch-perfect start to the day: the music, the readings, the prayers, the silence, John's message, it was wonderful! And more than forty people participated. Thanks soooo much to Sharla, John, Johnny, Matt, Julie, Deb, Aaron, Kyle, David, and Guy, who made it all happen.

Then, to worship with Under Cover and about three hundred souls in our 10 and 11:30 celebrations...wow, just lovely! I know people worship truly in all kinds of styles around the world, and I can worship in a lot of styles....but to be led in vibrant, dynamic music by Under Cover week after week is SUCH a privilege, such a blessing!

And to see people all morning bringing in more and more shoes (above), many of them new, some still in boxes, until they form a mountain of shoes in the atrium! I estimate so far well over three hundred shoes have been donated...maybe many more...and there are still four more weeks to go! Wow!

And then tonight to be led in worship by Kyle and my son Aaron in The Third (above)...oh my! And to sit under Andrew's teaching, drink me some coffee, wow. Just such a great blessing. Such a great day.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

The Songs of Christmas

I'm looking forward to the new teaching series we launch tomorrow morning at Cobblestone. I think it will be a refreshing and meaningful study for the Advent season.

It's called, "The Songs of Christmas," and it will feature a study each week of one of the ORIGINAL Christmas songs. That is,

November 28.......Isaiah’s Song (Isaiah 9:2-7)
December 5.......Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-55)
December 12.......Zechariah’s Song (Luke 1:67-79)
December 19......Gabriel’s Song (Luke 1:67-79)
December 26....Simeon’s Song (Luke 2:28-32)

In addition to the passage being studied, the day's worship will also feature some unique and inspiring musical settings of the various songs. I think it's gonna be wonderful.

PRIME Starts This Sunday!

Cobblestone's new worship experience, PRIME, starts this Sunday, November 28. It will be the earliest of four weekly worship celebrations (8 am, 10 am, 11:30 am, and 7 pm) through the season of Advent. It will offer worshipers a quiet, contemplative, thoughtful style of worship every Sunday morning for that rich and meaningful season.

Each PRIME will combine ancient and modern elements of worship, including responsive readings, corporate prayer, periods of silence, and a more contemplative style of music. Also included in each PRIME will be a shortened version of the Bible message featured in the later worship celebrations of that day, corresponding to the Advent teaching series.

It will be a new experience for all of us, and one we pray will draw us all closer to God, and present an enriching worship option for the Cobblestone family. So join us at 8:00 a.m. on November 28, December 5, 12, and 19...for PRIME!

Prayer and Pastoral Care

Deborah Van Deusen Hunsinger's book, Pray Without Ceasing (Revitalizing Pastoral Care) makes a thorough and persuasive case for the inseparable, inter-relatedness of prayer and pastoral care.

Dr. Hunsinger is the Charlotte W. Newcombe Professor of Pastoral Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, and it shows in this book, not only in her expertise, but in her tone. While the book's tone might scare off a more casual reader, the content and cohesiveness of the case she makes will make it a rewarding read for anyone, both pastor and academic. She challenges pastors to put prayer at the center of their vocation. and theological reflection.

Drawing on a wide variety of voices, from Bonhoeffer and Barth to von Balthasar and Wendell Berry, Hunsinger begins her book with the three foundational disciplines of spiritual reading, careful listening, and self-reflection. She then goes on to explore prayers of petition, intercession, lament, confession, and praise, thanksgiving, and blessing, before offering a short conclusion along with an addendum and three appendices.

Some of Hunsinger's concluding words in chapter five, "Prayers of Petition," give a taste of the wisdom and wealth available in this volume:
Those who offer pastoral care will soon burn out emotionally and spiritually if their own lives are not undergirded by prayer. The difficult work of being present to others is not possible apart from dependence upon God's own presence. Those who drink from the well of prayer will have a reliable spring of refreshment from which to draw.
While I would venture a guess that every pastor or spiritual director would agree that prayer is absolutely essential to pastoral care, this book should be more than sufficient to persuade any reader not only to believe it, but to do it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher, for review purposes. 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.”

A Thanksgiving Day to Be Remembered

Happy Thanksgiving!

Most of us will be gathered around a table with loved ones, spending our annual Thanksgiving Day in five primary activities, that are repeated year after year, home after home, throughout our land. They are:

1. Cooking
2. Giving thanks
3. Eating
4. Visiting with family
5. Watching football
6. Cleaning up

Some of us do more of one than another, but that's a fairly normal Thanksgiving Day for most of us, wouldn't you say?

So, as I was reading again the familiar text of Psalm 100 a couple days ago, an idea came to me.

Psalm 100 says,

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

So here's my idea. What if, this Thanksgiving, instead of the six common Thanksgiving Day activities I listed above, we consciously engaged in the six imperative statements found in the 100th Psalm? What if we approached this great psalm as a "to-do" list for Thanksgiving Day?

That would change our celebration to this:

1. Make a joyful noise unto the LORD
2. Serve the LORD with gladness
3. Come before his presence with singing
4. Know ye that the LORD he is God and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture
5. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise
6. Be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

Now, obviously, that list leaves plenty of room for creativity. There's more than one way to "Serve the LORD with gladness" and "Come before his presence with singing." We could do these things privately or corporately. And none of them would necessarily exclude the common list of Thanksgiving activities. But I bet they would make THIS Thanksgiving Day one to be remembered.

Oooooh, Big Doings Here in Desperate Pastor Land

A couple Sundays ago, I made an announce-ment in our morning worship celebra-tions to the Cobble-stone Community Church family. It's kinda big news.

I mentioned how, in our "Blessed Life" series in Sept/October, I had shared how I and the other leaders of the church believed God was leading us to a new place, and to a new level of participation and faithfulness as a church. I had mentioned the financial challenges we'll be facing in 2011, and what level of giving we would need to achieve in order to proceed without cuts. In mid-October, we asked our members and regular attenders to prayerfully pledge what they expected to give toward Cobblestone's ministry in 2011, and the results were blessed! We expect our 2010 budget to be in the neighborhood of $525,000 or more, a 20% increase over 2010! Thank you, Lord.

At the same time, however, that wasn't the level (which would have been miraculous, no doubt about it) that would allow us to proceed without any cuts this coming year. So, long story short (though there is much wonderful detail I could fill in), on October 28, I addressed a letter to our church leadership team, telling them that "In faith, believing that God is leading me and providing for his church, I will no longer accept a salary from Cobblestone after December 31, 2010." The elimination of my salary from the church budget will make it possible for the 2011 budget to be balanced....and even blessed!

I told our leaders that I was doing this in the belief that this action will:

• have the most salutary financial impact (in one fell swoop) on the 2011 budget;
• preserve the most visible and effective part of my ministry (my weekend preaching ministry), at no cost to Cobblestone;
• make possible the retention of my fellow staff members without a debilitating financial blow to them and their families;
• keep the church functioning with great effectiveness in the year and years to come;
• lay the foundation for greater stewardship of our resources in the future.

This was my decision. No one has pushed me out. There is no scandal. In fact, I think my friends and fellow leaders are more emotional about it than I am. I believe that God is in this (and they do, too), and that he will provide both for me and my wife, and for his church, Cobblestone.

The leadership team and I currently plan for me to continue preaching almost every Sunday at Cobblestone. The past few years, I have been the speaker for 38 or 39 Sundays a year, and I don't expect that to change. I plan to be just as present and involved as ever on Sundays. However, I will, of course, have to earn a living in other ways, so my Monday-Saturday schedule will change drastically come January. I will work with the church's leaders to make whatever adjustments are necessary for Cobblestone’s continued effectiveness, and will do whatever I can to both provide for me and my wife AND labor effectively as one of Cobblestone's many volunteers. I hope to revive my long-dormant writing ministry--yes, even in this economy--and re-connect with the wonderful publishers, editors, conference directors, etc., that have, I'm sure, felt oh so neglected by me in recent years. And I hope to find a job in early 2011 that will lend something to my household income, as it will take a long time, I imagine, before my writing can generate enough income to pay the mortgage. So if any of my blog readers and friends hear of available jobs,* speaking gigs, writing gigs, auditions for The Apprentice, that sorta thing, let me know!

And, of course, please feel free to pray for me and the lovely Robin. We don't know, at this point, how we will pay the bills in January, but we believe we will. And, while we are both happily trusting God through this transition, we also know that a lot of hard work and many adjustments lie just around the corner. So we can use all kinds of prayer in these next few months! Thank you so much.

*And don't be shy about relaying job openings; once you've been a pastor, there is no job too humble, too dirty, too demanding!

A Message for This Most Beautiful Time of Year

Here is a timely message from H. B. London, former pastor, vice president of Pastoral Ministries for Focus on the Family, and author of numerous books for pastors.
This is the time of the year when I must admit I become a little bit envious of all you pastors and leaders in the church. No, I am not envious of the multiple board meetings you sit through or the financial balancing act most of you perform. I would never be envious of your mood swings from Sunday to Sunday, predicated by the weather, church attendance, quality of your sermon or a cantankerous sound system. I am not envious of the complex expectations that require you to be all things to all people at all times or your 24/7 responsibilities. I am sure Beverley, my wife, is not envious of your spouses' fish bowl existence or the many hours that call you away from your family.

But I am a bit envious — in a righteous way — of your opportunities over the next few weeks as a pastor. I loved the busyness of the holiday season. I didn't resent the many hours of planning that went into the services from Thanksgiving to New Year's. The sights and sounds that accompanied these days energized me.

I can still sense the excitement of that first holiday Sunday as the choir entered to "Come, Ye Thankful People , Come." Then it was off to the races — if you will — preparing baskets for shut-ins and the needy; lighting the first Advent candle; hanging the greens; Sunday school parties; trips to the nursing homes to sing carols, take cookies and let those who were lonely feel loved and included. Wow, do I ever miss all of that!

There was always that tired, but happy feeling I had as I drove home from one of those blessed holiday events, thinking how thankful I was to be called pastor. What a treat it was to serve a congregation that was filled with thanksgiving because of the many ways God had touched their lives and who prayed for my family. And I had the privilege of leading those wonderful folks from Thanksgiving to Christmas and into the New Year. How much better could it get?

I pray you feel this way as you read these words. Let there not be one utterance of the negative as you face the most beautiful time of the year.
Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.

Let us exalt his name together. (Psalm 105:1; 100:4; 34:3)
Happy Thanksgiving, my pastor colleague! We thank God for you.

Church of the Week: Gottesdienstblatt Jesuitenkirche, Mannheim, Germany

The lovely Robin and I visited this Jesuit Church in early November as part of our short but rewarding walking tour of Mannheim. It is said to be the largest church in Mannheim and the most important baroque church in southwest Germany. It is rich in elaborate Baroque furnishings, like the gates that form the central entrance to the portico (below).

Designed by Italian architect Alessandro Galli da Bibiena, it was built between 1733 and 1760 as the court church of Electors Karl Philipp and Karl Theodor.

The marble pilastered interior is in a late baroque style and early classical design. The high altar (below) depicts the Mission of St. Francis Xavier to India.

During the Second World War, the church suffered severe damage from British and American air attacks, especially the choir and the dome. After the war it was decided to rebuild the church in its historical style with the use of original parts in the reconstruction of the altar and the electoral pews.

Everywhere you turn in the church, there are amazing sights to see, from the pulpit (above), created in 1753 and brought here from the Carmelite convent in Heidelberg after World War II, to the organ case (below), built according to a design of the elector’s court sculptor Paul Egell. It survived the bombing and the small damage it suffered was repaired in 1952.

The confessionals (above) were also reconstructed after the war.

We brought home a recent bulletin from the church, which can supposedly accommodate three thousand worshipers, but unfortunately we can't read it since it's printed in German. But there is no doubt that it is the most beautiful Baroque church we've ever visited.

Barefoot Sunday

What a blessing it was this morning to worship with the people of God at Cobblestone Community Church! And what a blessing, as always, to be led in worship by Sharla and Under Cover! And what a blessing to see the people of God respond in spontaneous gratitude to God by taking off their shoes and bringing them forward as a thank offering....and to see them walk out of church BAREFOOT! What a vivid demonstration of the Spirit of our Lord!

If you weren't able to participate today, fear not. A receptacle will be available in the atrium at The Loft the next four Sundays to receive donations of shoes to be sent to Soles4Souls for distribution to those in need in places like Venezuela, Mexico, Uganda, Sudan, Romania, Haiti, and more.

I praise God for his people, and for their willingness to give and to help and to be used by God for the good of others!

What Shall I Render?

Since I'm preaching today from Psalm 116, I thought this would be an appropriate video, and a good way to start Thanksgiving week. Let's have church!

Reading on the Cheap

Pastors read. It's part of the deal. But books can be expensive, and many pastors struggle with the expense. So, from the Simple Dollar blog comes some sound advice on getting books cheap...or free.
There are a lot of ways to get books for free – or something close to it. Here are the options I use to get stuff to read on the cheap.

The local library The most obvious answer – and still the best. You can get almost any book you wish to read from this place for free. Better yet, you’ll likely find a lot of resources there that you didn’t know about, such as CD and DVD rentals for free. It’s well worth the time to stop there.

PaperBackSwap If you’re willing to spend a dollar or two to mail your own books that you no longer want, you can dive into a giant book swap at PaperBackSwap. As I wrote about in detail in the past, PaperBackSwap is basically a book trading service that operates via the US mail. You go there, list ten books you have, and you get two credits for your time. Spend a credit and you can pick any book listed on there and have it shipped to your house for free. When someone wants a book you have, just ship it to them and you’ll earn another credit. That’s it – easy as pie. Shipping a book in the United States costs a dollar or two, and that’s your only expense.

Trading with friends/borrowing from friends I often lend books to my friends – in fact, I have probably fifteen or twenty books loaned out right now. In exchange, my friends often lend books to me. If you know of an interesting book that your friend has, ask to borrow it – you’ll often find a book you’ll really enjoy reading right in your hands, for free.

Cooperative buying If several people are interested in buying a book, have everyone contribute a dollar or two, buy the book, and pass it around through the group. One big benefit of this is that all of you will read it and thus all of you will be able to discuss it as well. Usually, we all agree to give the book to Goodwill or something when it’s done, or agree to designate someone as the permanent owner. It was because of this that I was able to read several brand new novels while in college.

Used bookstores There are several used bookstores within driving distance of me. While they’re not too good for picking up the latest and greatest book, they are very good for hunting down older ones and also classic literature. If you’re seeking a slightly older book, try giving a ring to a few used bookstores near you and ask if they have it. In fact, I’ve used my local used bookstore to pick up three or four books that I intended to mark up with notes quite heavily – the dollar I paid was well worth the learning I got out of the books.

Project Gutenberg For those unaware, Project Gutenberg is the place to go if you’re looking for free copies of classic literature. Pretty much any classic novel you can imagine is there in its complete text, and there are several different ways to read these books at your convenience, either on your computer or printed off. While this might not be useful for modern books, I am planning on reviewing at least one book that exists in Project Gutenberg in the future.

Gifting I keep up a wishlist on Amazon and add books to it all the time, often so many that I can’t remember what’s on there (and thus I check it each time I finish something new). Many of my family members have the URL for this list and then use it to give me books for gift-giving occasions, as they know few gifts will make me happier than a fresh book I’ve not read. It’s a far better gift to receive a book than just about anything else I can think of under $20.

Hopefully, you can use one or more of these methods to add to your reading in the near future. For me, this is particularly valuable, as I view reading a thought-provoking book to be one of the best uses of time available to a person. Do any readers have additional ideas for how to get books on the cheap?
I use most of those techniques. In addition to my local library, I search M.O.R.E., the interlibrary loan service for my state. I also use "Bookins" to swap hardcovers AND paperbacks. I use multiple ebook applications and resources to download ebooks. And I keep my eye on Facebook and Amazon for the occasional free ebook offer.

Feel free to share YOUR tips for obtaining and reading cheaply. Except for my books, of course. Those you need to pay full price for.

Deep Church

Jim Belcher's book, Deep Church, came out last year from IVP. I obtained a copy as soon as I could. I was excited by its premise, and by its promise. I was not disappointed.

I have read several books promising a "third way" or a middle ground between the "emergent" and "traditional" ways of seeing and doing church, and have been largely disappointed. So much misunderstanding and miscommunication exists, on both sides; I have been uniformly saddened by the ungrace that characterizes so much of the church's speaking and writing--even when the subject is grace! Belcher's book is the first I've read that truly understands where both sides are coming from, and doesn't condescend or demonize anyone. He exhibits admirable depth (go figure) and grace in listening to, grasping, and addressing the key issues in the discussion. In short, it is clear that Belcher loves and respects those he quotes, and even those he corrects, a truly "Christ-ian" and biblical attitude, which far too many apologists, pastors, preachers, writers, and "defenders" of the faith seem to eschew.

Belcher's sorting of "emergent" churches into three categories (relevants, reconstructionists, and revisionists) was insightful and helpful, as was his identification of the major issues (and the solution, so to speak, or "third way" which he prescribes) into seven well-defined topics: truth, evangelism, Gospel, worship, preaching, ecclesiology, and culture.

Because of his evenhanded treatment of disparate views, I was shocked by his characterization of those with an egalitarian view of women in leadership as "revisionists" who are "open to questioning key evangelical doctrines on theology and culture" (p. 46), particularly since he seemed to display some knowledge of the excellent biblical scholarship being performed by many in the egalitarian camp. As faults go, however, this is an easy one to overlook.

I highly recommend Deep Church.

Illuminated Gospels Project

I learned on the Crossway blog (the blog of the Christian publishers, Crossway Books) that Makoto Fujimura, one of the century’s most highly regarded artists, has illuminated the Gospels. Fujimura is known for his use of traditional Japanese Nihonga techniques and his passion for reconnecting Christian faith with fine art. This will mark the first time in nearly 400 years that an illuminated book of the four Gospels has been undertaken by a single artist.

Fujimura - 4 Holy Gospels from Crossway on Vimeo.

Editions of the book, The Four Holy Gospels, will be available January 31, 2011. An exhibition of the works featured in The Four Holy Gospels will take place from December 9 through January 9 at the Dillon Gallery in New York City. In the meantime, you can download the preview PDF here.

A Pastor Prays for His People

Few books appeal to me more than a book of well-written, well-prayed prayers. This is that.

A Pastor Prays for His People (A Collection of Wise and Loving Prayers to Help You through Life's Journey) by pastor Dr. Wendell C. Hawley arranges dozens of pastoral prayers by month and occasion. In addition to the usual holidays (Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, etc.), there are prayers for a church business meeting, prayer for a new pastor, weddings, funerals--even a Christian prayer for Ramadan.

Drawing upon years of experience composing prayers for public worship, Hawley eloquently helps the people of God bring joys and struggles, problems and praises, hopes and fears before God. A Pastor Prays for His People is a gold mine for pastors and church leaders, and a solid theological model for anyone. An example is Prayer Number Thirty-Seven:
Most glorious God, God of compassion, God of forgiveness,
I need your presence.
Great Physician, I need healing.
I am spiritually lukewarm
and unbelief mars my confidence in trusting you--
brokenness and repeated failures occupy my attention.
It astounds me that I continually try to battle life's issues on my own.
Sin makes me forget you.
Too long I have neglected the closet of prayer...
Too long I have forsaken the refreshment of your Word...
The cobwebs of indifference and the dust of life's cares choke my soul.
Broken relationships and shattered trust have prevented the health and healing of your Word.

But now--this moment,
I turn from absenteeism to the mercy seat.
I praise you for permission to approach the throne of grace.
Here, I pour out my confession of sin:
foolishly questioning your providence.
Divinely sweep away my soul's clutter.
Pour down upon me streams of needful grace.
Engage my heart to live more faithfully for you.
Your presence alone can make me holy,
I praise you for forgiveness--
Accomplish in me your eternal purposes, through Jesus Christ, my only hope, my only Savior.
Because most of the prayers employ corporate language ("we," "us," etc.), however, they are not as personal or intimate as, say, John Baillie's A Diary of Private Prayer, but this volume deserves a place alongside that classic, among others.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher, for review purposes. 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.”

Church of the Week: Far Hills Community Church, Centerville, OH

I had the honor last July of presenting a workshop for Christian writers at Far Hills Community Church, in Centerville (outside Dayton), Ohio.

Just a couple blocks off I-675 on Clyo Road, Far Hills is a great big, sprawling church with apparently thriving children's, youth, Christian education, and worship ministries, among many others.

On entering the building through the front center doors, the visitor is greeted with a spacious and welcoming coffee and snack bar, and the second floor (where our conference was hosted) has well-equipped classrooms and youth worship area.

The auditorium (below) is large, and about what you'd expect. The cross on the left marks the baptismal.

Strategically placed inside and outside the auditorium were these (below) offering receptacles, with pencils and envelopes ready at hand on the side.

The day of our conference there, a crew of volunteers was apparently preparing the parking lot for a fresh coat of blacktop. We were almost left without any visible means of escape...but we made it out, past the three crosses that adorn the easternmost entrance and exit to the church:

Not Lost in Translation

You may remember the story of President John F. Kennedy's famous 1963 speech in Berlin, when he uttered the words, "Ich bin ein Berliner," to a thunderous reaction.

Many Americans still are not aware that his pronunciation of that now-famous phrase had an unintended meaning, since the German word, "Berliner," refers to a jelly doughnut.

President Kennedy's words provided the background for another thunderous reaction at the recent "Jesus Im Fokus" conference in Herborn, Germany, where I was the speaker and my new friend, Friedrich Trops, was the translator (that's him on the left in the photo below).

Speaking on 1 Kings 19, and referring to Elijah's episode under the broomtree, when he was revived by food and drink, I emphasized to my listeners the importance of self-care in ministry, and how eating right is important. Then, mentioning that in America we have an expression, "You are what you eat," I said, "If that is true, then I am a big fat cinnamon roll."

Frieder, seizing the opportunity, played with my words a little bit for the bigger laugh, and said, to great effect, "Ich bin ein Berliner," which of course, surprised me as I heard it, and delighted the audience.

Church of the Week: Ft. Hamilton Hospital Chapel, Hamilton, Ohio

Today's church of the week is the multi-faith chapel at Ft. Hamilton Hospital, in Hamilton.

The chapel used to be located on the first floor, very near the main entrance, but it has been moved to the second floor near ICU. While not at all easy to find anymore, it is a nice little place for prayer.

I had occasion most recently to pray here while in the hospital visiting a friend undergoing surgery (which was wonderfully successful, praise God!).

Four Essential Leadership Truths

From ShaneDuffey.com comes this excellent post on Four Essential Leadership Truths from (surprisingly enough) the New Testament book of Philemon:
Over the past several months I have been chewing on four critical leadership principles that I believe God showed me as I read through the book of Philemon. As you may know, the book of Philemon was written by Paul and in this book (which is just one chapter) Paul is appealing to Philemon on behalf of a dude named Onesimus (we’re just not very creative with names anymore, are we?). It’s out of Paul’s appeal to Philemon on how to care for Onesimus that the four leadership principles emerge.

(These principles are offered from the vantage point of leading in ministry, however, my experience leading outside the ministry supports the truth of these principles regardless of the type of organization. The second principle is specific to ministry, but if as leaders we execute the other three well, we may just lead someone in the most import direction… to Jesus.)

As I lead, I should…

1 – Share my Faith

Philemon v6
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

Anyone in leadership that is trying to lead well wants more knowledge. Leaders want to make good decisions that lead to team victories and increase team morale. Most of the time these victories come from the leaders effectiveness in creating the right environment or process that allows the individuals on the team to succeed. In this verse Paul say that if I am active in sharing my faith that I will “have full knowledge of every good thing…”.

How do I share my faith as I lead? I don’t think this means walking each team member down the “Romans Road” everyday, but do I think its as simple as leading by living out what I say I believe in as a follower of Christ. As a leader, I’m not one person at church and another at home and another at work. I walk the talk and as I instruct/challenge/discipline my team, I do it through the filter of my faith in Christ.

2 – Trust God

Philemon v8-9
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love.

If you are in the position of a leader (there is a difference between being a leader and being in the position of a leader – other posts address this issue) then you can demand actions from your team. What Paul is demonstrating to me in this verse is that although he could demand action (because of his position), he is choosing to appeal to the Spirit that lives inside of Philemon.

To me, the biggest win I can achieve as a leader is to cultivate an environment where each person on my team carries out his/her role not out of duty but out of faith (Colossians 3:23). The primary benefit of leading in ministry is that each person on your team is a follower of Jesus (at least in theory). If I am following God’s direction to lead “by sharing my faith” then I need to trust God’s work in the person I am leading. Over time if I find that the person I’m leading is not responding from their own faith, but begrudgingly out of duty or not at all, then I have someone who rightfully needs to be led off my team or out of my organization.

3 – Invest in the Person

Philemon v14
But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced.

Simply, in this verse Paul is seeking Philemon’s buy in before any decisions or actions take place. My own experience has shown me that if I invest time into my team by seeking their input on a particular decision or course of action, then I am more likely to get their best effort in the execution of that decision. If I choose to not invest this time into my team, then there will be unanswered questions or confusion or a process that isn’t as good as it could have been with their input. That’s just bad and egotistical leadership.

4 – Serve the Person

Philemon v18-19
If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul… will pay it back.

My team needs to know that I will stand up for them no matter the personal cost to me. It is clear from this verse Paul is willing to go out on a personal limb for Onesimus. For me, if I don’t think my leader will take a bullet for me or seek to put himself out for me then I am slow to do the same for him. If I want to be led with that type of commitment, why would I not think I should lead with that type of commitment?

Leaders must first be servants of those they lead. Securing leadership equity (the need to call in and have something done with no questions asked by the team) will only happen if the leader earns it. I have found that the only way to earn that equity is through serving each individual on the team in a way that lets them know they are not on an island and that they are safe under my leadership. Leaders go first, take bullets, deflect criticism, and make sure the people on the team feel served… a guy named Jesus thought this was a good leadership principle too (John 13:1-17).

Leadership is as easy (and as challenging) as sharing our faith, trusting God, investing in our team and serving our team. And, its as easy (and challenging) as simply loving those you lead.

Preaching with an iPad

The recent Jesus Im Fokus conference in Germany represented the first time I've preached from an iPad (I saved my message scripts as PDFs and loaded them on the iPad before leaving home, opening them in iBooks).

It worked very well--for me and my style, at least. I speak from a full manuscript, but am not bound to the words on the page.

The iPad's size makes it about perfect for holding in one hand, yet keeping the document size large enough to see at a glance (I use 16-point New Times Roman in my scripts; the screen size of the iPad, which shows a full page at a time in the portrait mode makes it smaller, of course, but still a good size).

Before speaking, I locked the screen aspect (so the document wouldn't turn as I moved the screen), and turned the "sleep/auto-lock" off, so the screen wouldn't go dark if and as I departed from the script or spoke from memory.

I also kept a printed script on hand, in case, I dunno, some Satanic electronic anomaly affected my iPad, making it impossible to use. But that didn't happen.

I have also wondered in the past if the glow from the lit screen would be a distraction, but I asked several people if they even noticed it, and they said they didn't. And one of my listeners, a young man who owns an iPhone but said he'd always wondered why he would need or want an iPad, too, said watching me speak with the aid of an iPad actually answered his question, somewhat.

His observation underscored another reason I have hesitated--and still may do so. I have worried that using an admittedly expensive device in preaching might pose a mental or spiritual obstacle to some people, particularly to those who could never or would never make such a purchase. This didn't seem to be the case this past week, but could in other venues, even in my own church.

In any case, I realized two disadvantages, nonetheless--I couldn't make handwritten notes on the page to revise the wording or remind me of something (which I do all the time, and had to do in each of my conference talks). I just had to remember the changes. The other disadvantage was, I had to turn the page (elegantly, with a quick swipe) after EVERY page, whereas in hard copy I print front & back of every leaf, making it possible to see two pages at a time and keep page-turning to a minimum.

However, I don't think either disadvantage limited my effectiveness at all--just my perfectionistic preferences.

All in all, it was a great success from my perspective, and allowed me maximum mobility and flexibility in delivery.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


We're going to try something new at Cobblestone. And something old.

Starting on the first Sunday in Advent, November 28, we're going to add a fourth weekend worship celebration to our weekly schedule. Called "PRIME," it will offer worshipers a quiet, contemplative, thoughtful style of worship every Sunday morning for that rich and meaningful season.

Each PRIME will combine ancient and modern elements of worship, including responsive readings, corporate prayer, periods of silence, and a more contemplative style of music. Also included in each PRIME will be a shortened version of the Bible message featured in the later worship celebrations of that day, corresponding to the Advent teaching series.

It will be a new experience for all of us, and one we pray will draw us all closer to God, and present an enriching worship option for the Cobblestone family. So join us at 8:00 a.m. on November 28, December 5, 12, and 19...for PRIME!

Church of the Week: The Chapel at Warwick Castle, Warwick, England

In 1068, William the Conqueror built a timber castle on the banks of the River Avon in order to consolidate the Norman Conquest in the Midlands and Northern England. In 1088, William appointed Henry de Beaumont (1088-1119) Constable of Warwick (at some point, Beaumont changed his name to Neville). Five generations of his descendants held the title of Earl of Warwick, occupying that castle. Around 1260, a new castle of stone was constructed on the same site, and it was here (in a castle greatly improved during the fourteenth century) that Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick during the War of the Roses, earned the title, "The Kingmaker" for his role in deposing both Henry VI and Edward VI.

The current chapel is due to the efforts of Sir Greville in the early seventeenth century. It is built on the site of the old chapel, founded in 1119. Until 1900, the families of the Earls of Warwick worshiped in this chapel.

The lovely Robin and I visited this chapel in 1995, along with Aubrey and Aaron.

The medieval stained glass windows in the Chapel were presented by the Earl of Exeter in 1759. There are also Flemish wood carvings which date back to 1740.