My Ten Best Books of 2013 (#6)

Today's post is the sixth in a series in which I ask pastor friends to list the "Ten Best" books they read in 2013. 

The list below is from Father David Hostetler, LTJG, CHC, USN Chaplain, 5th Combat Logistics Battalion. Or something like that. He is a Greek Orthodox priest and a Navy chaplain serving on a Marine base. Most importantly, of course, he is also my nephew (my oldest brother's oldest son, which I think makes him older than me).
In my reflection of this years' reading I've discovered that I don't read nearly enough. And I also found that I've gotten into the habit of reading as much fiction as non-fiction, perhaps more. I started after seminary to try to expand my pool of available sermon illustrations and deepen my own perception by reading more and better fiction with an eye toward finding the Gospel in everything. Some of what I've read I probably should have read in high school... 
1. For example, I loved reading A Tale of Two Cities for the first time.

2. And I was enthralled by a short story by Jack London called "To Build a Fire."  The edition I read contained two versions of the story which he wrote early in his career and revised toward the end. The difference between the two versions was as interesting as the story itself.

3. I've become really fond of Kipling, and his novel, The Light that Failed, included descriptions of men’s interpersonal relationships that are almost an instruction manual for raising boys or teaching men to be manly. 
4. I also enjoyed Hemmingway’s To Have and Have Not and

5. Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury for the first time. 
6. As for non-fiction, I loved A Game of Inches by Peter Morris. I try to read at least one baseball book during the season each year and this was great fun. It’s an encyclopedia of baseball firsts with small sections that are perfect to read between innings. I learned, finally, why pitches that miss the strike zone are called “balls.” 
7. Theologically (this is a pastors’ blog, after all) I started the year with For the Life of the World by Fr. Alexander Schmemman. This was a re-read but worth it every time. He starts by saying “we are what we eat” and then demonstrates the importance of sacrament for the life of the world. 
8. I finished two essay collections I started last year: The Inner Kingdom, a collection of essays by Bishop Kallistos Ware, and

9. Thinking Through Faith, a collection of a variety of authors and edited by Aristotle Papanikolaou and Elizabeth Prodromou .

10. My favorite non-fiction read of the year was The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton. I can’t believe I haven’t read this one before, but I’ll be going back to it again. With his characteristic wit Chesterton illustrates how Christ fulfills the longings of man from the very beginning of time and how Christianity stands apart as more complete and encompassing than any other religion.
As always, feel free to comment about any choices you agree with...or not.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 15)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Andrew Holzworth, teaching pastor of Cobblestone Community Church in Oxford, Ohio.

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Chrysostom on Christmas

A Christmas Day tradition here on the Desperate Pastor blog is the following, the earliest Christmas sermon still extant. It was written and delivered in A.D. 386 by John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople:
BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 14)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Major George Baker, divisional commander of The Salvation Army in Alaska (full disclosure: he is also my cousin, a fact of which I am prouder than he is, for sure).

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

My Ten Best Books of 2013 (#5)

Now that several of my "pastor type" friends have generously posted their "10 Best Books" of 2013 on this blog, I thought it was time I ponied up and listed mine. Of course, I have done this in past years here on the Desperate Pastor (see 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009) so this is not exactly a surprise.

Rather than trying to rank these from 1-10 (which is much too daunting a task for me), I will post them here in the order in which I read them:

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham. This biography of the seventh President of the United States won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. The fascinating story of a fascinating man.

N. T. Wright's book, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is, is a portrait of Jesus that both confirms the central tenets of the historical faith and challenges the sloppy thinking, talking, praying, and practice of which many of us are guilty. Wright always challenges and deepens my thinking (my full review is here).

Accidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne is a gift to the church. Everyone should read it. Especially those of us who don't think they need to (read my full review of this book here).

Stephen King's 11/22/63 is the story of Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town who discovers a way to change history--specifically, to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. And believe it or not, that's only part of the story.

The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight (the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park College in Chicago) goes to the heart of what it means to follow Jesus and experience his kingdom (read my full review here).

From the Garden to the City (The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology) by John Dyer. I have recommended this book to many for its expert discussion of technology, philosophy, history, and theology in a thoroughly and constantly engaging way. His call to control technology instead of letting it control and shape our lives continues to speak to me.

The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith encourages evangelicals, instead of trying to make the Bible say things and do things that it does not (e.g., approaching it as a "handbook for living," even to the extent of providing dating or dieting tips), to let the Bible be what it is: a a collection of "irreducibly multivocal, polysemic, and multivalent texts" that nonetheless powerfully points to (and only makes sense when understood in relation to) Jesus Christ (read my full review here).

Wendell Berry is one of my favorite writers. And Jayber Crow is now one of my favorite books. One of Berry's "Port William" novels, it is absolutely wonderful.

Profound. Profane. Honest. Humble. Hilarious. Hopeful. Raw. Revealing. Insightful. Beautiful. Nadia Bolz-Weber's book, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, is all of those things (read my full review here).

Surprised by Hope, another N. T. Wright book, seeks to answer two important questions: “What are we waiting for?” and “What are we going to do about it in the meantime?” (read my full review here).

Pat Conroy's My Reading Life details the books that have not only entertained him but also shaped his life.

Okay, so that's eleven, not ten. So sue me. It's hard enough to narrow down the 100+ books I read in 2013 this far to the eleven best. And while only a few of them were recent releases, they were all worth my time but also my admiration and celebration.

Church of the Week: Faith Lutheran Church, Oxford OH

All the years the lovely Robin and I have lived in this area (twenty-one-plus years, in fact!), we had never entered Faith Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Oxford...until last Saturday. 
Our grandson Miles, who is a Tiger Cub scout (the awesomest one ever, coincidentally enough) in Pack 961, was one of the many Cub Scouts receiving recognitions and awards at an "Arrow of Light" ceremony which was held at Faith Lutheran. The top photo was taken just before the event started in the octagonal sanctuary which, with its movable pews, makes a gathering "in the round" like this one possible. 
On our way out after the event and the reception that followed downstairs in the church's fellowship hall, I noticed a sign pointing to a "Chapel." So, of course, I had to investigate, and found this lovely little chapel, thoroughly conducive to prayer and small worship gatherings. I LOVE side chapels and prayer chapels, and was delighted to discover that Faith Lutheran had made room for this one. 

Faith Lutheran is located at 420 South Campus Street, in Oxford, contiguous to the campus of Miami University. 

Praying and Preaching

"Your praying and your preaching should be of the same length" (N. T. Wright in Surprised by Hope).

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 13)

The pastor's desk is that of Jason Wilcoxon, co-pastor of Legend Community Church in Oakley, Ohio (a Cincinnati community).

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

A Christmas Greeting

Click or cut-and-paste the link below for the Hostetler family's annual Christmas newsletter! Fun for the whole family!

Church of the Week: First UM Church, Middletown OH

I had the joy of taking the lovely Robin to a free concert of Handel's "The Messiah" yesterday at the First United Methodist Church of Middletown, Ohio. It is a church that dates to 1805, when pioneer and Methodist preacher James Grimes formed a Methodist society in his log cabin in what became Middletown. The current Romanesque Revival structure was built in 1890, and has had additions and improvements many times over the years.

The concert, presented by the Middletown Civic Chorus and supported by pipe organ, guest soloists, and a string quartet, was a joy from beginning to end. And the sanctuary, with its beautiful memorial windows and impressive pipe organ, was likewise a feast for the eyes.

Thank you, First UM, for hosting this concert, and thank you, Middletown Civic Chorus, for presenting it.

First United Methodist Church of Middletown is located at 120 S. Broad St.

My Ten Best Books of 2013 (#4)

Today's post is the fourth in a series in which I ask pastor friends to list the "Ten Best" books they read in 2013 (to date, of course). Feel free to comment about any choices you agree with...or not.

Colonel Janice Howard is a Salvation Army officer currently serving in Nyack, New York. She and her husband have been friends of me and the lovely Robin for longer than either would care to admit...assuming they would admit to being our friends in the first place. Always one to go the extra mile or two, Janice offered twelve "ten best" books of 2013 (in no particular order, she said):
  1. Heart of the Artist by Rory Noland
  2. Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Weiderkehr
  3. A Hidden Wholeness by Parker J. Palmer
  4. Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  5. The God of Intimacy and Action by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling
  6. Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton
  7. Praying the Bible: the Book of Prayers by Wesley & Stacey Campbell
  8. A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller
  9. Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
  10. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
  11. Take Time to Be Holy by Samuel Logan Brengle (edited by Bob Hostetler)
  12. How to be the Perfect Grandma by Bryna Nelson Paston
I'm glad she listed a dozen, because Take Time to Be Holy may not have made the grade otherwise. And someone should tell her that the position of "Perfect Grandma" is already taken. I happen to know her. I'm married to her. But otherwise, a great list, and one that has already added titles to my 2014 reading plan! 

Vulnerability in Ministry

If you have been in ministry for any length of time, you have probably learned some self-defense techniques to keep from being hurt and abused over and over again. But researcher-storyteller Brene Brown exposes the dangers of that mode of operating, and the power of vulnerability. It's worth your time. You're worth the time. I promise:

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 12)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Major Bob Bender (one of my oldest and weirdest friends), pastor (corps officer) of The Salvation Army in Painesville, Ohio.
He was also so thoughtful and thorough as to include a detail photo (above), showing how he manages to maintain an ocean view at his landlocked desk. It also seems appropriate to run this particular photo during The Salvation Army's red kettle season (see it?).

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

My Ten Best Books of 2013 (#3)

Today's post is the third in a series in which I ask pastor friends to list the "Ten Best" books they read in 2013 (to date, of course). Feel free to comment about any choices you agree with...or not.

Kasey Warren Hitt, M.Div., CSD, is a spiritual director living in Nashville, Tennessee. She offers individual and group direction, leads silent retreats, and teaches seminars on topics such as prayer, discernment, and Sabbath. To find out more, visit her website. Here are her "best" books of 2013:
What does my soul need? This was the guiding question in my choice of books, plunging me into art, poetry, dreams, even juggling (which became one of my spiritual practices this year!). Here are some of those memorable books in the order I read them:

Leap by Terry Tempest Williams
The House of Belonging by David Whyte
Unopened Letters from God: Using Biblical Dreams to Unlock Nightly Dreams by Rev. Robert L. Hayden, Jr.
The Soul's Religion: Cultivating a Profoundly Spiritual Way of Life by Thomas Moore
The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament and New Testament by Richard Rohr
Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

Although I've loved the above books, time after time I've returned to and drank deeply from these four:

Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky
Poetry from mystics and saints such as Rumi, St. Thomas Aquinas, Rabia, St. Teresa of Avila, Hafiz, Meister Eckhart and others have offered me a well-spring of deep, playful wisdom. I have found myself laughing and crying within seconds of each other, speechless in holy awe of the living water found in their ordinary words.

Water, Wind, Earth & Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements
Christine Valters Paintner
Observing and prayerfully interacting with the elements and rhythms of Creation has opened up a deeper wisdom which was well-known by ancient Christians. While most of us are now blind to the spiritual significance of things like wind or rain, this book invites us to go beyond weather. I am spending a lot of time meditating on water and wind, especially the gift of breathing deeply, which has become for me a prayer of trust.

Wonder, Fear and Longing: A Book of Prayers
Mark Yaconelli
Going deeper into one's own soul can be an intimidating experience which is why it is so easy to stay on the surface, going from book to book gathering good information about God, riding the wave of feelings or circumstances, and avoiding silence. Yaconelli is a wise and gentle guide offering simple practices and words (his own and the historical faith community's), that give courage to explore the dark, deep places of our own hearts and discover the love of God.

Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness
Nan C. Merrill
If the Psalms were written without a patriarchal or superstition-based lens or needing to focus sin and blame on external enemies, what kind of words would be given to the same age-old desires and emotions? This fresh reading of the Psalms continues to invite me into a deeper transparency and intimacy with God and an ever-growing kindness toward myself and others.

If you couldn't tell, my soul has been thirsty for depth! These books have offered me ways of doing just that—beckoning me to set them and all other books down, to look around and within, to spend time with and experience the created world, myself and God right where I am in the ordinary routine and stuff of life. Another way to say it is, these books have and continue to draw me deeper into prayer.

Some Welcomes Are Warmer Than Others

Some churches just offer coffee. But Lutherans aren't kidding when they say a warm welcome awaits!

My Ten Best Books of 2013 (#2)

Today's post is the second in a series in which I ask pastor friends to list the "Ten Best" books they read in 2013 (to date, of course). Feel free to comment about any choices you agree with...or not.

Scott E. Strissel is a pastor and Salvation Army officer currently serving in Brainerd, Minnesota. He blogs at Pastor's Ponderings. Here is his "ten best" books of 2013:

10. The Poor Will Be Glad
Peter Greer & Phil Smith

Currently reading.

9. What We Talk About When We Talk About God
Rob Bell

Currently reading.

8. Jimmy Stewart: A Biography
Marc Eliot

Currently reading.

7. Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from World War II
Larkin Spivey

This is a good daily devotional reader which shares personal stories from soldiers who endured and survived World War II. This devotional both inspires as well as challenges our faith and also provides evidence of God’s hand of protection and guidance to men and women of faith.

6. River of Darkness: Francisco Orellana’s Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon
Buddy Levy

This is a historical look into the European Explorer Gonzalo Pizarro and his Lieutenant Franciso Orellana who made their way through the Amazon. I love historic non-fiction books and when you throw in the investigative style with the awe of mystery, you’ve got a good read on your hands.

5) The Way of Holiness
Steve Deneff

I received this book last year as a gift and I was blessed to pour through its pages! It speaks to the heart of our need for Christ-likeness in our lives, the process, and spiritual disciplines all the while personalizing it for the reader without making it read like a textbook. It is definitely worthwhile to read!

4. Odd Apocalypse
Dean Koontz

I will admit some of favorite novels are by authors who not only provide suspense and action but those who write about victory with an underlined spiritual theme. Dean Koontz is one of my all-time favorite fiction writers because of his knack for writing in a way that engages the reader with humor and severely likable characters.

3. Falling in Love with God
Bob Hostetler

Every time I read the book of Hosea in the Bible, I am challenged by its words. Bob Hostetler presents the love of God for His people and their wandering ways in a very simplistic yet thought provoking manner. Falling in Love with God was a page turner which also challenged my faith.

2. Lincoln’s Battle with God
Stephen Mansfield

Lincoln has always been a figure in American history I have always admired. To read Mansfield’s biography on Abraham Lincoln’s light and his spiritual battles was a challenge for me but also very enlightening with much that I did not know about this famous president.

1. The Pursuit of God
A. W. Tozer

I must admit that this isn’t the first time I have read Tozer’s Pursuit of God, nor will it be my last. It has become a guiltless pleasure to re-read and seems to always find its way back onto my reading pile. Each time I read this book I am captured by God’s desire for us to know Him more deeply and this challenge to be like Christ in both word and deed. It is, without a doubt, my “go-to” book on the topic of spiritual disciplines.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 11)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Tim Riley, Student Ministries Pastor at Maiden Lane Church of God in Springfield, Ohio.  He made a point to mention, in keeping with the rules of the game, "No tidying occurred!"

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Church of the Week: St. Mary Aldermanbury Church, Fulton, Missouri

On a recent visit to Fulton, Missouri, the lovely Robin and I took the time to visit the National Churchill Museum on the campus of Westminster College. Part of the museum experience is the Church of St. Mary Aldermanbury, a beautiful church with a unique and fascinating story. 

St. Mary Aldermanbury was originally located in London. A previous structure on the site (first mentioned in 1181) was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was then rebuilt in Portland stone by the great architect Christopher Wren. It was once more largely destroyed in 1940, gutted by the bombs of the Battle of Britain, which left only the walls standing.
However, In 1966 the remaining stones were transported to Fulton, Missouri, by the residents of that town, and lovingly reassembled and reconstructed at Westminster College as a memorial to Winston Churchill, who had made his famous "Iron Curtain" speech in the Westminster College Gymnasium in 1946. If I remember correctly, the pulpit (above) is a Christopher Wren creation. 
The choir loft and pipe organ are among the majestic features of the church. 
The chapel features a bust of my good friend William Shakespeare, who was connected to the original church somehow.
I found it impossible to capture the striking and inspiring entrance of natural light through the church's many windows, but the above represents my best attempt. From both outside and inside, the windows are perhaps the church's dominant feature.

The church is entered through the museum (and is included in the small entrance fee). It is in great demand as a wedding venue.

My Ten Best Books of 2013 (#1)

Today's post is the first in a series that will run for the next month-and-a-half here on The Desperate Pastor. I've asked several of my pastor friends (yes, I have more than one) to list the "Ten Best" books they read in 2013 (to date, of course). Feel free to comment about any choices you agree with...or not.

Lawrence W. (Larry) Wilson is a student of culture, passionate preacher, avid cyclist, and one of the best doggone writers I know (even if he does say so himself). Check out his blog at, where he also maintains a handy list of free and low-cost getaways for pastors and their families.
This was a good reading year in that I found a couple of books that greatly helped with two issues I’ve been exploring (church and culture; prayer).

I don’t read much fiction (only two titles this year). And in case you’re interested, about one-third of my “reading” was in audio format with another 10 percent in e-book format. (I prefer the Kindle app on my phone or iPad.)

10. Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception
Philip Houston, Michael Flayed, and Susan Carniceo with Don Tennant

This is fun, practical help for anyone who either manages employees or parents teenagers. The authors describe a simple technique for identifying indications of deception while interviewing anyone. And it really works. Don’t lie to me. Seriously. I can tell.

9. Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Search for God in America
Jeff Chu

Pastor, if you’re not thinking about the your response to homosexual people and their presence in the church, you’re just not doing your job. Chu writes as a gay Evangelical who visited a number of churches in various Christian traditions to discover their responses to the gay question. His experiences are fascinating and revealing, and pretty well written. Bottom line, you need a pastoral response to this issue, and this book can help you form one.

8. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles 
Steven Pressfield

I’ve enjoyed some of Pressfield’s historical fiction, notably Gates of Fire, so I was intrigued by this nonfiction book on the life of a creative. His thesis is simple: there’s a devil inside you and you must defeat it every day in order to survive, let alone create anything of artistic value. He’s right. The value of this book is that it provides a clearer understanding of and language for the phenomenon of sloth, procrastination, idleness, or whatever you call that thing that keeps you from achieving your goals.

7. A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation
Diana L. Eck

Eck presents a survey of the religious diversity that currently exists in the United States and traces its development, particularly over the last 4o years. The value of this book is that it helps you see beyond your subculture and comprehend the breadth of religious change we’ve experienced as a nation. Warning: the book is a little like going to a movie thriller. It makes you uncomfortable, but that’s why you pay the money. This is an eye-opener, for sure.

6. Crossing the Ethnic Divide: The Multiethnic Church on a Mission
Kathleen Garces-Foley

This book is a case study of one congregation and its journey to become multiethnic church. Two things recommend it. First, the congregation began as a minority (pan-Asian) dominated church so it’s interesting to see how similar their change dynamics are to a majority congregation. Second, the author nicely exposes the theological, sociological, and practical issues surrounding multiethnic ministry. I’m on a Christ and culture jag, so this book really hit the spot.

5. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home
Richard Foster

Foster’s writing is always enriching, and this book is certainly no exception. The beauty here is that Foster presents not prayer techniques but types of prayers. You’ll come to a deeper understanding of what you are doing when you prayer, and how various prayers serve your growth in holiness. I’d like to re-read this book every year or two for the next little while.

4. Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence
David A. Livermore

I read this book to further my thinking on Christianity and culture and to prepare for a mission to Haiti. It was good help on bout counts. You won’t believe (1) how culturally bound your own practice of Christianity is, and (2) how fun it is to explore life and faith through the lens of other cultures. This book is a horizon widener.

3. Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers
Anne Lamott

This is the first book I’ve read by Anne Lamott. I know. I haven’t read The Hobbit yet either. The beauty of this work is its simplicity. You’ll find yourself saying these three simple prayers dozens of times a day. Really.

2. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business
Patrick Lencioni

Every organization (church) must have absolute clarity about its mission, vision, and strategy. Who doesn’t agree, right? But Lencioni’s genius is identifying six questions, the answers to which provide that clarity for leaders and members. If you can’t seem to “get it together” in putting your church on mission, this book is a must.

1. Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend
Andy Stanley

Stanley makes a compelling case for our need to turn the church from outward, toward the world. This goes well beyond what we’ve come to know as “seeker sensitive” tactics; it is a new conception for what the church is and how it accomplishes its mission. The book has two great values. One is the conceptual foundation for what I now call Church 2.0—an outward-facing church. The other is practical help in creating that kind of congregation. If you only read one book this year other than the Bible, make it this one.

Church of the Week: The Salvation Army, East Liverpool, OH

Last weekend the lovely Robin and I had the joy and honor of sharing worship with our long-time friends Doug and Stella McGuire (and their family) at The Salvation Army in East Liverpool, Ohio.
The Salvation Army's chapel there is a lovely setting for worship. The skylights all around the ceiling introduce daylight into the space without distracting in any way. The blue walls and carpet are soothing, and the blonde wood throughout is beautiful.
The message of the morning was inspired, even if the young man in the front row didn't fully appreciate its dynamism or erudition.

The Salvation Army in East Liverpool is located at 413 E 4th Street. Majors Doug and Stella McGuire are the corps officers (pastors/administrators).

Today is Release Day for Life Stinks...And Then You Die

Today is the official release date for my latest book, Life Stinks...And Then You Die (Living Well in a Sick World).

Life Stinks...And Then You Die is a gritty, honest look at the world around us and the world inside us. It is based on an ancient book of wisdom that many consider to be the Bible's most perplexing book, Ecclesiastes, to a man who seemed to have every advantage--wealth, education, and power could possibly offer--but still struggled to find happiness and meaning. It does not offer platitudes. No easy fixes. It doesn't spackle over the rough reality of life in the twenty-first century. But it does offer perspective. And hope. And a plan for living well in spite of all that's wrong with the world and with us.

Here's what people are saying about it:
"Bob Hostetler's approach to what some consider a cynical book of the Bible is seasoned with humor, shot through with honesty, and potentially life-changing” (Josh McDowell, author of More Than a Carpenter).

"Bob Hostetler only gets better with every book. In Life Stinks, he shows how the world’s reeking unfairness and brimstone breaths can be confronted by a holy halitosis, and the stenches of a daily grind sanctified into the very eau de Jesus" (Leonard Sweet, author of What Matters Most and the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew Theological School at Drew University.

"Strangely, Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible. It is honest. True to life. So down-to-earth, you feel the mud on your shoes as you walk through its pages. At times it sounds downright cynical. But while bluntly unmasking the futility of life, it also points to the source of hope. With customary insight and wit, Bob Hostetler helps us delve into the strange but wonderful wisdom of Ecclesiastes as it asks the questions the rest of the Bible was written to answer" (Dr. David Faust, president of Cincinnati Christian University).

“Yeah, sure, Bob Hostetler has degrees hanging on the wall, a shelf filled with books he has written, and literally decades of experience as a preacher. But, he's still just a down-to-earth guy. He shares, rather than lectures. He teaches, rather than criticizes. He loves, rather than admonishes. Pick up this book, get a cup of coffee, and enjoy an up-lifting visit with this wise but humble man” (Dr. Dennis E. Hensley, author of Jesus in the 9 to 5).

"Life Stinks...and Then You Die (Living Well in a Sick World) is the intriguing title of Bob Hostetler's engaging exposition of the book of Ecclesiastes. With equally clever titles for each chapter such as "Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates: It Can Be Sweet, but It Can Make You Sick, Too," Hostetler introduces each chapter with challenging situations to which the biblical author, whom he felicitously names "Solomon's alter ego," can provide insightful lessons so that life "under the sun" is not just an evanescent vapor, but is a life well lived before the Creator. Each chapter is accompanied by a prayer, and also a guide for discussion, which makes the book suitable both for private edification, and for group discussions. I recommend it most highly to all (Edwin Yamauchi, Professor of History, Miami University).

"Bob Hostetler has a knack for presenting life-changing truth in an entertaining and compelling way. He does it again with this book" (Mike Erre, Senior Pastor of the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, CA, and author of Why the Bible Matters).
It can be purchased at your local Christian bookstore, on Amazon, at, or by contacting me.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 10)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Danny Rollins, pastor of Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Fairfield, Ohio.

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Why We Eat Our Own

Why does the world seem to do a much better job of forgiving fallen leaders than the Church?
Why don't people believe church folk when they talk about grace?
Why are pastors so lonely? Why are so many leaving the ministry?
And why are so many people of all ages and stripes giving up on the Church?

All of these are questions explored in Michael Cheshire's excellent Why We Eat Our Own. In ten concise, blunt, humor-filled chapters, Cheshire exposes and exhorts the Church for its inexcusable treatment of its flawed servants. "We serve such a forgiving, loving, and accepting God," he says. "And yet, His church and His people seem to be angrier and more divided than ever before."

The book hit home with me over and over again. I got hoarse from saying "Amen!" I also sometimes laughed out loud (such as when he wrote, "Christians can't even do judgmental things well anymore. I mean, come on, guys! If we aren't going to be loving, let's hate with excellence!"

Want a few indications of what I mean? He says, "It's sad how many friendships are lost on the Altar of Appearance." He says, "We may not all be judgmental, but we are definitely all carriers." He says, "We need to return to the habit of stopping Christians midsentence when they begin to gossip" (return?). He says, "Legalistic Christians have an uncanny ability to drag an entire church down if they are left unchecked." And he says, "We lost our most gifted and ground-breaking leaders because the world and marketplace show them more value, forgiveness and even freedom than we did....It's going to be rough the next 20 years watching our greatest leaders break records and bring innovation to the business world while we are left with leaders who will serve because no one else wanted the job."

Sure it sounds harsh. But it is harsh truth. And Cheshire is right, as he says in the first chapter, "This book does not hold all the answers of how to get Christians to stop hurting each other. It is, however, a discussion." It is a discussion I wish everyone would hear, and every church would join.

Why I Value Brokenness

Like anyone who has been a pastor, there were times throughout my thirty-plus years of pastoral ministry when it felt like I couldn’t possibly get more discouraged and broken....only to find out I could. But God never deserted me, though I must often have gotten on his last nerve. And he brought me through every dark valley...but not without scars.

But as in nature, so in life: there is a beauty in broken things. Including broken pastors and broken people. There is a definite beauty in things that are not quite symmetrical, not even, not perfect, not all “put together” and “buttoned down.”

I sometimes meet folks in my travels that seem to have it “all together.” Maybe they do, maybe they don't. But there also often seems to be something missing. Maybe they haven't yet been broken and melted and poured out in the Master’s hands, to be used in such a way that all the glory goes to God (2 Corinthians 4:7).

It is a mystery. But God helping me, I will trust God to break me...and keep breaking me, that he might use me more, use me again, maybe even use me more effectively, according to his will. I wish the breaking could be all done, but I suspect not.

My all is in the master’s hands
For him to bless and break;
Beyond the brook his winepress stands
And thence my way I take,
Resolved the whole of love's demands
To give, for his dear sake (General Albert Orsborn)

The Full Rights of Sons

As a follower of Jesus, a pastor, and a husband, father, and grandfather of females, I am intensely interested in one of the most controversial subjects in the twenty-first church: the place of women in church, home, and society. As a result, I read fairly widely on that topic, from writers with whom I tend to agree as well as writers with whom I expect to disagree.

A welcome addition to the former category is The Full Rights of Sons, a new book by K. E. Stegall. Stegall makes no claim of being a biblical scholar. She calls herself "an ordinary Christian" who reads the Bible in English, not the original languages. She writes without pretense. But her book displays a careful, thorough, logical approach to and knowledge of Scripture. For that reason alone, it is a valuable addition to the growing and compelling (and for me, utterly convincing) case to be made for the full participation of women in ministry and leadership in the church.

She deals with textual problems with a mathematician's precision (she is a math teacher, after all). She acknowledges the differences between men and women, and says "I believe in role distinctions. I believe they are biblical....But that is not how complementarians use the phrase. What they usually mean is rank distinctions." She draws a key distinction between the words submission and subordination. She applies sound hermeneutical principles to the English word "head." She carefully footnotes her statements. And she winsomely and convincingly shows the sound Scriptural basis of "the perfect equality of all believers."

I recommend this book. Because of its non-scholarly but thoroughly logical and Scriptural approach, it would be most appealing to people who have participated in Bible Study Fellowship or other systematic Bible study programs. But I hope it finds a broader audience, and convinces many that "in the Lord, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman" (1 Corinthians 11:11, NIV).

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 9)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Major Don Hostetler, divisional commander of The Salvation Army's Empire State Division, headquartered in Syracuse, New York (oh, yeah, he's also my older--much older--brother).

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Learning to Read

Fred Craddock has long been among my favorite preachers, and this short sermon may convey why. It is an audio file, so sit back, listen, and hear the word of the Lord:

Learning to Read from Faithkid Zhang on Vimeo.

Church of the Week: Redeemer Church, Hamilton, OH

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to visit Redeemer Church, an Evangelical Covenant Church on the northeast side of Hamilton--just off Rt. 4 near the Butler Tech school and Walden Pond community. The congregation dates to 1892 and moved to their current location in 1963.
As I entered with my wife, daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren Calleigh and Ryder,  we were all warmly welcomed and quickly found our way to the inviting children's wings, where Calleigh and Ryder were quickly signed in and made themselves at home.

The 11 a.m. worship service, held in the Family Life Center (the earlier "Heritage Service" is held in the sanctuary) began on time and was ably led by four instrumentalists and five vocalists. In fact, on the last song of the worship set, I thought the bass playing would transport us all to the seventh heaven.
Pastor Rev. Dr. Kim Katterheinrich took ample time to hear prayer requests from the room of a hundred or so worshipers and then continued a series of teachings on spiritual gifts.

Having had a number of fine associations with the Evangelic Covenant Church, a fast-growing, multiethnic denomination in the U.S. and Canada, I was glad for the opportunity to discover this seemingly solid, growing congregation just twenty minutes from our home.

Redeemer Church is located at 3431 Hamilton Middletown Rd., Hamilton, OH 45011.

Beyond "Topical" and "Textual": Ten Types of Creative Sermons

In an excellent post on his blog, Lawrence Wilson details "ten types of creative sermons that may push the preacher to greater imagination and creativity, and may help draw hearers deeper into the text."

It begins:
Although there are several preaching styles, nearly all sermons these days fall into two broad categories: textual and topical. Given that numbing lack of variety in form, it is no wonder many congregations (and not a few preachers) have grown bored with the sermon as the centerpiece of Protestant worship.

Perhaps it is time to recover two elements that were once hallmarks of great preaching: imagination and creativity.
To which I can only say, "Oh, amen!" And, read the whole thing.

Surprised by Hope

I am an unabashed N. T. Wright fan. I think he is one of the most important theologians of our day, and the most entertaining to read and listen to. His book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, is an example of why I say that.

The book seeks to answer two important questions: “What are we waiting for?” and “What are we going to do about it in the meantime?” In other words, are our contemporary ideas about heaven and the afterlife based on Scripture? And what difference do such things make here and now? Wright convincingly argues that most Christians--and churches and pastors as well--believe in something other than what Jesus and the early Christians believed and taught, and consequently cheat themselves of the "hope" of his title. He makes the case for a hope in "life after life after death" and relates that hope to our relationship to the world and our conduct in the world. In doing so, he obliterates popular conceptions of what the word "heaven" means, exposes our faulty (even Gnostic) understanding of "physical" and "spiritual" states of being, reinforces the significance of Jesus' bodily resurrection, and prescribes a cure for both "hollow triumphalism" and "shallow despair."

Some of my favorite lines:
"Heaven is important but it's not the end of the world." 
"A Christian in the present life is a mere shadow of his or her future self." 
"Resurrection isn't life after death; it is life after life after death." 
"We are saved not as souls but as wholes." 
"The church, because it is the family that believes in hope for new creation, should be a place in every town and village where new creativity bursts forth for the whole community, pointing to the hope that, like all beauty, always comes as a surprise." 
"Jesus's resurrections summons us to dangerous and difficult tasks on earth." 
"In the Bible heaven and earth are made for each other. They are the twin interlocking spheres of God's single created reality."
Like everything I've read by N. T. Wright (and he is so prolific I fear I'll never catch this lifetime), Surprised by Hope is, well, surprising. And hopeful. And compelling. And memorable. And life-altering.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 8)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Peter Krol, who is an elder at Grace Fellowship Church of State College, Pennsylvania.

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature on the Desperate Pastor blog, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk--but no tidying up before taking the picture, mind you--to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Church of the Week: Ebenezer Baptist Church, Fulton, MO

I had the honor and joy a couple weekends ago of visiting and preaching at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Fulton, Missouri, in the company of my wife, the lovely Robin, and a great crowd of others.
Ebenezer has a long and storied history, dating back to the nineteenth century. The main corridor of the church has a gallery of the church's pastors since its inception. The bottom row far right is my Uncle Walt; the bottom row second from left is his father!
Our morning was delightful--a worship hour that included enthusiastic congregational singing, a trumpet trio, my Aunt Shirley's beautiful and masterful piano playing (that's her at the piano and Uncle Walt, seated). The preaching was subpar, but everyone was gracious and kind to the preacher of the day (me). And it was a true blessing to worship for the first time in decades with my cousins Lynne and Ed, Ed's wife Karen, and some of their children and grandchildren. 

Ebenezer Baptist Church is located at 6841 State Road Z near Fulton, Missouri.