The Pastor's Desk (Episode 24)

The pastor's desk pictured below belongs to Kevin Levellie, pastor of Nevins Christian Church in Paris, Illinois.

His wife, my friend and fellow author Jeanette Levellie (author of Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top) supplied the photo, noting that Kevin's photo of Elvis is much larger than the photo of Kevin and his wife. Hmmmm. Not judging. Just saying, hmmmm.

(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)

The Well-Played Life

Every book Leonard Sweet writes is a fun book, even when it is intense and serious. But his latest, The Well-Played Life (Why Pleasing God Doesn't Have to Be Such Hard Work), is even more fun than usual.

It is the perfect marriage of author and topic. Sweet, the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University and a Visiting Distinguished Professor at George Fox University, injects all of his books with wordplay and brainstorms and napkin scribbles. His creativity and productivity are dizzying. And he has a knack for expressing things in a way that boggles, delights, and expands the mind while touching and often changing the heart.

Sweet writes, "It's time to abolish work. It's time for a theology of play." He makes his case thoroughly and entertainingly in the first section of the book, entitled, "Playing Is Not Just for Children," and then proceeds to show us how to play well through three “ages”:
The First Age: “Novice Players” (ages 0-30)
The Second Age: “Real Players” (30-60)
The Third Age: “Master Player and Game Changer” (60-90+)
Like all of Leonard Sweet's books, it is brilliant and engaging (can you tell I'm a fan?). And also, like all of his books, its message is timely and sorely needed.

Some of my favorite "Sweet spots":
The universe is not God at work, but God at play (p. 6).

There are some divine purposes that can be achieved only through pleasure. That's why God created artists (p. 17).

Too many followers of Jesus are living a [gospel] that produces nice people rather than saints; that stands for convention rather than adventure; that is respectable rather than passionate; that calls for guarded, take-care living rather than heroic, take-risks living; that is more at home with the status quo than living on the fly (p. 52).

God didn't give us a plan, but a purpose; not a map, but a mission; not a blueprint for tracing, but a blue sky for exploring (p. 86).

The Bible is not the story of "great expectations," but "great unexpectations" (p. 89).

When we're too big to sit at the children's table, we're too big to sit at God's table (p. 112).

Holiness is not about getting better at keeping God's commandments. Holiness is about getting better at enjoying God (p. 150).

Jesus even gave his disciples a rite of failing: "Shake off the dust" (p. 166).

I worry about people who know why bad things happen or think they can treat hurt with words and pain with clich├ęs (p. 194).
The book includes a study guide, and like all of Sweet's books is heavily (and sometimes humorously) footnoted.

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio

I had occasion last week to visit Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church at the corner of Front and Ludlow Streets in downtown Hamilton, Ohio. The church celebrated its 170th anniversary on August 12, 2013. Zion is firmly rooted in the past, yet continues to grow into the future.
The church's website says, "The cornerstone of the first church building, on the southwest corner of Front and Ludlow streets, was laid in 1844. By 1863, the church membership had grown considerably to 675 and it was necessary to provide more room. After much consideration it was decided to sell the old church and lot and build a new church on the opposite corner. In due time a new church, with school and parsonage on the first floor and the sanctuary on the second, costing $27,000, was the splendid property of the congregation. In mid-summer of 1866 this building was dedicated to the service and glory of God."
For the first fifty years of the church's existence, services and meetings were held in German. A monthly English service began in 1909, and in 1913 German and English services were held on alternate Sunday mornings. Then followed a period in which both German and English services were held each Sunday morning. I'm not sure when the German service was discontinued.
Today the church has an active membership. Though I didn't get to attend a worship service, I did enjoy wandering the halls. The facility has a large education wing, an elevator, a full-size gym, and (as pictured above) a beautiful sanctuary with balcony (and apparently an active bell choir that plays in the balcony, too!).

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 23)

The pastor's desk pictured above belongs to Captain Scott Strissel, the corps officer (pastor) of The Salvation Army Brainerd Lakes Corps in Brainerd, Minnesota (near St. Cloud). He said he didn't clean it up for the picture. No kidding, Scott. No kidding.

(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)

The Lost World of Genesis 1

The Lost World of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, by John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and author of several excellent Bible commentaries, is a fascinating and insightful book.

It suggests that Genesis 1 was not written to describe the material creation of the universe, but rather was intended to depict God's ordering of the various parts of the universe into a functioning whole, one that reflected the Cosmos as a Temple, the dwelling-place of God (much as Isaiah 66:1 says: "“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool," NLT). Walton gets there, not from a desire to reconcile the Bible with science (or vice versa), but from a careful, methodical exegesis of Genesis 1 as an ancient, Near Eastern depiction of Creation, which (he says, quite convincingly) focused not on material origins but on functional origins. It sounds confusing to hear me describe it, but Walton makes his case quite compellingly, considering not only the demands of the Biblical text but also the expectations of ancient cosmology and comparisons with creation accounts in other ancient sources.

Walton says the ancient Hebrews (when Genesis was written) "thought about the cosmos in much the same way that anyone in the ancient world thought, and not at all like anyone thinks today. And God did not think it important to revise their thinking." He writes, "If we try to turn [Genesis 1] into modern cosmology, we are making the text say something that it never said." And, "To create something (cause it to exist) in the ancient world means to give it a function, not material properties." And (though I could easily include many more statements I highlighted), "Through the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture."

The Lost World of Genesis 1 should be required reading for every pastor, church leader, teacher--heck, every follower of Jesus and believer in the Bible's truth. Its short chapters and generally accessible style make it both entertaining and informative for anyone. I hope you'll read it. And I hope it will influence all of us in the Church and guide our discussions and debates about Creation, evolution, the age of the earth, and so on.

The Breastplate of St. Patrick

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, here is the famous prayer attributed to St. Patrick, called The Lorica, or Breastplate of St. Patrick: 

Today I put on
a terrible strength
invoking the Trinity
confessing the Three
with faith in the One
as I face my Maker. 
Today I put on the power
of Christ's birth and baptism,
of his hanging and burial,
His resurrection, ascension,
and descent at the Judgement. 
Today I put on the power
of the order of the Cherubim,
angels' obedience,
archangels' attendance,
in hope of ascending
to my reward;
patriarchs' prayers,
prophets' predictions,
apostles precepts,
confessors' testimony,
holy virgins' innocence
and the deeds of true men. 
Today I put on
the power of Heaven,
the light of the Sun,
the radiance of the Moon,
the splendour of fire,
the fierceness of lightning,
the swiftness of wind,
the depth of the sea,
the firmness of earth
and the hardness of rock. 
Today I put on
God's strenghth to steer me,
God's power to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye for my vision,
God's ear for my hearing,
God's word for my speech,
God's hand to protect me,
God's pathway before me,
God's shield for my shelter,
God's angels to guard me
from ambush of devils,
from vice's allurements,
from traps of the flesh,
from all who wish ill,
whether distant or close,
alone or in hosts. 
I summon these powers today
to take my part against every implacable power
that attacks my body and soul,
the chants of false prophets,
dark laws of the pagans,
false heretics' laws,
entrapments of idols,
enchantments of women
or smiths or druids,
and all knowledge that poisons
man's body or soul. 
Christ guard me today
from poison, from burning,
from drowning, from hurt,
that I have my reward.

Christ beside me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ within me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me.
Christ on my right hand,
Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie,
Christ where I sit,
Christ where I rise.
Christ in the hearts of all who think of me,
Christ in the mouths of all who speak to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me. 
Today I put on
a terrible strength,
invoking the Trinity,
confessing the Three,
with faith in the One
as I face my Maker.
(crossposted at Bob Hostetler's Prayer Blog)

The Minimalist Bible

This is very cool: the sixty-six books of the Bible concentrated and expressed as minimalist posters (here)...such as the poster depicting Genesis, above. Check it out.

Our Messy Messiah

THIS is preaching. Funny. Entertaining. Insightful. Creative. Emotional. Powerful.

The Artisan Soul

Author and pastor Erwin McManus has been a great influence on my spiritual life for many years. His books (like The Barbarian Way) and podcasts have fed and led my soul. And I love it that one of the core values that guides Mosaic, the faith community he founded in LA, is the belief that "Creativity is the natural result of spirituality."

For those reasons, I anxiously awaited the release of McManus's latest book: The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life Into a Work of Art. It is an impassioned manifesto for human creativity and the beginning of a new renaissance. I hope it is a call that will be heard and heeded across the twenty-first century landscape of the church.

McManus insists that we all possess the artisan soul. We all share a God-given desire to create, to be a part of a process that brings to the world something beautiful, good, and true, in order to allow our souls to come to life. He makes his case in just seven characteristically artful chapters:
Soul: The Essence of Art
Voice: The Narrative That Guides
Interpretation: Translation of Life
Image: Manifestation of Imagination
Craft: The Elegance of Workmanship
Canvas: The Context of Art
Masterpiece: A New Humanity
Some of my favorite bits:
"Art exists to remind us that we have a soul."  
"We are both works of art and artists at work."  
"Our story begins with a kiss." 
"The artisan soul moves toward purity of ingredients, understands the power of simplicity, makes life a craft and not a product, and treats people as unique individuals rather than commodities." 
"Our demons rarely come at us from the future; most often, they chase after us from our past."  
"Far too often, when we think we are frightened by mystery, the fact is that we are haunted by history."  
"We cannot love deeply or risk greatly and never know failure or disappointment. Not even God was able to pull that one off. Love never comes without wounds; faith never comes without failure."  
"Define or be defined." 
I wouldn't call The Artisan Soul an easy read. It is challenging, deep, and thorough. And worth every word, every minute.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 22)

The pastor's desk pictured above is that of Father David Hostetler, LTJG, CHC, USN Chaplain, 5th Combat Logistics Battalion. He said he was getting ready to clean his desk up a bit when he remembered the invitation to participate in this feature, and snapped the photo. Yeah, okay. We'll go with that story.

(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)

An Artful Journey Through Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday.

Artist, illustrator, songwriter, liturgist, husband, father, and self-described armchair theologian Paul Soupiset has in the past sketched his thoughts day by day as he journeyed through Lent. Here is his 2013 journal, which would be glorious to bookmark and visit every day to aid your meditation. Others of his sketchbooks are here. And, in case he posts his 2014 sketches, here is his blog.

A Book to Renew Your Spirit

Looking for something to read during Lent? Something to feed your soul in this upcoming holy season? Something that could make this Lenten season more meaningful than ever before? I have a recommendation: Paula Huston's Simplifying the Soul (Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit) is a beautiful, memorable, and practical book.

It is ideal--in tone, in style, in application--for Lent, though it could be profitably read and enjoyed at any time of the year. And, though it is written by a Benedictine oblate and published by Ave Maria Press, it is far more ecumenical than you might think.

Simplifying the Soul invites the reader to slow down and simplify. It draws beautiful, thoughtful lessons from the author's life, from the writings of the Desert Fathers, and of course from the Bible. It is, as one of my favorite writers, Phyllis Tickle, says, "A verbal retreat that invites both the soul and the body to a holy retooling." Who doesn't need that?