Common Worship, Private Devotions

When David organized Israel into a worshiping congregation, thirty-eight thousand Levites were assigned to provide the leadership and support required (1 Chron. 23:3). Prayer in Israel was not left up to individuals to do or not do as they more or less felt inclined. This was a public works project of impressive dimensions. It was neither private nor peripheral. Common worship takes precedence over private devotions (Eugene Peterson, Answering God, p. 83).

This is Wonderful

Absolutely wonderful:

Jake Weidmann: Master Penman from This Is Our City on Vimeo.

From "This is Our City": Jake is one of a handful of Master Penmen in the United States....This is just a small piece of what will be a longer film. Consider it an appetizer of what's to come. We look forward to bringing you more of Jake's story, a story that reminds us that Christians are not just called to make new culture, but to steward and cultivate that which has already been created.

This Blog Won't Stoop

Did you know that every day roughly a BAJILLION new blogs are created? And that most of those get more traffic than THIS blog? That's just not right.

So, I've decided to fight back--much like Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" or "Lindsay Lohan" and "Amanda Bynes" behind the wheel of a car. This blog, the Desperate Pastor, exists to encourage, enlighten, and equip pastors and others in ministry--those who are doing important work in one of the most demanding fields of endeavor in existence, much like "Neil Armstrong" or "Barack Obama" or "Kate Middleton," "Duchess of Cambridge," none of whom are naked, topless, or shocking in any way in these pages.

Many blogs play the game by using keywords and search phrases that will get them noticed on Google and other search engines. But not the Desperate Pastor. This blog relies on quality content, day after day, rather than top search terms like Benghazi, "Gisele Bundchen," or "Clare Danes." Nor will we stoop to such behavior in terms more closely related to this blog's content by shamelessly mentioning buzzwords like "Joel Osteen" or "T. D. Jakes" or "N. T. Wright NyQuil Abuse Scandal." Such tactics are far below the dignity of the Desperate Pastor.

In short, this may be The Desperate Pastor, but absolutely NOT The Desperate "Rob Bell" vs. "John Piper" Raging Pastor Smackdown Video blog.

And it never will be.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Church of the Week: Chapel at Camp Paradise Valley

The lovely Robin and I worshiped yesterday, and I spoke, at the Asbury University Salvation Army Student Fellowship (SASF) Retreat at Camp Paradise Valley on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee (try saying THAT five times fast!).

It's a warm and well-equipped place of worship in a beautiful setting.

We were led in singing, very sensitively and effectively, by members of TransMission, a music group from The Salvation Army's Southern Territory.

The students and staff were receptive and responsive to my speaking all weekend, for which I am grateful. Nothing was thrown and no catcalls were issued. I spoke Sunday morning on 1 Samuel 14, a message drawn from my book, Quit Going to Church, entitled, "Quit Living in the Center of God's Will."

I'm honored to have been a part of such a great group, on such a fine weekend, in such a beautiful place.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Gauging Your Aging

This past weekend the lovely Robin and I had the joy of reuniting in ministry with dear friends of many years, Majors Doug and Debbie Burr, the Salvation Army's officer liaisons for the Salvation Army Student Fellowship at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky.

It was such fun to spend that time with them and reminisce and re-connect.

It was also a joy to connect with the students. And a reminder of just how old we really are to connect with students who are the children of old friends, like Macaira Furman, whose parents Bill and Inger labored with us in our corps in Cincinnati roughly an eon ago:

And--going back further still--Kathryn and Kristen (below), the twin daughters of Bob Bender, who with Doug and Robin and I got into more trouble as teenagers than any of us would like to admit.

I know what you're thinking: only Doug looks old enough to have been friends with these ladies' parents. True. But as young as I may look standing with him, encountering old friends' grown-up children is a disturbing gauge of my age. Disturbing. And, did I mention disturbing?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Pastors and Poets

I'm no poet (though I have written a poetry collection everyone should buy and read and recommend to friends and family). And at worst I'm a disaster as a pastor, at best merely a desperate one. But I think nonetheless that there is an intersection--an overlap--between the poet's craft and the pastor's calling (as M. Craig Barnes so ably demonstrates in his book, The Pastor as Minor Poet).

Both pastor and poet must listen more than they speak. Both must observe carefully, think clearly, and communicate wisely. And both must be content to labor long and hard in obscurity and poverty.

For those and other reasons, I recommend that pastors cultivate relationships (at least through reading) with poets. Reading poetry can benefit a pastor in a multitude of ways. It can teach him or her to think better. To ponder. To write well. To SLOW DOWN. And much more.

To those ends, then, let me recommend some of my favorite poets, and offer a single line from each that I hope will whet the appetite:

1. William Shakespeare
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player..."

2. Robert Frost
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."

3. Emily Dickinson
"Each life converges to some centre/Expressed or still..."

4. Wendell Berry
"Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling..."

5. Mary Oliver
"I thought the earth remembered me..."

6. Robinson Jeffers
"The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those/That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant..."

7. Christina Rossetti
"Then He shall say, 'Arise, My love,/My fair one, come away.'"

8. Albert Orsborn
"I know Thee as Thou art/And what Thy healing name..."

9. Edgar Lee Masters
"Out of me unworthy and unknown /The vibrations of deathless music..."

10. Richard Wilbur
"I can’t forget/How she stood at the top of that long marble stair/Amazed..."

The Pressure's Off

Dr. Larry Crabb's book, The Pressure's Off (Breaking Free from Rules and Performance) was first published in 2002. I wonder how I would have received it if I had read it back then.

I might have resisted or argued with the book's premise--that The New Way, the way of Jesus, has abolished "the moral Law of Linearity" (that is, that doing the right things and avoiding the wrong things is the way to blessing and satisfaction in life). But that was then. This is now.

Crabb's book is dead on in claiming that most Christians and church-goers today live our lives in a no-man's land between legalism and grace. We know we are saved by grace, but we try to live--and pray--by the law of cause and effect (i.e., "if I do this, God will bless me" or, conversely, "I've tried so hard to do the right things, and my marriage/family/business/health/etc. STILL broke down!"). We seek the blessings of God as first things rather than seeking first The First Thing--God himself. And our poor theology makes for lives that are much poorer than what our hearts long for and what God wants for us.

I highly recommend this book, but not without a few small reservations. First, not every heart or mind will be ready to receive its message (as I suggested above, I doubt that I would have really grasped it ten years ago). Second, I think the book is two or three times longer than it has to be; I think it would have been more powerful in a shorter presentation (though maybe if I needed more convincing I would have not found it so repetitive). And, finally, the "how to" element could have been much stronger and more informative; I imagine many readers who have not already encountered God in his fulness, in prayer, in silence, in deep communion, may be inspired by Crabb's teaching but then left at a loss as to where to go from here.

That said, I nonetheless hope everyone reads this book. It is important and truly, deeply valuable.


(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”)

What Hath Google Wrought?

I had a short conversation with a friend and Christian brother recently that impressed on me how the stakes--the demands--have become higher in this age of smart phones, iPads, and Google. He told me of his pastor who made a strange and bold claim in a sermon; my friend was doubtful, so right then and there he Googled the claim, and learned that it was extremely dubious, at best. He said he had since done the same with other statements, enough to really compromise the impact of his pastor's preaching...and perhaps even his personal integrity.

Now, probably every pastor in the world, including me of course, has failed at times in his or her research--especially since the dawn of the Internet, perhaps. We can't know everything. We can't verify every source. We can only do so much.

But we must keep in mind that almost anyone these days can do what my friend did.

First, that's a challenge to remember that I need to be the first fact-checker of anything I say from the platform. I have always footnoted or otherwise indicated my sources when studying for and writing a sermon, which has often paid off when someone asked for the source or when, sometimes years later, I used it in an article or book. Even when for the sake of focus I've used phrases like "I've heard it said" or "it has been reported" from the platform, I've made sure to have a citation available so anyone seeking more information could get it.

Second, I've always had as a goal to speak so compellingly throughout a message as to make it hard for a person to daydream or disengage, even for only a moment. It's a high standard, of course, but one that would these days make Googling my words a little tougher on the listener.

Finally, and most importantly in this new era of smart phones, I want to make sure that my words are always trustworthy, so that the person who does check their veracity would be reassured, as much as possible. I want my messages to build toward a response, and that goal is short-circuited if a listener begins to think, "What did he just say? That can't be right!" By the time he or she goes to Google on a phone, I've probably lost not only that person's attention but also the likelihood of the kind of response I'd been praying for.

Caring CAN Be Automated

Anyone in ministry--or business, education, or sales, for that matter--juggles a plethora of relationships. Marriage. Family. Friends. Church members. Small group. Business connections. And on and on it goes.

In thirty-plus years of ministry, I never got good at it. Too often, I would promise to pray for someone--and then forget. Too often, I would agree to call someone--and that promise would fall between the cracks of my too-busy day. Too often I would fail at keeping up with the many people I cared about.

I wish I'd had the People Care app years ago. It is a handy tool for anyone with an iPhone or iPad to help you keep up with those you care about, reminding you to check back on how a person is doing or follow up on important events. It makes it easy to see at a glance who you haven't touched base with in a while, and even keeps records of interactions for you.

The People Care website suggests a broad range of ways the app can be used:
-Finish a conversation with your family members, take a minute to enter the crucial info into the People Care app and move on with the knowledge that you won’t forget about the people you care most about just because a telemarketer calls you five minutes later.

-Got a lunch meeting with a co-worker, supervisor or potential new hire? Make notes of the essential points in People Care as you jump into your car after lunch or at the stop light!

-Working the sales floor and want to show your customers (and supervisor) that you value the customers? Finish your sales conversation by entering the basic info on the potential customer as well as some other info. Maybe make a note to follow-up with the customer on their interest in the product you’re selling. Or, make a note about personal information you learned about them so you don’t forget! We all want to be valued beyond our potential to be a sale, show you care by keeping tabs on your customers with People Care!

-Got a highly mobile sales team? Make sure they use People Care to note and report on their contacts each week using the “Email Historical Report” function on the Well being Page.

-Got spiritual mentor/protege relationships to manage? Use People Care to keep notes for yourself on the progress and development of those relationships and meetings.
Not only is People Care a breakthrough app for people in ministry, I rejoice that some of the proceeds from your purchase will support the ministry of a long-time personal friend with a huge heart for people.

Oh, and did I mention? It's only $2.99. I spent more money on index cards back in the day.

Tips for Preaching from an iPad

Last week, Mark Pierce, on the blog, published a marvelous post entitled "5 Power Tips for Preaching From An iPad." Though I have been preaching from an iPad for nearly two years now (and previously posted on the subject here), I picked up a few new tips...and I especially liked his PREPARE checklist to use before preaching. Good stuff.

To Title a Sermon

I loved these two articles from Calvin Miller and Rick Warren, on how to choose great titles for sermons.

Check it out.

Conventions and Churches

I didn't watch a single minute of either the Republican or Democrat conventions, a first for me. This was for several reasons. One, I consciously eschew "live" TV these days, as a time-saving strategy. Two, I read enough national news and political commentary to be informed on the candidates' and parties' positions long before the conventions started. Three, I expected nothing substantive or new from either convention (and wasn't disappointed).

But in reading reports of the conventions, I realized (I think) something important. Something that is true also of how we do "church" these days.

While there have been updates and upgrades, small modifications or clever innovations here and there, the format of national party conventions is largely unchanged from a century or more ago: that is, speeches followed by more speeches. Some are preceded or punctuated by videos (or stage props like empty chairs), but very little that happens on a convention stage is specific to (or mindful of) a culture dominated by interactive media: Facebook, Twitter, multi-player video games, Skype, etc.

The same is generally true of corporate worship in the twenty-first century. The basics are unchanged from the past couple millennia: we sing, we give, someone preaches. In some churches, we also take communion. Maybe the lack of change is for the best. Some would argue the unchanging Gospel and unchanging modes of worship go hand in hand.

Of course, many churches are innovating with video, incorporating texting into worship, allowing feedback and discussion in the worship moment, etc. But for most of us, worship continues to be a largely passive, mostly aural, experience.

I know I'm not the first to note this. And I'm not the first to suggest we take a conscious, critical (though careful) look at how we worship in the twenty-first century. I'm far from the only one wondering how our corporate worship experiences (and life of the church in general) must or should change to include those who are better reached by visual, tactile, olfactory, or participatory ways to worship than the predominantly aural means we usually employ. And I'm far, far from the best person to weigh whether the church would be wiser to adopt, adapt, or counter current and coming technology, and in what ways.

But I'm pretty sure that a great many souls for whom Jesus died will be affected one way or the other.

Free Christian Fiction eBooks? Yes, Please.

I know some pastors and leaders eschew--even dismiss--the reading of fiction as a waste of time...or worse.

To that, I say poppycock. And tommyrot.

Good fiction broadens a person's (even a pastor's or church leader's) horizons. It can improve a preacher's storehouse of knowledge, provide illustrations, and teach a lot about how to communicate true things via story. It can sharpen the mind, ignite the imagination, and inspire the soul.

So, when I see something like this, I don't hesitate to share it:

Christian Fiction Book Reviews is offering a contest for $300 worth of free Christian novels, due to the generosity of authors John Michael Hileman, Naty Matos, Barbara Ellen Brink, and Staci Stallings.

Click here for more information.

Prayers and Dreams

I have frequently fallen asleep while praying (it's not always a bad thing to do so, but is often to me like a child falling asleep in a loving parent's arms). I have also occasionally awakened praying. But a few nights ago, I had a new experience: I prayed in my dream.

I dreamt of someone asking me to pray for them (through an open car window). The request was different; she asked me to pray that tests would reveal her to be left-handed. So I said I would pray, and soon thereafter prayed for her as I picked up around the house where I was staying (which was not my home).

I don't know what the dream means. I'm not concerned about it. And I don't remember much else about the dream. But I vividly recall praying. And I'm blessed by it.

I would like to live in such a way that prayer infiltrates not only my waking moments, but my sleeping ones as well. It seems a little strange that I prayed for such an odd request, from a person I don't know (at least not yet). But I am encouraged, and will be still more so, as prayer pervades my sleep and day dreams...and as the lines between dreaming (whether sleeping or waking) and praying become less marked for me.

What about you? Do you pray in your dreams? Perhaps more importantly, do you dream in your prayers?

Reason for Being

One measure of a book's quality is the enjoyment I feel while reading it. Another, related, factor is my absorption in reading it (how thoroughly I lose track of time, for example). Another measure is how much underlining (or highlighting) and note-taking I do while reading. Still another is how it shifts or expands my thinking, understanding, and/or perspective. Another is how long and vividly I recall its words, scenes, etc., after reading it.

In all these respects, Reason for Being: A Meditation on Ecclesiastes by the French philosopher Jacques Ellul (translated from the French by Joyce Main Hanks) is among the best.

I don't often read books like this (I'm not that smart). Still less often do I read them to the end, savoring every page, every passage. But such was the case with Reason for Being. I made so many notes, it took six pages, single-spaced, to transcribe them all for my records.

Ellul's depth and breadth of thought and insight on Ecclesiastes, the Bible's most enigmatic book, amazed and delighted me. I learned much more than I expected.

It is a wise and profound book about a book that warns against writing books...or expecting to find reason and wisdom "under the sun." Quite an accomplishment!

Mercy Project

I only recently learned of Mercy Project. I hope by means of this post to spread the word about this group and the important work they are doing.

Labor Day is an American holiday that we celebrate with food, family, friends, and fireworks. Many of us have forgotten (if we ever knew) that Labor Day is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of the labor movement, which in generations past fought hard for fair, ethical working practices and laws that prevent discrimination, abuse, and child labor in our country.

Child trafficking and child labor still exist, of course, and there remain many children around the world are literally enslaved. That is why Mercy Project exists.

Imagine children working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. Imagine what it would be like if your children or grandchildren had to endure long, hard days of physical labor, eating one meal a day, and then falling asleep at night on a dirt floor filled with other slave children. This is the daily reality for an estimated 7,000 kids who have been trafficked into the fishing industry in Ghana, Africa--some as young as 5 and 6 years old. Crippling poverty in Ghana leaves many mothers in an unimaginable position: sell their children to someone who can take better care of them or watch them starve to death. Most of the mothers are told their children will be given food, housing, and an education. Instead, the kids are often taken to Lake Volta where they become child slaves; their mothers never see them again.

Mercy Project is working to break the cycles of trafficking around Lake Volta by providing alternate, more efficient, sustainable, fishing methods for villagers–-ultimately eliminating the need for child slaves. Because of the work Mercy Project is doing in Ghana, the first group of children will be freed this month from Lake Volta.

Watch this moving, 10 minute documentary about the issues surrounding child labor and trafficking in Ghana and the hope Mercy Project is bringing to children and entire communities in Africa.

Mercy Project is the only NGO working on Lake Volta, addressing the injustice of child labor and child trafficking at its root--by strengthening the Ghanaian economy and eliminating the structures that cause the demand for trafficked children.

Please consider becoming a part of what Mercy Project is doing in Ghana. Here are just a few ways to do that:

• Watch and share Mercy Project’s short documentary on YouTube (click here).

• "Like" Mercy Project on Facebook.

• Follow Mercy Project via Twitter.

• Spend some time on Mercy Project’s website.

• Share this post about Mercy Project’s work in Ghana with your friends, using the email link at the bottom of this post.