Church of the Week: Trinity Church, Wall Street (New York)

More than thirty years ago, in the months of November and December 1979, the scene above was a frequent sight for me and the lovely Robin. It is Trinity Church, on Wall Street, in New York City.

Though we most often played in a brass quartet at a Salvation Army red kettle outside Macy's, midtown, we spent a week or two, I think, on Wall Street. I don't remember if it was before or after our Macy's post. What I DO remember, though, is this old church and its cemetery nestled in among the towering skyscrapers and cavernous thoroughfares of the financial district at Wall Street and Broadway.

On several occasions, on those cold, tiring days of bellringing, we would seek sanctuary (and warmth) in St. Paul's Chapel at Trinity Church, an Episcopal parish church in the Diocese of New York. Alexander Hamilton worshiped here, as did John Jay. Following his 1787 inauguration, George Washington attended a service of thanksgiving here. St. Paul's Chapel is the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City.

It remains an active, thriving church to this day. It is currently led by the Rev. Jim Cooper, seventeenth rector of the parish of Trinity Church.

Being Saved

I had the blessing of sharing with a group of friends yesterday my salvation testimony. It was the first time I'd put my testimony in quite those terms.

You see, for much of my life, I've had a fairly limited view of salvation--mine included. That is, I related salvation only to the moment when a soul repents, receives forgiveness of sins, and by the power of the Holy Spirit receives new life and the indwelling of the Spirit. And that's a reality in my life, for which I am unspeakably grateful.

But it's not my whole salvation story.

Sometime around the age of five (I'm guessing), I knelt at an altar in Mrs. Reed's children's church service on the second floor of The Salvation Army Citadel Corps on Eighth Street in Cincinnati, and received forgiveness for my wicked past, and salvation from sin and death and hell in the future. And so began my salvation.

Nine or so years later, God saved me from halfheartedness. Sometime during the Summer of 1972, I went forward and knelt at another Salvation Army altar at Camp Mihaska in Bourbon, Missouri (strangely enough). My mother was dying, and I knew it. I needed more of God, and I knew it. With the help of Lt. Curley, I made a more complete surrender of myself and my life that day. Truly believing that God was all I had, I gave him all of me, to the extent I knew to give.

Less than two years later (I can't believe it was only two years, because the intervening time felt like forever to me), God saved me from singleness. Now, don't jump all over me, please. I am not saying that singleness is a curse, or that it is something everyone needs saved from. But I did. When the lovely Robin came into my life (when we were both sixteen), God saved me from a future of making decisions alone, facing trials alone, carrying burdens alone, making plans alone, living life alone.

Sometime in the next two years, God saved me again, this time from a career. Instead, he gave me a purpose, a calling, and a ministry. Soon after, the lovely Robin and I entered ministry training with The Salvation Army, and have been in ministry of one kind or another for more than thirty years since.

Roughly twelve years ago, God saved me from a concern for my reputation. I know that "a good name is more desirable than great riches" (Proverbs 22:1) and "better than fine perfume" (Ecclesiastes 7:1), but I had to give that up, and leave it in God's hands.

Eleven years ago or so, God saved me from prayerlessness. Not that I had never learned to pray. Not that I had not worked hard at it before. But sometime in 2000, I think, God worked a miracle in my prayer life that has not ceased since.

And God is still saving me. As I told my friends yesterday, I think he is saving me from prosperity. He is saving me from self-reliance (though THOSE roots go deeper than most in my life). From stress, most of it self-generated and self-imposed. And more. And there is lots much more salvation yet to come in my life, including "the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:5, NIV).

And every step of the way, I am learning to work out my salvation, "reverent and sensitive before God," who works in me to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:12-13, The Message and NIV).

I Should Have Recorded an Album Back in the Day

I wish someone had told me, years ago, that there was a market for reverends in rhythm.

Finding Our Way Again

I loved Brian McLaren's Finding Our Way Again (The Return of the Ancient Practices).

I know McLaren has his detractors in the church, but I enjoy and appreciate his writing and many of his perspectives. And, though I found his efforts to include Islam along with Judaism and Christianity in his depictions and prescriptions for spirituality more distracting than constructive, I nonetheless exulted in this brother's way of both speaking beautiful things that I have experienced and enticing me further, into deeper and broader experience.

Finding Our Way Again is a delightful exploration of the ancient spiritual practices of fixed-hour prayer, fasting, the sacred meal, Sabbath, tithing, and pilgrimage. It weaves those practices into the ancient way of Katharsis (Via Purgativa), Fotosis (Via Illuminativa), and Theosis (Via Unitiva). And it does so in a way that does not place a burden on the reader--adding more things to our "to do" lists--but encourages a new and liberating perspective.

Some of the portions I tabbed to remember and refer to in the future:
(quoting Dr. Peter Senge: "Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief. So I would want to get Christian ministers thinking about how to rediscover their own faith as a way of life, because that's what people are searching for today. That's what people need" (p. 3).

Spiritual practices are actions...[that] help us become someone weighty, someone worthy of a name and reputation....They're about surviving your twenties or forties or eighties and not becoming a jerk in the process" (p. 14).

This paradox--that skill and practice and experience are necessary conditions, but not sufficient conditions--is a paradox known well to people in the contemplative spiritual tradition, just as it is to musicians, artists, teachers, preachers, comedians, dancers, and anyone involved in work that can be labeled "inspired" or "uninspired" (p. 94).

Contemplative practices, then, are means by which we become prepared for grace to surprise us (p. 95).

I often ask people what question would come to mind if God sent them the following message: I will give you a message of great importance sometime during a sermon in the next three years. They always reply with this question: "Which Sunday?" After all, they don't want to miss the big week. About this time, they always laugh, because they anticipate the follow-up question I've got coming down the chute: what if the only way you'll be prepared to hear that message when it comes is by practicing attentiveness for the next 155 Sundays? (p. 107).

The purpose of the ancient way and the ancient practices is not to make us more religious. It is to make us more alive. Alive to God. Alive to our spouses, parents, children, neighbors, strangers, and yes, even our enemies. Alive to the house wren speeding to her nest with another caterpillar to feed her demanding brood. Alive to the cricket singing outside our back doors. Alive to the cloud that is sailing over you right now. Alive to the spin of our planet--real, but completely undetectable to us. Alive to chemistry and physics and philosophy and economics and even politics. Alive to open books and folded sheets, a sleeping dog, migrating geese, frying eggs, everything (pp. 182-183).

Learning something by heart can save you when your heart is broken so nothing can come from it except tears, and spontaneity is simply another burden on an already overburdened soul (pp. 197-198).

When the pilot of your plane dies of a heart attack, it's too late for you to go into the cockpit and figure out how to fly. When the biopsy comes back positive (which is negative)'s too late to draw on reserves of strength and courage and love that you've never created. The ancient way is about building up those reserves when they're not needed so they're available when they are (pp. 198-199).
Finding Our Way Again, and the Ancient Practices Series of books it introduces, is well conceived and well written. My sincere hope is that it will be well read and well well.

(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”)

Pastoral Naiveté

The phrase just occurred to me yesterday, and I knew immediately that I have been guilty of--and my ministry hampered by--pastoral naiveté. It's a phrase most commonly used, I think, in reference to poetry. But I use it to refer to my unbiblical tendency to believe the best about people and to expect the best from them.

I know that the human heart is "deceitful above all things, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV), but despite my head knowledge of human fallenness, I tend to operate from a default position that expects people will be truthful, that friends--and brothers and sisters in Christ, especially--will be gracious and kind, faithful and loyal, not mean, petty, vindictive, fickle, back-biting, lying, and proud. I tend to think that, heck yeah, people will treat me fairly, and will not turn on me and my family (and faith family) after years of praying for them and with them, counseling them, sacrificing for them, supporting them, and seeking good things for them.

And, to be fair, some faithful souls distinguish themselves by actually rewarding my naive faith. But that's just it: they distinguish themselves, because they are the exceptions. I have been utterly and repeatedly shocked at people--and WHICH people--who have lashed out at me, who have lied about me and/or others, turned their backs not only on me but on my whole family, whom I thought they loved and valued! Literally the LAST people I would have suspected. But that's because I don't suspect ANYONE of being capable of such behavior, certainly not those I consider friends, colaborers, brothers and sisters.

And therein lies the source of my naiveté damaging naiveté. I don't want to become cynical or jaded, by any means. But if as a pastor I had done better in years past at remembering that hurting people hurt people--and we are all hurting--I think I might be a better pastor, a wiser leader. I would have spared myself a TON of hurt and heartache and, more importantly, might have spared the flock a lot of harm.

The good shepherd, like the Good Shepherd, is neither naive nor jaded...but is like him of whom it was said, "Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men....he knew what was in a man" (John 2:24-25, NIV).

God, forgive my naiveté, and the harm it has done your church. Amen.

The Beginning of the End for a Church

Tony Morgan, who was so kind to feature my guest post Saturday on his blog, posted this yesterday:
This excerpt from Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s recent book Rework keeps reverberating in my mind today:
“When you stick with your current customers come hell or high water, you wind up cutting yourself off from new ones. Your product or service becomes so tailored to your current customers that it stops appealing to fresh blood. And that’s how your company starts to die.”
That’s consistent with one of the key attributes of churches in decline that we talked about a few months ago. When churches become inward focused and start making decisions about ministry to keep people rather than reach people, they have also started to die.

Jesus said it this way:
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? (Luke 15:4, NLT)
Why do you think some churches slip into the mode where they’re so focused on keeping people that they neglect trying to reach people who are outside the faith? Join the conversation by sharing your comment.
I can only say, "exactly right." I think it happens for a variety of reasons. We hate to lose people. Nobody likes it when somebody's unhappy in a church. The Enemy likes it just fine when we de-prioritize those who haven't yet exoerienced the love of God in Christ. And more. Some good reasons, some bad. But I agree that it's the beginning of the end for a church. I've seen it over and over again.

Church of the Week: College Hill Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati

College Hill Presbyterian Church in (you guessed it) College Hill in Cincinnati is an active church with a venerable history.

William Cary, a New England Presbyterian, moved to the area in the mid-nineteenth century and soon established the Farmer’s College (1847) and the Ohio Female College (1849), which prompted the village to change its name from Pleasant Hill to College Hill.

Then, on the 23rd of April, 1853, "thirty-three persons resolved and covenanted to organize and to walk according to the rules and ordinances of the Presbyterian Church and adopted the name of First Presbyterian Church of College Hill.”

The colleges both folded during the Civil War years, but the church remained. The current edifice was completed in 1953, and has been added to several times over the years.

The lovely Robin and I have been here many times, for Sunday worship, for weddings, and for other events. It is located on Hamilton Avenue, just south of North Bend Rd., in College Hill.

I'm a Guest Blogger

Check out my guest post today on Tony Morgan's excellent blog!

Tony is the author of Killing Cockroaches and Pastor of Ministries at West Ridge Church near Atlanta.

Why I Keep a Prayer Journal

I have kept a prayer journal for years now. I started by promising myself to journal at least one prayer a day, even if it was only a line or two, and since then I've learned many times over the value of a prayer journal.

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

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

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

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

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

There are many other benefits to keeping a prayer journal, but these top the list for me, I think. What about you? Do you keep a prayer journal? If so, why? What does it do for you?

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

Who is Your Leadership Model?

Not long ago, I took a course in leadership, and in the course of that course (of course) the instructor asked who my Biblical model of leadership was.

I didn't have one.

I'd never thought about it.

He urged me to make it a matter of thought, prayer, and study, so I did, eventually adopting David, the shepherd king of Israel, as my conscious, purposeful Biblical leadership model (of course, Jesus is my ultimate model, but since he never made a leadership mistake that I can see, and I have made millions of them, I thought I'd profit from a study of someone who shared at least a little of my propensity for boneheadedness).

It has been a very helpful exercise for me. I know David seems like the way-too-obvious choice, and part of me was tempted to make a selection that would seem more unique and make me feel more clever. But I resisted that impulse. There is just too much material, too many helpful insights into leadership throughout David's life to ignore.

Since that time, I've enjoyed and benefitted from David's example in many ways. Consider:

Even while he was exiled from the palace of King Saul, and on the run for his life, David refused to exalt himself, and even repented of cutting the hem off Saul's garment when the king was in a vulnerable position. He somehow managed to submit to the leadership of another, while that "another" was acting sinfully and insanely! Wow, that's humility.

When other, better-equipped and more experienced me quailed at the threat posed by the warrior Goliath, David stepped to the front. Alone.

When the so-called leaders of the nation let David take on Goliath, the shepherd boy declined the armor of King Saul and the conventional weaponry others would have relied on. He knew what his strengths were. He knew what he could do. He knew he needed God, but he also knew that God could use his strengths as much as anyone else's, if he trusted in God. As a warrior and as a leader, he seems to have been comfortable in his own skin. I like that. I think it's crucial for a leader.

The guy shed his royal robes and danced before the ark of God with wild abandon. He had his priorities right, and he refused to sacrifice "the joy of the Lord" to preserve his own "dignity."

A Shepherd's Heart
Not only was he an ACTUAL shepherd before becoming famous, Asaph said that David "shepherded" Israel. He was not primarily a manager or supervisor or commander. He was primarily a shepherd. That was a fundamental characteristic of his leadership: caring, protecting, feeding, providing, etc.

David's kindness to Mephibosheth, for Jonathan's sake, and his mercy toward Shimei, who cursed David at one of the lowest points of his life, shows David to have been a uniquely merciful leader. Though his tendency toward mercy may have backfired in his own family, he is nonetheless an example of a leader who repeatedly chose mercy over judgment.

David's interaction with Abigail shows that he was not only able to recognize wisdom in others, but to exercise it himself.

Asaph also described David as having "integrity of heart." Though he lapsed into spiritual blindness and committed adultery with Bathsheba, when Nathan confronted him he didn't deny or dissemble; he repented. Fully. Since I can't expect to be a leader who never sins or makes a mistake, I aspire to be a leader who is quick to repent and admit his wrong.

Perhaps recalling not only his youth as a shepherd but also his triumph over Goliath, Asaph sang of David leading Israel with "skillful hands." He listened to counsel. He assembled a great team. He made tough decisions. He not only had the passion for leadership, but the skill as well.

Though I can certainly bicker with the bitterness evident in David's charge to Solomon (urging him to settle accounts with Shimei and Joab), his reign and his succession proved him to be a master planner, one who not only put out today's fires but planned ahead, thinking of tomorrow's challenges.

These are not all the leadership examples that David's life provides. But they are a start. They are an illustration of the rich material that is there to mine...and to David's example.

I'm grateful for the challenge that was issued to me to choose a Biblical model of leadership. It has been helpful and encouraging in many ways.

So what about you? Who is YOUR leadership model?

Seize the Day

Like nearly everyone else these days, I've been thinking--and praying--a lot about (and for) Egypt lately. LIke many, I pray for the best while fearing the worst, or something like it, in Egypt's future.

In addition to my prayers and concerns, however, is a healthy dose of gratitude, because a year ago I was in Egypt with the lovely Robin. We had long wanted to visit the land of the Pharaohs--and the land of the Biblical Joseph and Moses. So, though at the time we weren't at all sure that we should take the time (out of busy, stressful schedules) and the expense (out of a tight, uncertain budget), we decided to spend seven days in Egypt after a ten-day tour of Jordan and Israel (trips you can read all about at my Hither & Yon blog).

I'm so glad we did. And so grateful.

There's no way to know when the next chance to go might have been. It's possible that future travel to Egypt may someday be more opportune than when we went. But I don't have to wonder or worry about that. Because we grabbed the opportunity when we had it.

It makes me hope, prayerfully, that I will likewise "seize the day" today, tomorrow, or this month or this year. Whether it's a chance to travel...or to speak the truth in love. Whether it's a business opportunity...or a family moment. There is no time like the squeeze the last drop out of each new day. As Charles Wesley wrote, and I have often (too glibly) sung,
A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master's will!

Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!

Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall for ever die.

Our Iceberg Is Melting

I read John Kotter's book, Leading Change, a couple years ago. At the time, I recognized it as really valuable information, but I was overwhelmed both by the book and apart from it. I remember thinking, "Yeah, this is good stuff...but who has time for it?"

There was no doubt that Kotter knew what he was talking about. He is the leadership and change guru at Harvard Business School. A pioneer. Internationally respected. Even revered.

Still, it wasn't until reading his fable, Our Iceberg Is Melting (Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions), coauthored with Holger Rathgeber, that I came to fully appreciate his genius. In this book, he relates the same eight-stage process for successful change as in Leading Change, but in a more accessible and memorable way (I would tell you what those are, but you really should just read the book; it's short).

Our Iceberg Is Melting is one of those cute little leadership parables, like Who Moved My Cheese? (by Spencer Johnson, M.D., who wrote the foreword for this book). But Kotter's and Rathgeber's Iceberg may be the best of the lot.

Predictably enough, Our Iceberg Is Melting tells the story of a community of penguins. One day, a curious penguin named Fred discovers that the iceberg appears to be melting. He tries to inform the appropriate authorities, and thus begins this fable on leading change. As I read, it all sounded so familiar. I recognized the characters. I even recalled occasions where I had done well and areas where I'd done poorly in past attempts at leading change.

I think it's a book every leader should read. It can be read in a single evening, but it can pay off for an entire lifetime.

Trinity Church, Bellingshausen Station, Antarctica

This may be the coldest church in the world.

While the usual practice here on the Desperate Pastor blog is to feature only churches I have personally visited (with one or two exceptions, I think, in the year-and-a-half this feature has run so far), this one is certainly exceptional. It is Trinity Church, a small Russian Orthodox church on King George Island near Russian Bellingshausen Station in Antarctica. It is the southernmost Eastern Orthodox church in the world. Here's where it is located on the map:

The ambitious project to establish a permanent church on Antarctica originated in the 1990s. A charity named Temple for Antarctica was approved by Patriarch Alexius II and received donations from across Russia.

The church is a fifty-foot-high wooden structure built in traditional Russian style. It can accommodate up to 30 worshipers. It was consecrated on February 15, 2004, by Theognost, the Bishop of Sergiyev Posad and the Namestnik (abbot) of Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra, who visited Antarctica for this occasion, along with a number of other clerics, pilgrims, and sponsors.

The church is manned year-round by one or two Orthodox priests, who volunteer for the Antarctic assignment. They are rotated annually.

Among the priests' tasks are praying for the souls of the 64 Russian people who have died in Antarctic expeditions and serving the spiritual needs of the staff of Bellingshausen Station and other nearby stations. Besides Russian polar researchers, the church is often visited by their colleagues from the nearby Chilean, Polish, Korean, and other research stations, as well as by tourists. For the benefit of Latin American visitors, some church services are conducted in Spanish.

On occasions, the priest baptizes new adherents of Christianity in the Southern Ocean (I've done some cold baptisms, but probably not THAT cold!). On 29 January, 2007, the priest of the church celebrated what was likely the first ever church wedding in Antarctica (a staff member of a Chilean Antarctic base, who had joined the Orthodox Church soon after the opening of the Antarctic temple, and his Russian wife). When not busy with church work, priests help out with the general maintenance of the Bellingshausen station.

Balancing Ministry and Family

It's one of the most frequent questions I field, and it's always asked so sincerely, even desperately: "How do you balance ministry and family?"

My answer: I don't.

In fact, I think the very question reveals the problem. There IS no balance. It is NOT an either/or issue. There's nothing to balance. And thinking that there is is a problem in and of itself.

I say to young men and women considering or embarking upon ministry, "Your family IS your ministry. Your marriage, your children--that's where your ministry BEGINS and ENDS. Never allow yourself to think that your family is somehow in conflict or competition with your ministry. If you do, the devil will play you like a fiddle, and you may very well lose both in the end."

What is your ministry? To preach? Then let your home be your primary pulpit.

To love the church, and to love lost souls? Then practice and perform those offices at home more than anywhere.

Is it to teach? Then let your children be your first and best disciples.

Is it to care and show compassion? Then do it first and foremost for your spouse and children.

Is it to pray? Then spend yourself in the prayer closet FOR your family and WITH your family.

Is it to facilitate the gifts of others? To train others for ministry? To build a community of faith? Then do it first for your household, and then (and only then) for the household of faith.

There is no place for balance between family and ministry. If you neglect your family for the church, then you are an example to neither. If you lose one, you lose the other. If you are not taking care of your family, you have no business leading the church (1 Timothy 3:4-5, 12).

So don't balance anything here. Instead, make your marriage and family the first recipients of the grace of God that is in you, and the calling with which he has called you.

A Walk for Calleigh

The Apostle John once wrote, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 1:4, NIV).

I not only second that emotion, but I am also privileged to participate with my wife and children in a 5K walk to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. GREAT STRIDES is the CF Foundation's largest and most successful national fundraising event, and the Hamilton GREAT STRIDES walk will take place June 4 this year at Joyce Park in Hamilton.

As many of you know, my granddaughter Calleigh was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis within a few weeks of her birth, launching our family into a whirlwind of discovery about this genetic disease. Because CF hampers her digestion, she has to take synthetic enzymes with every meal or snack. Because CF makes her prone to lung disease, her parents (and sometimes grandparents) do breathing and vest treatments twice a day with her in order to keep her lungs working fully. With the help of many, she is today as beautiful, charming, and healthy a little girl as you will ever meet. And we have every prayerful hope that the CF Foundation's efforts will someday soon result in even more promise of health and life for many years to come for her.

Please help me meet my fundraising goal of $1,000.00 by sponsoring me. Your generous gift will be used efficiently and effectively, as nearly 90 cents of every dollar of revenue raised is available for investment in vital CF programs to support research, care and education.

Making a donation is easy and secure! Just click the "Click to Donate" button on this page to go to make a donation that will be credited to my team (you can also click here to go to my GREAT STRIDES page, where you can learn more, join my team, make a donation, and leave a prayer or comment with your donation to express your support). ANY support you can give will be deeply appreciated.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a devastating genetic disease that affects tens of thousands of children and young adults in the United States. Research and care supported by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is making a huge difference in extending the quality of life for those with CF. However, we continue to lose precious lives to CF every day. That's why your help is needed now more than ever to ensure that a cure is found sooner - rather than later. To learn more about CF and the CF Foundation, visit

Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those with CF! Thank you for supporting the mission of the CF Foundation and GREAT STRIDES!

Self-Inflicted Wounds

This is short, but it's good. I have a number of dear friends I wish would listen to and heed these words:

Good for the Soul

The news is all over the interwebs today about the new iPhone app that walks a Catholic through multiple screens of self-examination and prepares them (even shows the appropriate phrasing) for the sacrament of confession (the link above will take you to a fairly thorough review of the app, which costs $1.99).

Got me thinking. There are multiple other iPhone apps I could use that would greatly help my spiritual life. I already use the Divine Hours Pocket Edition (in Kindle) when I'm traveling. I jot down prayer requests in Notes. But those represent just the tip of the iceberg.

I need an app that will set off a deafening alarm when temptation approaches, whether I'm driving too close to a donut shop or watching TV when a Victoria's Secret commercial comes on.

I need an app that will do my daily Bible reading for me. Maybe while I'm sleeping.

I need an app that will translate "Christianese" into what people really mean. You know, like the person who says, "Bless your heart," but really means, "You're an idiot."

I need an app that will forgive people FOR me. So I don't have to.

I need an app that will memorize Scripture for me. That would be awesome.

There are a lot more that would be handy to have. But just those would make it possible, I think, for me to be an AMAZING Christian. In fact, come to think of it, I blame Steve Jobs that I'm not a better follower of Jesus than I am. COME ON, Steve, get a move on!

One Thousand Gifts

Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts (A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are) is a gorgeous book.

It is the author's chronicle of how her life changed when a friend invites her to begin a practice of writing the things she is grateful for in a journal. Every day. Until she has given thanks for a thousand gifts. She takes up the challenge...and discovers the relationship between thanks and joy. Between thanks and humility. Between thanks and communion. And more.

Voskamp writes beautifully, vividly, even poetically. Even the terse phrases from her journal, like "54. Moonlight on pillows" and "904. First frost's crunch," are artfully phrased. And the reader experiences, along with her, the growing awareness of God "who plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his."

This is a book I can wish I had written, and one I hope everyone I know will read. I agree with one early reviewer who regretted that the book's cover art makes it look too much like a book for women. It is much more than that, and will be a rewarding read for women AND men, of all ages, and all walks of life.

Some of the lines from the book I marked, and want to remember and return to often:
We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks.

A lifetime of sermons on "thanks in all things" and the shelves sagging with books on these things and I testify: life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time.

The fast have spiritually slow hearts.

The art of deep seeing makes gratitude possible. And it is the art of gratitude that makes joy possible. Isn't joy the art of God?

[On Jacob wrestling with God] There's no seeing God face-to-face without first the ripping. Tear the thigh to open the eye.

Worry is the facade of taking action when prayer really is.

Can God be counted on? Count blessings and find out how many of his bridges have already held.
And those are just a few of the many grace notes in this book, a book that charts the fulfillment of the author's wish, early on:
I just want time to do my one life well.

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.”

Three Reasons Your Church Will Fail

Bill Reichart, who writes at the heretolead blog, posted these three reasons your church will fail:
1. Launching too many ministries. Most ministries begin with good intentions, trying to meet a legitimate, specialized need. Over time, these ministries become expensive and volunteer intensive. All the while, their effectiveness dwindles. When launching new ministries, you must consider sustainability. What will this ministry look like at five times it’s size. It may not cost much now, but what about later? In my experience, new churches try to be all things to all people, and in offering so many ministries, they ensure that none of them are quality. It’s better to do a few things well than offer a bunch of programs that scratch the surface.

2. Being sidetracked by difficult people. New churches attract some great people, but they are also a breeding ground for difficult people. Talking a good talk, these people often come in with baggage that takes your church off mission. Before long, you’re spending a great deal of time justifying what you do to people who are slightly misaligned. Instead of reaching people, you’re coddling people. I’m talking about the volunteers who just can’t submit to leadership, the finance team member who always seems to have a problem with spending money on outreach, or the former deacon who wants your church to be a little more like his last church. In five years, I’ve learned that I can’t justify what we’re about to some people.

3. Working in it, not on it. In new churches especially, the work comes at a fast a furious pace. You had months to plan your first service, but only six days to plan the next. You’re starting things, launching things, meeting with people, and operating week-to-week. While some of this is necessary, if you never back up to evaluate and create systems, then you’re going to stay stuck in the hamster wheel of ministry. New churches must work on the organization, create processes, and develop healthy systems. We’ve got to stop reacting to this week’s problem and implement a long-term strategy. For what it’s worth, this is why I’m investing a ton of time into launching six core resources that will jump start or refresh healthy systems in your church.

These are just three of the issues young churches (and established churches, for that matter) will face. Do you agree? What would you add to the list?
I gotta admit, I've seen each of these at work in my own ministry with Cobblestone these last eleven years. He's right. So...what do you think? Agree, disagree? Add, subtract?

Unexpected Church, Luxor, Egypt

With the heartbreaking and disconcerting turmoil going on in Egypt (please join me in praying for them), I thought I'd make this week's church of the week an unexpected--and quite unusual--church in that amazing and memorable country.

The lovely Robin and I were in Luxor, Egypt, around this time last year, and while visiting the magnificent ruins of Egyptian civilization there, we came to learn that we were also, at one point, visiting the site of an ancient Christian church.

In the temple's hypostyle hall (below) can be seen the visual evidence of the fourth-century Christian church on the walls and on six columns. The remains of the apse of that church are still discernible today, and the remains of another Coptic church can be seen to the west.

The colorful frieze of Christian saints is remarkably preserved after 1,700 years! There, amid the pagan idols of ancient Egypt, stands a witness still today of a band of Christ-followers who once worshiped in that place. It was a short but holy moment in our visit to Luxor.

Rejected for the Super Bowl, Not for the Desperate Pastor Blog

A 21st Century Church Epidemic

Anyone who has been in ministry for any length of time will encounter many different human foibles and failings. We're all broken. We're all imperfect. We're all at various stages of figuring out how to become ourselves, let alone the loftier task of becoming like Jesus Christ.

Over the years, I've prayed with and for people struggling with addictions, suicidal tendencies, depression, sexual sin, you name it. But there is one dysfunction that I've become increasingly aware of, that people generally don't talk about: passive-aggressive behavior in the church.

Passive aggressive behavior is a mechanism for handling hostility or anger in an indirect way, often in an underhanded or devious way that is hard for others to recognize, let alone deal with. Sometimes the passive-aggressive is aware of what he or she is doing, and other times not.

In the church, people typically want to appear "nice," cooperative, loving, etc., because we all know that's how "good Christians" act...right? So a passive-aggressive strategy is a way to lash out or get even while still maintaining "plausible deniability." A skilled passive-aggressive person is slippery, hard to pin down, quick with excuses, justifications, or rationalizations for his or her behavior.

Some common examples of passive- aggressive behavior:
* Leaving out important information which gives the person I'm talking to the wrong impression about whoever I'm angry with.

* Expressing "concern" and spreading rumors about someone, without going directly to that someone ("I'm just concerned, that's all.") Gossip is a big gun in the passive-aggressive's arsenal.

* Exaggerating a person's faults to others while maintaining an attitude of "sweetness" toward that person.

* Playing dumb or inadequate to frustrate someone or gain advantage. .

* Making offhand or under-the-breath comments about someone that are intended to express displeasure...but never directly.

* "Forgetting" things they have said, promises they've made, assignments given, etc., in all "innocence." "I don't remember saying (or doing) that," is a typical remark, intended to avoid all responsibility for past actions.
Dealing with passive-aggressive behavior is extremely challenging. The only way I know of to do it is to directly and repeatedly (and calmly and kindly) confront a person displaying such behavior. Be prepared for a show of innocence, hurt, or outrage, but simply communicate clearly and effectively about behavior you find objectionable and unacceptable. Do not blame or shame, but simply let the other person know in what way their behavior is unacceptable.

It will be difficult. And it may be fruitless. But Jesus gives us no alternative. In Matthew 5 and Matthew 18, Jesus endorses direct communication (not passive-aggressive behavior) as the way to reconciliation whenever conflict arises. He says, in Matthew 18,
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector" (Matthew 18:15-17, NIV).
And in Matthew 5, he says,
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5: 23-24, NIV).
In other words, to the passive-aggressive, Jesus says, "Stop! Deal directly with people. Go TO anyone you have a problem with...or anyone who has a problem with you." And to the passive-aggressive's victim, Jesus says, "Stop! Deal directly with people. Go TO anyone you have a problem with...or anyone who has a problem with you."

In this area as in many others, if I am a follower of Jesus, I must do what he says...or I should not call myself his follower. Though it may be difficult, and it may be a long, tough slog, it is the way of Jesus. And that means, one way or the other, it is the best way.

First Things First

Here are some eminently wise words by Dr. Ray Ortlund, from his blog:
If we go to church just to be with one another, one another is all we will get. And it isn’t enough. Eventually, our deepest unmet needs will turn to anger at one another. Putting community first destroys community. We must put Christ himself first and keep him first and treat him as first and come to him first and again and again. He can heal as no other can. Can, and will. If we come.

In Case You've Been Wondering, Too

This Google search screenshot is awesome. But it doesn't answer the question.

(shamelessly swiped from the Jesus Needs New PR blog)

Get the Word Out

One of the things we do pretty well at Cobblestone, despite being located in a town with a small, weekly newspaper and no local radio or TV stations, is get out news about what's happening via the use of press releases. The CopyBlogger blog has some good counsel about press releases that every church should follow:

Think the press release is dead in the age of social media?

No way. A powerful press release can tell a story, report news, or help a cause. Smart online writers know that a great press release can take your message to new channels and reach thousands or even millions of new readers. And a terrific press release has great SEO benefits as well.

Writing a press release takes time, research and some skill. And writing a killer press release, which catapults visibility of the message and drives results, requires adding a few more ingredients to the mix.

To get the results you want, follow these six steps:

1. Craft a hook

If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head, you know what a great hook is. It’s that chorus or beat that you just can’t shake.

Just like in pop music, a great hook is key to success in writing a killer press release.

To find your hook, spend time before you start writing your release researching the press releases and blog posts of industry competitors, gathering information about which releases and posts have received significant coverage. Use these successes as a guideline for your own release, with an eye toward what types of content your audience is reacting to and/or sharing.

Great hooks pull us into a remarkable story. They engage our curiosity and make us crazy to find out more.

Remember the primary audience for a press release — a journalist. Reduce the basics of your message down to one sentence that answers the 5W’s of reporting – who, what, when, where and why — and find that story hook that will help them write a story their readers won’t forget.

2. Add a great headline

If you’re a Copyblogger reader, you already know the importance of a compelling headline.

You only have a few seconds to grab a reader’s attention, so be sure to craft a headline with the following elements:

  • Lead with a concept, not your brand name — your audience (both readers and reporters) probably don’t care about your brand or company name, but they do care about finding a good story. Lead with a compelling concept to draw them in
  • Be creative — don’t confine yourself to the headlines you see in other press releases. Use all your Copyblogger-inspired skills to create a headline that stands out.
  • Test — test your headlines just like you would any other content. Find the headline that grabs attention and makes the reader want to learn more. You can repurpose a headline that’s worked particularly well for you in blog content or a special report, for example.

3. Avoid jargon

When writing killer press releases remember to minimize technical or industry jargon. Although relevant for certain professionals or groups, jargon may confuse your audience and turn them off to your message.

To engage new readers who may not be as skilled in industry language, write for a broader audience and increase the likelihood the content is shared. Keep it simple, and don’t be afraid to offer explanatory resources if some industry or brand-specific names or words are needed.

4. Provide resources

We don’t live in a one-dimensional world, and your press release shouldn’t look one-dimensional either. Provide added value to your killer press release by including photos, videos, links to source material and any other in-depth resources, giving your readers the assets they need to fully report the news you’re providing them.

A complete “package” of supporting resources makes your story that much more appealing to a reporter looking for something great to cover.

Remember, we live in a digital world, so be sure these resources are web-ready and in the correct formats for web publication. The easiest way to do this is to use accessible cloud-based services like YouTube, Flickr and others that allow visitors to download content. 

The easier you make it for a reporter or editor to publish your story, the more likely they are to pick up on your message.

5. Proofread

Errors in grammar and spelling can kill your credibility and take away from your overall message.

Write your release in word processing document instead of a text file or online submission form. When you’ve got it drafted, print it out and proofread your writing. Correct and rewrite, then proofread again.

Investing additional time before submission is what separates a professional press release from a clumsy, amateurish effort.

6. Share your news

A good news release distribution service will syndicate your news on relevant publisher sites, and it will also attract readers through search (be sure to be strategic about keywords, as with any other kind of content marketing).

And if you’ve done the legwork to build relationships with influencers in your space, don’t shy from sharing your news release by emailing a link or posting a link to your social media outposts.

Keep your audience in mind when creating your message and stick to these 6 tips to help craft your press release. When you put the thought and time into creating a truly killer press release, you’ll find it can drive traffic to your business and help promote your message.

About the Author: Jiyan Wei is the director of Product Management for PRWeb and a frequent speaker at marketing, PR and SEO events including MarketingProfs, NewComm Forum, SMX and PubCon. For more resources to help you craft a killer press release, read Jiyan’s posts and more on the PRWeb blog.