Falling Upward

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life is the first Richard Rohr book I've read--though I had (of course) heard of him and his books for some time (he's written roughly a whole bunch). I'm encouraged to read more.

His way of writing and expressing himself was new, and a bit off-putting at times. He leans heavily on Jung and Homer, employing The Odyssey as a framework for understanding the two halves of life. He turns to the teaching of Jesus, frequently looking at Jesus' words in new ways and applying them (and in at least one case, in my view, misapplying them) to his thesis.

While I think he paints with too broad a brush, his message is well taken. He says that many people, regardless of age, never truly enter--let alone successfully navigate--the second half of life, and I think he's right. He suggests different priorities and strategies in life's second half, which ring true in my experience. And he points out that most human institutions (including the church) tend to focus on "first half" issues rather than "second half" priorities. Again, I think he's right.

As someone who is well into the second half of life (a thought that came as a surprise to me), I think (or at least I hope) that he's close to the mark when he writes:
In your second half of life, you can actually bless others in what they feel they must be doing, allow them to do what they must do, challenge them if they are hurting themselves and others–but you can no longer join them in the first half of life. You can belong to such institutions for all the good they do, but you no longer put all your eggs in that basket. This will keep you and others from unnecessary frustration and anger, and from knocking on doors that cannot be opened from the other side (pp. 141-142).
Falling Upward is worth reading, regardless of your age or assumed level of maturity (spiritual or otherwise). It will make you think. It may perplex you in places. And it might even focus you, your life, your walk with God, and your ministry.

Church of the Week: Long Point Camp Tabernacle

This past weekend I had the joy and honor of teaching and preaching at The Salvation Army's Long Point Camp on Seneca Lake in upstate New York. The camp's setting couldn't be more beautiful, nor (to my soul, anyway) more conducive to worship.
The tabernacle, where the large worship gatherings were held, is the centerpiece of the camp, which has been in operation here for about sixty years, situated on 138 acres bordering Seneca Lake, the largest of New York's Finger Lakes.
The tabernacle is a spacious, beautiful, and breezy spot, illuminated in part by two circular cross-etched windows at either end. Sunday morning's worship was preceded by beautifully and thoughtfully planned prayer stations around the tabernacle's perimeter. It was a blessing to not only participate but to see so many people approaching worship in that way.

I don't expect to forget that weekend in the Long Point Camp tabernacle. God's Holy Spirit and his responsive people made it a holy place for me.

If You Are Frustrated With a Leader

Thirty years ago, I thought I knew a thing or two about leadership. Now I know that most of what I knew then was crap. I have failed as a leader far more than I have succeeded. But one thing I do know: It is so much easier to "know how to lead" (or think you do) than it is to lead.

So, if you’re frustrated with someone in leadership, here are a few things I would strongly and passionately urge you, please, to consider:

Show some grace. I'm constantly amazed by how critical and graceless people--who claim to follow Jesus--can be. I understand that your pastor, boss, leader, or coworker may be driving you crazy. But, while you may be frustrated, keep in mind two things:
(1) No leader can lead without disappointing SOME people (even Jesus; see John 6:66). In fact, part and parcel of leadership is anticipating and managing people's disappointment with leadership decisions.

(2) You have no idea what the leader is facing, or dealing with. You may think you do, but you don’t. You don't know if her teenager is struggling. You don't know if he stayed up all night helping a junkie through the night. You don't know if he or she is losing sleep praying for YOU!
So PLEASE give a little grace. Leaders need it, just like you do.

Ask questions. Engage the leader in conversation. I have often been told "facts" people "know" about decisions I made or actions I've taken that bear absolutely no resemblance to the truth...because that person or group never came to me seeking understanding; they simply assumed they knew something. This happens way too often. So please don't make assumptions. Don't come to conclusions about a decision or about a leader until you've actually gone to that person, asked questions, listened, and sincerely tried to understand.

Examine your expectations. I can't tell you how many times I've had a conversation along these lines:
"I've just been so hurt. No one called. No one cared."
"Did you tell anyone you were hurting?"
"No. They should have known."
"Did you notice if anyone around YOU was hurting?"
"How could I? I was struggling so much!"
"But if you didn't tell anyone, and if those around you could have been struggling as well and you didn't notice THEM, can you really blame them for not reaching out to you?"
"Yes, absolutely! They should have known! They should have seen!"
And so it goes. People often expect a leader or leaders to read minds, to know what they need, to be in several places at once, to meet their needs even if they never call for help, to do all the things the person himself or herself is not doing! Please don't do that. Examine your assumptions. Don't demand from leaders what you don't expect from yourself.

Make charitable judgments. Part of being a leader is placing yourself in the line of fire. Comes with the territory. But it's still shocking how many people--Christians!--feel perfectly justified in maligning and slandering persons in leadership. Please don't do that. Instead, judge charitably. To borrow from the website of Peacemaker Ministries:
Making a charitable judgment means that out of love for God, you strive to believe the best about others until you have facts to prove otherwise. In other words, if you can reasonably interpret facts in two possible ways, God calls you to embrace the positive interpretation over the negative, or at least to postpone making any judgment at all until you can acquire conclusive facts.

For example, when Anne’s pastor did not visit her in the hospital, she should have realized that there were at least two possible explanations. One explanation was that he was deliberately slighting her. Another was that he had not received her note or had some other valid reason for not visiting her. If she had developed the habit of making charitable judgments, she would have believed the positive explanation until she received facts that showed otherwise.

Believing the best about others is not simply a nice thing to do; it is not optional behavior. It is a way to imitate God and to show our appreciation for how he treats us. God knows everything and judges accurately. He has the final say in criticism (and in commendation). Yet he judges charitably, even mercifully, passing over and putting up with many wrongs. He is kind to ungrateful and evil people (Luke 6:35).
It's easy to be critical of those in leadership roles. But nowhere does the Word of God command us (or even encourage us) to act uncharitably toward our leaders. Quite the contrary. We are told to obey them (Hebrews 13:17), submit to them (1 Corinthians 16:16), imitate them (Hebrews 13:7), and honor them (1 Timothy 5:17). To do otherwise is disobedience....even if they're imperfect leaders--which they are.

The Importance Of An Abundance Mentality For Leaders

A little while ago the Ministry Best Practices blog featured a post entitled, "The Importance Of An Abundance Mentality For Leaders." It's a doozy. It says,
It is important to live with an abundance mentality. When we release and give ourselves away - our resources multiply. Having that abundance mentality is also key for leaders.
Can I get an amen? This was always my ambition as a pastor and leader, but unfortunately was one of the areas in which I failed to adequately impart that vision to others...and lived to regret it.

The author of that post lists four examples of "scarcity" thinking and contrasts them with four examples of abundance mentality in church leadership and ministry. I think he's dead on. Read the whole thing (here). You won't be sorry.

(photo by Nina Hostetler)

The Word That Stoops

One of the perils of ministry, particularly for those who (through no "fault" of their own) are ascending to new heights of responsibility and authority, is to become so wrapped up in delegating, allocating, and managing others that--month by month and day by day--we lose a key part of Christian identity and leadership. This excerpt from my new book, The Red Letter Life: 17 Words from Jesus to Inspire Simple, Practical, Purposeful Living, in a chapter titled "The Word That Stoops," may explain:
Samuel Logan Brengle was an accomplished orator who had been offered a highly prestigious position in a large Methodist church. So when he traveled to England to offer his services to William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, Brengle was surprised that Booth expressed reservations. “You belong to the ‘dangerous classes,’ ” Booth said. “You’ve been your own boss so long that I don’t think you’ll want to submit to Salvation Army discipline.” Worse, on his second day at the Salvation Army’s training college, Brengle was assigned to polish the boots of the other cadets in training:
The devil came at me, and reminded me that I had graduated from a university, had attended a leading theological school, had been pastor of a metropolitan church, had just left evangelistic work in which I saw hundreds seeking the Savior, and that now I was only blacking boots for a lot of ignorant lads. But I reminded my old enemy of the example of my Lord, and he left me, and that little cellar was changed into one of heaven’s anterooms, and my Lord visited me there.
Serve. It is a word easily forgotten. And it is not enough to say, “Oh, sure, I would scrub floors for my brother,” or “I wouldn’t hesitate to serve others.” Jesus didn’t say, “I have set you an example that you should be willing to do as I have done for you.” He didn’t say, “I have set you an example that you should agree in theory with what I have done for you.” He said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 13:15, NIV).

Whether you are willing or not, if you are not serving others, you are not following Christ. Whether you agree or not, if you are not stooping to serve, you are not obeying his word. Jesus says to you, “Serve.”
No matter how busy you are, how much ministry you facilitate, how many people you direct, the call to serve, to stoop, is a current and constant call.

Church of the Week: The Chapel at King's Lake Camp

On a recent visit to Alaska, I was honored and ecstatic about preaching at The Salvation Army's King's Lake Camp, near Wasilla. While the whole group of attendees at the weekend Family Camp where I spoke was too large to fit into the chapel on the grounds (we met for plenary sessions in the "rec hall" overlooking King's Lake), I took a couple photos of the lovely chapel at the camp.
Several teaching sessions were held in the chapel, with its beautiful wood floor and ceiling, and its large windows looking out toward the lake.

King's Lake Camp is located in a beautiful lakeside spot at 3313 E. Lakeview Road in Wasilla, Alaska.


Full disclosure: Mike Erre, the author of Astonished: Recapturing the Wonder, Awe, and Mystery of Life with God, is a friend of mine. I knew and loved him before he was a big shot, big church, pastor-type guy. And I'm kinda miffed that he writes such good books now--five of them, in fact. That used to be my thing.

But Mike's Astonished is his best yet. In it, he says that "Christianity has become a substitute for real, vital, biblical faith." He says, "The American church has bought wholesale into the cultural assumptions of glory, power, and strength. One of the reasons our churches and ministries are so ineffective is because we don't make room for God's power, since we are so enamored with our own."

In three sections, entitled "The Nature of God," "The Nature of Faith," and "The Faith-filled Life," Erre eschews platitudes and formulas in favor of mystery, desperation, surrender, and surprise. He says, "We must be prepared to be surprised....In the Gospels, Jesus was often found where you'd least expect the Messiah to be. The same thing is true today." He intentionally avoids offering how-tos, but focuses instead on correcting and adjusting readers' vision and expectations, calling us to an honest and rugged faith in a mysterious and unpredictable God.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 34)

The pastor's desk pictured above is that of Captain Bryan DeMichael, who serves with his wife as corps officer (pastor) at The Salvation Army in Lancaster, Ohio. The Lancaster Corps will always have a special place in my heart, as it was my first appointment as a Salvation Army officer. I won't say when. But it was in a different century, just so's ya know.

(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 bob@bobhostetler.com, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Church of the Week: The Salvation Army Mat-Su Corps, Palmer, AK

On my recent visit with my wife, the lovely Robin, to Alaska, I had the opportunity to visit the Mat-Su Valley Corps (church and service center) of The Salvation Army in Palmer, Alaska.  
Unfortunately, I wasn't there for a Sunday service. However, while there for a Men's Breakfast that was part of a Family Camp weekend at the nearby King's Lake Camp, I stepped into the chapel and snapped the photo above.  
I also stepped to the rear of the building and took a photo of the tidy vegetable garden that supplies some of the Army's efforts in the area. Loved it. And I got to see the future site of the Mat-Su Valley Corps as well, where they hope and plan to build on a spacious level lot adjacent to The Salvation Army's King's Lake Camp.

The Mat-Su Valley Corps is currently located at 209 W. Evergreen in Palmer, Alaska, under the leadership of Captains Jeff and Michelle Josephson.

Simple Sermon Outline: Climbing to the Spiritual Mountaintop

Here is another "Simple Sermon Outline" intended to ignite (not replace) the process of prayer, study, and creativity for any desperate pastors out there in Pastorland who take seriously the task of study and preaching but may be up against a wall and fresh out of ideas. This one is entitled "Climbing to the Spiritual Mountaintop," and surveys the beatitudes of Jesus as (possibly) progressive steps in the Christlife. In fact, each of the steps can be shown to be reflected in the life of Jesus and his journey to the cross--and eventually to his resurrection and ascension:
Climbing to the Spiritual Mountaintop
Matthew 5:1-12

1. Humility (Matthew 5:3)
2. Brokenness (Matthew 5:4)
3. Meekness (Matthew 5:5)
4. Appetite (Matthew 5:6)
5. Mercy (Matthew 5:7)
6. Purity (Matthew 5:8)
7. Peace (Matthew 5:9)
8. Suffering (Matthew 5:10-12)
This outline could also suggest a series of messages. After all, you can never spend too much time in the Beatitudes, in my humble but accurate opinion.

Praying With the Church

I really track with Scot McKnight, author of Praying With the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today. Some parts of his spiritual journey parallel parts of mine. His tone as a writer and priorities as a Christ-follower resonate with me. So of course I found his book touting the wisdom and blessings of fixed-hour prayer an excellent and beautiful conversation.

Like McKnight, I have come from a spiritual background that generally considered spontaneous, freeform praying more spiritual and efficacious than the set liturgies and written prayers of "prayer book" traditions. But also like McKnight, I have since discovered great depth and breadth and height of blessing in praying--as he puts it--not only "in" the church but also "with" the church, by means of fixed hour prayer and such resources as The Book of Common Prayer and the multi-volume The Divine Hours.

After an introductory chapter that presents a great word-picture involving the Portiuncola of St. Francis inside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi (which is then sustained throughout the rest of the book), the first section of Praying With the Church profiles the prayer life of Jesus, and makes the case for praying with him in "sacred time," "sacred terms," "sacred rhythms," "sacred prayers," and "sacred tradition."

The second section of the book offers an overview of the major prayer books of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican traditions, along with the more ecumenical (and my go-to prayer aid) The Divine Hours, by Phyllis Tickle. He gives an overview, sampling the structure and prayers of each, and very helpfully lays out the best--and less-than-best--parts of each one. I must admit to being surprised that my familiarity with all but one of these resources didn't lessen my interest in and enjoyment of these chapters. They were as delightful as if I were encountering the information for the first time.

A concluding chapter lays out McKnight's nine suggestions--which he phrases as things we need to do--for ways anyone, no matter how busy or changeful their schedule, can pray with the church.

I loved this book, as I have already come to love the rhythms and benefits of daily fixed-hour prayer with the church. I have experienced what the author says on page 2: "Nearly everyone who practices a sacred rhythm of praying finds it life-shaping." I think everyone should read Praying With the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today and learn from it. I admit I am biased but (to borrow McKnight's own confession) I am also accurate.

Church of the Week: South Bay Church, San Jose, CA

I had the opportunity to worship on a recent Sunday morning with my wife, son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren at South Bay Church in San Jose, California. The church is located off E. Brokaw Road in a sort of business park in North San Jose. It would not be the easiest church to find for the first time, but a determined visitor would probably not be disappointed.
The church's entry area and atrium are inviting and stimulating. A display of "app" logos on boxes supported the current teaching series, "Get Your Head Out of Your App." The coffee was easy to locate (an absolute must for a fallen, imperfect human being like myself). And I was encouraged to see a small area where books were offered for sale on the honor system (most of the books seemed to be remainders from past teaching series or small group studies).
The worship was good and loud and enthusiastic. We sat in the second row, so I couldn't see just how engaged everyone else was, but it connected just fine with me. And the worship team were clearly enjoying themselves as they worshiped. I like to see musicians enjoying themselves.
And the message from the Bible by senior pastor Andy Wood was top notch. It was topical and biblical, well-delivered and extremely useful.

South Bay Church worships in two locations--the North San Jose campus (above) and another in Sunnyvale. The church's website is http://southbaychurch.org/

Simple Sermon Outline: When You Need a Friend

It is time for yet another "Simple Sermon Outline," the final offering from a series a few years back entitled "God's iPod." It is intended for the hardworking pastor who takes seriously the task of study and preaching but is sometimes up against a wall and fresh out of ideas. Like the other outlines in this series of posts, this one is simple and sparse, in the hope that it will ignite (not replace) the process of prayer, study, and creativity.

Below is the outline for "When You Need a Friend."
When You Need a Friend
Psalm 122
Intro: "Friending" people on Facebook. Whether you’re on Facebook or not, everybody needs a friend.  
Three actions to take when you need a friend:
1. Get with God (Psalm 122:1)
2. Get with the people of God  (Psalm 122:1-5) 
3. Get with the people around you (Psalm 122:6-9)  
Promote their peace
Promote their security
Promote their prosperity
(photo by mferak, via everystockphoto.com)