What Does God Say About Money?

Every preacher--nay, every church-goer--has read or heard some reference to the frequency with which God's Word addresses the subject of money, right? Right.

But when you see 250 Bible verses about money, sorted by category (budgeting, business, debt, etc.), in one list, it is well nigh overwhelming.

That's what one of my favorite websites, Christian Personal Finance does in this post, entitled "250 Bible Verses About Money." Check it out. And while you're at it, consider maybe doing what the Bible says. It's worth a try.

Name That Church

I came across this wonderful post at the Ministry Best Practices site. It reminds me of the "Greater Grace Baptist Church" just down the street from the "Grace Baptist Church." Enjoy:
A couple years ago, as a pastor, my church went through a renaming period alongside of a re-branding. And during that time we struggled with settling on a new name...but it ain't nothing like the names that these churches are stuck with.

Here is a list posted by Neil Cole on actual church names with some of his commentary:
  • Accident Baptist Church is obviously not Calvinist.
  • First Church of the Last Chance World on Fire Revival and Military Academy (in Dade City FL). These folks have the first and last word on just about any subject. I don’t even want to ask what sort of military they are training.
  • Greater Second Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN, stands in contrast, I guess, to the not so great second Baptist church around the corner?
  • For those who do not want to commit all the way, you can go to the Halfway Baptist Church. On the other hand, Hell Hole Swamp Baptist Church in South Carolina is not a seeker sensitive church by any stretch of the imagination. You have to be really committed to attend this church; none of those “Halfway Baptists” will be found here. Of course everyone is welcome at Faith Free Lutheran. Like “sugar free” this is a church that contains no calories, convictions…or miracles.
  • Little Hope Baptist Church sounds a tad better than another church called No Hope United Methodist Church. Kind of makes you sad just saying it.
  • My personal favorite church name: Original Church of God, Number 2. I really can’t think of anything to add that could possibly be funnier than the name itself…except for perhaps number 3.
  • Boring Seventh Day Adventist Church is another one of those “truth in advertising” names, but this church goes the extra mile because the name of their pastor is Elder Dull. Perhaps there are more exciting ways to spend your Saturday?
  • Harmony Baptist Church in East Texas is a name that doesn't sound so bad. The funny thing is that it is only a half-mile away from Harmony Baptist Church #2. I guess they are not so harmonious after all.
  • Battle Ground Baptist Church… aren't they all?
  • Waterproof Baptist Church in Louisiana begs the question: does the baptism count if you’re water repellent?
  • Country Club Christian Church is in Kansas City, but you’re actually likely to find some of these in every city. This may be the fastest growing model of church in America.
  • James Bond United Community Church in Toronto, is of course “shaken, not stirred.” St. Martini Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, WI, is also shaken, and not stirred and comes with an olive or a twist of lemon if you prefer. Of course the Lutherans can actually drink a Martini so I guess it isn't such a stretch to name your church after one, or is it.
  • When Paul spoke of being all things to all people I doubt that he had this in mind: First United Separated Baptist Church. This church in Indiana needs to decide which it is, united or separated?
  • Hell For Certain is a church in Kentucky but for some reason they do not have too many visitors, no one wants to go there. Does their advertisement in the yellow pages read: Go to Hell For Certain, Sunday at 10 AM? There is also Hell Seventh Day Adventist Church, which is in Hell, MI. You could say: people are dying to go there!
  • Lover's Lane Episcopal Church is a very open church, but watch out if someone wants to show you the submarine races in the baptismal pool…their Episcopal, they sprinkle.

Leadership Lessons from Four Churches

I have been unspeakably honored and blessed to pastor four churches in my short (don't laugh) lifetime. Along the way, I've learned a few--very few--things. Each church taught me a lot, immeasurably more than I taught them. So I thought I'd take a few moments to reflect on the main leadership lesson I learned in each of those churches.

Lesson #1 (Lancaster, Ohio): YOU'RE NOT ALONE

The lovely Robin and I had been corps officers (pastors) of the Lancaster Ohio Corps for no more than a week or two when heavy rains came and the entire lower level of the corps building stood in three or four feet of water. Not quite the welcome we had anticipated. But in the course of wading, bailing, praying, pumping, airing out, cleaning out, hauling, and more, advisory board member Mike Riley dropped in to the office...and saw me scrubbing down walls or something. Alone. He immediately got on the phone, marshaled forces, and had the place filled with volunteers (some of them business owners and city officials) in no time. I was having trouble expressing my gratitude, when Mike fixed a sharp gaze on me: and said, "You are not alone. Never forget that." I still do from time to time, but the lesson has stuck with me.

Lesson #2 (Cincinnati, Ohio): ACTIVITY ≠ ACCOMPLISHMENT

The lovely Robin and I nearly killed ourselves as the corps officers (pastors) of the (then) Cincinnati Temple Corps in Finneytown, a suburb of Cincinnati (a pattern that has repeated itself many times in our lives and ministries). We worked hard, added numerous programs and activities, and grew the church until the place was packed on Sundays and the calendar was packed throughout the week, with ministry happening Sunday through Saturday in one way or another. There was so much going on, and we were in the thick of it all. But looking back, I think those four years taught me that activity ≠ accomplishment. If I had it to do over again, I would have settled for less motion and strived for more direction.

Lesson #3 (Youngstown, Ohio): LET LEADERS LEAD

We were blessed at Youngstown to work with some of the finest leaders on the face of the earth. We learned from them. And in our short tenure there, we enjoyed a fine partnership together. The best thing we did in Youngstown (and wish we had done more) was to let leaders lead. As in all our other churches, we made plenty of mistakes there, but failing to recognize and empower good leaders was not one of them.

Lesson #4 (Oxford, Ohio): BE WISE AS A SERPENT

You would think, my time as founding pastor at Cobblestone Community Church in Oxford, Ohio, being the longest of my tenures as a pastor, that it would also have taught me the most lessons. And that is DEFINITELY the case. But I've promised to pick one. And it's this: "Don't be naive; be wise as a serpent." In other words, Jesus knew what he was talking about when he sent out the Twelve into ministry and told them to be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16). As I've written elsewhere on this blog, I learned through the course of my pastoral ministry at Cobblestone that one of my great leadership and ministry weaknesses is my tendency to expect people to be truthful and gracious. I have too often ignored mean, petty, vindictive, fickle, back-biting, lying, and proud people, stubbornly and stupidly believing that "they can't really be that way." Turns out they can! And a leader (such as me) can damage a church or organization with such a faulty and naive theology....and it's a POSITIVE thing to confront such behavior before it can damage and destroy people and churches.

These are far from the only lessons I learned in each ministry. I could just as easily have listed "leadership can be learned, but vision must be God-given," "to serve is to lead," "leadership can be just as clearly shown in strategic retreats as in bold advances," and more. But those will have to suffice for now.

What about you? What lessons have you learned in your various posts and opportunities?

Caring for the Pastoral Staff

Here is an excerpt from an article on the 9Marks site by Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., on the subject of caring for your pastoral staff in a church. There's more. Check out the whole thing:
Caring for the pastoral staff also means pastoring them. Remember that the people on your staff are more fundamentally Christians than they are members of your church, and that they are more fundamentally members of your church than they are members of your staff. Love them. While you will have to evaluate them in their work, care even more about them as fellow disciples of Christ. You want them to spiritually prosper during their years under your immediate care and leadership.

1. Pray for Them

First, pray for them. In a well-staffed church, praying for those who serve the church in this special way is time well spent. Pray for their personal walk with the Lord, their friends and family, and their own ministry, as well as their job. Never allow “professionalism” to obscure your responsibility in this area.

2. Model, Instruct, and Teach

Second, model, instruct, and teach. Show them what it means to be a pastor. Let them see things you are struggling with, and that you are uncertain about. Also let them see and ask questions about decisions you make. Don’t be slow to explain. Repeat yourself. Remember Paul’s words in Philippians 3:1: “It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” Realize that one of your roles is teaching them.

3. Trust and Delegate

Third, trust and delegate. You get more things done by getting more people to do things. Staff cuts up ministry in bite-size bits for others to be able to handle. And that means that one of the chief ways you can build up a local congregation is by handing off more and more duties to others. Some things are at the core of your role as senior pastor. But many things can be handed to others.

We should lead the staff to be enablers and facilitators of the ministry of others, rather than doing it all ourselves. To the degree you are able to be a leader of ministers, you will be able to draw around you quality leaders in their own right. Don’t wait for these folks to earn your trust, but extend them trust and set up contexts in which they can spend it, confirm it (in your eyes and the congregation’s) and spend more. Help to make them a success by giving them opportunities to teach and lead the congregation well.

4. Forgive Quickly

Fourth, forgive quickly. Other people make mistakes as much as I do. Therefore, I must exemplify the same kindness and mercy to others as I myself have known from God, my family, and my congregation. Any “scores kept” must only be for the good of the staff member or the congregation. Personally, you should have pure and unhindered affections for those who work with you.

5. Encourage Them

Fifth, encourage them. When Paul began his letters, he often commended God’s work in the Christians he was writing to. In doing this, he both acknowledged thanks to them, and at the same time exemplified being a student of God’s kindnesses in life. So in terms of your staff, pastor, never flatter them, but regularly cherish God’s work in and through them. Be openly grateful. Make generously acknowledging and thanking others normal among your church staff. God has been at work in them, and you should be one of God’s chief students in their lives, noting his work and drawing others’ attention to it.

The Most Context-Specific Way of Life

There is no blueprint on file for becoming a pastor. In becoming one, I have found that it is a most context-specific way of life:the pastor's emotional life, family life, experience in the faith, and aptitudes worked out in an actual congregation in the neighborhood in which she or he lives - these people just as they are, in this place. No copying. No trying to be successful. The ways in which the vocation of pastor is conceived, develops and comes to birth is unique to each pastor (from Eugene Peterson's The Pastor: A Memoir, p. 5).

Velvet Elvis

Go ahead, crucify me. I like how Rob Bell thinks. I like how he preaches. I like how he writes. And I like his book, Velvet Elvis.

It is far from a perfect book, and I sometimes disagree with it or its author, but it doesn't nearly deserve the opprobrium it has received from many self-appointed defenders of the Christian faith.

In the first pages of Velvet Elvis, Bell writes,
Times change. God doesn't, but times do. We learn and grow, and the world around us shifts, and the Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.
You might think it would be hard for people to argue with "letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus." Turns out, not so much.

But I happen to like his approach. He affirms historic Christianity but esteems the Bible more. And Jesus still more. I think that's pretty healthy. And besides, he helps me see all the above--historic Christianity, the Bible, and Jesus--with fresh eyes.

Although I have listened to Bell's preaching podcasts with great appreciation for many years, it took me more than six years after the release of Velvet Elvis to read it. I think that's primarily because I'm not a big "joiner." I'm reluctant to read the "latest thing." But I'm glad I finally got around to it. And I recommend it.

Some of the parts I underlined:
Let's make a group decision to drop once and for all the Bible-as-owner's-manual metaphor. It's terrible. It really is.

We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the living God.

To grab a few lines of Jesus and drop them down on someone 2,000 years later without first entering the world in which they first appeared is lethal to the life and vitality and truth of the Bible.

Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective.

The most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly on display.

I am learning that the church has nothing to say to the world until it throws better parties.

The church is a she.

Heartless People

If I had followed Perry Noble's leadership advice (below) about the type of person you should NEVER listen to, I would have been far more effective and far less afflicted throughout my pastoral ministry:
You should NEVER allow the heartless critic to speak into your life…and…they are out there.

I have a really good friend (who I will not name) who strongly desired for he and his wife to have a baby…they were told they could not ever have a child but they prayed, believed God and finally he and his wife found out they were pregnant. They were SO excited…

However, about a week or so into the pregnancy they lost the baby through a miscarriage…to say that they were devastated would be an understatement.

Right after this happened my friend began receiving emails of support and encouragement…but also emails from critics (some well known) began sending him emails telling him that his loss was nothing more that God’s judgment on his life in regards to the way he had decided to lead his church. AND…not ONE of his very outspoken critics offered him any sort of support and encouragement during this time…they instead seemed to rejoice in his tragedy!

THAT WAS/IS PATHETIC! The fact that a critic would take a tragedy and use it for their “advantage” like that simply sucks. People like that are heartless…and should always be ignored. Always!

On a more personal note…my father passed away last month. I thought I was prepared…but his death hit me hard and, though it is much better, I still miss him deeply. During this time, however, there were a couple of critics that actually used the death of my father and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his death to attack me and my style of ministry. It was cold, heartless and ungodly…and, let me say it again, people like that should always be ignored.

Anyone who will use any reason at all to attack anyone who does not agree with him or her is heartless…they lack COMPASSION, you know, that thing that Jesus had!

I’ve heard people say that there is something we can learn from every critic and therefore every critic should be listened to. I could not disagree more strongly. Because…there is probably a really good piece of meat in every garbage can outside of a restaurant…but that does not mean that I should go digging through the garbage when instead I could walk inside and get a complete meal.

People who truly embrace grace will be quick to offer that grace to others…and a critic who always wants to attack and tear down through any means possible is nothing more than a terrorist that, if you allow them, will consume your life and get you off mission.

Ignore them! Listen to those who love Jesus, love the church and love you…you can’t go wrong there!

Who's Disturbed Here?

I'm not sure. Just not sure.

(shamelessly stolen from the Jesus Needs New PR blog)

Church of the Week: Chamberlain Hall

The lovely Robin and I were blessed yesterday to worship in a place and with a people very special to us. We visited Camp Swoneky, near Lebanon, Ohio, for The Salvation Army's Swoneky Division Family Camp Sunday morning worship.

Chamberlain Hall is holy ground to us, the site of many holy moments in our childhood, teen, and adult years. We have both knelt at the altar there, played in the band there, sung and prayed and worshiped and more.

The divisional band played several selections, a praise team led a block of worship music, a young officer gave a testimony, a vocal solo was offered, and an interpretive dance was performed.

Commissioner Israel Gaither preached memorably (no surprise, of course) on the Matthew 8 account of the blind man who received a second touch, and the response during the prayer meeting that followed was beautiful to see.

We were blessed to be greeted warmly by many, many dear old friends (who I'm sure were jealous that we have stayed so young), including the new divisional leaders, our beloved friends Majors Hugh and Kathy Steele. It was a refreshing and renewing morning of worship and fellowship, for which we thank God.

Love Is an Orientation

Andrew Marin is a pastor. Conservative. Evangelical. Bible-believing. Lover of God. Follower of Jesus. And he has written a much-needed must-read book for Christians like him, entitled Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community.

Marin weaves a persuasive Christian ethic for interacting with gay individuals and the gay community. The first few chapters of the book give the reader insight into the challenges and heartbreak that are part and parcel of many gay people's experience. The understanding and empathy these chapters generate are crucial to the impact of Marin's message in the succeeding chapters. He presents five "Principles for a More Constructive Conversation," and follows those up with sixteen commitments Christians can--and must--make in order to be used by God and received by our gay and lesbian neighbors, family members, and friends. Marin does a masterful job--obviously born of years of experience--of demonstrating a Christlike spirit and felicity to the teachings of the Bible while also challenging the church's sinful conduct toward people whom God loves and for whom Jesus died.

I wish every Christ-follower would read this book. I wish every church would adopt its clear-headed Christlike perspective. But I grieve that many will refuse to even give it a hearing. Please don't be that person, or that church.

"Don't Check Your Brains at the Door" Trivia Answers Are Here

Last night I had a blast hosting a "Don't Check Your Brains at the Door Q & A Party" on Facebook, to mark the release of my new book with Josh McDowell. I spent a little over an hour chatting with friends from far and wide about the book, and issues related to the book, and more. You can see some of the conversation here.

Part of the evening's festivities was a trivia contest....with questions about me and others about Josh. As promised, I'm posting the answers here on the Desperate Pastor blog.


Bob’s nicknames over his lifetime have included “Murph,” “Hoss,” and “AWOL.” TRUE
"Murph" came from my role in the musical, "Natural High," performed with the Metro-Aires in St. Louis when I lived there during my thirteenth and fourteenth years. "Hoss" has been a lifelong nickname, a truncation of my last name. And "AWOL" came about in high school because I was more often absent than present.
Bob wrote parts of the Bible. TRUE
Well, okay, sorta true. I wrote the prayers for the Job-Malachi section of The Prayer Bible from Tyndale House Publishers.
Bob had coauthored four books with Josh McDowell before they ever met. FALSE
It was three books.
Bob once went over a year without wearing matched socks. TRUE
It started at camp, when my laundry wasn't done, and I had to wear an unmatched pair of socks (this was in the days when tube socks were worn almost up to the knee and had colored stripes at the top). I got so much attention, I kept it up...for more than a year. Until I was onstage at AOK Congress 1976, in Columbus, in the garb of a town crier. I didn't realize until I left the stage that I had broken my record. I'm still dealing with the disappointment.
Bob has been married for 34 years to his high school sweetheart. TRUE
We didn't go to the SAME high school, but the lovely Robin and I began dating at age 16, were married at 19, and have been married now for 34 years, together for 37.

If Josh could share Christ with one person, face to face, it would be Britney Spears. TRUE

One of Josh's "bucket list" items is to purchase a Harley and ride through China. TRUE

Josh's favorite book of the Bible is Romans. TRUE

Josh's favorite Old Testament character is Nehemiah. FALSE
It's actually Noah. Though Nehemiah ranks right up there.

So You Say You've Been Mistreated?

Ray Ortlund posted a "Wow" piece (at least to my heart) on his blog a couple days ago. Here's how it starts:
In this life every one of us experiences injustice. The Judge of all the earth never treats us unjustly. But we treat one another unjustly. The complication is, of course, that we don’t always agree on who is being treated unjustly by whom. It’s hard enough to chart a just path forward in conflict; but with this complication, which is almost inevitable, an outcome satisfying to everyone becomes that much more elusive.

So let’s say you and I have been mistreated in a given situation. We have had injustice shoved down our throat. A bitter experience. Especially when the injustice is perpetrated by the powerful, the privileged, those in control. But immediately, a wonderful thought comes to mind. Jesus experienced it too. That awareness alone is the beginning of comfort. But what else can we keep in mind?
Go here to read the rest. It will be worth it. I promise.

Leader or Manager?

Ron Edmondson, whose blog I read daily, recently posted this. I think it's worth sharing.
Are you a leader or a manager?

Every organization needs both, so don’t be ashamed to answer either way, but it’s important that you know the difference, which one you do best, and then try to arrange your career where you can realize your best potential.

In the book “Reviewing Leadership”, the authors Banks and Ledbetter write, “Leadership and management are two distinct yet related systems of action….They are similar in that each involves influence as a way to move ideas forward, and both involve working with people. Both are also concerned with end results. Yet the overriding functions of leadership and management are distinct. Management is about coping with complexity – it is responsive. Leadership is about coping with change – it too is responsive, but mostly it is proactive. More chaos demands more management, and more change always demands more leadership. In general, the purpose of management is to provide order and consistency to organizations, while the primary function of leadership is to produce change and movement.”

I think that’s a great summary of the differences between leadership and management for organizations and individuals to consider. Too many times we ask good managers to be great leaders or good leaders to be great managers. The problem with being in the wrong fit is that we tend to burn out more quickly when we are not able to live out our giftedness. In addition, we frustrate the people we are supposed to be leading or managing and ultimately we keep the organization from being the best it can be.

Do a self-evaluation of which you are more skilled at doing. Are you a better leader or a better manager?

Don’t try to be someone you are not.

Through experience I’ve learned I identify with one of these roles more than the other. One description fires me up…the other bums me out. (Can you guess which one fires me up?) One comes more naturally for me and the other I struggle to learn…and attempt to delegate when possible.
The money quote: "In general, the purpose of management is to provide order and consistency to organizations, while the primary function of leadership is to produce change and movement.” New organizations need leadership, mostly. But once begun, organizations need both leadership and management, or they will decline and, eventually, die.

It is helpful to evaluate ourselves and our organizations with these things in mind. Am I a leader? Or a manager? There is a third possibility, of course. Some of us are neither.

The Pastor Has No Clothes?

Here is a book I don't think I'll be reading. The title is bad enough. The cover illustration makes it worse.

(shamelessly stolen from the Jesus Needs New PR blog)

Church of the Week: Seasongood Pavilion, Cincinnati, Ohio

This week's "church of the week" isn't a church, but the lovely Robin and I reminisced this past weekend about some of our long-ago worship experiences here. It's Seasongood Pavilion in Cincinnati's scenic Eden Park, a beautiful outdoor setting for worship.

We were at the pavilion for a Shakespeare in the Park performance, but I remember (when I was a child) Easter Sunrise Services here with Salvation Army bands occupying the stage. I think it was typically a community sunrise service, with various churches participating. Later, in our teens, Robin and I both participated in some of those sunrise services.

In addition to the pavilion, Eden Park is home to the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the Krohn Conservatory, Mirror Lake and the Bettman Fountain. An overlook in the park offers a striking view of the Ohio River and Kentucky banks.

The Blame Game

Kevin Stone is the Executive Pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in the Philadelphia area. On his website, Executive Pastor Online, he has some great stuff about his experience at CCV. I found the following on Frank Chiapperino's excellent blog:
When was the last time you read a leadership book or attended a leadership conference where it was taught that blaming your people for the performance (or lack there of) of your church was the right thing to do?

I have never heard this from anyone that truly understood leadership. In fact, I’ve always read, heard, and experienced the opposite. In their book Spiritual Leadership, Henry and Richard Blackaby write “Spiritual leadership necessitates an acute sense of accountability. Just as a teacher has not taught until students have learned, leaders don’t blame their followers when they don’t do what they should do.” Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time the cause of a problem is not the people doing the job. It’s the fault of the system. And, who is responsible for the system?

Who has the authority to make changes in any organization? Who should understand the system at the highest level? I believe the answer is the leader. In other words, if things are not going according to plan the leader (usually at the top) needs to take a look in the mirror to find the person to blame! So, why do so many who are in leadership positions blame their employees for problems? I believe it’s because it is the easy way out … at least that’s what they think. “Let’s fire that person and find someone else that can do a better job” … when the person in that position, nine times out of ten, is doing the best they can with what they’ve been given by their leader. Disagree? The real fix requires much more work from the leader. They might actually have to change something about themselves. What a concept! Systems thinking and building solid infrastructure is very hard work!

If you disagree with my position on this, I invite you to defend your position. Give me a book title where the author advocates blaming employees for problems. Provide me with a link to a leadership conference where the leadership guru is going to teach that problems are fixed by firing people and replacing them. I challenge you to back up your position with data! I’ll be happy to provide a long list of book titles that back up my position.

OK … so what about the point one percent of the time when the problem is the employee? Good question. It’s really pretty simple. Ask yourself “Have I done everything I am supposed to do as a leader to ensure this person has what they need to be successful? Have I asked them what they need and provided them with it? Are they working hard to try to do a good job? Are they truly giving it their best shot?” If you have provided them with what they need but they are lazy or otherwise just not giving it their best shot, perhaps you have an employee who needs to work somewhere else. Again, this is almost always not the case.

So, on what should the leader focus? In any organization, the leadership must focus on the system! They must focus on vision casting, developing infrastructure, and treating employees with respect. In the words of University of Alabama head football coach Bear Bryant, “When something goes really well, they did it. When something goes marginally well, we did it. And, when something goes very poorly, I did it.” These are words that we, as leaders, should live by!

So, the next time you are inclined to blame someone for a problem, stop and go find a mirror. You won’t have to look much further to find the person to blame!

For more of Kevin’s thoughts keep an eye on his website – Executive Pastor Online

A New Look at Old Qualifications

Charles Swindoll, on his blog, began a recent post thusly:
When is the last time you thought about the character quality of sensibility? As pastors, we’re charged with the task, remember? “The overseer must be . . . sensible” (Titus 1:7-8). Sophron is the term. It has in mind “thinking appropriately.” It means you’re not given to extremes. You’re able to see between the lines and apply some common sense.
He goes on, as always, to share helpful and wise insight...for living (see what I did there?). You can read the rest of the post here.

As all wisdom does, Dr. Swindoll's post got me thinking. Here's the passage he refers to, which sets forth general qualifications for leadership of the church:
For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled (Titus 1:7-8, NASB).
A parallel passage, of course, is found in 1 Timothy 3:
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (1 Timothy 3:2-7, NASB).
Interestingly (I think), some of those characteristics are more often considered--and others more often assumed, dismissed, or overlooked--than others. At least in my experience.

Here are the characteristics I think tend to be given more weight in choosing or approving leaders in the church these days:

not addicted to wine
not pugnacious/peaceable
loving what is good
the husband of one wife
manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity
not a new convert
a good reputation with those outside the church

And here are the characteristics I think tend to be more often assumed, dismissed, or overlooked in choosing or approving leaders in the church these days:

above reproach
not self-willed
not quick-tempered
free from the love of money/not fond of sordid gain
able to teach

What's the point? I'm not really sure. It seems obvious to me that "above reproach" is nearly impossible to find these days, as we Christians seem to have a problem with everyone but ourselves. "Not self-willed" kinda goes against the grain of what we think leadership IS. The same, I guess, with "not quick-tempered." And "hospitable" never even enters into the equation these days; we gloss right over it because (at least partly) hospitality is not a value in our culture.

And, I wonder, too, if most of us generally are willing to settle (or, show grace) in some areas but not in others. That is, a pastor or leader in the church needs to be 100 percent teetotaler (in some traditions, at least), but as long as he or she is quick-tempered only 50 or 60 percent of the time, we're okay with that.

Of course, maybe you see it entirely different than I do....which wouldn't surprise me at all. So, what do you think?

Peace and Denial

It seems these days I am hearing more often (or maybe am more alert to) people justifying a behavior or course of action by referring to the peace they feel about their decision.

The Bible does promise that followers of Jesus will have peace, "not as the world gives," but a peace that "surpasses understanding" (John 14:27, Philippians 4:7). But that doesn't necessarily mean that a particular decision is right because we feel a "peace" about it. Sometimes peace and denial are nearly impossible to distinguish.

A person who isn't being completely honest with himself or others will often feel a "peace," but it is a counterfeit peace. A person who has spurned godly advice and shut her ears to the voice of the Spirit will sometimes experience a cessation of struggle, but it should not be confused with the peace of God. Sometimes the very act of making a decision--even a sinful one--can be a relief to a soul that has been in turmoil. As C. H. Spurgeon once said, "The foul spirit keeps things quiet in the heart over which he rules."

He goes on (in a sermon entitled "The Peace of the Devil and the Peace of God") to list six sources of such false peace:
  1. ignorance
  2. thoughtlessness
  3. carnal security
  4. superstition
  5. unbelief
  6. companionship
It is extremely dangerous to suppose--without careful and prayerful soul-searching--that my sense of "peace" always comes from God. The devil is a liar and a counterfeiter of every good thing. He will often lullaby us into slumber with a false sense of peace. We must be careful of ourselves. A heart that proclaims, "peace, peace," when there is no peace is flirting with a seared conscience. Or it may be evidence of one.

Spurgeon gives wise counsel:
One prayer I often pray—“Lord, let me know the worst of my case.” And though there is no great pleasure in such a petition, I would suggest that all of you should offer it. It can do you no harm. Pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there are any wicked ways in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” See to it that you are not liars unto your own souls. To many this peace comes through ignorance. They do not know those terrible Truths which would make peace impossible.
The peace of God, on the other hand, comes to the soul who has been honest with himself and with God, and has fully repented, and is fully surrendered. The peace of God will not come to the one who has lied to the Holy Spirit, to the church, or even to herself (Acts 5). God will not lie to us. He will not salve a deceitful heart. Let us do as Spurgeon says and see to it that we are not liars to our own souls, but repent thoroughly and pray ceaselessly until our hearts are clean and we know the peace that passes understanding.

A Helpful Map of Hell

With all the recent controversy about Hell (occasioned by Rob Bell's Love Wins and various responses, rebuttals, etc., I thought it might be helpful to post the following, a helpful map of Hell:

(swiped from http://pleated-jeans.com)

Heaven is for Real

I didn’t want to read Heaven Is For Real (by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent).

I’m not sure I can articulate exactly why, but it had something to do with a reluctance to believe sensationalized accounts of subjective experiences. But I finally read it recently in conjunction with a writing assignment, and I found out that this book wasn’t that.

Heaven Is For Real is the story of Colton Burpo and his family. A couple months short of his fourth birthday, Colton required an emergency appendectomy, an operation the doctors didn’t much expect him to survive. He did more than survive. In the weeks and months following the surgery, he gradually and forthrightly began to tell his mother Sonja and pastor father, Todd, some details of his visit to heaven while he was in surgery. The book tells how they first doubted and then began to examine his story…to dramatic and life-changing effect.

I found it to be an engrossing, winsome—and convincing—book. It is a quick read, and the kind of book many people will profit from. Give it a chance. I’m glad I did.

The Little White Community Church

Naming a church is often a decision of great deliberation, and great import. Many new churches expend more than a little energy--even money--on coming up with a great name. But it doesn't have to be so hard. Witness: the Little White Community Church at Heart Lake (Pennsylvania).

This little white church--just like its name...see?--is located on Hwy. 706 just east of Montrose, Pennsylvania. I passed by it on my departure from the Montrose Christian Writers Conference a couple weeks ago, and had to snap a couple pictures.

I wish I had been there on a Sunday. I would have gone in and worshiped there. Who wouldn't?

Hammer, Meet Nail. Nail, Hammer.

The Gospel Coalition recently announced Paul Tripp (executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care) as their new weekly blogger. Tripp introduces the themes that he says will characterize his posts and, in so doing, writes a great post. Here is an excerpt:
1. The reality of spiritual blindness in the life of the pastor. If sin blinds, and it does, then as long as sin remains in the heart of a pastor, there will be pockets of spiritual blindness. And as I have written elsewhere, the scary thing with spiritually blind people is that they’re blind to their blindness. This means that the pastor needs “instruments of seeing” in his life as much as the people to whom he ministers (see Heb. 3:12-13).

2. The fact that a pastor is a man in the middle of his own sanctification. Being a pastor definitely does not mean you are a grace graduate. How seriously do we take the ongoing need for further growth and change in the heart and lives of those of us who lead or in those who lead us? It is impossible for a pastor to teach or preach anything he doesn’t desperately need himself.

3. The pastor’s need for the ministry of the body of Christ. How is it that in many churches we have constructed a culture where the pastor lives above or outside of the body of Christ? Think about it: If Christ is the head of his body, then everything else is just body. Since the pastor is a member of the body of Christ, he is in full need of what the body was designed to do and produce (see Eph. 4:1-16).

4. The unique temptations of ministry. There are a unique set of deceptive and seductive idols that accompany pastoral ministry. In ministry, it is easy to confuse building the kingdom of self with building the kingdom of God, because in the pastorate you build both kingdoms by doing ministry!

5. The unrelenting pursuit of grace in the life of the pastor. The personal and ministerial security of a pastor do not rest in his knowledge, experience, or skill. No, his place of rest and hope is exactly the same as everyone to whom he ministers: the rescuing and transforming grace of Christ Jesus. That grace will never fail to pursue him and will again and again rescue him from himself, often at times when he has no idea he needs any rescue at all.
Hits the nail on the head, from my perspective.

Explains a Lot

George Whitefield's preaching ignited the Great Awakening, one of the most formative events in American history. He was perhaps the most famous religious figure of the eighteenth century. In his lifetime, he preached at least 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million hearers.

Here is how he read and studied the Bible:
There he is at five in the morning . . . . on his knees with his English Bible, his Greek New Testament and Henry’s Commentary spread out before him. He reads a portion in the English, gains a fuller insight into it as he studies words and tenses in the Greek and then considers Matthew Henry’s explanation of it all. Finally, there comes the unique practice that he has developed: that of ‘praying over every line and word’ of both the English and the Greek till the passage, in its essential message, has veritably become part of his own soul (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield (London, 1970), I:82-83).
It explains a lot.

God Does Some of His Best Work in the Dark

God does some of his best work in the dark.

I've said that many times. I've known it...at some level, at least. But lately I've been "knowing" it more truly and more deeply than before.

A year-and-a-half ago, my newborn granddaughter Calleigh was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. It was a dark moment, for her parents, and for me and my wife, of course. We cried. We agonized. We hurt. We prayed for healing--and we still do.

But God has done some fine, fine work through Calleigh's circumstance. My wife and I have seen a deeper faith develop in Calleigh's parents. We have met many fine people we wouldn't have met otherwise. We have raised thousands of dollars for CF research. We have been blessed by the care and support of many friends. And more.

These are not just "by the way" blessings. They are direct--and perhaps purposeful--results of Calleigh's diagnosis.

A few days ago, we learned that Calleigh's brother, who we expect to be born in late December or early January, also has CF. Another deep disappointment. A grief. A loss. But--until God heals him--he couldn't have two better parents to cope with those circumstances and care for him. He will be born into a family that has for two years been blessed by God's work in the dark.

This diagnosis has also shown God's foresight and wisdom to me. Over the past several months, another tragic situation has arisen in my life and ministry that has hurt many people and drastically changed the shape of my ministry. Something I never foresaw and would never have wished. But it's not hard to believe that even in the darkest moments, even through the most hurtful of circumstances, God has been engineering good things for me and my family. When that boy arrives, I will be immeasurably more able to minister to him and his sister and parents than I could possibly have done under my "pre-tragedy" circumstances. I will have BOTH greater focus in ministry and greater availability to family .

So, yes, God does some of his best work in the dark.

Enemies of the Heart

Andy Stanley's newest release, Enemies of the Heart (Breaking Free from the Four Emotions that Control You), is a highly readable and thoroughly helpful book.

As a coach and teacher at writer's conferences around the country, I frequently tell aspiring writers, "You can't write a book for everyone." But Stanley pretty much has. I can't imagine anyone--male, female, pastor, teacher, new Christian, old Christian, etc.--who would not benefit from reading this book.

Enemies of the Heart explores four destructive emotions—guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy—and shows how they infiltrate our lives and damage our relationships, homes, careers, and more. The author convincingly links each with a debt we feel and a desire we possess, and prescribes a new habit to counter each (saying, "It takes a habit to break a habit").

I finished the book just last night, and found myself recommending it to someone the next morning. That should express what I think of it. It's practical, biblical, helpful, and more impactful than most. It includes a six-week discussion guide in the back of the book, further increasing its value and applicability.


(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”)

Jesus Says....

Don't Check Your Brains at the Door

Today is the release date for my new book, the updated Don't Check Your Brains at the Door, from Thomas Nelson Publishers.

It was my first book, and the first of a dozen or so coauthored with Josh McDowell (wanna know how old I am? My NEXT book is coauthored with Josh's SON, Sean! THAT's how old I am!). The first iteration was released in 1992, and has sold about 300,000 copies, been translated into numerous languages, and enjoyed a worldwide influence.

This new Don't Check Your Brains at the Door retains all the humor and solid information of the first, while making multiple adjustments to enhance even further its appeal to junior high students, high school ages, and young adults.

You should totally buy a copy (or a bunch of copies). It can be downloaded to your Kindle or iPad. And for the feature motion picture version....we're just waiting for someone to offer us a contract for a motion picture version. You're not a filmmaker, are you? A producer? Got a cousin in the business? Put in a good word for me.

It's amazing to me that, nearly twenty years from its first appearance on the scene, Don't Check Your Brains at the Door still has strong appeal and occupies a unique place among Christian books for youth. Praise God.

Four Churches in Montrose, PA

Last week I had the joy and honor of meeting, coaching, and speaking to writers at the Montrose Christian Writers Conference in Montrose, PA (north of Wilkes-Barre and south of Binghamton, NY). While there, I took several evening walks through the community, and discovered some of the fine churches of this historic (established 1799) town.

The exquisite Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church, on South Main Street, boasts some beautiful stained glass windows. Man, those Catholics know how to build churches.

All the other churches I discovered were on Church Street, appropriately enough. Among them was St. Paul's Church (above), a historic Episcopal church.

The facade of First Presbyterian Church (above) was largely obscured by foliage.

Montrose United Methodist Church (above) was, like the others, quite old and seemed pretty active as well.

The last church I visited was the Bridgewater Baptist Church, on the opposite side of town from the others. I bet there's some theological significance in there somewhere. It dates back to 1807. I was there on a Wednesday evening, and the place seemed to be hopping.

I'm sure I only scratched the surface, but I left with the impression that there are some beautiful church structures in the area. I pray, of course, that the beauty goes well beyond the architecture.