I Gotta Say "Yup"

Rick Warren listed "Vision" in his list of leadership non-negotiables in this excellent post. I must say, as I read what he meant by that single word in the three sentences below, it resonated with me--to the point of tears in my eyes:
I am going to die far too soon to be involved in a church that does not have a compelling vision. Inspire me, get me excited about where we are going, tell me how we are getting there… or, let me do it. Either way… this is a pretty big deal for me.

Ed's Story

There are multiple differences between Ed's story and mine, but there are also multiple similarities. In any case, this video sure resonated with me, as someone who has found joy and purpose in post-pastoral ministry.

Church of the Week: Immanuel Lutheran, Hamilton, OH

I had the pleasure last Wednesday of attending Ash Wednesday services at Immanuel Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) in Hamilton, just three miles from my home.

Immanuel was established in 1896, according to a banner hanging in the sanctuary, which makes it 116 years old, according to my feeble math skills.

The delightfully liturgical Ash Wednesday service was attended by about 50 adults, and a class or two of the children from the school.

I really like the sanctuary; beautifully understated, with excellent acoustics. An organ and choir loft is located in a balcony at the rear of the sanctuary.

On my way out, I noticed a rack of "Quiet Bags," available for use by families with small children. It brought back memories of when my wife and I packed "church bags" for our children, to help them endure "grownups' church" when they were pre-schoolers and grade-schoolers. I didn't open any of the bags, but they looked really well-stocked. I may just return sometime with some kid off the street, just so I can enjoy this really cool service the church provides.

Lenten Sketchbook

This is just wonderful. I wish I could do this. But I am giving up jealousy and envy for Lent.

Seriously, as Tony Jones says, "One thing that I cannot recommend highly enough is that you journey through Lent with Paul Soupiset, as he sketches his thoughts each day. He’s been doing this for several years, and I can tell you it’s a rewarding journey."

Stop, Drop, and Pray

Here's a great quote from a Mark Batterson blog post, reflecting on 7:14 experiment (based on 2 Chronicles 7:14):
We want to sow and reap instantaneously. We want to plant the seed and harvest it on the same day. No. If it was easy we wouldn’t even appreciate it. We’d probably mishandle the anointing, mishandle the blessing. This isn’t about what God does on day one, day ten, or even day forty. It’s about establishing a humility habit. We’re going to stop, drop, and pray. We’re going to hit our knees everyday! Our MO isn’t ASAP–as soon as possible. Our MO is ALAT–as long as it takes.

God's Will and Multiple Choices

Years ago, when our children were not yet grown (but well on their way), my wife, the lovely Robin, and I would frequently use a phrase that was intended to encourage them on the path to adulthood. It was: “That’s a decision you can make.”

When they came to us for permission, we would often quiz them about what decision they would make if we gave them that freedom. We encouraged them to take not only responsibility, but leadership in decision-making situations, and they responded. We often offered suggestions, and when necessary warned them in no uncertain terms about the potential consequences of poor decisions, but we tried to leave the decision up to them as often as possible.

I think of that sometimes these days as I reflect on God's will for us. Many of us agonize over his will. We seek his will in who to date, where to go to college, what major to choose, who to marry, what job to accept, what church to join, and so on.

We tend to believe God has a Plan A for all those things, and we're headed for trouble if--however innocently--choose Plan B...or worse, Plan K. And, to be fair, in some cases, God DOES have a Plan A. His Word DOES say that his will is for us to give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:18). It says his will is for us to be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3). But nowhere does the Bible say we are supposed to sweat bullets or blood over his will in other, more specific matters. In fact, quite the contrary.

I think sometimes--often--God responds to our frantic searching for his Plan A with, "That's a decision you can make." I suspect he is often more interested in HOW and WHY we reach a particular end than he is with the end itself. I imagine he delights in us as a loving parent encouraging his children toward greater maturity on the path to teleos (completion, wholeness, maturity).

So is there a decision or a choice you're facing right now? Do you think God has a Plan A and a Plan B you're supposed to discern, or do you think he's saying to you, "That's a decision you can make?"

Walk With Me

Regular readers of this blog (or my prayer blog: bobhostetler.blogspot.com) already know that the lovely Robin and I are enjoying a new addition to our family: Ryder Aaron McCane, born December 27, 2011. He's so beautiful, and we're so grateful. He's inherited his father's hair, his mother's face, his Mimi's disposition, and his Crappaw's table manners. Unfortunately, he has also, like his sister Calleigh, been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tract, and other areas of the body, resulting in life-threatening lung infections and serious digestion problems. He and his sister must take synthetic enzymes with every meal or snack, do breathing and vest treatments several times a day to keep their lungs working properly, and their parents and others have to stay vigilant against infections and other complications. To increase their prospects for long and healthy lives, I participate in Great Strides, along with others in my family.

I want to invite you, my readers, to join my team and help to raise much needed funds to support cystic fibrosis research. You will also enjoy food, fun, music at the Great Strides event at the 2012 Hamilton - Joyce Park site on 06/09/2012! Great Strides is the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's largest, most successful, and most important national fundraising event.

So many young lives depend on the vital, ongoing advances in CF research - to keep that momentum going, we need your help now! Walking in Great Strides is such an effective way to add tomorrows every day to the lives of those with cystic fibrosis. Your enthusiasm and fundraising efforts will help give more tomorrows to those with CF every day.

It's so easy to help - just visit my Great Strides Home page here. There, you can help in several ways:

1) click on "Join My Team!" Then follow the step-by-step instructions on how to register and begin your fundraising campaign for the June walk. My goal this year is for five friends to join me as walkers/fundraisers. The CF website will help you in creating your own fundraising page and enlisting others in this worthy effort. The website also has other useful, easy-to-use features to help your efforts, including fundraising tips, tools to monitor your progress, and easy ways to invite people to make online donations to support your goal! PLEASE consider joining my team.

2) click on "Click to Donate." If you're not able to join my team, perhaps you can make an online donation to show your support. Just click that button (at the top and bottom of my page). It's incredibly easy.

3) click "Send Page to Others." Doing this will create a short email you can send to your friends and associates, inviting them to give to this great cause. It takes seconds, but can be a huge help to me.

4) consider a business sponsorship. Your company can have a huge impact by adopting Calleigh and Ryder's cause as a company effort. Contact me for further information through this blog, and I'll walk you through the process.

Joining my Great Strides team is such a simple and effective way for you to show your support for this important cause. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those with CF!

Thank you so much for any support you can give. I'll report back on this blog with further news about those who join the team, and my progress toward my goals, as well as the larger effort of "McCane's Miracles!"

Church of the Week: Clifton UM Church, Cincinnati OH

The lovely Robin had to remind me last week that we had both visited Clifton United Methodist Church on Clifton Ave. in Clifton (is that enough Cliftons for you?).

We were here for a funeral of a dear friend's mother some, I don't know, 25 years ago. The stately old church doesn't seem to have changed much since then. This photo was taken last Friday.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

My 119:11 Project, Pt. 7

Wow, this was the roughest week yet in my Project 119:11. For some reason, I was extremely slow getting started this week, and this week's psalm (#7) was the longest yet. On top of that, while Psalms 1-4 are still fresh in my mind, I stumbled the last couple days reviewing Psalms 5 and 6. The task before me seems harder right now than at any point up till now. Still, it's good. I knew from the beginning this would be a huge challenge for me (especially since my fifty-three-year-old brain is not know for its mad memory skills). So this was the first of what I'm sure will be many gut checks.

So let's get on with it, and then I'll mention a couple things I'm learning through this process. Here's my Psalm 7, typed from memory, from the New Living Translation:
I come to you for protection, O Lord my God.
Save me from my persecutors--rescue me.
If you do not, they will maul me like a lion,
tearing me to pieces with no one to rescue me.

O Lord my God,
if I have done wrong,
and am guilty of injustice,
if I have betrayed a friend
or plundered my enemy without cause,
then let my enemies capture me.
Let them trample me into the ground
and drag my honor in the dust.

Arise, O Lord, in anger!
Stand up against the fury of my enemies!
Wake up, my God, and bring justice.
Gather the nations before you.
Rule over them from on high.
The Lord judges the nations.
Declare me righteous, O Lord,
for I am innocent, O Most High.
End the evil of those who are wicked,
and defend the righteous.
For you look deep within the mind and heart, O righteous God.

God is my shield,
saving those whose hearts are true and right.
God is an honest judge.
He is angry with the wicked every day.
If a person does not repent,
God will sharpen his sword.
He will bend and string his bow.
He will prepare his deadly weapons
and shoot his flaming arrows.

The wicked conceive evil.
They are pregnant with trouble,
and give birth to lies.
They dig a deep pit to trap others,
then fall into it themselves.
The trouble they make for others
backfires on them.
The violence they plan
falls on their own heads.

I will thank the Lord, for he is just.
I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.
Wow, very good, especially considering my late start. I missed one word: "and" instead of "or" in the second line of v. 3. I'll take it!

This was the first week I used a new mnemonic technique: I pasted up a "note" on my iphone and used it like flash cards, dividing the psalm into stanzas that made sense to ME and helped in the memorization. I am also growing still more frustrated with the NLT audio Bible I use on my phone; the narrator's cadence and emphasis is ALL wrong. There is absolutely NO good reason for him to emphasize the words he does, and it actually hampers rather than helps my memorization efforts.

Also, this psalm (as well as a couple of the previous ones) has been a blessing to memorize because of its correspondence to some of my struggles in recent years--but even more so because so many of the lines are a reminder of God's deliverance and faithfulness to me. Looking back, rejoicing, in his kindness is a great fringe benefit of my efforts.

Now I just need to work harder at reviewing this coming week, as I move on to the very familiar Psalm 8.

A Pastor's Failings, Pt. 5


It's time for the latest installment in this recurring feature here on the Desperate Pastor blog, in which I confess 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.

In the four churches the lovely Robin and I have pastored in our short but eventful lifetimes, we never managed to achieve a healthy balance and rhythm between work and rest. This was partly because I never quite conquered the tendency to equate activity with accomplishment.

In every church we served, we worked very hard, added numerous programs and activities, and grew the church until the place was full on Sundays and the calendar was full throughout the week, with ministry happening Sunday through Saturday in one way or another. I confess to having published newsletters and calendars that displayed full schedules for all to see. I confess that I took some pleasure and pride in all that was going on in the Savior's name.

But I was a fool. Activity ≠ accomplishment. In fact, the more activity, the less focused my efforts--and the efforts of the church--became.

If I had it to do over again, I would have consciously pursued less motion and striven for more direction.

Close Enough to Hurt

This meme is making the rounds, with versions for musicians, artists, etc. Here is one for pastors:

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119 Project: Pt. 6

It's time to update the progress of my 119 Project (that's what I'm calling my three-year effort to memorize the book of Psalms, in their entirety, fifty psalms a year). This past week's psalm was Psalm 6, as I continue to review Psalms 1-5. So here it is, typed from memory, from the New Living Translation:

O, Lord, don't rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your rage.
Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak;
Have mercy, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
I am sick at heart.
How long, O Lord, until you restore me?

Return, O Lord, and rescue me.
Save me because of your unfailing love,
for the dead do not remember you.
Who can praise you from the grave?

I am worn out from sobbing.
All night I flood my bed with weeping,
drenching it with my tears.
My vision is blurred by grief.
My eyes are worn out because of all my enemies.

Go away, all you who do evil!
For the Lord has heard my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord will answer my prayer.
May all my enemies be disgraced and terrified.
May they suddenly turn back in shame.

Not bad....though I almost forgot verse 3.

Six down, 144 to go. I've begun reviewing them out of order this past week, as an added exercise. And I've noticed, too, that certain phrases (like Psalm 4:7, "You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine") are popping up in my prayers as well, which is cool.

A Pastor's Failings, Pt. 4

It's time for yet another installment in this 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.

I'm beginning to have misgivings about the whole series. Primarily because it will never end. I think my faults and failings will outnumber the days I have left on earth to tell of them. Alas, and alack. Mostly alack. But with a little alas thrown in there.

Anyway, here's number four: my unbiblical tendency to believe the best about people and to expect the best from them. I've come to call it "pastoral naiveté."

I know, I know, that sounds a little like an answer to the interview question, "What's your greatest weakness?" "Oh, I guess I work too hard. And I tend to believe the best about people and to expect the best from them."

But I think I'm being totally honest here. See, I know the human heart is "deceitful above all things, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV), but despite my head knowledge of human fallenness, I have always tended 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...my 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 have been a much 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).

My 119:11 Project, Pt. 5

This week's 119:11 Project was the toughest yet, partly because I was on the road and teaching in the classroom all week. I also discovered, at mid-week, that I drew a complete blank in the process of reviewing the other four psalms. I reviewed Psalm 1-3 without trouble, but when I got to Psalm 4:6, I could not remember what came next. I knew there was a verse before "You have given me greater joy," but I just blanked out until I looked it up. I suppose that won't be the last time.

So here is Psalm 5, typed from memory:
O Lord, hear me as I pray.
Pay attention to my groaning.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
for I pray to no one but you.
Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
Each morning I bring my requests to you
and wait expectantly.

O God, you take no pleasure in wickedness.
You cannot tolerate the sins of the wicked.
Therefore, the proud may not stand in your presence,
for you hate all who do evil.
You will destroy those who tell lies.
The Lord detests murderers and deceivers.

Because of your unfailing love, I can enter your house.
I will worship at your temple with deepest awe.
Lead me in the right path, O Lord,
or my enemies will conquer me.
Make your way plain for me to follow.

My enemies cannot speak a truthful word.
Their deepest desire is to destroy others.
Their talk is foul,
like the stench from an open grace.
Their tongues are filled with flattery.

O God, declare them guilty.
Let them be caught in their own traps.
Drive them away because of their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice!
Let them sing joyful praises forever!
Spread your protection over them,
that all who love your name may be filled with joy.
For you bless the godly, O Lord.
You surround them with your shield of love.
Looks like I nailed it. every word is correct. I'm learning to take special note of the "O Gods" and "O Lords," as it can be hard to keep track of them all.

But that makes five psalms so far committed to memory, and except for drawing a blank that one time, I continue to keep the previous psalms fresh by reciting them at least a couple times each day. In fact, I'll often review them in bed, as I try to disengage my brain from all the activity of the day or the impending activity of the next before going to sleep. It's a blessing.

It hasn't gotten old yet, not at all. I'm still enjoying it. And while I know it will get harder as I go along, I'm also expecting the blessings to multiply. It has already been amazing to see the correspondence between the psalm I am memorizing and what God is teaching me, telling me, or bringing me through at a particular time. "The entrance of thy words giveth light" (Psalm 119:130, KJV).

Simply God

I was attracted to Rick Richards's book, Simply God, by the title and by its promise of delivering a radical new view of what it means to be a leader in Christ.

As I began reading it, I struggled to stay interested. The writing was, frankly, boring, and the design of the book (including the cover) was unattractive. The more I read, the more I thought, I can't believe a publisher actually accepted this for publication. I soon found out the mistake was mine; the book is a product of WestBow Press, Nelson's imprint for subsidy publishing. It shows.

There are some good things in the book, but they are buried under a pile of unnecessary words and unimaginative prose. There are few illustrations to enliven the author's points. No humor. No charm. And some rookie mistakes, such as claiming a level of inspiration for this book that is nowhere in evidence IN it. As a lover of God AND as a reader and writer, I sincerely believe God is far more interesting, creative, engaging, and exciting than the thoughts and words the author attributes to him.

Simply put, Simply God is simply bad.


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

A Pastor's Failings, Pt. 3

It's time for another installment in this 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 three: pastoral prayerlessness. For large swaths of my first twenty years or so in ministry, I was a virtually prayerless pastor. I wanted to pray. I knew I should pray. I forced myself at times to pray. But I could not have said I was a man of prayer. I could not have called myself a praying pastor.

Obviously, I prayed quite often--at mealtimes, and in public gatherings, and so on. But that's not what I'm talking about. I was for most of my first two decades of ministry a non-resident of the prayer closet, a stranger to secret prayer, a toe-dipper in the deep waters of private prayer. All that changed a year or two prior to my last pastoral experience, the church my wife and I helped to plant twelve years ago in Oxford, Ohio. And it changed, not through determination, but through desperation and discovery. I became more desperate for God than ever before, and discovered the rhythms that transformed my prayer life from "ought to" to "want to," from a discipline to a dance.

All along, I knew the truth of Andrew Murray's words:
The indispensable thing is not preaching, not pastoral visitation, not church work, but fellowship with God in prayer until we are clothed with power from on high! To be prayerless is to be powerless.
I just didn't practice them. And I honestly have no idea how I managed to pastor, preach, counsel, plan, think, serve, or function without utter, constant, desperate dependence on God in prayer. I definitely know I couldn't do it today, that's for sure.