He's Smart Because I Agree with Him

Ryan Huguley posted recently on the reasons he preaches from a manuscript, as opposed to an outline, or even extemporaneously. I think he's brilliant, partly because I agree:
Every pastor preaches with a slightly different style of notes.

Personally, I’ve experimented with almost every style I’ve seen, finding some more effective than others. While I’m fully aware that different preachers require different types of notes, I also believe that every preacher should cut their teeth on the discipline of some form of manuscript. I believe this for the same reason I believe guitar players should learn to play an acoustic prior to an electric: It helps you cultivate healthy habits.

It’s become some strange badge of honor to preach with no notes. People argue that preaching with a manuscript often leads to dry and boring sermons that sound like someone reading a seminary paper. And while that can be true, it’s equally unhelpful when a pastor goes into the pulpit and precedes to wander all over the world for an hour under the guise of being “lead by the Spirit” and unconstrained by his notes.

Unless you’re an experienced communicator with rare gifts, preaching with no notes often leads to sermons that suck far more than we’d like to admit. We end up with sloppy structures, little focus, and a sermon that simply will not end while the congregation silently begs us to “land the freaking plane!”

This is the way I preached the entire first year of our church plant and it was not pretty much of the time! So, I started to write word-for-word manuscripts every week. It was difficult, draining and tedious, but it has made me a more faithful, fruitful and helpful preacher.

Here are the top 3 reasons I continue to use a modified manuscript…

1. It helps me stay on topic

Is there anything worse than a preacher’s attempt to touch on every topic in his mind all in the course of one sermon? This type of preaching lacks clarity and leaves listeners confused and asking, “What was the point of all that?” The discipline of a manuscript forces me to stay fixed on the one big idea the original author is communicating and ensures that all my points connect to that same big idea.

2. It helps me transition clearly

The first pastor who trained me to preach once told me, “If you open strong, close well, and hit your transitions, your sermon will take care of itself.” It’s a bit more complicated than that, but I’ve found his advice to hold true. Am I the only one who finds it frustrating when a preacher says he has “X” number of points and then fails to call them out clearly leaving me with a confusing mess of disconnected and seemingly unrelated notes? While I no longer use a word-for-word manuscript, I do write my transitions word-for-word, restating the big idea as well as the point I’ve just communicated. This reminds people what I’m talking about and signals that we’re moving to something new.

3. It helps me control my time

I recently sat through a sermon where the pastor said, “I’m going to close with this,” three different times and then continued to talk – for 90 minutes! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE listening to good preaching and I’m all for spending the time necessary to preach a text faithfully, but NOBODY wants to hear you preach 90 minutes – other than you. I know that to be true because each time I preach too long I watch my church’s eyes glaze over and can hear them begging me to shut it down. Pastor Scott Thomas recently wrote, ”A good sermon may be long, but rarely is a long sermon good.” He’s 100% right and using a manuscript is teaching me to be more concise, to eliminate redundancy, and to GET TO THE POINT!

Understand, I’m not arguing for head down, zero passion, boring people to sleep, reading your notes kind of preaching. I’m arguing for prayerful, powerful, and palpable proclamation of God’s Word! The kind of preaching people leave thinking, “I heard GOD speak to me today!” So type them, hand write them, you can even finger paint them for all I care, but for the sake of those you preach to, internalize and utilize some form of notes.
I could add a few things (and have, here and here), but Huguley hits the high points, certainly. These are big for me. And right up there alongside these three would be "It helps me say things precisely." It's so easy to give the wrong impression, even to spout bad theology, when speaking off the cuff...using a manuscript helps reduce the number of times I say something stupid or ill-advised. It doesn't eliminate them, mind you, but reduces them. And that's something, at least.

Church of the Week: Beautiful Churches Around the World

I haven't personally visited any of these churches, which is usually a qualification for the "Church of the Week" feature here on the Desperate Pastor Blog. But these are so beautiful, I will make an exception. And if anyone wants to send me off to visit any of these, I'd be game.

Potter's Ranch

The lovely Robin and I had a lovely time last night with a lovely group of people.

The leaders of The Ridge church in Brookville, Ohio, gathered at Potter's Ranch in Kentucky for a leadership retreat, and it was my blessing to deliver a keynote for their weekend in the opening session.

Most stayed awake the whole time, as I spoke on "4 Questions for Leaders" from 1 Kings 19! And we had such a wonderful time of communion and fellowship afterward.

It was refreshing and restorative for us. It might even have been a help to them!

My 119:11 Project, Pt. 4

Week four of my 119:11 Project, and it's still going very well. This week had some wrinkles, though. I memorized Psalm 4 fairly quickly, but then in reviewing the first four psalms, I found it easy to confuse parts of Psalm 3 and Psalm 4. Not only are they each eight verses long, but the flow and stanzas of the two psalms seem similar to me. But here's my Saturday attempt to type from memory Psalm 4, from the New Living Translation:
Answer me when I call to you,
O God who declares me innocent.
Rescue me from my troubles.
Have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people ruin my reputation?
How long will you make groundless accusations?
How long will you continue your lies?

You can be sure of this:
The LORD has set apart the godly for himself.
The LORD will hear me when I call to him.

Don't sin by letting anger control you.
Think about it overnight, and remain silent.

Offer sacrifices in the right spirit,
and trust the LORD.

Many people say, "Who will show us better times?"
Let your face smile upon us, Lord.
You have given me greater joy
than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.
Eesh. Not my best effort.

I can't believe I wrote "Rescue" in v. 1 instead of "Free." I ALWAYS recite that line correctly.

I see I also have been "King-Jamesing" verses 3 ("The Lord HAS set apart" instead of "The Lord set apart") and verse 6 ("upon us" instead of "on us"). I'll try to correct those as I continue reviewing this psalm with the others.

Even so, memorizing this psalm has been a wonderful experience. Reciting and reviewing it repeatedly has uncovered many possibilities to me. For example, I wonder if David (it IS a psalm of David) was advising others or himself in verses 4 and 5. The more I've meditated on this psalm, the more I've come to think verse 1 was addressed to God, verses 2-3 to his enemies, 4-5 to himself, and then, of course, the remainder of the psalm to God. If that's the case, then the word "Selah" (which the NLT translates "interlude") after verses 2 and 4 is probably a musical cue only, and not indicative of a change of voice or thought.

In any case, I'm excited to begin memorizing Psalm 5 tomorrow.

The End of Religion

Bruxy Cavey's book, The End of Religion, is the best book I've read so far this year. And, while I know it's still January, I expect it to rank among the best I read all year. Also, while I know it's hard to put aside the question, "What kind of a name is Bruxy?," let's do our best to do that and answer instead the question, "What kind of a book is The End of Religion?"

It is a Biblical book. Cavey makes his case from Scripture, even as he shows how fundamentalism and evangelicalism have chosen bibliolatry--worshiping the Bible and exalting what is supposedly "biblical"--over following Jesus.

It is an irreligious book. Early on, Cavey states, "Much of what Jesus did and taught only makes sense when we realize that his stated goal of offering salvation to the world (see Luke 19:10) also include the abolition of religion as a competing system" (pp. 24-25). The author doesn't advocate (because Jesus didn't) the eradication of religious forms, but ruthlessly insists on seeing them as forms, or helps, and not as the substance of what it means to love God and follow Jesus.

It is a thought-provoking book. I highlighted this book more than most I have read. Cavey makes such delicious statements as:
Anyone who holds too tightly to his or her religious preconceptions will sooner or later become offended at Jesus (p. 35).

Jesus always--ALWAYS--puts the emphasis of his teaching on heart issues, not behavioral routines (p. 51).

Many Christian fundamentalists do not follow Christ, but have replaced his teachings with the prevailing conservative ethos of the day masquerading as religious dogma (p. 74).

Jesus critiques the Jewish leaders because they are religious, not because they are Jewish. And if we grab hold of that, we can see how his rebukes are transferable for all religions at all times (p. 82).

Transcend rules with love, and you are beginning to live like Jesus (p. 85).

In Christian circles, legalism is usually the result of human tradition being added to the Bible and passed off as scriptural teaching. I find the original teachings of Jesus completely freeing. Why would anyone want to deviate from that? (pp. 94-95).

The more admirable our religious roots, the more we will want to simply invite Jesus to join our religion (p. 127).

When sinful, broken, hurting people are pleasantly surprised at how accepting we are, and religious people are outraged at how accepting we are, there is a good chance we're starting to live like Jesus (p. 179).

The problem with organized religion is not that it is organized. The problem with organized religion is that it is religious....the antidote to organized religion is not disorganized religion, but organized irreligion (p. 187).
It is a well-written, interesting book. Once I started it (and I wish I had started it a long time ago), it was quickly and enjoyably read all the way to the end.

You can find out more at the "End of Religion" website. But read the book. It will be one of the best you read all year.

A Pastor's Failings, Pt. 2

Last week I began a recurring feature here on the Desperate Pastor blog, confessing some of my failings as a pastor and leader in the church and (I hope) by doing so, encourage other pastors not to feel alone and not to make the same mistakes. Or not to make them again. Or not to make them as BIG as I did.

So here's number two. Titus 3:10-11 (NIV) says,
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Ouch, right? Who does that? Sometimes it seems that the only pastors who do that are on a power trip, or equate disagreement with them personally with divisiveness in the church.

Still, one of my great failings as a pastor over the years has been failing to lovingly but firmly correct and warn divisive people in the church. I have repeatedly avoided conflict and let contentious people continue their divisive activities. And I have paid for it. So have the churches I have pastored. Lord, have mercy.

(photo illustration by Metassus)

Church of the Week: Taylor University Prayer Chapel

While visiting and teaching at Taylor University last week, I spent some time in the Memorial Prayer Chapel on the Taylor University campus. The chapel was built to honor the memories of five members of the Taylor community who died in a traffic accident in 2006 along with each student, faculty, and staff member whose lives ended while they were associated with the University. The chapel was dedicated on April 26, 2008, the two-year anniversary of the tragic semitrailer-van crash on I-69 that claimed the lives of Taylor students Laurel Erb, Brad Larson, Betsy Smith and Laura Van Ryn, and staff member Monica Felver. The five died when the Taylor van in which they were riding was struck by a semitrailer rig near the 66-mile marker of I-69’s southbound lane. The crash drew international attention after it was discovered that Van Ryn, who died in the crash, and fellow student Whitney Cerak, a survivor, were misidentified while Cerak was still recovering from her injuries.

Cerak later recovered and returned to Taylor. The Van Ryn and Cerak families co-authored a bestselling book and made appearances on network television programs. Cerak graduated with her class in 2009.

A small chapel on one side is nicely furnished.

The cross in the room's decor is incorporated into a stone design outside the room, visible through the glass behind the podium.

Side chapels provide more intimate settings for private prayer, and are well used by the students.

From the open-air center of the structure one can look in four directions to the campus and beyond. It's a lovely, prominently-placed setting for prayer and contemplation in the midst of a busy campus.

119 Project: Pt. 3

This week's 119 Project was Psalm 3 (the 119 Project is what I'm calling my three-year effort to memorize the book of Psalms, in their entirety (fifty psalms a year). As I continue to review Psalms 1 and 2, I have also now committed to memory Psalm 3. At least I think so. Here it is, typed from memory Psalm 2, from the New Living Translation:

O, Lord, I have so many enemies.
So many are against me.
So many are saying,
"God will never deliver him!"

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me.
You are my glory, the one who holds my head high.

I called out to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy mountain.
I lay down and slept,
yet I woke up in safety,
for the Lord was watching over me.
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies,
who surround me on every side.

Arise, O Lord;
rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face.
Shatter the teeth of the wicked.
Victory comes from you, O Lord.
May you bless your people.

So how'd I do? Comparing it now to the printed text, other than the punctuation and stanza grouping (which I'm not sweating), I nailed it. Yea!

So that's three weeks and three psalms down, 147 to go. Though, of course, I figure the longer psalms will take several weeks to memorize, so maybe more than that. But I feel good about the start I've made!

Books I've Read More Than Once

I love to read, but generally speaking I don't read books more than once (unlike others in my family). I'm especially unlikely to re-read fiction, because if I know what's coming, I lose the thrill of discovery. However, over the years, there have been a number of books I have read more than once--some (indicated with an asterisk) more than twice. So I thought I'd take just a few minutes to list those books (not counting picture books, which I've read numerous times to my children and grandchildren--those may just be too numerous to list). I'm sure I've forgotten some, but the following are books I know I have read at least twice:

A Diary of Private Prayer (Baillie)*
A Midsummer Night's Dream (Shakespeare)*
All's Well That Ends Well (Shakespeare)
Ancient Prophets and Modern Problems (Brengle)*
Bird by Bird (Lamott)
Celebration of Discipline (Foster)
Guest of the Soul (Brengle)*
Hamlet (Shakespeare)*
Hand Me Another Brick (Swindoll)
Heart Talks on Holiness (Brengle)*
Helps to Holiness (Brengle)*
Henry V (Shakespeare)
Hinds' Feet on High Places (Hurnard)
In Shady Groves (Lehman)
Julius Caesar (Shakespeare)*
King Lear (Shakespeare)
Knowing God (Packer)*
Leadership Prayers (Kriegbaum)
Leap Over a Wall (Peterson)
Love's Labours Lost (Shakespeare)*
Love Slaves (Brengle)*
Macbeth (Shakespeare)
Mere Christianity (Lewis)*
Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare)*
My Side of the Mountain (George)*
My Utmost for His Highest (Chambers)*
On Writing Well (Zinsser)*
Othello (Shakespeare)
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Dillard)
Prayer (Foster)
Ragman and Other Cries of Faith (Wangerin)
Resurrection Life and Power (Brengle)*
Riders of the Purple Sage (Grey)
Robinson Crusoe (Defoe)
Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare)*
Sit Walk Stand (Nee)*
Spiritual Leadership (Sanders)
The Call of the Wild (London)
The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life (Smith)
The Chronicles of Narnia, 7 vol. (Lewis)
The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh (Milne)
The Contemplative Pastor (Peterson)
The Divine Hours, 3 vol. (Tickle)*
The Elements of Style (Strunk/White)*
The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Cleary)
The Pilgrim's Progress (Bunyan)
The Pursuit of God (Tozer)*
The Screwtape Letters (Lewis)
The Soul-Winner's Secret (Brengle)*
The Taming of the Shrew (Shakespeare)*
The Tempest (Shakespeare)
The Way of Holiness (Brengle)*
The Way of the Heart (Nouwen)
The Way to Power and Poise (Jones)
The Writing Life (Dillard)
Twelfth Night (Shakespeare)*
Walden (Thoreau)
When the Holy Ghost is Come (Brengle)*
With Christ in the School of Prayer (Murray)*

A Pastor's Failings, Pt. 1

We all have failings and failures. Even pastors. Try not to look so shocked.

In 30+ years of active ministry, and through four churches I've pastored, I truly believe I have exhibited nearly every possible pastoral failing there is. So I thought I'd initiate a recurring feature on the Desperate Pastor blog, confessing those failings and (I hope) by doing so, encourage other pastors not to feel alone and not to make the same mistakes. Or not to make them again.

So here's number one. Many years ago, I read a statement by Rick Warren (I think in his book, The Purpose-Driven Church, but I could be wrong about that...among other things) that a pastor and preacher needs to cast vision every ninety days or less, or it will "leak." Maybe it was Bill Hybels, or maybe both. But SOMEONE said it.

My reaction over the years was, generally, "yeah, right." I mean, planning and executing a Spirit-driven preaching schedule is intimidating enough. There are of course all the special days (Easter, Christmas, etc.), and so many important emphases (prayer, outreach, etc.) to include in a year's time. Plus, I tried to include two or three book-of-the Bible series every year, as well as series that addressed the church's needs-of-the-moment. There were never enough Sundays in a year to thoroughly respond to what the Spirit was saying, accomplish intentional discipleship, emphasize communion, baptisms, child dedications, etc., and so on. So it always seemed that casting vision anew every ninety days was just too tough to squeeze in.

Wrong. It's so easy for vision to leak out, and for church folk to lapse into old habits, preferences, and expectations. A clear vision can even disappear among a church's membership--and even its leadership! So much so, maybe Rick (or Bill or whoever) was low-balling it. Not that a full-blown vision SERIES is called for every ninety days, and maybe not even a full message devoted solely to the church's vision. But looking back on thirty years and four churches, I would do AT LEAST that much.

That was one of my failings as a pastor and leader. I often had a clear vision of what I truly believed God wanted the church to be, and where he was calling us to go. But I failed to communicate it regularly enough that people couldn't help but hold onto it. Lord, have mercy.

Church of the Week: Rediger Chapel, Upland, Indiana

Last week and this week, I've had the pleasure and privilege of visiting and teaching at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.

While there, I've attended chapel with the campus population at Rediger Chapel.

Thrice-weekly chapel services are offered here, and are well attended.

A proficient worship band led singing, a student made some announcements and introductions, and a speaker gave a thirty-minute message.

The entryway to the chapel is adorned with two beautiful stained glass windows windows, under which all worshipers walk to enter the auditorium.

The chapel is named after Dr. Milo Rediger, who was professor of philosophy and religion, dean, and president at Taylor University.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

My 119:11 Project, Pt. 2

"Oh, the joys of those who...delight in the Law of the Lord!" That is my ongoing experience, as I continue my 119:11 Project (first mentioned in this post) to memorize the book of Psalms, in their entirety, over the next three years (fifty psalms a year). I continue to review Psalm 1, memorized last week, and am now ready to type from memory Psalm 2, from the New Living Translation:
Why are the nations so angry?
Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle,
the rulers plot together against the Lord
and against his anointed one.
"Let us break their chains," they cry,
"and free ourselves from slavery to God!"

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
terrifying them with his fierce fury.
The Lord declares, "I have placed my chosen king
on the throne in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain."
The king proclaims the Lord's decree:
"The Lord said to me: 'You are my son.
Today I have become your Father.
Only ask and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
the whole earth as your possession.
You will break them with an iron rod,
and smash them like clay pots.'"

Now, then, you kings, act wisely.
Be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with reverent fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Submit to God's royal son or he will become angry,
and you will be destroyed in the midst
of all your activities.
For his anger flares in an instant,
but what joy for all who take refuge in him!

So fun. In case you haven't figured it out already, I'm not sweating the punctuation. I'm already finding that memorizing entire psalms (as opposed to a verse here and a verse there) uncovers new depths of meaning and understanding to me, almost without effort. The connections and context between one verse and another become much clearer as I repeat the words of the psalm and commit them to memory.

So that completes the first two weeks in my journey. I don't know if time will permit me to post like this every week (the next few weeks will be consumed with a teaching commitment in Indiana, away from home, so I don't know how much I'll be blogging). But I'll post updates when I can. I'd love it if some of the readers (both of you, even!) of this blog travel this road with me.

Tasks of the Senior Leader

Ron Edmondson, on his excellent blog, says the following about four tasks the senior leader in an organization should perform:
Whether in the business world, in non-profits or churches, there are some things in any organization that must involve the top leadership.

Here are four things the senior pastor or, in a business sense, the “CEO” (Chief Executive Officer) must personally lead or play a major role in accomplishing:

Vision – The senior leader is the ordained caretaker of the organization’s vision. The vision may be pre-determined by a board, or in the church’s sense, by Jesus, but all leaders place his or her spin on implementing the vision. At the end of the day the senior leader is held responsible for seeing that the organization’s vision is attained.

Values – The senior leader must carry out, protect, or shape the culture of the organization. Much of the character of the organization will be determined or maintained by the way this person leads and lives his or her life.

Victories- Senior leader determine what matters to an organization. He or she ultimately defines a win by setting end goals. An organization cannot do everything and this individual’s leadership determines priorities, initiatives and major objectives to be accomplished.

Velocity –The Senior leader sets the speed by which the organization will operate. The lead person is in the role of balancing present tasks and future opportunities. His or her individual pace and expectations of others determines how fast the organization functions, changes, adapts, and responds.

Most organizations will have a board of directors, stakeholders or elders to oversee the organization, hire the senior pastor or CEO and hold title to the organization, but it is ultimately that person’s who daily carries out these four functions. A senior leader can delegate, form a great team environment, seek wise counsel, or even shirk his or her responsibility, but to fulfill the role of the senior leader effectively there are some responsibilities that rest solely with this position. Whether or not the senior leader consciously recognizes his or her role in accomplishing these tasks, by sheer position he or she is determining the way the organization performs in these four areas.

A Proverbs Driven Life

A Proverbs Driven Life by Anthony Selvaggio promises "Timeless Wisdom for Your Words, Work, Wealth, and Relationships" in the subtitle. It delivers.

Selvaggio does a solid job of sorting and expounding on timeless principles from one of the most neglected books of the Bible, the book of Proverbs. He illustrates his points liberally and effectively with stories and passages from other parts of the Bible as well.

One of the passages I highlighted is found in chapter two, in which the author focuses on proverbs about speech, emphasizing that our words ought to be "thoughtful, timely and true." He writes:
When the book of Proverbs was written, two types of untruthful speech were strictly forbidden in Israel. Both focused on the matter of personal reputation. The first was false testimony, which had primary application to legal matters....The second type of untruthful speech forbidden in Israel was slander and gossip. Slander, by definition, is false information about someone else, while the rumors shared as gossip may be true or false. Yet the Bible classifies gossip as untruthful speech, and every bit as bad as slander, because it shares important characteristics of false testimony.
A Proverbs Driven Life will reward anyone who reads it with far more than information. If read and applied conscientiously, it will impart wisdom.


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

Church of the Week: Bark Chapel, Mackinac, MI

In 2006, the lovely Robin and I visited Mackinac Island during part of our stay in northern Michigan. While there, in Marquette Park (named for Father Jacques Marquette), we encountered a replica of an early missionary bark chapel of the kind first constructed in the seventeenth century by Jesuit missionaries.

Father Charles Dablon was reportedly the builder of the first birchbark chapel, recreated above, sitting below the fort on Mackinac Island.

My 119:11 Project, Pt. 1

I mentioned in a post last week my plan to memorize the book of Psalms, in their entirety, over the next three years (fifty psalms a year), as one of my spiritual goals for 2012 and beyond (I set goals each year in five categories--professional, spiritual, physical, financial, and marriage/family--as well as in increments of one-year, two-year, five-year, and lifetime periods). Anyway, as I said in that earlier post, I also plan to update the readers of this blog every so often on how I'm doing, and how God is using the psalms in my life. So I thought I'd start right away.

The following is my typed-from-memory recitation of Psalm 1, from the New Living Translation, the first of my fifty psalms to memorize this year:
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the Law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.

They are like trees planted by the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither
and they prosper in all they do.

But not the wicked.
They are like worthless chaff,
scattered by the wind.
They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
Sinners will have no place among the godly.
For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.

I know it's a bare beginning, but it has been a joy--not ironically at all--to steep my mind in that psalm in recent days, reciting it in the car and in my prayer chair, meditating on it day and night, so to speak! I'm thoroughly looking forward to more and more blessings and benefits as I hide God's Word in my heart (Psalm 119:11) with a new memorized psalm each week over the course of the next three years.

The Well (Why Are So Many Still Thirsty?)

Mark Hall's book, The Well, is a fine exploration of the "holes" many people substitute for "The Well" that is Jesus Christ, as he revealed himself to the Samaritan woman at the well. Unremittingly interesting, Mark (with coauthor Tim Luke) has a knack for storytelling, whether his subject is biblical or contemporary. He touches on such "holes" as "the hole of control," "the hole of talent," "the hole of entitlement," and others. He writes with self-effacing wit, charm, and vulnerability.

Though I listened to the audiobook, I'm told discussion questions are included at the back of the book for group use. I can envision some great discussions on each of these empty "holes" in a group setting.

Mark Hall is the lead singer and songwriter for Casting Crowns, and the book corresponds to the Casting Crowns CD, Come to the Well, released just a couple months ago.

Preaching with Flow

Jacob Myers, adjunct preaching instructor at Candler School of Theology and Columbia Theological Seminary, suggests a musical approach to preaching:
What if we employed music to enhance the flow of our preaching?

Flow is everywhere; and yet, it often goes unnoticed. It pervades the wired world in which we live--show me a coffee shop that doesn't employ an eclectic array of dulcet tracks to facilitate conversation or leisurely study. Hospital waiting rooms, pubs, carnivals, department stores, even elevators, employ music to regulate the flow of life there, to encourage a certain kind of experience.
Read the rest here.

Red Like Blood

Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington's book, Red Like Blood (Confrontations with Grace), was not what I expected. I'm not sure what I expected, but this wasn't it. And I'm glad.

It is a sometimes-gritty, always vulnerable, depiction of the Gospel, the story of God's grace as shown through the lives and experience of two men, the authors, as well as many others whose stories they tell in compelling fashion. The honesty and frankness of the book may offend some readers at times, but it shouldn't. The content is always to-the-point, and helpful in getting the message across to the reader.

One of my favorite parts of the book was in chapter twelve, where the authors talk about "the pleasure spectrum." They write:
When God created human beings he gave us a wide range of things that were intended for our pleasure. We have the capacity to get pleasure from viewing a sunset on a cloudless day. We can get goose bumps from listening to the beauty of music. Don't even get me started on taste and touch. Just today I held a bag of freshly ground coffee up close to my face and closed my eyes and inhaled like my life depended on it. The spectrum is very, very wide.

But something interesting happens as we get older...
You'll have to read the book to get the full benefit of that insight. But take my word for it: it's worth it.

The book has spawned a dynamic website, referred to late in the book, as a place to continue the experience.


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

Church of the Week: Queen of Peace, Millville, OH

I had the opportunity this past weekend to attend Mass at Queen of Peace Church in Millville, just a few miles from my home, with my brother-in-law.

The lovely Robin and I have passed this church (and school) countless times over the past 15 years or so, and yet I had never been inside the church, let alone attended worship there.

The sanctuary was nearly full for the 4:30 p.m. Saturday Mass. I hear that most Queen of Peace services are well attended. I liked the warmth and beauty of the worship space. The service was well-lit and well-amplified. A small choir (7 or 8 voices?) led the singing, accompanied by the organ.

Queen of Peace dates to 1941 as a parish church. The church seems to be very well-supported by its members (Father Jeff even thanked the congregation for their generous Christmas offerings!). The four-page weekly bulletin reflects a full schedule and a busy membership.

Queen of Peace is located at 2550 Millville Avenue just east of downtown metropolitan Millville, and a few miles west of Hamilton.

Thoughts on a New Year

It’s that time of year again. I love the process of reviewing last year and looking forward to the next, some of which I have been sharing on this blog. As Samuel Logan Brengle wrote,
It seems impossible that a year could have passed so swiftly, and yet the return of this day assures me that once more the earth has run her wondrous race through lanes of light, and vast voids of space, and deep abysses of the night, amid the silent pomp and splendor of star-strewn heavens, completing another of her ceaseless cycles around the sun, ending another year and bringing us to this day.

When I was a little boy on the sun-bathed prairies of southern Illinois, a year seemed interminable. It moved forward on leaden feet, but now the years pass me like the flash of sunlit bubbles on wind-tossed waves, as though they must hasten and lose themselves in that eternity when time shall be no more. And yet what an unspeakable gift of God is a year! Who can compute its value or estimate its worth? We give and receive our little gifts and rejoice, but how paltry they are compared to God’s gift of a year of days!

He has given me one more year, and I praise Him. It has been a good year. He has crowded it with mercies. He has crowned it with blessings. He has kept me from sin. He has not permitted me to fall. He has not let my enemy triumph over me. He has directed my paths, He has ordered my steps. He has given success to my labors. He has kept my heart and mind in peace, and in loving-kindness has opened to me the gates of another year, through which I enter with trust, and yet with trembling. I do not fear that I shall fall, though I know I must watch and pray lest I fall; but I trust unfalteringly that my watchful Keeper—my Good Shepherd—who has guarded me with such sleepless care through these many years, will hold me up (from Resurrection Life and Power, chapter 10).
Well said. Happy New Year.