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)