Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Anglicans Ablaze Midweek Special Edition: October 1, 2014

In this midweek special edition of Anglicans Ablaze:

When a Church Stops Reaching Its Community

What imagery comes to your mind when you hear the word “fortress”? A medieval castle? Fort Knox? Huge buildings with gates and locks and moats? Something that is almost impossible for the outside world to enter?

Any of those word pictures will work. The key is to keep people and possessions on the inside safe, and to keep people on the other side out.

If you talk to members in a dying church, most will deny that their church is a fortress. But in our [research of dying churches], we found that is exactly what was taking place. People in the community did not feel welcome in the church. Those in the church were more concerned about protecting the way they did church than reaching residents of the community. Read more

Fourteen Symptoms of Toxic Church Leaders

Most church leaders are godly and healthy. A toxic church leader, one that is figuratively poisonous to the organization, is rare. But it is that church leader who brings great harm to churches and other Christian organizations. And it is that leader that hurts the entire cause of Christ when word travels about such toxicity.

In my Monday post, I noted the traits of long-term, healthy pastors. I now travel to the opposite extreme and provide symptoms of the worst kind of church leaders, toxic church leaders. Read more

See also
12 Indicators You’re NOT an Empowering Leader

3 truths about spiritual gfits

Tragically—and ironically—one of the casualties of the modern charismatic movement is a biblical understanding of what spiritual gifts actually are. By emphasizing only a handful of gifts (the sign gifts) many Christians have lost sight of the less glamorous yet more common spiritual gifts.

With a focus on tongues, signs, miracles, healings and the like, it is easy to be confused about how God through the Holy Spirit has actually equipped the church. That confusion isn’t limited to charismatic churches–in fact because of an avoidance of the sign gifts, that confusion is often seen even inside of cessationist and continuationist churches too. People think “those sign gifts are not what we do…” and the question of gifts never really gets around to “so what do we do?”

With that in mind, here are three truths about spiritual gifts. Understanding these truths will not only help you serve in your church, but will restore the wonder that God uses us to do his will.... Read more

How To Get Things Done: Define Your Areas of Responsibility

Today I am continuing this series on getting things done. Yesterday we saw that we exist to bring glory to God, and that, as Christians, we bring glory to God when we do good works for other people. Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14) and now calls upon each one of us to “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Therefore, “productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.”

This definition of productivity calls us to action: We need to structure and organize our lives so that we can do the maximum good for others and thus bring the maximum glory to God.

I mean to get very practical as we move forward today, but first I want to address one misconception about productivity and lay down one challenge. Read more

What It Takes to Survive and Thrive in Ministry

What does it take for pastors to survive and thrive in ministry?

This was the key question asked in an eight-year study funded by the Lilly Endowment that I had the privilege to coordinate through Covenant, Reformed, and Westminster Seminaries.

Why is this question important? Because many indicators—from personal stories quietly shared between friends to sophisticated research projects—all point to the fact that staying in pastoral ministry for the long haul can be tough sledding. Read more

Worship At A Crossroads: Congregationalism Versus Performancism

The worship wars are over.

The worship wars were a battle between organs and guitars. Choirs and praise bands. Robes and blue jeans. Hymnal versus projector. Traditional versus contemporary. Old versus new.

They were mainly about style. The genre of the music, the instrumentation, the attire of the pastors, the vehicle for musical notation (or lack thereof), the authorship date of the songs.

And now, by and large, those wars have subsided and a delicate peace has settled in. Churches either went full throttle in one direction, and left any detractors in the smoke (and those detractors found a different church), or they went the “blended” route and offer multiple service styles in multiple venues in order to appease the factions and prevent them from killing each other. A small amount of churches survived the worship wars with their worship ethos in tact. Good for them.

Now we are at a worship crossroads. Read more

3 Ways to Avoid the "Children's Church" Ditch

The closest I've ever come to breaking a bone was when I was in 9th grade, and it happened, of all places, at church! Some friends and I were in the back parking lot of the church building. We were walking along the fence railing atop the retaining wall. On one side of this railing was a short 4 foot drop to the parking lot; on the other side was a 30 foot plunge to the bottom of a ravine. As my friends and I were walking along the top of this railing, I lost my balance, and couldn't regain control. I realized that I was going to fall into the ravine, and so to control the fall, I jumped with all my might towards a pine tree growing from the ravine. That skinny pine tree didn't keep me from falling, but I was able to control and slow my fall. When I hit the ground far below I had not broken anything, but it sure did hurt!

I share this story because as I think about my time in pastoral ministry, I realize more and more that ministry is very often a balancing act between the ideal and the real. For so many aspects of ministry there is a tension between the ideal that we are taught in seminary and at conferences and then the real-world experience of dealing with contemporary congregations and unchurched neighbors. As far as my recent experience in ministry is concerned, the area in which this balancing act has been most felt is in the area of our ministry to children in the church; namely, what should we do with young children during times of public worship? Read more

5 Ingredients that Build Pervasive Community in Your Church

If you believe that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church have all the motivation you need to invest in building a pervasive sense of community in your church. See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People? and This Is Why We Need Community.

There are 5 essential ingredients that build a pervasive sense of community in your church.... Read more

The Rise of “Emerging Adulthood”

Emerging adulthood is now viewed by many as a distinct stage of life in America, one that covers the period between high school and “real” adulthood. And according to Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, it’s a stage of life that is powerfully shaping the way people in their 20s view the world, how they understand the church, and how they approach their own formation.

At a faculty workshop at Wheaton College earlier this semester, Smith gave a fascinating summary of recent research on emerging adulthood and its significance for understanding and ministering to young adults today. Here are some of the highlights. (Keep in mind that these are all sweeping generalizations. Smith was quite clear that none of this will apply across the board to any particular young adult or even to distinct sub-groups of young adults. But these are pretty clear characteristics of the life stage as a whole.) Read more

Lambeth Conference in jeopardy over homosexuality row

The next Lambeth Conference, the ten-yearly gathering of more than 600 Anglican bishops from around the world, is in jeopardy because of the row over homosexuality that is dividing the Church.

The Anglican Communion, the body that represents the episcopal leadership of millions of Anglicans worldwide led by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, is split by the battle between its conservative and liberal wings over gay relationships and gay ordination.

The last meeting in Canterbury in 2008 was marred by boycotts by African and other Global South bishops who objected to the consecration of the openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in the United States. Other bishops and archbishops who did attend however were incensed that Bishop Gene was not himself invited out of an attempt to appease the conservative wing.

The news was revealed by George Conger, the leading conservative commentator, after it was disclosed by a leading liberal, Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church in the US and former marine biologist, who at the recent meeting of the US House of Bishops in Taiwan announced she will not seek to stand for a second nine-year term.

It was immediately denied by Lambeth Palace, London HQ of Archbishop Justin Welby. Read more

Atheist Church Sunday Assembly Opens in 35 More Towns

Nearly three dozen towns around the world, including in the U.S. and France, launched their first "Sunday Assembly," also known as the atheist church, on Sunday.

According to the Sunday Assembly website, 35 towns launched new Sunday Assemblies, adding to the more than two dozen Sunday Assemblies that were already established. The group says its mission is to tackle loneliness and social isolation.

"And the world certainly needs more community: social isolation and loneliness are on the rise with 40% of US adults say they are lonely compared to 20% in the 80s and 1 in 10 UK adults say they have no close friends," the website states. "This has massive effects on society, and on the health of society with studies showing that loneliness has comparable impacts on your health as smoking and obesity, it impairs immune function and boosts inflammation and can contribute to arthritis, type II diabetes and heart disease." Read more

Turkey closes down Protestant church

Turkish authorities have sealed a Protestant church in Southeast Turkey and ordered its American pastor fined and deported on charges of "working illegally."

Lawyers filed a court appeal Sept. 26 to postpone the deportation, protesting what Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches called an "absolutely arbitrary" ruling against the Gaziantep congregation and its foreign pastor.

Local police officials sealed the premises of the New Life Church on Aug. 28. Just over two weeks later, on Sept. 14, they detained its pastor, Patrick Jensen, with order from Turkey’s Interior Ministry to deport him immediately. Read more

Photo: World Watch Monitor

Updated: Texas patient confirmed as first Ebola case diagnosed in U.S.

CDC: "Not impossible that there could be additional cases associated with this patient"

A man who recently arrived in Texas from Liberia has been confirmed as having the first case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the U.S.

Authorities with the Centers for Disease Control revealed the finding late on Tuesday, two days after the unidentified patient was admitted to a Dallas hospital with suspicious symptoms.

Officials at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas put the man into “strict isolation” and sent a blood specimen to state and federal labs for testing.

Both came back positive for the deadly disease, which has killed more than 3,000 people in Africa this year. According to the World Health Organization, there have been more than 6,500 Ebola cases confirmed in Africa, with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone among the hardest hit. Read more

See also
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Ebola (Ebola Virus Disease)
CDC Confirms First Case of Ebola in US as Patient Is Diagnosed With Deadly Virus in Texas Hospital
New: Ebola patient told hospital he had been to Liberia
New: US hospital bungled report of Africa travel in Ebola case
New: Patient told Dallas hospital he was from Liberia
New: US Ebola Patient May Have Exposed School Age Children, Governor Said
The US Ebola case: 5 things to know
We have Ebola in the US but Africa remains most at risk

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

23 Non-Numerical Signs of a Healthy Church

“If numbers aren’t the only way to tell if a church is healthy, what else is there?”

I get that question a lot. Mostly from other pastors.

And no, they’re not being facetious when they ask it. They truly don’t know the answer. Read more

How To Get Things Done

They are questions I receive often: “Do you ever sleep? Do you work all the time? Do you ever stop?” There seems to be this impression among certain people that either I am an unrepentant workaholic or that I am remorselessly neglectful toward life’s other responsibilities. The truth is far less sordid: I have invested a lot of effort over many years in learning how to simplify life and how to maximize productivity. I love to make the best use of my time and energy, and I am constantly fine-tuning the systems that allow me to remain that way.

Today I am beginning a series of articles that will share some of what I have learned along the way. I do not really know how to teach how to get things done except by allowing you into my life and into my systems. I intend to give examples from my own life, not because they are necessarily the best or only way of doing things, but because they work for me and may give you something to build from. You can take those examples as far as you want, and adapt them so they work for you. If all goes well, we will look at systems and tools and organization and planning, and all kinds of exciting things. But first we have a little groundwork to do.

It all begins with an understanding of our purpose in the world. What follows is a brief “Productivity Catechism” that provides a foundation for everything else I will say. It is only when we properly understand our purpose and mission that we can excel at systems and tools and all the rest. Read more

10 Ways to Make Your Small Group More Evangelistic

Small groups are critical to a healthy church. There we experience teaching, fellowship, prayer, and pastoral care. In that context, life on life occurs.

Small groups can also be central to a church’s evangelism efforts. Most small groups turn inwardly at some point, though, and lose their evangelistic fervor. Listed here are some steps to avoid this inward turn. Read more

Loving Muslims Enough to Reach Out, Globally and Locally

What would it look like for Christians to love Muslims enough to share Jesus with them?

If you could travel back in time a hundred years and share some of the discussions we’re having in the 21st century about Islam, the folks there probably would not believe you.

Back then, Islam was on the decline, reduced to a somewhat marginalized religion in many parts of the world. The Ottoman Empire had fallen and Islam's future looked dim.

But, things have changed. During the 20th century, there was a resurgence of Islam. We are still dealing with that resurgence today. Read more

Photo: Antonio Melina/Wikimedia

2018 Lambeth Conference Cancelled

The 2018 Lambeth Conference has been cancelled. The precarious state of the Anglican Communion has led the Archbishop of Canterbury to postpone indefinitely the every ten year meeting of the bishops of the Anglican Communion.

A spokesman for Archbishop Justin Welby told Anglican Ink that as the archbishop had not yet met with each of the primates of the communion, he would not be commenting on the news. Since his installation last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury has travelled extensively and plans on visiting the 37 other provinces of the Anglican Communion within the first 18 months of his term of office.

News of the cancellation was made public by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori on 23 Sept 2014. In response to a question from the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Prince Singh, who asked if money was being set aside to fund the Episcopal Church’s participation in the 2018 meeting, the Presiding Bishop told the Fall Meeting of the House of Bishops gathered in Taipei, Taiwan, that she had been told by Archbishop Welby the meeting had been cancelled. Read more

9 Things You Should Know About Atheism

The number of people who identify themselves as atheists in the United States has been steadily rising in recent years. According to the Pew Research Center, when asked about their religious identity, 2.4 percent of Americans say they are atheists, up from 1.6 percent in 2007.

Here are nine things you should know about atheism.... Read more

Why It's A Mistake To Call ISIL "Medieval"

"Medieval" is a term we've heard more and more frequently over the years to describe Islamist militants such as Al Qaeda and now ISIL. Given the cruelty of their tactics, it's understandable. But it's also a misleading label that obscures the ideology and motivation of what are, in fact, modern political movements.

Historians of the Middle Ages will tell you that ISIL bears little resemblance, in words and deeds, to actual people of that era. The Islamists' particular brand of religious fundamentalism is a recent phenomenon. And their brutal executions are carefully choreographed spectacles, created to take full advantage of spreading terror through contemporary viral media.

As professors Clare Monagle and Louise D'Arcens write in a recent essay, the tendency to describe Islamist terror as "medieval" lies in the longer history of how the Middle Ages came to be perceived in Western cultural imagination.... Read more

See also
‘Medieval’ makes a comeback in modern politics. What’s going on?

Ebola outbreak: how witchdoctors and corpses being kissed are spreading the disease

Traditional healers and witchdoctors in West Africa are contributing to the spread of Ebola, the Times reports.

According to the newspaper, a significant number of people are claiming to be able to heal the virus through witchcraft, and are encouraging locals to eschew Western medicine in favour of their own costly techniques.

Terrified at the looming threat, hundreds of people from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have therefore been handing over large sums of cash in return for spells, potions and advice from those claiming to have the antidote to the deathly disease, which has killed over 3,000 people this year. Read more

Monday, September 29, 2014

Church Revitalization Video Consultation - Free Video Series & eBook

Does Your Church Need to Go to the Next Level? Or Is Your Church Sick or Dying?

Many churches need a jumpstart. Also, by our estimations, there are nearly 100,000 sick or dying churches in America.

If your church is in one of these categories, wants to partner with you to help turn your church around. Learn more

Changing the Gospel by Adding to It

The statement, “I love my wife” is completely changed if something is added to the end of the statement. For example, “I love my wife” is a very different message than “I love my wife when she cooks my favorite meal.” Adding “when they behave” radically alters the statement “I love my daughters.”

Addition radically changes a message.

In the Book of Galatians, Paul’s introduction to the churches in Galatia is distinct from his other letters. He typically greets the churches with expressions of his thankfulness for the people, his prayers for them, or his joy that they are in partnership in the gospel. Not so in his letter to the churches at Galatia. After reminding them of the gospel, he quickly moves to rebuking them for deserting God by deserting the gospel. Deserting one equates with deserting the other. Read more

A Text the Legalists Cannot Handle

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).

Do everything you can to make sure your church does not put legalists in charge of anything. Doing so is a death sentence for all they touch.

“The letter of the law killeth; the Spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

The legalist is a self-proclaimed Christian who reduces our duties to God to a list of rules. Legalists delight in the Ten Commandments, of course, but since the New Testament does not codify a list of tasks we must do in order to please God, they do it for Him.

How kind of them to help God out. (I’m recalling an old definition of a legalist. He says, “I know God didn’t require this in the Bible, but He would have if He’d thought of it.”)

The legalist has God figured out. Read more

Pastoring Christ's Church: Three Articles

What Are Ten Characteristics I Look for in an Aspiring Pastor?

Scripture must first be our guide when evaluating a young man’s desire for pastoral ministry (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). This blueprint needs to then be evaluated by the young man’s desire for the work (internal calling), and then by the pastors and congregation of his local church (external calling). Although those Scripture qualities are helpful, they are not exhaustive. Read more

Ten Traits of Pastors Who Have Healthy Long-term Tenure

Imagine what might take place if pastors consistently stayed at churches for ten or more years. Imagine that their tenure was largely healthy. Imagine what would happen in our congregations.

The median tenure of a pastor at a church is around four years. Simply stated, over one-half of pastors leave a church before their fourth anniversary. And our research shows that the time of greatest fruit in a pastor’s ministry does not begin until somewhere around years five to seven.

Is it possible, then, for pastors to stay longer in a healthy situation? In many cases, the answer is a resounding “yes”!

I approached this issue by looking at over 30 pastors whose tenure exceeded ten years. And from my perspective, their tenures have been healthy and loving. Here are the ten traits of those pastors.... Read more

A Ministry, Not a Lordship

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) to Pope Eugenius:
You have been made a superior. For what? Not to domineer, I suppose. Therefore, highly as we think of ourselves, let us remember that a ministry has been laid upon us, not a lordship given. Learn that you need a hoe, not a scepter, to do the prophet’s work (quoted in Calvin’s Institutes, IV.xi.11).
Read more


Pointers for Preachers: Three Articles

Top Ten Sermon Introduction Mistakes

How you get your sermon started matters. While there is lots of room for error in the body of your sermon, there is little room for error in your introduction. It can be the difference between someone being on the edge of their seat or slumped in their seat, between using their phone’s Bible app or fantasy football app.

If you hook them with your introduction, you will have their attention for the entire sermon. If you lose them early on, it can be hard to get them back. Here are ten ways you make it easier on your church to check out. Read more

9 Preaching Principles to Follow for Special Occasions

There are some basic principles I would suggest for any special occasion. Spiritual sensitivity needs to be at its highest level, especially for opportunities that are not in a specific Christian context. Compromise of biblical truth is not an option, but doing one’s best to extend Christ-honoring grace and goodwill should be at the front and center of our agenda. What then should we consider as we prepare and then deliver our message? Read more

The Partnership of Evangelism and Preaching

It is fascinating to me how the lessons from history apply in contemporary settings.

For example, the religious and philosophical culture of the first century was intensely pluralistic. Many religions were accepted. Many gods worshiped. And oftentimes people “practiced” more than one religion through rituals and rites.

When Paul entered Athens in Acts 17, he encountered a number of religions, philosophies, and ideas. In some ways, Paul’s experience in Athens echoes contemporary Western society where religious pluralism is prevalent. I realize that pluralism in the first century was practical in nature while contemporary pluralism is more philosophical. In the first century, the practice of religion was more important than the beliefs, philosophies or truths that undergirded it.

Things have certainly shifted. But the reality is that the religious culture faced by Christianity’s first evangelists is not that dissimilar from the religious culture of today.

As such, we should learn some lessons from Paul’s evangelistic methods as well as his preaching themes from Acts 17:16-32. Read more

Why We Neglect Our Bibles

We assume every Christian has a Bible that looks like this one — worn down, marked up, and paired with a journal stuffed with multicolored spiritual reflections.

But that’s often not true. Many Christians find it difficult to get into a daily habit of Bible reading. So this week John Piper addressed four common causes of Bible neglect in the Christian life, like: “I don’t read my Bible because . . .

. . . it seems so irrelevant to my life.”
. . . I don’t have time.”
. . . I go to church every Sunday.”
. . . I find it confusing.”

What follows is a slightly edited (and abridged) transcript of his answers. Read more

Heart of a Family: Blue Print Church

To many, church is just some building to go to on Sundays. But for one growing church based in the diverse, urban setting of Atlanta, church is a family, comprised of people who come together in support, encouragement and service seven days a week, all throughout the city.

That’s the blueprint at Blueprint Church, a 4-year-old church that prioritizes relationship and discipleship as its building blocks. Blueprint welcomes about 500 people on Sundays, churchgoers who have also been divided into 14 families called “Missional Communities.”

The Missional Communities are organized by geography, so members live near each other and meet for coffee, Bible studies, service projects, barbecues and other everyday life activities. Read more

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Anglicans Ablaze Weekend Edition: September 27, 2014

In this weekend edition of Anglicans Ablaze:

Jesus, Our Avenger

A few days before preaching the end of Joel 3, I told my 6-year-old son Johnny that I would be preaching about God as our avenger. His eyes lit up with unusual interest. I naively thought to myself, You never know what Scriptures will capture the attention of children. Then he asked excitedly, “You mean like the Hulk?” To which I responded, “No. Not that kind of Avenger. They’re posers. Jesus is the ultimate avenger.”

I should confess that I too probably thought more about the Hulk and Ironman as avengers than the Lord as my great avenger. Joel 3 ends with Yahweh saying, “I will avenge their blood, blood I have not avenged.” The idea of an avenger is tied to the six cities of refuge God created throughout Israel to ensure a fair trial for manslayers and protection for those who accidently killed someone. At that time, the family sent an avenger to repay the “innocent blood,” usually the closest of kin, to repay life for life. The manslayer who fled to the city of refuge received God’s protection from the avenger. If he proved the death was accidental, he could live in the city of refuge until the high priest died, at which time the avenger no longer had a right to kill him.

Maybe this background hits your modern ears as a an antiquated, brutish, or angry system of justice irrelevant to our culture. We pride ourselves on national defense, police, judges, and lawyers set in place to ensure the right to a fair trial founded on the basic belief that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Yet, in Romans 12:19-21, Paul encourages all those who have placed their faith in Christ that God is their avenger too, saying.... Read more

Moderately Important Christianity

"Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.” –C. S. Lewis

How important is the Christian faith? Listen to the Lord Jesus in just two of hundreds of similar statements from Him:

–”I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5)

–”Unless you believe that I am, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

The faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is a life or death proposition.

Of the 100,000 excellent things C. S. Lewis said in his writings, and of the hundreds of memorable quotations we pass along from this brilliant British brother, perhaps nothing is of more lasting significance or greater benefit than the way he sharpened the line between faith and unbelief, between weak allegiance to Jesus and the real thing. Read more

The Second Coming of Christ Is Not a Peripheral Doctrine

Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he return to judge all men at the last day. Article IV, The Thirty-Nine Articles

“The return of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a mere doctrine to be discussed, nor a matter for intellectual study alone. Its prominence in the New Testament shows the great importance of the truth, for it is referred to over three hundred times, and it may almost be said that no other doctrine is mentioned so frequently or emphasized so strongly. Read more

The Antichrist and the Muslim Mahdi (Part 1)

Many people—religious and non-religious—are asking questions about a word they hear the media use when referring to ISIS and other Islamist jihadists. That word is apocalyptic, which is used when specifically referring to the fatalism of Islamists.

People wonder, why do so many Muslims (both Sunni and Shiite) operate with such an “apocalyptic,” end-of-world mindset?

Our secular society, however, coupled with the media’s carelessness, is bandying about words like apocalyptic without using them properly and without explanation. That creates a great deal of confusion for some, many of which just throw up their hands in resignation and say, “I don’t understand this.”

But for those who want to understand, I am offering this 2-part column, taking excerpts from my newest book, Jesus, Jihad, and Peace. I hope this will put things into perspective, so when the media says that an Islamist entity (such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, Iran, etc.) operate with an apocalyptic vision, you can make sense of it.

The word apocalypse does not, in fact, refer to a disastrous, catastrophic, end-of-world event. It’s a Greek word, the root of which means revelation, or revealing things that are hidden. For instance, we know the last book of the Bible as Revelation, but in the original Greek language, it is Apokalupsae. It reveals what is happening in the heavenly realm, as well as events in the future. Read more

See also
Who Is the Anti-Christ?

To Have a Healthy Church, Have a Healthy Structure

Structure is far more important that we usually realize. Every building in the world has to have the right structure to stand up and not collapse. Living things have structure as well. An animal can grow to no more than nine inches without an internal skeletal system. And every church has a structure as well. Some churches are structured for health and growth while others are structured merely to maintain and to survive.

Jesus once said, “no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins.” (Luke 5:37 NLT) His point was that nothing can expand without a flexible structure. In fact, a rigid or inflexible structure is one of the reasons many churches cannot break through some common growth barriers.

How can you tell when your structure needs to be more flexible? Read more

Learning to Lead: Two Articles and a Video

As a Leader, What I Value Most

One of the things I have all my coaching clients do is to create a list of “Core Values” for themselves. Values are like the banks of a river, a road map, or a compass. They help us decide what to do and what kind(s) of people we invite into our teams. Read more

Leadership Lessons: A Q&A with Ron Edmondson [Video]

Ron Edmondson recently talked with Church Leaders about growing and developing as a leader. Watch now

Why Leaders Fail

Recently I had a discussion with some friends about some public leadership fails in the news. I could name them, but you likely already know who they are. Our conversation turned to a general topic of leadership and things we’ve observed. What struck us was how these things evolve from little, seemingly insignificant decisions that form the culture out of which unhealthy leadership grows. In other words, nobody wakes up one day and says to himself, “I’m going to strive to be an authoritarian leader who wreaks havoc on the people I serve.” It just doesn’t happen that way. Leaders start with good intentions. They start as “normal” people. So how do leaders fail? I think there are five basic mistakes leaders make.... Read more

What Our Pastoral Interns Read

For several years we’ve had a part-time pastoral internship program at University Reformed Church. This year, for the first time, our interns work full-time. The bulk of their time is spent in four areas:

1. Reading and writing

2. Ministry observation

3. Personal ministry (they do for others)

4. Personal discipleship (they receive from the pastors)

Under the first category, our interns read several books. Actually, many books. And many papers (relatively short papers–2000 words). You can see below what they will read between now and the end of May. Read more

Why Church Matters: Three Articles

Don’t Neglect God’s Provision

Any mention of the wilderness generation almost immediately calls to mind the people’s grumbling and lack of trust in the Lord. Indeed, as the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10:5). Delivered out of Egypt, but not yet brought into the Promised Land, Israel’s life in the wilderness was not only about a place, but a time—a time characterized by transition and testing, a time demanding trust and perseverance. Read more

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up On The Church

I grew up in the church. No really, I grew up in the church. I am a PK and spent countless hours in church and doing church activities. I am a church native and familiar with all its quirks and cultural oddities, with all its strengths, and with all its failings. As the son of prominent evangelical pastor, John Piper, I not only saw the inner workings of my own church I was exposed to church leaders from around the world and saw the good and the bad from their churches too.

Many people like me, who grew up immersed in church, have given up on it. Church is archaic, domineering, impersonal, hypocritical, irrelevant, contentious, petty, boring, and stale. It’s institutional instead of authentic and religious but not relational they say. I have seen all this in church and can agree that each accusation is true in instances. A PK sees all this up close and far too personally and feels each fault even more intensely. It really is enough to make one want to bail on church. Read more

Five Benefits of Corporate Worship

Worshiping Jesus together may be the single most important thing we do. It plays an indispensable role in rekindling our spiritual fire, and keeping it burning. Corporate worship brings together God’s word, prayer, and fellowship, and so makes for the greatest means of God’s ongoing grace in the Christian life.

But thinking of worship as a means can be dangerous. True worship is fundamentally an experience of the heart, and not a means to anything else. So it’s important to distinguish between what benefits might motivate us to be regular in corporate worship, and what focus our minds and hearts should pursue in the moment.

According to Don Whitney, “There’s an element of worship and Christianity that cannot be experienced in private worship or by watching worship. There are some graces and blessings that God gives only in the ‘meeting together’ with other believers” (Spiritual Disciplines, 92). Surely, many more could be given, but here are five such “graces and benefits” that we experience uniquely in the context of corporate worship. Read more

ERLC: Town's sign code violates church freedom

The Southern Baptist Convention's religious freedom entity has called for the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a municipal sign ordinance it says violates a church's free speech and assembly rights.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) joined in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Sept. 22 that contends the sign code of Gilbert, Ariz., discriminates against churches while favoring political and ideological messages. The brief, filed by the Christian Legal Society (CLS), asserts the code is based on a sign's content and therefore abridges the First Amendment's free speech clause.

The high court will hear oral arguments in the case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, in January or thereafter. It is expected to announce an opinion in the significant church-state case before it adjourns early in the summer of 2015. Read more

See also
Mo. Baptists join battle over sign restrictions

Updated: Hajj 2014 [Video]

Islam's Pilgrimage To Mecca: Facts, History And Dates Of The Muslim Holiday

What is Hajj?
The annual Hajj pilgrimage is one of the world's largest gatherings, as hundreds of thousands of people flock to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to participate in one of Islam's five pillars of faith. Muslims from all over the world will gather together for five days to pray as one community, celebrating their history and giving thanks for blessings. From the Masjid Al Haram complex to the hills of Mina, the rites include circling the Kaaba seven times and visiting sites of historical and religious importance. Read more

See also
The Rites Of Hajj, Explained In 6 Minutes, As Annual Muslim Pilgrimage Approaches [Video]
One rumor circulating on the Internet is that ISIL/ISIS militants are planning to blow up the Kaaba. This is unlikely since it would alienate a large segment of the world's Muslims and would turn many undecided Muslims against them. Even an attack on the pilgrims would have a similar effect.

One Of The World's Most Influential Sheiks Has Issued A Fatwā Against ISIS

As the West grapples with the increasing reach of ISIS on home soil and as random and planned acts of terrorism continue to develop, the Islamic world is not siting idly by.

Earlier this week in his speech before the United Nations, US President Barack Obama signaled out the leadership being offered by a group of Muslim clerics led by Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah. This group, known as the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, issued a very powerful Fatwā* in opposition to the actions of ISIS and as a warning to young Muslims who may be attracted to its cause. Read more

See also
This is Not the Path to Paradise: Response to ISIS

Saturday Global War on Terror Roundup

Today’s roundup of articles related to the global war on terror begins with an analysis of how different governments have sought to exploit ISIL/ISIS for their own ends and how the militants are exploiting them. How accurate is this analysis may be open to debate. However, it does point to the complexity of the situation, why action has not been taken against the militants until now, and why degrading and destroying ISIL/ISIS may prove difficult.

How ISIS Is Using Us to Get What It Wants

ISIS Is Expanding Its Reach Into Afghanistan And Central Asia

ISIS will launch attacks around the world unless stopped: Canada

Why China stays out of Islamic State fight, for now

ISIS Baghdad March: Is Islamic State Targeting The Iraqi Capital?
Islamic State Reportedly Destroys 7th Century Green Church In Tikrit, Iraq. One Of Middle East's Oldest Christian Sites

Kenyan 'radical madrassa' closed in Machakos

Behind Islamic State's Battlefield Gains, Battle-Hardened Chechens

African Forces Plan Surge on Somali Militants’ Supply Routes

Spain and Morocco arrest 9 suspects in cross-border terror recruiting cell

Islamic State 'targeted by strikes on Syria border'
Kurdish Forces Fight Off ISIS Attack On Kobani
This Is What Education Under ISIS In Raqqa Will Look Like

Turkey-Syria border has become gate into ISIS for foreign fighters
Turkey's Kurds Warn Ankara's Syria Policy Threatens Peace Process
Turkey calls for no-fly zone in Syria

United Kingdom
Preacher arrested after tweeting 'Muslims will prevail over Christians'

United States
Police: Woman beheaded at Oklahoma workplace
Alton Nolen: Jesus-tattooed Muslim convert beheads woman, stabs another after being fired; Connections to ISIS Being Investigated

Christian Pastor Shot Dead by Pakistani Police

A Christian pastor accused of blasphemy was shot dead by police in a Pakistani jail in Rawalpindi. A persecution watchdog group has said this is the latest incident of blasphemy laws being used to commit human rights violations. Read more

Friday, September 26, 2014

What Is the Covenant of Grace?

Reformed Christians speak of Scripture as the unfolding drama of God’s covenant of grace. We do this because the apostle Paul speaks of the Israelites, saying, “To them belong … the covenants” (Rom. 9:5). The Bible is a covenantal story, and one that Paul, again, describes as “the covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12). The essence of the covenant of grace is the same throughout the Old and New Testaments—God saves sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. But its historical administration has varied by time and place.... Read more
This excerpt is taken from Welcome to a Reformed Church by Daniel Hyde. Download the ebook free through September 30, 2014.

Innovation and the Local Church – Rainer on Leadership #073 [Podcast]

Our guest this week is Larry Osborne. Since 1980, he has served as one of the senior pastors at North Coast Church in Vista, CA. During that time, North Coast has grown from a fledging group of 128 meeting in a rented high school cafeteria to a multi-site church ministering to nearly 10,000 in weekend attendance. Larry joined us to discuss leadership, innovation, and much more. Read more

Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 21:55 — 20.1MB)

The 3 Best Times to Introduce Change in Your Church

How to successfully fix problems and implement change.

It's not always easy to fix long-term problems and implement needed changes in a church—especially when old, dysfunctional ways have taken root.

Sometimes we make our job harder than it needs to be, not by doing the wrong things, but by doing the right things at the wrong time.

Over the years, I've discovered three simple principles that have helped me and my church figure out when it's the right time to bring change.... Read more

What would it take to put you out of business for the Lord?

“Sirs, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21).

Nothing tells the story on you and me like what it takes to defeat us.

Some of us, like the Saints’ Jimmy Graham, have to be double- or triple-teamed to stop us from serving Christ. Others of us can be safely ignored because we’re no threat to the devil.

I am impressed in reading the gospels at the people who did whatever was necessary to get to Jesus. Here is a partial list. You may think of others.... Read more

What's the threat of Islamic State to the Church worldwide?

World leaders feel Islamic State ambitions do not stop in the Middle East.

While Islamic State is wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria, its ambitions do not stop there. Moreover, several world leaders are saying it is one of the biggest threats they are facing. But exactly how does Islamic State fit into the global picture of Christians under pressure for their faith worldwide?

1. What is Islamic State?
2. How does Islamic State fit into a process of global Islamization?
3. How does Islamic State fit into the picture of Christians under pressure for their faith worldwide?
4. Why is Islamic State so successful?
5. How might Islamic State advance in the region?
6. What does this mean for Christians in the region and worldwide? Read more

Muslims need truth and love

The past few weeks have been hard ones for Australians, not least for Australian Muslims. Various alleged plots by Islamic State supporters to slaughter Australians has Islam in the news. Even as I write, five out of ten of the “most popular” articles on The Australian’s website are about Islamic jihad and national security.

What are ordinary Australians to make of conspiracy theories aired by Muslims on the ABC’s Q & A program, implying that recent police raids were staged as a cynical act to manipulate public opinion? Are Muslims being unfairly victimised by all these security measures?

How are we to evaluate Senator Jacqui Lambie’s claim that sharia law “obviously involves terrorism”? Or the Prime Minister’s decision to mobilise Australian troops against the Islamic State?

What about the Islamic State’s grandiose claim that “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women.” Or Mr Abbott’s declaration that the balance between freedom and security needs to be adjusted in favour of greater security and less freedom?

Earlier this month, an 18-year-old Melbourne man, Numan Haider, was shot dead by police after he stabbed two officers outside a suburban police station. At the time of writing, news was breaking that authorities believed he intended to behead a police officer and post the photos online.

Prison officers in Goulburn jail have struggled to contain the worst riot in ten years, during which rampaging prisoners were heard to be crying “Allahu Akbar.”

A Christian woman who works in a church close by an Islamic centre has asked her employer to install security measures to protect her and others at the church. Someone else, a convert from Islam to Christianity, reports that his personal sense of being under threat has risen, because he feels that people he knew from his earlier life as a radical Muslim are more likely to be activated to violence after the successes of the Islamic State and their global call to arms. Are such responses reasonable? Or are they Islamophobic?

Many young Muslims have been using the hashtag #NotInMyName on social media. Many are insisting that IS does not speak for them: as Anne Aly put it “This isn’t in my name, this isn’t what Islam is about, I am against it and they don’t have my allegiance, they don’t have my support.” How then can we know the truth about Islam?

What is a Christian response to all this? How can we find our way through these crises: does protecting national security mean we risk losing some part of our soul? A truly Christian response to the multi-faceted challenge of “Muslims behaving badly” must embrace both truth and love in equal measure. Read more

Muslim Scholars Make the Theological Case Against the Islamic State - Full Text of Letter Embedded

More than a hundred Muslim scholars and leaders from around the world released an open letter addressed to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Wednesday, telling the self-proclaimed caliph, in no uncertain terms, that the group's use of Islamic scripture is illegitimate and perverse.

The document, which was issued in Arabic and English on the website Letter to Baghdadi and is embedded below, begins with a list of practices employed by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) that its authors say are explicitly forbidden by Islam. They include torture, slavery, forced conversions, the denial of rights for women and children, and the killing of innocents.

The letter emphasizes that Baghdadi's claims to a caliphate spanning eastern Syria and western Iraq are void. Read more

See also
Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi - Arabic
Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi - English
Muslim Scholars To ISIS: You Have Misinterpreted Islam
International Coalition of Muslim Scholars Refute ISIS' Religious Arguments in Open Letter to al-Baghdadi
Not in my name: How Muslims are responding to ISIS
The English version of the open letter at Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi is more readable - larger print - than the English version of the letter in the article. It is also downloadable. Please take note of the comments of Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, in yesterday's article. The letter was not meant for a liberal audience. Even mainstream Muslims may find it difficult to understand.